Splintered Memory
Author:Natascha Holloway

Part One – Fifteen years later

Charlie

She was stood in her kitchen scrolling through the old messages on her blackberry, and hoping as she did that this would prompt a new one to be delivered. Unfortunately whilst no new messages appeared, she heard another bout of laughter emanate from her living room. She knew that she needed to get back to her party.

Currently six of her closest and oldest serving friends were sat drinking wine, and apparently entertaining themselves whilst they waited for her to serve dinner. This had been something that she’d been trying to delay. Yet just as she contemplated putting down her phone, she felt someone come and stand behind her and rest their chin on her shoulder.

“You have no new messages,” Rich said imitating the voice heard on answering machines.

Charlie turned to look at him and shook her head. “Nope,” she said trying not to sound despondent about this. “Who’d be sending me messages anyway?” She asked smiling cheekily at him. “It’s not like it’s a special occasion or anything.”

Before he could reply though, she asked; “how hungry do you reckon everyone is?”

“Well speaking personally, I’m starving,” Rich said smiling; “but I believe that tonight is a special occasion,” he said winking at her. To which Charlie felt her face flush as she returned his smile.

Rich had always been good looking, which is why she’d dated him when they’d been kids. He was tall and rugged looking. He had dirty blond hair, and blue eyes that she often told him had a hint of dirty in them. He was, and always had been, confident, charismatic, and popular, and he’d been an obvious first choice boyfriend for most teenage girls. Yet Charlie had never been as attracted to him as some of the girls at their school, and she’d known long before they’d broken up that her feelings for him hadn’t been as strong as either of them had wanted them to be.

“Come on then,” Charlie said putting down her phone and throwing the tea towel that she had in her hand at him. “Help me carry some of this through. It looks like I’m hosting alone tonight.”

“But I’m a guest,” Rich said sounding aggrieved and looking at her in an appalled manner.

“Yeah you are a guest. So shouldn’t you be drinking my good wine, and telling filthy jokes about my wife? Or at the very least making inappropriate comments about her age?” A voice said from behind them, and both Charlie and Rich turned towards the back door.

Rich grinned broadly as Matt walked in through the back door, and Charlie could see that he looked worn out. In fact she thought that he looked like he could pass out at any minute, but there he was smiling at her whilst at the same time taking the towel off Rich and whipping him with it lightly.

“Happy birthday,” he said before kissing her on the cheek and adding; “sorry I’m late.”

Charlie felt the familiar feeling of happiness flow through her. Matt was she knew, the real reason why she’d never fallen properly for Rich. She’d had a crush on Matt for as long as she could remember, but when he hadn’t shown any interest in her she’d done what any girl in her position would’ve done. She’d set out to make him jealous, and she’d known just how to do it. She’d accepted a date with another boy, and that boy had just happened to be his best friend.

Matt was, as Charlie’s best friend Claire had always described him, ridiculously handsome. At school all the girls had fancied him, and he’d been the stereotypical high school heart throb. He was tall, good looking, and very charismatic. His hair was such a deep shade of brown that it appeared nearly black, and he had for as long as Charlie could remember worn it short and tousled. His eyes were hazel in colour, and he had smile that set his whole face alight.

Charlie and Matt had started dating when she was fifteen, and very shortly after she’d broken up with Rich. She’d gotten a pretty bad time of it when she’d initially made this switch, but this had been partly to do with the fact that Matt and Rich were best friends. Yet it had also been partly to do with the fact that they’d all grown up in Cheddar. In Cheddar everyone knew everyone else’s business, and they liked to comment on it.

No one had thought that their relationship would last. It had been seen as just another young romance that would peter out when he went off to university, but theirs hadn’t. He’d gone to Birmingham Uni to study medicine, and a year later she’d followed him there to study law. They’d moved in together in her second year, and they’d gotten married shortly after she’d turned twenty one.

She and Matt had always made every effort to stay in touch with their close knit group of friends that they’d grown up with, and had gone to school with, including those that hadn’t come to Birmingham for university. For Matt this had meant staying in contact with Rich, Ben, and Nick. For Charlie it had meant staying in touch with Bex, Rachel – or Rach as she preferred to be called, and Claire who had been her best friend since infancy.

They’d managed to maintain their friendships by hosting regular dinner parties, and given that Rich and Bex also lived in Birmingham the dinner parties were usually either at theirs or at Charlie and Matt’s like tonight.

Rich and Bex had also come up to Birmingham for university and had never left. They both now worked as teachers, Bex in a junior school and Rich teaching history in a local senior school.

Bex had been in Charlie’s year at school, and she’d always held a candle for Rich. Yet even though they now lived together, Rich and Bex weren’t the likeliest of matches. Bex was quite plain to look at. She wasn’t unattractive, but she had no particularly distinctive features. Rich on the other hand was very good looking, and in a very obvious way.

Bex was smaller than Charlie by a couple of inches, and although probably the same dress size she looked a little bigger. She had mousy mid length hair that she usually kept tied back, except when Claire got hold of her with either her hair straighteners or curling tongs.

Rachel and Ben had both gone to Bristol University. They’d started dating a year or so after they’d graduated, and they’d married a couple of years later.

Ben and Rach were well suited in Charlie’s opinion. They were both relaxed and incredibly funny, and if there was ever an occasion when they were unable to make one of the planned dinner parties the evenings were never as much fun.

Rach had vibrant red curly hair, and bright green eyes that glistened when she was at her most witty or cutting. She had a pretty face, and she was slightly taller and bigger set than Charlie.

Ben was the same height as Rich and he had the same coloured hair, but facially though he wasn’t all that attractive. He had blue eyes but they were slightly dull in colour. Yet he did have a kind and genuine smile, and that combined with his wit and charm made him instantly likeable.

Claire and Nick both lived in Bath and had only gotten together fairly recently, much to Matt’s objections when Nick had first confided in him.

Claire was a solicitor like Charlie, and Nick worked for an insurance company. Although it was hard to keep track of exactly what he did, as he seemed to change jobs every couple of months.

Nick was tall, dark haired, and handsome to look at. He had dark mysterious eyes and very prominent cheekbones which made his features quite striking, but the only thing that Charlie had never found particularly attractive about him though was his smile. It came across more as a sneer than a smile, and Charlie had always found that this made him less attractive as a result.

Claire on the other hand was stunning and always had been. She had a tiny size six frame and was only 5ft 3inches tall, but despite her small size she was somehow very shapely. This shapeliness combined with her platinum blonde hair that she wore in a striking razor sharp bob, her fiercely blue eyes, and her angelic face, had the effect of dazzling men.

“I thought you weren’t going to make it,” Charlie said to Matt as Rich waltzed out of the kitchen having been handed another bottle of red wine by Matt.

“Sorry,” he said looking apologetic. “We’ve been swamped all day and I couldn’t get away. A couple of new doctors started and I had to show them the ropes. Have you had a good day though?”

Charlie nodded and smiled as she put the lamb that she’d cooked down in front of him and asked; “can you carve?”

“Hmm,” he said smiling. “I think I can manage that, but first,” he said grabbing her as she went to walk away. “A kiss for my beautiful wife on her thirtieth birthday,” he said before kissing her.

Charlie felt her heart melt the same way it always did when he kissed her, and the same way that it had fifteen years earlier when he’d kissed her for the first time.

“Hey,” she said pulling away from him slightly. “You know the rules. No mentioning of the age!”

“Sorry,” he said laughing; “I forgot that I wasn’t allowed to say thirty at any point today.”

Charlie hit him with the oven gloves that she was holding, but Matt just laughed again and pulled her back towards him.

They kissed, and Charlie could have happily never stopped kissing him. The problem was she knew that they had guests to entertain. So reluctantly, she pulled away from him again. “That’s not going to carve itself,” she said nodding in the direction of the lamb.

He gave her a wicked grin as he reached for her hand to pull her back to him once more, but she quickly stepped back and said; “come on Mr Grayson, we’ve got company!”

“Yes Mrs Grayson,” he said still grinning but finally turning to the job at hand.

***

Everyone was getting ready to leave, as Charlie stood at the front door talking to Claire. She could feel Matt watching her, and she knew that he’ be trying to read the expression on her face. Yet she was trying desperately to conceal it from him.

“It’ll be okay Claire. We’ll sort things out I promise. I’ll come and stay with you for a couple of days, and we can even go to the spa and treat ourselves,” Charlie said trying to sound as reassuring as she could. She also hugged her best friend tightly, as everyone else made their way over to the front door.

“Thanks Charlie,” Claire whispered squeezing Charlie tightly before the two of them stepped back from one another.

Nick threw his arm casually around Claire’s shoulders, and kissed Charlie on the cheek. “Happy Birthday again,” he said smiling before he walked out of the house leading Claire into the night.

Charlie saw Claire turn and give her a desperate look, and she tried to smile at her reassuringly. She felt awful though that there wasn’t more that she could do for her best friend tonight.

“Night hun,” Rach said arriving by Charlie and hugging her.

“Thanks for coming,” Charlie said to Rach and Ben. She then smiled and turned from Rach to Ben so as to give him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Wouldn’t have missed it,” Ben said throwing a wave to Matt who was now sat on the sofa having said all of his goodbyes.

“Thirty, thirty, thirty, I believe you’re thirty!” Rich sang like a small child whilst dancing stupidly in front of Charlie, and she couldn’t help but laugh at his immaturity.

“Night Rich,” she said with laughter still in her voice.

“Night,” he said before winking and flashing his cheekiest of grins at her.

She shook her head at him by way of warning not to do what he was thinking of doing, but this only made him laugh. It also didn’t work, and she suddenly felt the familiar sensation of Rich’s goodbye. He grabbed her around the waist, and whilst supporting her neck with his right hand he dipped her to the floor. He then kissed her squarely on the lips before returning her to her previous upright position. Charlie shook her head again, and Rich laughed once more.

“Night,” Bex said to Charlie whilst at the same time rolling her eyes at Rich.

Charlie smiled and hugged her.

“Laters,” Rich said as he grabbed Bex’s hand and led her out into the night behind the others.

Charlie closed the door with a small sigh, but as she turned round she saw Matt walking over with two glasses of red wine. Charlie took one from him gratefully, and kissed him in return.

“Please don’t ask me yet,” she said knowing that he wanted to know what she’d been talking to Claire about.

Matt nodded, but kept the concerned expression on his face as he looked intently into her eyes. She looked away though, frightened that she might betray Claire’s confidence if he kept looking at her that way.

“Good birthday Mrs Grayson?” He asked. Changing the unspoken subject and taking back the glass of wine that he’d just given to her, which he then put down on the table by them along with his own.

Charlie nodded, and smiled as he pulled her to him. She put her arms around his neck, and he kissed her whilst wrapping his arms tightly around her waist. Yet just as the kiss was intensifying between them, he pulled away and yawned widely.

She smiled at him and said; “I’m not quite middle aged yet you know, and neither are you.”

“Sorry,” Matt said stifling another yawn.

“Come on. Let’s get you to bed,” Charlie said.

“I’m all about going to bed,” he said winking at her and then laughing when she rolled her eyes at him.

She pulled away from him smiling, and walked through into their kitchen to throw some last minute bits and pieces into the dishwasher. She also knew that she’d have to lock the back door that he would’ve left open.

“Rich is going to propose to Bex,” Matt said nonchalantly leaning back against the kitchen sideboard where Charlie had just watched him put down a couple of dirty glasses.

She looked at him, and she could see that he was trying but also failing to stop himself from smiling at her, and she asked excitedly; “when? And when did he tell you?”

“You know when we thought that he was just being helpful with dessert,” Matt said and Charlie nodded. “He told me then, and asked if I’d be his best man.”

“Did he even need to ask?” She asked as he turned off the kitchen light, took her hand in his, and began to walk up the stairs fumbling for the landing light switch which as always she found first.

“I told him I’d have to think about it,” he said in a tone unlike his own.

This made Charlie stop dead in her tracks at the top of the stairs and turn and look at him. “Seriously,” she said sounding stunned.

“No,” Matt said laughing.

Charlie hit his arm, and then staged a mock stomp into their bedroom. She went straight over to their bed, and put his bedside lamp on before sitting down.

Matt followed her over, and he was still laughing as he sat down beside her. “Seriously” he said to himself before laughing again. “I can’t believe you just asked me that,” he said to her.

She smiled but also grabbed a nearby pillow. She then pushed him so that his back went flat against the bed, and she moved quickly so that she was astride him and playfully trying to smother him with the pillow that she was holding. Matt laughed from beneath it, and she lifted it off his face smiling.

“Don’t stop,” he said cheekily; “I’m enjoying you wriggling on top of me.”

“What time do you have to be in?” Charlie asked throwing the pillow back into place, and leaning over to his bedside table to pick up his alarm clock.

“Five,” he said.

Charlie looked at him sympathetically, and then set his alarm and put it back down on the bedside table. She smiled as she leant over him again, but just as she was about to tell him that he should go to sleep he put his forefinger to her lips and shook his head at her.

“There’s no more time for chit chat Mrs Grayson,” he said as he pulled her down on top of him.

She’d meant to pull away and tell him to go to sleep,as he had to be in early and it was already late, but once he started to kiss her she changed her mind. She felt the desire in his kiss, and when he rolled her onto her back she couldn’t wait to begin making love to her husband.


Matt

“Charlie,” he said. He then watched as she opened her eyes groggily. “It’s ten past five,” he said moving her hair from out of her face where it’d fallen in the night; “and I’ve got to go to work.”

“’k,” she mumbled sleepily as she leant up to kiss him, her eyes barely open, and he knew that there was every chance that she was asleep again before her head even returned to the pillow.

Matt smiled at his wife, and sat there for an extra second just looking at her. He was so lucky he knew. She’d always been the girl of his dreams, and he sometimes found it hard to believe that it’d been fifteen years since he’d first built up the courage to kiss her. Yet thank god he had he thought to himself, because here they were; together and still unbelievably happy.

He left their bedroom, and quietly closed the door behind him. He walked down the stairs, and into the kitchen where he picked up his thermo flask. He put the kettle on and put four oversized spoonfuls of coffee into the flask, and when the kettle had boiled he poured the water in. He sealed the flask, shook it, and then unlocked the back door and walked out of it.

He enjoyed his short walk to work, and he loved the fact that he was less than ten minutes from the hospital. His hours at Selly Oak A&E were long, and he knew that Charlie had searched high and low to find somewhere near to the hospital for their first none university home together.

When she’d shown it to him, he’d loved it instantly for the location alone. From their house, if he used the back door – which he always did, he could cut through their garden and be at the hospital in minutes. Added to this their house was on Lottie road, which Charlie had taken as a sign that it was meant to be. Although this had made him smile from the moment that she’d told him, because he honestly didn’t know anyone that had ever called Charlie Lottie once in her life.

Charlie worked for a law firm in the city, and she equally worked some horribly long hours. She was also often called upon to go to London, Bristol, or Cardiff at short notice. Yet over the years they’d learned to live with the fact that there were some weeks, and occasionally some months, where they hardly ever saw each other.

Many of his friends at work were in relationships with other doctors. They said that they found it easier as both people in the relationship understood the demands of the job, but he knew that Charlie understood the demands of his job. He also knew that she more so than anyone else knew how much he loved being a doctor.

He walked into the hospital and stopped musing about his life with Charlie. He instead looked over at his friend and colleague Dr James Thompson, who was stood at the nurses’ station.

“Morning,” James said rather grumpily.

“It is isn’t it?” Matt responded brightly.

James looked at him suspiciously, and then with a knowing smile and an approving nod asked; “good night with the missus was it?”

“It’s always a good night with my missus,” Matt said.

“I bet it is!” James said smirking slightly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Matt asked with a raised eyebrow, although he was smiling at the same time.

“Your missus is über hot, but I’ll say no more,” James said grinning. “Aside to say, that most men would probably look as happy as you at half five in the morning if they went to bed with her.”

Matt laughed. He was used to comments like this from James and his other friends about Charlie, and they didn’t bother him. If anything he saw it as a compliment that other men thought that his wife was so attractive, not that he wasn’t already well aware of this fact.

“Although speaking of hotties, have you seen that new doctor?” James asked.

“Doctors,” Matt said correcting James but smiling again at the same time. “But I’ll assume that you’re referring to the young Dr Emily Peters?”

“Is that her name?” James asked clearly making a mental note. “I wonder if she needs the guidance of an experienced doctor to show her the ropes,” he said winking at Matt.

“Yes she and Dr Ryan both will. But I’m afraid the experienced doctor in charge of showing them the ropes is me,” Matt said smiling and then laughing when he heard James mutter; “waste!”

Matt was about to reply when his pager started buzzing. He reached for the phone which was next to James, but as he did he noticed James smirking again and he looked at him curiously.

“I’ve got a feeling that you’re going to have a long day, any chance that you’re already starting to regret having had late night sex with your missus now?” James asked.

Matt held the phone between his ear and shoulder and replied; “not a chance! Would you regret having late night sex with my wife?” But he instantly wished that he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Not even for a second. In fact,” James said laughing and walking away; “thanks for the visual!”

Matt shook his head, knowing that he only had himself to blame for that comment.


Emily

It was the end of another long and busy shift at Selly Oak A&E. The majority of the doctors on duty were all looking forward to going home to bed, and Emily was feeling just as tired as any of them as she looked around for Dr Grayson.

She found him, as usual, leaning wearily against the nurses’ station. He was enjoying what Emily assumed by his relatively enthusiastic and light tone, was the first non emergent or patient related conversation that he’d had since he’d arrived on duty some fifteen hours earlier. He was also busily tucking into what looked like homemade cottage pie.

Emily had heard in her third shift, that Nurse Willis – the scariest Nurse in the whole of the A&E department, favoured Dr Grayson. Yet she’d soon learnt that this was useful information to have found out. As she’d discovered that if Dr Grayson had been on shift for more than ten hours, and he couldn’t be found in the A&E, then nine times out of ten he’d be at the nurses’ station talking to Nurse Willis. He’d also usually be eating something that always smelt very nice and looked homemade, and was – she’d been told, brought in especially for him by Nurse Willis.

Nurse Willis terrified Emily. She was from a past generation of medicine where fear and reverence to the matron of the ward applied, and all of the doctors knew that she could either be a great help or a great hindrance. It was known throughout Selly Oak A&E, that the worst mistake you could make as a Junior Doctor was to get on the wrong side of Nurse Willis.

Nurse Willis kept all of the nurses under her control in order, and she ruled with an iron fist and stern demeanour that terrified everyone including most of the doctors. Dr Grayson though seemed to be the exception, and Emily had heard that Nurse Willis had taken pity on him and had become –according to the gossipy nurses on staff, a surrogate mother to him and his wife.

Emily watched him take another large forkful of food before he reached for his pager that had started to buzz next to his plate. He put down his fork and reached for the phone, which Emily passed to him. He looked at her curiously, and she handed him the x-ray that she’d been carrying around with her whilst she’d been looking for him and that she wanted him to look at.

“Thanks,” he said as he took the phone from her. He then wedged it into its usual position between his shoulder and ear whilst at the same time taking the x-ray and looking at it.

He held it up into the light, and as he looked at it Emily looked at him and tried to gage what he was thinking. She’d come to be able to read his face better than anyone else in the hospital, and she could sometimes tell from his expression alone what orders he would give for a patient before he even spoke.

Dr Grayson was not only her teacher, and an extraordinarily good doctor, but outside of the hospital he and his wife were her friends. Yet as she continued to watch him she stifled a yawn. She was tired, but then they were all tired. It’d been a long day, and she hadn’t even been in for as long as Dr Grayson had. She also knew from a conversation that she’d had with Charlie earlier in the week that Dr Grayson had virtually been living at the hospital for the past few weeks, and it was showing. He looked dead on his feet, and she wondered how he was still standing.

“It’s fine,” he said handing the x-ray back to her; “but we’ve got a couple of ambulances on the way in. There’s been an accident on the Bristol road, two men from one car with minor injuries, and one female in a bad condition from another. It sounds like she’s gonna be DOA though.”

Emily looked at him and saw her own tiredness reflected back in his. At that moment her pager also began to buzz and she followed Dr Grayson towards the ambulance bay, and as she walked she tried to shake off the tiredness that was descending upon her with increasing urgency.

***

Her whole life had been dedicated to becoming a doctor. So when she’d found herself ready to quit within the first two weeks, she’d been confounded as to why. She’d had no idea why she’d been struggling so much with the demands of a life as a doctor, and she’d been devastated.

Emily had known that a career in medicine would be hard. She’d known that unlike many other professions, it wasn’t a job where you worked a standard forty hour week. It wasn’t a job where you clocked in and out at the same time every day. Yet what she hadn’t realised was that none of her preparations, nor her desire to be a doctor, would actually help her cope with the continual tiredness that she’d felt on a day to day basis.

The twelve hour shifts were gruelling, and always ran longer than twelve hours. Working in the A&E meant that you never really had slow days. You never had the same patients. You were constantly challenged with different situations, and your medical knowledge and ability to react quickly was always being tested to breaking point. She’d also had to learn that being tired wasn’t an excuse for errors or delays. There simply couldn’t be any delays when your decisions resulted in a patient living or dying.

If it hadn’t been for Charlie, Emily felt sure that she wouldn’t have completed her first month at the hospital. Every shift had become overwhelming, and the sleep deprivation had begun to feel like it was killing her. She knew that if she hadn’t stumbled across the infamous Mrs Grayson when she’d been sat outside the A&E crying, then she would have walked away from medicine.

***

“Dr Peters isn’t it?” A young woman asked sitting down next to Emily.

“Yes,” Emily said slightly bemusedly not knowing who this woman was.

“I’m Charlotte Grayson. Don’t worry,” she said smiling kindly; “I’m not a patient, or an angry patient’s next of kin that wants to yell at you. I’m just here to see if I can find my husband.”

“You mean Dr Grayson?” Emily asked, and then she smiled and added; “well obviously you do, you just said that your surname was Grayson.”

They both laughed, and Emily looked at Charlie and could instantly see what all the chatter amongst the nurses and male doctors was about. Charlotte Grayson was strikingly beautiful. No wonder the nurses spent so much time bitching about her she thought, and making up stories about how much of a bad wife she must be if Nurse Willis had to come in on her days off to bring Dr Grayson food.

“Are you ok?” Charlie asked. “It’s just, if you don’t mind me saying, you look a little frazzled.”

“Frazzled,” Emily said; “that’s exactly how I feel.” She then looked away from Charlie and said; “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this,” and much to her own embarrassment she began to cry.

Charlie looked at her sympathetically, and then she gently put her arm around Emily’s shoulders. “I think you’re supposed to feel like this,” Charlie said reassuringly. “When Matt first started he used to get home, sit down, and swear that he was quitting the next day. It’s hard what you do. I think they make it intentionally hard. Without Nurse Willis looking after him, and feeding him when he forgot to eat, I think Matt might have quit as well.”

Emily wiped her eyes and looked straight into Charlie’s big brown kind eyes, trying to asses if she was being truthful or just trying to make her feel better.

She noticed that Charlie’s eyes were an incredibly rich brown colour, and she saw that they were perfectly round. She thought that they looked almost deer like, innocent and honest, and she felt sure that if Charlie was just trying to make her feel better she would never be able to tell. That must be so frustrating for Dr Grayson she mused absent-mindedly, before returning to the moment and her conversation with Charlie.

“Dr Grayson thought about quitting?” Emily asked sounding and feeling surprised by this. He was so good at his job, how could he have ever thought about quitting she’d thought.

Charlie laughed. “Yep, and he’ll probably be mad with me for telling you that. You doctors are all hierarchical aren’t you, and you’re not supposed to see any chinks in each other’s armour are you? Look I know that this will sound clichéd, but you’re probably just way past the point of tiredness,” Charlie said giving Emily’s shoulders a squeeze; “and that makes everyone emotional. I once cried when I missed my train station by one stop. Pathetic, but hopefully caused entirely by the fact that I hadn’t slept for nearly three days.”

“You’re probably right,” Emily said standing up and brushing down the back of her white coat.

Charlie stood up too, and Emily noticed that they were roughly around the same height. Yet she also noticed that that was where the comparison between them ended.

Charlie had long brown hair, and hers was mid length and blonde. Charlie had deep brown eyes, and she had blue eyes that she guessed currently looked watery. Charlie had an obviously toned physique that was very noticeable through the tight fitting jeans and black jumper that she had on, and she was slight and she knew that her white doctor’s coat looked much too big for her.

She had in the past been told that she had a pretty face, but she knew that recently she had started to look pale and her face had gotten a little too thin. She also thought that stood next to Charlie she must look incredibly plain in comparison.

“You heading home now?” Charlie asked, and Emily nodded. “Have you got far to go?”

“’Bout an hour,” Emily said. Yet when she saw Charlie raise her eyebrows she added quickly; “I only came down here a couple of days before I started work, and I’m still looking for a place closer by.”

“No wonder you’re near breaking point. You can’t have such a big commute when you’re working these hours and are on call all of the time,” Charlie said disconcertedly.

Emily didn’t answer, but she knew that Charlie was right.

“Do you have spare clothes in your locker? I’m guessing you do, Matt seems to keep half his wardrobe here,” Charlie said suppressing a smile.

Emily answered unsurely; “yeah I have a change of clothes, but I can’t afford to stay in a hotel if that’s what you’re going to suggest just because I’m tired. I’m always tired.”

Charlie smiled and said; “no, I’m not going to suggest that you go and stay at a hotel. I have a better idea if you’re open to it. Matt and I live about an eight minute walk away, and we have a spare room. So you could come and stay with us until you find a place closer to the hospital, if you want?”

Emily was about to say no when Charlie said; “come back and crash now with whatever clothes you’ve got, and on your next day off go and get the rest of your stuff and then move in with us.”

Emily was so shocked by Charlie’s kindness that she didn’t really know what to say. Charlie didn’t know her from Eve, yet there she was offering her a room in her and Dr Grayson’s home. Although as she thought about accepting Charlie’s generosity, she suddenly felt very nervous and apprehensive.

“I can’t,” she said embarrassedly. “I mean it’s really kind of you to offer and everything, but Dr Grayson’s my boss and people at the hospital might talk.”

What she didn’t say though, was that she wasn’t sure she’d feel comfortable staying at their house. She had after all had a crush on Dr Grayson since the moment that he’d been introduced to her at induction. She just hadn’t been able to believe how good looking he was, and she remembered tripping over her own feet as she’d walked over to shake his hand. It was just that he was the most attractive man that Emily had ever set eyes upon, and she’d been immediately besotted with him.

Dr Grayson was tall and slender, but not thin. He had short tousled dark hair, which he had the habit of running his hands through distractedly when he was thinking. He had intense rich hazel coloured eyes, which had on more than occasion made Emily lose her train of concentration when she’d been staring into them. But it was his face – his perfectly symmetrical face, which lit up when he smiled that had the ability of making Emily’s heart skip a beat.

For a few weeks now though she had started to worry that it wasn’t just a crush. She’d thought that had it just been a crush it would’ve passed by now, but it hadn’t and she was still as in awe of him on any given day as she had been on the first day that they had been introduced. She just loved to watch him work, and smile, and run his hands through his hair.

She couldn’t take up his perfect wife’s offer to move in with them she thought cruelly, but as she looked into Charlie’s kind face and eyes she felt instantly guilty for thinking that about her. Charlie seemed genuinely lovely, and she hadn’t had to take pity on her. She didn’t know what to do, but she was pulled out of her indecision by a voice that she instantly recognised.

“Charlie,” Dr Grayson said.

Emily turned at the same time as Charlie did. He calls her Charlie and not Charlotte she thought as she watched him kiss his wife and smile that smile that she loved to see, and even though his smile had not been directed at her she still felt her heart skip its usual beat.

“I’ve invited Emily to come and live with us temporarily,” Charlie said with no indication that she was asking his approval.

Emily then watched Charlie squeeze his jaw with her hand, before she said to him reproachfully; “how is it possible that you don’t know that one of your staff is within an inch of collapsing from exhaustion, and has a one way commute of more than an hour?”

Matt turned instantly from Charlie to look at Emily with a look of apology on his face, and Emily felt guilty for making him look like that.

“Is this true Dr Peters?” He asked.

“Yes,” Emily said looking down at the floor immediately after she’d answered him. She was unable to meet his eyes for too long for fear of blushing. “My placement came through really late,” she said feeling incredibly embarrassed; “and I couldn’t find a flat at such short notice in my price range.”

“I wish you’d told me,” he said. “No wonder you’ve been looking so tired. The first year’s always hard, and it’s going to take its toll on you enough without you having to commute that distance. Also,” he added almost sternly; “this is a completely unacceptable distance for you to be from the hospital when you’re on call.”

“Nights when I’m on call I sleep in the hospital,” Emily said quickly and defensively.

Matt sighed letting his head drop to his chest as he did, and then he looked up at Charlie.

“I don’t know about you two,” he said; “but I’m knackered. Dr Peters go and get your stuff, and we’ll wait. You’re welcome at mine and Charlie’s until you find somewhere closer to the hospital. When we’re not on shift and out of the hospital, you can call me Matt.”

Emily smiled and dashed into the hospital, but as she was going inside she overheard Dr Grayson say to Charlie; “happy?” She assumed that Charlie must often get her own way.

From that night on Emily was a guest at Matt and Charlie’s home. She stayed with them for three months, and whilst her crush on Matt didn’t abate she did become friends with Charlie.

Emily learned that the two of them had been together since Matt was sixteen and Charlie was fifteen, and that they’d gotten married shortly after Charlie had turned twenty one. This had apparently been an age restriction placed on them by Charlie’s father, when Matt had sought his permission to marry Charlie when he’d been just nineteen.

Emily had loved living at their house. The two of them were fun and welcoming, and they’d let her into their own circle of friends who were all just as charismatic and inviting as they were. They’d all opened up to her and shared stories with her, most of which had seemed to be intended to embarrass Matt and Charlie. Yet they’d never taken the slightest bit of notice which had always made her laugh, and after the first month Emily had felt like she belonged.

This had been a feeling that she hadn’t ever experienced or known before. At school she’d always been a bookworm, a nerd, a geek, or whatever term had most applied to her wanting to be completely academically oriented and devoted to her pursuit of one day becoming a doctor. She’d never really made the time for friends, and as a result she’d spent most of her time at school and then later at university alone.

As an only child Emily hadn’t spent much time around other children, and she’d often felt as though she’d missed out on learning the basic social skills required to make friends. Yet by the time that she’d realised that she might have missed out on something important it had been too late. She hadn’t known how to socialise, or how to make friends, and she’d felt that she’d been too old to learn.

Charlie however was the complete opposite. She was incredibly warm, caring, and fun. She loved socialising with her friends, and she was always chatty and never seemed to be in a bad mood. She was also incredibly perceptive, and she’d seemed to sense Emily’s loneliness from the outset. She’d been kind to her, and she’d gone out of her way to make her feel both at home and a part of her and Matt’s group of friends.

At times Charlie had even seemed to treat her like a little sister, and Emily had felt privileged to be treated as such. She had after all seen that Charlie was clearly the most popular person in their group of friends. The attention always gravitated to her in a way that made her the centre of attention, even though she never did anything to make this happen.

The only thing that had made Emily feel a little uncomfortable whilst she’d stayed with Matt and Charlie, had been the fact that she’d felt sure that Charlie and all of her friends had known that she’d a crush on Matt. The issue hadn’t been about them knowing or even about the possibility of them telling Matt, who she’d been fairly certain had had more than a sneaking suspicion by then anyway. It had just been that she’d found it strange that none of them had seemed to mind.

Emily had always been led to believe that women were supposed to be catty, and that they’d do anything and everything to mark the territory around their men and see off other women who showed an interest. Yet Charlie was different, and so were her group of friends.

One night when Bex and Charlie had invited Emily to share a couple of bottles of wine with them, which seemed to be the favoured activity between the two of them. Bex had gotten really drunk and had said to Emily; “for as long as I can remember people have always fancied Matt. He doesn’t help by flirting terribly with everyone, but then for that matter she’s no better,” she’d added whilst inclining her head in Charlie’s direction.

“We’ve been together for so long now that a little bit of flirting isn’t going to bother either of us. We’ve been married for just under ten years and together for five or so before that. God,” Charlie had said laughing as she’d poured more wine; “if we were ever going to have cheated on each other, it would’ve been at university.” Bex had hiccupped and laughed at the same time.

“Look Emily,” Bex had slurred. “You can’t help who you fancy, and I’m sure you’ll meet someone who you’ll like a whole lot more than Matt. Although don’t go getting any ideas on my Rich okay?” She’d added quite seriously before she’d burst out laughing again.

Charlie had laughed as well, and had also leant over at the same time to catch Bex’s wine glass before it had fallen to the floor where it would have gone all over the carpet.

“My advice would be to fall for someone tidy,” Charlie had said as she’d looked around the room shaking her head at the mess. To which Emily on looking had noticed belonged mostly to Matt.

“Who’s also not married to you?” Emily had asked smiling.

“That too,” Charlie had said with a little wink and a kind smile.

By living at Matt and Charlie’s everything had become easier for Emily. The commute had obviously been a bonus. The mere eight minute journey had allowed plenty of time for sleep, and having a social life had also seemed to help.

Emily felt like her general demeanour had been calmed, and she’d started to worry far less about her social incompetencies at work. In addition, she’d liked being able to come home after a gruelling day at the hospital and moan or chat to Charlie. She’d enjoyed sharing a bottle of wine, for no particular reason other than the fact that Charlie had just grabbed one on her way home from work. She’d also realised that she’d liked having a surrogate older sister in her life, someone that listened to her and occasionally consoled when necessary.

With her tiredness abated, and her insecurities over her personality lessened, all thoughts of quitting life as a doctor had become a distant memory. Yet on the day that she’d moved out of Matt and Charlie’s home, she’d been sad and genuinely worried that her life would return to what it had been like when she’d first moved to Birmingham. She’d been worried that she’d be lonely again.

True to form though, all of Emily’s fears had been made redundant by Charlie. She’d not only helped Emily decorate her new place, but she’d remained on call for a chat or a girlie night in whenever. She had also continued to invite Emily round for dinner with her and Matt and their friends, and Matt had even commented to her that he ought to be jealous. He’d said that he thought that Emily saw more of his wife than he did, but she’d known that he’d only been joking.

Matt and Charlie were like no other couple that Emily had ever seen before. They were perfect together, completely harmonious and always genuinely happy when around each other. They seemed to think and act as one, and the way that they behaved with each other was both sweet and at times incredibly romantic.

Matt gravitated round Charlie like she was earth and he was the moon, and Charlie looked at Matt like the child who’d been given everything that she could have imagined or wished for at Christmas.

Emily had been surprised initially at how together they were. It had never occurred to her before that two people could have the kind of relationship that Matt and Charlie obviously had. Yet the more that she’d watched them the more that she’d begun to idealise what they shared, and she hadn’t been able to help but fall in love with some of their habits.

She loved the way that they left messages for each other on the small blackboard that hung in their kitchen by the back door. She loved that Matt, when he thought that Charlie may have overdone it with the girls on a night in or out, would sneak back to the house from the hospital to wake her with a steaming shop bought coffee. She liked how Charlie would sometimes put Matt to bed when he had been at the hospital for the better part of two or more days, and then come back downstairs to sleep on the sofa so as to prevent her own alarm for work waking him.

In the time that she’d known them she’d rarely seen them argue, but on the very rare occasions that she had it had always been about the same thing. It had always been about Claire, Charlie’s best friend. Matt didn’t like her, and he definitely didn’t trust. Charlie on the other hand refused to hear a bad word said against her.

Emily had always struggled to understand how this had happened. She’d struggled to understand how two people so at one in all aspects of their life, could be this deeply divided over one person.