One Good Reason To Leave

           He was wrong to drink and drive, of course he knew that, he saw the consequences of such decisions splattered across recusc. every other day, but somewhere into his fourth Scotch he’d stopped caring. What was the point in playing things by the book when it never got you anywhere? What was the point of living if you were always on your own?

           Charlie knew it was the alcohol turning his thoughts bitter, he even knew he would wake up feeling sick and thoroughly ashamed of his behaviour but it made no difference. Inside he was numb with grief, and reckless self pity was the only way he’d ever known to cope with that feeling.

           He pulled up in front of his house, mounting the curb and missing the telegraph poll by a gnat’s wingspan, and as the engine died he stared forlornly up at the house, his home - her home until this afternoon - and felt his heart sink. It had only been his inbred homing instinct that had brought him back when the pub had finally kicked him out, not any sense of wanting to return. He’d stayed away at first so Duffy could pack in peace; knowing that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from trying to impress upon her what a foolish - no, downright insane thing she was doing. Then later as the sun melted below the horizon and he knew her packing would have finished and she would have left, it was the pain of opening that front door to an empty house once more that had kept him away.

           He already missed her. He wondered if she missed him. He tried to remind himself that what she chose to do was her business and he didn’t care. But he did. He always would. And it hurt that she only ever thought he was interfering.

           It took him a few seconds in his fuzzy state to realise what was wrong with the scene before him. His newly vacated house had a light shining in the lounge window, and the distinguishable form of a person moving about behind the net curtains. Either he had the great misfortune to have his house burgled on the same day as his heart was broken or she hadn’t actually left.

           His mind opened to all the pleasant possibilities this could signify. Had she seen sense, realised that taking a man as untrustworthy as Ryan Johnson back into her life was lunacy, and abandoned the ridiculous moonlight flit to New Zealand?

           He yanked the keys out of the ignition and elbowed open the car door, tripping over himself in his desperation to get to the front door. Uncoordinatedly he shoved his car key at the Chubb lock, swearing at it for not fitting and oblivious to his mistake. Inside the house she heard the scratching of metal on metal and came to his aide; unsure but uncaring how he did it the door opened and he found himself in the situation he thought he’d never be in again: face to face with Duffy.

           "You’re drunk".

           It wasn’t an accusation in the way he’d heard those words from other women in the past. She didn’t look angry just disappointed. Her shoulder’s sagged, and her eyes already glassy with tears closed in one long blink as she stepped back and let him past and into the house.

           "You’re here?" said Charlie, pleased though puzzled, "I thought you had to go straight to the airport, you had to leave tonight".

           He’d meant to be tactful but his defences were down too far to stop the edge of hurt cutting through his words.

           "I couldn’t just up and leave, could I? All that walking out and driving off into the sunset malarky is all very good for young girls in Hollywood movies but middle aged women with three kids need time to make preparations. Ryan’s gone on ahead, the boys are spending some time with Andrew’s parents. It’s only fair".

           "And you? What are you doing?"

           "I had to come back to pack, to clean out our rooms…"

           "How very decent of you"

           "Charlie…" she faltered, breathing heavily through her nose, her lips pressed together as she wrangled with what to say next.

           She hadn’t meant to hurt him, but it was clear that she had and his hurt pride would make the following conversation far more difficult on both of them than it needed to be. He just couldn’t smile and say how happy he was for her could he? He couldn’t even pretend! Why did he have to be so goddamned honest? Why did he have to stand there obstinate, caustic, p*ssed in both senses of the word, and worse than that looking so completely confused by her decision. Worse because she knew nothing she said would make him understand. He would always be confused by it, always convinced that she was out of her mind and it would always be a barrier between them, more so even than the thousands of miles they‘d be apart.

           "Shall we sit down?" said Duffy moving instinctively past him and into the living room. Charlie shrugged noncommittally but followed regardless. Torturous as it was to know she was about to leave his life, every second she stayed he could convince himself he might persuade her to change her mind.

           Charlie couldn’t help but notice how differently she acted in his house since she’d been living there. Gone were all the polite courtesies of house guests; waiting to be invited in, to take a seat, now Duffy acted more like the host than he did. Even in the short space of time they’d lived together she’d grown comfortable - they’d grown comfortable with each other - and he’d loved that. Coming home to a family, even if strictly speaking they weren’t his family had been a wonderful experience but the fact that the family in question was headed by Duffy that just made the whole thing so much better. Living with her could have been an awkward nightmare but it wasn’t, if anything it enhanced his already considerable feelings toward her. From best mate and woman at work he fancied, now she was right there in his house, in his life 24-7 and endearing herself to him on new levels.

           Of course he could never say anything to her. He always suspected that she didn’t reciprocate and if that was the case it would all have been terminally embarrassing not to mention harmful to their relationship as friends. And above all he couldn’t live with letting that happen. Losing Duffy from his life would kill a part of him, maybe not so as anyone else would notice but it would change his life for the worse none the less.

           Realising this, and how his bitter sarcasm was ruining whatever long distance friendship they might manage to keep going, he mentally reprimanded himself and swallowed his blasted pride.

           "I’m sorry"

           Her gaze flicked up to meet his as she sank into his favourite armchair, "For what?"

           "Snapping… and for not being happy for you like a good friend should. I’m going to miss you so much though…" He stepped forward, not sure whether to remain standing or sit and eventually settling for stumbling a few steps and sitting on the coffee table, his elbows on his knees and hands clasped as he leant earnestly toward Duffy.

           Instinctively she copied his stance, leaning close. "We’ll keep in contact, there’re plenty of ways in this day and age. I’m going to miss you too". Neither doubted each other’s words, the intensity of their feelings was vibrantly written across their expressions.

           "So don’t go"

           She stood up.

           "I mean it Duffy."

           "I know you do - that’s the problem!"

           "Ryan and I are going to start a new life together. I’ll miss you, of course I’ll miss you, but that’s not a reason to stay".

           "And Ryan’s a reason to go?" he scoffed. "How can you love him Duffy? What is there to love? The fact that he left you destitute, homeless, unemployed, miserable? The fact that he betrayed your trust, the trust of your children? The fact he scared you witless and broke your heart? He didn’t care enough to even call you for months! So, he gave the money back, so what? Has he explained where he’s been all this time, who he’s been with, what he’s been doing? Has he?"

           "He will do, he’s only been back two minutes…" said Duffy defensively but unconvincingly.

           "Exactly!" Charlie shouted triumphantly, standing up himself, his arms in the air, "Two minutes and you’ve decided to forget everything he put you, and your family through and you’re jumping through hoops for him. He doesn’t deserve you".

           "Maybe not" she said, immediately wafting her words away with a dismissive swipe of her hand, "But what about what I deserve? I’ve lived in dirty, noisy Holby all my life. I’ve lost both my parents and my husband in this city, I do a thankless job for little money and even less time off, I have three kids who I barely see from day to day. New Zealand was my dream Charlie, not his, but I was always too scared to get up and go there. Which is stupid because what could possibly be worse than what I’ve been through these last two years?

           "You’re worried about me because you think that Ryan will take advantage of me, of my money, well let me tell you something: Ryan will never get his hands on my money again, and as for using me… If anything I’m using him. He can make my dreams happen Charlie, and I love him for that. I love him for wanting to come back and help me escape this life that I’ve somehow ended up in. The last thing I need is my best friend making me feel bad about going!"

           She couldn’t help it, as she finished her speech her eyes welled up. Her throat was sore, though not through shouting, she’d kept her tone moderate throughout, but through sheer emotion. Painfully she swallowed a gulp of air, her chest heaving, her jaw trembling.

           Dumbfounded, Charlie’s own emotions took control, his brain not nearly ready to script a reply. He moved toward her, his arms opening and she needed no encouragement to step into his embrace. He could feel her breathing calming down as he held her, and as it did so she rested her head on his shoulder, nuzzling into his neck.

           "You know, you’re the only reason I thought twice about it. Peter and Jake have both had trouble at school since Andrew died, they could do with a fresh start as much as me. And I know they’ll make new friends a darn sight more easily than I will"

           He sighed, all final thoughts of getting her to reconsider evaporating. He couldn’t argue with her about wanting to leave Holby, those hours spent wondering what life without her there with him would be like made him realise just how little there was in his own life in the city.

           "If he hurts you I’ll fly straight over there and break both his legs".

           Duffy pulled away, unable to stop smiling at the frankly quite absurd notion. "Would you?"

           He nodded, although his drinking made his solemnity look a little more dubious than he’d intended and she laughed gently at him.

           "I’m serious".

           "I know. But I won’t let him hurt me… well not again anyway", she conceded. "Thank you for caring about me".

           She stretched forward, intending to brush a kiss against his cheek as she'd done only a few hours earlier when she'd thought she was saying goodbye forever, but now everything seemed so final; they’d made up their differences and they were in private as opposed the departmental staff room, a brief peck seemed so cold. She caught his eye as she turned ever so slightly, those eyes that had never changed despite the years they had known each other, and for the tiniest moment she saw clearly that his feelings ran far deeper than him simply missing her and wanting her to keep safe. She’d seen that look before in other eyes, but in Ryan’s..?

           Thoughts of Ryan vanished though as her lips met Charlie’s, soft flesh on flesh. She could taste the whiskey on his breath as she pressed full against him. She felt his tongue brush between her lips and although she knew his boldness was in no small part due to his intoxication, she didn’t resist. The kiss deepened, passionate and desperate, each knowing that it would be one of the last and most enduring memories of the other. And as they kissed she wondered if she could ever look at Ryan and not compare him unfavourably to Charlie.

           As they broke apart her mind was still reeling with the unexpected turn of events.

           "I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry" said Charlie, "You love Ryan" but his words weren’t loaded with resentment, they were soft and sad.

           She paused a long while, "What is so great about Holby?"

           Charlie was clearly puzzled by her apparent non sequitur, and frowned accordingly, "I don’t understand".

           "Why don’t you come to New Zealand with me and the boys". He looked briefly as though he was going to laugh at her suggestion, but she kept her eyes locked on his, trying to communicate through her gaze that she was utterly serious.

           "And how would that work? I don’t think Ryan would approve, would he?"

           "Forget Ryan," she said sincerely, so sincerely in fact that she almost surprised herself. As she spoke though she knew in her soul that she was doing the right thing for the first time in months. "Forget his country club. We could find somewhere of our own. A fresh start for all of us"

           "Forget Ryan?" he said cautiously, trying not to get his hopes up too much .

           "I know I can never trust him again but I loved other things about him, but now I’m wondering… I don’t need him to start a new life and as far as anything else goes I would rather have a man I can trust, someone I know genuinely cares about me, someone I genuinely care about in return".

           "I can’t just leave Holby…"

           "Give me one good reason why not".

           Ordinarily he would have risen to the challenge on principle, but he plain didn’t want to. He tried half heartedly to blame the booze, but the only thing the alcohol in his system was doing was stopping his brain lingering on pointless irrelevancies and forcing him to go with his heart’s indisputable instincts.

           He grinned, part nervous, mostly excited.

           "I don’t have one," he said, and they kissed once more.



The End

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