She needed to get away. She always felt their eyes and painfully kind smiles that said we are aware of what happened and we’re sorry. It must be so hard for you. We don’t know how you’ll ever bounce back from this. You’re not entirely blameless and we just feel so bad for you. Everyone knew what happened with Gemma and Simon. Everyone knew Tom had left. Everyone knew.
She had looked for him. There were police searches with the neighborhood. She even put up missing posters, but Tom didn’t want to be found and Gemma couldn’t bear it anymore. She would continuously catch glimpses of him. In the town square. Outside of the school. Everywhere she went. Thinking he’s there when it was someone else. The house, the town, the eyes; it was suffocating. She saw an opening for a senior doctor position in Sheffield. After a few interviews, she left in the dead of night. No eyes to see her go.
Gemma found a reasonable sized flat that was perfect for her. She had been in Sheffield for a month now, only meeting a few people here there. She kept to herself mostly. Polite hellos here and there, maybe a drink with a coworker once and again, but she always went home alone. Her past binges haunted her. The fact that her son knew about most it didn’t help. She felt like was a terrible mother who drove her son to make the decision he did. She’d grab a bottle of wine and cigarettes, sit in her living room, mindlessly watching television to get away from the day and the people.
Which is why she doesn’t know how she ended up, one night, in a room full of women at a ladies only party. Her coworker, Sarah, had dragged her there with the promise of fun and alcohol. Even though she kept her habits to herself, her wine and cigarette habit hadn’t died down. If anything it was worse, but she hid it as best she could. She smiled throughout the day as if nothing was wrong and left her drinking at home and only at night.
Gemma sat on a couch and was handed a glass of wine from an older woman with a kind smile.
“Thank you,” she said politely. “Is this your home?”
“Yes, Dear. I hosted the first party here.”
“Yes. It was one year ago today. Steph thought it would be fun to do a sort of anniversary party here for the few who still hadn’t done it along with some of our favorites.”
“Well that’s good then.”
“Indeed. And what’s your name, Dear?”
“Oh, uh, Gemma. I’m friends with Sarah over there.”
Pauline and Gemma looked towards the tall brunette woman. She was mingled in with a few people and laughing.
“Gemma. It’s lovely to meet you. I’m Pauline Spake. You let me know if you need anything.”
“Is there a place where I could smoke?”
“Out front is perfectly fine. Preferably the driveway so the smoke doesn’t blow into the house.”
Pauline nodded and left, talking to the other women. Gemma smiled at a few faces here there, but sipped her wine slowly. Everyone started to take their seats with their drinks and nibbles, smiling and giggling. She felt this wasn’t the right place for her broken soul. Her loneliness slowly settled in. These women knew each other and were fond of one another. All she could think of was the alcohol in her hand and the longing for a cigarette between her lips.
Sarah sat down next to her. “Having fun?”
“I haven’t done much.”
“Well you need to mingle. You should meet Steph! She’s the one who will host the party and she’s the best at it. You’re lucky it’s he, trust me. But everyone here is very nice and it’s a fun thing the women of Sheffield do.”
“They’re not sex parties. They’re women’s only parties for lingerie and toys.”
“And is everyone here in a relationship?”
“No. Hellie over there isn’t and there are a few others. Look, get a fresh glass of wine and go talk. It’ll do you good. You never go out.”
“By choice and the only reason I’m here is because you said we were going to get a drink. I imagined a bar, not a kind woman’s house.”
Sarah pointed to her almost empty glass. “And you’re holding it.”
Gemma drank the rest of her glass and stood up. She pointed towards the door, looking at Pauline, who just nodded. She stepped outside and took a big breath. Remembering the fuss about the smell, she lit her cigarette and walked over to the driveway. She thought to herself that she could just leave. No one would know the difference other than Sarah and she didn’t really care what Sarah thought.
She started to walk down the sidewalk when she noticed a petite woman standing in front of the garage. She was wearing a turquoise blue shirt and a khaki skirt. She was pacing around, mumbling to herself. She looked up and jumped when she saw Gemma.
“Oh!” The woman grabbed her heart.
“Sorry,” Gemma muttered. “I was just out for a smoke and Pauline asked me to do it in the driveway. I didn’t meant to startle you.”
“No, it’s quite alright. Just wasn’t expecting anyone to come out.”
Gemma just nodded.
“I’m Steph.” She held out her hand which Gemma took kindly and shook.
“The infamous Steph.”
“You’ve heard about me?”
“Yeah. Kind of the talk of the party.”
“Oh yeah. It is my party so.”
“Are you the new doctor in town?”
Gemma looked at her questioningly.
“It’s a small town. Everyone here gossips and you’re the only face in there I haven’t seen before so I assumed.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“You as well.”
There was a moment of silence between them. Gemma took a drag on her cigarette, trying not to look at the girl, but couldn’t seem to look away. She was enticing and cute.
“Is this your first party?” Steph asked, trying to keep the conversation going.
“Are you excited?”
“If I’m being honest, I got dragged here by a coworker.”
“Oh no. Is it not your thing or-?”
“It’s not that it’s not my thing, but-...”
“Your husband doesn’t like it?”
Gemma smiled. “I don’t have a husband and before you ask, no boyfriend either. My coworker, Sarah,” Gemma paused. She inhaled the cigarette and huffed out the smoke, “she just wants me to go out and socialize.”
“Yes. She just doesn’t seem to understand I enjoy my privacy. I like going home and being by myself.”
“Well right. Who doesn’t?”
“Exactly.” There was a small pause. “It’s alright that I’m here though, right? Single at a ladies party.”
“Of course. Who needs a man when you can get a vibrater,” Steph stated, awkwardly.
Gemma laughed. “True.”
Another polite smile was shared.
Steph pointed towards the door. “I should, uh, I should go inside. I just, it’s funny. I’ve been doing these for a year now and I still get nervous.”
“Well from what I’ve heard, you know what you’re doing.”
“Yeah,” Steph chuckled. “I’ll see you in there?”
Steph smiled. “Good.”
Gemma nodded. She took another puff off her cigarette and flicked it to the street. She couldn’t say why, but she felt herself going back in after desperately wanting to leave. She sat herself next to Sarah on a small couch. Steph waited for her to get comfortable as the room settled. Everyone seemed to be looking everywhere, but Gemma. Her eyes were only focused on Steph.
Before she knew it two hours had passed and she had filled out a form, somewhat drunkenly, for a small bullet vibrator. She handed Steph the envelope.
“Found something?” Steph asked.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Gemma answered.
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah. Wasn’t too bad.”
“Well I’ll send this in tomorrow. It will take a couple weeks to get to you.”
“No worries. I can wait.”
They grinned at one another, Steph still holding onto the envelope. Gemma could feel Steph’s fingers against hers. Her hand tingled from the contact and she felt a small flutter in her heart. Neither made an attempt to move as they stared at one another.
Dawn came up, breaking the tension. “Steph, Nita asked-“ she stopped, seeing the two women in front of her.
Gemma and Steph broke apart. Their small moment shattered as the room came back into focus. Steph took the envelope as Gemma put her hand by her side.
“Sorry,” Dawn answered, awkwardly.
“No worries. Dawn, then is Gemma, the new doctor.”
Dawn smiled politely. “Pleasure to meet ya.”
“You as well,” Gemma replied. “Well I better be getting home. Had probably one too many glasses of wine. Thanks for the party.”
“Glad you could make it, even if you were dragged here,” Steph said.
Gemma walked around Dawn and stopped by Pauline. Steph watched her as she said thank you. They shared one last glance before Gemma stepped out.
“What was that?” Dawn asked as Steph stared at the door.
“What was what?”
“Those heart eyes you were giving.”
“I wasn’t giving heart eyes. She just helped calm my nerves before the presentation. She is a doctor after all.”
“I didn’t know you, you know, swing that way.”
“What way? I don’t swing anyway.”
“I mean she seemed into you.”
“She was just being nice. She’s new in town and doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends.”
“And maybe she wants a very particular kind of friend,” Dawn explained.
“Well that’s her choice if she does.”
“And maybe you want a very particular kind of friend?”
“Oh my gosh. What are you going on about? I was just being nice.”
Dawn smiled. “Getting a little defensive.”
Steph laughed. “Shut up.”
A few weeks had passed since the party. Gemma had settled in nicely at her office and home. She managed to go out a couple nights a week for a drink or dinner with coworkers, feeling a little more hopeful about her future in Sheffield.
It was a particular busy day at the practice for such a small town. Winter had settled in and everyone seemed to have a cold or the flu. Gemma found herself washing her hands more and more as the days lingered. The last thing she wanted was to get sick her first winter at her new job.
Gemma grabbed the next clipboard of paperwork left for her. She looked through the sheets and noticed the age of the patient.
“Sarah, this is for a child.”
“I know. The pediatrician isn’t in today and everyone else is tied up. You had an open slot. The appointment was made this morning. Kid has a high fever.”
“Yes I can see that, but I’m not a pediatrician.”
“No, but you’re the senior doctor. Emergency appointments, no matter the age, go to you when everyone else has bookings.”
Gemma stared at Sarah, who just smirked. “I think you like annoying me.”
“It is becoming one of my favorite hobbies.”
Gemma laughed. She let the pages settle back against the board as she stated, “Uh, Dean Kirke?”
“Oh, that’s us.”
Gemma looked up and was surprised to see Steph there with a little boy, but smiled nonetheless. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Steph answered, picking Dean up and holding him. She felt butterflies of excitement in her stomach.
Gemma pointed behind her and started to walk. “And what brings you here today?”
“Well, Dean hasn’t been feeling very well these past couple of days and last night his fever spiked. He hasn’t been eating much and sleeping a lot. He said he’s been achy. I had to keep him from school yesterday and today.”
They reached the exam room and Gemma held the door open for them, gesturing for them to go first. Steph sat Dean down on the exam table. She helped him take his coat and scarf off before stepping off to the side. She watched as Gemma grinned at the child.
“Hi, Dean. I’m Doctor Foster. How are you feeling?”
“Bad,” he whispered.
“Yeah?” Gemma checked his forehead. He was definitely warm. “And do you still feel achy all over?”
“Well I am going to do my best to make you feel better. Can you lay back here for me, Love?”
Dean crawled up and laid his head on the pillow. “Has he been keeping his food down when he does eat?”
“He was, except for this morning. I gave him a little bit of dry cereal just to get something in there because he barely ate anything last night and it came back up about thirty minutes later.”
“And any nausea or sickness on the way here?”
“No. He pretty much vomited all the cereal up I think.”
“Okay. Dean, I’m going to lift your shirt up and press around your stomach a little bit to check your tummy. You tell me if it hurts or is uncomfortable, okay?”
Dean nodded again as Gemma felt around for any swolleness. “And you said he had a fever this morning?”
“Yes. It was around 38.4 degrees.”
“Well that is a pretty high fever for such a small guy.” Gemma pulled his shirt down. “Can you sit up for me?”
Dean sat up a little sluggish. “Any diarrhea?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Okay.” Gemma grabbed her thestascope and placed it on his back. “Dean, can you give me one big inhale and exhale.” Dean followed instructions as she moved the scope around to check his heart. “Good.”
“Mum, I don’t feel good,” Dean muttered.
“I know, Sweetheart.”
Gemma handed him a small bowl. “We’re almost finished, but if you feel the urge to, this should catch it, okay?”
“Thank you,” he said, softly.
“You’re welcome.” Gemma grabbed a thermometer. “Okay, Dean. I’m just going to stick this in your ear to get your temperature, then I’m going to check your eyes, nose and throat. Then we’ll be all done. Okay?”
Dean’s head was down, but Gemma saw the shift. “Okay. Can you lift your head for me please? I promise it’s almost over.”
Dean picked his head up and looked at Gemma. His small round glasses and heavy lidded eyes let Gemma know just how sick he felt.
“I like your glasses. Did you pick those out yourself?”
Dean pointed towards Steph.
“Mummy picked them out?”
“He was having trouble reading and it took us a while to figure out it was because of his eyes. Ever since then, he has had no struggle at all.”
“Well that’s good.” Gemma pulled the thermometer from his ear. “You do, unfortunately, still have a fever.” She lifted his head and looked at his eyes. “His eyes are a little watery, but that is to be expected. Any issues with breathing?”
“No wheezing or congestion?”
“No. His energy just plummeted. A couple days ago, I picked him up from school and could tell he was a little off. Managed to get some soup in him and took him to bed. He slept through the night. And then yesterday, he wasn’t feeling any better so I let him stay home from school, but he didn’t have a fever. He slept in and out through the day next to me on the couch. But when he woke this morning, he had a fever and vomited so I called and was lucky you had an appointment available.”
“We usually keep a few open for emergencies like this.”
“Right. Of course you do. That makes sense,” Steph stuttered around her words.
Gemma smiled. “I’m just going to check around your throat, Dean. I do have to lay a suppressor on your tongue to really see back there, but if you feel like you’re going to be sick, I want you to tap my wrist, okay?” Gemma grabbed the small wooden stick.
“It looks like a popsicle stick,” Dean commented.
“It does, doesn’t it? It won’t taste as good unfortunately, but maybe when you’re feeling better your mum can get you a popsicle to make up for this one. Now I just need you to open your mouth for me and again, tap my wrist if you don’t feel good.”
Dean opened his mouth and gagged as soon as the suppressor touched his tongue. Gemma took it out almost immediately. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t like that.”
“No one does, Love. You hold onto this bowl. I’m just going to have a little chat with your mum.”
They walked over to Gemma’s desk. Gemma gestured to Steph to take a seat.
“So I wouldn’t worry too much. He has Gastroenteritis or better known as a stomach bug. He’ll be feverish for a couple days at most. Your best bet is to keep him under the covers all snuggled to try and break his fever, giving him fluids and maybe a little broth. If he can keep that down, I would try and give him some crackers or toast. And when he’s starting to feel better, a couple biscuits.”
“Will he need medicine or anything?”
“No. You just want to keep him as hydrated as possible with as much food as you can, but like I said, he should be better in a couple days. He could possibly still throw up today and tomorrow, he might also get diarrhea. If this occurs, slowly hydrate him about every 15 minutes, just give him a small cup of water. If he isn’t better by the end of the week, bring him back, but he should be.”
Gemma could see the dark circles under Steph’s eyes and her worried expression. She reached out and touched her hand. “He’s fine. Just a little stomach bug. We all get them from time to time. Just make sure you wash your hands and sanitize the house to kill the germs, but I promise, he’ll be back to normal in the next few days.”
Steph looked at their hands for a moment before looking up at Gemma. “Thank you.”
Gemma gave a comforting smile. “It’s not a problem. Why don’t I give you my phone number that way if there are any questions or issues you can just call me.”
“No, I wouldn’t want to be any trouble,” Steph stated.
Gemma grabbed her business card, writing her personal number on the back. “It wouldn’t be any trouble at all. Just try to get some sleep when he does even if you’re laying next to him. There is nothing to worry about.”
“Thank you, Doctor Foster.”
Steph grinned. “Thank you, Gemma.”
They shared another smile before Steph stood up. Gemma followed, slipping her hands into her pockets. Steph helped Dean put his coat on and wrapped the scarf around his neck loosely.
“Well Dean, it was nice meeting you and I hope you feel better.”
“Thank you,” he muttered.
“Thanks again,” Steph said, holding her hand out to Gemma.
“Not a problem.” She shook Steph’s hand. “And seriously, call me anytime. I do make house calls when necessary.”
Steph took Dean’s hand and headed towards the door. She paused for a moment as Gemma cleaned up.
“Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?” Steph blurted out.
“Sorry?” Gemma asked, confused.
“Sorry. I, uh, I just… I know you’re new to the area and I don’t know. I enjoyed our little chat outside Pauline’s house and I know you don’t go out much and you don’t know me, but I just thought dinner might be nice to have with someone on occasion instead of eating alone so would you like to come round for dinner tonight?”
“Do you really want that stress with your sick son?”
“Right. Might not be the best planning on my part, but he’ll probably be asleep and I don’t know. We’ve been cooped up for the past couple of days. My friend Nita has a baby so I wouldn’t want them to get mixed up in these germs, Pauline has Stanley now, Dawn doesn’t seem to leave Russell’s side since they got married and I don’t know. It would just be nice to get to know someone new so I thought I would ask.”
Gemma couldn’t help, but grin from ear to ear at Steph’s babbling. “If it isn’t too much trouble, I would love to come to dinner.”
“You would?” Steph sounded surprised.
“Yeah. I enjoyed our conversation too and you seem to be the most relaxed person I’ve met since moving here.”
“After all the things that just came out of my mouth, you think I’m relaxed?”
“Maybe a little nervous, but yeah.”
“Okay. Should we say 6 then?”
“Yeah, I could do 6.”
“Oh. Oh wait, I don’t really have a lot of food at the moment because of Dean and I can’t leave him to go to the store. Do you like fish fingers?”
Gemma laughed. “What if I brought curry?”
“No I would hate for you to go through the trouble when I’m the one inviting you-”
“I don’t mind at all.”
“Curry would be great, yeah.”
“Good. So I’ll see you at 6.”
“I should give you my address.”
Gemma held up Dean’s paperwork. “Kind of already have it.”
“Right. I’ll sanitize the place too before you come.”
Gemma smiled sympathetically. “It’s okay. I’m in it all day anyway.”
“You just get some rest and seriously if it’s too much, just call me.”
Steph smirked. “So I’ll see you tonight then.”
“Yeah. See you tonight.”
Steph nodded and bit her lip. She picked Dean up and started walking away. Dean waved from behind, his eyes already closing.
Gemma headed home around 4:30, feeling nervous, but excited. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but she knew she wanted to look as nice as possible. She took a quick shower to clean the day off of her. She thought the last thing Steph would need with a sick child is more germs and illnesses in her home. She straightened her hair and reapplied her make-up.
After staring at her closet for what felt like an hour, Gemma settled on a pair of skinny jeans and a dark sleeveless button down. She threw on a white cardigan before putting on her coat and scarf. She took one last look in the mirror and left, locking the door behind her.
Steph was frazzled. She couldn’t figure out why she invited someone to her house after the mess she came home to. Toys and laundry were everywhere. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had cleaned the house. She calmly took Dean upstairs and laid him in bed. He was already asleep and she was just happy he seemed settled. She didn’t want to bother him. She spent the day cleaning and sanitizing her house when she noticed it was already 5:30.
Dean stirred from his bed and called for her. She took a deep breath and headed upstairs. Dean sat on the edge of his bed, crying.
“What’s wrong, Love?”
Dean pointed to the side of his bed. He had thrown up on his sheets and the floor. Steph felt her insides turn until she looked at her son. He looked so fragile and pale. She knelt down in front of him and hugged him. He was still warm and clung to his mom for comfort.
“I’m sorry, Mummy.”
“Shh. That was my mistake to not leave anything there for you. Are you alright?”
He nodded into her neck. “Do you feel like you’re going to be sick again?” He shook his head no.
“Alright, how about we get you downstairs on the couch? Then you can watch some cartoons and we’ll wrap you in a blanket.”
He nodded again and she picked him up, carrying him downstairs. She rubbed his back until his crying subsided. He settled on the couch, laying down. Steph walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bucket along with a glass of water. She placed the bucket on the floor in front of him.
“Just in case,” she whispered. She ran her fingers through his hair a couple of times and kissed his forehead. “I will be right back. I’m just going to go clean that up.”
“Is Doctor Foster coming?”
“Can she check my temperature?”
“I’m sure she will if you ask her.” Steph turned on some cartoons. “Rest. Do you want any crackers?”
“No, thank you,” he said, closing his eyes.
Steph sighed. “Okay.” She was making her way upstairs when the doorbell rang.
“What?” she whispered. She looked down at herself. She was in a green t-shirt and overalls, her hair up in a messy bun. “No, no. Surely, it’s not her.”
The bell rang again and Steph made her way to the door. She opened it. Gemma stood there with an unlit cigarette between her lips, two bags of food in her hand and her back to the door. She turned around and panic seemed to arise on her face.
“I’m early,” she stated, taking the cigarette out of her mouth.
“No, it’s alright.”
“And I overdressed.”
“No you look amazing. Truly. Come on in. I just have to take care of something upstairs. I’ll be two minutes.” Steph took off for the stairs. “Kitchen is through there and Dean is sleeping on the couch. I’ll be right back.”
Gemma walked through the opening and placed the bags of food on the kitchen table. She looked over towards the television and saw the small child looking at her. His glasses were off and on the coffee table. She smiled.
“Hi, Dean. How are you feeling? Any better?”
“Still with aches and pains?”
He nodded. “I threw up in my bed. That’s what Mummy has to take care of.”
“Ah. Hm. Should I go help her, you think?”
“If you want to.”
Dean turned his attention towards the television.
“Are you going to be okay by yourself?”
Gemma looked at him, one more time. An image of a sick seven year old Tom crept into her mind. She shook her head and walked up the stairs. She peaked around the door and saw Steph, scrubbing the floor.
“Can I help with anything?” She asked.
Steph jumped at the noise. “Oh my gosh.”
“I’m so sorry. Dean said he got sick and that’s what you were cleaning up. I thought I could give you a hand.”
“Oh no. It’s okay. You shouldn’t have to deal with this. It’s mostly liquid anyway. I gave him some juice earlier and I guess that wasn’t the right choice.”
“No. I should have told you if you gave him juice to water it down a little, but no harm done. At least you know to stick to water.”
“He doesn’t seem to want anything.”
“That’s normal for a kid with a stomach ache. No one likes throwing up at any age.”
Steph frantically scrubbed the floor before rinsing it. Gemma stepped closer to her and kneeled down. She rubbed Steph’s back a couple of times.
“He will be okay.”
“I know. It’s just, single motherhood can really be hard sometimes and I just would feel so much better if he would eat.”
“He will when he’s ready. Like I said, this is normal. We don’t eat because we have no appetite and there is that worry in the back of our minds that we will get sick so we just push it away. Half the time we feel worse because we’re not eating, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. But this isn’t going to hurt him. He’s going to be fine in a couple days and be back to wanting to eat everything in cupboards. I promise you.”
Steph looked up at her and nodded.
Gemma continued to rub her back before standing up. Steph threw the brush into the bucket and removed the rubber gloves. “I already put his sheets in the wash so this is the best I can do for now.”
“I think you did well. How about I let you freshen up, take a shower if you like because I know what it’s like to have to clean vomit, and then you can come downstairs to a nice warm meal. I can watch Dean while you’re doing that.”
“You don’t have to do all that.”
Gemma smiled. She tucked a piece of hair that was sticking out behind Steph’s ear. They both awkwardly stopped. “Sorry,” Gemma whispered. She cleared her throat, “I don’t mind.”
Steph grinned. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem.”
They lingered for a moment in silence before Gemma headed back downstairs. Dean was still watching the television.
“Can you see that far without your glasses?” Gemma asked, pulling food out of the bag and onto the kitchen table.
Dean shrugged. “A little.”
Gemma opened the cabinets, finding the plates and a bowl. She grabbed the to go boxes of rice with chicken tikka masala and used a spoon to scoop the food onto the plate. She then grabbed the vegetables, portioning the food to make it look as nice as possible. Once she had the table set for her and Steph, she pulled out a warm plastic container of soup. She poured some broth into a bowl and let it sit while she threw the to go bags and boxes away. She looked over at Dean, who was watching her curiously.
“Do you want to do me a favor, Dean?”
“I guess,” he answered, softly.
Gemma grabbed the bowl and a spoon. She headed towards the couch. “I know you’re not feeling well and you’ve been rather sick all day, but I think your mum would feel a lot better if we tried to get some food in your tummy.”
“What if I throw up again?” Dean’s eyes started to water.
“What if you don’t? We won’t know unless you try and how about this, if you get sick, when you’re better and if your mum allows it, I’ll buy you some ice cream.”
“On a cone?”
Gemma smiled. “Even with sprinkles.”
Dean seemed to perk at the thought of it, sitting up and resting against her. Gemma handed him the bowl and spoon. He took it and got a spoonful of the liquid into his mouth.
“Small bites and take your time,” Gemma stated. “That’s the key to not getting sick again.”
“But the bowl is really hot.”
Gemma picked it up and held it for him, getting close to his mouth when he was ready for a bite. Sometime later, a refreshed Steph walked in to see Dean’s head in Gemma’s lap and half a bowl of soup on the table.
“Did he eat?” She whispered.
Gemma looked up. Steph’s hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, freshly done and in a jean button down shirt with jeans on. She accented it with a red belt.
“A little bit. I picked him up some soup on the way. Figured it wasn’t fair that we got to eat and he didn’t.”
“You really didn’t have to do that.”
“Well you said you didn’t have time to go to the store and fish fingers are good, but not for a sick child.”
Steph chuckled. “Thank you. That’s really, really kind of you to do.”
Gemma smiled. “Shall we?”
“Yes. I’m just going to take him back upstairs so we don’t bother him and he can sleep.”
Steph lifted Dean’s head from Gemma’s thigh and carried him upstairs. Gemma poured the remaining soup back into the container it came in. She looked at the handful of pictures of Dean on the fridge. Some with Steph and some with a man she assumed was his father.
“That’s Dean’s dad, Terry,” Steph mentioned, coming into the kitchen.
“Sorry. I wasn’t prying, just putting the rest of the soup in the fridge.”
“It’s alright. Should I reheat these plates?”
“Probably wouldn’t hurt.”
“Take a seat, Gemma. You worked all day.”
“So did you.”
“I just cleaned.”
“And since when is cleaning and taking care of a sick child not working?”
“That’s a good question.” Steph turned on the microwave, heating up a plate. “My mother would say that it’s just part of being a woman.”
“Your mother and I would disagree.”
“My mother and I do disagree quite often.”
“I understand that.” Gemma eyed the last bag still sitting on the table. “I also brought a couple bottles of wine. I don’t know if you drink or not, but I figured it would be nice and the store clerk swore it would taste good with the curry so, you know, it probably doesn’t.”
Steph laughed. “Most likely not, but why not give it a go? There is a bottle opener in the drawer over there and I can get the glasses.”
Steph put in the second plate of food and laid the warm plate where Gemma was sitting. She grabbed two glasses as Gemma used the twist cap to open the bottle. “I didn’t get a fancy cork bottle. This is just easier.” They stood close to one another as Gemma poured the wine. They both could feel their body heat rising, but trying to act as normal as possible. They looked at one another for a moment before the microwave beeped, pulling them back into reality. They sat around the table and ate quietly.
It wasn’t until after dinner when their conversations started filling the space.
“I have to admit something,” Gemma said, as they got comfortable on the couch with a second bottle of wine.
“I was surprised to see you this morning with a child no less.”
“I just didn’t know.”
“Well why would you?”
“I don’t know,” Gemma laughed.
“A woman can’t do ladies only parties and have a child?” Steph asked, defensively.
“What? Of course she can.”
“You don’t think it’s weird?”
“That I have this child and have done these parties?”
“What?! G-d no. I think it’s admirable. You should be proud of what you do.”
Steph smiled. “I am. I actually don’t host that often anymore.”
“No? What do you do then?”
“I’m actually the unit manager and in charge of this area’s recruits. I get them to sign up, educate them on the rules and the products. Talk to them about new releases etcetera. A salary job, benefits, paying my bills on time and not having to worry about rent. It’s quite nice.”
“Well that’s excellent.”
“How did you even get into this line of work?” Gemma asked.
“Well when Dean started school, I wanted a job. At the time I was a cleaner and cleaned Pauline’s house which is how I know her.”
“Yeah and then my ex husband lost his job so I had to. It was my friend, Nita, who convinced me to do it and then the next thing I knew, I was just really good at it and it kept growing around the area.”
“Well that is very impressive and I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”
“No. Took my mother months to come around, got an ex-husband out of it as well. Well, for multiple reasons really, but he hated the parties. Didn’t want me to do it and then once he found a new job, said I could quit the nonsense.”
“Sounds like a good guy,” Gemma joked.
“Oh yeah. Now enough about me, Doctor Foster.”
“No. You’re so much more interesting than me.”
“No. Tell me. Why Sheffield of all places?”
“I needed to get out of my town and to a new place. They had a job opening for a senior doctor so I applied and got the job.”
Steph stared at her for a moment and dramatically rolled her eyes. “Could that answer have been anymore boring and basic?”
Gemma laughed and shrugged.
“Where did you come from?”
“And what? Couldn’t find a job in London?”
“I didn’t want to find a job in London.”
“So you moved all the way up here because?”
“I told you. I needed a fresh start and they had an opening.”
“The rest is unbelievably complicated.”
Steph patted Gemma’s knee with her fingers. “I’ve got time. It’s only eight o’clock and I haven’t talked to an adult other than you and my mother for a few days so I would love a complicated story.”
“Me first what?”
“What happened with your ex-husband?”
“Caught him cheating on me with his best friend’s wife, took him back for Dean, realized my mistake when his best friend told me his wife was pregnant. They had been struggling to get pregnant for months and she was three months along. I knew it was Terry’s and told him I couldn’t.”
“Where is he now?”
“Birmingham. Still comes to see Dean every other weekend and they usually talk on the phone every night. Dean misses his dad and I hate that he has to go through this, but I do my best. I even take him down sometimes to have dinner with him. Dean shouldn’t be punished for his father’s mistake, you know.”
Steph noticed Gemma’s ring finger swiping the side of her wine glass. “You’ve been moving your middle finger around your glass for a while now.”
“Yeah, sorry. Habit when I’m thinking and I know exactly what you mean. I also have an ex-husband. I not only found out he was cheating, but that all my friends knew and lied to me about it. One friend said she only knew it for a couple of months when it had been going on for years.”
“Yeah. I think the whole town knew except for her parents by the time I found out. They just all lied to me for years. Acted like it wasn’t happening. Once I found out, they still continued to lie to my face for days. I found his other phone, wallet, credit card, and condoms in the boot of his car. There were pictures of him with this woman on trips with my neighbors.”
“Oh my gosh.”
“Yeah. Then he got this woman pregnant. It was a mess and I went about it the wrong way, but I didn’t know what else to do. We finally got a divorce and he moved to London for a year. It was so nice. I thought I had everything under control, but then he came back. They had a housewarming party that I wasn’t invited to, but showed up anyway. All my friends were there again. Things just escalated and after another year of it, he got his wish and I left.”
“Why did you have to leave?”
“He grew up there. All those people who I thought were my friends, were his friends. It was just bad on every level. I couldn’t take the gossip and the eyes anymore so I left.”
“And came here?”
“I’m sorry that happened.”
“I’m sorry for you too.” Steph rubbed her thumb over Gemma’s leg. Gemma looked at it before looking back up at Steph. “So, yeah, that’s my sob story.”
“It’s not a sob story. At least you didn’t go back.”
Gemma chuckled. “No, but I did sleep with him when they moved back.”
“At first, I was trying to film him cheating on his new wife, but he found my phone so he stopped. We had already kind of started though and I just thought why not? I could still prove it.”
“And did you?”
“He left his tie at my house so I made sure Kate got it back in an envelope addressed to her. They aren’t together anymore.”
“Well that is very sneaky.”
“I did what I could. She was only twenty-four. I didn’t want her to waste her life with a man who was going to hurt her eventually like he did with me.”
“I know what you mean. I was going to go to school when I got pregnant. Dropped out, got married to Terry and became a stay at home mum. My only friend before these parties was the woman he cheated on me with.”
“We’ve had good lives, haven’t we?”
Steph laughed. “Yeah. I did meet someone after Terry though.”
“His name is Johnny. It’s a complicated story, but-”
“I don’t know. I had to work with clients all day and haven’t hung out with anyone in a couple of days and it’s only eight thirty so I think we have plenty of time,” Gemma mocked.
“Saying my own words to me now, are we?”
“I just want you to feel the same pressure as I did.”
“Oh well, you did a wonderful job.”
“Thank you. Now who is Johnny?” Gemma felt a little doubt at this new man, but pushed what she was feeling aside.
“Johnny or PC Daniels as he was known around town-”
“A cop? Good girl.”
Steph smirked. “Yeah. I loved him, but he came here from London to find his birth mother because he didn’t know he was adopted until after his father died. Turns out Pauline was his mother.”
“Yes and she tried to keep us apart, but he stayed. He wanted to know who his birth father was. Pauline didn’t want him because she didn’t want to tell Mr. Spake. She has told him since and it was a strain on their marriage, but I think they’re doing a lot better now. Anyway, he stayed for a year and everything was looking promising, but he wanted to go to America. He wanted to find his dad so he did.”
“And have you heard from him?”
“We stayed in touch for a little while, but I don’t know. New country with new things to discover. We just kind of fell out, I guess.”
“No, it’s okay. My son keeps me here and I can’t imagine my life without him. He is the most important man to me.”
Gemma bit the inside of her cheek. Tom crossing her mind again. She shook her head, changing the subject.
“I once slept with a man a few times that was younger than me. He wanted it to be a thing and I just wanted to have sex so I started paying him.”
Steph looked surprised. “No you didn’t.”
“Yeah I did. Fifty quid every time. After the second time he felt dirty and we stopped, but it was adventurous to say the least.”
“Yeah. I went wild there for a minute. Really enjoyed my freedom after my divorce.”
“Seems like it.”
They smiled at one another. Steph took another sip of her wine, while Gemma studied her. She noticed the smooth skin of her cheek, the piercing blue eyes, her freckles. She was completely mesmerized when she remembered something.
“You know, I once had an old coworker say to me that after her divorce, she moved to women and never looked back. Said they were better lovers.”
“She swore by it.”
“Interesting. I’ve never been with a woman.”
Steph shook her head.
“I did it a couple times in college. I wanted to explore all my options.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yeah, of course. A woman knows a woman’s body better than a man. It’s more focused on both getting off instead of just one going to town without the mere thought of you getting off. It was different, but good. I don’t regret it.”
There was an awkward silence between them and Gemma wasn’t sure why.
“Did I make you uncomfortable?”
“No, not at all. I was just thinking about it.”
“Thinking about what?”
“What it’s like being with a wom-”
Steph stopped talking as she heard footsteps. She got up to see Dean standing in the doorway.
“What’s wrong, Love?”
“I can’t sleep and I don’t feel good.”
“Do you think you’re going to be sick again?”
Dean shrugged and wrapped his arms around Steph’s legs.
“Do you mind if he sits with us for a bit?”
“No. Of course not.”
Dean climbed up on the couch and laid his head on Gemma’s lap.
“No, it’s alright. He needs to sleep so whatever makes him comfortable.”
“Are you sure?” Steph asked.
Steph lifted his feet and sat closer to Gemma.
“Doctor Foster?” Dean asked, looking up.
“You may call me Gemma, but only because you’re a very special patient to me.”
“Are you going to take my temperature?”
“Do you want me to take your temperature?”
“Sweetheart, Doc-” Gemma looked up at her and Steph corrected herself. “Gemma is off work. I can take your temperature.”
“I really don’t mind,” Gemma answered. “I told you I make house calls.”
“Yes, I know, but I kind of viewed this more of a date for us then you having to look after my kid.”
Gemma smiled. She leaned closer to Steph. “Is this a date?” she whispered.
“I, uh, I mean, um, I don’t really know. Just like a, uh, friendly get together sort of thing,” Steph stuttered. “Unless you thought it was a date because then-”
Gemma put her finger against Steph’s lips. “It can be whatever you want it to be.”
Steph just smiled. Her cheeks blushed with embarrassment. “I’ll go and get the thermometer.”
Gemma watched as she got up. She reached forward and took Dean’s glasses off. “Probably a little more comfortable without those on, yeah?”
“Did the soup stay down alright?”
“Good. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
“Do you think I’m getting better?” He asked, innocently.
Gemma smiled. “Let’s see if your temperature gives us any indication.”
Steph came back in and placed it under Dean’s tongue. Gemma kept her eye on the time while Steph looked at her. She could tell Gemma was hiding something from her, but couldn’t place what. She watched how delicate she was with Dean and noticed how she ran her fingers through his hair a few times.
Gemma looked down at her watch. “Open,” she said before taking the thermometer out of his mouth. Dean rolled onto his back as Gemma checked. She smiled.
“You still have a little fever, but it’s better than it was this morning,” she commented.
“What is it?”
Gemma looked at Steph. “37.5. He’s back down to normal range and so far, his soup has stayed down.”
“Is that good?”
Gemma looked down at him. “That’s very good, Dean. You are well on your way to being better. Now what you need to do is sleep.”
“What if I read you a story?” Steph offered.
“Can Gemma read it to me?”
Steph and Dean looked at Gemma. She stopped for a moment almost in shock, but felt herself agreeing. “Sure. I can do that. Why don’t we get you back into bed and then I will read you one?”
“Are you sure?” Steph placed her hand on Gemma’s arm.
Gemma looked down at it and smiled. “Absolutely.”
“What do we say to Gemma?” Steph asked, picking Dean up with a groan.
Gemma followed the mother and child upstairs. She climbed as quietly as she could gathering her peace. This wasn’t a sick Tom. This wasn’t her son. She was doing this to be helpful. No one even knew Tom existed in this town. No one even knew Simon existed to the extent Steph did and she planned to keep it that way. She questioned why she agreed to do this when Dean walked up to her holding a book out to her.
Gemma snapped out of her thoughts and smiled. Steph helped Dean get comfy, snuggling up behind him while Gemma sat on the edge of the bed. She opened the book and started reading.
Gemma and Steph headed down the stairs sometime later. Dean now sound asleep upstairs.
“I should probably head out. Work in the morning,” Gemma said, softly.
Gemma gathered her stuff. “I’ll leave the wine for you.”
“It’s half a bottle and I have plenty at home.”
Gemma made her way towards the door. Steph followed. She picked her purse up from the little bench.
“Thanks for having me,” Gemma said, slipping her coat on.
“You’re welcome here anytime. And thanks for all the help with Dean. He clearly likes you and I really do appreciate it.”
“I like him too.” Gemma took a step towards Steph. “And you. I have to admit, it was nice to not be by myself for once.”
“What about drinks with coworkers? You said you do that on occasion.”
“I do, but honestly after a couple hours, I find them rather annoying.”
Steph nodded, a hopeful look in her eye.
“I think this is the most fun I have had in a long time.”
“Good. I’m glad.”
Steph looked up at Gemma with a small smile. Gemma felt her heart skip a beat. They looked at each other for a moment before Gemma leaned forward and pressed her lips against Steph’s. The kiss was light and delicate. Simple. Gemma pulled back slightly, only to feel Steph’s hand on the back of her neck pulling her closer. They met in a passionate kiss, Gemma’s arms wrapping around Steph’s waist so there was no space between them.
Gemma pushed Steph back against the French door. Steph’s hands roamed all over Gemma’s body: her back, her arms, her neck. She moaned into Gemma’s mouth, pushing her coat off her shoulders. It fell to the floor along with her purse. Steph marveled at the feel of Gemma’s thin arms. The smooth skin of her neck and cheek. Her soft lips.
Steph pulled back to look at her body for only a second before Gemma’s lips were back on hers. Steph felt Gemma’s tongue against hers and she reciprocated. Both lost in ecstasy. The heated kiss slowly died down as they caught their breaths. It soon turned into small pecks before they looked at one another.
As soon as their eyes met, they laughed. There lips pink and swollen. Gemma picked up her coat and hung it over her arm. Steph reached for her purse and handed it to her.
“When Dean’s better, do you think you could get someone to watch him?”
“Yeah. Of course. Why though?”
“I want to take you on a proper date, if you’ll have me?” Gemma reached out and took Steph’s hand. Their fingers interlaced.
Steph smirked. “I would love to go on a date with you.”
“Proper date. This was our first one, no?”
Steph nodded. “Yeah. A sick child and curry. I think it’s a good first date.”
Gemma laughed. “Well I still enjoyed it.”
Gemma leaned forward and pecked Steph’s lips. “Call me tomorrow?”
They made it to the front door when Steph kissed her one more time. It was hard and yet the softest thing Gemma had ever felt.
“I’ll see you soon?” Gemma asked, placing another kiss against Steph’s lips.
“Yeah.” Another kiss.
“And you call me tomorrow?” Another kiss.
A few more kisses. Steph opened the door and Gemma stepped out. She looked around before placing one final kiss against Steph’s lips.
“Good night,” Gemma’s voice barely above a whisper.
“Get home safely.”
They smiled at one another, one more kiss shared.
“Bye.” Gemma headed down the front stairs and waved before getting in a cab.
Steph waved back and watched the cab drive away. She could see Gemma smiling. She closed the door and caught her breath. She bit her lip thinking about what just happened. She hadn’t felt this light and giddy in quite some time. She felt alive and more turned on than ever. She cleaned up the living room and washed the dishes with only Gemma on her mind. As she crawled into bed, she couldn’t help but think what more they would do together. She felt like she had a school girl crush, but she knew it was deeper than that. She hadn’t felt this way since Johnny left. She didn’t expect to feel this way and yet all she wanted to do was call Gemma now instead of having to wait until tomorrow.
Gemma smiled the whole way home. Her cheeks hurt from her excitement. She constantly traced her own lips, thinking about Steph’s. She couldn’t deny that she liked her and wanted to be around her again as soon as possible. She walked into her house and immediately went towards the kitchen. She lit a cigarette, heading for the white wine in her fridge. She thought for a moment and didn’t feel the need to have another drink. She put her cigarette out and headed to her bedroom. After another shower, she laid in bed, already waiting for Steph to call her when the phone rang.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Is it weird that I wanted to talk to you now before I go to sleep,” Steph asked.
Gemma smiled. “No. I was hoping it would be you on the line.”