Chapter Forty-Two

Two women, one in a long black coat the other in black trousers and a grubby high visibility work coat are standing outside and looking at a red brick terraced house at the end of a dead end road. At the end of the road is a high concrete wall topped with a wooden feather boarded fence. Opposite the house, on the right, is a retaining wall made of enormous rusty steel pilings. The house has a clean brickwork frontage, a yellow front door and a double sash window on the ground floor, and two single sash windows upstairs. At the front of the house is an over grown hedge, two stone gateposts, and two wheelie bins. An estate agent's sign and post has fallen onto the hedge.

Harriet and Daisy

“You’re still house hunting, aren’t you?” Harriet was walking with Daisy from the Environment Centre back into town.
Since the lifting of lockdown she had taken to meeting up with Daisy on occasions to walk back with her from work. Sometimes Harriet would arrive early offer to help out with bits of repair work or maintenance on some of the makeshift timber structures usually be done by volunteers and staff during any normal year. Harriet had become a familiar face to the recycling team, and Phil, and they were grateful for anyone who was happy to oil a squeaky hinge or tighten a loose bolt. Harriet was amused by the thought that at home she was building a one third scale garden railway version of the same Environment Centre and could recognise some of the structures she was replicating.

“Yes, but I haven’t had much luck yet. Even that auction I sat in on, on Zoom, was tedious and the prices were much higher then the guidance. It’s the ‘working from home’ effect apparently.” Daisy said sadly. “I think it has shown how some people have so much more money and can afford to just buy a house to suit what they need now, whereas other people can barely even afford to stay in the unsuitable homes they have. We were talking about it the other day at lunch. It has really… polarised… I think that was the word Tom used, the whole housing situation. One lot of people are making a lot of money selling and buying houses and other people are really struggling with less income, no space, and no chance of moving to somewhere more suited to their needs. I guess I am lucky that I don’t need to move, but I could if I were to be much less fussy about what I want.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it like that.” Harriet was thoughtful, “I guess I am lucky too, that I have a place that works for me, but I couldn’t afford to get anywhere else if my Landlord decided that he wanted to change the arrangement. That’s what I thought when he phoned me the other week. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to tell you.”

They stopped to cross a road and Daisy turned to face Harriet. “Are you being evicted? That’s a bit crap!”

“No, no! He’s wasn’t thinking that, he was just asking if I was happy there as he was giving me first refusal on another property he is getting rid of.” Harriet instinctively reached out and put her hand on Daisy’s arm to reassure her that she was she was okay. “I can’t afford to move, but I thought of you. I had a look at the house from the outside the other day and thought you might be interested before he puts it up for auction. But be warned, it needs some work…”

“Oh, phew. You got me worried for a moment. I was starting to wonder if you’d have to move into my house, we are short of a couple of people at the moment since Jen went, and Ingrid might not come back.” As the crossing lights changed Harriet’s hand slipped down to Daisy’s hand and they crossed over loosely holding fingers together. They didn’t let go once on the other side. “So where’s this house then?”

Harriet allowed her fingers to caress Daisy’s hand. Daisy wasn’t objecting, but was just passively allowing it to continue. “It’s not far from me, just past the ring road. We can go and have a quick look at it if you like. Or we can arrange another time if you want to go straight home.”

“Yeah, why not. Nothing to lose in having a look.” She gave Harriet’s hand a squeeze as they walked and let Harriet lead. They walked past their usual turning for Harriet’s workshop and continued though the tunnel under the railway line and then through the ring road underpass. The tunnel was well lit and was a very old Victorian brick arch with a warm glowing line of glass bulkhead lights running down the centre line above their heads. Then there was gap of daylight before the later ring road underpass, a less aesthetically pleasing concrete box with low level flush fluorescent lighting, mostly obscured by years of grim and graffiti. The echoing of their footsteps from the concrete added to a feeling of unease not felt in the older brick tunnel. Harriet and Daisy tightened their hands around each others for the feeling of security it gave, but as it was a clear line of sight to the exit there was no real concern.

Once on the other side they passed a couple of side roads before turning right into a small street of red brick terraced houses.
“Oh, Lister Drive. We collect from here. Not from many houses though, mostly at the top end.” The street looked like a dead end with a huge concrete wall at the far end topped with a fence. The tops of lorries could just be seen passing on the other side of the fence at high level. As the two women walked down they saw there was another side road just before the dead end formed by the ring road junction, leaving a short spur of road up to the concrete wall. The last house on the left was was the one Harriet was leading Daisy to.

“There it is!” Harriet said proudly, waving her arms at the narrow brick frontage of the house. The house had a small front garden area, with stone gate posts, low walls and a very over grown hedge. The brick front of the house looked very tidy and recently renovated but it was clear that there was still work being done judging by the building rubbish inside. The big double sash window had a dusty net curtain hung inside, the two upstairs windows were bare.
“One bedroom house with garden on a low traffic road. Recently part renovated by the Highways agency, but in need of modernisation. Has new timber windows and front door, and errr, wheelie bins and a hedge that needs cutting back a lot… There’s also a decent sized back garden, apparently.” Harriet’s mocking estate agent spiel ran out and she grinned manically at Daisy. “Okay, it’s a crappy house. You can go home now and vow never to see me again!”.

“Haha!” Daisy laughed. “It isn’t as bad as some I have looked it, I think. It might be worth a look inside at least. If the price is right it would make a great little project, but I don’t think it will be a money spinner, even as a rental. But to be fair I wasn’t looking for an investment, just somewhere more permanent and cheaper then the rent I have now.” Daisy stepped back into the dead end spur of road and looked up at the house. “Funny that number six is the first one. I guess the other house have been lost to the ring road. Hmmm, I hope there are no up and coming road widening plans! I can always check that with the council.” She looked up at the concrete wall and then the rusty steel pilings supporting the embankment opposite the house. “It’s not a pretty view from the front room, is it! Probably a good reason not to cut the hedge too often.” Daisy grinned as she walked back to the front of the house. She glanced inside the front garden area, there was a builders bag of rubbish under the hedge. She spotted the estate agent sign on its post fallen down on the hedge. “Is it still with the agents? I don’t remember seeing it on the Redi Bricks website.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll give you my Landlord’s number and you can speak to him directly. If it saves some agent’s fees that might be something.” Harriet took out her phone and sent Mr Chow’s phone number to Daisy’s phone. “There you go. Just tell him I put you in touch, he said something about a commission, but I’m not sure how serious that was.”

“Oh I see!” Daisy stood facing Harriet with her hands on her hips with a mock glaring face. “So you get me to buy the place and some of my hard earn cash goes to you, via your landlord, as a finders fee?” She laughed and gave Harriet a friendly shove on the shoulder. “Anyway, thanks for thinking of me for this. Come on, lets get going. I’ll give him a ring later and arrange a proper viewing.”
As they walked away from the house they fell back into holding hands comfortably.

Harriet smiled as they walked along. “Let me know when you can arrange it and I’ll come along and have a proper look too. It does need some joinery work so I could help do some of that if it came to it.” Daisy had longer legs and a slightly faster pace then Harriet so while holding hands, even at arm’s length, Harriet was nearly breaking into a trot to keep up, but happily so. They didn’t have a plan as to where they were going next. Usually Harriet would have just gone home leaving Daisy to walk further into town to her own home, but with the detour to view the house they wondered onwards just chatting.

“So you’re offering to do my renovations and maintenance work?” Daisy teased.

“Maybe, depends on if I like working for you.” Harriet grinned and nudged Daisy as they walked.

“Ha! You’re going to charge me? And there I was thinking mate’s rates, at the very least.”

“Mates rates? I thought you respected my work, ‘Pay your contractors’ and all that. And besides, Monty’s food isn’t cheap!” Harriet joked.

“So not… payment in kind… then?” Daisy said teasingly as they laughed together.

“So I do your carpentry and in return you… what? You collect my recycling twice a week? That’s not going to work for me, is it! Haha, we can talk about what you can do do for me, perhaps over a…” Harriet stopped dead in her tracks and gripped Daisy hand hard.
“Oh shit! Fuck! No….”

Daisy was stunned by Harriet’s sudden reaction, “Harriet! What? What is it?”

“It’s Marie, my ex! Oh fuck! I can’t deal with this!” Ahead of them a woman in black leggings and stilettos, and wrapped up in a red quilted coat approached. Her black hair was carefully tucked into a red beret hat.

“Well, well, well!” Marie walked up to Harriet ignoring Daisy’s presence. “If it isn’t little miss Chippendale! I heard you got yourself ‘a dog’. Taking her for a walk are you!”

“Stop it, just… just leave me alone!” Harriet shook as she tried to stand up to Marie’s insults.

“Right you!” Daisy stepped forward between Harriet and Marie. “Marie is it? We’ve met before and your…”

“And who the fuck do you think you are talking to!” Marie jabbed a finger at Daisy.

“Stop it, Marie!” Harriet shook with fear as she spoke. “You are a bully, and a coward, and you have no place in my life, or anyone’s life for that matter!” She tried to look Marie in the eye but she couldn’t bring herself to and started to turn to walk away, but then stopped herself. “No! Don’t even bother trying to answer back. I’ve heard all your insults before. It’s old, Marie, really old. Cowards like you are not worth the effort! You never have been and never will be. You’ll never change and I am glad to be rid of you. You are a waste of space and oxygen, and… and…” Her moment of courage petered out as her lip began to quiver.

“Harriet’s right.” Daisy continued. She pointed her finger at Marie and squared her shoulders. “And! If I ever… EVER… hear of you troubling Harriet again you will deeply regret it! There are laws against your behaviour and I am not afraid to bring the full force of it down on you if you push it!” She glared as hard as she could. “Harriet is with me now.” Daisy held up her hand still holding Harriet’s. “We are happy together, and no little SHIT of a coffee stirrer it going to change that. Now go back to your little den of misery and leave decent people alone!” Daisy squeezed Harriet’s hand protectively.

“I’m not afraid of you any more, Marie.” Harriet took a deep breath to calm herself and looked Marie square in the eye. “I thought I was, but you really are… nothing, nothing but a vile bully.”

Marie exploded. “How dare you…”

“No!” Harriet held her hand up to stop Marie. Then looking pitifully at her, Harriet gave a resigned sigh and said softly, “You’re not even worth the effort for me to hate you.” She turned to Daisy. “Come on, lets go.” They didn’t look back as they walked away in silence.

Marie stood open mouthed and fuming at being spoken back to. She shuffled, momentarily unsure of whether to continue on her way, or follow Harriet to hurl more insults. Then, noticing a face looking at her from a window opposite, she lowered her head shamefully and walked back the way she had came glaring at Daisy’s reflective work coat in the distance.
Inside the house a child said “Mum, why is that woman dressed like a toffee apple?”.

“Sorry about that, Daisy,” Harriet finally spoke. “You shouldn’t have had to see that. I… I couldn’t just stand by… and let her talk to you like that.” Harriet’s voice was trembling again.

Daisy tugged Harriet closer. “Thank you. I am glad you stood up to her. I was going to… to… defend you, but you were right to say what you did, it needed to be you, otherwise she’d just get you when you were on your own. I’m sorry for stepping in though.”

“It’s ok. I think if you hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t have had the courage to stand up to her. I wanted to defend you. But it’s what she does to me, she just leaves me feeling so scared and useless, but I couldn’t let her speak to you that way…. You were really brave the way you spoke to her. And I’m still shaking now.”

“BITCH!” Marie shouted at them as they rounded the corner and out of sight.

“Ha, see? She’s a coward. She waits until we are far enough away before shouting. That’s what she’s like. We can ignore her now.” Daisy laughed. “You know, I’m shaking too. I wasn’t brave, just really angry at her.”

Daisy wasn’t sure where to go now, but Harriet seemed content to just walk with her aimlessly so she found herself walking the route of one of the collections rounds just to save thinking about it too much while recovering from the shock of the confrontation.

Harriet smiled a little. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“That I am with you now and we’re happy together?”

“Oh! Ummm… Yes, yes I did. I don’t really know what I meant, exactly, but yes, I am happy with you, I… I think… I want to… I really like you, a lot, and… and I want to… I like being with you.” Daisy looked away feeling uncertain of Harriet’s reaction. “Is that how it works? Sorry to spring that on you without asking how you feel about it first. Sorry. I’ll understand if it isn’t what you want.” Daisy looked at her feet as she was walking and then realised they were walking back through the concrete underpass.

Harriet’s heart fluttered and she could feel her face flush as she thought about what Daisy had said. “It was a bit of a liberty, Daisy, but… I don’t mind. Yes, I am happy too, happy that you want to… be with me. I’d like that a lot.” Still holding hands, they stopped in the middle of the railway tunnel. The warm glow of the lights cast soft shadows against the red and orange bricks as they stood facing each other holding hands. Harriet looked down thinking, then looked up at Daisy. Daisy was likewise looking down but raised her eyes to meet Harriet’s. They looked at each other as Daisy chewed the corner of her lip thinking about what to say next. Harriet slipped her hands free and walked forwards reaching under Daisy’s work coat and pulled her into a hug. Daisy reached around Harriet’s shoulders and buried her face into the side of Harriet’s neck and nuzzled cautiously. Harriet’s cheek was on Daisy’s chest and she could hear her heart beating rapidly. Then she felt warm lips on her neck as Daisy gently kissed her. Harriet looked up in surprise and saw Daisy was blushing. She stood on tip toe and kissed Daisy’s cheek, feeling the warm flush on her lips. She then blushed too before looking away, embarrassed.
Daisy gently released Harriet and reached around to free herself from Harriet’s arms, and then held Harriet’s hands in hers. “I’m sorry, I… I’m… This is new to me. I don’t know what I am supposed to feel, but it feels… I dunno, good? Confused, a little? Sorry. I am not as experienced as you are. With women I mean. And with relationships maybe too. I am scared… and… I don’t want to disappoint you, or lead you on in the wrong way. Can you bare with me while I figure this… figure me out and how I am feeling?”

Harriet did feel a little disappointed. “Yes, yes of course. Take your time.” She looked away as she felt her hopes begin to crumble. “You do like me though, like you said before?” She added hopefully.

“Oh geez yes! Yes I do. Oh please don’t think I am just messing about. I don’t think I am confused about you, I… I just don’t know what to… how to respond, how to be… to be with a woman, to be with you! But, oh heck, yes, I’ve never felt this happy to be close to someone before. It’s just, well, I’ve never been with a woman and I’ve never been happy in a relationship either so I am confused about that, it is all a bit new to me. Please believe me I’m just… I’m not messing you about.”

Harriet breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s ok. There is always a first time for everyone, I guess. And yes, it can feel confusing, I’m sure.” She looked at Daisy and smiled warmly trying to hide her own nervousness. “Look, take your time. We can talk about it. But we both need to be honest about it too. About how we feel and what works and what doesn’t. You okay with that?”

“Yes, thank you. I’m okay with that. I just can’t promise how long I need to think about it all.”

They walked on through the tunnel awkwardly distancing from each other, despite that moment of intimacy, and found themselves heading back to the workshop.
“I’d better message Fran and let her know I’ll be late back.” Daisy reached for her phone and began tapping on the screen.

“Monty will need a walk in a bit. He’ll be wondering where I am too.” Harriet hoped her feelings of insecurity didn’t show but she could feel that edge of atmosphere between them with Daisy’s uncertain feelings. “I should have brought him with me today, he would have enjoyed the walk.” At least I know exactly where I stand with Monty, she thought.

As they came to Wren Works End Harriet started down the cobbled road towards her workshop. Daisy stopped at the corner. The pause in her footsteps made Harriet stop and turn to look at her. “I’ll have to let Monty out.”

“Yeah, of course… Ummm, I guess I had better go on home.” Daisy made no attempt to leave. “Are you okay? I mean after… after everything just now?”

Harriet shuffled and looked around. She sighed and felt her whole self deflating as she exhaled. Her emotions brewed over and a single tear ran down her face. “Us, or Marie?”

“Both? I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.” Daisy felt awkward and was wishing the ground would open up beneath her. “Us, I guess. You told Marie where to get off. You can tell me too if that’s what you would like.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Harriet looked longingly and painfully at Daisy. “In the tunnel, you kissed me…”

“You hugged me first, and you kissed me back!”

“Yes, so why would I want to tell you where to get off?” Harriet walked back and stood close to Daisy. “Sod Covid! I want you! I think you know that. I want you to want me. I think you want that too. But I also want you to be comfortable with that. Are you?”

Daisy looked at her feet and shuffled. Then she looked at Harriet. “In my heart? Yes. More so then I have been comfortable with anything, I think.
“In my head? I don’t know what that means. I don’t know how to… to… to understand how and why I am feeling like this, with you. And why I’ve… I’ve not felt like that with anyone else before.”

“Does it matter? I mean, do you have to understand the how and why of your feelings?” Harriet tried hard not to plead, but she really just wanted Daisy to drop her guard again, like she had earlier. “Would understanding make how you feel any different?”

“I don’t know. And I don’t know why it matters to me, and I don’t know why I… I… I just don’t know….
“I think I love you.” Daisy whispered.

Harriet looked at Daisy and her heart melted. She had wanted Daisy for so long but Daisy was right, this was all new to her and she would be confused about what was happening. “Daisy, come here.” Harriet held her arms out for a hug. “It’s okay.”

Daisy gave herself to the emotions of being close to Harriet again, fighting through the fear, confusion, and questions in her mind and relaxing into being hugged. She kissed Harriet’s neck, ears, cheek, and then felt Harriet’s lips on hers.
“I feel the same, Daisy. I feel the same.” Harriet breathed in between kisses. And then they stopped kissing and just held each other like lost souls.



“I need a wee!”

“Haha!” Harriet smiled as they let go of each other. “You’d better come back to the workshop then. Monty will be thinking the same.”

(Chapter 41 here)
(Chapter 43 here)

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