Charlie hadn't slept. Every time he closed his eyes one word flashed into his mind: accomplice. Just the one word, but it echoed around Charlie's head as he lay on his lumpy sofa. Accomplice to what, he wasn't completely sure of, but he was absolutely certain that covering up a crime, let alone committing one, was illegal and would probably carry a heavy penalty if they were caught. It wasn't a good feeling, and the part of him who had been brought up to obey the laws of the land kept raising the suggestion of heading straight down to the police station to confess his part in the crime.
He hadn't though, he wasn't going to, and there was only one reason why not. Whatever he'd done was nothing in comparison to what Duffy had done and he couldn't bring himself to drop her in it. She had much more to lose than he did, and regardless of his moral obligations to the law, his conscience forbade him from ruining her life.
The events of the last few hours continued to whirl around in his mind. He fought to get some sleep, but he dropped into a fitful slumber only to be awoken, what felt like seconds later, by the smell of something burning. Jumping off the uncomfortable sofa, he staggered, barely awake, to the kitchen to investigate.
Looking none the better for her sleep, Duffy sat at his cluttered table as behind her smoke rose ominously from the toaster. With her head in her hands and a deeply troubled expression, it was clear that she hadn't even noticed the burning bread. Charlie rushed past her, pulled the plug from the wall, and tipped the smoking machine upside down, shaking it violently. Two small, smouldering, black squares dropped onto the sideboard.
He turned back to the table and flopped exhaustedly into the chair next to her. "I didn't hear you get up."
"I didn't want to wake you. No point in both of us going without sleep," she replied without looking at him.
"You didn't get much kip either then, eh?" The moment he'd said it he realised what a completely stupid comment it was. He could imagine the nightmares that he'd endured in his short sleep were as nothing compared to any she might have had.
She finally turned to look him in the eyes, and responded dryly, "Not really."
"Look, I'm sure we can cope without you at work today. If you want to stay here, get some rest or something?"
Duffy's instinctive reaction was to shake her head until her face was almost entirely obscured by tangles of hair. The last thing she needed was more time to dwell on what had happened. "No, I'll work. I'll be OK."
Charlie glanced nervously at her charcoaled breakfast. If she couldn't be relied on to make toast, he couldn't let her run a hospital department; the risks were too high. Anyway, what if she accidentally said something that incriminated her?
"Duffy, I really don't think it’s a good idea…" He carefully brushed her hair back behind her ears, and revealed two very watery eyes.
She didn't argue with him. Much as she needed a distraction, facing the crowds of people in the emergency department, not to mention putting on a brave face in front of her colleagues, wasn't very appealing.
"Can I stay here then? I can't go back there. Not yet anyway. Please?"
"Of course" He smiled reassuringly at her. "What about the kids though?"
"Mum'll hold on to them, I'll tell her I'm sick or something, she's still completely paranoid about Paul getting ill, him being premature and everything."
"Right. Good. I'll tell them the same at work then…". He chewed his bottom lip, trying to think of a suitably convincing ailment, becoming so lost in thought that it took him by surprise when he felt her hand on his arm. He looked up at her, and asked softly, "What?"
"I'm sorry for dragging you into this. For making you lie for me."
"It's OK, Duffy. I'm just glad that you felt you could come to me."
She smiled in response, except it didn't quite reach her eyes; leant over, and kissed him.
As the front door slammed downstairs, Duffy crawled back under the covers of Charlie's bed, pulling a pillow across her face to block out the daylight that crept through the bedroom curtains. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were already so sore that she didn't think she would be able to. Instead, she howled into the fabric of the pillowcase, a long low howl that made her bottom lip curl.
As if things weren't bad enough already, she had to go and make them worse still by kissing Charlie. He'd been so good to her, better than she'd deserved under the circumstances. If someone had turned up on her doorstep in hysterics, screaming about how they'd killed someone, she couldn't imagine that she'd be so calm and caring about it. He would have been perfectly justified in slamming the door in her face and phoning 999; of course she'd taken it for granted that he wouldn't do that and now she'd dragged him into her mess.
She'd been so grateful, and the only way she could think to show him that was to kiss him. The look of utter shock on his face as he'd pulled away from her showed that it was an entirely inappropriate thing to do. He couldn't get away fast enough; and who could blame him? Who'd want to kiss a woman whom eight hours ago had been covered in another man's blood after nearly killing him. He was probably only helping her out of a sense of obligation.
Lying in her self-created darkness it suddenly occurred to her that Charlie might think she grabbed and snogged any old bloke who came along. Perhaps he thought that she'd led Philip on, that she deserved everything that he tried to do to her. Perhaps that's why he beat such a hasty retreat, he couldn't bear to be in the same building as a slut like her.
The pain that racked through her body at the thought of losing her friendship with Charlie was worse even than the pain from the bruises that covered it. She knew that she could never have coped over the last year without him, come to think of it there were plenty of other instances in the past she wouldn't have coped half so well with without him. She needed him, she cared about him, and, in one amazing moment of self-understanding, she realised that she loved him. However, she'd had to nearly kill someone before she'd worked it out.
She grabbed at the pillow and hurled it with all her might at the opposite wall. It fell short, and she laughed a bitter laugh; she couldn’t even do that right.
Charlie strode briskly through the main doors of the hospital and headed straight for the sanctuary of his office, convinced that the turmoil he was in was written right across his face. With the door safely shut behind him, he set about closing each of the blinds until he was completely cut off from the rest of the department. Then for good measure he also took the telephone off the hook and pushed his desk chair up against the door before sitting on it.
He let out a long sigh as he tried to gather himself together and his gaze drifted to a photograph on the shelf. It was one of him shaking hands with the Lord Mayor of Holby at the official opening of the new resuscitation room. Shaking hands with the Mayor; what a fine upstanding citizen you are, his conscience mocked. He moved to the picture and picked it up, with every intention of locking it in a draw for the foreseeable future. He stopped though, mid motion, remembering the first time he'd seen that picture all framed up and on his desk. It was when he returned to work after his PE, over two years ago. Duffy had told him she rather liked it there. So there it had stayed. Never to be mentioned again.
Rather like their relationship in general. He was sure that he wasn't the only one to wonder where it might have led them, given the chance, but neither of them had said anything, neither had dared to disrupt the status quo. His free hand made its way to his lips as he recalled the kiss they'd just shared. It wasn't what he'd call passionate, but it was a lot deeper than pure friendship. Under different circumstances he'd have been delighted by this change of gear, but at the moment he had too much on his mind.
He looked down at the phone, which had started to wail plaintively that it was off its receiver, and debated whether he should call home and make sure she was still all right. If truth be known he hadn't really wanted to leave her, but he knew they couldn't both call in sick and after the rather unexpected kiss he'd been so flustered that he'd just left.
He placed the picture back in its regular spot on the shelf and sat back on his chair, trying to concentrate on the workday ahead.
Charlie looked down at his watch. Less than an hour to go before his shift ended and for once the department was practically empty. He'd kept himself occupied for the duration of the shift mostly by hiding under the mountain of paperwork that had accumulated on his desk, but occasionally rushing to resus for an emergency. The latter not only gave him something to concentrate on but also gave him a chance to check whether any of the unconscious patients might have a suspicious head wound. Thankfully none did. He couldn't say that allayed any of his fears though.
He began to wonder whether he could skip off early and get back to Duffy. He hadn't heard a word from her all day, which worried him, but then he had also decided against calling her for fear of what she might say. He glanced back at his watch, surely no one would miss him for an hour…
Just as Charlie had made up his mind that as the boss he was entitled to bend the rules a little, there was a polite knock on his office door before it opened to reveal Colette.
"I'm just off now, Charlie, all right?"
"Off? Off where? The shift's not over," he blustered, realising that he really would have to stay if she went.
She frowned at him and clasped her hands across her stomach. "Upstairs for my ultrasound scan. I'm already slightly behind schedule and Josh is buzzing around in a panic that we're going to miss this one's first photo shoot!"
"That's today?" Charlie winced and rubbed the back of his head as he spoke.
"Yep. I told you ages ago," she replied as Josh entered the room behind her and wrapped his arms around his wife's waist.
"You better not even be thinking about saying she can't go…" Josh warned, only half jokingly; he'd been waiting too long for this first glimpse of Griffiths junior as it was.
"Hey, even I know there are some things more important than the job."
"I'm sorry about leaving you in the lurch like this, Charlie," Colette apologised, "but if you want someone to blame, blame Duffy."
"Yeah, she's the one pulling a sickie. All sounds a bit fishy to me!"
Charlie felt his heart start to pump faster, "What do you mean fishy?"
"I think what my darling husband is trying to say…" Colette elbowed Josh in the ribs and he reacted by mouthing 'what?' at her, "…is that she told us she had a date planned for last night. It just seems a bit of a coincidence that she should then be off today. That's all. Something the matter, Charlie?"
He swallowed the lump of irrational panic that had risen to his throat and cursed his paranoia. "Duffy's ill, and I don't think idle gossip like that will help her get better."
Josh and Colette exchanged glances at Charlie's odd tone of voice, then apologised like a pair of naughty school children. "Look if she's that ill, maybe Colette and I should drop by her place on our way home; see if there's anything that she needs?"
"No!" Charlie cried out, startling them, "I mean, she could probably just do with some peace and quiet. Best just to leave her, I reckon."
"If you say so. Well we had better be making tracks, right love?"
Colette nodded."Night Charlie."
"Yeah, goodnight. And good luck!" As they left his office Charlie swivelled around in his chair and tapped his forehead against his desk a few times, reliving the conversation in his mind. They must have thought he was mad, and he'd noticed that a few of the other staff had been giving him funny looks on the rare occasions he'd left his office that day. This lying business wasn't half hard work.
Duffy put a new CD in the player and the room filled with the sound of gentle jazz music. Since finally crawling out from the safety of the bedcovers at around two in the afternoon when her stomach had demanded food, she had decided to make the best of a terrible situation. As yet, that had meant cleaning herself up, getting lunch and rooting through Charlie's record collection. Not terribly productive, but better than lying around feeling sorry for herself, and it had even calmed herself down enough to deal with Charlie's homecoming.
She was humming along to the tune when she heard Charlie's key in the lock. She gave the room a cursory glance to see if she'd been a good guest, and, deciding that it looked no worse than when she'd arrived, forced a smile to her lips, and waited for him to enter the room.
"Evening, Charlie," she said tentatively, trying to gauge his mood.
"Evening," he sighed in return, raising his eyebrow at her new attire, all acquired from his wardrobe if he wasn't mistaken.
Realising what was going through his mind, her expression clouded into worry. "I should have asked I know, but I hoped you wouldn't mind." She cursed herself for taking his feelings for granted again and added as an explanation, "I was cold."
"I don't mind, Duffy. They're only clothes, it doesn't matter." He walked past her and settled, exhausted, on the sofa.
"Are you OK?" she said, sitting next to him.
"Not really, I'm knackered. It's been one of those days."
She looked at his drawn, pale face and almost felt her heart break. The last time she'd seen him look so terrible had been when he'd ended up in counselling for depression. Duffy had always felt proud of herself that she'd been the main force in getting him to agree to see a counsellor and get himself well again. She hated the thought that her actions could lead him back to that dark place once more.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He looked at the worry and the pain in her eyes and berated himself for giving in to a moment of self-indulgent moaning. He was supposed to be being strong for her, not the other way around.
"It's not your fault."
A stifling silence descended, broken only by the sound of a lilting saxophone; making the physical gap between them seem like an impassable chasm. Each wanted nothing more than to hold the other, tell them that whatever happened they still cared about them, but their minds were too busy with the belief that the other wouldn't want that.
Eventually Duffy broke the silence. "Are you hungry? I could make us dinner if you want?"
Charlie, glad of the change of conversation as much as anything, summoned up a smile, "After the mess you made of breakfast?" She blushed with embarrassment. "I could drive up to a take-away, maybe swing by yours and pick up some clothes and stuff."
Duffy looked over at him in surprise. "Pick up some stuff? You think I should stay here?" She worded her question very carefully to try to disguise her hope that the answer would be yes. Not only did she not particularly want to spend a night alone in her house, but also she rather liked the idea of spending more time with Charlie.
"Well, I, er, I thought you didn't want to go home yet. I mean if you'd prefer to be back at your place, that's perfectly fine by me but you're welcome to spend as long as you like here," he replied earnestly.
"Thanks." She smiled. "I'll come with you though to pick up some stuff. I can't really avoid my house forever, can I?"
Charlie had pointed out that their food would get cold if they went to the take away first, so as they drove to Duffy's house they got drawn into a genial argument about what to eat, and where from.
"You can ring up for a pizza, if we're going to pick something up we might as well get something that can't be delivered," Duffy suggested over the quiet chattering of the car radio.
"But I like pizza…"
"So do I. I'm just saying that we could get something a bit more imaginative."
"Well, I don't know. What sort of thing do you want?"
"Charlie! Let me guess, deep pan 'meat feast' with extra cheese, am I right? Or…"
"Shush!" interrupted Charlie.
"I'm just saying…"
"Duffy, shut up!"
Charlie beat his left hand frantically in the air, before turning up the radio. "Listen…"
"…Police have as yet refused to divulge details of Brockly's death, but a spokesperson for the Holby Constabulary has admitted that they are treating it as suspicious. It's nine 'o' clock and you're listening to the news round up on BBC Radio Holby. The main headlines again: Transport minister admits that the rail network is a shambles, England striker in positive drugs test scandal, and local businessman Philip Brockly was found dead this morning…"
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