a/n. Hello all, random one shot offering, in real time along with the show. I hope it's enjoyed. X Sarah.
Jac takes a deep breath in, then out. She scrutinises herself with unguarded attention to detail in the bathroom mirror; Smile, frown, right, left. Life is an ultimatum, a shady grey web of black and white decisions. It doesn't have to be complicated, just so long as you hold on to some perspective. What's important; What's always been the most important.
She takes an index finger to each temple and tugs the skin gently outwards, eradicating the feint lines at the corners of her eyes that have become more prevalent than ever over the past few weeks. She sighs gently, and reaches for her trusted tub of Clinique matte. Some things, of course, you can't control at all. She closes her eyes, forgetting about her face for a moment, and tries to remember the beginning, the very first time she felt something a bit like this.
It's raining outside. Buffets of wind create the lashing drum of water against the classroom window. The weather beats against the single pane of glass with such an exaggerated force that it takes Jacky's breath away. She's sure that every next gust will force its way right into the classroom, shattering the window theatrically. She wishes that it would, if only to distract her form teacher, whose frantic phone calls are bringing the six year old to the brink of tears. Big fat tears, actually, that she's already wiping on the cheap threadbare sweater. Finally, for want of a better idea or the coming of the apocalypse, she closes her eyes and places her hands neatly over her ears.
You see, 3 o' clock had come and passed. Twenty seven children had waited impatiently indoors, out of the rain, whilst bedraggled parents had arrived one by one. The volume depleted with the number, and Miss Morgan left the final few to their own devices as she started to mark incomprehensible Year 4 maths homework. Eventually Jacky found herself alone, winter twilight swiftly approaching, and no sign of her Mum. So, perhaps she's never coming; It's been so long it certainly feels that way. In Jacky's world, (the one where her hands are over her ears and it's not raining,) her Mum is never coming back and she'll be given somewhere else to live. Perhaps she could live with Ben, her best friend, who's Mum puts a Curly Wurly in his lunch box every single day. The tears streak her cheeks with increasing frequency as she thinks about this, a phenomena that strikes the child as odd. Tears, she knows from experience, are linked to things like cuts and grazes or scary dreams. These tears are flowing freely when nothing hurts at all and a craving for chocolate is at the forefront of her thoughts.
It's dark when Jacky is dragged from her reverie by a prod on the nose. She opens her eyes to see her Mother's looming face in front of hers and feels a pang of disappointment, or perhaps indifference. She grins at her daughter, demonstrating cracked lips and red blotches on her front teeth.
"Hello sweetie. I'm sorry, something overran with Paul." Paul spends all together too much time with her Mother, in Jacky's opinion.
"Bye Miss Morgan." She waves to her teacher as she hops off the desk she's been perched on. Her teacher does not look happy, and Jacky wouldn't like to live with her, she muses.
Jac smiles, in spite of herself, at the memory. A child's first experience of something approaching loss, or perhaps just neglect. Naivety mingled with the limited wisdom gained solely from one parent. A warped, closed outlook on an unfamiliar world, and the first foundations of a personality. She takes a step back from the critical mirror, eyeing herself up sans make-up for the first time in a while. She hasn't been to the hairdressers in months, and the darker hue of her roots is as noticeable to her as it ever has been. In fact, the tired adult that stares back at her is altogether a different person to the one she remembers in her youth; The loud and ambitious girl who forged her way into the world one makeover at a time.
Jac Burrows, no, Naylor, steps back from the mirror and admires her handiwork. Her left ear and a thumbnail are slightly crimson due to a lapse in concentration and a split glove, but other than that it's perfect. She fluffs her deep red locks above her shoulders and grins conspiratorially; Alison is going to flip. First she'll flip when she sees the colour of her foster daughter's hair, and then she'll flip all over again when she sees the weird effect the dye's had on the grouting around the sink. Jac reaches into the bathroom cabinet and grabs the woman's lipstick for good measure, three's a charm after all.
This new look is a reaction to the dramatic departure of Nicky, from which the whole house is reeling. Jac doesn't give a toss, of course, but it's dull having to listen to the young ones cry about it and the Parents sit around blaming themselves like they have nothing better to do with their lives. Miraculously she makes it out of the front door without seeing anybody else who lives in the overcrowded semi. She lights a cigarette and stalks off at a pace, not stupid enough to push her luck. At the end of the street she can't help but pause, it's where she'd normally stop to wait for Nicky. She glares at the phone box she'd normally lean against, appropriating some kind of irrational blame to it.
Last Friday night she had stood here for 45 minutes waiting for Nicky. The phone box blocked the wind, sure, but she could see her breath and a knock off leather jacket, dress and see through tights is not an outfit for standing around in. When the phone rang she answered it without thinking, although she likes to believe it was to have somebody to shout at, no matter who they were.
"Jaqs, is that you?"
"Nicky. What the hell? I'm freezing."
"Got caught by the police."
"They saw us hopping the fence by the scrapyard. One of them grabbed Phil and I came down on him, kicked him, and he fell."
"Idiot, idiot." She slumps hard against the damp inside of the booth, unsure of whether she's berating him or herself right now.
"What the hell, why do you think? He didn't get up again, Jaqs, I'm in trouble."
"Go back. Or, come here."
"Don't be stupid. I want you to come with me."
"Jaqs, Jacky, please. I love you."
"Don't call me that." There's an impenetrable silence on the other end of the line, then the hollow clink of change as he tops up the phone credit.
"I get it." He speaks eventually, much more softly than before.
"Me too." She replies candidly, surprising herself.
"I'm not like you Jaqs, I won't get my exams next year." He's right, and she doesn't know what to say. "Meet me, at the station? I have to say goodbye."
"No, I can't. Sorry Nicky." She puts the receiver back on its hook and closes her eyes, shutting out the world. I can't because I know I'll never see you again, I can't because, "I love you too." It sounds childish and irrelevant when she says it aloud. That's how it should be, because she knows she has more to do than this. If nothing else, she has more to do than be some guy's girl.
"Jacqueline!" Alison's screech is audible from the other end of the street. Jac smiles and puts out her cigarette, then turns the corner and heads towards town. She will pass all of her exams without trying, and she will break as many rules as she can along the way, just for good measure.
Jac's giggling now, half stifled banshee shrieks that she'll only let out when completely alone. It doesn't escape her notice that her reflection is much more palatable when she's smiling, wrinkle lines aside perhaps. She turns around abruptly to face her own bathroom cabinet, and yanks the door of it open with gusto. The top shelf is dusty but she finds what she's feeling for, exactly where she left it.
The really real things and the superficial things all seem sort of the same when you're young. That's the beauty of being young, if anything is. Everybody knows what you mean when you talk about heartbreak, or at least they know what their little corner of it means to them and that's enough to share an experience with. Nothing's ever that complicated, when you're young, and if you shut your eyes and concentrate very hard it can stay that way forever. You can be untouchable.
The object in Jac's hand is a neat silver cufflink. It's an unnecessary high calibre of silver for such an insignificant, plain item. It's Joseph all over, though. It speaks volumes. The object has been abandoned in her bathroom cabinet since the morning after he took her to the Opera. That night she let her guard down, she allowed Joseph to overpower her senses and she woke up the next day feeling dizzy. He'd left for work and she'd slept through it, awaking to find make-up smeared across her face and pillow, crushed hair and a small, silver foreign object sticking into her back. She'd felt uneasy around him for a week, paranoid and guarded. He'd been hurt, and too timid to risk mentioning the evening at all, even to enquire after the missing cufflink.
It's cold and damp outside. Too cold, you'd think, to lean over the banister and hold your head so close to the window. Jac finds it a comfort, the numb feeling spreads from her nose throughout her extremities and dulls the building heat around her eyes where tears threaten. She watches him falter as he climbs into the car, and experiences a pang of regret, it's too late to run down the stairs and catch him now, she tells herself.
A month or so after Joseph left a letter had landed on her doorstep, her address penned in his unmistakable scrawl. She'd been angry at first and banished it, unopened, to a bottom drawer. Now, cufflink in hand, it springs to the forefront of her mind without making her want to cry and scream over the separation. It's been two years after all, perhaps that's how long it takes to reach some kind of closure. She retrieves the letter tentatively, and breaks through the seal as if it's a tangible barrier to her emotions. Fear creeps up into her chest as she does so, pre-empting regret. How could a two year old lament for lost days produce anything constructive, now? For once, though, she doesn't stop herself; She lets her heart beat louder than her head.
Through everything, I miss you. When I think of you and how much we've shared, I can't stray too far from one particular moment. Do you remember the Opera? You always told me you hated it, but you're not the liar that you'd lead yourself to believe. I know that you remember the building crescendo at the start of Act 5; I couldn't take my eyes off you. Your powdered cheeks and the orchestrated curve of your lips gave nothing away, and I couldn't breathe for expectation. Then I looked at you again, differently, and I knew you understood. Do you remember the way your chest convulsed, with mine? Your nails tore at the fabric of the armrest as I placed my hand on yours. I remember the sparkle in your eyes, matched only by the glint of your ostentatious necklace as we bordered on panting in sync.
That shared experience means more to me than I can ever explain. To feel alone is to be miserable, to not have lived. Jac, to appreciate that night with you is quite simply to be less alone. To be more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.
"Soppy, idiot." She sounds peculiar because she's on the verge of tears, and actually, to hear her own voice aloud against the silence makes her feel as childish and irrelevant as it ever has. A peculiar parallel to her youth. She drops the letter in a bin, acutely aware that this road isn't taking her where she'd hoped. With a renewed bout of venom and self loathing, she recalls the comfort she could always find in Joseph. The sheer instinct on which their connection was founded.
Today she will be working with Nurse Maconie for the first time since she unceremoniously dropped him last week. With Joseph's letter out of sight she sits at her kitchen table, cupping a steaming mug of black coffee, and tries to think about that. In truth, the whole affair feels quite insignificant. It's a relief to have severed the bond between herself and the double act. She can respect Mo Effanga as a surgeon, even, when she's not a part of her personal life. There's nothing to over think, in this case, and she feels as frighteningly detached as the six year old who hankered after Curly Wurlies.
Jac throws back the caffeine and grabs her handbag. On a whim, she pauses by the door and slides open the cupboard on her right. Coats are lumped on top of one another and a jumble of shoes is crushed under her bike helmet. At the front, though, is a neatly ordered pair of heels in pristine condition. She grins; Today, if nothing else, is a Connie Shoes day.