Spring 2017 – London
Elise was officially moved into her small one bedroom downtown London flat. As she set down the small box labeled ‘kitchen utensils’ on the small island counter that divided her kitchen from her living room, she relished in the fact that she was really doing it. She really made it. The flat wasn’t much, but it was a giant step up from her shithole flat back in Cheshire.
Frankly, she was sure as hell not going to miss anything about Holmes Chapel. She wouldn’t miss the small town or the people in it. Yeah, she most certainly wasn’t going to miss the people. She wouldn’t miss her so-called friends who ditched her long ago. She wouldn’t miss the random people she met along the way. And she wouldn’t miss her parents – either one of them. Her childhood was less than ideal and her parents had everything to do with it.
Her father, Joseph, was ex-military. After being discharged, having gotten injured in the Soviet War, he didn’t quite know what to do with his life. His solution – marrying the first woman who came along and relying solely on the bottle of whiskey in his hand to numb him from his mediocre existence. Elise’s mother, Marianne, didn’t have much going for her when her father met her. She worked in a diner and went to beauty school. When she got pregnant with Elise’s older brother Edward, she dropped out of school to focus on the family she and her new husband never planned on having. Elise was born a year after her brother into the dysfunctional arms of her parents.
The summer of Elise’s thirteenth year was the hottest summer she could remember off hand. She didn’t know if it was burned into her brain from memory or if it was there because that’s how everyone started the story of how her brother died.
She didn’t remember much of that day – just bits and pieces, but the look on her mother’s face would haunt her for the rest of her life.
July 2007 – Holmes Chapel
“Elise, let’s go!” Edward bellowed to her from the bottom of the steps at their tiny home.
“I can’t find my other sandal!” Ellie yelled to him.
“Put on a different pair!” He called out to her, causing her to roll her eyes.
Yeah, okay Eddie. How many pairs of shoes did he think she owned? They weren’t made of money. Their parents barely made enough to get by let alone have the extra money to buy things that were unnecessary, like excessive amounts of shoes.
“Elise, what’s the hold up?” She heard her mother’s voice next as she knelt in front of her bed, with her head peeking underneath it looking for the stupid plastic flip flop she couldn’t seem to locate.
“I CAN’T FIND MY SHOE!” Elise yelled loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. How many times did she have to repeat herself?
“Oh, for God’s sake…” She heard her mother gripe.
Did they really expect her to go to the lake wearing her tennis shoes or her church shoes? She didn’t think so.
“El, your shoe is right here. Mum found it,” Edward said, standing in her bedroom doorway. She let out a loud sigh as she looked up at her older brother who held out the red sandal.
“Thanks,” she grumbled, getting up to retrieve it.
“Maybe you should keep better track of your belongings,” he offered.
“Maybe you should shut your face,” she snapped, glaring at him.
“Maybe you should clean your room,” he said, looking at the disheveled mess her room now was after searching for her shoe.
“Maybe you should mind your own business,” she said, shoving him playfully.
“Maybe you two should get in the car before I change my mind about taking you to the lake,” Mum said, suddenly standing right in front of them.
Elise and Edward hurried off down the stairs and straight out the door to her mother’s battered old station wagon. Elise hated that car. She hated it with a passion – the way it rumbled and shook as it idled or the way the exhaust pipe puffed out black clouds of what she could only describe as toxic smoke or the fact that the radio knob was broken so it was stuck on a horrid station only played old American country western music. As she got older, she got more and more embarrassed of that old car. She even opted walking the mile or so to school when it was nice out instead of having mum drop her off.
The lake was rather crowded that day – being recorded at 101 degrees in the sun. There wasn’t much of the shoreline that wasn’t littered with people or their belongings. And the coast of the water was scattered with bobbing heads, up until the drop off point. Mum pulled out her old lawn chair, plopping it right in the shade with her romance novel in hand. She waved El and Eddie off with a warning to stay close and that she would have her eye on them. Immediately they ran for the water, splashing in, enjoying the coolness on their sticky skin.
Of course Edward found his friends right away and ditched Elise, which she wasn’t too keen on. There wasn’t much fun to be had in a lake alone. Elise swam in circles for a while, and tried to see how long she could hold her breath underwater, but with nobody there timing her it was almost pointless.
“Mum, I’m bored,” Elise whined as she walked up to her mother, who was lost in the pages of her book.
“Where is your brother?” She asked, pulling her eyes up to scan the shoreline for Eddie’s blonde head.
“Over there – with a bunch of kids,” Elise said, pointing in his general direction.
“Why don’t you go over there too then? There looks to be plenty of kids your age,” she offered.
“But they’re boys,” El whined, scrunching her nose up in disgust.
“Your thirteen years old, you shouldn’t be afraid of boys anymore,” her mother said, giving her a knowing look.
“I’m not afraid of boys!” El protested.
“Then go,” she said, shooing her off.
Elise crossed her arms tightly over her chest and stalked off toward the lake again. Reluctantly, she stood on the beach watching her brother and the other boys. They looked like they were having a good time. Why not go over there? She wanted to have fun too. Slowly but surely, she made her way out to where the group of boys were wading in the water.
“What do you want, El?” Edward asked, eyeing his little sister.
“I dunno,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I dunno,” she said, shrugging again.
He rolled his eyes at her, but didn’t say anything else in the matter. He just went back to talking and laughing with his friends.
“Hi,” Elise heard. She turned to see a curly-hair boy floating next to her in the water.
“Uh, hi,” she said, feeling a slight blush creep up her cheeks, despite the heat that was already pooled there from the beating sun.
“What’s your name?” He asked curiously.
“Elise,” she told him.
“Elise. Hmm. That’s a weird name,” he told her, causing her to scrunch up her nose at him.
“Well, what’s yours?” She scoffed, feeling offended by his words.
“Harry,” he said with a wide smile.
“Pfft,” she scoffed again. Of course he didn’t have a weird name for her to make fun of.
“I’ve seen you at church before,” he pointed out.
Elise squinted at him, trying to recognize his face. She kind of did, but he looked different somehow.
“Do you wear glasses?” She asked.
“Yeah. I just can’t wear them in the water,” he told her, nodding his head.
“I’ve seen you at church too. Your dad is part of the ministry,” she pointed out.
“Yeah. That’s him,” Harry smiled widely. She could tell he was proud of his father.
She secretly envied that about him. Her father worked in a factory all day and then came home to drink himself to sleep in front of the television. There was nothing to be proud about. Her mother was the one to take them to church on Sunday’s. She always tried to get her husband to go with them, but he was much too hung-over for that sort of thing.
“Wanna see who can hold their breath the longest underwater?” Harry asked cheerfully.
“Sure,” she smiled, immediately remembering how incredibly boring it was to do it by herself.
Harry went first, then it was El’s turn. By the time she came up for air, Harry was telling her they were going to go over to where the high school kids made a rope swing into the water.
“But wait, who won?” Elise asked about their little contest.
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said as he trudged through the lake after the other boys.
“I want to know who won,” she told him, trailing behind him.
“What does it matter?” He called over his shoulder.
“Because,” she whined and he scoffed.
“I won, didn’t I?” She smiled proudly.
“Pssh,” Harry scoffed.
“I WON!” Ellie laughed.
“Whatever. We’ll do best out of three,” Harry said, shrugging it off. Elise smiled to herself as they reached the outer banks of the lake.
“This is awesome!” A boy named Gavin said as they came across the rope swing they were talking about.
“Right on!” Eddie called out.
“That’s my cousin, Gavin,” Harry told Elise proudly.
“I’m going first!” Gavin said, already having the rope in his hand as he walked toward the shore.
“That looks dangerous,” Elise told Harry as she watched the tree branch it was tied to sway and bend as Gavin pulled it toward shore.
“It looks awesome!” Harry said in awe of the contraption.
Elise rolled her eyes. Of course these stupid boys would think it looked awesome. They don’t think logically when adventure is staring them in the face.
“1, 2, 3 – here I go!” Gavin yelled as he pulled back and jumped off the rock he climbed up on.
Harry and Elise watched as the rope guided him out over the water with the momentum he built up with his running jump. Seconds later he splashed into the lake and everyone cheered. No matter how fun it ultimately looked, Elise couldn’t help but be aware of just how stupid of an idea it was. If their mum saw them, she’d have their heads.
“THAT WAS AWESOME!” Gavin yelled once he surfaced.
A few of the other boys took their turns, splashing into the water in joyous jumps, causing Elise to cringe every time. When she saw Edward grab the rope for his turn, her stomach tied in knots.
“Edward!” She called out. His eyes met hers as she stood on the shore.
“Don’t,” she said, her eyes pleading with his.
“Ellie, don’t be such a baby,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes at her.
El bit her lip as she watched her brother pull the rope back and begin his quick little run. Just as he took his leap there was a loud snap.
“EDWARD!” Elise screamed at the top of her lungs as she watched her brother fall from the high rock, landing below.
Elise couldn’t remember much more from that day. Her state appointed therapist she saw in the weeks after Edward’s death said it was her brains way of blocking out the trauma – to not remember it.
She remembered paramedics and police officers – every one of them was questioned about the incident. She remembered her mother’s gasping sobs and the tears that flooded her eyes seeing her only son laid out, unable to do anything about it. She remember the red tint of the water where Edward’s body had lay, until paramedics took him away on a stretcher under a pale white sheet – until the tide washed the blood out. She remember how peaceful Edward looked laying on the shore – even though she knew there was nothing peaceful about the situation. There was nothing she could do but watch on as everything happened in fast motion around her. There was no one to comfort her – not with her mother falling apart by the ambulance. All the boys that were with them prior to the incident had long been sent home with their mother’s and father’s – including Ellie’s new friend Harry. She was just there – in shock after watching her brother die.
She couldn’t remember much of the days leading up to the funeral. She just remembered her father drinking himself to sleep – like usual. And she remembered hearing her mother’s sobs every night as she lay in bed trying to get to sleep. Sleep wasn’t easy to come by – not with flashes of the last moments of her brother’s life haunting her. She should have done more to stop him. She should have begged him not to do it.
Elise didn’t speak much in the days leading up to the funeral – nobody was there to ask her how she felt or how she was doing. It was just her, mum, and dad – none of them speaking to each other. Edward was gone. Her brother, her best friend. He was just gone.
Elise refused to go up to the casket – not only because her mother hovered over it sobbing, for most of the visitation period, but because she was afraid. She was afraid of what Edward would look like. She was afraid it wouldn’t be him anymore. She never saw a dead body in all her life, but having seen countless zombie movies with Edward, she imagined him to look somewhat scary like that. And that wasn’t how she wanted to remember him. She just sat back in a pew, watching everyone in their black, mourning attire and just waited. She was waiting for it all to be over. She was waiting to wake up from the nightmare. She was just waiting for anything.
“Hi,” she heard a familiar voice.
Ellie looked up to see Harry sit down next to her in the pew, wearing a stuffy black suit and his glasses he wore when he wasn’t in the water. His hair wasn’t such a mess, but she figured it was because it wasn’t sopping wet.
“Hi,” El said, her voice cracking from lack of use.
“Are you… are you okay?” He asked.
“Yeah,” she said with a somber nod.
“I’m sorry,” he said, bowing his head, looking down at his hands. She knew he was talking about Edward.
“Thanks,” she said quietly. He nodded as they fell into a comfortable silence.
“My middle name is Edward,” Harry pointed out several moments later.
Elisa looked up into his hopeful eyes. She didn’t know what he was trying to get across by telling her that, but as soon as his eyes darkened into sadness, she knew he was only trying to make her feel better. She gave him a small smile before her eyes fell to the back of the church pew once again. Harry sat with her for the rest of the visitation and all throughout the service. They didn’t talk, they just observed. The fact that he was there for her meant so much more to her than she could ever comprehend.
And when she started school that September, Harry was there. Harry was always there, through everything.
Until he wasn’t anymore.
Unpacking her new flat was a feat. She didn’t even have very much stuff, but unpacking after driving all throughout the night, really took its toll. She was exhausted.
All she had was a bed, a dresser and some lamps to furnish her flat, all of which she picked up at a thrift shop. There wasn’t much she could fit in her car on her road trip. The dresser hung out her trunk, the mattress was strapped to her roof and the lamps were shoved in the interior of her car with the few boxes of all of her worldly possessions. It was a long journey, but she made it.
And now there she was, settling in to a new city, a new job – a whole new life. She left a lot behind in Holmes Chapel, but it wouldn’t be missed.
Spring 2017 – London
“You know, the way she kept everything from me for so long – I-I just don’t know if I can trust her anymore,” Harry told his friend Jonathan as they sat outside a little café having lunch in downtown London.
“What do you mean you don’t know if you can trust her anymore? Of course you can’t trust her anymore, mate,” Jonathan scoffed.
Samantha – his now ex-girlfriend was the girl they were talking about.
“She started hanging out with that bloke while you two were still dating. Who knows what they did when they were alone,” Jonathan reminded him.
“She said she didn’t cheat on me,” Harry said, wiping his mouth as he chewed the bite of burger he just shoved in his mouth.
“As far as I’m concerned, she did. Sleeping over at another bloke’s house – alone with him while she’s got a boyfriend at home. Nah-uh, man,” Jonathan said, swiping his hand across his neck in a gesture to say ‘it’s over, cut your losses’.
“Yeah, I know but…” Harry started to protest, feeling the twinge of pain in his heart as he thought about exactly what she did to him.
She betrayed his trust and well, when the trust is gone what’s left? Harry knew Jonathan was right. It was just hard to let go of something he thought would always be his.
“Don’t even think about it, mate. She’s bad news,” Jonathan warned him.
“I know,” Harry said, looking up from his plate. His eyes focused down the sidewalk on a girl wearing short shorts and a tank top.
“What are you looking at?” Jonathan asked, craning his neck to see the girl.
“Mm, hot legs,” he said, nodding his approval. Harry’s brow knit together, looking at his friend oddly. He wasn’t exactly checking her out, there was more of a familiarity about her.
“Like I was saying though… don’t even think about—” Jonathan began again. But Harry’s brain was suddenly thrown into a tail-spin.
“Bloody hell,” Harry gasped as he immediately stood up from his seat.
“What?” Jonathan asked, looking over his shoulder again to see just what his best mate was looking at.
It couldn’t be… it… oh god. Was it her?
“ELISE!” Harry yelled, trying to get her attention.
“Elise? Who’s Elise?” Jonathan asked as Harry moved toward the fence that was keeping patrons closed in from the sidewalk traffic.
She didn’t hear him. Either that, or it wasn’t her and he was just shouting like a maniac to a complete stranger.
“ELISE!” Harry bellowed again, trying to get her attention. She still didn’t hear him as she started walking in the opposite direction of him on the sidewalk.
“Shit,” Harry grumbled, looking down at the fence that was holding him back.
“Harry, what’s going on?” Jonathan asked, now standing up next to him.
The fence was much too high, with too many spiky things to impale his man parts if he tried to hop it. Harry had no choice but to weave through the tables and go out the tiny gate at the end. His upper body moved faster than his feet, causing him to stumble into things as he made his way out of the barricade keeping him from getting to Elise. He couldn’t see down the sidewalk anymore and he was afraid she would disappear, so he moved faster. Right before he got to the gate, he crashed right into their server who was carrying a pitcher of water. As the water went flying, Harry did his best to catch the poor girl and keep the both of them from smacking the pavement.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll be right back,” he told her and Jonathan and whoever else was listening.
Harry crashed through the gates and got off to a running start, zig-zagging through the people that were idly walking on the sidewalk. He was afraid he lost her, but he spotted the red tank top she was wearing just as an Uber pulled up in front of her to take her away.
“Shit! EL! ELISE!” Harry called out, to no avail.
Everyone else heard him but her as she dipped down into the awaiting cab and closed the door. Harry watched as her cab zoomed passed him, merging into traffic. He couldn’t do anything but stare. He saw her. He knew it was her. He saw Elise, the girl who shaped him into the man he was. Elise, the one that got away.
“Harry, you’re acting like a crazy person,” Jonathan said, suddenly standing right next to him.
“I feel like a crazy person,” Harry said, running his fingers through the hair on the top of his head.
“Okay, you have to tell me what the hell that was,” Jonathan said, as he plopped down on the sofa in Harry’s London flat a half hour later.
“What what was?” Harry asked as he looked through his Twitter feed on his phone.
“That girl. Who the hell is Elise? Why don’t I know this Elise person?” Jonathan asked.
Harry’s heart sped up at just the sound of her name. He still couldn’t believe he saw her after all these years.
“Oh, she’s just… a girl,” Harry said, shrugging it off, because he didn’t really want to get into it. He tried to disconnect from the heartache as best he could over the years.
“Just a girl? You took out a waitress to run after her. She’s not just some girl, mate,” Jonathan pointed out.
“I-I grew up with her… in Cheshire,” Harry said and Jonathan gave him an odd look.
“What?” Harry asked him.
“You just stuttered, mate. Who is she really?” Jonathan asked.
Who was she? Who was Elise Victoria Graves? Elise was everything to Harry back then – back when they were growing up. She was his best friend, his confidant, she was the love of his life. She was Elise. She was his Ellie. She was also the girl he so stupidly let slip right out of his fingers once he made it big in One Direction. He was stupid and naïve and incredibly selfish back then – back when they were just teenagers. It was something he regretted everyday – letting her go. He never knew what loneliness truly was until she wasn’t in his life anymore. For the last five years, all he had of her were memories to look back on.
January 2009 – Holmes Chapel
Harry and Elise spent the entire day cleaning out the leaves and dirt from the pool in his backyard. It had been a favorable winter and it was a warm day, the snow finally completely melting. It was almost that time of year again – Harry’s birthday. And that year they were going to have a party to celebrate it. But it was going to be extra special, because they were going to be celebrating Ellie’s birthday too. Her birthday was at the end of January, but her parents didn’t do anything special for her to celebrate her turning fifteen. They didn’t last year either – what with her brother’s death still looming over her family and the entire town.
Ellie spent her thirteenth birthday alone. They spent her fourteenth birthday in Harry’s bedroom talking about her brother. And this year, Harry took her to the winter carnival that just so happened to be in town for her fifteenth birthday. They had fun, but when his mother suggested he could have a party, he asked her if they could celebrate Elise’s birthday too. Harry wanted to share it with her, so she knew she had people that cared about her. After all, he knew what she had to go home to every night.
“What do you think it’s like up there?” Harry heard Elise ask as they lay on the trampoline cuddled up in blanketed out in his backyard, looking up at the stars that night.
“What do you mean?” He asked curiously.
“Up in Heaven. What do you think it’s like?” She clarified.
Harry took a moment to really give it some thought before he answered.
“I think it’s perfect. I think everyone is happy and everyone is where they’re supposed to be up there. There’s too much sadness down here to not have something to look forward to once you get into Heaven,” Harry told her honestly.
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I think too,” she said quietly.
“Ellie…” Harry breathed, turning his body to face hers.
“Yeah?” She asked, looking over at him.
“Are you sad?” He asked.
“Right now? No,” she said quietly.
“But, are you sad?” He asked.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not been sad,” she told him truthfully.
“You were happy. I saw it. You used to be happy,” he told her.
“I don’t remember that anymore,” she said sadly.
“Ellie…” Harry said.
“Hmm,” she breathed.
“You’re my best friend. You know that, right?” He told her.
“You’re my best friend too, Harry,” she said, giving him a slight smile.
There was no naivety in their words. They truly were best friends – they truly were always there for each other. Elise was Harry’s whole world back then. She meant everything to him. And he wanted to make her happy. He was even sure for a while that he did. But they lost touch. And he didn’t have anyone to blame but himself for that.
“Elise – she was my best friend. But we kind of lost touch,” Harry told Jonathan in a daze.
“What is she doing in London?” He asked.
“I have no idea. I don’t even know how to find her or how to get ahold of her. I haven’t seen her in over five years,” Harry explained, running his fingers through his wild hair.
“That’s heavy man,” Jonathan said, letting out a breath.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, shaking his head, disappointed with himself.
How was he going find Elise in a city of 8.5 million?