A story of a romance which blossomed between two neighbours amid the Pandemic.
DINNER FOR ONE
Gemma sat on her couch in her living room sipping her coffee, 'Now what? I can't go to Mum's for dinner, she can't come here. Can't go for a drink with my colleagues. I have to set up my computer to work from home, but I'll deal with that tomorrow, since I'll have all day.
Gemma sighed: 'Time for dinner anyway'.
She opened the fridge door, 'Ah, left over pumpkin soup, that'll do with some toast. Ok, table for one tonight it is...sorry Mum, better to be safe than sorry I suppose.'
After a restless sleep, Gemma showered and made some eggs on toast then got out her laptop.
After zooming into a couple of meetings and doing some statistics on online marketing for the clothing company she worked for.
This was her ritual for a few days a week. Gemma looked up from the computer when she heard the front door letterbox clang. Some mail had come through her letterbox. Let's see what's happening in the wider world, she thought thinking of male...her next door neighbour was just leaving. She waved to him, he flashed a smile and waved back. She didn't know his name but had heard he was a Doctor at the hospital. Tanned skin, lovely smile, he looked gorgeous. 'A bit out of my league, he's probably got some beautiful, highly intelligent, exquisitely dressed partner, a fellow Doctor' she surmised. 'Strange how these cottages are so close together, and I still don't know who lives there'. She knew Sue and James next door to her left. Sue had just had a baby boy, Thomas James. 'Such a cutie'
Saturday evening. Even though she had some conversations over the phone, and a chat to Sue next door, she felt at a loss. 'My goodness, this is only the beginning of how long...weeks, months? Already I'm at a loose end. 'Lock down' the authorities called it. Well she certainly felt locked down and fed up, with her own company!
It had been two years since her and Simon had broken up and she had forged a new life for herself - moving to a new village and making friends there. She missed having someone special in her life though, someone to share the highs and lows and to laugh at life's absurdities.
In her backyard, she had a small shed with a small fireplace with a grid. Sick of being cooped up in four walls, she'd decided on an impulse, to dine alfresco. On a small table she laid out a candle lamp, a glass and a bottle of her favourite shiraz. Lighting the small fire, smoke filled the shed. She heard a man's laugh. Turning to see who was there, she was surprised to see her handsome neighbour peering through the space in her hedges. She laughed too. After waving away the smoke, a small flame was visible.
'I'm cooking dinner out here tonight, sick of sitting indoors'.
'Dinner for one?' he asked.
'I'll get used to it', she replied. 'I'm Gemma, I don't think we've been introduced'.
'My name is Jasper. It's a pretty neighbourhood here'. He wasn't just thinking about the aesthetics of the street, he was looking at her lovely brown eyes and red locks curling down her back.
'Yes' she answered. 'I would invite you to join me but...the rules, you never know who's watching. Also, I heard you are a Doctor, so you wouldn't want to catch anything'.
He regarded her, trying to figure out if she really would invite him, or was she just being polite fobbing him off.
'I have an idea; I have a little table and chair we can put them together against the fence and eat our own dinner; but we can be company for each other'.
'Oh' she was taken by surprise at his suggestion.
'You don't want to?'
'Yes of course what a great idea. Dinner for one, both sides of the fence, why not'.
He too put a candle in a glass and set his table.
'This is better than eating alone, I'd better not have too much wine, I'm on duty tomorrow. How are you filling in your days'?
'Working for home, I work for a clothing company, with the shop closed, we do some online work, but it won't last forever. Your job will always be there'.
Jasper laughed, 'My Father was an English Doctor in Pakistan, that's where he met my mother, they came back here to marry, he made me study hard and do something where there will always be work. There were times I didn't think I was cut out for medicine, but got used to the role. I was an only son and I thought it would please my father, it was either medicine or play cricket!'
'I started Nursing a few years ago but I didn't fit into the role. My sister, Glenda is a nurse. Now, I mainly do statistics on a computer and online selling'. It got cool outside, and it was time to tidy up and go inside. 'We must do this again, thanks for your company, I really enjoyed myself' said Gemma.
'Like-wise' replied Jasper.
All that night, all Gemma could think about was Jasper, his smile, beautiful green eyes and lovely skin. 'Get a grip. It'll never happen' she chided herself. But she could not get Jasper out of her mind.
A few rainy nights kept everyone indoors. Gemma wondered if another magical dinner date could be possible. One sunny day, Gemma stepped out into the back garden and found Jasper setting his table.
'Dinner for one?' she asked.
'Ah, there you are, I don't have your phone number, and I can't exactly knock on your door'.
'You can knock on my wall though'. She quipped.
He smiled at her, 'I would like to ask you if you can indulge me in the pleasure of your company this evening'.
'Of course, you don't have to be so theatrical, you can just ask'. They both laughed. 'Anyway, let's enjoy the last of the sun before it disappears'. She drew up her table and set her dinner. The night went too fast for them both and before they knew it, it was time to say a fond good night.
Gemma looked forward to the days they met for 'over the fence' dinner and before long, it seemed, Jasper consumed all of her waking hours and thoughts. She tried to keep busy though and to not overthink their growing attachment.
One weekend, the street ran bingo, they all sat outside, and got their card and pen. With a loudspeaker, a neighbour, Tom called out the numbers. That passed some time. It had been some days since she'd seen Jasper.
That night she looked out the window, Jasper's light was still off. 'Hmmm, busy at the hospital I suppose'.
Later, a surprise knock on the wall startled her. She went outside and there was Jasper. 'I had to see you.'
'You sound tired'.
'Long day, well, I'll do it all again tomorrow. I just needed to see your face and hear your voice. I've missed you. Well I'd best get to bed another long day ahead I fear. goodnight'. Gemma went to bed that night with a warm glow in her heart.
The next day Gemma had just put the jug on for a coffee, when she got a text, 'Home today feeling sick, I have to get tested'.
'Oh no, can I get you anything' Gemma replied.
'No, I'll be alright, you'll see'.
She didn't see much of him for a few days, she texted every day to see if he was alright. They would see each other for short conversations from afar, over the fence.
'Stop worrying, I'm fine', he reassured her.
A sunny morning one week later, Gemma was outside sitting on a chair reading a book. A voice came through the hedges, 'Good news, I tested negative. It was just a head cold'.
'Thank goodness for that. How are you feeling?' Relief swept over her.
'Much better, a couple of more days and I'll be back at the hospital'.
A couple of nights later, Jasper knocked on her wall.
She opened her back door and Jasper was at the fence. 'Please I have to see you. Look, you are low risk, you haven't been out and I've been tested and home isolated...please?'
'But the rules...Oh what the hell.'
'Turn your computer, phone and television off, leave them unplugged, I'll leave my phone here'. He then climbed through the wire fence.
They sat on her cosy couch and it felt so natural for them to sit close and hold hands.
'It's all our fault all this is happening, climate change, destroying habitats, new micro-organisms mutating so species can survive. I don't know what you think about that'. Gemma said.
'I'm so pleased you think the same. I'm more worried about us being under surveillance all the time. But some patients coming into the hospital are so sick, their outcome hasn't been favourable. I don't know how we get the right balance'. Jasper said holding her hand tighter.
'Well we do want all this great technology; we get what we deserve I suppose'. She sighed, looking into his face.
'I know what I would like to deserve', Jasper pulled Gemma to him and kissed her on the lips. Her heart quickened.
They sat quietly, just enjoying the quietness of the night while he stroked her hair.
'Jasper, please stay with me tonight'.
She led him up the stairs her bedroom. She cuddled up to him, she noticed how white she was when his tanned arm was over hers. His warm, gentle touch caressed her senses. 'Your body is so warm and soft', he whispered.
Early the next morning, Jasper whispered to a drowsy Gemma: 'Come to mine tonight, I should be back around eight' He crept downstairs and back through the fence to his house careful not to alert the neighbours.
'Dinner for one?' Gemma said as she came to his back door.
Jasper looked up from setting the table, 'I was hoping dinner for two'.
Gemma looked around. A dark wall with tiny lights and a white wall with coloured lights. A candle lit table with a white tablecloth, and a red rose in a small vase. A cosy living room. 'Wow, this looks classy and romantic. You've upstaged me'.
Jasper smiled, taking her hand he led her to the couch. 'Dinner will be served soon, but first I want to ask you something'. Getting down on his knees, he took her hand. 'Gemma, I don't want to be by myself anymore, I Love you and need you and I want you to be my wife.
Gemma was stunned. 'I love you too and Yes!'. Was all she could say. He brushed a tear away from her face. She hugged him tight and fell in a heap on the floor next to him. Her tears were turned to laughter.
Some days later they sat outside with their tables face to face. Sometimes it was too cold, so they took turns to go into each other's cottage and have dinner when Jasper was home.
Gemma's neighbour Sue was out the front one day while Gemma was there, 'Erm, anything happening?'
Gemma looked up alarmed. 'It's alright, you can't stop love happening. The drones won't peer in the windows', Sue laughed, giving an exaggerated and wicked wink.
'H...How did you know?'
'You have that love glow in your face, and there's only one person I've seen you waving to. Just make sure I get in invite to your wedding'.
'We'll be having a social distanced wedding in the street I think, the way life is going'.
Sue saw how worried Gemma looked, 'Don't worry it will pass. And a street wedding would be fun'.
'I suppose. Hey, don't tell anyone just yet'.
'Of course not. Don't worry no one else would suspect unless you have your webcam on'. Sue gathered up Thomas and went back inside.
She couldn't quite belief it herself. She almost had to pinch herself. 'We are getting married you great twat!'
A few days later She got a call from her boss, 'We're opening on Monday, come back to the office, you can still work from home some days if you want'.
Some places were opening, others were not. Social restrictions were lifted to family.
'Mum, can I bring someone to yours for dinner, we have something to tell you.'
'We?' her mum asked.
'Yes mum, we', Gemma laughed.
Life was slowly gaining some normality, fewer cases had to be treated and there was a communal feeling of hopefulness. 'The hospital is at a manageable level, although the virus has not completely gone', Jasper explained to Gemma.
Lou, Gemma's mum and Amal and Sam, Jaspers parents, all came to witness the big event. Colleagues from the hospital and where Gemma worked, came to the village for the day. Gemma kissed his mother and saw where Jasper got his looks from. Tables and chairs were set outside ready for a street party. People were still cautious, so it was spread out.
The celebrant had a marquee set up and the wedding was a street affair.
Lou and Glenda, her mother and sister, led Gemma by the arm up the street to where the small marquee where Jasper was waiting with the celebrant, passing the clapping neighbours. The song 'For You' played. Jasper saw this beauty coming towards him, a golden-haired princess with diamonds in her hair which matched her eyes. She wore an ivory gown and a single red rose for her bouquet.
The celebration lasted all day, with everyone contributing food and drinks. It was a great sign of normality. Of life.
This Pandemic had shut down pubs, restaurants, cinemas, most shops, wreaked havoc with the economy and almost destroyed life's fabric. But there was one thing it could not stop...Love.
2331 words. @copyright Sandra Jones