The second the door closed I leapt up, grabbing the bag I had secreted in the closet, packed with only the most basic belongings that I would need, except for the tiny white bear, which belonged to our baby and I had clutched in my hands when he died and long afterwards.
I called for a taxi, using a card I had kept in my purse since my trip from the airport to Anna's on my arrival in LA. As I swept though the house, my final glances around the place that was our home, our nest, our haven from all others, memories sprang out at me. The piano we played, the table where we ate, the coffee mug he had used, still warm. Inanimate items teasing and taunting me, tempting me to break down and stop and stay.
Three hours later, I sat aboard a boeing 747, London Heathrow bound. I sat in the window seat, with no one beside me. I had asked the kindest looking steward to help me change seats for privacy, as I had suffered bereavement… because to all intents, I had... Two of them.
When the plane finally, taxied down the runway and lifted from the ground taking me away from LA, from the life I had known and from the truest purest love I had ever felt, my tears began to fall… they did not stop falling for many hours. My friend the steward brought me some food and tea when the cabin was dark and the other passengers dozing in low light.
'To keep your strength up.' He whispered, patting my arm. I nodded and looked him in the eyes with gratefulness but I could not speak or smile.
I arrived at my home in darkness, the little red brick and flint cottage such a familiar sight as I approached it from the lane when the taxi had dropped me off from my 12 hour long journey. It had been raining and the ground was muddy. My kindly old neighbour, Ken, had obviously heard the car and as I approached his door in the adjoining cottage, the porch light flicked on and I heard the bark of Tess, his lively young cocker spaniel.
'Stop it Tess' he scolded in his gruff but impressively strong voice. He was 80 now and had kept himself fit through years of homegrown vegetable cultivation and pheasant hunting at weekends. He had proudly told me three years before when I had moved into the cottage how he was virtually self-sufficient now and ever after had supplied me regularly with the extra produce he couldn't use. Potatoes, tomatoes, apples and occasionally a pheasant on a Sunday. Ken rarely smiled, but his voice had a kindly tone and he loved to chew the fat about the goings on in the area over the back garden fence whilst Tess sniffed and shuffled around in the woodpile for mice.
'You're back.' he observed soberly, as he opened the door and set eyes on me. Now bedraggled and exhausted, weighed down by my own tiredness.
Ken turned back to reach for the key hook behind the door and Tess escaped him as the door moved back, leaping out and nuzzling my hand excitedly.
I patted her soft head and she pushed her wet nose into my palm. Her contact: reminded me of Chester fleetingly.
'Hello Ken' I smiled, feeling genuinely relieved to see him. 'How are you?'
'Oh not so bad, can't complain at my age' he fumbled with the key ring, removing my keys for me and extending his knurled and twisted fingers to me to take them.
'Thank you for watching the house' I said gratefully. 'It was a comfort to know you were keeping an eye on the place'
'Oh it's nothing' he replied unable to take thanks or praise - as usual. Ken was more than happy to help, but embarrassed by anyone's appreciation for his efforts.
'I put all your post on the table there, was about to post it when you rang to say you were coming back. Lucky I wasn't quicker on my feet'
Tess barked at imaginary animals in the darkness.
'Tess' Ken growled in a low voice. 'Get inside' he pointed at the door and she lowered her head, re-entering he house compliantly. He was tough on her but loved her beyond all else. She was his only company, after the death of his siblings and parents, who passed away, one by one over the years. He had never married, staying in the family home he was born in, seeing out the life and care of his aging parents until he was the only one left to this day.
'I set you a fire inside, imagine it'll be cold tonight… you got matches there? He asked, instantly reaching into his pocket and presenting me with a small box without waiting for my reply.
'Thank you' I smiled at him. 'I think I need to rest now, it's been a very long journey' I sighed.
He nodded. 'Never understood it myself, all this travel… better to stick with the things you know'.
I stepped back and he closed the door.
Jet lag arrived in a hurry. I dropped my belongings on the wooden floorboards on the living room and climbed the steep curving staircase to my bedroom, only able to muster the energy to find sheets and pillowcases before falling under the covers, wrapping myself into them and slipping off to sleep immediately.
I woke at midday. The light shone through the tiny windows casting their criss-cross shadows, high on the light painted walls of my tiny bedroom.
I shivered at the contact with the cold air in the room and decided to light the fire and re-start my life again.
In the days, which followed, I set about reminding myself of my former life, my days and nights living in the cottage. Blustery walks in my boots to the village shop and post office to collect milk and bread. Chats with Ken over our garden fence until the pair of us rubbed our hands together with cold and retreated to our respective kitchen to brew tea and warm them on our cups. I bought myself a bunch of home décor magazines, taking them upstairs to sit in my bed and read them cover to cover then slept for hours. It seemed good therapy but I continued to dream of him by night. Imagining his face when he discovered I was gone, his panic as he wondered if I was ok until he read the note I had left on the kitchen counter asking him to respect what I had done and to go on with his life.
One evening I noticed a message waiting on my phone. 'Anna' 1 new message: What have you done Sarah? Please call me xxx.
I shuddered. Too much reality. Anna, still in LA would know full well the fall out of my departure, she might even have seen him, knowing how he was. I was afraid to find out. I fiddled with the keys of my phone, desperately trying to think of a way to reply, which would let her know that I was not ready to talk and I needed time. I put the phone down on the kitchen table and walked away from it; pacing into the living room and slumping onto the sofa, forcing the thoughts out of my mind. The phone rang, I jumped, startled by it, my heart racing as I panicked about who it could be. I didn't want to look at the screen in case it read 'Anna', or much worse 'SM'. I paced into the kitchen and picked up handset. 'Number witheld' 'Fine, if you're not going to tell me who you are, I'm not going to answer'. I let it ring out. Just as I was taking a breath of relief, a message beeped.
Curiosity got the better of me and I dialled into my voicemail.
The voice I heard shouldn't have surprised me.
'Sarah, this is Matt. I just wanted to know that you're ok. I'm not going to say call me because I know that would be unfair. I'm just asking you to think about what you've done, because I can't believe you have from the way you behaved. We're all worried about you honey. Seth is a different man without you. He needs you. Take care sweetie. I miss you.' The call cut off.
I realised tears had welled in my eyes. Matt's tone was so sober, so frank and completely genuine. I knew he called me because he wanted to, not because of some duty to Seth, and it touched me. It would have been easy to rant about Seth but he barely mentioned him, it was his relationship with me, which drove him to it. I rubbed away a tear and swallowed the lump forming in my throat. For a brief moment I wanted to call him back. I would have loved to give myself the comfort of talking to him. Kind, caring Matt. It gave me peace to know he was there for Seth. 'I mustn't crumble' I muttered to myself. Gritting my teeth and leaving the phone where it was. I flicked on the TV, decisively ignoring the fact that I had not got back to Anna. I was not ready for the reality that a conversation with her might bring. I was not ready to have my resolve broken.
I visited my family in Scotland for a week, my elderly parents knew nothing of my experiences, they understood that I worked away regularly and I had told them I was working with Anna in LA. Much as I knew they loved me, I didn't need them anymore and lived my life independently, as did they. Visiting them was the perfect escape. I need not mention anything I was keeping wrapped away in the back of my mind. My visit was peaceful, walks with my father and Piper the dog on the moors. Baking scones with my mother in the stone floored kitchen on her old range cooker. Her hands were becoming arthritic, but she was fit as ever, keeping the house and garden immaculate. In the afternoons we all read and dozed by the iron stove in the living room, burning the wood we had collected in the morning on our walks, before waking around five when my mother would rise and prepare our evening meal, my father knew his role and carried it out without prompt from her, the laying of the table and the warming of the wine before washing any pots and plates my mother had finished with in her preparations.
I watched them from the table fondly as we all listened to comedy sketch shows on Radio Four, before the news and 'The Archers' came on.
I had begun to feel as though I might have made progress and grown away from my LA life. I decided perhaps I could take a call to Anna now, who after all deserved a chance to talk to me. She had done nothing but be my friend, I owed her this at least.
I waited until my parents had gone to bed, the time in LA, I knew would be morning and I could catch Anna before work.
'Sarah' she yelled 'Oh thank God. Are you ok?'
'It's good to hear your voice' I said honestly.
'You too… I am so fucking mad with you Sarah I don't know where to begin.' She gasped. 'Jesus, give me a minute' she caught her breath and paused.
'So do you want to tell me what happened and why the hell you didn't talk to me?'
'Anna…. Look I'm sorry' I stammered, thinking I might well have made a mistake with this call. 'I just… what I did is for the best Anna. I didn't talk to you or anyone else because it was something I decided I had to do… it wasn't anyone's business except mine'
'Oh God' she sighed. 'You didn't even think to talk to Seth?' She said incredulously. 'I couldn't' I muttered.
'Why the hell not? I don't get it Sarah… you two were so close. Why couldn't you talk to him? I don't understand'
'It's hard to explain Anna, really hard.' I muttered.
'Try me?' she said more calmly.
'I did it for Seth' I said finally.
'For Seth?' she repeated. 'I'm sorry, but I fail to see the logic there… Seth is… well Sarah I didn't want to make this into a guilt-trip for you, I'm just happy you're ok… but I have to tell you honey, Seth is a broken man….'
I sighed. 'He'll be ok' I said instantly.
'Oh Sarah' she sighed 'He will survive, but he is not the same person without you. He's working all hours, drinking too much, he won't see anyone or do anything. He just writes music and plays the piano all evening. Matt says he's barely sleeping and he's not taking care of himself. He must have lost a stone in weight already'
I bit my lip, feeling numb, refusing to emotionally connect with what was being said to me, and the images it brought me. I ignored the pain in my chest.
'He's better off without me, Anna… once he gets over this, he'll be better off… all I ever brought him was turmoil and in the end pain… he was better off without me. I did it for him.'
'I don't know what to say Sarah' she sighed. 'You're just not sounding like you. You love him Sarah - he loves you. Remember that? And you know… it's not your fault about the baby… no ones fault…'
'Anna, I've got to go now. My mother is calling me', I lied. You're a good friend and I'm sorry I let you down' 'you didn't let me down' she interrupted. 'I'll call you soon take care. I cut her off before she could do any more damage to my resolve.
I drove the 400 miles back to my home the next day. I had been unable to shake the sickness, which stuck in my throat since my call with Anna.
I could only face dry food because in my throat burning acid kept rising in my anxiety.
I was exhausted on arriving back at the cottage, going straight to bed again to avoid thinking time. The images of Seth, sorrowful and lonely haunted my sleep. I missed him so badly – physically and mentally, and it was the first time I had allowed myself to even think it. I had shut my mind to thoughts of him because they were too painful. I realised I was repeating my daze-like state I fell into when I lost the baby. I wondered if I would ever wake or if I would succeed eventually to detach my emotions and move on from him forever. I believed I was paying the ultimate price for love and that what I was doing was right. I believed in my actions, that I did not deserve him and I was showing love for him beyond myself and this was what he deserved.
My sickness continued, my nausea, which stuck in the back of my throat and would not go away, I understood this would potentially be an hysterical reaction to my pain and that in time I would see it off. I asked Ken to drive me to my doctors one afternoon as I fell too dizzy to do so myself. He waited with Tess in his old Land Rover in the lane next to the primary school, whist I went to my appointment and made a discovery there which brought me out of there in a daze.
'You need looking after' he observed when I climbed silently back into the passenger seat and slumped backwards, I felt weak and stunned.
'I shall find my sister's tincture recipe. She was never ill in years, she swore by it.'
I nodded in response, but did not speak, lost in my thoughts and my nausea and the floating dizziness, which washed over me intermittently, not quite registering the outcome of my appointment.
He drove us back through the village and up into the narrow lanes. He reached for the radio button as he drove, and switched it on. Radio 3 was playing. The programme, was a collection of songs, selected by the presenter and introduced with a brief back story to each one, explaining it's origin or inspiration. I gazed out at the drizzle, watching the wipers move back and forth hypnotically, a light screech on each return.
The radio droned on..." and our special guest today is a critically acclaimed American singer-song writer. In this, the second release from his new album, he explained to our reporter Julie Mc Manahan, his inspiration for the track and the rather emotive reason for its release". I was only half listening, but felt a jolt of recognition inside me, which stunned me as the name was announced. 'Seth MacFarlane, welcome to the programme.'
Then I heard him. I stopped my breath instinctively, instantly straining my ears over the sound of the growling engine as it moved through the gears.
'Now this track is an interesting one Seth, and I believe quite an emotive subject-matter for you?'
'Uh, yes.. yes it is. It's quite personal.' He sounded tired to me. I was amazed at how I could still tell, even where I was and how I was hearing him, that the nuances of his voice were still detectable to me.
His voice was low and lacked energy. 'The song is about a guy acknowledging regret about a relationship he's lost… He's saying he only realises now that it's gone, just how much it meant to him and he is haunted by the memories of it'
'I see. So this is something, which clearly comes from your own heart Seth. Was this an experience you, yourself have been through?'
'Uh, well yes in a way… I have some regrets, about the past… it's kind of therapy for me. In releasing this, I guess I'm trying to exorcise the past or… no, no, it's not that… I guess, to be honest, in releasing this, I'm kind of saying it's not over for me and I don't think, it ever will be. I guess…. I'm reaching out to her when I sing this…hoping she'll hear me. Her name is Sarah'
'That's very moving… Well let's hear the song which is for Sarah, right now, thank you for talking to us today Seth, and here's the new release from Seth's album, the song is 'It's Easy to Remember.'
Dumbstruck, I felt a rush to my head, I felt like I'd been slapped awake. Ken realised nothing of the relevance this moment held for me and I showed no outward reaction. I steadied myself by holding the sides of the seat and when Ken pulled up on the drive in front of our cottages, I didn't move so he came around to my side to open the door and offered his arm to help me get out.
'You're looking very pale, you ought to get inside' Ken murmured.
'Thank you Ken. I stammered. Unable to look at him and knowing I needed very much to get inside and make a call.
My fingers trembled as I rummaged in my bag for my mobile phone. 'Damn it' I muttered, as my fumbling made it hard to carry out any task with ease.
I found it and pressed the keys, focused on the task now, not thinking about anything but dialling the number. Finally I had awakened, snapped out of my grief and my pretence and my desire to punish myself, realising what I had done and praying that I could make things right again.
My heart was thumping hard as I heard the connection and the ringing on the line, waiting for that moment when he would answer and how I would feel when he did. Everything seemed to be happening so slowly, like the midst of a car crash, yet my responses were so fast and acute and uncontrollable,
'Yeah' came the reply. His voice low and quiet, gruff and sleepy. I paused, unable to find the breath to speak, due to holding it for so long.
'Hello' he said again, slightly louder, but in the same tone.
'Seth…' I whispered.
'Oh God. Seth!' I said softly and began to cry.
'Sarah' he said, his voice melting into a softer concerned tone.
'Are you ok?'
'Mmm', I murmured, unable to speak again, as his presence brought a wave of emotion to me so powerful that it took my breath again.
'I heard you' I whispered through my tears.
'I heard you on the radio… the song…for me'
'You did?…. I never thought you would … but I'd hoped, somehow.' he said softly.
'I'm so sorry Seth…' I trailed off. 'I'm sorry for what I've done.'
'Why did you leave me?' he asked gently, no malice, just sadness.
I took a deep breath.
'I … I was trying to do the best thing for you…' I mumbled.
'How could leaving me be the best thing… I need you and then you leave?' he sounded frustrated and confused.
'I know, I know… I just felt as though... I let you down though. Like I couldn't be all you needed and then the baby… I took that away from you… it was my fault and I couldn't live with it'
I began to sob.
'Don't you ever think that way, that is NOT true.' He said firmly, but then softened again. 'Is that why you left? Why couldn't you talk to me…? Sarah, I was grieving too, I would have understood… we could have helped each other, but you wouldn't talk.'
'I didn't want to make it worse for you… I loved you. I couldn't even bear to look at you. Seeing your pain hurt me more than my own. I just couldn't stand it, and I blamed myself…. my stupid, stupid body that wouldn't work….and yet through all of it, all you ever did was love me and care for me… I felt as though I didn't deserve it… I was giving nothing back to you, just taking and you had a right to more than I was able to be… so I thought you'd be better off without me.'
'I'm stunned Sarah… I don't know what to say to you. Surely you don't believe those things? You are the greatest…' he paused and swallowed, considering his words. 'You are the only love of my life… there will never be another. You're all I ever wanted and you're all that I need. My life stopped being worth anything the day you left.' He paused and went silent.
Perhaps he was afraid that he had gone too far and that I would push him away again. I was silent too but so much flooded through my mind. The only clear thought, which came through to me, I said aloud.
'I thought I was doing the right thing… but I was wrong. I never stopped loving you… I don't think that I could… And I miss you. I miss you so much.
I heard him take a shaky breath, his voice came back after a second and for the rest of my life, no memory will be clearer to me than the words he spoke.
'Sarah, I love you too, I want you, I need you. You're the only woman that ever really made me happy and so… so I'm asking you now to come back to me… come back to LA and live with me… but as my wife… '
I smiled through my tears laughing and crying at the same time.
'Your wife' I repeated quietly.
'Yes. Sarah will you marry me - please...?'
After my acceptance and exchanges of desperate declarations of love between us. He announced. 'I can't do this on the phone. I need to see you. I'm coming to get you, right now'.
'What? Right now?'
'I'm leaving this minute. I don't care what I have to do. I'll call you from the airport, just tell me where I have to get to?'
Waiting was the hardest thing of all. I had suppressed my feelings up until this point but now they had been set free, and reciprocated, now he had asked me to be his wife and my body ached for him. It was 10 in the morning; I knew he would not reach me until very late that night or even early the next day… Not knowing was torturous and my body continued to shake with nerves and excitement and anticipation of that moment I saw him again and our eyes met once more.
I cleaned the cottage to keep my mind busy, wondering what he would make of my tiny little home in the middle of nowhere… so very different to the size and perfection of LA, but in many ways he needed to see this. He needed to know every part of my life, even what was before him, so it felt right that he came.
My nausea seemed to lift almost instantaneously but I still couldn't eat. I kept up my tea intake, almost like a nervous tick and must have drunk 6 cups in 3 hours.
My phone rang in the living room. I ran to it. 'SM'.
'You ok?' I asked anxiously
'Yeah, are you?'
'I'm fine - what's happening?'
'The airport's a disaster, the flight I'm on is going to be delayed they think… bad weather or something… I just don't know what time they're gonna call us… can you watch the arrivals board online? My flight is BA254.' He sounded agitated and full of energy, his booming voice coming through for the first time in a long while.
'Ok yes I can, I'll watch for you…'
'God, I just want to be with you, this is killing me' he said painfully.
'I know, I know… soon' I soothed.
'Text me when you can, I love you so much' I said.
'Me too, I love you honey'
He cut off.
'Damn it' I muttered, I hoped I would know after his call how long I would need to wait but now I was less certain than ever!
I logged into Heathrow arrivals board on line, knowing already that his flight would not be displayed at least until after it had taken off, but I did it anyway… taking every step I could towards having him with me, any little obstacle I could move to get him to me.
By 8pm I was mad with anticipation. Arrivals showed his flight had left only an hour later than planned after all and caught up on some time across the Atlantic due to a good headwind, A small victory. I text messaged him to catch the train from London to Midhurst and said that I would meet him from the station.
I arrived there far too early, only waiting minutes after seeing the flight had landed, before slamming down the laptop screen, grabbing my coat and pulling on boots and gloves… knowing I would be waiting at the deserted station for quite some time and it was freezing and pitch dark outside.
Rain was lashing down and the wind was blustering around, tearing at the trees, creating howling and whooshing sounds with each gust, spraying rain in every direction except downward. I sat with the car engine running and the heating and wipers going as the rain lashed against the glass and my eyes refused to focus on the blurring and pooling water sliding down the windscreen.
By 10.45pm the station departure and arrivals board was simply reading 'due'. I frowned at the frustrating obviousness of it. He had not called me to say he'd caught the right train. I wondered how practical he could be in such situations and wondered if I should have driven all the way to Heathrow instead to bring him back.
At last, the lights of the train appeared in the distance, the humming of the rails intensifying as it drew closer, wheels hissing and sparking against the rails, coated in rainwater. I couldn't wait where I was. I got out of the car, the wind hit me and I struggled with my coat, buttoning it up and not bothering to secure the car, no one was there anyway. I ran to the lights of the station building, splashing through puddles, shrouded by darkness, feeling the water, which sloshed over my legs, seeping through the material of my jeans and cooling in an instant and sticking them to my skin.
I stood on the platform alone as the train rumbled noisily in and the breaks screeched slightly as it halted, the hiss of the doors as they opened, and then the sight of a tall, dark figure who stepped out onto the platform and into the howling storm.
I stood in the rain, staring at him. Distant, at the end of the platform, his bag held in his hand. He looked up, probably just able to make out the shape of the only other figure standing on that platform and he started walking. Pacing at speed toward me and I stood dumbstruck once more at the sight of him. As he came closer and I was able to make out his face, I began walking too, towards him, unable to wait any longer than necessary and time slowed down to a crawl.
Then, like the moment back on the red carpet, that precious, significant, life changing hour-long second when we first set eyes on each other, it happened again. The pang, the electricity, the power. Those beautiful dark, shining eyes met mine, but only for a second before his bag fell to the ground and his arms were around me, wrapping me inside his coat and holding me so tightly I could not breathe.
'My Sarah' he whispered into my hair as his familiar smell washed over me and I pressed my head into his chest.
We smiled so much that our faces ached, I brought him to my home and took care of him, made him tea and we dried our clothes by the fire, then sat at the table, grinning at each other, deliriously happy simply to see each others faces once more.
He tired very quickly, jet lag arriving as suddenly as it did for me and I took him to my bed where he slept in my arms, while I smiled and kissed him when he sighed in his sleep.
In the morning we woke to sunlight. The storm was over and a crisp winter day had begun.
Seth loved my little house, and was soon content and at home, making us tea and keeping the fire fed with logs from the pile, introducing himself to Ken after which they talked about hunting and men's things over the back fence.
We took a trip to the town hall later that week, once our plans were decided. We gave our details in a scruffy little office, to a kindly tubby lady registrar in her late 50's. She smiled as us, remarking at how romantic our plans were, telling us she could see how in love we were and we grinned and squeezed each other's hands happily.
Our day would be a Wednesday... so apparently insignificant, yet the most important day of our lives.
We married alone, in a garden where a small stone temple stood above a dell, surrounded by trees.
We lit candles and scattered rose petals across the floor by our feet. Seth looked so handsome in his dark suit and long black coat, and I ruffled his neatly brushed hair playfully, to make it messy how it usually was and how I loved it.
My dress was floor-length and I wore a feather shawl around my shoulders and tiny roses woven into my hair. He told me I looked perfect.
After the ceremony, we lay in my bed face to face, clutching each other tightly. No words for this moment, as we held each other, looking into each other's eyes, remembering all of the loss and the longing, the fear, the love, and the joy since we had met, as thoughts and memories flooded back though our minds.
He quoted from poetry, as we gazed at each other contentedly, now husband and wife, whispering softly. 'My angel, my all, my very self…. ever mine, ever thine…'
'…ever ours' I whispered back, finishing for him.
Then I gently took his hand, and laid it against my tummy. I paused.
'He is ours...' I said softly, waiting for Seth to register what I was telling him... that I was pregnant with his child once more.
'I found out about him last week just before I called you. I added in confirmation.
Seth's eyes flickered in recognition, then widened in amazement.
'He'll be with us in December.' I whispered, pressing my head against his, realising he understood.
We wept together then: for the child we had lost, for the love we had found and for the wonderful future, which lay before us with our baby son growing strong inside me.
I had never seen Seth cry, but now he did so openly with joy, and I understood that I had reached the very core of him. I held him tenderly, but with all my strength. I knew at last what a precious gift I had received the day his love found me and now I finally felt able to give it back to him measure for measure.
In our marriage, I had vowed to love him and care for him from that day and for the rest of my life, and I knew without doubt that I would.
Our son was born in Los Angeles, one cold late December morning, just as the sun was rising.
He was perfect and tiny with his father's beautiful dark shining eyes.
We brought him home with us to care for him and I smiled as I watched Seth cradle him tenderly in his arms, so proud to be his father, so in love with his son.
These two precious people made up my world and my purpose now, they embodied the only meaning there ever could be in life and they made me feel complete.
Seth kissed those tiny fingers so gently, and told his son that he loved him. Then realising the magic of the moment I was in, I took a mental picture of them for my collection.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.
I also hope our man Seth finds his 'happily ever after' some day... :)