Their last night had been sweet and sad all at once. "It's only six weeks or so," she'd reminded Gerard.
"Yes, so YOU say," he said. "You'll be round-the-clock caring from now till the end of time. And I shall stay in London and waste away." Gerard rarely looked like he was going to waste away. Round of head and tummy, he had a cheery countenance, like he was always on the verge of a laugh or a joke. Or a sulk, but only Rosie got to see those.
Rosie sighed. "I wish you'd come. Just for a bit. A long weekend?"
"We'll see, we'll see," said Gerard. He hated any change to his routine.
Rosie looked at him. They'd been together so long now she could barely remember when they first got together. He'd been at her very first hospital; she was just out of a nearly all-female nursing college and dizzy with excitement at the thrill of having a little money and a job. She'd hardly noticed the little jolly pharmacist, who turned up occasionally when drugs were late or rare or urgent and always had a quip, although she'd noticed he was kind to the patients. He'd made silly remarks to her, and she'd dismissed them as standard banter, until one night he'd joined them on a work night out and made it clear that he was actually a bit more serious than that.
The other, more experienced nurses had giggled and nudged each other, but Rosie hadn't minded about that. She was young, she'd had some pink wine, and she was open to new experiences. At the end of the night, when he offered to walk her to her Tube stop then tentatively took her hand, she suddenly felt alive with possibility, excited that someone could be so clear about how much he fancied her. She'd often found that kind of thing confusing before, crushing helplessly on men she didn't have half a chance with, ignoring chaps she later realized she might have had potential with.
Rosie often felt that she'd missed a meeting every other girl in the world had had when they were about fourteen about how boyfriends and girlfriends actually worked. Maybe the PE teacher had taken everyone aside, like she did with the period-and-BO talk, and briefed them thoroughly. This is how to tell who fancies you. This is how to talk to a guy you like without making a complete idiot of yourself. This is how to politely leave a one-night stand and find your way home. It was all a bit of a mystery to Rosie, and everyone else seemed to find it so easy.
Meeting Gerard at twenty-three seemed like the answer to her prayers—a real, proper boyfriend with a good job. At least it would get her mum off her back for once. And right from the start, he'd been keen. She was a bit taken aback to learn he was twenty-eight and still lived with his mother, but hey, everyone knew how expensive London was. And she enjoyed, at least to begin with, having someone to look after; it made her feel grown-up to buy him shirts and to cook. When, after two years, he suggested they get a place together, she'd been absolutely delighted.
That had been five years ago. They'd bought a tiny flat that they both felt too tired to do up. And since then, nothing. They were, if she was totally honest, in something of a rut, and perhaps a little separation might just...she felt disloyal for even thinking it. Even if her best friend Mike was always rolling his eyes. But still. It might just shake them up a little bit.
* * * *
The bus driver grunted. Rosie jumped up, reaching for her bag, and followed his beard, which he'd nodded in the direction of a tiny pinpoint of light, far away. Rosie realized this must be the village and that they must be at the top of a big hill. Cripes, where were they, the Alps?
* * * *
That day at work, Rosie had been wondering over the pepperoni pizza box for the thousandth time how she could expand Gerard's diet—she liked to cook, but he complained that she didn't make anything just like his mum did, so they ate a lot of takeout and frozen dinners—and thinking about her job.
She had absolutely loved working in the emergency room as an auxiliary nurse. It was busy and exhausting and sometimes emotional, but she was never bored and always challenged, occasionally ground down by the challenges of working at the sharp end of the National Health Service, but often inspired. She loved her job. So of course they closed the unit. Only temporarily, then they were going to reopen it as something called a Minor Injuries Unit, and she was offered the chance to stay on for that—which didn't sound very exciting—or relocate, which would mean a longer commute. She'd suggested moving to Gerard, but he wanted to be close to his own hospital, which was fair enough. Even though an extra bedroom, maybe a little bit of outdoor space might be...Gerard didn't like change though. She knew that about him.