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November 10, 2019

Always about Hope {Chapter 3}

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.


Living in London had only been a temporary arrangement, a stopgap.


Sleeping on the bottom bunk in my five-year-old niece’s bedroom at twenty-four years old was never going to be viable long term. Still, it was extremely kind of John and Claire to put me up and offer me time to figure out what I wanted and needed from life.


One evening, about a week after I arrived, Claire & I sat down with a glass of white wine each, on the deep two-seater sofas that looked antique despite being recently manufactured; John was working late and Emmy was in bed. The many colour-complementing cushions made each settee perfect for one person to curl up on.


The living room was cosy, despite the high ceilings typical of an old, narrow, tall terraced building in the city. The two standard lamps provided just the right amount of soft light. As we chatted and I admired the elegance of the room, I noticed how happy and relaxed Claire was. She and John had been so loving and caring towards one another in the moments that I had seen them together.


It dawned on me that she had never actually told me how they met, so I asked. Claire’s eyes seemed to glow a little brighter and her smile widened as she began to tell her tale.


To celebrate their thirtieth birthdays, Claire had headed to the Edinburgh fringe with her best friend Helen; this I knew. The rest of her story was unknown to me. She explained how after enjoying a lively journey there and an entertaining first night out, Helen became unwell. The 2nd evening, they were booked to see a famous comedian, the intended highlight of their trip, but to their disappointment, Claire would have to go alone. 


She’d navigated her way around the city, using a printed map and an app on her phone, to the location of the ‘tent’ in which the performance was due to take place. It was in a large square from what she could tell, and on the corner, under a huge tree, was an admission booth inside a portacabin. She had approached and asked an attendant whether she could obtain a refund on her friend’s entrance ticket. 


At this time, a man had come to the adjoining window and was enquiring whether there was still a seat available to see the same show. Whilst she was being advised that it was not returnable, Claire thought that she had overheard the gist of the conversation next to her. She turned and asked the stranger if he was looking for a ticket? He replied “yes, although I appear to be out of luck,” and she responded that “if you don’t mind sitting next to me, I have a spare.” 


She had a coy look on her face as she recalled this first encounter. She said the connection was deeper than she had ever known upon meeting someone new and that she felt entirely comfortable and relaxed in his company. She had, of course, thought him instantly attractive and was immediately drawn to his eyes which sparkled. She paused to sip from her beautifully shaped crystal wine glass, seemingly enjoying transporting herself back in time in her mind, to a magical moment.


With a dreamy expression, she continued to describe her version of events. 


They had walked through the entrance gates and down a fairy-light lined path between the trees, to a selection of pop-up bars and food stalls. John had offered her a drink to thank her and insisted on reimbursing the cost. His gentle Scottish accent had her slightly entranced and they chatted like best friends of many years, until being ushered inside as the show was about to commence.


During the performance, she found it hard to give the comedian her full attention, as her mind raced with possibilities. She smiled as she recounted how John had occasionally glanced her way and when their eyes met, she felt an urge to reach out to him, as though a magnet was pulling them towards one another. At one point their legs touched and how natural this felt had surprised her. 


Adopting a more serious look, she explained how following the show, she was torn between her desire to care for her friend and the intensity of her longing to get to know this man better. After refusing his offer of a drink at a nearby bar, they agreed to him walking with her back to the flat that she and Helen were staying in. Their route took them past some of Edinburgh’s famous landmarks and John was an entertaining storyteller, bringing to life the statues and important figures from history. Her smile broadened as she remembered how she had laughed more on that walk with John, than during the whole show they had just watched.


When they reached the beautiful gardens, they passed over a bridge above a large fountain, so delicately lit, that it took her breath away. It was the most romantic place she had ever seen. John must have acknowledged her reaction, as it was on a later visit to Edinburgh that he brought her back to this very spot and proposed. 


As they passed a busier section of the main road, filled with merriment from those enjoying the Fringe, he offered her an arm to link with. She had taken it, and continued to hold him close as they walked away from the crowds down a quieter side street. She stopped him to point out a stunning old tree; lit by the sun reflecting on the moon above it, and after pausing to admire it, he turned to face her. 


She dips her head slightly, avoiding eye contact, as she tells me of the heat that spread through her body as they looked into each other’s eyes. He had pulled her close and kissed her. A tender, gentle, perfect kiss. The connection between them felt so strong, it was as though all the stars in the night sky aligned. Right there and then, she knew they had something special, and felt sure that this was meant to be.


He took her hand and they continued to walk towards the apartment. After exchanging mobile numbers and arranging to meet for coffee the following day, they had held each other close and kissed outside the door, for what may have been minutes or hours; in her world, time stood still.


I lost her briefly to that moment, so took another drink of wine from my glass. It was so smooth and fruity, it even smelled enticing, not like the cheap wines that I used to buy from my local discount supermarket. This was something to be savoured, not swigged. 


She continued by explaining how eager she was to tell Helen everything, but to her disappointment, her poorly friend had already fallen asleep. Struggling to rest, with an over-excited mind, she had fought the urge to message John and eventually drifted off.


When she awoke, she had already received a text inviting her to meet for breakfast and jumped out of bed to speak to Helen. Although obviously still feeling unwell, Helen had listened with keen interest to Claire’s tale of the previous night and agreed that she must go to see if this could really be the start of something. She planned to return to the apartment late morning, so as to collect her things before they set off back to the station on their journey home.


Shifting slightly on her couch and playfully moving the wine glass around in her hands, Claire explained how she had been longing to kiss John again, but that nerves had got in the way & they had hugged instead. As they walked to a nearby cafe, their hands brushed against each other, making them turn to look. John had then offered his hand to her and she had taken it. I saw her physically relax as she recalled how much more comfortable she had felt with each step. The conversation flowed effortlessly and there were no awkward silences throughout breakfast.


She smiled again as she remembered how they had gone for a walk through the park after eating and how John had stopped her, pulled her close and kissed her passionately, as though they were a pair of care-free, love-sick teenagers.


Her smile was now wide and she laughed at a memory of the expression on an elderly lady’s face after they had kissed. Perhaps a sight this woman was unaccustomed to. Such a public show of affection was not often witnessed in a pair of their age. They hadn’t cared, walking on through the park, holding hands, chatting, laughing, stopping to hold one another and kiss again.


By the time they reached the flat, they had already planned for Claire to travel to London in two weeks’ time to spend the weekend together. Their relationship progressed rapidly from here. They established quickly that they both wanted the same things, were at a point where they were keen to settle down and start a family. Importantly, both agreed that London was an ideal base for them, which given John already had an apartment here, was advantageous.


As an experienced paediatric nurse, Claire was quickly able to find employment and within two years had obtained a promotion to sister on the children’s cancer ward at a nearby hospital. A job that I could not comprehend, though Claire found it entirely fulfilling. She had always known that she wanted to be a nurse and in particular to care for children. She enjoyed this role more than any other, as she was able to really get to know the patients and their families and felt like she could make a significant difference to their lives and their experience in hospital.


After her maternity leave however, her priorities had changed and Emmy was her focus. The role she had left was too demanding she felt, so she sought a part-time position on a general paediatric ward. Perhaps she was at work when it happened. Walking to work? If she was at home, she would most certainly have set off immediately to offer her assistance. 


Oh Claire, where are you? Please be alive! Please be well.

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