City of Stories original fiction: Lost and Found by Joanne Austin Olsen
PUBLISHED: 15:36 27 August 2014
Archant © 2011 01603 772434
For each week of the City of Stories campaign, a piece of original fiction has been contributed. This week's is by Joanne Austin Olsen, titled Lost and Found:
It was a stupid idea. A really stupid idea.
“I must be crazy,” she muttered under her breath. The man sitting opposite her glanced up from his Kindle. She stared at him blankly, face reddening, probably confirming that yes, she was actually crazy. Oh, to hell with it.
She was on the commuter train out of Liverpool Street, heading for Norwich. Heading home.
That was a peculiar thought. Emily couldn’t accurately remember the last time that she’d been back to her home town.
With their children grown up and gone, her parents had packed up and headed for the warmer climes of the Mediterranean back in the nineties.
She’d had no reason to return. Not until now, anyway. She blinked back the tears that had been threatening to roll down her face since London. There was no way she was going to add weepy to crazy. No way.
Her iPhone vibrated again. With a slightly nervous, sick feeling in her stomach she pulled it out of her pocket. Four unanswered calls and seven unreturned messages. She read them again. They varied from “I’m so sorry,” to “where the hell are you?” to “we are finished” and, most recently, to “please just tell me where you are, Emily, I love you.” She took a deep breath. Love. Really?
As the train announcer told them that they would shortly be arriving at their final destination, her thumb hovered over the screen. She typed the words that had been spinning around inside her head for the last four hours. “I’m going to see Jamie.” Almost immediately the reply came back. “Who’s Jamie?”
Emily chuckled, causing Kindle Man to cast her one last glance as he stood up to retrieve his coat from the overhead shelf. “An old friend,” she typed, “you don’t know him. Speak later.” With that she switched off the phone and shoved it into the back pocket of her jeans. She looked out of the window as the train slowed to a halt, feeling a rush of nostalgia and fear and relief and happiness all at once. She’d arrived.
When the train doors opened, the rush of fresh air arrested her. It had a certain scent, inescapably familiar despite the passage of time. It returned her to her teenage self, eyelinered and backcombed, staring insolently at those around her with all of the bravado that an insecure smalltown goth could muster. She felt a smile creeping across her face. She had been happy then.
She left the station and headed for the bridge over the river. Her head was fuzzy. Reality was starting to dawn on her. What if he isn’t there? For a split second she wished that she still smoked. A cigarette was just what she needed right now. He’ll be there. Of course he will.
It was a deliciously crisp autumn evening. Emily realised that she’d forgotten how beautiful the city became at this time of year. There was a quiet murmur in its ancient streets that was so different from the hubbub of the capital. She could see the spire of the cathedral against the darkening sky. Her totem, her destination. She tightened her scarf around her neck and kept walking towards it and, she hoped, towards him.
They’d been so close. Friends forever. Friends when that word had meant actual friends, in the flesh, before any of them had ever dreamed of the internet and social networks and the ability to find common ground with strangers via a tap on a screen. They had done their growing up together in that city, playing out their adolescent awkwardness in their tiny local, and sometimes claustrophobic, space. Every step that she took brought back memories. Bored weekend afternoons loitering in the town centre, spending the wages from their Saturday jobs in any friendly pub that didn’t look too closely at their young teenage faces before pulling them a pint of beer, and scampering home at the very last minute to meet their parental curfews.
She was getting closer to the cathedral. Beautiful and awe-inspiring even now. She remembered looking up at its vaulted ceilings as a little girl, feeling breathless and tiny and dizzy within its cool stone walls. She wanted to be there now, letting its serenity wash the stress and uncertainty and pain from her mind. She wanted to let it help her to find herself again. Oh for goodness’ sake.
Jamie’s parents were rich. The kind of rich that means that you don’t ever have to think twice about putting your hand in your pocket. The kind of rich that means that your children could turn out to be revolting little princes and princesses. Jamie had dodged that particular bullet. Where there could have been assured arrogance there was actually a quiet shyness that he masked behind unorthodox haircuts and a resolutely non-conformist wardrobe. The only evidence of his parents’ fantastic wealth was the fact that, when invited to his house, you found yourself in a staggeringly impressive Georgian terrace within spitting distance of the cathedral. Generations of his family had lived there, in some shape or form, for decades.
That’s why Emily was so certain that he’d be there. In her mind he would be sitting in front of the wood-burning stove in the drawing room, legs curled underneath him, with the cathedral spire casting its elegant shadow across the sash windows. Perhaps he would be looking out across the green where they had sat and watched the sun rise, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap red wine, vowing that they would never leave this place. Maybe he would be remembering their one and only awkward kiss, their shoulders wedged uncomfortably together as they sank into the grass and laughed.
She had broken that promise never to leave. Yes, they both went away to university. Yes, they wrote copious letters to each other and embraced each other with glee when they both returned at the end of each term. But Emily hadn’t come home after graduation. The letters dwindled. Phone numbers changed. They were losing their grip on each other by the time that email became commonplace. Then…nothing.
Her hands were actually shaking when she knocked on the door. From inside the house she could hear the sound of children laughing. She was beginning to feel very silly. As the latch turned she was tempted to duck her head and run away.
A man stood in the open doorway. Tall and slender with cropped dark hair, speckled slightly grey above the ears. “Hello?”
“Hello Jamie,” she said.