Valerie had always prided herself on her unwavering sense of right and wrong. She was by no means a saint, not by any stretch but she liked to think she would always step up and do the right thing when the situation called for it. That was how she found herself outside of the Turner's house, with a potted plant and a gnawing sense of guilt. Owing to the late hour, she rapped gently on the front door, it wouldn't do to add 'waking young children' to her apology.
The door swung open, revealing a harried Shelagh Turner with baby Teddy attached to her hip and wiping at what looked like vomit decorating her lapel. "Have mercy, if you have lost your key again you'll not get another one and you'll have to get around Nurse Crane for one of the Cubs' tents for such occasions as when you're stuck outside after sneaking back home late!"
Valerie couldn't help it, she really couldn't, she giggled.
At the sound, Shelagh's head snapped up, a slight blush marring her cheeks. "Oh, Nurse Dyer!"
Valerie, having already laughed, decided she couldn't possibly make the situation any worse. "Now is that a warning for young Timothy… or Dr Turner?"
Thankfully, Shelagh smiled, "Timothy… on this occasion."
Valerie then marvelled at the almost imperceptible shift in Shelagh's body language. She stood straighter and smiled politely and it was as though the wiggling baby and vomit-soaked blouse melted away to leave a prim and proper woman, politely inviting her inside.
As Shelagh led her through to the kitchen, Valerie admired the beautiful, open plan space and lamented that she should have bought a bigger plant. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Oh, yes, please. That would be lovely." Valerie replied, and watched as Shelagh expertly filled the kettle and set it to boil while shifting a now dozing baby to her other hip, which unfortunately meant Teddy's head lolled into his own sick.
Shelagh noticed a second after Valerie did. "Oh, dear, Teddy. Look what Mummy's done!" The older woman looked apologetic, "Will you excuse me while I go and get cleaned up and put him down."
"Of course, I'll have the tea ready for when you get back." Shelagh smiled her thanks and disappeared up the stairs, whispering something soothing to her baby boy the whole way.
Now that she was here, Valerie felt a bit awkward. She'd not thought much past bullying the address from Phyllis, buying the plant and jumping on the bus. She had a lot of respect for the Turners, they were both exceptionally skilled medical professionals, always kind and approachable. Yet, she hadn't given much thought to them as a couple and their lives behind closed doors. Being in their home felt strangely intimate, like she was intruding.
She shook the thought from her mind and busied herself with the tea. They were just people and she was just here to apologise, not move in… though it was a gorgeous house. She idly wondered how big the bedrooms were while pouring a measure of milk into each cup. Setting the teacups down at the kitchen table, she was about to make herself comfortable when she heard a soft knock at the door.
Bugger. Peering up the stairs she couldn't see or hear movement, so she decided to answer. "Might as well be useful."
Opening the door, she was certain that her smile might just split her face.
"I'm sorry, Mum. I know what you are going to say, and I can be responsible- Oh, Nurse Dyer!"
Valerie smirked, "Lost our key, have we?"
Timothy heaved a sigh. "No. I have not lost it, I know exactly where it is… it's just not on my person."
She had to bite her lip so as not to laugh at his indignation.
"Come on then," she nodded into the house, "before your mum comes back downstairs."
"Oh." Timothy smiled in understanding and rushed inside. "Thanks."
Just as Valerie settled back at the table, Shelagh started down the stairs and breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing Timothy pouring a glass of water. "Had a good evening, Tim? And you're only ten minutes after curfew, I'm impressed."
Timothy rolled his eyes, but smiled, "I did have a good evening, thank you. And yes, I am home almost on time and," his eyes flicked to Valerie's, "I let myself in, no issue."
"Shame, it would be a lovely evening for camping." Once again, Valerie just couldn't help herself.
Timothy looked confused, but Shelagh smiled, before covering it up with a question aimed at Tim's retreating back, "And how was Jack?"
"He's fine, still needs help with his homework though. It's a bit annoying actually." Timothy replied as he disappeared upstairs.
Shelagh was grinning now and at Val's quizzical expression, she explained, "He thinks that we don't know that when he says he is going to Jack's, he's actually going to see Caroline. A girl he's sweet on."
Valerie laughed but she was shocked that the Turners would be so easy going. "And you and Dr Turner are okay with that?"
Shelagh sipped her tea and hummed in delight as though she hadn't managed to find time for one all day. "Well, we found out where he was going because Caroline's mother popped around for a chat one day and said that she was more than happy for Timothy to spend time with Caroline at either of our houses as long as someone was around to check in with them. We agreed and three months later, he is still keeping up the charade of going to Jack's."
"Well as long as he doesn't accidentally call her Jack to her face, it's a nice setup."
Shelagh agreed, "Yes, he puts up with so much with our lifestyle and having two young siblings, it's nice for him to able to escape and be a normal teenager for a while and I'm sure he gets a thrill from pulling the wool over our eyes. Though I do wish you'd left him out to sweat a bit more on the doorstep."
Valerie gaped, "How did you-"
"I saw his house key on his desk when I went upstairs." Shelagh had a mischievous smile and Valerie felt as though she was discovering a whole new side to Shelagh Turner and she loved it. "Now, I'm sure you didn't come over here to see me contend with one son's vomit and the other one's sneakiness."
"No. I ah…" The nerves had come back again. "I wanted to apologise, properly, I mean."
Shelagh's eyebrows knitted together, "Whatever for?"
Valerie sighed, "I feel responsible for what happened with Magda. If I had spoken to you right away, you could have helped, and she wouldn't have hurt herself. And I did tell her to speak to you, but I knew she wouldn't because she was scared but I couldn't have imagined… I mean, I didn't even think she'd know what ergometrine was, let alone what it was for and... and…"
Shelagh stopped her ramble by taking Valerie's hands and clasping them tightly, "It wasn't your fault. Magda made a foolish decision because she was scared, and you made the decision not to talk to me or Dr Turner about it because you were being a good friend to her and respecting her wishes. You couldn't have known what would happen." Shelagh looked pensive, "I do understand how you feel, though. I keep thinking that I should have noticed, she was living in my home and I'm a midwife."
Valerie sighed, "I think she was well practised at putting on a brave face. You couldn't have known."
Shelagh squeezed Val's hands once more and then let go to pick up her teacup, "Neither of us could have known and neither of us are to blame. It's still hard not to feel guilty, though."
"I just feel like it could have been avoided if I had spoken up and now, Mrs Turner, I've made your life harder."
"Firstly, you can call me Shelagh, we're not at work. And secondly, looking after my children doesn't make my life harder, more hectic perhaps, but never hard."
Valerie felt as though the bottom had dropped out of her stomach. "Oh, no. That's not... that came out wrong. I wasn't implying…" She put her head in her hands, "I'm going to have to nip out and buy you another apology plant!"
Shelagh laughed, a throaty chuckle that took Valerie by surprise. When she sobered she said, "Well, I don't think that's necessary, though this one is beautiful." She gently touched one of the leaves before frowning, "Magda was absolutely wonderful with the children and she will be missed by all of us, but had we found out before she attempted to self-abort, well there would have been the pregnancy to consider anyway. I can't see that there would have been an easy option."
"That's true, part of me had been thinking that had you known, you could have waved some magic wand and put everything to rights. It's silly really."
"A magic wand would be handy but, in this case, I think we need to console ourselves with the fact that we got to her in time and that she is able to move on with her life. Make a fresh start."
Valerie nodded and then asked, "Will you hire another au pair?"
"I don't think so, no. Magda made the more hectic days easier, and having her here meant that myself and Patrick could spend more time together which was wonderful," She smiled to herself, "but I missed all the little moments with my children. I don't think I realised how much I missed looking over Tim's geometry homework, and bathing Teddy, or reading Angela the same story time and again – the sooner she loses interest in Tom Kitten, the better!"
Valerie giggled. "We've always found a way to manage and we will do again."
"Well, if you ever need help with anything or just need a babysitter so you and Dr Turner can paint the town red, I have excellent references." Valerie winked.
"Thank you, Valerie. I may take you up on that sometime." She smiled, "Though I'm not certain that we have ever quite managed to paint the town red!"
Shelagh carried the empty cups over to the sink and just as Valerie opened her mouth to take her leave, they heard a shuffling sound coming from the direction of the front door and then a muffled, "Hells teeth!" followed by a soft knocking.
Valerie looked at Shelagh and saw her own mirth reflected back at her. "May I?"
"By all means." Shelagh smiled and moved so she could have a good view.
Valarie swung the door open and as expected, Dr Turner started to apologise. What was it with these Turners and not looking before opening their mouths?
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I must have left my key at the surgery and- Oh, Nurse Dyer! Sorry, I thought you were my wife."
"I'm afraid your wife is rather busy drawing up a list of punishments for the last Turner to forget their key. How are you at putting up tents Dr Turner?"
He smiled sardonically, "Abysmal and my wife can definitely vouch for that."
"You better come in then." She chuckled and stepped aside, finding this playful side to the Turners rather fun. She turned to see Dr Turner narrow his eyes at his wife and her smile playfully in response. Valerie felt as though there was this bubbling tension between the pair that she'd certainly not noticed at work before. She had that weird sense that she was peeking behind the curtain again. In the end, it was Dr Turner's flirty wink that Valerie was certain she wasn't supposed to see, that made her rush out of the door calling out over her shoulder, "I'll be off then. Thanks for the chat, Shelagh, and remember my offer!"
"Mrs Turner," Patrick drawled, in mock indignation while pulling her into his arms, "roping in colleagues to tease me now, too?"
"Well if you will forget your key!" She giggled as he stooped to nuzzle into her neck.
"One day, my love, you will forget your key and then where will you be?"
"I'm not concerned." She said as primly as she could manage while he was nibbling her ear lobe. "I have a spare sequestered away somewhere safe."
Shelagh enjoyed a few more blissful seconds of his attention before he realised what she had said, and pulled away sharply, "There's a spare key?"
"Are you going to tell me where it is?"
Shelagh started towards the oven, "I've reheated some casserole for you. Would you like anything to drink?"
"A cup of tea would be nice." He looked back towards the door as if an answer would be illuminated on it, "Under the plant pots?"
"This is a nice neighbourhood, Patrick, but leaving keys in such obvious places is never a good idea. There are plenty of opportunists out there and I'd rather not make it easy for them."
As Patrick started on his casserole, he smiled as Shelagh set a cup of tea down next to him. "Perhaps I will have to use my powers of persuasion to make you give up the information."
He looked pleased with himself and Shelagh was having none of that. "Then, I may have to exert my skills in distraction to drive the thought from your mind."
Patrick pushed his plate of food away, deciding that his wife was far more appetising when a wail echoed from upstairs. Shelagh pushed his plate back towards him and winked. "Looks like Teddy's on my side."
"Yes, well Tim will certainly be on mine!" He called to her retreating form.