The little stranger chapter 13

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War Child
Dec 2, 2003
"Hey, you never told me your little nanny Gemma was a looker,” Tom approached Jake a few days later as they sat on the tour bus on their way to the next venue in Scotland. He then leaned forward looking a little furtive “Do you know if she is, er, involved with anyone?” he enquired meaningfully.

Jake at that moment was too occupied trying out lyrics for a new song he had been inspired to write that morning about his daughter, and was totally zoned out to the rest of the world around him. That was until Tom approached him with his unexpected request.

Now he looked up from his notepad he had been scribbling on with a pencil, not sure if he was hearing right.

“What are you asking me about again?” he frowned a little in bewilderment back at Tom.

“I am talking about Gemma, your nanny” Tom replied with a grin.

“Gemma is not just my nanny, she is my friend, we go a way back” Jake found himself correcting him

“Yeah, I know all that, you already mentioned it the first time you introduced her,” Tom replied dismissively, “But I want to know if she is with anyone, you know, or is she a free agent?” he queried again on the more pressing matter on his mind.

“Why do you care?” Jake demanded, and now it was Tom who looked puzzled

“Why do you think? Y’know, I’ve got talking to her since she joined us, and she seems nice, I am interested in her.” he explained.

The penny finally dropped for Jake, “Oh” was his only reply in realisation.

“So, is she in a relationship? she never mentioned anyone, and I didn’t see a ring on her finger, but I didn’t want to ask her outright, that’s why I am asking you” Tom continued.

Jake shrugged now recovering, and getting his brain back on track, “No, I don’t think so. To be honest I am not sure” he frowned again.

“How can you not be sure? she works for you, you said you were friends” Tom pointed out.

“Well, it’s not something we have ever discussed” Jake managed to reply honestly

“But she has never mentioned any guy, or even girl?” Tom asked hopefully

“No,” Jake found himself reluctantly admitting, not liking the way this conversation was going. It was making him feel uncomfortable, but he wasn’t sure why. He told himself that it was because he knew Tom was recently divorced, and he didn’t like the idea of him getting involved with Gemma when he was still sorting out the mess from his previous relationship. It didn’t feel right.

“So, you like her then?” he asked, as if wanting further confirmation.

“What’s not to like?” Tom grinned and Jake felt the twinge of discomfort again, and found himself having to fight down the urge to want to punch Tom in the mouth, which was totally irrational

“Don’t you think it’s a bit soon, to be eyeing up another woman? you are only getting over your divorce” he then reminded him, “Not so long ago, you were cussing your ex-wife and saying you were done with women”

“That was before we went on tour,” Tom recalled furrowing his brow in remembrance, “I am over all that now, I think it's time I moved on”

“With Gemma?” Jake demanded, sounding doubtful.

“Yeah, why not?” Tom returned wide-eyed.

Jake found himself combing his mind to think of a good reason, but came up blank. So, he just shrugged, “I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me” he replied lamely, not looking Tom in the eye,

“Well I wasn’t asking your permission, just if you knew if she was seeing anyone.” Tom reminded him a little defensively

Realising how he was coming across, Jake forced himself to smile and shrug, “I guess you will have to ask her yourself then. Sorry if I am coming across a bit strong, it's just I have known Gem a long time, I can be just a bit over protective about her”. He then explained in what he hoped was a more chilled tone

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Tom replied wryly. “Look don’t worry, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her knowing I have you to answer to,” he then grinned, “I just want to get to know her better, like I said she seems nice” he finished reasonably.

“Yeah she is,” Jake replied, “So, don’t mess her about” though his tone was friendly enough, there was a steely look in his blue eyes that Tom didn’t miss.

Jake tried to get back to writing his lyrics when Tom moved away, but he found all his inspiration had vanished, and instead he flung his notebook and pencil down on the now empty seat were Tom had been sitting a few minutes ago, then he found himself turning to stare pensively out the coach window, trying hard not to think about Tom and Gemma actually getting together, which left him feeling far more unsettled than he cared to admit, despite Tom’s reassurances.

Jake was finding it hard to act like he never really noticed Gemma and Tom talking and laughing together, whenever they happened to be around each other over the next few days, however briefly it was for.

He kept telling himself it was nothing to do with him really, after all he was not Gemma’s keeper. The last thing he wanted, was to come across like he was sticking his nose into her personal business, he had the feeling she wouldn’t appreciate it.

But in the end, it got the better of him, as a few days later, when he and Tom were alone on stage whilst they were rehearsing for the gig that night. Jake couldn’t help himself, needing to find out what was going on between them.

“So, what’s happening with you and Gemma then?” he enquired casually, as he made a big thing out of tuning the strings on his guitar.

Tom looked up from his keyboard he was checking randomly pressing on the odd key and now looking a little distant. “Nothing apparently,” he replied with a small rueful smile

Jake perked up at this information, his eyebrows rose questioningly “Oh, what happened? I thought you two were getting along like a house on fire” he remarked dryly

“She is not interested in me that way apparently, though she says she likes me. She said she is happy if we can just be friends, and it also seems she doesn’t think it’s a good idea that we get together, under the circumstances, y’know, with you being her boss and all that” Tom explained the disappointment in his voice evident, but coming to terms with the fact at the same time, “ah well, plenty more fish in the sea I suppose.” he finished with a hint more optimism, as he looked round at Jake.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Jake agreed, feeling strangely relieved, but then a touch guilty “I am sorry mate” he added, feeling like he had to be sympathetic in some way
Tom smile was bittersweet, “Somehow, deep down, I don’t think you are.” he replied sagely, he leaned closer to Jake, tapping the side of his nose, “But its ok, your secret is safe with me” he added in a low tone, then he walked away, before Jake could question exactly what he meant by it.

Despite the fact, nothing had come from Tom’s romantic interest in Gemma in the end, Jake found himself pondering and interested a lot more on Gemma’s personal love life, than he had ever done before.

It was because Tom had raised the question in his mind in the first place, he found himself wondering if there was, or ever had been, any one romantically special in her life, in the years they had grown apart? It was something she never talked about; it was a place he had not dared to go.

Now, he could not stop thinking about it, and he needed to know.

The curiosity was eating away at him. Perhaps it was because he had been telling everyone how he and Gemma went a way back, and they were good friends. But then it hit him after what had happened with Tom, and he was starting to realise that there was a whole part of her life he didn’t know anything about, so he really couldn’t claim he knew her better than anyone else around him. It had started to irk him.

They were travelling to Ireland from their last few gigs in Scotland, which meant going by private plane, Ellie was having her nap in her travel cot during the short journey, so Gemma was sitting passing the time reading a book, when Jake decided to take the plunge, and come to sit beside her.

She looked up at him a little questioningly, whilst inside feeling a little surprised, as she felt he had been doing his best these last few days to avoid her for some reason, though she dismissed it as her over active imagination, and he was probably just busy and didn’t have the time.

She couldn’t expect him to want to spend all his time with her, besides she had enough on her plate anyway, fobbing Tom off when he showed he was interested in her. But it was the last thing she needed or wanted right now.

Jake was eyeing up the book she had in her hands with casual interest, “So, what’s that you are reading, is it a nice steamy romance story? “ he teased.

“No,” Gemma replied, her slight derisive laugh told him she found the idea ridiculous, “I am not into steamy romance stories; they are the last thing I would be reading” she then informed him loftily

“I see,” Jake nodded looking thoughtful. “So, you are not interest in romance then?”
Gemma frowned, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing” Jake’s eyes widened innocently, “Just making an observation, that’s all”
“Oh, that’s all, is it?” Gemma’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, not buying it, and he gave up the casual pretence.

“Ok then, I have just been thinking lately how we have never really caught up properly, well what you have been up to, apart from your job,” he admitted, as he studied his fingernails with great interest, “Y’know, I was just a little curious about how other things were going in your life, if you had ever met someone? fell in love? All that sort of stuff”

“Why?” Gemma demanded wondering where his interest in her love life had come from
“Well because we are friends, and I care,” Jake replied, now looking her in the eye, as if his reasons should be obvious to her.

Then letting out a little sigh, and shifting uneasily as he went on, “I have just been thinking how you were left on your own, and I just wouldn’t like to think you have never had the chance to, experience some romance in your life, or have someone special. Which is why I am asking, if there was ever that particular guy in your life at one time, you thought you would maybe settle down with one day?” Even whilst he was saying this, deep down Jake was still torn not sure he really wanted to hear her reply.

“The simple answer to that is, no.” Gemma replied easily, now folding the bottom corner of the pages of her book in preoccupation, still not sure why Jake was having this conversation with her, and not sure she wanted to have this conversation with him.

“Really?” He looked a little perturbed by her answer, as if saddened by it. “I hope it isn't partly my fault, because you think I let you down, amongst others, and now you feel can’t trust people, to let them into your life”

It was too close to home for Gemma and hit a nerve, but she was not going to admit it, so she went on the defensive, laughing his concerns off in a light-hearted dismissive way.

“Oh please, your oversized ego has really overreached you Jake, if that’s what you are thinking,” she shot back, “If you believe I have been living like some dried-up old prune withering away because you went out of my life, that is not the case at all. I have had relationships with men, if that’s what you want to know. But I have had no interest in settling down with any of them, and I don’t think that’s a crime” she finished pointedly

“Ok, your right of course,” Jake found himself hurriedly relenting, sensing some hostility, despite her attempt at light-heartedness, and he astutely deciding to back off a little. “It's good to know that. I just don’t want you thinking you could never find your soulmate one day, and give up on finding love. I am sure there is someone out there somewhere”

“You really believe that?” Gemma seemed more amused than comforted.

“Don’t you?” he returned uncertainly

“No, not really, I am not interested in finding my ‘soulmate’ as you put it, I am happy enough in my own company for now, from what I have even seen around me with other peoples’ relationships, soulmates are as rare as unicorns” she stated with a hint of scorn

“Whoa Gem, I never realised how cynical you had become” Jake remarked feeling unsettled by her bleak outlook, but he refused to accept it. The only saving grace was the fact she was actually being honest with him now, and not sitting on fence with her opinion as she had been doing for a long time, and avoiding confronting him.

“I wouldn’t say I was cynical, I am just being honest,” she replied defensively,” Tell me then, how many people do you know, have met their actual soulmate?” she then challenged.
Gemma smiled, feeling justified in her view, as Jake seem to have trouble answering her, looking a little flustered.

But then he brightened up, “Maggie my assistant; her and her husband Phil, they have been married for over forty years. I am not saying their marriage is perfect, but when you see them together you can tell they were meant to be, and they are very much still in love” he stated triumphantly.

Irritated, and refusing to accept that he should get the better of her she found she just wanted to provoke him further, which made her blurt out the next thought in her head,

“And what about Caroline, was she your soulmate?

Realising she had actually said it aloud, she now immediately regretting it, because it seemed like a bit of a low blow.

She cursed herself for letting him get to her like this.

Jake didn’t seem upset, even though his rueful smile was a little twisted, that she had even dared go there.

But he was not going to back down.

“No, she wasn’t” he finally answered with honesty, he was glad it gave him the opportunity to be completely open about it with Gemma. “I will admit, I was enthralled by her, intrigued by her, she was an enigma in my life to a certain degree. I was trying to figure her out, that was part of the attraction,” Jake said, pausing, then looking regretful, he adding sadly, “it was only when I finally figured out the key to the puzzle, and what made her the way she was, I discovered I had opened Pandora’s box”

Gemma was staring at him questioningly, not quite understanding what he meant by his last remark. So, she was not sure how she should reply, only that she knew she had reminded him of unhappier times, making her feel even more guilty.

“I am sorry Jake, I didn’t mean-” she started to apologise feeling mortified, but Jake quickly shook his head, interrupting her. He wanted to tell her right there and then about Caroline, but much to his frustration he knew it was not the right place or time, when they surrounded by the others on the plane, as well the fact, they would be landing in Ireland very soon.

“-Its ok Gem,” he tried to reassure her, putting his hand over hers. “It's complicated, and this is not the time unfortunately. But one day soon, when I get the chance, I will tell you the whole sordid story,” he confided quietly, “and then you will understand”

The unexpected and slightly heated exchange, between them, about her love life, had suddenly turned into something else, leaving Gemma’s mind whirling with more questions than answers where Jake was concerned.

The only thing she did know for sure, he had ruined any interest she had in her book.
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