Rebecca Sandford looked up at the kitchen clock. It was 5 minutes to midnight.
‘Where on earth is Charlie? He’s never been this late before.’ A worried frown creased her pretty forehead as she watched the hands of the clock move nearer to the midnight hour. She remembered the hurried kiss and the ‘Bye’ he’d whispered as he rushed out of the door that morning. Rebecca tried to think if there’d been any change in the way he normally behaved when he left to go to the office. There had been the usual last-minute scramble to eat his breakfast: there had been his usual inability to knot his tie in the pristine way he would normally have done, if he hadn’t been so eager to leave for work.
Then she remembered their hurried conversation whilst he’d been eating his toast and marmalade. He’d looked more than usually apprehensive.
‘Becky, my love’ he’d said, between mouthfuls. ‘I’ve a kind of important meeting with the boss-man this morning. Don’t know what it’s all about, but I could probably make a guess,’ he managed a wry smile. ‘Or perhaps he is going to offer me that rise I asked for some ago.’ He looked heavenwards and quickly wiped a few crumbs from his chin and stood up. ‘Well, the only way I’ll know is to get to the office. I’ll be home at the usual time…round about 7.30, OK?’
‘Yes, darling, but…’
‘No buts, I’ve got to go and if I hear anything, I’ll phone you.’ Rebecca took a deep breath and her husband put his arms around her. ‘Look sweetie, why the concerned face? If I’m not worried why should you be?’
‘But…’ Charlie gave her a stern look, followed by a grin. ‘Oh, I’m sorry Charlie, but nothing seems to be going right for us at the moment, does it? Everything is so expensive in the shops now and little Joanne desperately needs some new shoes and…’
‘Becky, I won’t say this again. Don’t fret. Look I must go,’ he said as he rushed out through the kitchen door.
Rebecca looked up at the clock again. Her heart began to thump. All her introspection had made the time go even more quickly. It was now a quarter past midnight. Something must have happened.
Just then a frightened wail came from upstairs. ‘Mummy, Mummy…I’m frightened. Where’s Daddy, I want him as well. Mummy…Mummy…’
Rebecca raced upstairs to find her precious three year old daughter standing at the top of the stairs and holding her beloved teddy-bear by his foot. ‘Mummy, I thought you’d gone…Mummy, I thought you’d gone. And I was in the woods and…’ Huge sobs racked her little body, and Rebecca picked her up and hugged her.
‘Oh my precious. I’m here, I wouldn’t leave you darling. I think you must have been dreaming. Come on, back to bed, otherwise you’ll be all grumpy in the morning.’ Rebecca carried her little daughter back into her bedroom and laid her back on to her crumpled bed.
‘I’m OK now, Mummy.’ Her little body was still racked with emotion as she said, ‘But Mummy, could you ask Daddy to come up and see me now please?’
‘Sorry Joanne darling, Daddy is busy at the moment. Just you go to sleep and you can see him in the morning.’ Rebecca looked down at her daughter. She was nearly asleep and clutching on to her teddy-bear as if he was the most precious thing in the world. Rebecca kissed her fingers and gently placed them on the sleepy child’s forehead.
Once she was back downstairs, she checked her mobile. Charlie hadn’t phoned her on the house phone, but perhaps he’d sent her a text or something, she thought, hope rising within her. Disappointment made her almost sob. ‘Oh where is the man,’ she called out in frustration. ‘It’s just not like him. Where is he?’
Picking up her mobile again, she dialled Anna’s number next door. They had a good relationship and she knew her friend was never in bed at this time of the night. Anna was an author and often spent hours writing into the night. She lived alone, her husband having walked out about a year ago and Rebecca had noticed that her house lights were still on. She tapped her fingers on the kitchen table as she waited impatiently for Anna to answer.
About a minute went by before she heard her friend enquire. ‘Hello, is that you Becky? What’s the matter is there something wrong?’ Her voice had a deep velvety, almost sexy quality normally, but now she only sounded anxious.
‘Yes, Anna. I’m sorry to ring you so late, but it’s gone midnight and Charlie isn’t home yet.’ The tears that she’d been trying to hold back were suddenly released and they cascaded down her cheeks. ‘Anna, it’s not like him to be late and he always phones if he is delayed in any way,’ she sobbed.
‘Look I’m sure there is a quite rational explanation for this, but what do you want me to do?’
‘Well, only a thought, but I could perhaps go out and look for him. If he is in some kind of trouble, I’ve an idea where he might be. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to come and sit in here for a while? Joanne is sound asleep now and I’m sure I won’t be long.’
‘Of course, I will. I’d do anything for you, and that little darling of yours,’ Anna said warmly… ‘Just give me a couple of minutes and I’ll save the 2,000 words I’ve written this evening: I’d hate to lose that. This latest tome of mine is going to be quite something you know,’ she said with a devilish laugh. Her phone was suddenly clicked off.
Anna was as good as her word and about five minutes later, she was standing on the doorstep and holding a rather large golfing umbrella. Rebecca tried not to look up at the clock as she put her coat on. The weatherman had said that there would be quite a lot of rain overnight and she opened the under-stairs cupboard to find her umbrella. Two of the spokes were broken and because funds were low, she hadn’t bought a new one. She gave Anna a hug, saying, ‘I won’t be long, I promise,’ and raced outside to her car.
Rebecca really needed her little car to start first time. It often didn’t. She turned the key and the car erupted into immediate life and she heaved a sigh of relief. By this time the rain was coming down even more heavily and the windscreen wipers only just managed to cope with the amount of water cascading down the screen.
Charlie had often told her that his early life had been a truly happy one, but something dreadful happened when he was about sixteen that changed his life for ever. Both his parents had been killed in a car accident. The flat he’d lived in as a child had become like a mecca to Charlie and whenever the family went out somewhere on a sunny day, he nearly always managed to drive along the road in which he used to live. He would slow down and give that familiar half smile as if he was remembering…
With these thoughts in mind, Rebecca seemed to know where she would find her husband. She stared ahead of her, trying to concentrate on driving in such dreadful weather. Not only was the rain getting heavier, but a mist was clamping down on the area. Even the street lights were dimmed as if covered by wet curtains. But nothing daunted, she persevered and ten minutes later turned into Madison Road. The road consisted of some old terraced houses and several shops with the upstairs rooms turned into flats. Half way down, was a baker’s shop which always sold the most delicious bread and cakes. The shop was still there, but under different ownership.
Charlie and his parents lived above the bakery for many years and often used to say, again using his half smile, ‘I made friends with the woman in the shop when I was about ten. I often used to pop my head around the door and I was always given a choice of freshly made rolls or small cakes and she never asked for any money from me: I never told my mother.’
Rebecca remembered all this as she drove along the road. Then, in the murky distance, she saw that a car was parked outside the shop and its headlights were still on. Someone was standing in the middle of the road near the car and a briefcase with its contents spilling out was gradually spreading on to the wet road.
She knew that it was Charlie. Her heart lurched with sorrow which quickly turned to relief as she pulled up and parked behind his car. He’d obviously left his car radio on, because she could clearly hear the sound of one of their favourite CDs. floating through the open door. She climbed out quickly and soon realised that Charlie was not aware of her arrival. He was standing facing the road with his head bowed. He was soaked to the skin, but didn’t seem aware of it as Rebecca raced to his side.
Charlie was crying. Rebecca threw her arms around him. ‘Charlie darling. What’s the matter? Why didn’t you come home, I’ve been desperately worried.’
Her husband suddenly became aware of her. ‘Hello Becky,’ he said. ‘Sorry sweetie. I was scared of what you would say and think of me.’
‘What do you mean? What’s happened?’
‘I’m a failure.’ His eyes brimmed over with tears and he turned his head away from her.
‘But darling, please tell me. Didn’t you get the salary rise you were hoping for, is that it?’
He turned towards her. ‘Oh, Becky, if only it was that simple. The company is going into liquidation. I’ll be lucky if I even get any redundancy money. What the hell are we going to do now, my darling? I’ve been standing here trying to get some inspiration, but there isn’t any. I’m finished, completely down the can. We’ll have to sell the house and…where will we go. We can’t go to stay with your parents. After all they couldn’t afford to keep us as well as themselves on their pension. Besides they haven’t any room.’ His eyes seemed to glaze over.
Just as he’d uttered these words, one of their most loved and treasured tracks from the CD suddenly burst from the car, filling the surrounding area with words of hope and love. He turned his tear-stained face towards the car again remembering…
Roger Ridley’s voice seemed to fill their world, as he sang the words:
“No matter who you are, No matter where you go in life, At some point you’re gonna need somebody…TO STAND BY YOU.”
Rebecca smiled up at him as she said… ‘And that somebody is me, my darling: I’ll stand by you.’
*** *** ***
My name is Phyllis Burton and I live near Farnham amongst the beautiful west-Surrey hills. I love putting my thoughts and those of my characters down on paper. I’ve written several short stories, one of which was read on the radio, three one-act plays, (one produced and directed by me). I love singing and water-colour painting: I painted the cover of A PASSING STORM which was published in 2006.
PAPER DREAMS was published by MATADOR on 1st December, 2011. The idea for the story started as a tiny seed and just like Pinocchio’s nose, it grew. There is a romantic thread running throughout, covering such diverse subjects as love and its loss, books, letters, family sorrow, obsessions, inheritance, greed, dreams, nightmares, and attempted murder. But above all, it is a story of people’s lives, their loves and how they eventually overcome adversity. I’ve found myself feeling sorry for my central character Katie, who is a bit of a dreamer: she has to endure some truly traumatic episodes, but like all true heroines, she wins out in the end. I love reading and tend to panic if I can’t find a book to read. I like to think that I inspired my elder son to write too: he has just published his second book. My daughter runs a copy-editing business, so I suppose I can say that it’s in the blood!
I am proud of PAPER DREAMS. Every author wishes their work to do well and I am no exception.
Phyllis Burton’s website: www.phyllisburton.com