Authors: Cate Kendall
âI'm too young and too female, as I've said before. So therefore we can totally rule out that he's got a soft spot for me.' She had actually felt quite let down that he wouldn't go in to bat for her. Although she'd denied it to the girls, she and Peter did have a certain mateship between them, which was now apparently coming more from her side than from his.
âOh, luv, that's right bad, that is.' Chantelle looked at her in sympathy.
The waiter, observing their empty flutes, headed over to take their order. Mercedes spied his approach and stood hurriedly. âOff to the loo,' she announced. She grabbed her bag and disappeared.
Gemma made sure Mercedes was out of earshot then turned with a grin to her friend. âNow, my little pixie, about the book launch the other night, we haven't talked yet. How could you do that to Mercedes?'
âWhaÂ .Â .Â .Â ?' Chantelle asked, laden with wide-eyed innocence.
âWhy on earth would you send her along to that funny little lady's book launch? There is no way IQPR would have been represented there.'
Chantelle let go of her faux ânot me' act.
âOh, Lord, she deserves it, Gem; she's totally using you. She couldn't get invited to her own mother's birthday party without you bringing her along. It was just a bit of a laugh.'
Gemma tsked and shook her head at her friend. âIt was mean. You're a minx.'
They watched the waiter top up their glasses with the freshly opened bottle. He placed the white napkin over the wine cooler and left them to it.
âCheers,' Gemma said, raising her glass. âHere's to friendship.'
âHear, hear.' Chantelle clinked her glass against Gemma's. âGenuine friendship.'
The stripes of sun that forced their way through the timber blinds cut through Gemma's skull. She groaned. Whoever started the rumour that you can't get a hangover from drinking French fizzy was a freaking liar.
She peeped through gunky eyelashes to the other side of the bed. Excellent, he wasn't there. She breathed out deeply. She could relax. Gemma loved having the bed to herself. She starfished happily.
Propping herself up onto one elbow, Gemma drained the bottle of water that her wise drunk self had left for hung-over self to discover in the morning. Oh, good old drunk self, you're not all bad, she thought.
She sprawled back across the bed to wait for the parched cells throughout her body to rehydrate and make her feel a little more human.
It was wonderful to have the bed to herself; nowadays she preferred to wait till Stephen was asleep at night before she slipped in beside him, careful to avoid contact between their bodies. She rubbed her aching eyes and sighed. It hadn't always been this way. When they'd first fallen in love, they couldn't get enough of each other, making love at all times of the day. Then they'd had Tyler â far too young and before they were ready. He'd been a difficult baby who screamed with colic pains for the first year of his life and went on to be a restless sleeper who rarely settled for more than an hour at a time. Gemma had taken to sleeping on a mattress on his floor, then finally moved a single bed into his room, so she could sleep better, and somehow four years went past before she ventured back to the marital bed. By then a distance had grown between her and Stephen.
He resented her all-consuming concern for Tyler, accused her of coddling the boy. Gemma was angry that she always had to comfort the sleepless child, despite the fact that she was working hard to finish her degree at night, while being a mum all day. She remembered yelling at Stephen with frustration and him yelling back that someone had to earn the money, that he'd love the luxury of time to study.
She padded to the bathroom for some more water, thinking about her marriage. She knew that each of them had been at fault for letting a coldness creep between them, but it seemed to have happened so gradually that neither noticed or seemed to have the energy to deal with it.
They'd had lots of good times, of course â Tyler's birthday parties, Christmases and family holidays â when it seemed like they were as close as ever and she'd felt her chest swell with love for her husband and son.
She rubbed her face with her hand, smoothing down her eyebrows and flattening her wayward hair. It was just that the good times were so hard to remember now, when everything seemed so ugly.
Things had got really bad when Tyler went to school and Gemma's career launched at IQPR. At the same time Stephen's job at the radio station started to flounder and he was sidestepped for promotion several times. Gemma seemed to get promotions just as Stephen got turned down, and the friction between the pair increased.
Gemma fell back onto the bed, her temples throbbing with pain as she remembered how at some point Stephen had just given up and now seemed more than happy for her to be the breadwinner. He settled into middle management and the schmoozing that came with it, and embraced the financial freedom that Gemma's income offered.
Even when his relaxed work attitude resulted in his retrenchment, he was unconcerned. When he finally did get another job, it was at a much lesser station on a lower income, but again he was happy to play golf and eat long lunches, even while Gemma's workload intensified. She felt a stab of guilt hit her as she thought of the moments in Tyler's life she had traded for the sake of her career. She'd missed his Year Six graduation, the time he won gold at the swimming carnival and his last two presentation nights. At least Stephen had been there, she sighed.
She tousled her bob distractedly and thought again about the emptiness of her marriage. It had been months since they'd even had sex â not that she was missing it. She'd gone through the motions of trying to have a fairly normal sex life to maintain some illusion of a real relationship between them, but then a few months ago, she'd offered herself to him in her decreasingly regular act of charity and he turned her down. Rather than being upset or insulted she'd internally high-fived, rolled on her side and slept the sleep of the duty-free and hadn't offered since. Nor had he asked.
Gemma's headache was ebbing, her mouth was less like the bottom of a budgie's cage, the sun's attack was becoming more like an embrace and she began to luxuriate in her little lie-in. In fact she started feeling a little too good for comfort. Yes, just as she suspected, feeling good was shadowed by its arch-nemesis, guilt.
She groaned, rolled out of bed, pulled on her cashmere gown and wandered downstairs to put in an appearance. It was important to show the others that she was an active, interested member of the family unit. Hopefully, then, they would reciprocate in kind.
The kitchen was awash with sun. And dishes. Tyler and Stephen had obviously decided to do a big breakfast fry-up. She glanced around and saw no evidence that they'd given her morning appetite a thought; there was no plate of eggs, bacon, waffles and syrup warming for her anywhere.
She sighed and turned her back on the mess to start up the coffee machine for her morning fix. Her arm stopped halfway to the Saeco. Damn, she stomped her foot in frustration remembering her caffeine ban. But she needed a coffee this morning after the excesses of the previous night. Maybe just one to get her heart started, she decided, reaching for the Grinders tin on the shelf. She'd get straight back to green tea after breakfast.
âWell, look who's up,' Stephen said, wandering into the kitchen.
âI see I missed out on breakfast,' she said with a tight smile.
âWe didn't want to disturb you,' Stephen replied. âYou were snoring like a maniac when I got up, and you were dribbling all over your pillow â quite the look, my dear.'
âThanks very much,' Gemma muttered, searching through the dirty dishes for her favourite coffee mug.
âOh, I'll get to those later,' Stephen said. âTyler and I are just heading up to Corner Store for a latte.' He made to walk out of the room, and then stopped and asked, âOh, did you want to come?'
Gemma could sense the hollowness of the question. He didn't want her tagging along on their father-and-son morning.
âSure,' she said, âI'd love to come.'
âFine,' he sighed, âbut you smell like a pub, so I guess you'll need a shower first. We'll wait for five minutes.'
At that moment Tyler slumped into the kitchen and propped himself against the wall as if he hadn't enough strength to support himself.
âHey, mate, nice to see you. How are you doing?' Gemma stepped towards her lanky son. He leaned sideways to avoid her.
âOrright,' he grunted, his eyes on the floor.
âI'm just going to jump in the shower and then I'll join you guys for a coffee,' she smiled at him.
âYeah, whatever,' Tyler mumbled back.
Gemma showered quickly, dressed in Lululemon turquoise, white and grey weekend wear and pulled on a cap. She went downstairs to find Tyler gone and Stephen surrounded by model boat pieces.
âAre we going?' she asked.
âNo point,' he said. âTyler got a text from a mate and headed off to the skate park.'
âOh, okay, I guess I'll just do some work then.'
âThat'll make a change,' Stephen muttered to her back.
An hour later as the spouses worked at either end of the large house in discordant silence, the telephone called Gemma away from the tedium of her paperwork. She picked it up. âHello?'
âHello? Is that Mrs Bristol? It's Enid Carruthers here.'
âMrs Carruthers, how are you?' Cripes, she thought, this can't be good. Enid Carruthers was the vice-principal at Princes Academy, the private all-boys school that Tyler attended.
âLook, not very well at all, unfortunately. I'm sorry to call you on a Saturday morning but I've got Tyler here at the school and I'm afraid he and Mathew Gillespie are in rather a lot of trouble.'
âOh, God.' Her hand flew to her cheek. âWhat's happened?' She restrained from saying, âthis time'.
âI came in this morning to catch up on some work and I discovered the two of them plastering the gymnasium wall with some very colourful language.'
Oh, for fuck's sake, Gemma thought. âOh, dear me, I'm so sorry,' she said.
âThis is a very serious matter, Mrs Bristol. The boys will be suspended for one week. It really should be for two weeks given their appalling record. This is the third time this term, is it not, that a staff member has had to contact you about your son's behaviour?'
âYes, Mrs Carruthers, it's the third time,' Gemma replied meekly. I guess they didn't record the little incident trespassing at night last month, she thought. Her mind started to race with anxiety.
âThe boys are also expected at Saturday detention for a month starting today so I shall be keeping them with me; they have a lot of cleaning to do,' the vice-principal continued.
Tyler hated Mrs Carruthers, because she was an old-school disciplinarian and came down hard, often.
Sometimes Gemma felt that the older woman's style was a little heavy-handed and her expectations of the boys of today were deluded, but at least someone was disciplining Tyler. She just couldn't manage it herself. Every time she punished him for talking back or breaking curfew he'd go to Stephen who would override her decision. She was too exhausted to face the inevitable ugliness of arguing with Stephen, so she would let it go. It was easier just to stay at work sometimes. But Tyler was starting to get out of control and Gemma knew she had to take action, and soon. It was so much easier to let the whole thing bubble away under the surface and hope to hell it resolved itself. Well, clearly there was fat chance of that happening anytime soon.
âThank you, Mrs Carruthers. It's very good of you to spend your time helping us with Tyler. Perhaps a parentâteacher meeting is due next week?' Gemma suggested, tapping her nails anxiously on the marble kitchen bench.
âWell overdue, I should think,' Mrs Carruthers sniffed. The women rang off and Gemma sat heavily onto the kitchen stool and tried to breathe calmly. The now-familiar sense of panic churned within her and a sense of impending doom seemed to push down on her. She twisted her hands together, desperate for a good strong coffee.
Dammit, Tyler. What am I going to do? Gemma put her head in her hands. It's that bloody Mathew Gillespie.
Bugger the caffeine-free diet; she needed coffee, now. She pushed the warm-up button on her Saeco. It shooshed into life. âYes, please,' Stephen called from his study. She rolled her eyes.
She put a second glass on the warming plate and considered discussing Tyler with him, but what was the point? He'd only laugh and say his son was a rebel.
As the comforting aroma of coffee filled her nostrils, she felt the panic slowly recede. She decided she'd call Mathew's mum and see if they could find a way to get through to their sons. She dug through the paper pile in her nook to find the class phone list.
âHi there, Laura, it's Gemma Bristol.'
âHas Enid Carruthers called you yet?'
âYep, just got off the phone unfortunately.'
âSo, what do you think? Why would they do that? I didn't know Tyler was even into graffiti. I've never seen spray cans in his room.' Gemma paced the kitchen as she spoke.
âYeah, it's a bit of a pattern at this end, I'm sorry to say.'
I knew it, Gemma thought, it
the other kid's fault. But, deep down, she also knew that Tyler could have said no, could have stayed home and not gone to the school, could have done many things that didn't involve defacing school property.
âWhy would they do it, though? I don't understand.' Gemma was at her wits' end. The coffee machine beckoned, offering false relief, but she turned away, determined not to weaken again.
Tyler had been such a great kid through primary school. The perfect student. And such an angel. She'd hurried home from work every day to see him. She greedily guarded bathtime and bedtime as her domain. And his smile. She thought back to that infectious grin. Complete strangers would comment on it. Tyler was a happy, well-adjusted boy, a source of genuine pride.
Then he hit fourteen and it was as if he'd been abducted by a grumpy, offensive-smelling stranger who only came out of his room for meals and to use the bathroom â though apparently not for washing.
Now, at sixteen, he rarely spoke, except to make the occasional guttural sound under his breath.
Gemma missed the little boy whose bright voice was once the soundtrack of their lives. Puberty seemed to have stolen his personality, and now, according to his last few reports, his school marks were dropping and he had become a troublemaker in the classroom. It was frightening.