“You look really glamorous.” Emma put down the curling iron and I got up from the kitchen chair and went upstairs to my room where there was a full length mirror. Emma was right. I looked glamorous. Not in a diva way. But that wasn’t the kind of look I was going for. I looked glamorous in a smart casual way. I was going on a date with Markus, the librarian I’d met the week before, and I was excited. I was wearing a blue skirt that finished above my knees, and a blue and white dressy sleeveless top. I was wearing the same nude heels and matching handbag from yesterday, but the outfit was different, so it didn’t matter. And Emma had tamed my unruly curls into beautiful ringlets.
Markus had texted me a after my first meeting with Merete to ask how it had gone and if I was getting anywhere with my investigations. The texting had upgraded to chatting and then, he’d called this morning to ask if I wanted to go out with him. I know a whole lot of dating guides would disapprove of me accepting a date on the same day as I was asked. But I could tell he’d really worked up his courage to ask me and I had nothing else on anyway. Plus, I liked him. Sod dating books anyway. If you meet someone you like, and they like you, I believe in going with the flow.
“Where is he taking you?” Emma asked excitedly as I started applying make-up.
“We’re going for drinks down by the harbour. But I’m not sure after that. But what miss,” I said turning around to face her. “Who was that charmer I saw you talking to at the party?”
When I had gone back in to try and get my hands on some cake, I had found Emma in deep conversation with a rather attractive man. The conversation had involved a whole lot of giggling and ‘accidental’ touching. My aunt, youthful as she was, had reminded me of a schoolgirl. She blushed and didn’t meet my eyes.
“Just one of the engineers. He just started.”
“Mhm, and I guess you’re going to tell me that you were talking about work?”
“Leave me alone,” she giggled and went downstairs.
Markus was already there when I arrived at the pier and I was on time. This always seems to happen to me. I suffer from chronic lateness. I’m never more than fifteen minutes late though. And I always let whoever I’m meeting know that I’m running late. But when I’m on time and proud of myself for it, you can bet that whoever I’m going to meet is already there.
“I know I’m early,” Markus said apologetically, noticing me glancing at my watch. “But I decided to leave early because the weather was really nice.”
I melted inside. The weather was nice, but the sun had hidden behind clouds and it looked as if it could possibly start raining. Clearly he had been looking forward to seeing me.
“That’s fine,” I smiled and accepted his arm as we started walking towards a bar with outside tables. The temperature was still comfortable, so we decided to sit outside. Markus went inside to by drinks, and came out with a beer for himself and a gin & tonic for me.
“’so how are you finding everything?” he asked.
“Everything?” I bit down on my straw and wondered what I was going to say.
“Everything is kind of crazy,” I settled on in the end. “Here am I, trying to get a little break from busy London life, and I find out that half my family was murdered by a ghost.”
Markus laughed. “When you put it like that, it does sound pretty crazy,” he agreed.
“I like Merete though. I think we’re becoming friends. And at the risk of sounding winy, it’s not that easy to make friends at our age in a new place. Especially when you’re not working or studying.”
“I think you’re right,” Markus said. “At our age, most people are either busy arguing about whose turn it is to change the nappy, or calculating wedding costs.”
“I guess Merete will be doing that soon though. The nappy changing anyway. But she’s, I don’t know, a bit different,” I said.
Markus nodded. “She’s one of a kind. I’m sure she’ll make a very cool and liberal mother.”
Two drinks later, we had touched on a lot of topics. We both loved books, so we spent a lot of time talking about literature. And Markus, being a librarian, wrote down a long list of books I needed to read.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book,” I said.
“So why don’t you?”
“I haven’t really found the time, plus I’m not sure what to write about. I want to do something different.
“You make time for writing,” said Markus. “And the right story will come to you. You just have to stop thinking and fretting about it.”
“How about you. Did you ever want to write?”
“No. I don’t know if I possess a big enough imagination to keep a story going for more than two pages. So that’s why I became a librarian.”
We were both starting to feel hungry. And Markus suggested we go to a really nice fish and seafood restaurant around the corner. I was completely sold on the idea as fresh fish and seafood is some of my favourite food. So he went inside to pay the bill waving away my insistence on paying for my half.
“Please let me be a gentleman and pay for this evening,” he said. He was a far cry from Ronald who had calculated every single item on every food bill and grumbled if I ever asked to borrow some chain for a coffee if I’d ran out.
The text came while Marcus was inside. Or rather, it was a message on Facebook messenger since I had changed over to a Norwegian sim card a few days earlier.
“Hi Sandra. I hope you’re enjoying Norway. I’m on my way now. And I just can’t wait to soak up some of that south coast sunshine. I wanted to be there sooner, but I had a few other things to take care of.
See you before you know it”
The name of the sender was Facebook User. But I knew better of course. Christian Holm was on his way over the Atlantic.
“Are you ready?” Markus stood next to my chair smiling down at me. But his smile died when he saw my face. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure what to answer. I would need to do a whole lot of explaining for him to understand and I didn’t feel like doing it in such a public place.
“Can we go for a walk? I’ll try to explain, but I need to be somewhere more private.”
I got up and linked my arm in his. And as we walked some almost deserted streets close to the harbour, I talked about that fateful car accident for the first time in nearly ten years.
“I was twenty, and had returned to London for the summer break from my university in Sheffield. It was the year I was planning to learn how to drive. I hadn’t done It the years before, because I’d always been busy travelling, but this year, I was gonna help mum in the shop and I thought it would be the perfect time to learn it. I had been worried about mum lately. Without saying so directly, I understood that she was unhappy with Christian and that he might not treat her how a good husband should treat his wife.
On the morning the accident happened, he had left for work early and had seemed in a particularly good mood. Mum’s shop manager and assistant were taking the morning shift so that mum could take me test driving. Everything went off to a brilliant start and I was pleased to see that the few driving lessons I’d had already had paid off. There wasn’t much traffic on the road. Both because we didn’t live in a very traffic congested part of London and because at 11 o’clock, the roads aren’t that full anyway. We had been driving for about ten minutes when a huge lorry came towards us. Later, I knew that the driver of the lorry was drunk, but then, I couldn’t understand why he kept driving straight towards us. That particular road was narrow, and had he driven further out to the other side, we would have just managed to pass each other without colliding. As it was, he was driving right in the middle of the road and both mum and I started to get more and more panicked. I decided that the only thing I could do to save us, was to make a U-turn and drive back to where we’d come from. There was a four lane road back there, and hopefully we’d avoid the lorry driving into us that way. How wise the decision was, I don’t know. But when I was to break while I turned, because I didn’t dare to make a turn at the speed we were driving at, the breaks refused to work. And suddenly the break came off in my hand. The lorry was coming ever closer and just as I thought I’d managed to turn to get away, it drove into us and everything around me became black and quiet.
I woke up in intensive care three days later. A doctor told me that a man had seen the accident when he’d turned down that road and called the police as well as an ambulance. The doctor also informed that I’d had internal bleedings and managed to get a serious concussion from the accident; but that I was now in a stable condition. I’d be kept for observation over the next few days, but I should soon be able to go home. When I’d asked about mum, the doctor had looked at me with sad eyes and informed me that she’d died three hours after arriving at the hospital. The drunk driver was mostly unharmed. He’s just gotten a mild concussion and a 30 days prison sentence.
I had returned home a week later to pack some things and go stay with Melissa and her parents. I didn’t feel comfortable on my own and Christian had disappeared. The only thing I found from him when I picked up the mail was a sarcastic note saying “Thanks Sandra for killing my wife. I shall never be happy again. Murderer.”
“That’s awful!” Markus exclaimed when I finished talking. “I nodded. In pretty bad taste yes. And it made me realize that the man must be sick. And now, ten years later he’s after me for having killed her. Why couldn’t he have left me to it? Or better, dealt with it ten years ago. Face to face like a man.”
Markus shook his head and sighed.
“But you know you didn’t kill her right?”
“The rational part of me knows. But there are times when I’m wondering whether he could be right.”
“That’s nonsense!” He stopped and turned to look me straight in the eye. “And you know what? I think you should talk to him. Face up and say what you think about the way he’s tormenting you. And that you know you’re innocent.” I’m here to support you, Merete is, and I’m sure Emma will support you too. She’s your aunt.”
Emma had been just as shocked as me after the accident and had come to London for the funeral. She’d also stayed with me for the months it took to deal with all the legal issues such as her will. She had left the shop and everything to me. But I had sold it. Neither ready, nor willing to take it on. In fact Emma had stayed with me all through the autumn exams too so that she could deal with all the sales while I was revising.
“Sure she will,” I said.
“Just out of interest. When did the accident happen?” Markus asked as we turned back down to the harbour to go to the seafood place.
“I guess,” gasped, suddenly realizing a connection. “It happened on mid-summer eve. And you know something else too, I’m sure those breaks were tampered with.”
Just as we walked into the restaurant, the heavens opened.