Solace ~ h.s.

If he weren't there... I don't know what would have happened.

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31. ⪻ 31 ⪼

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Returning to Northwich proved to be harder than I had originally anticipated, and I anticipated it to be quite difficult.

First, there was the moment when I drove across the bridge that caused the whole reason for the move. My eyes had immediately watered upon approaching it and then continued to do so for the remainder of the trip. I wanted so badly to just squeeze my eyes shut, but I couldn’t possibly whilst driving.

Then, there was the moment that I finally entered Northwich, having to drive right past the place where my parents had been laid to rest. There was serious debate on stopping and saying hello, but just the thought caused bile to rise in my throat. I didn’t know what I would say, if I would be able to pull myself together before meeting these strangers, or if I would even be able to enter without breaking down.

Finally, there was the moment when my old childhood home came into view. The tears that I had been trying to conceal were let free once again at seeing the old place. My mother’s precious flowers were in full bloom, along with some added extras that weren’t there before. Even in the dreary rain the place looked so cheerful. And I realized right then how much I had missed living in Northwich and how much I missed my parents.

It took about five minutes for me to pull myself together once parked, my eyes red and makeup blotched slightly. Somehow, I made it out of the vehicle, stepping onto the gravel and making my way slowly to the wooden door to where I stand now.

My heart hammers harshly against my chest to the point where I fear it will bruise my body. My breathing is laboured as I raise my hand to knock softly against the wood. Part of me actually debates running back to the car and driving away, simply calling Mrs. Grey and telling her I couldn’t come. But it’s too late when I finally hear footsteps on the other side of the door, giving me little time to actually prepare.

“Oh hello!” Instead of a cheery older woman, I’m met with the sight of a happy older gentleman, “you must the Annabelle my wife has been going on about all afternoon.” I can’t help but bring a smile to my lips after seeing the happiness ooze from him, it’s practically contagious.

“That’d be me.” I comment, trying my hardest not to peek into the old home. My fear is that I’ll break down again if I step foot, or even look, in the home. I hope they don’t invite me in, because I’m too nice to say no. “Annabelle Chambers, nice to meet you…”

“Alfred Grey, but call me Al.” He says, extending his hand to shake with mine. “Please, come in, it’s absolutely dreadful out.” Before I can say anything, my feet have taken the initiative to enter the house and walk past Al. My eyes immediately scan the rooms that I can see.

The snug little lounge that held our precious fireplace and sitting area for cold days, is completely rearranged. There’s new seating, new decor, new everything. I find it hard to breathe as Al leads me further into the house, calling out my arrival to his wife.

“So, Annabelle, where do you work?”

“Um,” I tear my eyes from the wall that used to hold the pencil marks of my height growth and Edward’s too. It seems to be painted over now. “I work at Smith and Carlton Publishing, in Manchester. I’m a receptionist.” I answer, keeping my eyes trained on Al so I don’t have to look anywhere else.

“How wonderful.” You’d be surprised.

“Oh!” I nearly jump out of my skin at the abrupt gasp from the woman I believe to be Maria Grey. She stands in the centre of the kitchen, seeming to be boiling some water for tea. “It’s so lovely to meet you.” She exclaims, skipping the handshake to grab me in a warm hug.

The hug alone sends a shiver down my spine. Her embrace is so warm and familiar that it’s like I’m hugging my mother again. At the feeling of my eyes beginning to get glossy I pull away and send the woman a small smile.

“It’s nice to meet you too.”

“Would you fancy a cuppa?” Maria asks, motioning to the kettle. I nod my head, hoping a cup of tea with calm my nerves.

“Please.” With that, Al and his wife both motion for me to take a seat at the breakfast-nook table. I sit on one side of the table as Al falls into the seat across from me.

“Maria, Annabelle here says she works over in Manchester now.”

“How lovely. Do you like it there?” She asks, continuing to prepare some tea.

“Yes, I do.” I answer honestly.

I do like living in Manchester. There area we live in is quiet and nice, and living in the same city as Harry is a bonus as well. Maybe I just like living there because of Harry.

“Are you married?” For some reason, I feel my cheeks blush at her question. I’m not married, but I’m with someone who makes me happy.

“Maria, you curious thing, leave the girl alone.” Al scolds with a laugh. Maria only shrugs her shoulders and waits patiently for an answer.

“Not married, just seeing someone.” I say with a genuine smile. Just thinking about him makes me happy.

“Must be someone pretty special.”

“He is, very special.”

“How long did you live here?” Al wonders, changing the subject of my love life. I clear my throat and look around the kitchen to avoid eye contact with the sweet couple.

“All my life actually. My parents bought this place after they married and stayed ever since. It was with us until about two months ago.” I regret falling into this subject because I just know what the next question will be…

“What made you move away?” Al asks as Maria places a steaming cup of tea, some sugar, and milk before me.

“Thank you.” I say to her, before taking a deep breath. I could potentially lie to the couple, saying that my parents moved away and I went to work in Manchester. But for some reason I just can’t find it in me to avoid the subject, or lie to the kind couple. “I moved back in with my parents about six months ago, to be with my family. I’ve a little brother, called Edward, he’s five years old. I had lived in Manchester, but I didn’t like the distance between us. Anyways, about two months ago, my parents died, automobile accident.”

Maria gasps, her hand flying to her mouth as apologies string out. I shake my head at her with a sad smile, not really wanting to hear apologies.

“I was left behind to raise my brother on my own. As you can probably tell, there aren’t many job opportunities around here so I felt it best we move to the city.” Maria reaches across the table, grabbing ahold of my hand to give it a squeeze.

“I am so very sorry, dear. It must be so hard for you to be back.” I nod my head and let out a shaky breath. My eyes, once again, tearing up.

“It is, but it’s also very refreshing. I never thought I’d see this place again.” I admit, glancing around.

“Well, you are welcome back anytime you want.” Al speaks up, sending me a smile. I thank him lightly before taking a dainty sip of tea, careful not to burn my tongue.

“You must be curious as to what you left behind. Now, I only peeked a little, but it looks important.”

For a moment I had forgotten the entire reason I was here; drinking tea and talking about the past tends to do that to you. As Maria gets up from her seat, I sip silently on my tea, trying to reduce my curiosity.

I wonder if it’s old family photos and they’re important because they hold precious memories.

I wonder if it’s documents that for some reason weren’t locked away in a safe.

I wonder if it’s money that my parents were hiding for some unknown reason.

I wonder if -

“Here it is.” Maria enters the room with quite a large yellow envelope in her hand. The end is opened and looks like it hadn’t been sealed in years. My heart picks up it’s pace when it sees the only thing written on the outside of it: Annabelle.

Maria hands it over to me and I debate whether or not to explore the contents now or later. I don’t want to intrude, but I also don’t want to wait the forty minutes it takes to get home to have a look at it.

“Do you mind if I just take a quick look?” I wonder, giving into my curiosity. Maria smiles over at me as she takes a seat next her husband.

“Not at all.”

With slightly shaking hands, I open the envelope wider and peer inside at the contents. From what I can tell it’s a lot of papers, documents of some sort. My narrowed eyes take in the first document as my fingers pull it out just enough to read the page.

That’s when my heart stops beating in my chest and there’s this ringing in my ears that appears from nowhere. I’m frozen in time, my eyes scanning the paper over and over to ensure that I’m not imagining the words written on the page.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I surely wasn’t expecting this.

No. No, this isn’t possible.

“What is it, dear?” Maria’s voice startles me, causing me to actually jump from my seat.

“Uh, I, uh, I have to go.” I sputter out, shoving the first piece of paper back into the envelope as the feeling of my throat closing up begins to appear. “I’m so sorry; thank you for the tea.” I mutter out, before my feet are taking me towards the entrance of the house.

Running to the vehicle, I practically trip in the process. My hands are shaking so badly that it’s difficult to get the door open, but once I do the envelope is thrown inside. I climb into the driver's seat and slam the door closed. My heart beats erratically and it’s silent for a moment.

Tears stream down my face as I stare blankly at the steering wheel, silence pouring around me. My eyes dart to the envelope in the passenger’s seat, before the silence in the car is interrupted by a loud scream. A scream of pure agony and heartbreak, followed by sobbing.

Returning home is harder than I had anticipated.

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