|Primary Characters:||Guy, The Sheriff, Prince John, Robin, Marion, Gemma|
|Description:||Gemma is a young woman who lives in present day Nottinghamshire. She loves the tv series Robin of Sherwood. When she loses her job and her life takes a turn for the worse, she decides to cheer herself up by going on an outing to Sherwood forest. From then on, things become confusing, but also quite exciting.
Gemma let her gaze trail away from the computer screen and stray out through the window. At last the sun was out, lighting up the budding green leaves on the trees in the street outside. All winter it had rained and rained and one morning she’d had to run for cover, when the rain had turned into a hailstorm, as she was walking to work.
“Gemma. Have you finished that report yet?”
She whirled around, accidentally knocking over her tea mug. Fortunately, it was empty and made of thick ceramic and didn’t break.
“Yes, finishing it now.”
Her older colleague made a face that clearly said right, but didn’t comment, just shrugged and returned to her desk.
What are you sneering at? Gemma would have dearly loved to say the words out loud, but contented herself with mentally sticking her tongue out in the woman’s direction. Unfortunately, she was right. That report was long overdue. She’d left it too late, again. Her fingers went tap, tap, tap across the keyboard, then backed up and corrected a few typos, before saving and printing out the document. There. All done. If she got a move on, she’d have time to meet Johnny for tea before –
“Gemma. You haven’t forgotten about the meeting, have you?”
She was almost through the doorway when old mr Higgins called her back. Of course she’d forgotten. She’d worked hard on forgetting the Tuesday evening meeting. What did they ever achieve in those anyway? It was all talk, talk, talk and in the end, all they did was agree to postpone whatever decisions they might have made, until next week. It was an old, as in ancient ritual. Gemma had no doubt they’d been up to their necks in meetings even back in Victorian times. Of course, their office hadn’t been around for that long. Only since about 1950 or so.
Three hours later, she ran down the stairs – the lifts were turned off after business hours – just in time to miss her bus. The next one wouldn’t be along until half past ten. No. She considered calling Johnny on the mobile to ask him to come and pick her up in his car, but decided against it. It was too late, and she was too tired for sex tonight. All she wanted was to grab a pizza or just some bread and butter and doze off in front of the telly, watching another episode of her favorite series Robin of Sherwood.
Her room mate Sam was always going on about Sex and the City and Friends and Couplings, but though she had devoured the first season of Horatio Hornblower and loved both Horatio and his friend Archie Kennedy, her heart would always belong to the old 1980’s series. They didn’t make anything like that anymore. It was the music and the actors and the lines and the clothes too. She loved Marion’s gowns and most of all she loved the second Robin – Robert of Huntingdon – and Sir Guy of Gisburne, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s tame knight.
When she first discovered the series almost ten years before, she’d fallen helplessly in love with the blond, slight Jason Connery in the title role, but as she grew older, she’d decided that Robin belonged to Marion and besides, pretty as he was, he was a little – simple – not stupid – just uncomplicated. Guy, on the other hand, was far more complex and since he had a traumatic past, her heart went out to him. She adored angsty characters. The fact that the actor playing Guy – Robert Addie – had died at a relatively young age, made her love his character even more. What a tragedy.
But when she arrived home, she found that there was a power outage and neither the telly or the DVD player would run. The same went for the microwave. No pizza or anything hot. Besides, she was far too tired by now. She’d ended up having to walk most of the way home and her feet were killing her. Of course that served her right for wearing those shoes. Halfheartedly, she nibbled on a peanut butter sandwich – no jelly for her – too sweet, too American – but soon, she merely went to bed. Her room mate, Sam, was nowhere to be seen, which had to mean she was spending the night with her boyfriend.
Since there was never any meeting on Wednesday evening – the boss and his wife played bridge on Wednesday evenings – Gemma was able to get home before seven. She met Sam, on her way out again, to see her boyfriend Al.
“Hello. Off to see Al?”
“Well, you know how it is. What about Johnny?”
“No, not tonight. He’s away on a business trip.”
“Yes, again. I was hoping we’d have time to go out to tea at least, but there was that dreary meeting last night.”
“I’m sorry. Well, I have to go. Oh, the electricity is back on again.”
“Wonderful. Then you know how I’ll be spending the later part of my evening.”
Sam rolled her eyes.
“You’re hopeless. Haven’t you worn out those old discs yet?”
“Not a chance. I have a backup set just in case and I might buy a third box just to make sure -”
“I know. Sue me.”
Sam laughed, but there was no malice in it. She had long ago grown used to her friend’s eccentricities. Such as the fact that she was more in love with a long dead actor than a real life, possibly cheating, boyfriend. Of course, according to Gemma, it was the character she was in love with, not that actor, but that didn’t make her any less crazy. Still, Gemma was alright. They’d known each other since the first day in school.
“Have fun with Guy, then.”
“I will, thank you. And Robin and -”
Sam put her fingers in her ears and walked out.
“I can’t hear you.”
Before Gemma sat down on the sofa for another night of mediaeval bliss, she’d run over to the dojo. With all the time she spent on her bottom, she could use the exercise, not merely of running up and down stairs and trying to catch buses she’d missed, but also of her karate.
As always, practicing martial arts helped clear her mind. She loved letting go of all conscious thought and just getting into the rhythm of the blows and kicks and counterblows – In a way, it was like a dance, performed to the beating of her heart and the pulse pounding in her ears. But it wouldn’t do to get too caught up in the rhythm. She couldn’t afford to let down her guard even for a second. Her opponent could be counted on to notice and take advantage of any weakness.
She picked up a pizza on her way back – not without a twinge of guilt – her sensei never stopped talking about the importance of a proper balanced diet. Promising herself she’d start that very weekend, she subdued her guilty conscience and set the carton down on the tabletop. She was about to tear it open, when the phone rang.
It was her mother.
“Yes, I just got back from the dojo.”
“What on earth is that, dear?”
“The gym, mum. The gym.”
“Oh, right. Gemma, darling, why do you have to practice that odd foreign exercise thing?”
“It’s called martial arts.”
“Arts? That’s silly, dear. What does it have to do with art?”
“Never mind. How are you? How are the children?”
“We’re all just fine, dear. Tommy has a bit of a cough, but otherwise -”
“When are you coming over to see your sisters and brother, dear?”
“Tommy is not my brother.” she muttered under her breath.
“What was that dear? The telly is on -”
“I said, I don’t know. There are meetings practically every evening -”
She hastily crossed her fingers. One or two meetings felt as practically every evening.
“Oh. The girls miss you so.”
Gemma rather doubted that. Those two were the most intolerable teenagers she’d ever met and most of the girls at school had been absolute monsters, so that really counted for something.
“Have you seen any more of Johnny lately?”
“No. He’s away on a business trip.”
Her mother made a tutting noise that got on Gemma’s nerves. Not that speech again. Not tonight. But sure enough, there it was.
“Gemma, darling, that’s exactly what I’m always saying. You need to work a little harder at the relationship. Men like to feel looked after. If you made a little more effort -”
“I don’t know, mum, Johnny and I are alright.”
Her mother went on as if she hadn’t spoken.
“And another thing. That martial art whatever you call it – it’s hardly feminine, is it? You need to worry more about your figure. If Charles gets a big enough bonus, I was thinking you could do something about your chest.”
“Charles and I have been discussing the matter and I feel that a more womanly figure might finally get Johnny or one of your other boyfriends to finally set a date.”
The thought of her mother’s new husband discussing her lack of womanly figure was wounding in the extreme.
“Just think about it, dear. You’re such a pretty girl, but you do rather look like a boy from a bit of a distance.”
“Thank you. I’ll think about it.”
Her mother clearly made nothing of her tone of voice, or she chose to ignore it.
“I have to go now, mum. The washing is done -”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so before? I have some biscuits in the oven and – Bye, dear.”
Gemma swore under her breath. When she was finished, she realized that her pizza was getting cold. She picked it up and placed it on a plate, then set it down on the table in front of the sofa. Since she’d bought it, she might as well have some.
Johnny didn’t get in touch before the weekend, or indeed at any time during the weekend. He didn’t call until Thursday night the following week. By then, Gemma’s suspicions had been aroused. His behaviour pattern reminded her of that of one of her earlier boyfriends, Jack – or Mike – or perhaps it was both of them. In any case, she’d been right in her guess. He took her to an outdoor cafe, which was nice, but it was clear from the start that their meeting wouldn’t be pleasant. It didn’t take her long to realize that he was giving her the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. With a feeling of deja vu, Gemma interrupted him about halfway through.
“Fine. I understand. No hard feelings, eh? You don’t mind if I don’t stick around to hear the rest, do you?”
But apparently, he did mind and went on to say so for at least another half hour, by which time, Gemma simply got up and left. She hadn’t ordered anything anyway and she wasn’t going to enjoy a latte there, after that little rendezvous. Ugh. Why did she never learn? She kept falling for the same type of guy over and over again. At that point, she wanted nothing more than to break the pattern and be free of all those annoying self-centered men, but she knew from experience, that the next time around, she’d see something in someone’s face, and she’d be convinced that this time around, things really would be different. And of course they never were.
No wonder she kept returning to her own moody knight in shining armour. Guy would never let her down, simply because he didn’t exist, except inside the telly and inside her mind. It was perfect, really. Their love would never die, never change, never fall prey to the failings of real life.
With no boyfriend, she had more time to work out and to sit spellbound in front of the telly, her gaze glued to the blond knight, following his every move and every facial expression. Of course, watching his half-brother occupied much of her evenings as well.
As she watched, she pulled up her legs and began to twirl her shoulder-length hair. When Marion came into view, Gemma gloomily considered her own relatively straight, brown hair. Perhaps her mother did have a point. What if men did prefer that waistlength hair and ethereal and delicate look? She shook her head and once again focused her attention on the merry men, pulling off another cheeky raid against the clueless Sheriff of Nottingham.
On Friday, her boss called her into his office. Guiltily, Gemma recalled the pile of unfinished work on her desktop. From now on, she’d be more efficient, she promised herself. Now that Johnny was out of her life, she’d have more time to devote to her work –
“I said, as you know times are hard and – we have had to make some economies -”
“Yes, of course.”
Her cheeks heated up, as she realized that she hadn’t been listening to the beginning of old Higgins’ speech. He was such an old bore.
“Well, as you know, our company policy is ‘last in, first out’, so there really wasn’t anything I could do. Naturally, we would have preferred to keep you all, but you know how it is.”
No. He was firing her. She couldn’t lose her job. If she couldn’t pay her part of the rent, she’d be forced to move back in with her mother and she would really go mad if she had to. Her father – that was even more unthinkable. That unspeakable woman he’d married –
“There, dear. You can pick up your severance paycheck on the way out. Don’t forget to clear out your desk.”
“There, there. Don’t upset yourself. Shall I ask miss Matthews to make you a cup of tea?”
“No, thanks. I’ll just – ”
What was the point? And she wasn’t going to deal with old Matthews’ pissy tea. She’d end up pouring it all over the old bag and that would most likely cost her the severance pay.
Gemma turned abruptly and left, blinking to clear her sight. She wasn’t going to cry, not in front of her dreary, tedious colleagues. Fine. She’d never liked this job anyway. Somehow, she’d find a new, better one and then –
It had started to rain again, and heavy raindrops fell into the box containing her Robin of Sherwood posters and the autographed photo of – She hastily pulled off her jacket and put it over the box. Wet like that, she looked like a drowned rat, but who cared? Literally, who cared? Today, her problem wasn’t missing the last bus, it was getting out too early, and ending up having to wait for almost fifteen minutes in the pouring rain. By the time she got back, she was soaked through. Tonight, she’d call the dojo and let them know she wouldn’t be coming.
As she walked in, the phone began to ring. When at last she’d put down the box, removed the dripping wet jacket and hung it over the elevator, the phone had stopped ringing. Good. It was sure to be some salesperson and she didn’t feel up to that right now. She went into the bathroom and began to rub her hair dry, then her arms and hands. Shivering with cold, she found a jumper and put it on. The phone began to ring again.
“Hello, mother. Yes, everything’s fine. It’s just my usual half day.”
Her mother wouldn’t remember her schedule anyway, she reasoned.
“I see. Charles has a cousin, who has a nephew who is absolutely wonderful. You have to meet him. He’s an art dealer and i know how much you love -”
Art? Oh, sure. Naked women was right at the top of her list of favorite things. Right after root fillings and a visit to her friendly gynecologist.
“Don’t sound so hostile, dear. I’m only saying you’re not getting any younger. This man -”
Something about the way her mother was referring to the man immediately set off Gemma’s internal alarms.
“How old is he?”
“Walter is forty-one. Now, don’t you start, dear. Your usual type is simply too flighty. These awful musicians and freelance reporters. What you need is someone solid, reliable. In any case, I’ve already invited Walter over for dinner on Sunday. I told him you’d be there, so it’s no use arguing. Don’t tell me you’re busy on Sunday.”
Gemma made a considerable effort to do so, but failed to come up with any single excuse her mother would find acceptable, so she sighed and agreed. She had the rest of Friday and all of Saturday to think of one and she’d give it her best shot.
When Sam got back, Gemma was forced to give her the bad news. She hadn’t intended to tell her right away. If she tried really hard, perhaps she’d find a new job, before she had to pay next month’s rent. She should have known Sam knew her too well to hide anything from her.
“Want me to give you the top ten list?”
“Come on, tell your aunty Sam all about it.”
They sat on the sofa, as Gemma recited her tale of woe.
“And he’s forty-one.”
There was a sob in her voice, that Gemma abhorred.
“Revolting. Your mother is simply too absurd. Oh, wait a minute. Al knows a fellow who sounds just right for you.”
Not you too. Gemma groaned silently. Al wasn’t her idea of a dream date and she couldn’t imagine that any of his friends were any more appealing. In fact, for years now, she’d been wondering at Sam’s taste in men, but in all fairness, Sam was probably wondering about her too.
“Anyway, don’t worry about the rent. I actually have some good news. Al is moving in.”
For a second, Gemma had imagined Sam had already found a job for her, and when she realized what her friend’s news was, her face fell. Fortunately, Sam was busy unpacking her shopping bag. It was Friday, after all, and she’d brought a few odds and ends that were a necessity for a pleasant weekend. That, in Gemma’s book, didn’t include Al, but she forced herself to fake an enthusiasm she didn’t feel. Al had this way of undressing her with his eyes that really got on her nerves.
“So you see, you don’t need to worry about paying me rent until you find a new job. I’ll ask around. Al will ask around. You’ll see. We’ll find you a new job in no time.”
“Thanks. You’re the best.”
“I know. There. Guacamole, then?”
“Absolutely. And -”
“Oops. That’s for me.”
Sam dug out her mobile phone and within seconds, it was clear that Al was on the line. Gemma got up and went into her room. She’d work out tomorrow, then on Sunday, she might have twisted something or strained a muscle or – something. In any case, she wasn’t going to that dinner, and that was final.
“Gemma, your mother tells me you practice judo.”
“Does she? No, actually, it’s karate.”
“What’s the difference? I’ve always wondered. Do tell me.”
She hated Walter and his sweaty fingers and the way he had of trying to sound younger than he was, younger than he looked. Forty-one sounded young for the man who sat opposite her at her mother’s dinner table. She didn’t know if she was envious or relieved that her younger half-sisters weren’t present at the dinner table. It was about fifty-fifty, she reckoned. Relieved that they weren’t there to witness her humiliation and envious that they got out of it and she didn’t. Of course they were only fifteen and seventeen respectively. No power on earth could probably have made them sit through dinner with their parents, half-sister and the assortment of guests. Gemma didn’t see one single person younger than late thirties and no one that she wanted to talk to. And Walter was the worst of them all.
He was almost completely bald. What little hair he still had was cut so short his head was shiny. He had beady little eyes that kept fixing her with an intensity that hinted that he wanted to buy her and pin her to the wall of his gallery. Just as she had suspected, most of the art he sold was naked or seminude women. He had just spent the better part of half an hour expounding on the artistic virtues of the naked female form. In fact, he seemed to regard that as akin to feminism. Worse, he expected her to fully agree and applaud his taste. When she didn’t, he appeared a little taken aback, but his next words told her what he made her of reaction.
“I see you’re a little shy, my dear. That’s alright. I love shy women. Like delicate little flowers.”
Gemma smiled weakly and considered stabbing him, or at the very least pouring the contents of her wine glass into his face. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t just have seen the last of Walter, but Charles and her mother might finally ban her from their house, once and for all. She was clutching the stem of the glass so hard she knew that within the next few seconds it would break and at least spill the contents of it all over the tablecloth. What kept her from drawing attention to herself was the sound of her stepfather’s voice. He had a tiresome voice, but at that moment, she didn’t think she’d ever heard anything quite as lovely. At last, the dinner was over. At least the meal.
She got up and more or less ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind her and sat down on the toilet. Five, ten minutes – that would probably do it. If she went to see Charles, not mother – She was right. Clearly her mother had failed to give Charles any specific orders regarding the length of her visit.
“Oh, there you are, Charles. I’m not feeling very well. Do you think you could make my excuses and let mother know I had to go?”
“Of course, my dear. You do look a little – pale. Oh, perhaps it’s just the time of year.”
“I’m sure. Well, thanks and – well, you know -”
“Would you like me to call you a taxi?”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll just take the bus. Bye.”
“Bye, bye, dear.”
She grabbed her jacket on the run and was halfway down the stairs without anyone calling her name. So far so good. To her relief, her mother didn’t call her back. She slowed down and walked at a normal pace to the bus stop.
When she returned, she found that Al was moving in. Her help was enlisted in moving in all his CD:s and magazines and the playstation – Playstation? Please. As far as she knew, Al was thirty years old. Oh, well, that was Sam’s problem, not hers.
She hastily picked up her DVD boxes and put them in her own room. They were probably not rewritable, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She wasn’t going to come home one day to find her beloved Robin of Sherwood DVD:s had been replaced by Al’s beloved footy. If that happened, she’d probably end up killing him and that might seriously damage her and Sam’s friendship.
On Monday morning, she decided to sleep in. She woke up to find Al still in the flat.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“Yes. I’ll be going in after lunch.”
Too late she remembered that she hadn’t put on her robe. When it was just her and Sam, she never bothered. They always slept in a t-shirt and their panties. Whatever else you could say about their little flat, it was certainly kept well heated. Her eyes narrowed, when she caught Al’s gaze wandering across her skin.
She returned to her room and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and the hoodie that went with it. It was time she realized that the carefree days were over. She made herself a plain cup of coffee and had half a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast. It was no use pretending. She didn’t like Al and she didn’t like having him in the flat, but since it was Sam’s flat, she knew she could hardly complain. Briefly, she wondered if she might get her father to pitch in and pay her rent until she found another job, but remembered how eager her father was to have her stay with them. His wife was always having trouble finding a babysitter for their two dreadful boys and would love to have her there – not because she liked her – they felt exactly the same way about each other – but simply so she could hand the kids over to her. Besides, her father might get it into his head to find her a job and that would make her last job seem really cushy.
When Al at last left for work, she began to fiddle with her own cheaper DVD player and the smaller telly she had in her room. They’d have to do for now. She’d just watch an episode of Robin of Sherwood to cheer herself up, one of her favorites, then she’d run down to the dojo and check if they could fit her in on such short notice. That reminded her of her financial situation. She’d paid up until the end of the month. After that, she might well have to quit. She changed her mind again and went back to bed, pulling the covers back up. When she was feeling a little better, she’d go down to the job centre and see if she could find something. She couldn’t give up the karate.