Their conversation over that meal and many subsequent meals over the next weeks was comfortable. Unlike some of her high school friends who she now had very little in common with, it was easy to reconnect with Calvin. They shared the same taste in movies and had read a lot of the same books. It turned out they were both fans of Yale Hockey too. They went to the home games together and cheered on the Bulldogs.
As the semester progressed, Stella and Calvin saw more and more of each other. She felt the same excitement she felt in high school when he called or when they were together. They were kind to each other and careful about the pasts they hadn’t shared. Calvin asked very little about Phil and never made Stella think that she had been stupid to put up with him in the first place. As for Stella, she tamped down the slight jealousy she felt about Calvin’s relationship with Christine. She asked questions about their life together and showed an interest in his children and grandchildren. She helped him pick out birthday presents for his grandchildren and he helped her with her math homework.
Three weeks before finals, Stella and Calvin were eating dinner together at Pepe’s. They were splitting a margherita pizza and talking about how spectacular New Haven pizza was. “The best in the world,” Calvin said between bites. Stella nodded, her mouth full of pizza. When they were done eating and had finished the pie, they both sat back and smiled at each other.
“This has been fun,” Calvin said.
“You mean eating an entire pizza between us?” Stella asked.
“Well, yes,” he said, “But I meant spending time together.” He reached over and took her hand. “I like being with you,” he said.
Stella smiled. It was fun. She tried not to overthink it or push the fledgling romance into something it wasn’t. Now, it seemed maybe Calvin wanted to talk about things; define the relationship. As if on cue, her cell phone rang.
It was an unfamiliar number, but a Jackson Hole area code. “Excuse me,” Stella said, “I think I should take this.” She rose from the table and shrugged her coat on while simultaneously answering the phone and walking outside to the sidewalk.
The woman on the phone told her she was a nurse at St. Johns’ Medical Center. She said, “Do you know Gemma Hocking?”
“She’s my daughter,” Stella said, walking a few feet away from the noisy crowded entrance to the restaurant.
“There has been an accident and Gemma has been admitted to the hospital. You were her ‘in case of emergency’ contact on her cell phone.”
“An accident? Is she OK? What happened?” Stella felt like her knees were going to give way. Calvin was suddenly at her side. Wordlessly, he took her arm and guided her down the street toward his parked car. He unlocked her door then walked around to the driver seat and started the car, turning up the heat. Meanwhile, the nurse on the other end of the line was explaining to Stella that there had been an accident and Gemma had been a passenger in a car. The driver had apparently been drinking and had crashed. Thankfully there were no other cars involved. They were both in critical condition. “Thank you,” Stella said, “I’m on my way.”
She hung up the phone and looked over at Calvin. He was watching her carefully. “What is it?” he asked, touching her arm.
“Gemma,” she said, “I have to call Phil.”
While she found his number in her contacts, Calvin said, “I’ll drive you home.”
Phil lived in Greenwich, in the house they used to share. After the divorce, Stella wanted nothing to do with him or Greenwich. She had returned to New Haven, where she’d grown up, and bought a little house in West Haven near the beach. Phil answered the phone and listened to what she knew about Gemma. “Which airport do you want to fly out of?” he asked.
“I-I don’t know,” Stella stammered. She couldn’t process all of this.
“I’ll get you a ticket. I’ll let you know what I work out,” Phil said. He didn’t even say good-bye before he hung up the phone.
Stella discovered they were sitting in her driveway and Calvin was looking at her expectantly. She said, “Gemma…”
“I know,” Calvin said, “I heard you telling Phil. Are you OK?”
“Yes,” she said, although she really wasn’t. “I wish I could talk to Gemma.” She had the sickening realization that Gemma was unable to talk, that’s why they’d looked on her phone for an emergency contact.
“Can I do anything for you?” Calvin asked.
“No, thank you. And I’m sorry about tonight.”
Calvin waved his hand. “No apology necessary.”
“I guess I’m going to fly out there,” Stella said, “I’d better go get ready.”
“Do you need me to go with you?” Calvin asked.
Stella looked at him, a little surprised, would he really be willing to go with her? “It’s OK,” Stella said, “You need to finish up the semester.”
“Yeah,” Calvin looked glum at the prospect.
Calvin hugged her a little longer than usual when he said good-night. “I’m really sorry,” he said, “Please call me if you need anything. Let me drive you to the airport.”
“OK,” Stella said, allowing herself to sink into his arms a little bit before putting herself back together. She had to get to Gemma.
Stella didn’t end up needing a ride to the airport from Calvin. Phil got them both tickets out of Hartford so he picked her up on his way early the next morning. When Stella called to tell Calvin, he sounded a little disappointed. Also, he reminded her about his daughter Shelly. “She lives in Idaho Falls,” he said, “That’s just a few hours away from Jackson Hole. Just call her if you need anything.”
Stella couldn’t imagine needing to call Calvin’s daughter that she had never met but she dutifully wrote down the phone number anyway.
Phil looked relaxed while they drove to Hartford, only his hands clenching the steering wheel tightly gave away his anxiety. “Tad,” he said out of the blue.
“Do we even know for sure she was with Tad?”
“I guess not.” He looked over at her and asked, “Are you OK?”
“I think so, thanks for getting the tickets and picking me up.”
“Of course,” he said.
Phil had always been the one you wanted in a crisis. He was level headed and good at planning logistics. Also, he could afford to foot the bill.
They traveled along in silence for awhile and Stella watched the trees whiz by on the the side of the interstate in the early morning light. All the bright leaves were just about gone.
“Hey,” she said, suddenly, “Do you remember when we saw a wild turkey on the side of the road one autumn and Gemma wouldn’t eat turkey for a year.”
“She didn’t know it was meat from an animal.” Phil laughed at the memory. Then he turned to her, looking more serious. “I miss you Stel.”
Stella just looked at him.
“I made a mistake.”
“Angie? We broke up. About a year ago.”
“Really? Gemma didn’t say anything…”
“I don’t think she knows. She’ll hardly talk to me.”
Good for Gemma, Stella thought as she turned toward the window again.
After a few more minutes of silence, Phil said, “Stel?”
“Let’s just go take care of our girl, OK?” Stella said.
Check back tomorrow to see how Gemma is doing and to get to know Phil (the ex) a little better!