Finding Jocelyn

By Tanya H.

 

I first met her one Tuesday in a shabby office in the corner of the county Ambulance Service HQ. Barging in, towing the hoover with one hand and carrying my cleaning bucket with the other I ground to a halt on realising somebody was still working in there. Normally, by the time I started work, most people had got on their toes and were on their way home. I preferred having the place to myself, so I could sing as I worked.

 

            The woman sat a desk in the corner with her back to the window and its view of the station diesel pump. She hunched over her keyboard in hopeless supplication with the screen washing colour from her face to leave her looking like some malnourished waif.

 

            ‘Hello,’ I said, brightly. I aspire relentless cheerfulness after reading about an Italian man who’d been unlucky enough to endure a Nazi concentration camp. He’d said that when they had taken everything from him and beaten all the humanity from his life, the only thing he’d any control over was his attitude. Considering some of the stuff I’d put behind me it was a good place to keep your head in.

 

            “Do you mind if I hoover? Won’t be more than a couple of minutes. I can come back if you’re busy.”

 

            Her brows came together as she glanced over her monitor at me, which was a shame as it spoilt her pretty face – strong lines, almond shaped eyes and a fine straight nose. Good teeth too; when you have an overbite like mine you notice people’s teeth. Her chestnut hair was wavy and loose around her face until she pushed some behind her ears. I’d have said she was about my age, early twenties.

 

            “Sure.” Still frowning, but she was frowning at her screen not me.

 

            Before I could say anything, she was on her feet and heaving her swivel chair up onto her desk, allowing clear access to the carpet in her work station. As well as appreciating her consideration, let me tell you not many show that for the humble cleaner, I noticed she was wearing shapeless black slacks and a loose, plain blouse that hung over her waist and hips; the clothes of a woman who hated her body. Underneath she might have been lean and athletic, a bit like me,  though she was much prettier, and nowhere near as booby. The boys had called me Rabbit Face at school, until I was old enough to get an interesting figure when I became Caramel – remember those adverts?

 

            I smiled my best smile, said my thanks, but she didn’t speak again until I’d finished hoovering and emptied the bin when she thanked me – though her attention was already pulled back into whatever work was keeping her late. At least she did acknowledge me, plenty don’t. You get used to that when you’re a cleaner and if it’s the kind of thing that bothers you then you need a different job. Or a cheaper cottage.

 

            At this point I should explain that I lived in an old cottage in a pleasant village a few miles out of town. The rent was managed through three jobs and the dividend from being in line with an RAF airfield’s main runway – even with triple glazing the helicopters were very very noisy. I cleaned at Ambulance HQ on weekday evenings from 1600 to 1900 while on Fridays and Saturdays, from 2000 to 0100, you could find me at the pub by the Premiere Inn pulling pints and waiting on tables. My favourite job of the three was selling books in Waterstones. I’ve always had a love of reading and always got  kick from sharing that passion with customers in the bookshop. I’m pleased to report my Tuesday to Friday, part time position there has since blossomed into a full time post and I’m training as a manager.

 

            Sunday, my day off, let me stay in bed until it was stupidly late when I could get up, pretend I knew what I was doing with my cottage’s tiny garden and walk my imaginary dog.

 

            Having an imaginary dog was way better than having a real one for the following reasons:

 

  1. I only had to walk it once a week. I took this seriously and my imaginary dog got a walk every Sunday come rain, shine, tempest, flood or zombie apocalypse.

 

  1. The dog poo fairies would clean up the mess left behind by imaginary dogs.

 

  1. I couldn’t afford a real dog.

 

  1. The cat didn’t get jealous of my imaginary dog.

 

            The cat was called Venus, as I didn’t know what she called herself. Venus was short for Venus Fly Trap, a name I chose because of her terrible habit of rolling on her back when you approached her. Many cats did this for people they trusted, not Venus.  When she showed you her creamy white tummy, and all her soft belly fur, when she curled her front paws most adorably as though she wanted nothing more in the world than to have her tummy stroked, it was a malicious trap. Anyone falling for her guiles would find her claw filled front paws and her toothy mouth around their hand while she kicked savagely with her back legs.

 

            Away from my jobs and the imaginary dog, I made space when for netball and five-a-side football. Tall enough to be a reasonable goal attack in the former, I was long-legged enough for a surprising turn of speed in the latter. Sadly, I wasn’t much use at turning that speed into goals, but our pub’s lady’s team was laid back enough not to worry too much.

 

            The followingTuesday, I bumbled into her office again and found her there, still frowning at her monitor. We exchanged greetings, she moved her chair onto her desk again and I cleaned rapidly, but efficiently before saying goodbye.

 

            On the third Tuesday, when her apparent level of happiness hadn’t changed much and the data cramming her screen was still frownable, I decided to introduce myself.

 

            “I’m Heidi,” I said, and offered my hand. Dad was always firm that we should shake people’s hands when we met them.

 

            I think I surprised her for she looked at my hand for a few moments before reaching out to take it, only briefly – no more than a quick squeeze.

 

            “Jocelyn,” she murmured.

 

            “I’ve never met anybody called Jocelyn before.” Maybe I didn’t need to tell her that, but the thought was in my head and out of my mouth before I could stop it. “It’s a beautiful name, feels lovely to say even – Jocelyn, Jocelyn, Jocelyn.”

 

            ‘Oh, thanks, Thank you,’ she said, hesitantly.

 

            “You’re welcome, Jocelyn.” I smiled again, because I really wanted to see her smile. Though it didn’t seem to be her night for it – again. So, I hoovered, dusted quickly and was just walking out with a cheery goodbye, when she spoke, with a rush of words almost mashed into each other.

 

            “Love your hair, the colour. Really suits you.”

 

            As I thanked her, I saw a need in her eyes – quickly gone as she refused to meet mine – while I self-consciously ran a hand along my pony tail. It was long enough to run right between my shoulder blades and waved elegantly all on its own. I’d kept it a brilliant red since last November, when I’d finally tired of Halloween black with a white streak running from my brow. It was good of her to comment; most people seemed disapproving of the colour.

 

            Now Jocelyn had a name I started worrying for her. Nobody should be that miserable, but I wasn’t sure what I could do. Her clothing, her colouring, the lack of make-up or jewellery made me think of eating disorders, so I didn’t want to take in some chocolate to share. However, the next Thursday, about lunchtime, I saw Jocelyn away from her office. She had just wandered into  the Waterstones bookshop on Station Street and was standing at the new releases shelf, her head on one side looking along the titles. She wore her usual slacks and blouse, her hair hung loose and she carried a plain, brown hand bag over one shoulder.

 

            To see her gave me a little thrill. Firstly, because I wanted her to be happy, secondly because books, in my mind, are a great way to cheerfulness and thirdly because it gave me a purposeful excuse to say her name again.

 

            “Hello, Jocelyn,” I said softly, not too close so I didn’t make her jump.

 

            She did startle though, as though unaccustomed to people being too near. At the moment of recognition the slightest suggestion of a smile teased her pale lips for a heartbeat. Then she recovered her usual serious face.

 

            “Heidi! You look different.” As soon as she’d said it, she put a hand to her mouth as though she’d overstepped the mark by commenting on my appearance. I did as well; I was wearing a long, billowy peasant skirt of many colours, neat little ballet pumps and a dark, floral lace top that looked like it might be see through, but wasn’t. I’d swept my hair up into loose bun and wore, long beaded earrings to tickle my neck.

 

            “I hope so,” I said, with an encouraging smile.

 

            Then she must have noticed the staff lanyard around my neck. “You work here!” Her voice was soft, so you found yourself leaning forward, encouraging her to speak, but I thought it had hidden substance – as though she could really start Sergeant Majoring across a windy parade square. She lilted with the mellow tones of the North East.

 

            “Or I have twin sister who hoovers your office?”

 

            Was that another ghost smile?

 

            “I don’t. Have a twin sister. Or any sisters in fact. Or even a brother. Just me.” Why was I telling her this? She’d come to find a book to lift herself away from those work related lines and figures and graphs she was always frowning at, not to listen to me babble. “Are you looking for something in particular?” I asked, to get things back to a professional level.

 

            She shook her head. For a second she made eye contact with me, her eyes were a shimmering blue-green I’d love to have had instead of my nondescript brown. Then she was watching the floor again, fingers nervously twisting her handbag’s strap. ‘Just… passing the time.’

 

            An idea formed, but before it had been fully fleshed out I was already asking her if she wanted to come with me for a coffee when I went for my lunch.

 

            Again she shook her head, very quickly, almost before I had finished talking, and I could have kicked myself.

 

            “Sorry, bit busy.”

 

            “It’s okay. Enjoy your browsing. Look, if you need anything, I’ll be around somewhere. Just look for the hair.”

 

            A nod, just a fleeting bob. “Okay. Thanks. Bye.” She turned away, almost before the last word. Oh well. I left her and went back towards the tills. Lunch with a great book again – I had a really good science fiction tale full of pirates and sassy women and –

 

            A tap on my shoulder. I put on my best, ‘how can I help you smile’ and turned to find it was Jocelyn, looking nervously over my shoulder and biting her bottom lip. “I would, like a coffee with you. Is that still okay? If it’s no trouble.”

 

            My Waterstones sits only a few minutes away from a sooty church which has a gothic off-shoot in which is a brilliant, independent coffee shop. I go there a lot, even when I can’t really afford it, because the Sara and Carl, who run it, know me by name, remember how I like my tea and just how melty I love a pannini. She had gorgeous tattoos and if I weren’t so stupidly terrified of the needle I would have too. So I took Jocelyn there; we pooled our resources to order a cafitiere, a bowl of fries and a toastie.

 

            While I ooh’d over Sara’s latest tat Jocelyn took herself to a corner. There she planted her back to the wall and watched everyone who came in, without looking to their faces. She ate with short bursts or movement, but took her share without hesitation undermining my diagnosis of an eating disorder. From the mistrustful way she looked at strangers I decided she had been victim to some horrible assault and felt strangely proud to have won her trust – like the first time Venus had decided I was passive enough to stroke her head.

 

            I pressed her gently to learn she lived alone in a little flat on the other side of the town and had a short term contract for the Ambulance Service analysing data – depressing stuff about delays and complaints and response times. Tuesday evenings she worked late, concocting the manager’s weekly report. I also found, by direct questioning, that red was her favourite colour, her favourite singer was either George Ezra or Birdy – depending on her mood – and her favourite place in the whole world was Cotehele in Cornwall; she smiled when she told me of it. She’d grown up in Wallsend, outside Newcastle and had only moved here because of… (she shrugged).

 

            I had little idea of how I’d ended up in that town either, but it was a long way from where I’d grown up in Brighton and the distance between me and there felt about right.

 

            In return I told her my favourite colour was royal blue, though I’d never treated my hair to that shade.  Lana del Rey was my favourite singer, even though she was very sweary, and Wolf Alice my favourite band. I had to think about a favourite place in the whole world before I decided it was wherever my Dad was. Back then he’d been in Somalia and I found myself telling Jocelyn that whenever I got a postcard from him I held it close before I read it, like the sunshine that must have soaked into it would warm me the way he did.

 

            “Why’s your Dad in Somalia?” Jocelyn asked. She was leaning back in her seat a little, not so hunched over.

 

            “He’s a pirate!” I said, then shook my head. “He’s not a pirate. He’s one of those people who tries to make sure that people who think they’re important don’t get hurt.”

 

            “A bodyguard?”

 

            “I suppose so.” Though I didn’t think bodyguard was much of a title for my Dad. He didn’t usually didn’t think much of the people he was protecting. “I don’t see much of him.” I tried to smile after that, but I do miss him.

 

            “I don’t see my parents at all,” Jocelyn said, and she leant forward again.

 

            “What does your Dad do?”

 

            I’d asked the wrong question. I knew that partly because her hands went white around her coffee cup and all the prettiness was stolen from her face, but mainly because she said, ‘He’s a c you next Tuesday,’ so matter of factly she might have been telling me he was a lorry driver. She didn’t actually say, ‘C you next Tuesday,’ she said the actual word, but I hate it so much I won’t even type it here.

 

            Even with a relentlessly positive outlook, that’s a hard statement to recover from. I hate bad language, even from Lana del Rey, but the way Jocelyn said that word was enough to suggest he was responsible for the way she presented to the world. As much as I wanted to tell her about my amazing Dad and how much I missed him, it would have been too selfish to highlight whatever had come between Jocelyn and her dad.

 

            “That was probably a bit much,” she murmured.

 

            I wanted to give her a hug, but wasn’t sure how she’d react.

 

            “I’m really sorry I asked.”

 

            “Don’t be. Why would you know? Killed the moment, didn’t I. I’d better get back to work.”

 

            I didn’t want her to go though, not like that. I wanted to see her smile again, even a little bit, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

 

            Until the lame, “Do you like it here?”

 

            She looked a little surprised. ‘Yeah, it’s good. The coffee’s good.’

 

            “Maybe we could come again.”

 

            “Really!” Like she’d upset me so much my lunch break was ruined. Then, hesitantly, as though I was about to laugh cruelly and spit in her face or something. “I’d like that.”

 

            Instead of pressurising her by asking for a phone number, we agreed she’d come to the bookshop again, same time next week. Standing outside, the wind caught the acres of material in my skirt and whipped it out and around her legs.

 

            “I really love your skirt,” she said, watching it swirl around her, but not stepping out of the way. “I’m up there.” She pointed in the opposite way to where I was going. “You know that, of course.” That little smile teased for a moment. “Your twin sister works there too.”

 

            Weirdest thing was I couldn’t say why it was I was so looking forward to seeing her again. After all, if I were being completely dispassionate (a thing I find difficult to do) she was a frumpy, misery. But so… attractive, lovely, vulnerable? Somebody in need of a friend?

 

            Venus got to hear all about her. She watched me with her big green eyes while I tried to explain about Jocelyn. Then she turned in the way that cats do and started washing her backside.

 

            Dad got to hear as well, when he phoned the day after I’d had lunch with her.

 

            “How are you, honey?”

 

            “Good, but confused.”

 

            ‘What’s confusing you, Tink?’

 

            He called me Tinkerbelle, because when I was sixteen I told him I wanted to be a fairy when I grew up.

 

            “I think I’m turning into a lesbian.”

           

            “Is this like when you thought you were turning into a mermaid?”

 

            “Dad! Lesbians aren’t fictional! Will you stop going on about mermaids? I’m all grown up now and I can’t stop thinking about this girl.”

 

            “Is your hair still poppy colour?”

 

            “Gleaming.”

 

            “Good girl. Is she a lesbian too?”

 

            “What a thing to ask! How am I supposed to know?”

 

            He laughed. Like everything about Dad his laugh didn’t come easily, but came well meant. “Having a heart to heart with you, Tink, is always surreal.”

 

            “Thanks for listening.”

 

            “Any time. Was it any use?”

 

            “More than you know.”

 

            The next Friday night, when I was behind the bar in the pub, I tested whether I was turning into a lesbian by paying particular interest to the female customers and trying to imagine making love with them. It wasn’t an unqualified success; many of them were large, loud women who I wouldn’t have wanted to socialise with, never mind  kiss or wake up next to. Later on I tried to imagine making love with Jocelyn, after kicking Venus off the bed in case she got jealous. It was a pleasant fantasy, and though I did have an orgasm at Jocelyn’s imaginary hands and tongue I decided I was probably just bi-curious rather than full-on lesbian.

 

            Tuesday came again and I went to cleaning Ambulance HQ with a little buzz of excitement. I was going to see Jocelyn and had brought her a present, just a woven friendship bracelet made of red and purple and blue threads, but I thought she needed something pretty in her life.

 

            But whatever was causing her to be hunched behind her monitor, face in her hands, shoulders shaking as she wept silently was unlikely to be helped by my little gift, no matter how well meant. I touched her, put my hand on her shoulder, then reached around and pulled her into me as if I could absorb her trembling, soak up her tears and carry the hurt away.

 

            “Whatever is the matter?” I whispered while I stroked her hair.

 

            “I’ve nowhere to live, my landlord threw me out.”

 

            “He can’t!”

 

            “He did. Called us awful things, pushed us. All my bastard dad’s fault. I don’t know how he found us.”

           

            “You have legal rights!:

 

            She snorted miserably. ‘You have to be a person to have rights.’

 

            Which was a bit cryptic for me, so I decided not to comment. A speech bubble rose to mind and popped out before I had chance to stop it, which was okay, because offering Jocelyn my spare bedroom was absolutely the right thing to do.

 

            “It’s not really much of a room, under the eaves at the back and there’s hardly room for a bed and a wardrobe, but you can have it until you find somewhere else and take your time to get sorted. Venus will love you, don’t stroke her tummy, and we’ll get some advice about suing the arse off your bad landlord.”

 

            “Thanks, but I couldn’t.”

 

            “Why not?”

 

            “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

 

            ‘I can’t imagine you would be.’

 

            “I’m a very private person.”

 

            “There’s a lock on the bedroom door and if you whistle I won’t barge in on you while you’re on the loo. I have no idea why there is a lock on the spare room and not the bathroom, isn’t that weird? Anyway, you’ll hardly know I’m there.”

 

            “It’s your house, silly.”

 

            “I have three jobs, remember? Venus will enjoy the company.”

 

            Venus was waiting for us, standing on the doorstep twitching her tail and wowing hungrily. She took one look at Jocelyn standing there, like a forlorn refugee with all her world packed into three bin bags and an old holdall, wowed again then threw herself on her back, kicking her paws at the sky.

 

            “She’s very cute,” said Jocelyn.

 

            “Never, ever try to tickle her tummy.”

 

            “Why not, she’s adorable.”

 

            “Look at her; five of her six extremities have points. It’s a trap.”

 

            Jocelyn admired my low ceilings and their old, oak beams. She liked the big fireplace, thick walls and ill-fitting doors, nodded at the cosy kitchen and tiny bathroom. Her bags brushed both sides of the narrow staircase when I took her up  to show her the little room at the back. She sat on the bed experimentally; if she had stretched out her feet she could have put them on the opposite wall.

 

            “Why are the windows triple glazed?”

 

            “I have loud helicopters for neighbours. You get used to them after awhile. Don’t sunbathe nude in the garden or they’ll never go away.”

 

            “I don’t think that’ll be an issue,” she murmured, looking at her knees. “I’ll be gone in a week, I can’t impose on you.”

 

            “Do you like pizza?” I asked her.

 

            Dad had asked me the same thing the day Mum left. Two days after my fifteenth birthday I got off the school bus, walked around the corner into the cul-de-sac, where Mum and I lived, to find her in the kitchen with a man I hardly knew but instantly recognised. Routine questions about what was for tea died on my lips. Mum looked harassed, her hair was wild, her socks didn’t match. The man was lean and hollow with tanned, leathery cheeks and sky blue eyes almost lost in crinkles.

 

            “You know who this is?” Mum said, with a funny cackley laugh. She’d been smoking in the house, which wasn’t like her – normally I’d have challenged her over it, but that day hadn’t been normal.

 

            Of course I knew who it was. I had three shoeboxes under my bed full of the long, beautiful letters he’d written to me from different, hot parts of the world. He nodded, but the rest of him was still, like a lake. His face was like mine, the same lines, same nose. Better teeth, I got my overbite and long limbs from Mum. I put my bag down, slipped off my shoes. He was still watching me, but not staring, just watching. Very still. I didn’t say anything to Mum, just walked over and put my arms around him. He smelt of sand. After a moment I got my hug returned.

 

            ‘It’s over, princess,’ he murmured into my hair – even at fifteen I was almost as tall as him. ‘I’m out – discharged.’

 

            Though he never really left; he often told me that you can take the soldier out of the army, but not the army out of the soldier. I have always hoped that nothing, except a human being, ever got hooked into me like that.

 

            Next day when I got home from school, Mum had gone. That morning, she’d made me my packed lunch while I did toast for us both, then kissed my cheek and waved as I went down the path to the bus stop.

 

            “She didn’t want me then?” I asked Dad. I thought I’d be more upset, but I never cried over her.

 

            He thought for a moment, then another. “I don’t think she really wanted either of us. Do you like pizza?”

 

            “You’re making your own pizza!” Jocelyn said as I busied myself in the kitchen. I’d done the dough before leaving for work, enough for two solitary meals or one for both of us. I sat her at the table, sprinkled flour and gave her a dough ball to knead and tease into shape.

 

            “Dad showed me.” I caught myself before I could tell her any more about him, not wanting to pick more of her scabs.

 

            I passed her tomato and pesto, mozzarella and torn basil leaves. There wasn’t much else, until I got paid, but she didn’t need to know that. She was quiet while she arranged them on her base. I loved the way she made patterns, the way her slim fingers moved the food around until they formed a pleasing shape. When she licked her fingers clean I looked away, like I was intruding on something intimate, but I couldn’t stop myself imagining they were my fingers she was kissing.

 

            “You’re really lucky,” she said quietly. “My Dad’s a -“

           

            “You told me,” I interrupted, so I didn’t have to hear that word in my kitchen.

 

            “Never taught me anything, except…” She stared at her pizza and then poked at it viciously, spoiling the pattern she’d crafted. “Except misery and lies.”

 

            I squatted before her, took her hands in mine, squeezed them. “No misery here, Jocelyn. Just you, me and Venus. Not him.”

 

            “He’s in all my dreams.”

 

            I started researching  coping strategies for survivors of sexual abuse; I believed Jocelyn was one.

 

 

2

 

 

Jocelyn was an undemanding lodger, to be honest she had a smaller impact on my day to day routine than Venus – never once did she try and bite me or leave mice under the washing machine. We mostly had breakfast together, on a weekday – she liked Cornflakes and honey yoghurt while I would fill the kitchen with the homely toast scent – and there would be an hour or two in the evening when I got back from cleaning, assuming I wasn’t playing netball of football.

 

            I taught her how to play pool, that was fun. The village pub, much nicer than the one I work in, was a friendly spot with a peaceful atmosphere and a modern attitude to women cleaning up on the pool table.

 

            “It’s all about angles and geometry,” I told her, trying to get her excited about it as we walked down. Away from work she swapped her baggy blouse for a baggy jumper and her ill-fitting slacks for ill-fitting jeans, but she allowed herself to be persuaded down to the pub. At the threshold, on hearing the gentle hubbub of voices from inside – I think it was British Legion night, she baulked – like a woman possessed by evil spirits being led into a church.

 

            After the landlord and couple of regulars said hello to me and were introduced to her, Jocelyn relaxed slightly and after loosening her up with a bottle of lager we played pool. I showed her the basics and let her win a little bit and I think she enjoyed it – at least she didn’t put up much resistance the next time I suggested a game. She went on to refuse netball, but did come and watch. Football was an absolute no-go; I presumed the game meant more old scabs.

 

            Everything about her was plain and understated. Her underwear, when I saw it being dried, was white, cotton and utterly without frill. A nun might at least have a little lace trim around her knickers, but not Jocelyn. Out of her work or leisure clothes she wore baggy onesies under a shapeless dressing gown, her hair was always down and unadorned, her ears were unpierced. She was the pretty girl who hated being pretty.

 

            One afternoon, the second or third weekend she was there, I was running a little late to get to my pub job. Having been unable to find any tights in my dresser, and forgetting I wasn’t alone, I’d scampered downstairs in just my blouse and knickers, skirt clutched in one hand, hoping there would be some tights hanging on the airer.

 

            “You wouldn’t have a some tights I could scrounge for the night?” I implored on finding the airer empty.

 

            She shook her head with a regretful look and it occurred to me that I’d never seen her wearing a skirt.

 

            Happily I found a pair of opaques draped over a radiator and managed to fall into a door while hopping from one foot to the other while hauling them on. As I stepped into the skirt and zipped it up I caught her watching me. She snatched her eyes away and colour rose in her cheeks.

 

            “You are so effortlessly feminine,’ she murmured as I slipped my ankle boots on.

 

            “I practically lost a fight with a pair of tights!”

 

            “Casually woman,” she said as I dabbed on a bit of lipstick and twisted my hair into some kind of knot.

 

            I was in too much of  hurry to give that the kind of answer it deserved, and by the time I got home after a busy shift Jocelyn was asleep with her door tight shut. She always kept it shut, much to Venus’s disgust, but I didn’t press the matter – with the kind of darkness she kept behind her eyes, I was determined to be a friend who gave her space.

 

            And I enjoyed being her friend. I liked that she would look and smile from behind her desk on the Tuesday evenings when I went to hoover, I loved to see waving in Waterstones for our weekly lunchtime meet. It was wonderful to see her slowly gaining confidence in me and we started curling up together, under a blanket on the sofa when the evenings were cool. Though there were still dark secrets behind her eyes, I felt like I was getting closer to giving her the confidence to let me in.

 

            Then I kissed her and almost ruined everything.

 

3

 

At school I was often described, rather unkindly, as rabbit-faced or having the kind of teeth that meant I could eat an apple through a tennis racquet. When my body decided to stop being a girl and turn woman I was able to move from being a victim of bullying into a centre of sexual attention.  For awhile Caramel was a better nickname than rabbit-face, and I convinced myself that popularity through sexual favours was well worth the cost to my reputation. However, one fumbling act in the gymnasium changing room caused my expulsion from school, though not the boy I was caught with – which says volumes about our unbalanced society. I won’t say any more on the matter, it caused enough pain for people who didn’t deserve, but I liked men. I enjoyed sex with them – I was liberal and experimental,  but I’d never kissed a woman before; I’d never even thought about trying out for the other team before Jocelyn.

 

            The kiss started well. We were cuddled together, her head on my shoulder and her hair down my chest, my arm around her. She’d been weeping and I was conscious of how fragile she felt, how warm, how angular – like she wasn’t eating properly. I never knew what had brought the tears, but I’d tried to stem them as best I could, holding her tight, stroking her hair and then her cheek. As much as I tried to stop myself, I wondered what it would feel like to kiss her. It had been some time since my last boyfriend and I suppose I was missing the intimacy of another human. So when she looked up and whispered her thanks for the small comfort I’d been there was one of those lingering moments you see in the movies where the star struck couple share a long, lingering look, then they close on each other, tilting for the kiss.

 

            Her lips were so beautifully soft I sighed to feel them. The contact broke, then I kissed her again and my heart raced and my breath caught and she kissed me back. Her hand slipped around my waist, our kiss deepened and under my pyjamas my nipples stiffened – my first lesbian kiss! It was wonderful

 

            Until she made a little wounded noise in the back of her throat and jerked away like she’d been stabbed. Her face was all staring eyes – fear! That’s what I saw, and it made me shiver with its intensity.

 

            Like a startled Venus, she was out from under our blanket and with her name hanging in the air she ran up the stairs. I heard her bedroom door slam.

 

            “Not really how that scene played out in your imagination, Heidi,” I said to myself, trying to understand what had just happened. I’d overstepped the mark, gone to far, that much was clear – though the signals had seemed right, as much as I could read them with my very limited same-sex experience.

 

            An apology was called for.

 

            “Jocelyn?” I knocked lightly on her door. There was a light showing underneath it.

 

            “Jocelyn, I’m really sorry.”

 

            After a few long heartbeats of silence I heard a deep sigh. “I’m not a lesbian.”

 

            “Neither am I.”

 

            “You kissed me!”

 

            Which I had, and I shouldn’t have. “It just…”

 

            “I hate living here. I don’t like you, I don’t like your cat. I don’t like anything about being here.” She sobbed as she said the last words.

 

            They bit me deep. Harder than anything anybody had ever said to me before and my throat started to close. But I fought that down, because she was lying. It was perfectly, awfully clear and with sudden perfect clarity I realised something very important about her and me.

 

            “You don’t mean that. You want to push me away, because we got too close. You’re scared of being close, aren’t you Jocelyn? You want distance between you and everybody else.”

 

            “You don’t know me.”

 

            “I love you.” And I did. I knew it with a fierce blaze of sunshine. Not the love that binds two lovers either, as much as her kiss had been lovely, I had fallen in love with her because she was wonderful and absolutely the right person for me to fall in love with.

 

            “Stop it,” she whispered and sobbed again. I could have kicked down her door, the lock was only one of those little, slidey bolts, but that would have been wrong.

 

            “I won’t. I can’t. I’m going to sit right here, outside your door and every five minutes I’m going to tell you that I love you.”

 

            Ten minutes passed. She said nothing and I told her twice, softly, that I loved her. The floor was uncomfortable and it was cold, but I wasn’t there for me. Slight noises told me she was moving, I saw shadows under the door and then she pushed something small and pink through the gap.

 

            A driving licence.

 

            On it was a stern photo of a young man who looked very much like Jocelyn and the card said his name was Jonathan Parks. I stared at it until my eyes were dry and then blinked slowly, like I could make the picture show me the woman I loved, but Jonathan Parks persisted. I had never imagined this, never thought of her as anything other than a sadly abused woman. And now I knew her secret? What now? She was still a sadly abused woman.

 

            “You’re disgusted,” she said, into my silence.

 

            “No. I’m trying to find the words that mean what I’m thinking right now.”

 

            “I’ve heard them all, don’t worry,” she said with a hollow, ghostly laugh. “Pervert, freak, dirty homo, cock sucker.”

 

            I put the driving licence face down on the carpet and pushed it under the door. “I would never have used words like that about you even if I had just met you. My words would be; Jocelyn, lovely, sad, fragile, woman. And I love you.”

 

            There were more little sounds from inside. I saw her shadow by the door again, something like fabric scuffing the wallpaper.

 

            “I’ve been so lonely,” she whispered. Perhaps her voice was a little deeper, but what was normal anyway? How many times had I been accused of being a dyke, a lezza, just because I was tall and could run?

 

            “You could come back under the blanket. I promise I won’t kiss you again.”

 

            A little snort. “It was a nice kiss.”

 

            “I’ll go and put the kettle on.”

 

            About five minutes later she appeared at the living room door, leaning against the doorpost in her onesie and dressing gown; eyes red-rimmed, mouth drooping at the corners. I patted the sofa next to me, smiled as I watched and tried to see the man in her. I shouldn’t have, I know, but couldn’t help it. For all my best intentions, I am only human.

 

            The things I had found attractive about her were still there – the lines of her face, the curve of her lips, set of her eyes and their gorgeous colour, but were her shoulders very broad, her hands large? She must have been a feminine boy from the start, for as much as I tried to lay male filters over her, all I could see was Jocelyn.

 

            “Have you read me?” she asked after enduring my scrutiny. Now she had shown me her driving licence she seemed less timid, I suppose all she had left to fear from me now was rejection – not me finding out by my own means.

 

            So I stood and put my hands on her shoulders – we were almost eye to eye. “Do you mean have I seen anything other than… a girl?”

 

            “It’s the constant fear of the transgendered.”

 

            “You’re prettier than I am.”

 

            That rocked her. Another little frown marked her brow.

 

            “No way. You’re the real deal, I’m just a… a facsimile.”

 

            “Right now, you are way prettier than I will ever be.” To stress the point I gave a ghastly grin and pulled in my bottom lip to emphasise my top incisors. It made her laugh, so spontaneously she clapped a hand over her mouth in a very girlish gesture.

 

            “Sorry, really sorry,” she said when she’d recovered herself. I waved off her apology. “Besides, your chest is better than mine.”

 

            “These!” I made dismissive motions of my round breasts, which were much bigger than hers. “They ache every time I do sport or run and by the time I’ve put another ten years on they will be swinging around my knees. I envy your little ones.”

 

            “I do hope they get a bit bigger,” she said, looking down on herself. “Anyway, your bum is lovely. It looks so good in those mini skirts you wear to the pub and the way it moves when you walk… I’ve no hips at all.”

 

            “Are you sure you’re not a lesbian!”

 

            “I’m not sure about anything since I came to live here.”

 

            “Anyway, Jocelyn, your hair is beautiful, a wonderful colour. Mine is the hair equivalent of beige.”

 

            “Bright red!”

 

            “I got tired of hiding myself,” I said, combing fingers through my hair.

 

            I pulled her down to the sofa, put the mug of tea in her hands and tucked the blanket around us both. There was a gap between us, but after a moment’s silence, she shuffled sideways until our hips were touching.

 

            “Have we really just had a girl-off?” she said.

 

            “You’re winning.”

 

            “Ah, maybe, but you trump me with your biology, don’t you?”

 

            “True. But biology’s overrated. Every time it gets exciting with a lad, I have to consider breeding cycles. You on the other hand.”

 

            She thought a moment, then another, during which I decided I had gone too far. While marshalling an apology she squeezed my hand. “No chance of that, Heidi. Any lad would be sick in a bucket if they saw me without me onesie.” She gave a long sigh. ‘Same as anybody else. Everybody who should have cared has rejected me. Now I expect it. I look for it, make it up. Always braced for it.’

 

            I thought of my Mum walking out without ever saying goodbye and clinked my mug against hers. “Not me.”

 

 

 

            4

 

Breakfast felt different the next day, though there was nothing tangible to say why. Jocelyn came down in her onesie and dressing gown, hair like brunette thatch and sat with her yoghurt and corn flakes as I crunched through toast and peanut butter like nothing had changed. But it felt different, like magic.

 

            Our eyes met for a second over the table and though she did her usual rapid looking away, this was reflex for her eyes came back to mine and that little frown line came back between her brows.

 

            “Did last night really happen?” she said.

 

            “How do you feel?”

 

            She shrugged. “I don’t have the words.”

 

            I reached across and touched her hand, and she let me. “I’m happy you told me.”

 

            A nod, then another. “I should have done it ages ago… It’s just…”

 

            Another squeeze. She released her spoon and squeezed me back.

 

            “Can I be blunt? In a nice way?” I waited for a nod and wouldn’t let her take her hand back. “You’ve gone to all this trouble to be who you want to be and now you act like… I don’t know, like you’re embarrassed to be a woman.”

 

            “Don’t you think I don’t want to be like you? I… It’s confidence, self-respect. When all you’ve had from people is sh- pain, then that’s what you expect. I tried a skirt once, used up a lot of courage and somebody laughed who shouldn’t have. It was so humiliating. It’s really hard to get past that.”

 

            “Small steps,” I said and that day I sent her to work with her hair bouncing in a pony tail and a subtle gleam on her smiling lips.

 

            In an ideal world we would have taken ourselves to some retail mega-hub and hit the shops, but neither of us had the disposable income for that kind of experience. However, one of the many advantages in living in genteel middle-England is that the charity shops were well stocked with very nice clothes at thrifty prices. We did well to find her a neat, mid-grey pencil skirt for work and something I decided would be just the thing for a game of pool after netball.

 

            “I don’t feel good about this,” she said when she presented in the living room that evening. I was glowing from the shower and wearing a long, slender skirt to maintain my modesty when lining up tricky, winning shots. Jocelyn’s legs, looking very elegant in some of my opaque tights, were covered from the knee upwards, by the slightly a-line and wonderfully elegant button through denim skirt we’d found in the Age Concern shop.

 

            “Of course you don’t. Twenty years of social conditioning, unpleasant opinions and your own demons are saying you look like a pot-bellied builder in a micro-dress, aren’t they?”

 

            She screwed up her face. “That’s hardly the point, Doctor Freud.”

 

            “Come on, Jocelyn. You’re excited. You’re about to go out wearing a type of garment which has been used over the centuries to constrain and keep women in their place; a type of clothing, I might add, that women have been fighting to get out of in the work place. Only a couple of generations ago women like us would have been pariahs if we’d dared to wear trousers.”

 

            “You wear skirts loads!”

 

            “I enjoy a nice skirt, and nobody’s telling me I’ve got wear one. And you, my beautiful self-esteem challenged friend, have earned the right to wear that skirt down to the pub and to enjoy it.”

 

            Even so, she halted at the threshold like she was rabidly agoraphobic, clutched my upper arm and said, “I could just put jeans on.”

 

            “You’re not wearing jeans again until we find some that fit you properly.” I pushed her bodily from the cottage and firmly closed the door behind us. She looked like a newborn foal, shifting from one foot to another, glancing every way along the street.

 

            “See! Nothing happened. The world has not cracked, the sun as not wobbled from its axis.”

 

            Venus chose that moment to prowl up from next door’s garden. She stared at me, then at Jocelyn before sauntering over to her and throwing herself onto her back at Jocelyn’s feet. Squirming like a feline harlot she chirped invitingly.

 

            Jocelyn started to stoop, hand outstretched. Venus chirped again.

 

            “Don’t do it!”

 

            She stretched a little closer, Venus purred loudly. Sitting Bull hadn’t done it better when he’d lured General Custer up the Little Bighorn. Jocelyn’s fingertips brushed the longest tummy fur and then she was stroking my cat’s belly and Venus just laid there letting her do it.

 

            “It’s a good omen,” Jocelyn said as she straightened up. “Let’s do this.”

 

            Venus made come-to-bed eyes at me too. Then she bit me.

           

            It took maybe thirty minutes and a bottle of chilled lager before the stiffness went from Jocelyn’s shoulders. She sat with me at a discreet table in the pub’s deepest corner nervously plucking at her hem and practically plaiting her shins together in her determination to keep her legs closed.

 

            “You’re managing it very well,” I said, giving her hand a little squeeze.

 

            “Thanks. Though I have practised keeping my knees together, even in trousers.’”Then she pulled me close, wrapped her arms around me and kissed my cheek. “You know, I’ve dreamt of this, of being like this… being me, how I want to be. And after everything, all I’ve been through, you came and helped it happen. I can’t ever make this up to you.”

 

            I plonked myself on her knee, draped an arm around her shoulders and tickled her with the tip of my plait. “I love you.” Then I pulled back. “Not like that. Like the sister I never had.”

 

            “I never had a sister either.”

 

            ‘It’s settled then. It’ll be great. Wait until I tell Dad.’

 

            He called me the next morning, when Jocelyn had gone to work – in her new pencil skirt, with her hair in a French plait. Before she’d alway been scared to wear her hair up, in case in made her look like a boy. I told her she looked sophisticated.

 

            “Promise you’ll meet me for lunch,” she’d said building herself up for leaving the house. I duly promised. “And you’ll come if I have a melt down or if somebody reads me.”

 

            “You look perfect. Absolutely perfect, every inch the lady.”

 

            She kissed my cheek. “Bye, sis.” Here eyes were direct, uncharacteristically fixed on mine and in them, in her words, was the world’s smallest, most discreet question mark. Only somebody who had spent much time getting to know her, holding her hand through the downs and then leading her into the ups, would see that question mark there.

 

            “Bye, sis,” I replied and wrapped her with a hug. “Enjoy,” I urged and chattered lightly while walking her to the bus stop.

 

            “How’s it going, Tink?” Dad asked when he rang. The connection was poor, I had to close my eyes and concentrate on the fantasy he was sitting opposite in the kitchen.

 

            “I miss you. Fiercely”

 

            “Coming home soon, girl.”

 

            “Good, brilliant, wonderful. You can meet your new daughter.”

 

            I pictured the Microsoft egg timer spinning in his mind as he tried to wrap his head around that.

 

            “Have you married that lass you were falling in love with?” he said eventually,

 

            “The lesbian thing was a non-starter. I’ve found a sister, so that means she’s your daughter.”

 

            “Wow! Thanks for letting me know. Er, Heidi. Is this something do with your Mum?”

 

            “God no! Just this wonderful friend I have who needs a family to love her so I said she could join ours.”

 

            So he laughed again, with evident relief and said he couldn’t wait to meet her.

 

            Then he got all serious, you could almost hear him change gear and there he was in Dad Mode, something he’d only ever used once or twice.

 

            “Tinkerbell, you do fall in love so easily.”

 

            Which was his oblique reference to the debacle at school – not love, but immaturity.

 

            “I know I have done, but I learnt; didn’t I? And now I’m different, I only give it when I’m likely to get it back. The last person I really, truly, properly, deeply fell in love with gave me it back, didn’t you?”

 

            Dad Mode was switched off, along with abandoned daughter mode. We smiled at each across oceans and continents.

 

            “Is the new daughter as sassy as the old one?”

 

            “Not yet. But she will be, she’s a work in progress.”

 

            “My cup runneth over!” he groaned, but didn’t mean it – I knew. He’d love Jocelyn too, even if she did decide she needed to give him full disclosure at some point. He was a man who let people be themselves – I hoped Jocelyn would look at me, how I was, and know he could be trusted.

 

            But that was sometime in the future. At that moment I couldn’t wait to tell her and passed the time by cleaning the house from top to bottom before jumping on the bus and heading for town.

 

            There she was, sitting on a wall outside the coffee shop; legs crossed, skirt neat, toying with her plait, looking at her phone and probably texting me like she had been all morning. Her productivity must have been rubbish.

 

            “What are you looking so happy about?” she wondered.

 

            “Seeing you. And I have some great news. Forget the C You Next Tuesday. My Dad says he’s Our Dad now.”

 

            It was one of the only times I smiled to her crying.

 

5

 

Over the weekend I painted her toenails and she painted mine. For a first attempt, she didn’t do bad, but I had to leave it a few days before I was fit to wear sandals again. I held her hand while she had her ears pierced and a little later on I held it again while she tried on some high heels. Personally I don’t bother with heels, the end result doesn’t seem to be worth the effort and pain, but to see the expression on her face as she took her first, tentative steps in them was priceless. I wish I’d taken a picture or video’d it or something. The closest analogy I could think of, when we were laughing about it a bit later on, was watching your kid take their first wobbling, solo ride on a push bike without stabilisers.

 

            We poked about in some charity shops again and she shoo’d me out of of the Oxfam shop, before disappearing back inside with a mysterious glint in her eye. On reappearing five minutes later she had her hands behind her back and was bouncing up and down with excitement, insisting that I close my eyes and hold out my hands.

 

            As much as I wanted to, first I just had to stand there and make the most of her. More analogies – ugly ducking to beautiful swan, caterpillar to butterfly, acorn to… that wasn’t a good one, she was too effervescent to be an oak tree. And all in the space of a few days. I can’t imagine what she must have been feeling, what the release must have felt like because I had no context to fix her happiness to. Thought I’d have hated to have been forced to pretend I was male – yuck.

 

            But she was so excited to give me whatever she had found in the shop that I relented, closed my eyes and held out my hands. To feel her place in them something long and rectangular and solid. When I looked it was a pool cue, in a beautiful lacquered wooden box inlaid with deep red fabric and perfect.

 

            “It’s right isn’t it?” she asked, bobbing up and down on the spot again.

 

            Even if it hadn’t been, I would have said it was, but when I screwed the two sections together it was the perfect pool cue, straight and true. As unlikely a present as I could have imagined from her, but we were both delighted.

 

            If I hadn’t had work that evening, in the Premier Inn pub, I would have taken her and it down to the proper pub that night to give a go, but as it was I had to wait until Sunday. After taking the imaginary dog for a walk we left it tied up outside the pub, with a bowl of water close by, and went in to  treat ourselves to a Sunday dinner.

 

            Jocelyn closed in a little when I started flirting with some lads who came in for a drink and break in the middle of some long cycle ride, but they were nice lads and she thawed a little when none of them started pointing and jeering. When one of them complimented her on the quality of her blushes she even smiled. They were perfectly charming and looked good in their lycra.

 

            Sauntering back to the cottage after the new pool queue was well and truly tested I was gently teasing her abut the boys.

 

            “You must be a little bit curious.” We were arm in arm, walking in step. “After all, you have made it quite clear on a number of occasions that you most certainly are not a lesbian.”

 

            “Stop it!” she said, half-heartedly. Another pretty blush.

 

            “They do feel very exciting when you get one, you know…”

           

            “Heidi!”

 

            “When you make it hard. And then, there is that really special moment when you take what you’ve made hard and you-“

 

            “Don’t you dare!”

 

            “Give it a long, loving kiss.”

 

            ‘And then…’ My words stumbled to a stop as a foolish feeling swamped me as I realsied where my teasing was going.

 

            She must have known what I was about to say for she pulled me close. “What I love most about you, my amazing sister, is that you quite often you forget what kind of complicated person – no, what kind of a complex woman I am. I need to start saving up for an operation before I can go where you were just going. And yes, I am very very curious.”

 

            “There could be someone, who… you know…” Despite my behaviour just moments before I was lost for words.

 

            “Someone who would love me as I am?”

 

            “I do.”

 

            “You’re not a man. They are famously prickly creatures. And I have thought about that too, more so since you’ve been,” she laughed happily, “since you’ve been my sister. But, when I commit and when I find that right man, I want it to be as… perfect as it can be. So, I’ll wait, and enjoy watching you make a fool of yourself with men.”

 

            We were laughing together, not too far from the cottage when the happiness died in her throat. I felt her stiffen, her hands on my arm tightened almost painfully and then she made a low, animal sound of distress that came from deep in her heart.

 

            A figure rose up from my gateway, a short compact figure in a black jacket and stonewashed jeans. He flicked a cigarette end into the gutter and jammed his hands into his pockets.

           

            I didn’t need to be told – it was C You Next Tuesday.

 

            “Well well,” he said, and he had the same accent as hers, though it was harsh where hers was soft. “What have you done to yourself now, boy? What’s the matter, Johnny? Not pleased to see your Dad?”

 

            She tried to hold me back, really she did, but there was no holding me. I knew this man; I’d had Jocelyn’s tears wetting my chest while she revealed, in spiked bursts of hurt, what he’d done to her and what he hadn’t done for her. And I hated him for cheapening, tarnishing the revered title of Dad; because I knew, I was utterly certain that had some accident of genetics seen me with a swinging cock and I had gone to Our Dad with the revelation that I should have been a girl he would have taken it with the same calm acceptance he showed with my fairy, mermaid and lesbian revelations. “Be a girl then, be whatever you want to be,” he would have said and never turned his back.

 

            And worse, worse even than that – this creature showed his absolute contempt for my gender, for me, by his disgusting dismissal of his own daughter and who she wanted to be!

 

            “Boy! There is no boy here. There’s never been a boy. Can’t you see that woman, look at her. Look at her!” I was raging, standing between him and her.

 

            “Who the fuck are you?” he snarled – I got flecks of his spit on my face.

 

            “She’s my sister!”

 

            That was me on the pavement, curled up around the most hurt I’ve ever felt in one place – gasping, retching, fighting for my breath; realising that he’d punched me, deep into the belly.

 

            “Leave her alone!” Jocelyn screamed, and there was the Sergeant Major in her voice and there was the wet sound of a slap around the face. The cry she made with the impact got me too my knees, groaning with the deep belly pain until a shove to one hip put me over again..

 

            His face came so close to mine I could see every skin pore, smell the rot and smoke on his breath. He was leering, breath coming raggedly as his hands groped under my skirt, pushing my hands away as I tried to pull it down, but he just grunted and wormed his fingers between my thighs. I felt them probing through my underwear at my vulva and yelled as loud as I could.

 

            “Thought you were one as well. People like you make me sick. Filling up his head with sick, perverted shit.” He pulled his hand from between my legs. “Making him think all that bloody mess in his head is alright. Come home, John. It’s not too late, you don’t need paedos like this.”

 

            I was ready to spew, from the punch and the way he’d groped me, but I made all that go down and I stared into him and said, “Didn’t you ever have a dream?”

 

            “Fuck you! You don’t know me.”

           

            I saw his fist drawn back, clenched and ready for my cheek and I closed my eyes, lifted my hands. Instead there was a sickening crack followed by a wounded howl that echoed from the houses around us.

 

            “You broke my arm, you bitch!” he screamed and then his shadow was gone from me, there was other shouting – Colin, my neighbour – and one last moan from Him. “This ain’t over.”

 

            Jocelyn helped me to my feet, she was strong for a girl, and her face was red and she was crying again and it was hard to focus on what she was saying until I saw my pool queue in her hand. She’d thought it through, taken the time to lift it from its box and screwed it together and now it was snapped where she’d whacked him with it.

 

            “Oh, Heidi,” she sobbed, “I’m so sorry, so sorry, I broke your pool stick.”

           

            I coughed a couple of times, waved Colin away, needing a bit a space with her. I was able to stand up straight, though my belly burned. “Jocelyn!” I had her attention now, a smile was dug up from somewhere. “You didn’t, you really didn’t – you broke him, don’t you see! You broke his power over you. You’re not scared of him any more.”

 

            That quieted her. There was a different light in her eyes, she wiped at her nose, then nodded.

           

            “I’ve called the police, they’re coming,” Colin wheezed, lumbering up – he was a fat lad and his face was mottled with excitement.

 

            “Oh no!” Jocelyn cried, hand over her mouth and I struggled for a moment to understand what residual loyalty could make police involvement in this a bad thing.

 

            “You did well, Col,” I said and clapped him on the shoulder.

 

            “I saw it all, who was it? A mugger?”

 

            “Tell you later, mate. Listen, I’m going to take Jocelyn inside, put the kettle on. Just need to be alone with her, okay? Thanks for stepping in.”

 

            He nodded, stepped back, shoulders square. I thanked him again, then ushered Jocelyn down the path, fumbled keys into the door and got her sat in the living room, tucked the blanket around her.

 

            “I can’t go back,” she said, louder than I was used to.

 

            “You don’t have to go back. Go back where?” My belly burned and throbbed, I kept trying to swallow down the nausea from his punch and groping. Did she imagine I was going to let her go back to Newcastle with that creature?

 

            “I can’t go back to how I was.” From under the blanket she seized my hands, her eyes were staring right into me. “Before you found me.”

 

            Letting out a long sigh, of relief, I managed to extract my hands and pulled her into an embrace. “Oh, you daft moo. That person has gone, now your legs have been out in public there’s no going back.”

 

            “You were amazing,” she whispered. “Thank you.”

 

            I kissed her forehead, held her tight until I felt better. The kettle was boiling to itself, but it could wait. There were sirens approaching and I could imagine how Jocelyn was going to feel about talking to them.

 

            “On the positive side,” I said to her as the sirens pulled up outside. Jocelyn might have been made of stone from the tension in her. “He called you a bitch. A bitch, not a bastard. That’s positive, isn’t it?”

 

            Was that a ghost smile? “Small steps.”

 

            There was a knock on the door, loud with urgency and importance. “Now then, it’s the police. Open up for us, will you?”

 

            He was enormous, filling my doorway with boots and body armour and kit and a face that must once have been slammed repeatedly against the side of a ship. “Now then, love, how are you?” He was looking over me, into the house. “Hey up,” he said to Jocelyn under the blanket with her knees drawn up. “Had a bit of bother have you, girls?”

 

            Words, ideas, strategies were flying around inside my head as I invited him inside, offering tea or coffee, trying to decide how I was going to manage this, manage Jocelyn. It wasn’t misplaced family loyalty making her terrified of the cops – she was scared of having to open herself to them.

 

            There was another cop in the shadow of the first one, much shorter, weasel-featured and slightly tubby. Jocelyn didn’t move, she was staring at the coffee table before her.

 

            “Tea or coffee?” I wondered, buying time for her. The cops had a good look around, judging my space, looking for threats maybe, before they agreed on a brew. “Milk and sugar?” I stalled.

 

            “It’s a hate crime,” Jocelyn said suddenly – firmly. She was standing, the blanket falling around her. She stooped and recovered it, folded it, laid it on the back of the sofa. She had all of our attention and she looked at each of us in turn, even the police. One cheek was red from the slap, her tights were torn and her hair was unravelling, but she looked stronger and more beautiful than ever

 

             “Transphobic,” she said.

 

            Forgetting being a hostess, I edged around the giant and put my arm around her waist.

 

            The smaller cop was staring at me now, then the other one and I couldn’t understand why when Jocelyn was the victim in this whole sorry episode. Then it hit me – they were trying to read me, searching for the male because Jocelyn was prettier, her hair was mostly down, mine was up and I was slightly taller. You never get used to being stared at by men, you try to tune it out, but this was more invasive, more demeaning. For a moment my instinct was to protest my womanhood, point to Jocelyn and make light of the misunderstanding. But I didn’t, of course. This was a new game – let the cops work out which one of us was which.

 

            Jocelyn didn’t want to play though. “You’re looking for my biological father, lads. He ran off that way, probably towards the hospital, might have a bust arm.” She took a deep breath. “He can’t deal with me being a woman.’

 

            I don’t think I could have been prouder of her.

 

5.

 

All the best stories have a happy ending, though I can’t tell you of ours – it’s ongoing. If you think that happiness comes from finding inner peace and from there finding somebody to spread it to, then that’s where you’ll find me and Jocelyn.

 

            I’ll leave you with a scene, experienced yesterday in a meadow not far from our cottage, of the Bonner girls out for a walk with their Dad. We’re in a line, hand in hand and Jocelyn’s in the middle while the imaginary dog is off its lead, bounding off somewhere following its nose, and Venus trots along behind, looking cross, but with her tail in the air.

 

            All you can hear is laughter.