Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

13: Toni

The evening was made easier by the absence of Maddie’s housemates. Toni was glad to have been able to stay for a few weeks, but she had to admit that the house was too small for her to be there for too long. It helped that Maddie had the largest room and a double bed but, even with most of Toni’s things in storage, it was cramped. Furthermore, it was getting increasingly difficult to live out of the pair of suitcases wedged under their bed. All of this meant that, though Toni was certainly grateful to have somewhere to sleep, it was nice to have some time with her girlfriend without no-one else around to crowd them.

Toni was trying to contribute by washing the dishes. By doing so, she felt that she was giving something back to Maddie and her housemates, but she was also giving herself something to concentrate on. At the weekend, she was due to move into her new shared house and was doing her best not to think about it, but however much she washed and wiped and put away she kept returning to the future. What would it be like?

She thought back to the night she had left her previous house, and the strange mixture of relief and brittleness she had felt. After the way it had been, after how they treated her, she had been glad to be leaving but had felt somehow hollowed out, as if, after it all, there was less of her, less of her to resist whatever came with each passing day.

Maddie didn’t help. Toni was so thankful to Maddie for giving her a place to stay while she looked for somewhere new, and there were times when she genuinely appreciated her girlfriend’s sunny optimism, but sometimes she just wanted to feel heard. Maddie needed to accept that there wasn’t always a silver lining to every cloud; sometimes, bad things happened, and people did bad things, and there was no upside. There was hurt, and isolation, and the need to acknowledge it.

Maddie came into the kitchen.

‘All tidy up there now! I’ve cleared a space for you to sort out the stuff you’ll be taking with you.’

‘Thanks.’

‘How are you doing in here? Great! Making progress.’

Something in Maddie’s breezy tone rankled.

‘I can manage doing the dishes, you know.’

Though Toni was concentrating on wiping a plate and adding it to the stack already done, she felt Maddie pause and, knowing her, could imagine her wounded expression. After a few seconds, Maddie managed to respond.

‘Err, OK. I was just…’

Toni was remorseful. Maddie had done so much to help her get through the past few months, and she had taken her unsettledness out on her. Again. Maddie sometimes avoiding the difficult stuff in Toni’s life was a small price to pay, wasn’t it? She turned to face her.

‘I’m sorry. It’s… I’m… I’ve been thinking about the next few days.’

Maddie’s face softened, and she came forward, enveloping Toni in a deep, lingering hug.

‘I know, I know. I’m sorry too. I know how scared you’ve been.’

There, her slight form wrapped in Maddie’s arms, Toni felt safer. She tried not to think about the days ahead, and, moving to somewhere new. She tried not to think, as she had done so often recently, that something wasn’t right, something that, as yet, she couldn’t begin to describe, begin to reach. Wrenching herself outward, she lost herself in Maddie’s warmth. At least there was this, here and now.

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