After they visited their sleeping daughter and held her hand and told her they loved her, Phil convinced Stella to go with him to the hospital cafeteria for something to eat.
After they had discussed Gemma’s condition and prognosis, Phil was noticeably more relaxed. They both were. It was a relief to be there and know that Gemma was improving and in good hands. “I got us a condo at The Four Seasons,” he said, “It’s out by the ski resort but it’s all I could find.”
“Us a condo?” Stella asked.
“It’s all I could find,” he repeated. “And don’t worry. It’s a two bedroom condo.”
“I’ll just stay here with Gemma,” Stella said.
“You need your rest,” Phil said. He flagged down a cafeteria worker and asked her for a straw. After Phil had flashed his smile at her, she acted like it was a great honor to track down a straw for him. He handed it to Stella. He had remembered that she preferred drinking with a straw.
“Thank you,” she said humbly.
“Your hair is different,” Phil said, turning his megawatt smile to her, “I like it.”
Stella sipped her water and said nothing.
“I meant what I said,” Phil said, “Angie...it was all a mistake. A huge mistake.” There was a pause and he continued. “I know, you don’t want to talk about it right now. But seeing you again…”
“We should get back to Gemma,” Stella said.
Over the next few days, Gemma’s condition steadily improved. Eventually they lessened the anesthesia and she was awake for a few minutes off and on during the day. She kept telling them how sorry she was about the accident. They had both decided not to tell her about Tad until she was more recovered. Stella dreaded the time when Gemma would ask about him and she was grateful to have Phil there. It had been a long time since she’d felt like she had a partner in parenting. It was nice to be with someone who cared about Gemma as much as she did. She hated to admit it, but it was nice to be around him again too. He could really be very charming.
At night they would drive back, exhausted, to the condo. It was luxurious and Stella was sure, very expensive. Most nights she’d go into her room and shut the door. The entreating looks Phil gave her were nothing she felt like confronting. Multiple times a day, Calvin texted to check in with her and ask about Gemma’s progress. One evening, she called him He had asked her to call when she had a chance. After he had inquired about Gemma, he said, “I miss you, Stella.” It was a thrill to hear him say that. Stella could feel herself blushing.
“I miss you too,” Stella said. And she did, but she was also confused. She liked being with Calvin. He made her laugh and made her feel needed and appreciated. He reminded her of what it felt like to fall in love with him back in high school. He made her pulse race. At the same time, she wondered if she’d ever get over feeling like she was a weak replacement for Christine. Christine was the one he’d shared a life and raised his children with. He loved Christine. Stella wanted what Calvin and Christine had had. Perhaps sensing her mood, Calvin changed the subject and started telling her about a student of his who had skipped most of the semester of classes and was now trying desperately to get a passing grade out of him.
“She brought me cookies!” Calvin said in disbelief.
Stella laughed and said that she thought she would have to make cookies too to make up for the classes that she was missing. Phil must have heard her laughing. He tapped on the door and then walked in.
“M*A*S*H is on TV,” he said. It was the show they loved to watch together when Gemma was a baby.
Stella held the phone away and said softly, “OK, just a minute.”
“Do you need to go?” Calvin asked.
“It’s just Phil,” Stella said.
“Just Phil?” Phil said incredulously, “Just Phil?” He was mocking her and smiling wickedly.
“You’re in the same room?” Calvin asked.
“No,” Stella said, turning away from Phil, “Well, we are sharing a condo but there are two bedrooms.”
“So, who was that?” Phil asked when she hung up the phone a few minutes later. “New boyfriend?”
“Actually, it’s an old boyfriend,” Stella said, enjoying the look of discomfort that flashed briefly across Phil’s face. “It’s Calvin. We dated in high school and he’s my biology professor at Southern. We’re friends.”
“Well, let’s watch M*A*S*H,” Phil said, “I had room service bring in a walnut brownie ice cream sandwich. Do you want to split it?”
Stella smiled. There was comfort in being with someone who knew her tastes and she had almost forgotten how much she had enjoyed their ritual of sharing a dessert while they watched a TV show. She settled in on the couch and thought maybe it wasn’t too late to try for what Calvin and Christine had had. Maybe she could have it again with Phil.
Is Phil the one for Stella? What about Calvin? Who's going to tell Gemma that Tad didn't survive the accident? Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to "Stella's First Day of School"!