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Author's Chapter Notes:
Sorry for delay. Bit of a waffly update today but need to get story moving again!

Madge Russell looked up and smiled to see Bride walking towards her. She would never have admitted it, but she had had her own special place in her heart for Bride. When Peggy and Rix had been put into her care, Madge was earnest and strict about not thinking of them as hers. But when Bride and Jacky had been left too, and for so long, she had been less strong. She allowed herself to think of Bride as hers, and had been proud of her growing up so well. Jackie was also dear to her, but she saw him less than Bride once they were old enough to be at school. 

Dealing with her own difficult eldest daughter, Madge had been grateful for Bride's sunny nature, and matter of fact approach to the world. Sybil was now a long way from the spoilt child she had nearly become, but when they were very young, Madge had held a guilty secret within her, wishing occasionally that the two were swopped, that Bride was her own officially. Madge felt awful when she wondered later whether the young Sybil's possessiveness about her parents and home had come from detecting this slight feeling in her mother.

Giving the children back to Mollie had been one of the hardest things that she had done. She knew it was right, but it still hurt, when the holidays came around and only the 4 children were back, with David becoming a teenager, and rejecting signs of affection, followed soon after by Sybil, who was withdrawn and slightly tentative for a long time after the incident with the kettle. 

Kevin and Kester had been a distraction, but Madge had never felt the nursery full enough once her nieces and nephews had gone. 

"Hello Aunt Madge!" said Bride cheerily, "This is a nice surprise!" 

They settled down for a good long catch-up session. Madge couldn't help but notice that Bride's eyes sparkled more than they had for years, that she seemed to be hugging some sort of secret to her. Not knowing what it could be, Madge took a wild guess and nearly hit the mark. There must be a new man in Bride's life, she thought, and was glad. 

The divorce had not been easy for Bride. People who had previously been friendly suddenly stopped talking to her. For all the fact that the 50s and 60s in the media was all about rebellion and free love, in much of Britain attitudes were still fixed and unchanging. 

Women suddenly seemed convinced that she must be 'after their husbands', or that her 'bad luck' would rub off. Others covered her in sympathy, as if divorce were an illness, or failing. 

Madge herself had just been sad that Bride's marriage hadn't turned out the strong partnership that her own had been. All those who loved Bride had seen she wasn't happy, and she had been far more herself again after the divorce, so Madge was glad for it. It had opened her eyes to how rigid people could be, with some almost acting as though she were a criminal to break apart the marriage vows.

 It had upset the naturally law abiding Bride, even to the point of losing some of her bounce and sunny nature. So to see this lively, chattering Bride was a joy to Madge. 

She wondered throughout whether to ask about her personal life. Bride might not feel ready yet to share, but time just the two of them was rare, and Madge was curious what had made her so much closer to the old Bride. 

Bride on her side was oscillating from thought to thought, totally unsure how her aunt might take her current situation with Tom. She really wanted to tell someone, but was also hugely afraid of the reaction.  She was just contemplating asking a few careful questions about Aunty Hilda and Nell, when Madge surprised her by asking how she was feeling nowadays, and if she had anything she wanted to tell her. 

"I...er... I" said Bride, lost as to how to start. "I've been feeling a lot better, thank you. I have been ... Volunteering. Helping Tom with her work. You remember Tom Gay?"

Madge, who was no fool, was instantly alert to the fact that Bride would bother to remind her about someone as memorable as Tom. A long ago conversation with Nell came to mind, and she wondered. 

Nell would never normally have said anything, but a long drunken ramble on the subject after a break up with Hilda had covered the Bride / Elfie situation, as well as Tom's 'mooning about', as Nell put it, over Bride. Madge had dismissed much of it as the wine talking, but thinking on it after the event, she had been intrigued to find she agreed, seeing how Tom behaved about Bride, and how Bride lit up when Elfie was near. 

She wanted to let Bride know she loved her whatever the situation, but how to do so? Madge was normally not one to gossip, but she decided it was worth trying an oblique opening for Bride to tell her. 

"So how is young Tom, then?" she began. Bride became animated, telling her about the way Tom was with the boys club, and how rewarding it was to be helping like this. Madge still wasn't sure whether Bride realised her feelings, so had to try a more direct approach. Looking at her plate, Madge queried casually whether Tom had anyone special, any... girls... she was interested in. 

Bride was struck dumb, shocked to hear this proof that her Aunt knew about Tom's lifestyle. A whirl of emotions flew around her at once. She was glad for the fact that she might have an opening to talk to Madge about these things, petrified now that the moment had come, and also taken aback to  realise that Tom was already known to be this way, that her spending time with Tom, or Bride's secret daydream of living with Tom could well lead people to guess that they were together. 

"I... She's single, at the moment" Bride stuttered, then almost felt as if she was watching herself from afar as she continued "I was perhaps... Might be ... "

Bride was stuck. It was such early days with Tom. She didn't know if it would work out. Surely she should wait to declare herself this way until she knew if she had to do so? Then her own sense of right and wrong came into play. She had a fairly good idea from how alive loving Tom made her feel, that she knew deep down that this was the lifestyle for her. Hopefully with Tom, but even if that were not to be. She trusted her aunt, and worry about the family's reaction was holding her back from fully relaxing, so she needed to get this over with, make a start. 

"I would like to... Perhaps, we, Tom and I might be going to be..." she began. Madge looked up from her food with a smile, though still slightly shocked to be right. She put her hand on Bride's. 

"Well, if she makes you this happy, I'm glad." she said. It wasn't the route she would have chosen for any of her family, but Bride was so clearly more herself than she had been for a long time that Madge couldn't help but feel Tom was good for her and so worries about other people's prejuduce could come later.



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