The Miss Fisher Mysteries – an Australian indulgence – Inspector Jack Robinson was worth an hour or two of Steph’s time. She needed to spend time with a man that was all man, a man that combined the kindly, woman supporting qualities she needed but without actually wanting to become a woman. She still didn’t know where she stood with the other woman but she had realised that Nick didn’t know where he stood with her either.
She lay on the sofa, stuffing her face with tortilla chips and hummus whilst trying to pretend she was eating a chocolate fondue. Steph liked feeling well and this new everything free diet had given her more energy than she had in twenty years but she was feeling down today and craved sweet gooey treats.
Ellie stuck her head round the door. “The Eggsecuteor is here.”
Steph licked her fingers. She guessed it was a Pokemon they’d found in the house somewhere. “Did you catch it?”
The response from Ellie was a laugh. “I mean Grandmother. She’s in the kitchen. Jake’s making her a coffee.”
“I didn’t hear a knock.”
“When does Grandmother ever knock?” Ellie held out an incredibly racy blue silky lingerie set. “She says I need to start feeling attractive or I’ll never get a man. I told her I was a lesbian and she just winked at me.”
“You didn’t by any chance tell her you were thirteen? And way too young for girls or boys?” Steph turned off the darling Jack and hauled herself off the sofa.
“Oh and she hates my hair. Says it’s ugly.” Unconcerned Ellie fluffed the new beach hair she’d had done the previous week to celebrate her cast coming off.
“You didn’t tell about your dad. You know?” She picked up the chips and hummus. “I really don’t think...”
“I’m not totally stupid. But I can’t promise that Jake and Luke have a brain between them.”
Out in the hallway Steph hung back, postponing entering the kitchen.
“I’m going to try this one. It feels kind of nice.” Ellie winked. “Maybe my girlfriends online…” She laughed at Steph’s raised eyebrows. “I’m not that dumb, mother.” And without looking back she hobbled upstairs. Each day her leg got a little stronger and she hobbled a little less.
Steph took a deep breath. And entered the kitchen.
Her mother sat at the table, lost in conversation with Jake. She regaled him with tales of her exploits at a night club. Yet again, it was filled with stories a nine year old probably shouldn’t be listening to but he lapped it up. Jake and her mother had a particularly strong bond. He adored her and she adored him. She hadn’t managed to connect in quite the same way with Ellie and Luke.
Steph put the hummus in the fridge and the chips back in the cupboard.
“Mother.” She kissed her cheek. “How are you?”
“Fabulous. Jake here has been keeping me company. I did shout out when I came in. You going deaf again? You’ve put on a bit of weight.” She sipped her coffee. “Maybe you need to go on a diet. There’s a new one our Edwina was telling me about. You know how your aunt has your troubles with her waistline.”
“Actually I’ve lost a stone in two months. Not bad for a woman that can’t exercise all the time.” Usually Steph rose above it and managed to enjoy her mother’s company but her hackles were up today and her emotions a little raw. Her prayer was she could get through this without a screaming match.
“How’s the waste of space?”
“I’m going outside to play.” Jake got up and took himself out the back door.
And it had started. Today, the cow couldn’t even manage ten minutes without bringing up Nick. Following the revelations, Steph had become protective of Nick even when she wanted to strangle him herself she wasn’t going to let anyone else hurt him. “He’s at work making money so your daughter and grandchildren can live.”
“How did Daddy and I produce something as cute as you?” Steph finished coating Luke in suntan lotion.
He laughed. “I think I’m adopted.” And he ran off with his spade.
The sun shone and it warmed Steph’s skin. A day like this at the beach was when she usually remembered why she home educated. She should have been in a good mood, but as she watched Nick investigate the rock pools with Jake she was aware it was already midday and they had yet to have a conversation about the other woman in their lives. Last night the sex had been wonderful and Nick had been loving and attentive but that wasn’t enough. She needed to know where her life was going.
On a rock Ellie sat, sketching and scowling. Despite the scorching day she wore a hoodie and a pair capri pants. The beach wasn’t her thing and she was the only family member who burned to a crisp.
Fed up and with her mind buzzing too much to relax, Steph got up and went to the sea to paddle. Her feet splashed around in the cold water. What she needed was the talk they should have had the night before.
“Hey, Mum. Look at me.” Jake ran past and kicked water at her. He had the boogie board in his arms. “I’m going to surf.”
She smiled like an automaton and she kicked and splashed him back. The almost freezing water of the North Sea didn’t seem to penetrate her like it usually did. There was no need for Jake to suffer because she was being a grumpy old woman.
Nick still hadn’t come anywhere near her. She watched him walking along the sand and there was no sign of the other woman. He strode away from her and she decided she wasn’t going to have this again.
Anger shot adrenaline through her system, pushing her fibromyalgia to the back of her mind. She would pay for this later. Quicker than she had raun in years she chased after him. “Nick.”
He took his bloody time to stop and turn towards her. “Huh?” That annoying look of innocence that didn’t acknowledge her feelings.
“You promised we would talk. I need to talk. Don’t you need to talk?” The adrenaline that had helped her run sapped her strength and she bent over, catching her breath. Her body ached and she knew that walking back to the car was going to be a trial. “Help me.”
Nick seemed a bit too eager to help. His arm went round her and he helped her stay upright, walking her to the edge of the beach and he helped her sit down.
He joined her on the sand and stared out to sea. “I don’t know what to say. Since I came down in the dress… she’s disappeared. I’m not feeling the need to be her.”
“Does that mean you don’t want to be a woman?”
He shook his head. “No she comes and goes. She’ll be back.”
“You’re talking about her like she’s a separate entity. I thought she’d be you in a dress.”
“She is me in a dress.” He buried his head in his hands. “I don’t know. I’m trying to be her and I don’t know how to be her. I just know I need to be her.”
Outside it was getting dark and Nick still hadn’t come in. The children were all in their rooms and the house was quiet. Even Jake had gone to bed without any fuss which was a first in his nine years of life.
Steam filled the bathroom.
Steph stood with a lavender fluffy towel wrapped round her. On her head she had a matching one. With her hand she cleared a port hole in the mirror and looked at herself. Was she attractive enough? Her skin was clear for a woman approaching forty but she’d left herself go a bit. Under her nose the hairs were dark and she went to the bathroom cupboard.
The large old space where the tank used to be needed reorganising. She knew there was face bleach in there somewhere but she hadn’t used it in months so it could be anywhere. Epsom salts, razors, Nick’s stuff. Nick’s stuff made her eyes sting and she sniffed. He was going to come home. He had to. He couldn’t leave her. Her hands touched something squishy and jiggly. Was it? Could it? It was! She brought the basket forward to look at the condom filled with water boobs. They were remarkably realistic. The reservoir thingummy made a very authentic looking nipple. It was too tempting not to and she copped quite a feel. They rolled and bounced around with the perkiness of a twenty year old’s boobs. When she looked down at her own, which were applying for residency to live in Brisbane, she felt a twinge of jealousy. At the end of all this would Nick have better boobs than she did? Hers had breastfed two children. His would never know that. She put them back and rooted through the toilet rolls until she found the face bleach.
She hated this job. It was impossible to mix up the right amount for just under her nose. Then the slimy, gross stuff stank. God she hated the grimy, gritty white moustache. She tidied up the stuff and flung the box back into the nether regions of the cupboard. They caught her eyes and she had to molest her husband’s boobs again.
Steph was so engrossed that the first she knew Nick was home was when he grabbed her from behind and kissed her neck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have said.” As he covered her neck and shoulders with soft tender kisses his warm moist breath had her heart pounding.
“I should have known. It was stupid.” The boob she’d been squeezing burst, soaking her and splashing Nick. Her heart sank. No! They were going to make up. What if he hated her. Passion died in an instant and she closed her eyes to stop the tears falling. “I… I… it was just so...”
He laughed and nuzzled her. “Good job I picked up another pack on the way home. Are the kids asleep?” Turning her round, he used his thumb to gently wipe her eyes and he reached round her for some toilet roll. Careful, tender as always he removed the face bleach and threw the paper into the toilet.
“We need to talk.” She welcomed the deep, passionate snog that rendered any words impossible.
When he broke away he nodded. “I’ve taken tomorrow off. We can talk then.”
When he was being loving and caring she could never resist him. And she ignored her head that said she should take advantage of the kids being asleep to talk. Her arms went round his neck and she pulled him closer. He was right it could wait until morning.
Nick had yet to come in from work. There had been a terse text on her phone, telling her he would be late home from work and then he was going to fly his remote control plane. He was leaving Steph to stew in her own juices. Don’t wait up it had said.
After the argument this morning she’d gone back to calling him Nick and he in her head. Nicola and they could wait until Nick told her that was what he wanted. She’d been rushing him. She hadn’t realised he didn’t want to just start going to work as Cupid Stunt straight away. Taking it slowly was probably better for Steph as well.
“One vegetarian, bean free, sauce with rice. Lots of healthy veg for you to pick out.” Steph placed a plate down in front of Ellie who was texting a mate on her phone.
The only response was a grunt.
“One chicken, sauce and rice.” Another plate, this one as laden as she could get it, went down in front of Jake. He was playing a game with Perry the Platypus on his tablet.
“Won’t be a minute.” Plink. Plonk. Pish. He played the game with lightning speed.
Seriously if her hands hadn’t been full she’d have broken the habit of a lifetime and slapped him round the back of his head. Her inner turmoil had chased any sense of humour and good grace from her.
“And one chicken, rice and veggies. No sauce or anything interesting.” The last went down in front of Luke.
“Is that everything I like?” He didn’t even look up from his Minecraft book. Apparently, or so he’d said, he’d been studying about better uses of redstone.
She felt like a very poorly paid cook and waitress. None of them had started to eat yet and she knew damn well they’d pick at the food. Well except Jake, he’d polish his off and ask where the rest was. With her coffee she sat at the head of the table and watched them. On a normal night she’d have taken the devices but tonight she was glad they weren’t talking to her.
It was a good ten minutes before Luke looked up. “You not eating, Mum?”
“Not hungry. I’ll eat later with your dad.” As she said it she formulated a plan that she hoped would make things better. After all the sex had been fab last night. Surely, that could be rekindled. “Now, listen contraceptives...”
“We’ll go to bed early.” Ellie at last paid attention. “Just don’t continue with this conversation.”
“What’s she mean?” There was such innocence in Luke’s voice that Steph smiled.
“Trust me you don’t want to know what she means. I wish I didn’t. Way too much information.” And with that Ellie went back to texting her mates and eating one grain of rice at a time. “Basically she means she wants alone time with dad.”
“Eww yuck.” Jake stopped exercising his fingers and started shovelling in food. “Seriously, Mum, keep that stuff to yourself.”
“Your Dad and I need to talk.” Although she did harbour hope that maybe a little more might happen if they got on alright. “You two have dirty minds.”
“And whose fault is that?” The tone Ellie used was pure teen implying their parent is a useless embarrassment.
Now she had a plan in place Steph felt better. She’d wine and dine Nick, and for the first time since his announcement she would make sure they talked and got their feelings out. As long as he came home. He would wouldn’t he? Really, he wouldn’t be petty? And now she felt shit again.
“Mum, is there any more?” asked Jake. “I’m starving.”
"Best Possible Taste" is very loosely based on real life events.