The autumn I’d found myself in melted into winter, as November became December. The nights were drawing in, the air was colder, and I was still just as far away from home as I’d ever been. My foot had healed, but I still had no idea where to go, and every time I tried to think about leaving Nat would look at me wistfully and say one more week won’t hurt. She really was a lonely little thing. Still, at least I was mobile now, and could help to clean the house and cook the food, so I didn’t feel like a complete and total useless lump.
I decided that since I was genuinely stuck here, I’d better set about making a life for myself. It was about time for all that A-level English creative writing experience to be put to good use.
I told Nat that as my memory returned to me, different things were coming back. I told her that I still believed I was from the 21st century – I didn’t think I could convincingly fake knowing what life was like in the ‘60s – but that my parents had recently died.
“That’s why you tried to look for them,” said Nat. “You’d forgotten they’d died.”
I swallowed hard, feeling genuine tears in my eyes. It wasn’t a total lie. They were as good as dead, weren’t they?
“Oh God, you poor thing,” said Nat sadly.
I then told her then that I was remembering being evicted from my parents’ house – no job, no money, no future at all – and that I had stepped in front of that car, seeing no further reason to go on. The story sounded so plausible that even I began to believe that that was actually what had happened. Why else would I have been out on that road in front of that car?
But that still didn’t explain why I was apparently in 1963 when I could still remember 2014 as vividly as the back of my own hand. And my parents were alive. They were.
Once I had finished recounting this story, I became legitimately overcome with emotion – not because of how painful it was recounting these ‘experiences’, but because I felt so terrible for having to lie to Nat. And because I missed my parents so much.
“Oh, Charlie!” Nat had cried, and pulled me into a hug.
Good God, it felt so wonderful to be held by her. I hated manipulating her like this.
One night, Nat and I sat side by side on the sofa listening to something on the radio. Fairly close, but not close enough for my liking. Not close enough to touch.
“Charlie,” Nat said suddenly, turning to look at me. “What are you afraid of?”
“Wow. Bit of a strange question,” I replied. Nat sighed.
“I know, it is rather. But… I mean, we’re all afraid of something aren’t we?” she said.
“Where’s this heading? Is there something you want to say to me Nat? Are you legitimately still afraid I’m going to knife you in your sleep?”
That got a laugh out of her.
“No, no, it’s not that,” she said. “It’s just… you go first.”
“OK… well, I have these terrible nightmares.” I said.
“Yeah. Really vivid, terrible dreams. Like I’m being chased by a rapist, or murdered by a smoke monster or something. They always feel so real to me.”
“God, how awful.”
“Yeah. But then I wake up, and I realise that they aren’t real after all. That they’re nothing to be scared of.”
I paused, and looked intently at Nat. I decided to just jump in and say what I’d been dying to say all this time.
“There are some things that are worth being scared of, though, aren’t there?” I said. “My parents’ reaction was one for me. But they were so supportive, I couldn’t have been luckier.”
“What do you mean? Reaction to what?” said Nat, but I could tell from the tears in her eyes that she had a couple of ideas already.
I took her hands in my own – her breath caught in her throat.
“Nat… if you can believe it, there are certain things that you’re allowed to say in 2014. A lot has changed. England’s become a lot more tolerant of people like us.” I said gently.
Her eyes widened. “Us?” she whispered. “You mean…?”
I nodded. She burst into tears, her head sinking into her hands.
“Oh my God, Charlie! All these years… so frightened somebody would find out…” she wept.
“I know, sweetheart, I know,” I said.
“I had a girlfriend and everything, and she told me she loved me, but then one day she just turned and threatened to tell everybody that I was some sort of lesbian sexual predator who’d lured her in and hurt her… I had to beg! Literally beg her not to tell! She blackmailed me for months, and I couldn’t tell the police because then I’d have to tell them I was…” Nat’s voice trailed off, as it became too difficult for her to form words over her sobbing.
“Nat, it’s OK.” I told her, putting my arm around her shoulders. “You don’t have to be afraid, not with me. I won’t tell anyone. But all the same, you shouldn’t feel bad about who you are. It doesn’t make you a freak, or a weirdo, or a bad person. Just a bit different.”
Those had been almost the exact words my mum had said when I’d come out to her.
I waited for her sobbing to subside and, once it had, she looked up at me with a watery smile.
“Well, then, I suppose you’ve worked out my little ploy,” said Nat. “I didn’t want you to leave because… I think you’re lovely, Charlotte. I wanted you to stay with me in case you suddenly decided you were in love with me or something.”
“Who says I’m not?” I replied. “I think you’re lovely too, Natalie.”
A moment of silence. Then she and I both started laughing, both from the revelation and the use of our full names, and hugged each other tight.