Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Romance  ➡  Paranormal  ➡  Clean & wholesome

An Unextraordinary Life

 

&An &

&Unextraordinary &

&Life&

& &

&Jo Hollywood&

2nd Edition

Copyright

[_ _]

Copyright © 2016 Jo Hollywood

Shakespir edition

All rights reserved.

[_ _]

All characters and events in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Cover image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DEDICATION

To Andrew, my very own Jack.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

[* *]

I would like to thank all those Wattpad users who encouraged me to write my story, especially Nat who gave me great encouragement from day one.

To friends and family for all your support while writing this book, I thank you all.

To Andrew, thank you for the encouragement and for always believing in me.

PROLOGUE

[* *]

Many years ago my drama Professor told me that there were only seven stories in the entire world, and that every story, subsequently told, was based upon one of those seven…

So, this is mine.

My unextraordinary life.

CHAPTER 1

Tess

“What are you thinking?” Clear blue eyes stared at me, probing me back into reality. I blinked and took in my surroundings; the clink of coffee cups, the murmur of voices and the delicious aroma of coffee, a drug that I could not live without. I was sat in an over warm café and even though I had taken off my scarf and woolly cardigan, I was still sweltering. I looked out onto the outside world, through the steamed up humid windows that adorned every wall which seemed to both envelop and suffocate me. The glass dripping with condensation, but all I could make out through the fogged up glass were blurry shapes; all shades of grey and black, shuffling past, lost in their own intimate worlds.

“Sorry,” I stammered, tearing my eyes from the window. “I was just thinking about, well, it doesn’t matter.” I slowly collected my thoughts and took a steadying breath. “What were you saying?”

Only, it did matter, but I couldn’t tell Jenny that. Those thoughts, those feelings were just too raw, too private. It was a secret only for me, and to be honest, I didn’t know how to begin to explain it to her. How I would explain about him. What words could ever do him justice? How on earth could I explain what his presence meant to me? That we were two halves of one whole irrevocably joined together forever. I had seen you once, she’d think I was mad and to be honest I was questioning my own sanity. You should not be here. Not now.

“Shall we pop to the bookshop before we get the train? We have time if we leave now; it’s just that the book I’ve ordered is ready to pick up.” Jenny looked at me inquisitively, as if addressing a stranger. No, as if she were talking to a young child, even she didn’t know what to make of me lately, and who could blame her. She was just so insightful; I was sure she could read my mind. She was extremely beautiful, with her clear complexion and oval shaped face with pixie like features that were teamed with blond cascading curls. I noticeably paled into insignificance when sat next to her, with my mousey brown hair styled in a messy short bob. My hair was neither straight nor curly; it was always in a perpetual state of waviness, as it refused to be tamed. My skin was also pale, but teamed with brown eyes, not blue, which had always disappointed me. I was also gangly and awkward in both appearance and movement; there was sadly nothing beautiful nor graceful about me. To be perfectly blunt, I was unremarkable, I was plain to the extreme, but Jenny had always told me differently. One day I would believe her.

The last thing that I wanted to do was to visit the bookshop, although I adored books and read books for a living. She was my best friend though, and if I was being honest with myself, my only friend. So I picked up my cup, so as to give myself a few more seconds to collect my thoughts, took a final sip of the now cold coffee, and placed it gently back down on the saucer. “Yes, let’s go.”

It was cold outside for March, the weak sun low in the sky as it streamed through the clouds like insipid cold tea. The café door tinkled behind us, and as the cold air hit my face I involuntarily shivered and wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck. I matched Jenny stride for stride, but I felt like I was floating, that I was not completely living in the present. I felt somewhat dulled, that everything that was happening wasn’t really happening to me, I was a mere Voyeur. Everything around me also seemed to be happening at a much slower speed. I felt as if I was cocooned in cotton wool, that I was not really living in the present. Instead I was just vaguely aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me and that made me feel uneasy as I lacked any control, and control was important to me. Instead I decided to pay attention to what I was doing and looked down in order to concentrate on my footsteps, carefully taking note of the uneven pavement slabs that were dotted everywhere around the city. It wouldn’t be the first time that I stumbled and fell because I had not been careful with my footing.

The ever astute Jenny noticed my uncertainty and mistaking it for tiredness, took my arm in order to steady me.

“You look tired Tess.” She once again probed me with those clear blue eyes that radiated concern. “You need to look after yourself.”

She was always telling me to look after myself, that I didn’t eat enough, that I didn’t get enough sleep, and to be honest she was right. But I would never in a million years admit this to her. Instead I forced a smile and squeezed her arm. “I’m fine Jenny.” I linked my arm with hers and together we sauntered up the hill towards the bookshop.

Everything will be fine, I told myself. It really would be, but even to my own ears I lacked true conviction. I was fully aware that I was fooling myself.

Did I really see you? I replayed the memory from two weeks ago over and over in my mind, frame by frame. It was so vivid, that every movement, every sound, however unimportant and insignificant it had been at the time, was now etched into my memory. You were ahead of me, about six meters ahead, walking along the busy high-street not far from where I was today. You appeared to be pulled along by the crowds that restrained you on either side. I saw the back of your head, your short thick blond hair that was always unruly and curling around the nape of your neck. You were wearing your favourite black jacket, the one with the faded elbow patches, brown corduroy trousers, the ones that you always loved to wear along with tatty black trainers. I took all of this in, subconsciously, every single minor detail. You walked with purpose as you strode ahead of me, and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, you stopped. I very nearly bumped into the back of you, but I stopped myself in time. I muttered an apology, although I didn’t know why I did so as you stopped in front of me. I was about to carry on my way, but you then turned around to face me, halting me in my tracks, but I looked down at my feet, embarrassment radiating from every pore at my extreme clumsiness. I was about to walk around you, trying to get away as fast as I possibly could, but then you suddenly reached out and took my left elbow, making me stop abruptly, making me stumble, and I had no option but to look up at you…

And then time stopped.

CHAPTER 2

Two weeks before

“Hi.” One word, but my entire existence suddenly turned on its axis. I could no longer make out sounds or movement, just the lopsided smile that caught my breath, the one I loved. Breathe Tess, breathe, I told myself. I was acutely aware of the all too familiar twinkling green eyes with the dark brown speckles that surrounded the iris, barely visible but known intimately to me. They tried to hide the amusement of the situation, but were barely able to do so. This moment was irrevocably etched in both time and memory. But it could not be so. What was happening could not be real.

You reached out once again to steady me, your strong arm cradling my elbow, not from stumbling this time, but because you were acutely aware that my legs felt inevitably heavy and could buckle at any moment. It was a wonder that I was still standing upright. That touch was a gentle and calculated attempt on your part to stop me from plummeting to the ground. But I was not aware of any of that, not at the time anyway. All that I was aware of was that time stood still. You should not have been there. It couldn’t possibly be you. I muttered all of this to myself again and again as a kind of mantra; I once again tried to stammer an apology while trying to remove my arm from your steely grip, all without looking at you. I desperately needed to get away from you. I could not breathe. But I was unable to do so as my feet seemed to be rooted to the ground.

Finally, I was able to form words and uttered. “I’m so sorry, it’s just that you remind me of…” But I was unable to finish the sentence. I couldn’t say your name, well not your actual name as I didn’t know who you were, but rather the name of the man you reminded me of. It was still too painful, too raw, even after all these years, and I didn’t want to reopen the wound. However, as if reading my thoughts, and knowing that the situation was far too painful for me, you gently released me and your eyes lost all of their humour. I swore that I saw a flash of concern, or perhaps pity in them, but I quickly looked away. Nervously I brushed down my coat, removing invisible dust and dirt; my palms were slick with sweat.

I looked up at you once more and I realised immediately that this was a huge mistake, as once again I found myself immersed in those hypnotic green eyes. It couldn’t possibly be you, I was losing my mind and I feared that this man, this stranger, would think that I was unhinged. I muttered my apologies once again, and this time managed to step forward on unsteady legs. Then without looking back, I slowly continued on my way.

A few days later I sat nestled into my favourite armchair, my much loved copy of[_ Pride and Prejudice ]on my lap. Asteaming cup of coffee was warming up my chilled bones, not from the cold weather but from the rather strange encounter. It still bothered me. I had now had time to think about what had happened and it suddenly dawned on me that this man stopped and turned to face me. Why did he do that? The only thing I could think of was that he wanted to tell me something, to convey a message, but what? I never stopped long enough to find out what he wanted to tell me. I had been far too embarrassed and confused about the situation. Why had he stopped and looked at me in that that way? The way he looked at me, well, it looked as if he knew me, and knew me well. The problem was that he looked so much like Jack. I shuddered, suddenly cold once more. I swallowed a large gulp of my coffee and pushed the thought aside. _Jack was gone. However, as I sat and tried to read my novel, I was still unable to squash my uneasy thoughts, my gut told me that it had been him, that the man was Jack. His eyes echoed Jack’s eyes, his touch, his smell. It was all too familiar, too intimate, if that was possible on a crowded city street. But the rational part of my brain told me that it couldn’t possibly be him. You see, Jack died five years ago.

It really didn’t seem like five years ago. I could still hear his voice in my head, I saw his image in my mind, I even chatted to him sometimes. I sometimes saw him in my flat, although he had never lived there. I had to move once he died, I couldn’t bear to be in the same home, there were just so many memories of us together and I had to get my head round the sad fact that he was no longer with me, that he would never be with me again. The house just reminded me so much of our time together there, I simply could not bear to live there without him. Jack was a part of the house and I needed a fresh start. Family and friends tried to encourage me to stay, but I refused to listen to them, trusting my own instincts instead. I didn’t need the house as a reminder of him, he would always be with me. The house was merely bricks and mortar. What I had found hard to cope with was the memories of him in the house. I remembered him sitting in his favourite chair, knowing that he would never sit there again. It was the finality of it all that haunted me and gave me pain. I needed a place that was just mine, with no memories or ghosts to haunt me, but I still believed that people did not truly believe and understand my reasons. But what they thought did not matter to me. I knew that I had made the right decision.

I placed my unread book onto my lap, all thoughts of reading now dismissed. My mind slowly drifted back to the moment when I bumped into you, or rather the stranger, that moment constantly haunted me. I kept replaying what happened over and over in my mind. Especially the note, that’s what had really been puzzling me and made me believe even more so that the stranger was you.

When you grabbed my arm the second time, to stop me from falling, you must have placed the note into my coat pocket. But I had no idea how you did that without me knowing. I was usually aware of everything, but of course, that particular day I was stunned by you, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to concentrate on simply breathing. Although this seemingly simple act of putting the note into my coat pocket unsettled me, what unsettled me more was what was written on it. Ten words that simply said:

You deserve to be happy. Please believe in new love.

What on earth did that mean? A random stranger, who reminded me of Jack, but who couldn’t be Jack, stopped me in the street and slipped a cryptic message into my coat pocket. What was I to make of that? Plus, who on earth could I tell any of this to? Who would believe me? I hardly believed it myself. I had of course thought about telling Jenny, but although I loved her dearly, she had never met Jack, she was one of my after friends. I cut all ties with the friends who knew us both, as it was just too painful to be around them. She did know about Jack, about the fact that we had married young and that he had died aged only twenty-five, we were the same age. But that was all she knew, she did not know Jack, so how could I possibly explain what happened on that crowded street to her? The sad truth was that I couldn’t, I couldn’t tell anyone. All I could do was to try and forget that it had ever happened. But that was proving far more difficult than I had ever imagined.

CHAPTER 3

A month had passed since that fateful day. I was sat in my office at Smith and Brown Publishers while I tried my hardest to concentrate on my mammoth[_ to do_] list. But so far I had failed miserably. I had tried to push what happened to the back of my mind, as I simply did not have the time to dwell upon it; I could not allow it to take over my life. It simply did not happen. But even as I thought those very words, I found myself thinking of him.

I let out a heavy sigh and picked up the manuscript that I had been reading, fired up my laptop and continued to read. I loved my job, which was secretly a hobby. I knew that I was extremely lucky as not many people got paid to do something that they truly loved. I was a junior editor and had joined the firm straight from University, which was also the same year that I got married. My work was the one thing that I could not bear to change; it was my constant, my one remaining link to him. Over the years, people had come and gone, and there were now only a handful of people left who had known Jack, but we never talked about him. It was one of my unwritten rules.

My day so far had been like any other. My desk was strewn with new manuscripts that I needed to read and make notes on; one in particular was by a new and upcoming author, that I knew we would sign. So I sat and read while studiously making notes and sipping coffee.

I was so engulfed in this wonderful new book that I didn’t hear the soft knock at my door, or indeed the discreet cough or the footsteps that followed it. However, somehow I was alerted to another presence in the room and so looked up, startled, to see an unfamiliar face staring amusedly at me. I was completely lost for words. All I could summon up was a feeble, “hello,” as my mouth had suddenly gone completely dry.

“Hi,” said the handsome stranger, who was now stood in my too small office, and for some unfathomable reason, I blushed.

“My name is Rob,” a deeply rich voice filled the room and then almost, as if he too was lost for words, scratched his neck. “We haven’t met yet.” He locked his beautiful blue eyes on mine. I was hypnotised by them and could not look away.

We stood in complete silence, just staring at each other. I smiled shyly to myself, he was just trying to make small talk and be polite, of course we hadn’t met. I had never seen him before. But I took pity on him and to my great shame realised that I was not really being that welcoming or polite. So I placed the manuscript that I had been gripping far too tightly in my hand onto the table, stood up and offered what I hoped, was a genuine and dazzling smile. He extended his hand to me and I shook it. His grip was firm yet not uncomfortable and I could tell that he was being gentle.  His touch felt so alien to me; it had been such a long time since I had touched a man, yet alone a handsome man, even though it was only a handshake. Once again I felt a small blush creeping across my cheeks. I slowly looked up at Rob’s face, and took in all of his features. He was the polar opposite to Jack, as his hair was black, cut savagely short, and I imagined that it naturally curled if allowed to grow. Jack of course had curly and wayward blond hair. Piercing pale blue eyes stared back at me, but not to probe me, neither did they intimidate me, but rather they simply acknowledged me, and in them I could feel his warmth. He let go of my hand and smiled gently at me, his eyes radiating kindness, as if he knew and understood that this situation was both difficult and awkward for me. I liked him instantly. We stood in the middle of my office and before I could offer him a seat or indeed a coffee, he once again filled the stretching silence.

“I’m one of the new senior editors; I just thought that I would introduce myself,” he told me gently. 

A memo, recently read, came to mind. So this was Rob Davies, I wondered when we would meet. Apparently he had been hired to take the company to the next level, whatever that meant. His past reputation had preceded him, although I knew very little about his past work.

Then, as if lacking anything more to say, he smiled and slowly took a seat at my desk, opposite from where I was stood. Unable to take my eyes off his, I slowly sank into my own chair. Who on earth was this man? I slowly gathered my thoughts and realised that I really was being rude and so I picked up my coffee cup for a refill, while asking him if he wanted one. Please like coffee, please like coffee, I repeated as a silent prayer. To my utter relief, he offered me a boyishly shy smile, and raised one dark eyebrow. “I’d love a cup. I thought you’d never ask.” A deep and low chuckle followed and I too started to laugh. The ice had finally been broken.

We had been happily sipping coffee for the past twenty minutes. I had mainly chatted about my role within the company, my love of books and how I loved to champion new authors. Once I started on my favourite topic of reading and books, it was nigh on impossible to stop me. I just felt so incredibly relaxed and comfortable with him, although ironically that made me feel uncomfortable as I felt it was wrong to have such feelings about another man, and especially a man I had only just met. He was also incredibly easy on the eyes. I realised while having these thoughts I had been staring at him rather rudely, so I quickly looked away. I racked my brain for a question to ask him, I didn’t want our discussion to come to an end. “So where did you work before?” I asked, and found myself once again lost in his pale blue eyes.

Rob seemed to be deep in thought, but after a few beats told me that he had worked at a local publisher back in Leeds. I hadn’t realised that he was from Leeds. So he was quite a long way from home, having to move down here to the South. But I couldn’t detect an accent, so maybe he had just worked there? I didn’t like to ask where he lived, that just seemed a little too intrusive for a first chat. However, Rob seemed to be unfazed by my questions and carried on talking.

“I would have stayed to be honest, I loved it there, I had stayed after finishing University but I needed to relocate, to be nearer my parents’ home, well, what was their home.” He shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, something which seemed to juxtapose his usual demeanour, and I was aware that he wanted to tell me more, but that he was unsure whether to do so or not, most probably as I was a relative stranger to him. However, having apparently made his decision to tell me more, he looked up at me, and I gasped at the raw emotion that I saw in his eyes, a deep sadness that he could not quite hide.  “it’s my home now.”

“Oh.” I tried to offer some sort of reply, but asking why it was now his home just seemed incredibly personal. However, once again, as if reading my thoughts, he answered for me.

“They died in a car crash three months ago.”

I couldn’t stifle the gasp that came out of my mouth and I was sure that my face was painted in a mask of horror that I could not quite hide. I was momentarily lost for words. I barely knew this man but I felt deeply for his loss. I also had no idea what to say to him. He had confided in me and for some inexplicable reason that brought a lump to my throat. “I am so sorry,” seemed totally inadequate, but that was all I could think of to say. I had to say something. I couldn’t bear to sit in silence, not after we had sat and chatted for the past half an hour. I didn’t want the frostiness to come back.

“I haven’t really told anyone,” he continued. “I don’t want all of those sympathy stares, and once people know… well… things change.” He looked enquiringly at me, as if he knew my loss, that I had lost someone special in my life, and that because of that I could identify with him on some level. But how could he know? He couldn’t, and anyway, losing both parents in a tragic car accident was completely different to losing a loving husband, robbed of his life by a cruel and savage disease. The two scenarios were completely different. My parents after all were alive and kicking, although I hardly ever saw them. I had no idea about the depth of his pain. So I told him the truth. “I can’t imagine what you are going through.”

He placed his cup on the desk and discreetly looked at his watch, while he shifted in his seat.  End of conversation then. I inwardly cursed myself for making him feel uncomfortable, that was the last thing I wanted to do.

“I’d best be getting back to work.” He said with a sigh.

Once again he offered me a heart-warming smile and I exhaled a long held breath. I’m forgiven. Once again I was immensely sensitive to his touch, his long elegant fingers and his gentleness, despite the fact that he could have grasped my hand so much tighter. I found myself not wanting to let go.

“Yes, I need to get back to reading these manuscripts.” My eyes wandered over the messy pile on my desk; I would be working late again. I walked with him to the door and after saying goodbye once more, and that we would be seeing a lot of each other as we would be working closely together, I quietly shut the door behind me and leaned against it. I stood like that for what seemed like an eternity, resting my head on the cool glass. What on earth just happened? I had only just met this man, but I felt like I had known him my entire life and that unsettled me. I didn’t want to feel this way about another man. I didn’t need a new man in my life. I had Jack.

I shook my head so as to clear my erratic thoughts. I emitted a deep sigh and headed back to my desk. I had an awful lot of work to do and I had a feeling that I wouldn’t get an awful lot done.

The rest of the day surprisingly whizzed by and I did eventually get all of my work done by 7pm. I popped a manuscript that needed to be read over night into my bag and made my way towards the bus stop. Light rain was falling and I soon become drenched, my umbrella forgotten at home in the stand, in my hallway. I stood and looked up at the dark and brooding sky. Then I closed my eyes, letting the rain wash my face, and allowed my tears to gently fall.

CHAPTER 4

Jack

He stood and watched her, the man with the unruly blond curly hair and the twinkling green eyes speckled with brown. He lurked in the shadows and observed the lonely woman in the rain. His heart ached to reach out and touch her, but he knew that he could not. He shouldn’t have given her the note, but he was desperate, he had no other choice. He simply had to let her know that he existed, that she had his blessing to move on with her life. He could think of no other way, but it had been a gamble. He had seen the confusion in her eyes. He had seen the conflicting emotions that told her that this man in front of her, who looked incredibly like her dead husband, could not possibly be him. He also saw the uncertainty etched in the worry lines on her face and he wanted so desperately to run his finger along those lines and make them smooth, to make all of the hurt and worry go away. He could remember his palm itching as he fought the desire to do so. He saw the recognition in her eyes, the fact that yes, this man truly was her dead husband; but just as the idea had been entertained, he saw the curtains come down and the image was gone, forgotten. He could tell that she had dismissed the notion as madness.

Had I done the right thing? I was really not too sure, now that I had dwelled upon my actions. She couldn’t carry on like she was though, surely? After all, I had gone. I no longer existed in her world, well, ok, not completely gone if the truth be told, as I was going to remain here until she was happy again.

Living life, such as it was for me, in a type of self-inflicted limbo, was not that much fun. For starters, although I could eat and drink, it didn’t taste of anything, it just gave me something to do. I was only here for a short time, that was the deal I made with the Guardian Angel. Once Tess was happy again, I had to go back. So I couldn’t really get to know people, such as in going out and socializing. I had to be really careful in case someone recognised me, because well, that would just be way too weird. What I was going to do though was everything in my power to make that happen, to make her happy again; she deserved to be happy, although sadly it would not be with me.

All I could do now though was to stand and stare, while I tried to protect her from afar, which was what I had been doing for my entire adult life. She looked so sad, so utterly broken, a lost soul who was searching for something that she would never own again. I just wanted her to be happy, that’s all I ever wanted. I wanted to see her smile and laugh uncontrollably like she used to. I hadn’t seen her laugh in that way for over five years, and believe me, I had been watching. Not in a stalker kind of way you understand, but as in a dead husband caring kind of way. I wanted what was best for her. I wanted her to live her life.

I was not crazy or possessive, I was just a kind of guardian, someone who protected Tess. She was my wife after all. I knew her far better than anyone else, and sometimes I wondered if I knew her better than she knew herself.

But to see her so unhappy, and so utterly desolate, just broke my heart all over again. She was so young. She should be leading a carefree life, going out and drinking of a weekend, meeting friends, enjoying life to the fullest. But she was no doing any of these things. I knew that time had stopped, that her life had abruptly stopped the day that I had died, it had been crawling to a halt ever since I received my diagnosis. She stopped living for herself then and started to live only for me, and there was nothing that I could do.

I stood and watched her now, as she slowly walked away towards the bus stop. She looked the same as she always did, only thinner. She had not been eating properly and had lost so much weight. I knew that the fight had gone from her, I could see it in the slope of her shoulders and the way in which she carried herself. She needed to know that she was loved again and that she too could love again. It had been far too long now. She was lonely and she needed to know that Mister Right was waiting for her; she just needed to know that he existed, and I was the one who could help her. I stood amongst the shadows and mulled over these thoughts while I watched her. A bus appeared from around the corner and stopped to let passengers get off, and then Tess stepped on board.

Thirteen years earlier…

Tess

[_ _]

_“That guy is looking at you.” _

I craned my neck to look behind me in the general direction that Maddie was casually waving her hand. I hadn’t the faintest idea who she was talking about. “Who are you on about? Nobody is looking at me.” I sighed; sometimes Maddie could be a right pain. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and gave her a quizzical look. Was she messing with me? I had only met her a week ago during fresher’s week, so I hardly knew her. I was still trying to work out if I liked her.

“Well, he’s not now that you are looking for him!” Maddie sighed as though in deep desperation and started to rummage around in her oversized bag for her pens and large exercise book, dotted with images of Backstreet Boys. Who on earth at the age of eighteen would admit to liking them? I smiled and reached into my own bag for my pencil case and bottle of water.

We were seated in the main campus lecture theatre and students were slowly trickling in. As ever I was early to the point of being anal, but that was me, I couldn’t bear to be late. It was only my second lecture, my first for drama, and I was eager to meet my new Professor and learn all about Oedipus and the Greek Tragedies. I had read all of the Theban Plays over the summer break. I was deep in thought when Maddie tapped me on the shoulder again.

“This time, look round discreetly, the cute blond guy is most definitely staring at you, and I mean in a good way.”

Giving her a puzzled look, but complying to keep her quiet, after all who would be staring at me? I did as she said. I slowly turned my head and I caught his eye for a fraction of a second, before he quickly looked down. Whoa, he was cute.  I couldn’t help but stare at him and I felt my cheeks grow warm. Any romantic thoughts though were interrupted by the arrival of Professor Greene and the lecture began.

I really did try and concentrate on what was being said, but I couldn’t. I felt his pair of beautiful green eyes burning into the back of my head for the entire lecture, and for some unknown reason all of my senses seemed heightened. I could only think of him, which I knew was ridiculous, I really needed to concentrate…

[_ _]

The hour quickly passed and I began to gather my belongings as the Professor exited the stage. Maddie had already left in order to make her next lecture. I however, had the rest of the day off for reading, so I was heading back to the halls to do just that.

On my way out of the theatre I spotted him, ‘Mr Green Eyes’ and all of a sudden I was unsure of what to do. I was not one of the cool girls. I had dated boys of course, but I had never known what to say or how to act. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do nothing. At the same time that I had made this decision, I saw him once again looking at me, but this time he smiled, scratched his neck in what I took to be a nervous gesture and then slowly walked towards me. With an outstretched hand, all of my fears and insecurities were pushed aside, forgotten. I took his hand and once again, giving me a shy smile he simply said, “My name is Jack.”

CHAPTER 5

Tess

Why oh why did I listen to Jenny? I really didn’t want to go out tonight. It was too cold for starters and I was tired, I would rather be curled up with a good book than spending my precious me time in a crowded and noisy pub. I just wanted to snuggle up and hide from the world, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. I’d been putting off going on a night out for the past two months, and well, Jenny, she desperately wanted me to wear her bargain buy new dress. So, that is why I now found myself stood in my bedroom with less than thirty minutes before Jenny called for me, surrounded by clothes. They were scattered everywhere. I must have tried on at least ten different outfits, all discarded as either being too frumpy or just too old and dated, I had nothing new to wear. In fact, come to think of it, when was the last time I had bought anything new? I honestly couldn’t remember. I hated clothes shopping, I would much rather go and browse in the bookshop, or buy a new bag, I had lots of those, but right now a book and a bag were not going to help me. I really wished that I adored and craved fashion more than I did. I debated whether to phone Jenny and ask her if I could borrow one of her many expensive dresses, but I knew she’d get in a grump with me, not for borrowing a dress, she would happily let me play dress up and choose anything I wanted, but the fact that I’d had over two weeks to buy an outfit and had not made the effort to do so. If I phoned and told her that I had nothing to wear, I just knew that I’d get the whole Jenny lecture on how I needed to shop more, how I needed to get out more, have more fun! You get the picture. So I’d just have to make do with what I had. I’d find something to wear. I had a little black dress somewhere…

I found myself seated in a crowded bar and I was already beginning to regret allowing Jenny to drag me out of the flat. I was hot and the noise was blaring. As soon as I had stepped inside I had wanted to go home.

I had found a little black dress to wear and I had teamed it with a sparkly black jacket and black pumps with a slight heel. I didn’t do high heels due to my inability to walk in a straight line when wearing them. My face had only a hint of makeup, as I never knew how to apply it, but I had made an effort with my hair, well I had applied a little mousse after washing it and had curled it with my curling irons. It looked better than it usually did anyway.  I found myself sat with a few of Jenny’s friends, all of them chatting at once and already my head hurt. I was doing my very best to pay attention to the animated and very young woman who was sat beside me, crammed into the too small brown leather sofa. She was the complete opposite of me and I feared that she would soon become bored. She was wearing a tight and incredibly short dress, a vivid red colour that matched her lipstick, and her makeup had been applied to perfection. I felt totally inadequate and out of my depth sat next to her. I also felt extremely tired and much older than my thirty-one years. I stifled a giggle, when did I become so middle aged? I really did need to get out more.

During a slight pause in the conversation I craned my neck and looked over to the bar and saw that Jenny sat there looking relaxed while chatting to the barman. She was always chatting to men; they couldn’t resist her. He too, had fallen under her spell, and who could blame him? She looked stunning tonight in a gold fitted dress and matching gold shoes, only Jenny could pull that look off. I held up my empty wine glass and mouthed in their general direction, “I need more wine,” followed by an overly exaggerated sad face. The young and tanned barman smiled, tapped Jenny on the shoulder and I watched as he turned towards me, a huge grin plastered on her face. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, although I knew for a fact that I would be going home alone tonight.

I turned back to the young woman sat next to me, but she was now in a heated exchange with another friend of Jenny’s, whom I didn’t know. I sat and listened in to their conversation for a little while, but they were talking about someone I didn’t know, so I was unable to join in. After a few more minutes I decided to saunter over to the bar to get my drink. I really was thirsty.

As I weaved through the throng of people and finally reached the bar, I noticed that Jenny had gone. Where was she? I quickly scanned the room but I couldn’t see her anywhere, nor could I see the handsome barman she had been animatedly chatting to, but then again, it would be easy to miss them as it was so crowded. Instead I started to rummage in my clutch bag for my mobile, it was the only small bag I owned as I usually didn’t go out of a night. I liked big roomy bags for my books and pens, as well as all of the other junk I carried around with me. I just wanted to make sure that she was alright; I worried about her just as much as she worried about me. She was so carefree and impulsive; someday she was going to get hurt. I quickly scrolled down my contact list; it didn’t take me long as I only had a handful of numbers stored on my phone. I found ‘[_Jenny’ _]and sent her a quick text.

Are u ok?

Within seconds I got a reply, wow, she typed fast

Yes. Got a date with the handsome barman, c u soon x

Well, that cleared that up then. Exasperated and now feeling extremely tired, I dropped the phone back into my bag and scanned the now stuffy and over populated room despondently. I really should have stayed at home.

So, what to do now? Well, Go Home, echoed in my ears. So I decided to do just that and headed for the couch were my jacket was still slung across the back of it. The same young woman was still in an animated conversation as I mumbled my goodbyes, no one seemed to care that I was going, or indeed wondered where Jenny had got to, they were probably used to her taking off with a complete stranger that she has just hooked up with. So as no one was paying any attention to me, I headed quickly for the exit in order to make my escape.

Only, I didn’t quite make it.

Due to the bar being dark, coupled with the fact that I was notoriously clumsy, wore a slight heel, and was busy putting my jacket on, I failed to see that someone had spilt half their pint of beer on the floor, leaving a brown mud like puddle. My heel caught the beer dregs and I slowly tumbled backwards, as I tried desperately to steady myself, but I knew that it was too late. I felt my legs give way, but before the inevitable happened, before I landed heavily on the cold and wet floor, I felt a pair of strong arms around my waist, that gently pushed me forwards and upright. I took a steadying step forwards, testing the ground and then turned to face who had saved me from humiliation.

There in front of me stood the handsome Rob Davies.

CHAPTER 6

I[* *]wanted the ground to swallow me up. I felt heat radiating from every pore in my body and I knew that I was now the colour of a tomato. I also had the frustrating urge to cry. My throat tightened and I gulped several times so as to control the tears that would inevitably come. Stop it Tess, you will not cry in front of this man. It was stupid, but I honestly thought for a spilt second that it was Jack, that it was his arms around me, that he had saved me, and it was this thought that was making me want to cry. I had felt comfortable and safe in only the way that Jack could make me feel, and so I felt great shame in the fact that it was Rob who had evoked those feelings in me. I felt an irrational stab of guilt that I felt this way, for having these type of feelings towards a man who was not Jack.  All of these thoughts flashed through my mind within seconds of me realising what had happened, and I could now see that Rob was staring at me, completely unsure of what to make of the situation. I also had a sneaky feeling that he was biting back on a laugh. He involuntary coughed, rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand and smiled reassuringly at me. He was obviously aware that I was highly embarrassed for nearly falling and had taken pity on me; I silently thanked him for his subtleness.

“Are you ok?’ He asked quietly, taking a tentative step towards me. He was as nervous as I was, I could tell. I was also pretty sure he thought that I was going to either make a hateful lunge at him or give him a real piece of my mind, he just couldn’t quite tell which way I would go. But I didn’t want to do either of those things. I just wanted to go home and forget that this evening had ever happened. More importantly, I didn’t want to feel this way about another man.

“I’m fine thank you.” I stuttered, and then once again feeling as if I was being incredibly rude added. “Thanks for catching me.”

I briefly glanced up at him while I shuffled into my jacket. Unexpectedly he reached out to touch my elbow and forced me to look into his eyes.

“No, really, are you okay?”

I couldn’t help but stare into his pale blue eyes, sincerity radiating from them as well as genuine concern for me, and for the second time that evening, I swallowed down my guilt. He’s a nice guy, no ulterior motive Tess, I told myself, be nice. The other day at work he had brought me a coffee as I had come into the office early, and another time he had bought me lunch when we had bumped into each other at the local café. Although now I was not so sure if he had actually bumped into me at all. He’s just trying to be nice, I told myself once more, but I didn’t want to know the reason why. In truth, I supposed that I already knew, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Then another thought abruptly entered my head. Why was he here? He seemed to be alone, and I did a quick scan of the room, yes I was pretty sure that he was not with anyone. Had he followed me here? How did he get to me so quickly? Suddenly I felt incredibly uneasy and the heat from my embarrassment quickly evaporated leaving me with a sudden chill.

“Who are you with?” He must be with a group of work colleagues; I just couldn’t see them right now. Once again I quickly scanned the room but I didn’t recognise anyone from the office.

He frowned, as if wondering why I was asking him this question. “I’m alone.”

I was right then; I needed to leave. I didn’t want to start a conversation with him or have to refuse a drink, but I felt trapped.

However, he seemed to sense my unease and took a step backwards. “Sorry, I’m keeping you. You were obviously on your way home. Perhaps we could meet for a drink another time?”

His expression was unreadable, but I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding in and smiled at him, he’d given me a means of escape and I was grateful. “Yes, I need to leave now.” But looking at his face, I could clearly see the disappointment that he was not quite able to hide. So I took pity on him. “A drink another time would be lovely, thank you.” The words just tumbled out of my mouth and once spoken I knew that they could not be unsaid; I would have to go out with him for a drink.

Then with determined strides I made my way steadily towards the exit.

The cold air hit me like a slap to the face, but it was what I needed to clear my thoughts. Life was bearable before Rob came along and complicated things. It was ridiculous really, we had only chatted in the office, but I felt like I was me with him. I didn’t have to pretend. I had never felt that way about anyone, well other than Jack, and I was scared, really scared. Number one, I’d loved, no that was wrong, I still loved a wonderful man and I was not over him yet, not by any means. I never would be. Two, I got hurt, really hurt when he left me alone and I knew that I couldn’t go through that again, I couldn’t go through the pain. I could not risk falling madly in love again, only for my heart to be broken once more. So whatever I had with Rob, had to end, it was the safest and simplest way, although my heart told me something else entirely. Then there was number three, Jack was still here. I had seen him once and I just knew that I would see him again, and until that happened, I was in limbo.

*

Rob sat and nursed his pint, the same one that he had sat in front of for the past hour. He scratched the stubble on his chin and looked to the blond haired man sat in front of him.

“What am I going to do?” He sighed. “She barely acknowledges me, but I know she has feelings for me. Well, at least I think she does.”

“Rob, believe you me, she has feelings for you. She’s just scared and racked with illogical guilt.”

Jack picked up his pint and swiftly drained the dregs; he had a steely determination in his eyes. “The plan’s not working. I need to speak to her, and for real this time.”

He looked to Rob for confirmation, who slowly and reluctantly nodded his head.

CHAPTER 7

Jack

I was stretched out on the hotel bed with a million thoughts racing around my head. I had spent all night considering my next move with regards to Tess. I knew that I needed to speak to her; I just didn’t know how to go about it.  It was lucky that I didn’t need to sleep, one of the many perks of being the undead. This was a cruel irony though really, as I would dearly love to escape it all, to escape the pain that I knew Tess lived with, day in day out. I also longed to escape from my own living hell. I was able to see my beautiful wife every day, yet I was no longer a part of her life, as I should be dead and gone. But,[_ oh no_], here I was and here I would stay until I was able to make her life happy again. I was going nowhere. My soul would not be at rest until she found true love again.

I had to meet her, I thought. It was the only way I could get her to understand how life should be for her, and that she deserved to be happy again. With a shuddering dread I knew that I had to talk to her.

I sighed deeply, the last thing I wanted to do was to scare her half to death, or indeed to give her false hope. It was bad enough when she had met me in the street, and I didn’t even speak to her then. Was meeting her the right thing to do I wondered? It could go either way. She would either think that I had really come back from the dead or that I was someone who looked like her dead husband. The sight of me might actually send her completely over the edge, but what else could I do? She needed to know that I was okay with her living the rest of her life, and I knew that the note I gave her had not had any effect whatsoever. In fact, I thought that it had done more harm than good and had just added to the overall confusion of the situation. The problem was, that she didn’t know what to make of it all. I just wanted her to know that I hadn’t gone anywhere, and that I had been looking out for her since the day I died. But I now needed to move on and so did she. I remembered the day that I died, how could I forget it…

A warm and gentle hand held mine tightly upon the starched white hospital sheet. I could no longer see Tess, but I was aware of her presence and the touch of her skin upon mine. I wanted to acknowledge the fact that I knew she was there, that I was grateful beyond words that she was with me for those final moments, but I was unable to do so. I was unable to articulate any thoughts or feelings that I had. All I could do was to hold onto her hand, to let her feel my touch, my warmth. I was barely holding on as it was because of the pain and crushing dullness.  I had no idea what day or time it was, but I knew that I didn’t have long left.

“I love you Jack,” she whispered. Her voice was close to my ear. She placed her forehead on mine and I focused upon that intimate touch and the smell of her skin. I tried to hold on to the image in my mind, but I was unable to do so. I was losing her, and then there was blackness.

[_ _]

_I did not know how long I had lay in the darkness. It could have been minutes, hours or even days. All I knew was that I remembered feeling a great sense of release, in that my pain was over. In truth I felt nothing, other than a strong and deep feeling of betrayal. I had left Tess, something that I had vowed I would never do. I hated myself for breaking that promise. I had left her all alone in the world. As I slowly grappled with these dark emotions, there was a sudden and blinding light, that forced my eyes shut. When I opened them, the next thing I knew was that a woman, dressed all in white, I know I know, I found that hard to believe myself, introduced herself as Tess’s Guardian Angel. She told me that she had seen into the future. She told me that Tess would never love again unless I intervened…unless I returned to earth. _

[_“Am I really dead?” I looked closely at the lady dressed all in white, I needed clarification, I needed to know that I really was dead. _]

“Yes Jack, you are.” She told me gently.

I let out a deep sigh, glad to finally know the truth. I realised that I was lying in a bed, but it was not a hospital bed and neither was I in a hospital. Everything was brilliantly white though, even the clothes that I was wearing were white and I wondered how I had got dressed and more importantly who had dressed me? I suddenly felt embarrassed; that someone had seen me naked, but then I quickly reminded myself that I was not actually real, so it didn’t really mater.  I couldn’t be real, not if I was dead. I pinched myself just to make sure and I felt nothing, although a red mark appeared on my skin, that I thought was a little strange.

The Guardian Angel had been watching me intently, as if knowing the questions that were running throughout my mind. She was giving me time to process what had happened. “Jack, you did die, but at the moment you are in limbo, you are between worlds, as your work on earth is not yet finished.”

[_“I don’t understand…how can I help Tess, if I am dead? Anyway, what can I possibly do?” I stammered, totally at a loss for words. I was dead but I was sat chatting to an ethereal goddess about how to save my wife. _]

She seemed to sense my confusion though. “I know this is an awful lot to take in! But please listen to me Jack; I have seen into the future…your wife, she will lead a lonely and desolate life without your help. She needs to know that she can love again. She needs to hear this from you, when the time is right.”

I stared blankly at her. I had just died! How on earth could she know this stuff! “How do you know?”

Her face became softer and radiated kindness. “I have foreseen it Jack, you need to understand that your role is to look over Tess, to make sure that she is safe and then, when the time comes, when she meets a man named Rob, that you do all that you can to tell her that it’s okay, that she deserves to be happy, then you too will be free.”

[_“What do you mean, tell her that she can be happy with a man named Rob? I’ve just died!” Was she insane? I could not believe what I was hearing. _]

“Not now Jack, this will be in the many years to come, but for now I want you to watch over her, make sure she is safe and then, when she does meet Rob, you need to tell her that she can fall in love again.”

This was complete madness; it was too much to take on board. I lay back and closed my eyes; maybe everything would then go away. I tentatively opened my eyes after several seconds had passed by, but no, everything was as it was, and she was still standing there looking at me.

“I’ll give you a few moments Jack, but remember, she will need your help to be happy again.”

Then with that she slowly faded away…

So, I had been watching over Tess ever since. For five whole years! And to be honest I had started to doubt what the Guardian Angel had told me. But then a few weeks ago I saw him on his first day at Tess’s work, and I saw the way that she looked at him, and the effect that he had on her. She looked at him, with those huge chocolate eyes of hers, the same way in which she had looked at me.  But there was also the undercurrent of uncertainty there, that she knew she must not look at another man that way, that she couldn’t allow herself to do so. That’s when I knew that the Guardian Angel had been right all along, she needed my help! Or rather they both did.

So I really did need to think about how I was going to chat to her about Rob. I needed to prepare her for our meeting; I couldn’t just spring up out of the blue and appear in her office or her flat.

That’s when I thought of the perfect plan. Of course, why hadn’t I thought of it sooner, she loved to read. A letter explaining the whole situation and asking when she would like to meet me would help to prepare her for finally seeing me again. The bookshop it was then.

Then with that final thought I began to write.

CHAPTER 8

Tess

The rain beat heavily against the windows of Smith and Brown Publishers and Rob idly drummed his fingers on the smooth wooden desk. In front of him sat a messy stack of manuscripts that he desperately needed to sort out, but his mind just wasn’t on the job at hand. He reluctantly got up from his desk and decided to take a stroll to the cafeteria, situated in the building’s basement. A walk and a strong cup of coffee would do him the world of good, he told himself. He might even bump into Tess.

…I had read the sentence ten times and I still hadn’t taken anything in. I threw the book down in a grump and stood in order to stretch my legs. I ached all over, the result of a restless night’s sleep, tossing and turning. I felt more tired when I got up, resigned to the fact that my day would start at 4am. It was only 10am now, but I was already feeling the effects from a serious lack of sleep. I rubbed my eyes and headed out into the hallway to find the water cooler, cold water would wake me up I told myself. Anyway, I could not have any more coffee, I already had the shakes, well, I had already had six cups so far today. I just hoped that I didn’t bump into Rob, as that would be way too awkward.  I also had no idea what to say to him and I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten about the drink I had promised him. I opened my office door; all was clear; I’d just have to be very quick.

*

Back in his office, Rob settled back in his chair to read a new manuscript, and he was somewhat despondent that he hadn’t bumped into Tess. He just hadn’t quite realised that getting to know her would be so difficult. Jack had warned him of course, but that girl had an invisible brick wall around her, how on earth could anyone get through it?

His thoughts drifted back to his first day at work. How he had met Tess for the first time and how he had instantly liked her and knew that he wanted to know more about her. He had never believed in love at first sight, but with Tess, well, he was willing to admit that he had been wrong about that particular assumption. She was both vulnerable yet strong, beautiful yes, but she was unaware of this fact, as well as being extremely talented and good at her job. Her reputation as a proficient writer and seeker of talent was also well regarded within the company, but again she was completely oblivious to this. She didn’t know how attractive she was.

Then that particular day had become even stranger and one to be marked as a changing point in his life’s history, as he had met Jack. Now that, he thought to himself, was a most memorable meeting. It was not every day that you met a real life ghost, and it took him a while to believe the story that Jack had told him.

He had met Jack quite by accident, well it had appeared that way, but he soon learned that Jack had planned it all along. The accidental bump into him while carrying coffee had not been an accidental bump at all, it had been a way of Jack approaching and talking to him. He remembered Jack uttering profound apologies, while he had simply shrugged and told him that there was no harm done. In truth, the coffee had spilled onto the floor, not onto him. Jack had offered to pay for replacement coffees, but Rob had told him that this wasn’t necessary, that worse things happen. He was about to make his way back to the counter, in search of more coffee, a mop and to offer an apology for the mess, when Jack had appeared once more by his side. He had stood and told him that he knew Tess, that he knew she liked him, and that he would grow to love her. Jack then told Rob that he knew all of this as he had been told by Tess’s Guardian Angel, and oh, that he had completely forgot to mention that he was also her dead husband.

At first Rob thought that this was some kind of sick joke, but Jack didn’t look like the kind of man to make jokes of that nature. Something in his gut told him that Jack was telling the truth. He had no reason not to believe him. There was also the fact that Jack knew things about him, things that no one else knew. He knew about his parents and that they had died in a car accident. He also knew that Rob had fallen and broken his leg aged ten when playing football. What was most worrying though was that he also knew that Rob was secretly writing a romance novel under a pseudonym. So, over a pint that same night, he had allowed Jack to tell him his story.

To my relied he believed me when I told him that I was dead, and that I had come back to save Tess from a life of loneliness. I had been worried that he would accuse me of being a raving nutter and would want nothing more to do with me, and who could have blamed him? Surprisingly though, he believed me. He told me that he had seen ghosts before and that he believed in them, he said this with a broad grin on his face, I suppose from realising the irony in that comment, as he was saying all of this to a ghost. The part that completely shook him though was when I told him that he and Tess were meant to be together. He found that very hard to swallow, of all things. I couldn’t blame him though; it must be strange. He’d only just met Tess, yet he had been told that they would spend their lives together; to be honest that would have completely freaked me out. But you know what, I instantly liked him and knew that what we were about to embark upon was right. It was just so very important though, and I stressed this to him again and again, that Tess must never know about us meeting together, or my connection to him. Tess could not know that I played any role in their getting together, as that would ruin the whole plan…

*

Rob sat and thought about last night, about what had happened in the pub. The fact that Tess was incredibly perceptive had not escaped him. She knew that he was alone and that he had followed her there. He knew it the moment she had looked at him, when instead of seeing a friendly smile and a slight shrug of embarrassment, he had observed a woman who was uncomfortable and afraid. It had been etched across her face. “Why are you here?” That was why he had backed off, the last thing that he wanted to do was to frighten her away. Then Rob remembered that he had gone and put his foot in it again, and he cursed himself for his impulsiveness when he had asked her out her out for a drink. Now that had been a stupid move. The woman who thought that he was a stalker, was not going to accept a drink from him, or for that matter, go on a date. He sighed heavily again, he had managed to push her even further away from him.

It had gone 2pm and Rob knew he could not put it off any longer; he really did need to speak to Tess. He needed to discuss a new promising author with her and the fact that he wanted to sign them. What he wanted to know was her opinion and if she agreed with him. He held on tightly to the manuscript. He had a legitimate reason to see her again and before his courage could dissert him, he strode out of his door and headed to her office.

CHAPTER 9

Tess

I was sat reading through emails when there was a tentative knock on the door and before I could call out and ask who it was, the door quietly opened. I looked up from my laptop to find Rob slowly lowering himself onto the seat opposite my desk. The room suddenly felt a lot smaller and my heart rate quickened. Why did he have that effect on me?

I sat and stared at him. He tried to hide his smirk, but I noticed a touch of nervousness in his pale blue eyes and this helped to put me at my ease. What did he want? My eyes drifted to the manuscript that he was holding on to far too tightly in his hand and I realised that his visit was a purely professional one. I visibly relaxed.

Rob cleared his throat, in that nervous gesture of his that I had become accustomed to, and handed me the manuscript. “I’ve just finished reading this and I’d really like to hear your thoughts.”

I slowly nodded, I felt comfortable with this, we were on common and safe ground.

“Yes, that’s fine; I’ll make sure that it is next on my list. I can make a start on it sometime tomorrow.”

An awkward silence followed in which neither of us knew how to fill. A part of me wished that he would just get up and leave, his presence made me question things, all of the emotions and feelings that I had somehow managed to bury deep within myself, but another, deeper urge made me want him to stay. I liked the way in which he made me feel. I also knew that I should clear the air, about what had happened last night, I would after all be seeing him every day and I couldn’t work with him with all of tins embarrassment hanging over our heads. I therefore decided to act like an adult and a professional; my subconscious hugged herself. I took a deep breath and started to speak before I could change my mind.

“Listen, about what happed last night.” I paused while staring him straight in the eyes. They really were beautiful. Concentrate Tess, I scolded myself. “I was tired and cranky, my best friend Jenny had just left me alone in the bar and she didn’t even tell me where she was going. She’d met some barman. Anyway I am afraid that I took it all out on you. I was very rude. . .so. . .” I stuttered. “Thanks for catching me so that I didn’t end up with a beer stained bum.”

Oh no, I inwardly cringed. Why had I used the word bum? A flush began to spread across my cheeks, so I carried on while I stared at my hands, trying to get all of my words out. “I haven’t been all that nice to you since you started here.” Once the words were out of my mouth I realised that they were true. I had been so preoccupied with thoughts of Jack, that my usual friendly disposition had somewhat been stifled and I realised with shame that it was not only Rob who had been in receipt of my bad mood, so had Jenny. No wonder she went off with the barman last night, who could blame her? I’d not really been much of a friend to her.

“I am not usually a rude person. It’s just that I have…” I scrambled around for the right word, “stuff going on in my life.” Really stuff? But I didn’t know how else to explain it to him. Everything was so messed up. “You know, personal stuff, so if I have appeared a bit stand offish then I apologise, I’m really not like that at all. We need to get on as we are working together, so, I was thinking, if you want to meet after work for a drink then I can make this Thursday, just on a purely professional basis.”

I really hoped that I had managed to clear the air, and had made things perfectly clear at the same time. But I also realised that I did mean what I said; I would like to meet him for a drink, there was no harm in that. When I finally looked up at him, I noticed that he was trying to hide a smile, he had obviously been amused by my lengthy and somewhat awkward speech. However, I also knew with a huge pang that this man was a gentleman, and that he did not want to laugh at my expense.

“I would very much like to have a drink with you, and Tess, you have nothing to apologise for. I realise that I startled you last night, as you hadn’t seen me, I think that I gave you the fright of your life.” He raised a dark eyebrow in acknowledgement of this fact, which I hesitantly did with a slight nod. 

“Also, you haven’t been rude to me at all, you’ve been incredibly busy that’s all, but yes, I would like that drink.” His eyes burned into mine and once again I had to look away. A part of me wanted to get to know him more, as I could no longer deny that I was attracted to him. But all I could think about was Jack. That day when I saw him on the high street kept replaying over and over in my mind, and as for the note, what did that mean? I looked at it every night, then safely placed it back in my bedside drawer. It was not only Jack’s handwriting that I saw, but rather I envisaged him sat at a table writing it, and that while doing so, he was thinking about me. It was that thought that stayed with me as I drifted off to sleep. My husband was still thinking about me; he was still here.

I wondered why he would give me such a message. I desperately needed to see him again, to touch and breathe in his scent. But I didn’t know when, where or even if I would ever see his face again. I didn’t know how to get in contact with him.

I was lost.

Slowly Rob stood up and cleared his throat. “Well, we’ll sort out a time later on then, for Thursday?” He asked me inquisitively. I was sure that he knew my mind had drifted elsewhere. 

“I’ll let you get back to your work.” He was about to head for the door, but then something made him stop in his tracks. He turned, and after a few beats said ever so softly, that I almost missed his words. “You do deserve to be happy you know.” Then as an afterthought he added with a smirk. “I’m glad you didn’t get a beer soaked bum.”

I stared mutely after him, even after the door had softly closed…

*

I tried to concentrate on my work, but the excitable phone call from Jenny did not help me in any way. She phoned to tell me all about her wonderful night with Mister Barman, and even though I was still mad at her for leaving me like she did, her happiness was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile and be happy for her, knowing that she was in love again, well until the next man came along. I also apologised to her for being a crappy friend. She noticeably remained quiet at that point, neither agreeing nor telling me that I was talking a load of rubbish, but we promised to catch up over lunch time tomorrow, while grabbing a coffee and a Panini at the local bookshop. I needed to buy the latest must read anyway. So although this now meant that I was massively behind with my to do list, I had my best friend back.

I glanced at the clock and was shocked to find that it was already 7pm, so I gathered all of my bits and pieces together and shoved them into my new spotty shoulder bag. I then grabbed my coat from the stand in the corner of the room and headed for the door.  I stopped though before I reached the door handle and turned back round. The manuscript that I needed to read tonight was still on my desk, so I walked back, shoved it into my bag and then walked out of my office. I was going to have the perfect night in with my book and a glass of wine. I couldn’t help but think though, that the only thing missing was Jack.

CHAPTER 10

Jack

Thirteen years ago

“Hi my name’s Jack.” I looked at her expectantly, half wondering if she was going to shove past me and continue on her way, but luckily she didn’t. She gave me a dazzling smile and took my outstretched hand.

“Hi, I’m Tess.”

[_ _]

We somehow managed to find a place to sit in the crowded student bar. I thought that the entire student population were in there today. Did anyone have any lectures to go to I wondered?

[_I picked up my pint and while taking a sip looked sneakily over the rim of my glass at Tess. She was fiddling with her brown hair, twiddling it around her index finger and I knew that she was as nervous as me. She had a glass of red wine in front of her, but as yet she hadn’t touched it. I was rubbish with girls, I never knew what to say, but for some reason I didn’t feel nervous with her, I already felt like I had known her my entire life. _]

[_“So, are you done today then? No more lectures?” I took another sip of my pint and then placed it back onto the table, a ring had already formed there, brighter than the other ring marks on the table. They obviously couldn’t be bothered using beer mats then, I absently thought to myself. She stopped twiddling her hair and placed her hands in her lap. _]

“Yes, that’s me done. I have a load of reading to do though.” She chuckled, and my gut tightened, what a beautiful sound. “They expect me to read two novels and a whole play by the end of the week, how on earth am I going to manage that?” She added with a deep sigh.

[_I looked mischievously at her and blurted out without thinking, “I have loads to read as well, why don’t we study together? That way we can take it in turns to make a brew, fetch the biscuits and we can help motivate each other.” To be honest, I thought it would be the least motivating thing of all, I would be totally distracted, but I just knew that I wanted to spend more time with her. I was not too sure if I had come across too strongly though, I didn’t want to intimidate her, so I gave her a full on smile and wiggled my eyebrows in an attempt to lighten the mood. Thankfully, this seemed to work. _]

She thumped me playfully on the arm and looked me directly in the eyes. “I’d like that; I’d like that a lot.”

I thought that my heart had just stopped beating…

I slowly sank back into the soft leather couch, allowing these thoughts from the past to consume me, God how I missed her. I slowly shook my head, knowing that these thoughts were futile. That was a long time ago. I no longer had the right to think like that. I just needed to make her happy and then leave, end of story.

I glanced swiftly at my phone; it was not twelve yet, so I could allow myself a quick cup of coffee before they arrived. Although I couldn’t actually taste it, I could remember the taste, and at least it was warm. It also gave me something to do. Luckily the cafe was busy, but I had deliberately chosen a seat with a clear view of the entrance so that I could spot them as soon as they walked in. I didn’t want to bump into them, but then again, I didn’t want anyone else to read my note, only Tess, so timing was everything.

I rummaged around in the pocket of my jeans and pulled out the note that I wrote last night. I just hoped that I had managed to convey the incredibly delicate balance between being informative, while not appearing to be too cold.  I couldn’t allow her to become too close to me, emotionally nor physically. Neither did I come to think of it. It would do neither of us any good.

I quickly reread the note one last time, my hands trembled slightly. Get a grip Jack, I told myself. I needed to meet with her and talk about what was about to happen in her life. She needed me, as her life was an absolute mess, and without my help, well, I just didn’t know what would happen to her. I had to do this, it was the right thing to do, I told myself for what must have been the hundredth time. I quickly scanned the note one last time.

[_ _]

Hi Tess,

[_ _]

[_I don’t know where to begin, all I can do is tell you the truth, I owe you that much. You really did see me the other week in the street, and I believe that you already know this; I could see it in your eyes, although you were questioning what your eyes saw. You have to understand though, that although I am here, I am not the same man I used to be. I am a ghost. I did die, you have to believe that, but I am back. I have been sent back to help you. It’s really hard to try and explain things in a letter, so I was wondering if I could meet you tomorrow, at your flat? If you don’t want to see me again then that is your choice, and I must respect that. If you don’t answer the door, then I will understand that you do not wish to see me and you will not hear, nor see me again. _]

[_ _]

Yours always

[_ _]

Jack.

My heart ached just reading it and my pulse quickened in knowing that I would see her once again; very soon, I should prepare to leave. I drained my cup and placed the note which was in an envelope addressed to her, under my now empty coffee cup. I knew that she would come and sit here, it was her favourite seat. I looked up once again and it was just in the nick of time, as I saw Tess and Jenny coming into the shop. Oh, she was so beautiful; she still took my breath away.

I scurried down the narrow aisle away from the noisy coffee area and dived into an alcove overstuffed with books. The two women passed me by within a matter of seconds as I stood quietly watching, unobserved by them, supposedly engrossed in a book about medieval England. I waited for them to reach the end of the shop, where the chairs and couches were situated, before I turned and made a hasty retreat. But not until I heard Tess’s stifled gasp. I then knew she had seen the letter.

CHAPTER 11

Tess

It’s from him, I recognised the handwriting. I lifted the empty cup, wondering if he had sat there, in the same seat as me. I wondered if he had touched this cup, if he had drunk out of it. I shakily placed it back down on the table, unable to believe what I was seeing. I felt Jenny’s eyes boring into me.

“Tess, what is it, what’s wrong? You are as white as a sheet.”

I turned to my friend, my mouth agape. She just continued to stare at me, trying in vain to hide her fear as she fired her questions towards me.

[_“Tess, who is this note from? Do you know? Who has frightened you?” _]

She reached out and picked up the envelope and studied it carefully. I hadn’t even opened it yet, but I knew it wass from Jack, I recognised his handwriting, I would recognise it anywhere. My mouth was so dry that I could hardly form my words. “It’s from Jack.”

Once again she just looked at me, unsure of what to say. “You mean Jack as in your… husband Jack?”

I knew that she was trying very hard to find the right words and to look as calm as she could possibly be, I knew that she didn’t want me to know that she thought I was losing it, but I could tell from the shocked expression on her face, that she thought I was mad. She did not believe me. Would it help if I told her that I had already seen him? Probably not, so I decided not to tell her. Instead I took the note from her hands. At first I thought she would not give it to me, but she reluctantly let go.

“Tess, do you have to read it?” She asked me, the anxiety clearly visible in her eyes.

What did she mean? How could I not read it? Of course I did, it was from Jack. I merely nodded, as I was not sure if I could trust the sound of my voice to sound calm and steady, and quickly tore the envelope open. 

Inside was a single sheet of pale blue paper, and once again I saw his handwriting. I quickly read it, but the words, the meaning, they did not sink in. All I knew for certain. was that I was going to see him again. My chest suddenly felt tight, I found it hard to breathe and the coffee shop that surrounded me suddenly blurred and started to spin around me. All I saw was the fading light and Jenny’s increasingly concerned voice sounding more and more distant …. I was going to faint….

“Tess can you hear me?”

I opened my eyes and Jenny’s face was inches from mine, etched with worry.

“Oh thank God, you had me worried there!” She said breathlessly.

Her palm touched my forehead in a gentle gesture. “Do you think you can sit up?”

To my huge embarrassment I was sprawled out on the floor, in front of the couch and I slowly realised that I must have fallen forward and then slid to the floor when I passed out; banging my head on the way down. My temple was throbbing, and I realised that this was the reason why Jenny was touching my forehead. Ow!!! It hurt! But I didn’t tell Jenny this. I was more pre occupied with the fact that people had seen what happened, but after a swift glance around, I realised that nobody was taking any notice of us. Relief washed through me and then I remembered the letter and I felt clammy once more. I involuntary shivered; I was going to see him again.

Collecting my thoughts, I looked at Jenny and tried to sound as convincing as I possibly could. “I’m fine Jenny, I just need some food, I skipped breakfast.” I lied, hoping that she would believe me. However, I should have known that my best and only friend was far too astute to be fobbed off so easily. Grabbing my arm, she helped me onto my feet and eased me back onto the couch. Then she handed me the letter with a determined look on her face.

“So it has nothing to do with this then?”

She had obviously read it and this annoyed the crap out of me, how dare she! But my anger towards her dampened with the decision that I had to make. Should I tell her about Jack, and I mean everything? Or do I once again lie to my best friend. I read the handwritten words, crafted by Jack, and my heart lurched once more. I only had one choice really didn’t I? I needed to tell her the truth. So I took my friend’s hand and began to tell her my story.

“Well you know that Jack died, well, the thing is… he’s back.”

There was absolute silence while I told her everything. I told her what had happened from the moment I met him on the high street that fateful day, right up until when I received his cryptic note. I told her that I believed he was still alive and that he wanted to help me. I told her that I believed he wanted to help me be happy again, but that all I wanted was him. I wanted him back in my life. He was my husband and I still loved him. I said all of this quickly, the words just tumbled out, in case I lost my nerve. When I was finished, I looked down at my hands, unable to make myself look up at her face, and I waited for her words of reassurance, for her to tell me that everything would be alright, that somehow she would help me figure this entire mess out. But that didn’t happen. It was with genuine surprise that I found her laughing at me. 

“Oh Tess you really had me fooled there…Jack back from the dead! Honestly, what are you like?”

She was rolling around the couch, holding her stomach with tears streaming down her face, unable to contain her mirth. I was mortified. I had just opened my heart and exposed my soul to this girl and she was laughing at me! My throat tightened and I felt a dull ache while my eyes started to sting. Before I knew what was happening and before I could do anything about it, I started to cry. I sobbed uncontrollably, with no shame; I was way past that now.

“Oh Tess.” Suddenly I felt arms around me, that held me tightly. I rested my head on Jenny’s shoulder, but it only made the sobbing worse. After what felt like an eternity, I stopped and placed my head in my hands.

“Tess, what is it? Why did you tell me that stuff?” Then almost as an afterthought she added quietly. “You don’t believe it do you? This is just some sick kind of joke!”

When I looked at her with wide round eyes, silently pleading with her to stop talking, she took no notice, and carried on. “Tess, this isn’t true, none of what you have told me can possibly be true.” Then as if feeling the need to add further emphasis, she cruelly stated. “People don’t just come back from the dead! Your mind is playing tricks on you. You saw someone who looked like Jack.”

I tried to interrupt her, but she raised her hand in an I’m not finished gesture.

“No, listen to me Tess, you saw someone who looked like Jack, it wasn’t him, and as for this note!” She picked up the envelope that had been left on the floor and handed it to me. She looked both uncomfortable and puzzled, as if trying to make out where the letter had come from and who was responsible for writing it. “Tess, this letter…it’s obviously from someone who is sick in the head, why they would write such a thing I don’t know, but believe you me, it isn’t from Jack.”

“Jenny, you don’t know that,” I shouted, now that I had found my voice. I had also managed to gain the attention of the elderly couple who had just arrived at the table next to ours, and they give me a filthy look. I glowered back at them, but decided to lower my voice.

“Jenny, it’s his handwriting, it is from him, you have to believe me. Everything I have told you is true. Why would I make it up? I know it’s hard to believe…”

“Hard to believe.” She interrupted once more. “It is hard to believe as people do not come back from the dead, that kind of thing only happens in movies Tess.”

She really didn’t believe me. Should I just drop it? Agree that ‘yes, I am nuts’ and ‘oh silly me for believing in it all.’ I felt worn out with it all; I just wanted someone to believe me. A small part of me wondered if I should tell Rob, but I quickly dismissed this thought as he’d think I was also completely nuts, and what he thought about me, I suddenly realised, really did matter to me.

A part of me wanted to stay and argue with Jenny, but the rational part of my mind told me that there was no point, she did not believe me and would never believe me, so there was no point in further discussing it. I was by myself on this one. “I have to go.”

“What do you mean you have to go? We just go here. Listen Tess, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” She grabbed my arm in order to gain my attention and to make me look at her, but I refused to do so. I knew that what she had said was true, but I just couldn’t summon up the energy to be nice to her. I felt wounded and embarrassed; I honestly thought that she would believe me. We’d known each other a long time. Why would I deliberately lie to her?

“Listen Jenny, I am tired and I just want to go back to the office, sit quietly and forget this past half hour ever happened. Then perhaps I can actually finish work on time and have an early evening for a change.” Then I decided to add for good measure, the sarcasm clearly evident in my tone of voice. “You are right, I am mad, so there is nothing left to discuss.” I really couldn’t be bothered, and I bent down to pick up my bag and coat. Her mouth formed a hard line and I could tell that she had more to say, but for once she held her tongue. Instead she stood up with me and linked my arm.

“OK then.“  She said seriously. “I’ll walk with you; I’ve lost my appetite anyway.”

And with that we ventured back outside, but I knew that this conversation was far from over.

Cocooned in the safety of my office, I fumbled in my bag for the note and having found it I smoothed it out onto the desk and once again began to read Jack’s words. I was just so confused; the thought of seeing him again filled me with both absolute joy but at the same time, anxiety. I felt as If I was preparing for our first date all over again.

Should I plan a meal for us, or simply offer a drink? Come to think of it, did ghosts even eat? What would we talk about? Well, I knew one question I would be asking him, [_why have you come back? _]Why had he come back? To save me, to make me happy again? I just didn’t understand. I did not want to overthink what the note meant, I just wanted to see him again, that’s all. It was all I had ever wanted.

As I sat daydreaming, I knew that it was going to be another late night again, I could just tell. A loud knock on my office door dragged me from my thoughts and I knew at once it was Rob. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before telling him to come in.

He stepped around the door, offering me a boyishly handsome smile, but something was off, I just couldn’t quite place it.

“I just wondered if you had managed to read the manuscript I gave you the other day?” He asked me as he slowly sank into the chair opposite me.

He looked uncomfortable, he shifted about uneasily in his seat as he spoke, and touched the back of his neck in that uncomfortable gestate of his. What was the real reason for his visit I wondered? "Yes, I had a look at it the other day, it's very good, we should get back in touch with them. My notes are here somewhere -." I started to rummage through the pile of notes on my desk with shaking hands and eventually found the folder I was looking for. With a smile I handed it to him, now please go, I silently prayed. I looked closer at him though and I realised that he really did look nervous and I could now feel it rubbing off on me. I looked at his troublesome blue eyes and wondered what was bothering him, he looked so very vulnerable at times. But then I remembered that he too had suffered loss, we shared a kind of invisible bond.

He cleared his throat and I instantly prickled, he had something important to say.

“Tess…I was just wondering, if possibly, well…” He paused, as if not quite knowing how to carry on, but I had an uneasy feeling about what he was about to say. “If you would like to go out for that drink tomorrow evening… with me… as it will be Thursday?”

My heart started hammering, oh no! I now remembered that I had agreed to go out for a drink with him this week, but I had completely forgotten all about it with the arrival of Jack’s letter and everything else that was going on in my life. With a heavy heart I had to tell him no, and even worse I would have to lie to him and I hated lying. My heart sank at the thought of it. I would hurt him and I didn’t want to do that. What on earth was I going to do?

CHAPTER 12

Jack

“So she didn’t tell you the real reason she couldn’t go on a date with you?” I asked Rob, not quite believing his words.  “Now that’s interesting, I wasn’t sure if she would tell you about me.”

I was sat with Rob in his parents’ house, well it was his house now, although it still contained all of his parents’ furniture and other belongings. The old fashioned upholstered couch and armchairs together with the old wooden dresser, were obviously from an another era in time. What was so sad though was the fact that they made Rob look out of place, in what was now his own home. He had told me he hadn’t got around to sorting all of their stuff out yet. To be honest I knew that he had been putting it off. Ridding the house of old memories and items of sentimental value must be a heart-breaking task.  

He had made me the offer of staying with him, but to be honest that had just felt a bit too weird. I was after all trying to get him together with my wife, so for the two of us to live in the same house, well; I was not comfortable with that thought. The hotel I was staying in would do for now anyway.

“Jack, it’s not surprising really is it?” He sounded mildly annoyed and I could hear the exasperation in his voice. “I mean, think about it! She could hardly tell me that she was meeting you now could she?”

I was about to tell him that knowing Tess, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had told him the truth, but I thought better of it. I suppose he did make a valid point; she couldn’t have done anything else really but lie, could she? “How did she seem to you?” I couldn’t help asking. I saw her all the time, but always from afar. I needed to know how she was with Rob, if she seemed happy.

“What do you mean? When she told me that she couldn’t go out with me?” He scratched the stubble on his chin while he thought about what happened. “She seemed embarrassed to be honest, you know, that she knew I would know she was lying.” He shook his head and sighed deeply. “To be honest I was amused by the whole situation, but she was also, well… she seemed really uncomfortable.”

We both sat, lost in our own thoughts for a while. I sat and wondered about how my meeting with Tess would go, but I suspected that Rob was wondering about the same thing but for very different reasons.

Suddenly Rob stood up and headed for the kitchen. “Do you want another beer?” He called as he stood by the kitchen door.

He was changing the subject. Talking about Tess with me probably made him feel uneasy, and who could blame him. I did understand the reasons behind his feelings, I had been her husband after all, and it must be strange for him. He had to work with me in order to win her heart. Although he knew that I was here to help them both, I also had the suspicious feeling that a small part of him didn’t completely trust me. Was he questioning my motives? Most probably he was, but when I started to ponder this myself, I also had to consider whether my intentions were truly honourable. I hoped that they were. Then with huge distaste, I pushed this unhealthy thought to the very back of my mind. I couldn’t allow myself to think about Tess that way. She was no longer part of my life, her life belonged with Rob, he was her future, not me. The Guardian Angel had told me so. I looked up and realised that Rob was still standing there, waiting for my answer, with a frown on his face.

“Sorry Rob! I was miles away! Yes, I would love a cold beer, thanks.”

I watched Rob as he sauntered into the kitchen and I took a moment to collect my thoughts. So, this really was it, she was going to allow me to meet her after all. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I met her; a small part of me still believed that she wouldn’t want to see me again, that the idea of seeing me would somehow repulse her, as I was dead. But she needed to know that I could make this whole mess go away. I was the reason that she was in this mess in the first place, it was my fault, I had left her. Tess just needed to know that I was firmly in her past and that I too was happy, that I was not suffering anymore, and that she could now move on with her life. She could be happy with Rob. I could make her believe that. I had to make her believe that it could be true.

I was brought back to the present when Rob sat next to me on the couch, handing me a cold beer. I gratefully took it from him, feeling the cool glass of the bottle against my skin.

We sat once again in comfortable silence for a few more minutes before Rob placed his bottle down on the wooden coffee table and turned to face me, with a grin on his face.

“How come you can eat and drink? I always thought that ghosts didn’t need food or drink, you know, like in those vampire movies.”

I inwardly groaned. “Rob, I really didn’t take you for a Twilight fan.” I offered him a devilish grin. “Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.” I laughed and thumped him on the arm and he chuckled, giving me an ironic smile. “Seriously though, I don’t need the food or the drink, but it’s comforting, it makes me feel more human. Does that make sense?”

“That makes perfect sense,” Rob agreed and then took a massive swig from his bottle. “Look Jack.” He put his bottle down and turned to look at me. “I need to ask you something and please don’t take it the wrong way.”

There was a dramatic pause while I wondered what on earth he was going to ask me, I just knew that it would have something to do with me and Tess.

“It’s just that, well, when you go to see her and explain about me, well, don’t you think that perhaps her judgment will be clouded by seeing you?”

His eyes didn’t leave mine after he asked the question and I knew he wanted the truth from me, not some made up lie. The problem was that I didn’t quite understand what he was getting at, as there was no me and Tess. I had died so end of story. I was only here to help her, to help her get her life back on track and to love again. I had feelings for her, yes, of course I did, they couldn’t be switched off just because I had died. I had never stopped loving her, but nothing could ever come of them. I was on borrowed time, did Rob not realise that?

“Listen to me Rob, I’ll be honest, of course I have feelings for Tess, but they are for me to know only, not her. I care about her, I just want her to be happy, and I now know that she will be happy with you. I am the one person who can make this happen.” I told him with a hard glint in my eye. He had to believe that what I said was true.

He matched my stare, his eyes had tuned dark and serious, all humour had now gone from them. “Why you? Why do you need to tell her?”

His words shocked me; we had been over all of this a thousand times. “The prophesy Rob, the prophesy tells us so. I need to be the one who tells her that she can be happy again and that she can be happy with you. She needs to hear these words from me.” I paused, knowing that my following words would hurt him. “She’ll never believe them if they come from you.”

He continued to stare at me, his face expressionless, but I could sense his doubt. I put my beer down on the coffee table. I suddenly felt very tired. I just wanted this whole mess to go away and for Rob to believe me. I had never asked for any of this. It had been thrust upon me. “She’ll never know that we met Rob, I swear to you. She will never know of my involvement with you. Other than the prophesy telling her that she will be happy with you, that you will make her happy again.”

I looked at him pleadingly; he had to believe me on this one.

Ever so slowly he nodded, gave me a half smile and raised his bottle of beer to meet mine. “I’ll drink to that.”

We clanked our bottles together and slowly sipped the ice cold beer. But his words did trouble me, as deep down I kept asking myself, did I have other motives? If I was being completely honest, I was beginning to question why I so desperately needed to see her again. I was not so sure anymore that my plan would work.

Tess

He would be here any minute and my heart was hammering in my chest. I couldn’t keep still. I paced the floor, backwards and forwards, backwards and forward, totally restless. I had dreamed of this day for the past five years and now that the moment was nearly here, I was no longer sure if this was really what I wanted. I was scared to death.

I was also acutely aware that I no longer knew my husband. He was no longer my husband as he was dead, well, back from the dead, so the man I was meeting both was and was not my husband. Oh, my mind was so messed up, I didn’t know what was right or wrong anymore, and if I was even capable of rational thought.

Suddenly the doorbell rang, jolting me out of my thoughts and I stood stock still. I couldn’t do this, he was not making me answer the door, I told myself. I did have a choice, but I also knew that the choice had already been made. I never really had a choice.

It had always been him.

With trembling hands, I reached for the the front door and slowly pulled it open.

CHAPTER 13

Jack

I stood on the doorstep, my hand hovering over the doorbell. This was it Jack, I told myself. Once she opened the door there was no going back. I had to see her, to explain to her that she would be happy again. But the only problem was that I would have to tell her that it would not be with me. It could never be me, and this I realised was the real reason for my deliberation. I had been sent by her Guardian Angel to tell her that Rob was The One, that he would make her happy and whole again, but deep down inside, and I hated to admit this, I was jealous of him. I wanted Tess, but I couldn’t have her, so the next best thing was for her to be happy with someone else, and that someone else just happened to be him. Why did the Guardian Angel send me I wondered? I never asked her for any of this. Having to spend the past five years on earth had been a living hell. Seeing her every day had been torture, and what I was about to tell her took it to a whole new level. I may be a ghost, but I was no Saint. How was I going to do this? How was I going to stand there and tell the woman that I loved that I was only here to tell her that she was going to fall in love with another man, and that man was Rob? Well, I had no other option, it was what I had been sent to do, and Rob was depending on me. I couldn’t let him down; I just had to be strong.

I could do this.

It would be the last time that I would ever see her face, as I knew that once I told her my reason for being on earth, my work would then be done. That was why I was stood rooted to the spot. I was preparing myself to finally tell her goodbye.

You cannot touch her Jack, I told myself for the millionth time. If I did I would completely lose it. I just needed to explain things to her and then leave, for good. I clutched the bunch of yellow roses in one hand, her favourite flowers, and with the other I finally pressed the bell with trembling fingers.

The door slowly opened. There in front of me stood the most beautiful woman I had ever known and I felt all of my resolve slowly ebb away. All of my human emotions that I thought were dead and buried come flooding back to me. Her hand remained on the door, the other reached up to cover her mouth to strife her gasp of surprise, her mouth having formed a perfect ‘O’. Her face was free of makeup, revealing the fine freckles on the bridge of her nose. She was wearing a long sleeved pale blue tee shirt and fitted jeans, that hugged her slender figure and I noticed she was barefoot. Her hair was slightly longer than she used to like it, but it suited her. She looked so vulnerable, so small and I fought the urge to reach forward and touch her face. She quickly composed herself. “Jack, you’re back.” Her voice trembled. Then before I knew what was happening, before I could put a stop to her actions, she lunged forward and wrapped her arms around my neck, and heled me so tightly, saying my name over and over again. Then she began to sob, the kind that come from the very depths of your soul, and I could already clearly see that my plan was slowly and inevitably unravelling. She was in my arms, how on earth had that happened? I needed to comfort her, to hold her and although I was yearning to comfort this woman, my wife, a part of me needed to be cold and distant. I could not allow myself to get too close to her. With a huge effort I tore myself from her gaze, those eyes like liquid chocolate, and took a step back. I wanted to clear the air, space was good. “Tess, can we sit and talk? I have so much to tell you.” I eventually said once I felt that my voice would not break.

With a gentle nod, obviously unable to form any words, she reached out to take my hand and led me down the hallway…

*

“So you see Tess, it is your Guardian Angel who has sent me here.”

We were sat together on the couch, side by side, with mugs of coffee in front of us, long gone cold. I had been trying to explain to Tess the reason why I had come back for over half an hour, but she had not uttered a word. I wondered if she was in shock, as this was obviously a strong possibility, seeing as her dead husband had come back to life. However, I also wondered if she could not truly believe that I was real, that I was actually sat and talking to her, in her living room. Perhaps she thought that I was a figment of her imagination, or a vision? I had no idea what she was thinking and this was driving me crazy; I wished that I could read her mind.  All that I could do was carry on explaining, and if I needed further guidance then all I could do was contact her Guardian Angel for some serious help. I was well out of my depth here and I felt as if I was slowly drowning. So I did the only thing I knew I could do, I carried on talking in the hope that she wold eventually believe me.

“We both know that you will be happy again, with Rob, she has foreseen it…I mean your Guardian Angel and I, and I believe her, now that I’ve seen the two of you together. I want you to know this Tess; I want you to be happy.” My voice cracked slightly, but I had to finish what I needed to tell her, as hard as it would be for me to do so. “I’m not here for long… I’m living on borrowed time.”

I searched her eyes, for any clue that she had understood what I was saying, but again there was no reaction to my words. Was this too much for her to take in, did she not believe me? I needed to convince her that what I was saying was true. So I spoke slowly and with increased emphasis. “Do you understand what I am saying Tess?”

She looked at me with blank eyes and I knew that she had not listened to a single word that I had uttered. So I asked the only question that I could think of. I wanted her to tell me what she was thinking, I needed to hear her voice, it had been far too long. “Tess, what are you thinking? Please talk to me.“

My words were raw and ragged; please speak to me, please Tess. After what seemed like an eternity, she nervously took hold of my hand with both of hers; gripping me so tightly as If she thought that I could disappear at any minute.

She started to speak quickly and her voice was so quiet that I could barely hear her. “Yes, I understand… I understand that you have come back into my life Jack… but believe me, you are not on borrowed time.”

I looked at her, stunned and puzzled as to what she had just said and what she meant. But her next words confirmed what I already knew and what I had always known.

“Jack, I want you to stay.”

*

[* *]

Ten Years Earlier

_“Oh Tess, you look so beautiful…your Nana would be so proud” _

My mum dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes, making sure not to rub the mascara and I gave her hand a gentle squeeze. All she had done since she had seen me in my wedding dress was cry. A huge lump formed in my throat as I knew that my mum was so incredibly happy for me, and that Jack was the reason for this.

I was finally doing it, finally marrying Jack, I couldn’t be happier, I was the luckiest girl in the world. I knew that to say such a thing was a very old cliché, but it was true. It would be so hard to stop myself from running down that aisle and into his arms, but at least I was wearing a pair of killer heels that would help to slow me down and make me seem more ladylike. I couldn’t possibly run in them.

This past hour had completely dragged, I just wanted to be stood at the altar and to say the words, ‘I do’ and to hear Jack say those very same words to me. Mrs Tess Sullivan, I still couldn’t quite believe it. Everyone was so happy for us, well okay, some people said that we were far too young at the age of 21 to get married, but what did they know? We were so happy and that was all that mattered. When I told people that I had met my soul mate and that he was my best friend, they usually just rolled their eyes at me and gave me a patronising smile, so I had stopped telling people now, but that didn’t make it any less true. He was my soul mate, and I was his.

_“Tess dear, it’s nearly time.” _

My dad who was usually gruff with a strict ‘no messing’ persona, had a glisten to his eyes and I knew that he was both proud and happy. He got on like a house on fire with Jack, to my huge relief, and he couldn’t wish for a better son in law. It also meant that he could now use my bedroom as a study, so it was a win win situation.

_All of a sudden, I was so nervous and I looked at my refection once again in the mirror. _

“How do I look Dad?”

I was wearing a second hand wedding dress, it was my cousin’s dress but it was absolutely beautiful, and the fact that it had been worn before really didn’t bother me. We were working to a tight budget here. The dress was encrusted with pearls absolutely everywhere and there was a gigantic train that I just knew Jack would have a snigger at, he was bound to make some joke about me tripping up over it. The best part about my dress though was the veil. I had always wanted to wear a veil, ever since I was a little girl, and this too was fringed with pearls.

“Tess… you look stunning. Jack is one very lucky man.” Dad gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek. I gave him a massive grin in return.

“I know.”

[_He took my arm and we made our way down the stairs and into the foyer where I nervously waited for the wedding march to begin. My heart was hammering with both nerves and anticipation. This was it, the start of my new life with Jack. All too quickly I heard  music and the doors to the large room opened. I scanned the length of the aisle, past the smiling faces of all my friends and family, they blurred into insignificance for now. All I could see was Jack, stood at the end of the aisle, turned to face me. He was wearing a dark grey morning suit and he was the handsomest man I had ever laid eyes upon. He had also cut his hair, the curls no longer reaching his neck and I liked this change. I held his gaze and he offered me a triumphant smile in return. I took my father’s arm. _]

“Ready, Tess?”

Without tearing my eyes away from Jack, I nodded, “Yes, I’m ready.”

CHAPTER  14

The clock struck 9 pm and Rob sat at home, thinking. The television was turned on but muted and a takeaway sat cold and untouched on the coffee table in front of him. He was not sure how long he had sat staring at the clock, a few hours perhaps? He had been thinking a lot lately, about Tess and Jack. He hadn’t heard from Jack all day, and that made him feel on edge. He had no idea what he was up to. Jack and Tess were alone, together, and although Jack had told him that he would put things right, Rob had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew that nothing was ever that simple, not when the matter concerned dead husbands who came back to life.

Feeling at a complete loss, he wandered from room to room, just for something to do, as he couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, not until he heard from Jack, who had promised that he would be in touch tonight. So all he could do was wait. He didn’t want to sit and think, he had done so much thinking over the past few months, so much so that his head hurt. He didn’t want to think anymore, he wanted action. But at the moment he just felt so utterly powerless to do anything. He had been told on many occasions that he was too nice and he slowly realised that he no longer wanted to be that nice guy, as being nice got you absolutely nowhere. Where being a nice got you, Rob realised, was sitting alone in an empty house, looking at the clock, having been jilted by a woman who wanted to go on a date with her dead husband. That was where being nice got you.

For Rob, work sadly was his life, he had nothing else, well; he didn’t until he met Tess. Now all he could do was think about her and the fact that Jack was getting in the way. Rob knew that he meant well, but Jack was on his own personal mission, and possibly working to his own agenda, and Rob couldn’t help but think that he could only make things worse.

He understood that Tess loved Jack, of course she did, she was married to him, but hell, he also knew that she still loved him. He had seen it written all over her face. How could he ever compete with that? A dead, but now back from the dead, husband! There was no competition was there? He knew that he needed to be proactive, that he needed to do something, but he had no idea how to act upon these feelings.

Rob slowly entered the study upstairs and stared at the pile of cardboard boxes, still unpacked from when he moved in months ago. He could make a start unpacking now and rearrange all of his text books and novels, it might help take his mind off things, but he just didn’t have the heart to do so. With a weary sigh, he headed back downstairs to make himself yet another cup of coffee…

Rob wondered if he should reveal his own skeletons? Was that the way to win Tess’s heart, show how vulnerable he was? He honestly had no idea, but perhaps it would show her how human he was, how he too had been hurt and had suffered loss. He realised that she barely knew him, but that she knew absolutely everything about Jack. It was therefore with a firm resolution that he confirmed that it was time to make things even.

He was acutely aware that his own life was a completely jumbled up mess. His parents had been killed by a drunk driver, he had no other living family members and now he was competing for the love of a woman with her back from the dead husband. Could life possibly get any worse he wondered? He laughed, as knowing his luck he thought, it probably could.

As Rob mulled these sombre thoughts over in his mind, the telephone started to ring and he practically ran across the room to answer it, thinking that he would finally have his answer, that Tess would realise that Jack was now gone forever and that she needed to move on with her life.

Diving for the phone, his words tumbled out all at once, as he was unable to hide his eagerness. “Jack, what did she say?” He asked breathlessly. There was an uncomfortable pause before he received an answer.

“I’m not Jack, but I think I can help you with what you are searching for.” An unknown female voice told him.

Puzzlement creased Rob’s face. “Who is this?”

“My name is Jenny; I can help you. We need to talk.” She told him gently.

Rob had absolutely no idea what this strange woman was on about. “I don’t know anyone called Jenny, who are you?” He didn’t mean to sound rude and exasperated, but he truly was, his life was littered with riddles, he just wanted a simple life with simple answers to his questions. His head was throbbing.

The voice on the other end of the line remained calm and each word was clearly enunciated, with a hint he also noticed of annoyance that couldn’t quite be hidden.

“I am a friend to Tess… but ultimately, I am also a friend of yours.”

Beyond fed up, Rob shouted into the phone, “and what the hell does that mean? Is this some kind of joke! Did Jack put you up to this?” So much for Mr Nice guy he thought to himself.  But to his absolute disbelief he heard a delicate chuckle at the other end of the line.

“At this very moment, Tess is at home with Jack, whom you know. To prove to you that this is no joke, let me just say that I know Jack is a ghost who has come back on a mission to make Tess happy again. His mission is to make sure that she is happy with you.”

Rob was momentarily stunned into silence. All he could do was gulp several times as he tried desperately to form a coherent sentence. He failed miserably.

“Rob, are you still there?” Jenny sked him anxiously.

“Yes.” All that he could manage was monosyllabic.

“Rob, please listen to me” Jenny said kindly. “I know that what I am about to tell you won’t make that much sense, but what I am going to tell you is the truth.”

Rob, who was still stunned, merely nodded, forgetting that he actually needed to talk.

“Rob? Did you hear me?” Jenny could not quite keep the panic out of her voice.

“Sorry, yes, I heard you.” He managed to say.

“Rob, I am a friend to Tess but I am not the person whom she thinks I am. I am, what is known in my world, as a Protector. I am the link between Tess and her Guardian Angel. I was sent to watch over Tess when Jack died, to protect her. I have done so for the past five years.”

Rob had no idea what to make of this and he was actually contemplating that he was having some kind of mental breakdown. The life as he knew it was all a malicious lie.

“Rob, do you understand what I am saying?”

At a total loss he could only tell the truth. “To be absolutely honest, I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about. But…” and he paused, not quite believing what he was about to say. “I do believe you; I have no reason not to.”

Jenny drew out a long held breath. “As a Protector Rob,” Jenny continued gently. “I watch over Tess, without her knowing, so she has no idea who I am.”

Rob nodded once again. “Yes, I understand.” Although to be honest he really didn’t. So Jenny and Tess were friends he thought to himself, but that friendship was built on a lie? What kind of a friendship was that? He then remembered Jenny’s first words to him. “Jenny, what did you mean when you said, I can help you?’”

Again there was another chuckle. “Just that Rob, I can help you and Tess… you see, at the moment, she is heading for a complete disaster. She needs your help.”

Rob’s grip tightened on the phone, his knuckled turning white. He now knew that Jack’s plan had failed. He knew in his gut, that this was what was going to happen all along. He was also intensely aware that timing was everything and that the time for action was now. “Jenny, can you meet me at Tess’s place?”

“You read my mind Rob.” Jenny replied with a smile on hr face.

Rob put down the phone, grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

CHAPTER 15

Tess

“Jack, I want you to stay.” I looked at this man, my husband and soulmate, and begged him with my eyes not to leave. I locked my gaze onto his; daring him to look away. But after a few seconds his gaze lowered and with a ragged breath he said the word that I did not want to hear.

No.”

He slowly let go of my hand, but I could see the deliberation etched upon his face and the uncertainty in his eyes. He was unsure of what to do, of what he knew he must do, and of what his heart was telling him to do. For me it was very simple. He had come back to me; he was here with me now. No other questions needed to be asked and I didn’t want to hear the answers anyway. None of that mattered to me right now. All that mattered was that Jack had come back to me.

However, a mixture of shame and rejection washed through me as the cold, stark reality sunk in. He didn’t want me. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. I did not even bother to try and stop the tears that rolled silently down my face. My heart was breaking. I couldn’t go through this again.

“Why Jack?” I moaned between stifled sobs. “Why come back to me to only leave me once again? Why do that to me?”

I felt so utterly alone; my whole world had been ripped apart once more. I held my head in my hands and tried to block everything out, this nightmare that I had suddenly been plunged into. What he was doing was so cruel, unintentionally cruel, but it still hurt. He was planning to leave me again, and he’d only just got here.

All of a sudden I felt a pair of strong arms around my waist, pulling me towards him and I was no longer able to fight against him. I once again felt safe, warm and so utterly loved.

“Oh Tess, I’m sorry, so sorry.” He kept repeating over and over again into my hair. “I didn’t plan on any of this. I just want to make sure you’re happy again, you’ve been so miserable for the past few years.”

He cupped my chin in his long and lean fingers and tipped my face towards his, and I too saw tears glistening in his eyes.

“Jack” I pleaded. “You can make me happy again,” I whispered.

He slowly shook his head, as if telling himself that this could not happen. “Tess, no… we can’t do this.” But I sensed the uncertainty in his voice.

He ran his hand through his blond curls and I knew that he wanted to kiss me; I could tell that he was fighting this urge. “I’m on borrowed time Tess, I’m not meant to be here with you now. You need to be with Rob.” He pleaded.

I reached out to touch his face and he allowed me to do so. He placed his hand over mine and I could feel his warmth through my fingertips. Once again I was reminded that he was real; blood was pumping through his veins. I also knew that he did not believe what he had told me, in that he did not truly believe that Rob was my future. His words had lacked any true meaning and I could tell that he was merely reciting them to me. It was what he wanted me to believe, what he had to believe.

His closed his eyes and brought my fingertips to his mouth and then slowly kissed them. I shifted my weight on the couch and slowly raised my face to his.  He hesitated “No Tess, this is wrong.”

I reached up and stroked his cheek and then very gently kissed his forehead, inhaling his all too familiar smell. I pulled back and looked into his beautiful green eyes. “You are here now Jack, that’s all that matters, who knows how long we have together, nobody knows that anyway. Just look at us, we thought we would be married forever, well maybe now we can be.” I gave him a sad smile, as I knew what he was about to say.

“Tess, we aren’t married.” He sighed and closed his eyes.

Trust him to point out the obvious. “That’s just a formality Jack.” I gently took hold of his hand again and whispered. “You will always be my husband.”

“Tess, it’s just not right.” He said, his breath rapid, his words barely audible. He shook his head once more and let go of my hand. He shifted further away from me on the couch. “I’m not real Tess, you deserve a real man, I’m a ghost, remember.” His voice cracked on his last words.

“No Jack, don’t say such things, you are real!” I did not want to believe that he was a ghost; I could see him, hear him and touch him. He was real, he was my Jack.

“Tess.” He sighed. “I’m only back on earth for a very short time.” His voice hitched and I wondered if he was going to cry. He suddenly seemed so lost. “Tess, I could vanish from your life at any moment, is that what you want?”

It was not what I wanted, not at all, but I was not about to tell him that, as it would give him the ammunition that he needed to leave me.

“We would have to be in hiding all of the time.” He continued quietly. “Nobody can ever know that I exist with you. What if someone sees us together, recognises me, is that the kind of life you want?”

I took a deep breath as I needed him to listen to me. He had to believe what I was about to say. “Jack, I made a promise to you, to always love you. I’ve always loved you, ever since that first day at Uni. It’s always been you. I thought you had gone forever, but now we have been given a second chance… and I’ve tried to get on with my life… but I’ve struggled.” I waited for him to respond, but he didn’t do so. He just stared at me, his expression unreadable.  “Jack, we have to take this chance we have been given, even if it wasn’t planned.”

“Tess,” Jack tried to interrupt me but I carried on.

“No Jack, just let me finish. You died an awful death and I was left alone, but I coped by reliving our memories together. I was incredibly lucky to have found you so young… and we had a good life together, and for me that was enough…. until now.” I reached out to touch him and placed my hand once again on his face, moving my thumb across his perfect blond eyebrow, trying to smooth all of the worry away. Jack tried to hide his pain and shock, but he was unable to do so. I knew him too well. I was hurting him with my words, this truth, but he had to know what life had been like for me and what I wanted now. 

“Jack, you can’t come back into my life prophesising that I will fall in love with another man, whom I have only just met, when you are the one giving me the news. Do you understand how messed up that is? I don’t care how long you will be here on earth, I don’t care that we will have to hide, I don’t even care that you are a ghost! You will always be my Jack and you need to stay… with me.”  I kept my eyes locked on his, demanding an answer, I could not lose my nerve, and I would not back down. He would either stay with me or he would leave. I just needed to know which choice he would make.

“Tess.” His voice was thick with emotion and I knew that I was wining this battle. “It’s not why I am here Tess…”

“I don’t care what your initial reasons were! I don’t care; all that matters is that you are here with me now.” I snapped back at him. This man could be truly infuriating at times. I stared at him, daring him to look away, but this time his gaze remained firm and steady, and I swore he could read my mind. I could feel the electricity buzzing between us. Oh how I loved this man, please say you’ll stay, please, please Jack. I had no idea how I would carry on if he decided to leave me.

“I’ll have to report back to the Guardian Angel… and erm well, I’m not too sure what she will think about all of this. She may not allow me to stay.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, was he really saying that he would stay, with me? “Then don’t tell her, pretend that you are still watching over me. Then after a while she will realise what has happened, that I am happy, but by then it will be too late and you can stay with me, problem solved.”

“Oh Tess, nothing is ever that easy.” He rewarded me with one of his breathtakingly beautiful smiles.

“Yes, it is, we can make it that easy. Why complicate things? You are with me now… please stay.”

He reached forward and took my head in his hands. Then ever so slowly his lips found mine.

Then the doorbell rang.

CHAPTER 16

[* *]

Ten Years Ago

I_ _[_love you Jack, can we move in today?” I laughed and he offered me a soft chuckle in return while taking my hand. We were stood in an empty house that hopefully would soon be ours. I had fallen in love with it, this shell of a house, as there was so much promise. The blank walls were an empty canvas. We could make our own mark here, make it our own and this was what excited me. I wanted to move in straight away. _]

[_Jack grinned at me. “Come on, let’s take another look around, we’ve got another twenty minutes before we need to leave.” _]

[_I knew that he was as excited as me; it was just that he was able to rein it in a bit better. _]

[_“That’s ok isn’t it?” He aimed his question to the estate agent who smiled and nodded at him. _]

“Yes of course, Mr Sullivan, take your time.” He then ever so discreetly walked towards the living room door, leaving us alone.

_“Alone at last,” Jack winked at me. I punched him playfully on the arm. “Oh Jack, come on, let’s go take another look at the kitchen.” _

This was my favourite room of the house so far. There were newly fitted cupboards, all in stripped pine and the room was a large open space, we could fit a massive kitchen table in it, I had always wanted a huge scrubbed kitchen table. I held his hand and tugged him along; I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the house again.

[_ ”Can we really afford this place?” I asked Jack as we opened and closed all of the cupboards._]

“Yes love, it’s well within our budget and there’s not much work needed to be done. I think that as long as we put in an offer close to the asking price, then the house is ours.”

“Oh Jack, I want to move in right now,” I squealed. He picked me up, catching me by surprise and twirled me around in the air, holding me close to his body. He gently lowered me to the ground, but kept a tight grip on me, nuzzling his face into my hair.

[_“So do I, but it will be ours soon.” He whispered into my ear, and he kissed me gently on the forehead. _]

[_ _]

…Walking to the car, I hooked Jack’s arm in mine and practically skipped alongside him. I couldn’t hide my excitement any longer, I absolutely loved that house. This was going to be our first real home; I just couldn’t wait to move in. We were still living in my student digs, as Jack had to move out of his to make way for a new group of tenants, he couldn’t afford to pay the rent by himself. So we made the decision for him to move in with me, and it had worked well so far. But things were different now, being married was different and although my digs were clean, the space was rather too small for the two of us. More importantly it wasn’t ours, it was mine. I wanted to live in a space that belonged to both of us, something that we could both call our own. It sounded daft I supposed, but Jack understood me, he wanted me to be happy, and buying a home of our own just felt the right way to start married life together. We had the money saved up, so financially we were sorted.

[_“You okay Tess?” _]

We had stopped by the car but I was so lost in my thoughts that I hadn’t noticed.  “Yes… it’s just that I am so happy Jack.” I reached up on my tip toes to plant a soft kiss on his lips.” I love you Mr Sullivan.” I whispered in his ear.

“I know.” He replied, and we soodd there grinning at each other, lost in our own little bubble.

*

Jack

Bzzzzzzzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Damn that blasted doorbell! Reluctantly I pulled myself away from Tess, but my eyes stayed fixed upon her face. Carefully I tried to read her expression, her mind, but I was unable to do so. My breathing was ragged and I ran a hand through my hair, trying to de fog my thoughts. I noticed that Tess’s breathing was also rapid and that she too looked totally dishevelled, as well as disappointed by the interruption. We both leaned back on the couch and reluctantly let go of each other.

“Who the hell is it?” I asked, trying in vain to keep my voice steady. But I was all too aware that I was failing miserably. I could have found out who was at the door by simply popping outside, but I would have to disappear in front of her and I didn’t feel that she was quite ready for that yet. I knew that Tess had not quite accepted the fact that I was actually a ghost.

“I don’t know Jack.” Tess’s voice was as equally shaky as mine. “People don’t usually call around so late.” She looked towards the clock on the mantelpiece. “It’s gone ten.”

“Then just ignore them, hopefully they’ll go away.”

“Jack!” She sounded exasperated. “People don’t usually knock on my door gone ten at night, it must be important.”

I knew that she was right.  “I’ll come with you to the door then.”

“No Jack, I’m fine, wait here, if I need you I’ll shout. You’re not meant to be here, remember.”

I gave a resigned nod and with that she made her way down the narrow hallway to answer the front door. I touched the seat next to me and I could still feel her warmth. I took a deep breath, finally able to think clearly about what had just happened. What on earth had just happened? No, more importantly what had I gone and done? This was all my fault; I should have left while I had the chance. Now I wouldn’t be able to do so and more importantly I didn’t want to. Rob was going to kill me, well he would if he could, and I stifled a laugh that was threatening to bubble up. Now really was not the time to be laughing. I had really gone and messed things up this time. From the hallway I could hear muffled voices and to my horror I recognised Rob’s voice. What the hell was he doing here?

CHAPTER 17

Tess

As I answered the door it was a wonder that I could actually stand up without falling to the floor as my legs felt so weak. But I couldn’t let Jack see that I was in the process of losing my mind. I couldn’t quite believe that he was real, and I thought that at any minute I would wake up. He knew I was shocked, of course he did, but to be perfectly honest I still felt as though I was about to be plunged back into the nightmare that was my life. So I forced myself to move and to act as normally as I possibly could, so as not to give him any more ammunition to worry about me. My heart was racing with the thought of what had just happened; I couldn’t believe it. Jack was back and he was going to stay for good, and stay with me. I hugged my inner goddess; I was so happy right now; I didn’t want anyone to destroy my happiness. So the rude interruption irritated me. Nobody called to see me at night. Then a horrible thought gripped me. What if it was bad news? Was it my mother? Had she taken ill? But I quickly dismissed the thought as I knew that I would have received a phone call, not a knock on the door. So who on earth was it? Who could possibly be calling at this time of night? Well, whoever it was, it was not going to be good news, I just knew.

I hesitantly opened the door, ready to call for Jack if I needed him. But there on the doorstep I found Rob. He stood there, staring at me. He had a haunted expression on his face that took my breath away. But what surprised me more was that Jenny was stood next to him. I looked from one face to the other. Although Rob looked anxious, Jenny simply looked annoyed. What the hell? I must be seeing things; this could not be happening to me. Why were they both stood on my doorstep looking at me like I had done something wrong? Then it slowly hit me. Oh! I was supposed to be out with Jenny tonight. This was my absolute worst nightmare come true. With a heavy heart I knew that Rob had figured out that I had lied to him. I was going to be sick, either that or faint right in front of them. I gripped the door to keep myself upright, I had been caught red handed. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, But I was trapped, held captive by my own lies.  I had nowhere to go, and nobody to blame expect myself.  Tess, you can handle this, you just have to lie through your teeth, I told myself, but I was the world’s worst liar. I just had to pray that they believed my lie. I didn’t want a fight or any confrontation. I just wanted all of this to go away. Perhaps I should have told Rob the truth? Perhaps I should have told him that I was seeing an old friend.  Then my eyes drifted back to his and I saw the pain embedded in them. I had hurt him once again with my lies. That was all I ever seemed to do to him, he didn’t deserve me as a friend.

I took a deep breath to give me courage, plastered a huge smile on my face, but then quickly remembered that I should be feeling remorse, so instantly dropped the façade and looked at my feet. However, another thought then popped into my head, another lie, but I had to try and salvage the situation. I was sick tonight, so I had to stay in. Hopefully Jenny would back me up; she was my best friend after all. But, oh… hang on, why was she here with Rob? She didn’t know that I had planned to meet her tonight, that was just a lie for Rob, so that I could be with Jack. But oh… she knew that Jack wanted me to meet me tonight, and meet me here. But that still didn’t explain why she was standing on my doorstep with Rob?

“Rob, what are you doing here?” I tried exceptionally nard to keep my voice light and indifferent, but I couldn’t quite keep my annoyance from showing and neither the slight tremble.  Keep calm Tess, keep calm.

“I came to see how you were Tess.” Rob paused for a beat to read my reaction and I gave him what I hoped was a face showing the effects of nausea. You were sick Tess, remember. But the emotion was not too hard to muster up, as at that precise moment in time. I really did feel quite nauseous.

Rob gave me what I thought was a knowing look. Did he know I was lying?  He cleared his throat before looking me directly in the eye. “I decided to go out tonight anyway and I … well… bumped into Jenny… at the bar.”

I stood and listened to him and then it slowly dawned on me that he too was lying. Why would he do that? Was he seeing Jenny behind my back? No Tess, I told myself, don’t be so stupid, he was not that kind of man, and anyway, even if he was, why would he show up here with her? No, a piece of the puzzle was missing. I just didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t even realised that they knew each other.

“I recognised her from when she called around at the office the other week.” Rob continued. He looked sideways at Jenny. Why was he justifying himself to me? “I asked her why she wasn’t with you, as you had told me you were seeing her tonight, and she explained to me that you were ill… I was just so worried about you.”

He really did look worried, but angry too. But at least it explained the anxious looks. I at once felt immense guilt for the lie I had told him, and the reason behind it. But why was he annoyed with me? Did he really not believe me? Why would he not believe me? Why would he not believe Jenny?

“Are you okay Tess?” Jenny who had stood silent until now stepped forward towards me and placed her hand gently on my arm. “Are you okay Tess?”

I cleared my throat and took a closer look at my best friend. Why was she lying for me? I didn’t get it? She had already told this lie for me, before I had even thought of it myself. Had she quickly thought of an excuse when Rob had approached her in the pub to ask her where I was? She must have, there was no other explanation.

“I’m fine Jenny, I’m feeling much better now.” I offered weakly. I smiled and tried to show her discreetly how much I appreciated this subterfuge. I knew that I owed her big time for covering up for me, but I still didn’t understand why she had lied for me. Even though I didn’t understand her motives, I trusted her.

All of a sudden in the corner of my eye, I saw Rob flinch while his stance visibly stiffened. Oh no! I turned to look behind me and there to my absolute horror stood Jack, with a huge grin plastered on his face. How was I going to get out of this one?

CHAPTER 18

Jack

I heard them all chatting in the hallway and I couldn’t allow Tess to face them alone. I was not a coward. I couldn’t sit back and hide. Anyway I knew that they wouldn’t go quietly. They had come to see me really, not Tess. For some inexplicable reason, Rob had figured out that something had happened between us, most probably because I didn’t phone him as we had planned. But I didn’t quite understand why he was here and why he wasn’t alone. Why was Jenny with him? Did she call and see him? She was defiantly behind this late night visit. I knew Rob, he would have sat and waited for me at home. There was no way that he would be stood here on Tess’s doorstep unless someone had told him what was going on. So somehow Jenny must have figured it out. Curiosity had got the better of me now and although I could watch them unobserved, that just didn’t seem right. Anyway, I had a right to be here and I didn’t want to spy on Tess anymore. That’s all I had done for the past five years. So I decided to join them and face the music.

As soon as Rob saw me, I knew that my instincts were right. He knew what had happened. I could just tell. The death stares he were giving me were a subtle tell-tale sign, but ironically were wasted upon me. However, I decided to play along at this game we were all playing. The we don’t know each other game, and have some fun at the same time. He shouldn’t have come here; this was his own doing. So I stood and offered a huge grin to him and Jenny, both of whom looked totally disgusted with me. I was only too glad that they couldn’t act upon it, as it would give their game away.

“Hi, I’m… “I quickly remembered that I couldn’t be known as Jack, so I changed my name to John, it was the first name that popped into my head that began with J. I offered my hand first to Rob, who reluctantly shook it in order to keep up with the pretence and then to Jenny, who gave me a knowing look. So she was on to me too. But I still didn’t understand her connection to all of this. Why didn’t she just out me right now? Why lie? The answer was obvious, she may be pissed at me but she was here to protect Tess, nothing more and nothing less. Outing me would out herself. She would no longer be able to play her role, so she had no choice but to keep quiet.  There was also the fact that she would upset Tess in telling her the truth, and she didn’t want to do that either. Whether I wanted to or not, I had her trapped. I also slowly realised that I had a role to play here, that of an old friend, not a dead husband. So I placed my arm around Tess’s shoulders, pulling her to me in what I hoped looked like a friendly hug.  “I’m an old friend of Tess’s, we went to Uni together, I was just in the area and thought I would call in.” I tried to hide my smirk as the whole situation was totally absurd. I was lying to everyone when they all knew the truth. They all knew who I was.

Jenny and Rob both stared at me, Rob with one eyebrow raised. I swore there was a hint of a smirk on his face too. Jenny just stood there glaring at me, before her eyes fixed upon Tess, completely ignoring me.

“We haven’t seen each other in a long time.” Tess said. She had finally found her voice and I was surprised that she sounded convincing. She still looked incredibly guilty though.

With a huge sigh Rob looked at me. “I can see that we are disturbing you.” He turned his attention to Tess. “I just wanted to make sure that you were okay… and it looks as if you are.”

He looked absolutely dejected and the game that I was playing no longer seemed to be any fun. I had betrayed him and that had not been my intent. Shame washed over me. I needed to talk to him alone. I never meant to humiliate him in this way, it just happened.

Tess turned to look at Rob. “I’m fine Rob, I just need an earlyish night and then I’ll feel as right as rain in the morning.”

I noticed though that she couldn’t quite meet his eye, and I knew that she felt just as ashamed as me for the lie that she had told. She hated lying. She then looked pointedly at me and I got the hint. She wanted them to leave, it was all too much for her. I realised that she needed some space in order to mull things over, to think over what had happened. Who could blame her? I looked at her gently as she held my gaze. I was scared to look away from her in case it was the last time that I ever saw her face. 

“I was just on my way out anyway, wasn’t I Tess? I have an early start myself.”  I placed a chaste kiss on her cheek and I felt the electricity so palpable between us. I whispered into her ear, so only she could hear me. “I’ll be in touch tomorrow.” This was a promise, I wasn’t going anywhere, no one could make me leave now. I had to stay. I owed it to Tess and to myself.

I turned and watched as Rob and Jenny said their goodbyes. Tess stood at the door, looking totally worn out, her eyes pleading with me to come back and see her tomorrow. Then without the others seeing me, I quietly mouthed soon.

CHAPTER 19

Tess

I[* *]had absolutely no idea how I had managed to get myself to work today. I was so tired. My brain just wouldn’t switch off last night, in order for me to get a blissful and restful night’s sleep. The events from last night kept replaying over and over in my mind. Jack was back! I hugged myself. I couldn’t quite believe it. I wondered if I had dreamt it all when I woke up this morning. But when I wandered downstairs for my first cup of coffee, and oh did I need it, there on the kitchen table was a note from Jack. He had left it propped up by coffee cup. It simply said: I love you, I’ll call today, I’m not going anywhere.

I had no idea when he wrote it, or how he had managed to put it by the cup, but that was my new Jack. I never knew what he was going to do.  I realised that he had changed, he was different to my old Jack, but I supposed dying would do that to you.

I sat at my desk, staring at my iPhone. I shouldn’t really have it switched on at work. I had changed the ring tone to Journey’s [Don’t Stop Believing, and _]the volume was turned up to the max. I didn’t want to miss his call. However, that didn’t stop me from checking every five minutes to make sure that I hadn’t missed him.  I felt like a teenager again. I lay my forehead on the cool wooden table and closed my eyes. When did my life become so utterly complicated? _Oh, that would be when Jack came back from the dead Tess. What was I doing? I was ecstatically happy, but at the same time wracked with remorse. What I was doing felt so wrong. I should not be getting involved with Jack again, he was not human. But to me he was so very real, and now that he had walked back into my life, well, I couldn’t let him go, not again. The good catholic girl in me shook her head and tutted at me. She told me that what I was heading for was total disaster and that what I was doing was [very, very wrong. _]I was surely heading to hell.[ _]But I couldn’t stop. If I was being brutally honest, I did not want to stray from the path that I was on. I had no choice but to continue.

Then there was Rob. I did have feelings for him and every time I thought of him a knife seemed to twist in my gut. I felt physically sick at the lies I had told him. He must have known that I was with Jack last night, or rather John, and that I had deliberately lied to him to get out of our date. I just wished that I could sit down and explain to him what had happened. But as if that could ever happen? He’d think I was making it all up, so that my going out with John would be okay and reasonable. Once again I had no choice but to lie to him, and I hated myself for it. I also knew that if Jack hadn’t come back into my life, that I would be with Rob now, or at the very least heading that way, and for some reason that made me feel incredibly sad.

I was a horrible, horrible person. But even as I told myself that, I desperately needed to talk to Jack. I had to see him again; we had so much to talk about.

So I was safely hidden in my office, pretending to work and hopefully hiding from an embarrassing encounter with Rob, when the phone rang. I answered it immediately, as if my life depended on it. “Jack….you called!” I said breathlessly.

“Hi Tess.” Jenny replied in an unusually clipped tone.

Disappointment flooded through me.

“Look Tess, we need to talk. Can I call around tonight?” She continued in her no messing tone of voice.

I tried to keep the disappointment from my voice. “Yes Jenny, we do need to talk.” I paused knowing that I needed to clear the air with her. “ Thanks for covering for me last night.” My voice trailed off, not quite knowing what else to say over the phone. I felt deeply embarrassed about the predicament I had placed her in.

“Yes, that’s why we need to talk. I’ll explain tonight, around seven?” She answered bluntly. She did not sound like my friend Jenny at all.

“Yes, that’s fine, I’ll be in.” I said eventually, knowing that I would have to talk to her.

“Okay then.” She hesitated, unsure of what to say next. “I know you think he is Jack, but he isn’t, think about it.” She hung up.

Well, that was a conversation I was not looking forward to at all. What on earth did she mean? She obviously thought that I had made John up, that he was some kind of Jack worship figure. This made me laugh, although there was absolutely nothing funny about the situation I found myself in. I had no idea how to lie to her and this instantly sobered me up.

I slowly stood up as I needed to stretch my legs and walked over to the window. I had a wonderful view of the city from my office and I could see people getting on with their everyday lives, totally unaware of what was going on in mine. I saw a woman walking along the street clutching her toddler’s tiny chubby hand, his little footsteps trying to keep step with hers. She was hurrying along, obviously in a rush. Then outside the deli a woman wearing a beautiful green dress, embellished with daisies, hugged a tall man wearing an expensive suit who put his arms tightly around her waist. He whispered something into her ear, to which she laughed at, and then hand in hand they set off down the road. In that split second, that segment of time, I realised how incredibly insignificant my life actually was. My problems did not lie at the centre of the universe, although to me they did. Life simply carried on.

I blinked several times to clear my vision and turned back to my desk, I still couldn’t settle on anything as Jack still hadn’t phoned. Why hadn’t he phoned yet? Should I phone him? But then I remembered that I didn’t have his number. Why hadn’t I thought to ask for it? I was so lost in my thoughts that I jumped when there was a knock at the door. I knew instinctively that it was Rob, he had a certain way of knocking. I did my best to compose myself and then I told him to come in.

He strolled into the room as if nothing at all strange had happened last night. He stood in front of me, giving me a warm and genuine smile. He was wearing a pale blue shirt that I noted matched his eyes and a dark blue tie. The colour blue suited him. I offered him a warm smile in return, he had done nothing wrong. I was the guilty party here. My pulse quickened, as it always did when I saw him. I instantly felt guilty for having these thoughts.

“How are you feeling today? I hope you are feeling better? I wasn’t sure if you’d be in.” There was no hidden meaning in his words, no sarcasm and I started to relax. He was not here to grill me about my mystery man, well I didn’t think so anyway. He was too much of a gentleman.

“I’m feeling much better thank you, I just needed an early night.” I told him quickly.

His blue eyes softened and he looked at me for a long time before saying anything. I did not want to tear my gaze away from his.

“Mmm, well as long as you are okay.” He finally said.

I couldn’t help but notice the trace of sadness that laced his words. He continued to stand and look at me without saying a word and I knew that he had more to say to me, but that he didn’t know how to go about it. He touched the back of his neck, and his eyes averted my gaze.

“I was also wondering, if you were up for going out with me this weekend… for a meal… if you like?” He asked nervously.

A meal with Rob? I had agreed to this, but that was before Jack was back on the scene. What should I say? I did want to go out with him, I already felt some kind of bond with him, but I also felt that I would be betraying Jack If I agreed. I pondered this for a moment. He watched me closely, his eyes expectantly waiting for my answer. He was so kind, this handsome man who was the opposite of Jack in every conceivable way. What harm could it do? If I said no it would surely make working with him really awkward, well more awkward than it already was. If I said yes, well, I would explain to Jack that he had asked me out on a date before he came back into my life. It was only a meal, not a proposal of marriage after all.

“I’d really like that,” I told him, and I realised that my feelings were genuine. He tried to contain his smile but it slowly spread to form a satisfied and genuine grin. He looked so young and carefree when he smiled. He couldn’t hide how pleased he was.

He took a step closer towards me and lightly tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear. “I look forward to it; we’ll sort out the details later. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.”

I could feel where his fingers had brushed against my skin and my skin. I liked how he made me feel. Even though I knew it was wrong.

I watched him turn towards the door, thankful that he had not mentioned the events from last night. Was he not curious about the mystery man who had been in my flat last night? I couldn’t quite believe that he was going to let that one go.

It was not until he reached the door that he turned around, trying to sound as casual as possible. “So who is John then?”

He’d caught me off guard and I knew that this was a deliberate and planned manoeuvre on his part. I deliberated a little too long to sound convincing with my answer.  “He’s a friend, from a long time ago, when I was at Uni.”

He merely nodded, stared at me for a few seconds more, and then deciding not to ask anything further walked through the open door.

I stood there completely stunned. So he was curious? It was obvious that he didn’t believe me, but hadn’t questioned me further about his suspicions. That puzzled me; I just couldn’t make him out. I stood mulling over our conversation when I was jolted by the sound of Journey blasting out of my iPhone. I lunged across my desk to answer it as quickly as I could.

“Hi.” I answered breathlessly. “I thought you had forgotten about me.”

I was rewarded with the most wonderful sound in the whole wide world, Jack’s laugh.

Everything was going to be alright.

CHAPTER 20

“I’ve missed you; can you meet me for lunch?” I asked him breathlessly.

He chuckled again. “Did you think I had forgotten to phone?” I noted a serious edge to his voice. I could hear the concern in his words. “I just had a few things to sort out first that’s all.” He told me.

“Like what?” He had nothing to do with his time. “What have you been up to?”

“Me? Nothing… absolutely nothing.”

But I could tell that he was hiding something from me. I then suddenly remembered the question that I needed to ask him. “That reminds me, when did you leave your note? It wasn’t there when I went to bed last night.”

“Haha, I wondered when you would ask. I left it while you were sleeping,” he said nonchalantly.

I was puzzled. “Jack, how did get in?”

“Tess,” he sounded exasperated. “I’m a ghost!”

Oh, that part was really easy to forget. I was a little sad though, why didn’t he stay? But I quickly pushed that thought to the back of my mind. It didn’t matter, he probably just needed some breathing space, as did I. Instead I smiled and thought about him sneaking into the flat. “Jack did you watch me while I was sleeping?” I knew this was daft, but I needed to know.

“Of course I did!” And once again he started to laugh at me.

“Jack Sullivan you are as infuriating as ever! You are up to no good!”

Another chuckle echoed down the line. “Well of course I am, would you want me any other way?” He asked this quietly, which then made me laugh, he’d got me there.

“No Jack, I love you just the way you are, but I’ll find out what you’ve been up to.”

“I’ve no doubt you will… I’m going to tell you anyway, but it’s a surprise.”

Oh I love surprises!

“Can you meet me for lunch?” He asked. “Perhaps at the bookshop cafe?”

I couldn’t help smiling and I did a kind of happy dance. “I thought you’d never ask, I can make it around one, is that okay?”

“Yes, of course, I have all the time in the world after all. I’ll be waiting for you.” Jack’s voice had a tinge of sadness to it. The thing was that he had always been waiting for me, as I had always been waiting for him.

“Okay, I’ll see you later then.” I hesitated for a beat. “I love you.”

He too hesitated before replying, “I know.”

I had to swallow down a massive lump that had formed in my throat. It was our old in joke, the one that Han Solo and Princess Leia said to each other in The Empire Strikes Back. We both used to tell each other this when on the phone, and it reminded me once again that he was truly back, and with that he hung up.

I sat at my desk with a ridiculous grin on my face, I just couldn’t stop smiling. How was I supposed to concentrate on my work now? More importantly, what was the surprise? He must have bought me something, but what? I wasn’t even aware that he had any money; I must ask him about that. All that mattered though was that I was going to see him again. It felt like I was going on a first date! But what if we bumped into someone we both knew? Oh well, I couldn’t let that worry me. Then I remembered about my dinner date with Rob that I had just agreed to. I didn’t think telling Jack about that was going to go down too well. Thinking about it, it might be best to perhaps tell him after our lunch. I was such a coward. I looked up at the clock, it was already 11.30; better get some work done then.

Jack

[* *]

The coffee shop was quieter today and I found Tess’s usual couch. I’d picked up a paperback edition of a Wallander mystery that I had missed, and reminded myself to pay for it when I left.

I was in disguise. I was wearing a short curly brown wig with a black beanie hat wedged onto my head. This was to hide the fact that it was a really bad wig, as my blond hair peeked out through it. I needed to cover them up. I was sure that I looked like a compete weirdo, but I knew that this would make Tess laugh, more importantly though, I wouldn’t be recognised. Also, to make Tess really smile, I was wearing a hideous grandma knitted jumper, with a huge penguin on the front that I had picked up from the charity shop around the corner from the hotel. We always used to get matching Christmas jumpers from her Nan every Christmas, so this would guarantee a smile from her, and I desperately needed to see her smile again, now that I knew that I could be the one to do so. However, I still felt uneasy about my betrayal to Rob, but how could I help myself? She was my wife. Could she be my wife again? It had suddenly dawned on me last night, while I was sat alone and cold in my hotel room, that we needed to start from scratch. We couldn’t carry on from where we had ended, five years ago. She had moved on with her life, and I was, well, the un dead I supposed, but in a good way. I was just not sure if Tess had realised that. She was just so happy to see me again, as I was her. But my actions and their consequential reasons did not absolve me of my guilt. I just hoped that I wasn’t heading for hell.

I was not a bad person; I was just in love with my wife. I would have to call round to Rob’s once he finished work and try to explain to him what had gone on. I needed to try and make him understand, that I really didn’t plan any of this. I just loved her.

I checked my inside jacket pocket to make sure that the small box was still there, paranoia making me do so. I said a silent prayer that she’d love it. I then sat back and started to read…

I was so engrossed in my book that I did not notice her until she plonked herself on the sofa beside me and planted a soft kiss on my cheek. “Mr Sullivan,” she whispered. “What on earth are you wearing? I had to do a double take to make sure it was really you! Bloody hell.” She covered her mouth to stifle the gasps of laughter that she couldn’t quite contain. I turned to look at her, to study her face. She looked so young. This was what I had wanted for her all along, and to know that I had made this happen, well, for once I was lost for words.

Cradling her face gently with both my hands, not caring who saw me, I bent my head slightly to plant a warm soft kiss on her lips. “I’ve missed you.” I said, finally coming up for air.

She took my hands in hers and interlocked her fingers with mine. “Me too.” She softly replied.

We sat in comfortable silence while Tess ate a ham sandwich and sipped her coffee. I decided I couldn’t be bothered with the facade of eating or drinking, so I sat and watched her, it gave me a good excuse to do so anyway. It was while looking into those soft brown eyes of hers that I gained the courage to act straight away. Reaching into my pocket, I carefully pulled out the tiny box and placed it on the palm of her hand.

She looked totally confused. “What’s this Jack?”

I laughed. “Tess, open it and you’ll find out.” I raised an eyebrow and she smirked at me. I noticed that it was with trembling fingers that she opened the box. I bent my head to try and read her expression as she looked at what was inside, but I couldn’t do so as her hair had fallen across her face. I gently swept back her hair and tucked it behind her ear. “Do you like it?”

While trying to study her expression, I got the horrible feeling that I had made a huge and terrible mistake. Was this too much too soon? Had I scared her off? But then she turned to gaze at me, and I noticed that she was crying. Oh, I didn’t want her to cry. I gently touched a stray tear that had fallen slowly down her cheek with my fingertips. “Oh Tess, don’t cry, I don’t want to see you upset, please don’t cry”

She then looked at me and offered me a wobbly smile. “Oh Jack, you haven’t upset me, it’s beautiful.”

Sitting in the centre of the box was a delicate gold band adorned with emerald stones; it was the complete replica of her engagement ring.

“My ring, it’s my ring,” she gasped, as she sat studying it.

I slowly shook my head. “No, it’s not the original ring, but similar, I had no idea where to find the original ring.”

She smiled sadly at me. “Neither do I. I sold it a few years back, I felt so sad looking at it, it reminded me of happier times and I just… well… I just couldn’t bring myself to look at it anymore. Those times were gone.”

I grabbed her free hand and squeezed it gently. “Is that why you are sad?” I felt awful for causing her pain. “I didn’t think Tess; I should have chosen a different ring.”

“No Jack, no… that’s not it… I’m sad, well… I’m sad because I gave it away and I shouldn’t have. But now… well, I have it back, I have you back.”

I took the ring from her and looking at her for consent, I placed it onto the ring finger of her left hand, then slowly kissed her finger.  “Tess, this is a new start for us, are you okay with this?” I couldn’t keep the tremble out of my voice. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, But then she then gave me that heart stopping smile of hers, and with one word my destiny and hers completely changed.

“Yes.”

CHAPTER 21

“Do you want more wine?” Rob offered Jenny the bottle but she covered her glass with her hand and shook her head.

“No, just the one for me, I need to keep a clear head as I’m popping to Tess’s in a bit.”

They were sat in Rob’s kitchen with just Pearl Jam for company, playing an acoustic set courtesy of the iPhone doc. Jenny had turned up unexpectedly, but after a rather busy day at work, Rob was glad to have company. He also needed to chat to her about Tess.

“Listen Rob, are you really okay?” Jenny, who was truly concerned for Tess was worried about him. What was happening between Jack and Tess should not be happening.

“To be honest I don’t really know how I feel Jenny.” Rob said after considering his response. “Tess has promised to go out with me this weekend, but anyone can see that she is still madly in love with him. Just seeing the two of them together last night, well the chemistry between them was so palpable wasn’t it. But what they are doing is wrong, so wrong. I feel that I need to tell Jack this, to tell him that he needs to go, as in just bugger off.” He offered a small laugh before continuing. “But what will this do to Tess? It’ll kill her and I will be responsible. Damn Jack and his meddling, why couldn’t he just leave us alone!” He put the bottle down, as he was well aware that he had drunk far too much, and it was only six pm. “Oh Jenny, I just want all of this mess to go away.”

Suddenly Jenny crossed the room to sit next to him. She put her hand on his hair, in a soothing gesture, just as you would do to a child. “We’ll sort this mess out; in a few weeks we’ll be sat here laughing about it all.”

Rob looked up at her, anger flaring in his eyes. “How on earth can this be solved Jenny? How exactly do you propose that we sort this mess out? He’s a ghost!”

“Yes Rob,” Jenny replied angrily. “I am fully aware of that fact! But I am a Protector and…”

“Well you’ve done a great job so far,” he spat at her. “It should never have gone this far!”

“Don’t you think I don’t know that? It is my job to protect Tess, I messed up…. but so did you Rob.”

“What do you mean? None of this is my fault!”  He stood up, as he needed to distance himself from her. He feared he was about to lose it. “I am not to blame! I didn’t send Jack back to earth.”

Jenny then stood to meet his gaze, but her voice softened. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that.”

Rob laughed, but there was no humour to it. “Yes you did. What did you mean? How exactly have I messed things up?”

Jenny deliberated, as if she was not sure if she should tell the truth or not. But them she made her decision. “You gave your permission for him to talk to her. Jack had your blessing Rob.”

Rob lowered himself back to his seat, as if physically deflated.

“Did you not know how it was going to end? That once she saw Jack, she would want him back?” Jenny probed softly, as she sat back down next to him.

“I wanted to believe him when he told me he was going to explain to her about me, and to be fair, I think that he believed this himself. His intentions were honourable. “He slowly shook his head. “Look Jenny, I did believe him and with hindsight… well… you know what they say… but at the time, I had no need not to believe him.”

Silence filled the space between them. There was an unasked question hovering in the air.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” Rob asked. He waited for her to answer, but when there was none he continued. “You didn’t stop him at the time because the prophesy must have still been true. Before he stepped through that door he must have believed that he was going to explain everything to Tess and then just walk away. I was right, this is not my fault. But then, I realise it is no one else’s. It is just a series of events that have happened to a group of people.” He hesitated. “I think that she still has feelings for me though.” He looked to Jenny once again for confirmation. “She’s agreed to go out with me for dinner.”

“Oh Rob.” Jenny placed her head on his shoulder and sighed. “Yes she does, she still has feelings for you, but they are clouded with Jack’s appearance. All she can think about is him… but I know that things will change. The prophesy is still true. You and Tess will still end up together.”

“But how?” Rob asked. “He keeps feeding me this same old line but I just don’t know what to believe anymore, the prophesy said this before and look what happened.”

“Nothing has changed Rob… you just need to be patient, be there for Tess. Things will develop.”

He gave her a bitter laugh. “Really, with Jack on the scene?”

“Rob,” she now looked seriously at him. “He won’t be here forever.”

Rob began to talk but Jenny cut him off. “He really won’t Rob, just be there for her, okay?”

“Ok,” he reluctantly sighed.

“Listen, I really need to go. I’ll let you know how our chat goes. I won’t reveal anything. I promise.” She smiled at him. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Rob suddenly enclosed her in a gigantic bear hug, startling her, but she started to giggle.

“Rob, this is why that girl will fall in love with you.”

*

Tess

I stood in the kitchen lingering over making coffee; to be honest as soon as I answered the door to Jenny, I made a hasty retreat into the kitchen, in order to escape her wrath. She would usually follow me into the kitchen for a natter, so I knew that I had really upset her, I just needed to think. I knew she was still mad at me for lying, or maybe she was mad that she had to lie for me? I really didn’t know to be honest. I just knew that for some reason, she was mad, but no doubt I’d find out why. I still couldn’t quite work out why she had lied, unless she had feelings for Rob. But I once again pushed that thought aside. She was my best friend, she was worried about me. She was not being manipulative.

So I busied myself making the instant coffee. I poured the milk into two matching red cups and strode with purpose into the living room. I must not feel guilty for what I have done, I must not. I found Jenny sat at one end of the comfy sofa, flipping through a magazine. She looked up when I entered the room and I wondered where to sit. Should I sit next to her or on the worn armchair opposite from her? Oh for havens sake Tess, she was your best friend. So I placed the cups on the wooden coffee table and sat down next to her.

Let the interrogation begin.

“Tess, listen, what’s going on?”

“What’s going on? Really, I could ask you the same thing.” I stared at my friend; she was not the only one who needed answers.

“Oh Tess, if you mean with Rob?” She raised her perfectly groomed eyebrow at me.

“Yes with Rob” I snapped back.

“Tess, nothing is going on with Rob. I really did go out for a drink last night and when he asked me where you where, I just put two and two together.”

I relaxed, yes, that made perfect sense. There really was nothing going on between them.  I was being paranoid.

“But Tess, what I wanted to know was why you lied? Why did you tell him that you were going out with me? Why not just tell him that you were meeting an old friend? I knew that you would be with Jack, well, who you think is Jack.”

Oh so I was right all along, she still didn’t believe me. So I would have to go along with this whole charade after all. The whole I have completely lost the plot; she’d never believe a word I said again charade.  For some reason that made me really angry, the fact that she didn’t believe me and that she referred to Jack as an old friend. He was my husband. “Really Jenny… I just didn’t want to hurt Rob’s feelings.”

“I don’t believe you; I think that you are frightened and scared to death, scared of commitment.”

I stared at her open mouthed. Scared of commitment? Where did that come from? How did me wanting to see Jack again lead all the way to rejecting Rob from fear of commitment? Did she think that I was making this John character up?

“Tess, listen to me… and don’t take this the wrong way. Are you making up a relationship with John because you don’t want Rob to get too close to you?”

“What!” I very nearly choked on my coffee. “He’s real, you saw him.” I was astonished, was she trying to say I made him up? That he was a figment of my imagination?

“No Tess, I didn’t mean it that way.”

I had to admit that she looked ashamed.

“What I meant was, well, this John, he reminds you of Jack in some way doesn’t he? You are using that reference to the past to cling to, to stop yourself from moving forward, so that you do not have to form any new relationships. You’ll never get close to anyone ever again, meaning that you will never get hurt again.”  She stopped to catch her breath.

Where had all of this come from I wondered? She’d got it all wrong. She didn’t realise or accept that Jack had come back into my life, that we were going to make a new start together. I was not afraid of commitment. I was willing to embrace it again, with him. “No, you have it all wrong Jenny, John is just a friend, an old friend that I have feelings for and I didn’t want to tell Rob as I would make him jealous and hurt him. I didn’t want to do that to him.”

“So you do like Rob then?”

Trust her to state the obvious. “Jenny of course I do, he’s a nice man, but I don’t know him… well actually, he has invited me out for dinner this weekend and I accepted.”  See what you make of that Miss Jenny. But to my astonishment she didn’t look at all surprised.

“Good.” She said and raised her cup to me.

Good, is that all you can say?”

“Yes, Tess, I am pleased that you are going to go out with him. He’s a nice man and good looking, and for some reason he is completely crazy about you… just think about it.”

I was stunned into silence. Rob was crazy about me? I just thought he liked me. I was now curious; I needed to know more about what he’d told Jenny, although I needed to hide my obvious curiosity. “What has he said to you?”

“I only spoke to him last night, but when I told him that you weren’t well, he was really worried about you. Tess, you must have noticed the way he looks at you, you know, like you’re the only woman on earth.”

I blushed at the thought, to be honest I hadn’t. I then wondered how I appeared to look at him? Had I given him false hope?

Jenny took my hand and forced me to look at her. “Listen to me, I am your best friend, and as your best friend I don’t want you to get hurt. This thing whatever you have with John or whatever his name is, well, in the end you will get hurt. You and him… Tess… it’s not a good idea.”

I sat and looked at those innocent eyes and I knew that she meant well, but this was Jack, he would never hurt me.

“Just think about what I am saying… Rob, well, he would never hurt you Tess.”

Then I remembered the words that Jack had whispered to me, that seemed to have been uttered so very long ago. We both know that you will be happy again, with Rob, she has foreseen it. The damn prophesy, I had forgotten all about it. Well that was before Jack came back to me, before we talked and sorted things out. It meant nothing now, apart from the fact that Rob had feelings for me and that deep down I knew that I had strong feelings for him. Then it hit me, Jack didn’t expect me to believe him, either that or he really did think that I would freak out and not invite him in with loving arms. That’s why this whole plan had backfired. I was meant to reject Jack. How could I though? I loved him unconditionally. The powers that be did not understand how close we were, that we were true soulmates, and that not even death could keep us apart.

“Tess.” Jenny brought me back to the present. “Rob’s a nice guy, you shouldn’t lie to him, it’s not fair.”

I knew that what she was saying was true, but what did I tell him? I am so sorry but I do have feeling for you but they are on hold at the moment as I am in love with my back from the dead husband who incidentally you met the other night. _“I can’t tell him the truth Jenny, so the only option I have is to lie.” [ _]This at least was true. Jenny merely nodded and I knew that the conversation had been put on hold, for now.

*

Who the hell is it now? Rob walked to the front door and flung it open. There on the doorstep stood Jack.

“Hi Rob, can I come in?”

CHAPTER 22

Jack

“Can we talk?” I asked nervously. Rob just stood there, blocking the doorway and I noticed that his hands had formed into fists by his side. I could see the muscles in his arms slowly flex, weighing up his options. One was probably that he wanted to punch me in the face and throw me off his doorstep, which to be honest; I wouldn’t blame him for doing. Or two, reluctantly invite me in. I therefore said nothing, as I knew that words would only antagonise him more. Instead I just stood there, holding my gaze. I could not look away. I could not back down. Most importantly I could not appear weak. I was sorry for the hurt I had caused him and for the betrayal against him, but I had no choice, she was my wife and he had to understand that.

Rob ran his hand through his dark hair, which was starting to curl. He needed a haircut. To be brutally honest he looked awful; a lack of sleep and too much alcohol would do that to you. He sighed deeply while shaking his head, then turned and walked into the house. I therefore took this as a yes. I honestly thought that he would have chosen option one.

I followed him down the long hallway into the kitchen where he stood behind the scrubbed kitchen table, on which stood a bottle of red wine. I noticed it was half empty. A Chinese takeaway also sat there, abandoned to go cold. I observed him awkwardly from the other side of the table and thrust my hands into my pockets. I really didn’t want an argument, or a fight come to think of it. I just needed to explain things to him.

“Say what you need to say and then leave.” Rob growled at me, barely containing his anger.

I found it hard to believe that he was being so civil. “Thank you.”

“I don’t want your thanks.” He slammed the table with his fist. “Why Jack! Why?”

I could only stand there with my eyes directed towards the floor; I could no longer look at him. “I didn’t plan any of this… it just happened.”

He picked the bottle up and poured himself a glass. He then pulled out the kitchen chair and sat down, arms resting on the table, his head bowed down towards the glass. “I know,” he quietly said. “I know that Jack, but what you are doing… it’s… it’s just wrong.” He looked up, his eyes locked onto mine. They were full of sadness. “Can’t you see that it’s not fair on Tess.”

“Not fair! You have no idea!” I was suddenly angry. “Do you think it was fair that I got cancer and died at twenty-five? Was that fair to me or Tess? You are the one who has no idea!”

In one fluid movement he jumped up, knocking the chair backwards to the floor and flung his glass across the room. It hit the wall where it shattered, the red wine spraying the white tiles like droplets of blood. I was just glad that he didn’t throw it at me.

“Jack, you’re not meant to be here!” He shouted. “When are you going to get that through your thick skull! You need to leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I shouted back. “I love her, she’s my wife.”

“[_Was _]your wife Jack,” he roared back at me. “Was Jack… you died!”

“Don’t you think I don’t know that? I was there you know.” I shouted back at him.

He slammed his fist onto the table again and hung his head, trying to hold on to his composure. I knew that he was not a fighting man. “That’s how you answer everything Jack isn’t it? With a joke… well I’m not laughing.”

I just stood there looking at him, he had a point. I’d shown no remorse. No wonder he hated me. I had to make him understand. “Rob, I know this isn’t a joke, its messed up, it was never meant to end this way, you’ve got to believe me. I went to talk to her, to make her understand that she could be happy with you, I truly believed that at the time.”

“Then why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you stick to the plan? Why Jack, it’s not right, what you are doing is so wrong, so, so wrong.”

“I love her Rob.”  Did he not understand that? “I love her more than anything in the world.”  I kept my gaze on his; imploring him to understand why I did what I did.  “I can’t keep away from her. I’m sorry, I thought that I could see her again and walk away, but I can’t. I can’t leave her alone again. I can’t and won’t hurt her again.”

“Stop saying that, I bloody well know, she was your wife… I get it, but no longer Jack, no longer. You died and you should have stayed dead.”

I felt as though I had been slapped. That was a bit harsh wasn’t it? Wishing me to stay dead. But I decided to say nothing. I didn’t want to risk him punching me.

“Life is for the living Jack… you do not belong here… you can’t be with her.” He took a ragged breath and tried to compose himself.

His words wounded me. What he said was so very true. But I couldn’t stop where I was heading with Tess. I just couldn’t.  I wouldn’t let her go again and I was not about to show my weakness to him. So I swallowed down the grief and guilt and gritted my teeth. I focused on the anger that was bubbling up inside me and used it as a weapon against him. As a means to protect myself. “Who says so Rob… you?

He stepped around the table towards me, intimidating me with his presence.  “Yes…I do.” He said quietly.

I laughed at him. Did he not know that I had the upper hand here? Tess had already chosen me. She wanted me, not him. I thought abut the ring she was now wearing, the ring that I had given her, and although I could tell him this, I knew it would hurt him, and I didn’t want to be cruel. Instead I looked him squarely in the eyes, daring him to look away; he just had to know that I was going nowhere. “What are you going to do about it then?”

He took another step towards me, he could not hide the fury in his eyes this time. His face was now inches away from mine.

“You…will… hurt… her.”  He said ever so slowly, his voice laced with pain and anger.

My eyes stayed fixed on his. I slowly shook my head, there was no way that I was going to leave her alone again, she belonged with me. I realised that this conversation was futile, we were getting nowhere. I needed to leave.  “Rob, this no longer concerns you, just leave us alone.” I turned away from him, attempting to walk away.

In an instant he grabbed the back of my jacket, taking me by surprise and spun me around, slamming me hard against the wall, pinning me against its cold, smooth surface.

“I am not giving up on her.” He shouted in my face. His complexion was now a shade of puce. “Jack, you will hurt her again and I’ll be the one left to pick up the pieces, I won’t let you hurt her.”

I needed to stay calm; this was getting way out of hand. I only wanted to talk to him. “I’m not going anywhere.” I said as calmly as I could. He had to understand.

“Oh yes you are.” He started to laugh. “You can’t stay forever; you’re a ghost Jack, not even human, what have you got to offer her?”

“I love her,” I shouted. “Are you not listening to me, and you know what, she loves me too, she chose me.”

“I love her too and you knew that when you went to see her. What about the prophesy Jack? Does that mean absolutely nothing to you now?”

That bloody prophesy, well it meant nothing, absolutely nothing now that we were back together. “No, they got it wrong, they hadn’t understood our bond, and how death cannot even tear us apart. And you Rob, you can’t stop me!” I pushed him away from me. I’d had enough, I needed to get out of there. “I’m going,” I yelled.

“The hell you are. You arrogant son of a …”

But I didn’t hear any more, as I knew what he was about to do. Although I could have jumped out of the way, I had excellent reflexes. Or merely vanished. I stood and took my punishment. It had been a long time coming. So I watched as he swung his arm back in a perfect and fluid arc, with a force that I didn’t know he possessed, while his fist made contact with my jaw. My head whipped backwards and pulled me off balance. My centre of gravity shifted and I fell heavily to the floor.

CHAPTER 23

Tess

Could my life get any more complicated I wondered? A sorry looking Jack sat opposite me, lounging on the arm of the comfy sofa, a bag of frozen peas nursing his swollen jaw. We had sat like that for the past half hour and he had yet to answer any of my questions. He merely sat in stoic silence and this unnerved me as the Jack I knew was never silent. I was scared, really scared. How could this have happened to him? A cold chill crept up my spine and I hugged myself tighter. Who would want to hurt him? Why would they want to hurt him? More importantly though was the question at the very forefront of my mind. Why had he let this happen to him? I honestly thought that ghosts could not get beaten up or indeed have [_human _]injuries, but staring at Jack now I had obviously been proven wrong. I wanted to sit next to him and hold the bag of peas, but I wouldn’t, not until he was honest with me and told the truth. He owed me that much.  His jaw looked awful though, but I thought the swelling had stopped. It was a wonder it was not broken. He did tell me that if he was indeed human then his jaw would be broken, but that had done nothing to alleviate my concern for him. What on earth had he gone and done? I looked at him and was filled with pity. He looked so sorry for himself.

“What happened?” I asked for the hundredth time, but this time my voice was gentle. Please tell me Jack. Honestly, he couldn’t expect to come knocking on my door in the middle of the night, in the state he was in and not have to answer my questions.

“Tess,” he sighed. “I just got into a bar fight!”

“Just got into a bar fight! Look at your face Jack! And anyway, what were you doing in a bar? And don’t say, having a drink.” I looked at him in disbelief, how could he expect me to believe this? Someone hurt him and I wanted to know[_ who_] and why? He was a ghost for heaven’s sake, there was no need for him to get into a fight, he could have vanished. He could have avoided all of this. “Why didn’t you vanish or move out the way in time?”

He gave me a guilty look and I knew then that I was onto something. He chose not to, why? “I don’t get it Jack, explain to me please.”  I could no longer continue the bad cop routine so I stood up and walked over to where he was sat on the couch. Sitting beside him, I rested my head on his shoulder. He stroked my hair with his free hand. “Oh Jack,” I sighed. “I just need to understand what happened.”

He hung his head and I knew that I was definitely onto something; he was hiding something from me. “If you can vanish then why didn’t you? You got into here the other might without me knowing.”

The room was suddenly bathed in silence. I could stand it no more. “Jack look at me!” I shouted at him.

He looked startled, I never shouted. “Tess, what do you want me to say?” He said, his voice barely audible.  

“The truth would be a good start.” I snapped back at him.

“Tess,” he sounded both exasperated and ground down. “Yes, I can vanish, but I didn’t alright, I just didn’t.”

I needed to change tactics, I needed him to show me that he could vanish and then I could use that against him. “I’ve never seen you vanish, or whatever you call it. Show me how you do it?”

“Tess, I’m not in the mood,” he answered grumpily.

I had to stifle a smile, he looked about ten years old. “Listen to me Jack Sullivan; I wasn’t in the mood to answer the door to you half an hour ago in the state you were in. I nearly had a heart attack, so humour me.”

He had the grace to look slightly ashamed and then he gave me that beautiful smile I knew and loved.  “Well if you insist. Are you sure you’re ready to see this?”

My heart lurched. I already knew he was a ghost, nothing he could show me now would upset me. Or could it?

He pecked me lightly on the cheek and with a mischievous twinkle in his beautiful green eyes he stood up.  “Okay, okay, I’ll show you… let me think.” He looked about the room, contemplating what to do.

What was he going to do?

“I can go into the kitchen without you seeing me.”

“Okay.” Suddenly my mouth was dry. Perhaps I was not ready to see this after all, but I couldn’t back down now. “Show me.”

He stood still, concentrating on his task at hand. I carefully watched him, my heart racing. Could he actually do this I wondered? As I sat and watched him, ever so slowly he began to fade and then… he was gone.

Where was he? Irrational thoughts filed my head and I wondered if he would ever come back. I was seized by blind panic. What had I done? I raced into the kitchen.  “Jack… Jack…  where are _]you?” I managed to croak. [_Oh where was he? He was not in the kitchen. I whirled back around on my way back into the living room and there he was, stood in front of me, with a huge grin on his face.

“There, how was that?” He asked me with a sight shrug of his shoulders.

I flung myself at him, wrapping my arms around his strong and firm body. “You’re back, I thought you’d gone.” I knew that I was making absolutely no sense, I had told him to disappear on me, but a part of me didn’t realise that he actually could.

“Shhh… shhh… it’s alright.” He stroked my hair and kissed the top of my head. “I’m sorry, I thought you were ready.”

“It was just a shock,” I managed to get out. “Give me a minute.” I stood, cradled in his warm embrace, and told myself to stop panicking. Finally, my heart rate slowed and I was able to compose myself once more. I needed to know what happened. I looked up into those green eyes and locking my gaze on his, asked him once again. “What really happened Jack and don’t lie to me.”

He looked resigned to his fate and taking my hand led me to the couch. “I’ll tell you okay, but you have to understand Tess, promise me you’ll understand.”

“I can’t promise what I don’t know Jack.” I told him truthfully. “But I promise to try.” It was the best I could offer him.

He nodded and started to tell me the truth. He told of how he had run into Rob at the pub, he was bored in his hotel room and wanted to waste some time before he called to see me. He wanted a bit of[_ normality_]. He then told me that Rob had hit him. Gentle and kind Rob, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, had actually hit him. I didn’t believe it.

“We got chatting and well, we somewhat had a difference of opinion.”

I looked at him in disbelief.  “A difference of opinion wouldn’t lead to a nearly broken jaw!” I still found it hard to believe that Rob could actually hit someone. “What was the disagreement about?”

The look in his eyes told me the truth, what I had suspected since he mentioned Rob’s name. The fight was about me. “You had a fight about me?”  What was he doing? Defending my honour?  “You didn’t need to fight, why start one and why did you let him hit you?”

He looked at me incredulously. “Tess, I could hardly vanish in front of him could I!”

I shook my head. No there was more to this, he still could have avoided this confrontation. There was something he was not telling me. “Jack, what aren’t you telling me? Why did he hit you?”

He looked sad, dejected, and I started to feel uneasy. “What did you say to make him so angry?”

“Whose side are you on?” He said with a hurt expression on his face.

“Oh grow up Jack! This isn’t about taking sides. What did he say?” I couldn’t help it, I was curious. I needed to know.

“He told me how he felt about you. I couldn’t handle it Tess… I was jealous.”

Jealous! Jack had never been jealous in all the years I had known him. “Jack, what did he say to you?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He snapped at me.

It did matter to me; this whole horrible mess was my fault. “Jack, he hit you, what did you say to him to make him hit you?”

“I told him that I loved you and that I’d never leave you, that’s what I told him.” He shouted, his green eyes burring with a passion that I had not seen in a long time.

“Why did you tell him that?” Why did Jack provoke him? But then it suddenly became crystal clear in my mind. He wanted to be hit, but why? I was missing something. “Jack! What did Rob say to you?”

“He told me that he loved you and that he’d never give up on you.” His voice hitched. He was trembling and I wondered if he was about to lose it. “He told me I’m no good for you and I couldn’t handle it. I told him he was wrong! That we were together and that he had better get used to it… then he just hit me.”

“No Jack, you wanted to be hit, why?”  This was not just about jealousy. “Why did he say you are no good for me?”

He laughed at me, a laugh without any humour to it. “He can probably tell that I am trouble and will cause you nothing but heartache. I’ve changed Tess… ever since I died and can see what other men can offer you. He is right, I am no good for you.”

I was stunned, speechless. The room tilted ever so slightly. “What do you mean?”

He sat looking at the patterned carpet, once vibrant but now dull and threadbare. “I still have no idea how long I will be here with you, is this really what you want Tess?”

“I don’t care how long you are here with me again, I want you. You have to understand that.” But I still didn’t get why Rob would say that to him. Why say that Jack was no good for me? He didn’t know Jack. Was his reason pure jealousy? But a very small part of me had started to question what Jack had said, I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. He was not human, that vanishing trick was proof enough. I’d been living with the old Jack in my mind, and I’d fallen in love with the Jack that I used to know. With a creeping unease I realised that I did not know this man who sat next to me. Would this work? The questions started flooding into my head, drowning my subconscious, forcing me to question those very things that I had long since buried. He’d never age; did I want to be with him when I was an old woman? Could we have children? Did I want children? No, no, no, Tess. I rammed them back into the dark recesses of my mind, and firmly bolted the door.  I would not think about this now. I couldn’t allow myself to think about these things. Of course I loved him; he was my Jack, the man I married. I looked at the emerald ring on my finger. He loved me, he had always loved me as I had loved him. He was just jealous, Rob too, it was all just some stupid fight.

“What are you thinking about?” His gentle voice coaxed me back into harsh reality and I realised that I no longer wanted to fight with him; I was so tired of fighting.

“Nothing, just how much I love you.”

He gave me his wonderful heart stopping smile and slowly lowered his head to kiss me. Before he could though I placed my finger on his lips and smiled back at him. “There is just one thing that you need to know.”

“Really?” He raised his blond eyebrow at me. “What’s that then, let me guess, that I am the sexiest man that you have ever known?” He started to chuckle.

“Erm… not exactly.” Oh, how was I going to tell him this? I took a deep breath and blurted it out before I could change my mind.  “I’m going on a date with Rob.”

CHAPTER 24

It Had to Be You gently played from the baby piano stuffed into the corner of the restaurant. Above the buzz of voices, nestled into the compact room bathed in soft candlelight, I sat opposite Rob Davies. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a narrow pale blue pin stripe and matching dark blue tie, which he had loosened ever so slightly. He looked absolutely divine. His hair looked freshly washed, as if he had just stepped out of the shower, and had been styled with a little gel. It made the dark shards of his hair stand upwards on his head, giving him an extremely sultry and sexy look.

He sat back in his chair and I couldn’t help but notice how his eyes skimmed over my body in an appreciative manner. I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious, but not from him having made me feel uncomfortable, but rather from the fact that I was not used to men looking at me in that way. However, I had to admit that I liked it.

I was quite pleased with my appearance tonight; I had scrubbed up nicely. I managed to borrow a black dress from Jenny; in fact, she had practically forced the dress upon me as she was so excited about me finally going on a date with Rob. I also thought that she was happy at the prospect of me forgetting all about[_ John_], although I tried to ignore all of her negative comments. She had a great taste in clothes though, and the dress was a perfect fit. It had capped sleeves which I preferred as I didn’t like to show off my arms, as I swear that they wobbled, a plunging neckline, although not too low, and a full netted skirt with sparkly bits. I actually felt like I was a girl for a change. I did draw the line at wearing heels though, not after my last encounter with Rob. I didn’t want to fall over again. So instead I had opted for a pair of comfy black pumps. Jenny had also gone to town on my makeup. She has smudged black eyeshadow all over my eyes and had added something sticky to my hair, in order to add more volume and to achieve that bed head look. I had to admit she had done a good job. I hardly recognised the woman staring back at me in the bedroom mirror.

“Go and have fun.” Jenny had told me.

I just felt so guilty for leaving Jack sat at home. He wasn’t at all happy about my date, as he called it. But I needed to go. I had made a promise to Rob and I couldn’t let him down a second time. Plus, I also wanted to quiz him about what had happened with Jack. I needed to hear his side of the story. To be brutally honest, I also wanted to see him again.

So I found myself sat in an intimate restaurant at a table for two. I had no idea how to broach the subject of Jack. There was an awkwardness between us, neither of us knowing quite what to say to each other. There had been ever since I met him here. I didn’t want to feel awkward with him. I wondered what he must be thinking about me.

He had told Jack that he loved me. I couldn’t get those words out of my mind. I knew that he liked me, but to love me? Well, he barely knew me. But knowing this information, well, it made me feel more attracted to him. That’s why I couldn’t quite reach his eye, that and the fact that he probably knew, as he would know that Jack would have told me. If he did know though, he hadn’t said anything so far.

The waiter arrived to take our order and I realised that I hadn’t read a single word on the menu. So I had no idea what to order. I looked to Rob, who seemed to be concentrating very hard on his own menu. But then he looked up at the waiter and ordered two roast chickens with seasonal vegetables.

“Is that okay with you? You look as if you are undecided.” He asked me gently.

I was grateful for this small act of kindness. “Yes, that sounds lovely, thank you.” I smiled gratefully back at him.

He held my gaze while I smiled at him and I found myself immersed once more in those pale blue eyes of his. I had a sudden urge to tell him the truth about what had happened. I no longer wanted to lie to him and I needed to clear the air. I closed my eyes and started to speak before I could change my mind.  “He told me what happened.” I said quickly.

He stared at me for the briefest moment, his face showing understanding and recognition. “I’m sorry… for hurting him.”  He said gently. Guilt was written all over his face. He averted his eyes from mine. “I don’t usually act in that way, I’m not… I’m not a violent person Tess.”

“I know that Rob.” I leaned over and touched his hand. I knew that what he was saying was true, but I had to ask him.  “Why did you hit him?” I had to hear his side of the story.

He wouldn’t look at me and slowly removed his hand from mine. “He was bragging about how much you love him… and that got to me. I’m sorry… I just saw red.” He hung his head in shame.

I reached back across the table to take his hand in mine. I felt as if I was suffocating, the words formed a lump in my throat. “Why did you tell him that you love me?” I finally asked, my voice trembling with nerves.

He stared at his wine glass for what seemed like an eternity. His thumb gently brushed against my knuckles. “Because it’s true.”

I gasped. I had never expected him to say those words out loud. He loved me! He seemed not to notice my surprise, or if he did he simply chose to ignore it. He was silent for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say to him.

Finally, as if sensing my unease, he filled the silence. His voice stammered, as he tripped up over his words. “How do you feel about John? Do you love him? He said that you do.”

Oh where did I start? I couldn’t think straight. This man had just told me that he loved me and he was asking if I loved Jack? Were we just ignoring that fact? Did he want me to ignore the fact that he loved me? How on earth should I reply to him? “He’s a very old friend, it’s complicated.” I eventually told him. That was the best excuse that I could offer under the strained circumstances. I didn’t know where to look. I looked everywhere other than at him, I could feel the inevitable blush starting to appear. I could tell from his expression that he needed to know more.

I picked up my wine and took a large gulp. Placing the glass back down on the table I forced myself to look into his eyes. “What we have is difficult to explain. I did love him, but now… that he is back in my life, well, I am confused to be honest. I thought I still loved him but I feel that I am in love with the man I used to know, not the man that he is now.” Why did I say all of that? I hardly knew Rob and I had poured my heart out to him, sharing my most intimate thoughts. But with a heavy heart I understood that what I was saying was the truth, this was exactly how I felt. But in sharing those innermost feelings I had also made myself feel incredibly vulnerable. I had said too much. He didn’t need to know any of this. This kind man was making me question my feelings for Jack, as well as how Jack was behaving towards me. Was Jenny right? Should I leave Jack? I was living in the past; making Jack become someone he was not.

“You love him; I can tell that.” Rob’s voice radiated kindness, there was no hint of accusation in it.

His words hit home. I did love him, but I felt that I loved the Jack who was my husband, not the ghost he was now. Tears suddenly sprung from my eyes. Why was he being so nice to me? He had sat there and told me that he loved me, but at the same time he understood that I was in love with someone else. He seemed so calm about it all, and not angry with me. I didn’t deserve his kindness; I was a horrible person. I couldn’t do this; I couldn’t sit here anymore. I needed to leave. I was hurting everyone, including myself.

Pushing my chair back from the table, I stood up. I needed to leave. “I need to go Rob, this, what’s happening between us … whatever it is… isn’t fair, I can’t do this to you anymore.”

Rob rose to his feet. “Tess.” he took my hand. “We’re just two friends having dinner, forget what I said. I embarrassed you and I didn’t mean to do that, I’m so very sorry.”

“Rob.” I took a step backwards, releasing his hand. “It’s much more than that, you know it is, and I’m so… mixed up at the moment. I need to clear my head… I don’t know what I think or feel.” He suddenly looked resigned and once again I hated myself for hurting this man. “I am sorry Rob; I just need some time.”

“I know Tess.” He smiled at me and picked up his jacket.

“What are you doing?”

“Walking you home, it’s dark out there you know.”

I smiled back at him, and when he offered me his arm I gladly took it. He made me feel safe. I also realised I was not angry at him for hitting Jack, I never was, and this sobering and alarming thought filled with me uncertainty. Why did that not bother me?

*

Across the street Jack stood unobserved in the shadows. He had seen and heard everything. He knew that he was losing her. He stood and watched them walk slowly down the dimly lit street.

CHAPTER 25

Jack

“What are you doing here?” Rob asked me, not wanting to hide his obvious annoyance at my unplanned visit.

It had just gone eleven and I couldn’t face seeing Tess tonight. I was too wound up. I didn’t’ know what I would say to her. So I just kept on walking until, with a sudden clarity, I knew that I would end up on Rob’s doorstep. I needed to set things straight with him. Seeing the two of them together, well, it made me start to question my actions. I had strayed too far away from my original mission. I had achieved completely the opposite of what I had set out to do. Great going Jack.

I needed to make Tess happy, that’s why I was sent here. But again I had that niggling doubt that I was not the right person to do so. I was just not sure anymore of what I was doing, and indeed what I had done. Everything had gone completely wrong and I needed to put things right. I desperately needed to talk to him.

Rob stood on the threshold, holding the door closed behind him. “Do you have any idea what time it is? I was on my way to bed.” He said grumpily. “Can we do this tomorrow?”

“Oh, so you’re not going to punch me again then?”  I asked jokingly, rubbing my still tender jaw. I laughed at the stupidity of it all.

“I still can’t believe I did that. I’ve never hit anyone before.” Rob grimaced.

“Hmmm. Well you’d never know.” I smiled at him. He had the grace to look embarrassed.

Rob sighed. “Look, I am sorry for what I did. To be honest I’m still amazed that you let me. I thought that you’d have vanished or something.”

I couldn’t help it; I started to laugh, at the pure irony of it all. “That’s exactly what Tess said.”

The mention of Tess’s name brought us both back to reality and Rob uttered another sigh, and although I could tell that he didn’t want to invite me in, he knew that he had to. We couldn’t put this off any longer.

“Come in then, I suppose we do need to talk.” He finally said.

We sat once again in his cosy kitchen; two glassed of whisky sat on the kitchen table, one each in front of us. I was curious to see what, or if, any effect it would have upon me. Probably none, but I liked the feeling of drinking it. I could remember the taste and its numbing properties, and perhaps it would help. I noticed that the wall, where the wine glass had smashed, had been washed. There was a single red speck that had been missed during cleaning. For some illogical reason that bothered me and I had to stop myself from looking at it. That speck represented me. I too shouldn’t be here.

“How is your jaw?” Rob asked breaking the uncomfortable silence.

“It’s fine Rob, let’s be honest here, I deserved it.” I gave him a knowing look, daring him to deny it.

“Well, I wouldn’t like to say that. I shouldn’t have hit you.”

“Yes you should, but well … let’s agree to forget about it, okay?”

“Okay.”

I looked down once again at the amber liquid that occupied the crystal glass. This life, or whatever you called it, well, I had it all planned out in front of me. I was back with Tess, we were back together, everything would now be okay. But, the problem was that it was not so clear in my mind anymore. I saw how they were together, how she looked at him. Seeing them together, well, it had struck me like a bolt from the blue. They looked good together, happy. Then I remembered why I was back here. I had been sent back to bring the two of them together. I had been so jealous and consumed in my own feelings for Tess, that my judgment had been clouded. It had forced me to act so out of character. I closed my eyes at the memory; trying to shut out the pain. My jealousy was at the root of all the trouble, that and my selfishness in wanting to keep Tess for myself. I was here to bring these two together. I loved her, yes, but this world was not for me. Not anymore. But I had one major problem didn’t I? How could I not hurt Tess?

How could I put right this mess I had created? Most importantly, I didn’t want to hurt Tess again, but I had no idea how to go about it. I would hurt her, it was inevitable, and I hated myself for it. All of these thoughts swirled around my head, one after the other, and occupied my mind while I stared into the whisky glass. Rob just sat quietly by me, nursing his own drink, probably occupied with similar thoughts and wondering what I was about to tell him.

I needed to tell him the truth, I owed him that much. I cleared my throat. “Rob, I saw you with Tess tonight.”

“What do you mean?” He looked at me, with a touch of annoyance playing across his features. I seemed to bring out that quality in people.

“I saw you together at the restaurant.”

“You were spying on us?” He said angrily. “Jack; you’ve now reached an all-time low.” He got up from the table and started to pace, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. A method used to stop him from acting upon the urge to hit me I felt.

I sat and watched him pace up and down the kitchen. I didn’t understand what he was so upset about. After all I had told him the truth. I didn’t have to. “Rob, you have to understand. She’s my wife! I couldn’t help it.”

He stopped in his tracks and glared at me. “Was your wife Jack! How many times!”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry… it’s just how I feel Rob.” It was true, she still was my wife in my eyes, and sadly the green eyed monster reared its ugly head at the thought of them sitting together in a candlelit restaurant. I had to see what they were doing, but it had backfired on me.  What I saw were two people who deeply cared for each other. I also heard him tell her that he loved her, and I knew that this was the real reason for his anger. Those words were meant just for her. Once again I had tarnished the moment, trespassed onto something that was meant to be private.

He sat down once again and looked closely at me. “I know Jack… I’m sorry, truly I am. I do try and put myself in your shoes, to try and understand what you are going through, but I’ll never understand will I? I’ve lost people close to me…” He looked about the room, still stuffed with his parent’s belongings. “But I’ve never lost a partner, a wife… in the way you did. So I have no idea do I”

I gave him a sad smile. “I didn’t lose her Rob… she lost me.” I sat and stared into space. I had nothing left to say to him. Tess had said it all to Rob, in her confession. She was in love with the old Jack, the man she had married, not the ghost that he had become. I turned to look at him. “Rob… this game needs to end; we need to tell Tess the truth.”

He looked at me open mouthed. “What do you mean, Jack, as in, everything?”

I slowly nodded. “Yes… she needs to know that we know each other and that I found and chatted to you before she even met you.” I paused and took a deep breath. “She needs to know that you have known all along that I am a ghost, that I’m her dead husband and that you were in on the plan too. She needs to know that you know about the prophesy.”

“Jack…I’m not sure.” Rob stammered.

“Rob, listen to me, we’ve not been fair to her, she needs to know everything and that means telling her the whole truth. Then the decision is truly hers to make.” Then I finally told him what I had been dreading all along. “Rob, she needs to make her own choices in life… and ultimately, she will choose you.”

CHAPTER 26

All that could be heard was the ticking of the clock on the kitchen wall. Rob swore to himself that that you could hear a pin drop. He found himself thinking about what Jack had just said and he couldn’t quite believe it. Jack actually wanted to help him, he wanted Tess to choose him, but he couldn’t understand why this was so? Jack had been going on for such a long time about how he was her husband and that he was still madly in love with her, and of how they still belonged together, that he couldn’t completely understand this change of heart. Rob wondered if Jack was messing with him, or if he had an ulterior motive? But he quickly dismissed the thought. He was aware that Jack was not a nasty person; he was just a man who was still in love with his wife. Jack had just told him that he wanted Tess to be together with him, and this revelation had stunned him into silence. Rob now had Jack’s blessing. The prophesy was still true.

“Rob, are you okay?” Jack appeared to be genuinely concerned for him.

Rob put down his drink and turned to face him. “Yes…it’s just that… don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand?” Jack looked confused, like what he had just told Rob was completely reasonable with no further questions needed.  “I’m going to help you win Tess’s heart, that’s all there is to it. It’s what I should have done from the very beginning.” He looked away from Rob, unable to meet his eye.

Rob needed to know why. Why did he want to help him now? He knew that when Jack was first sent back here, his mission had been to make Tess happy. But that all changed when he saw her again. So, what he wondered, had happened to make him change his mind again? “Why Jack?” He asked a little too forcefully, gaining Jack’s attention.

“Its simple Rob,” he sighed. “I made a mistake, seeing the two of you together tonight well; she belongs with you, not me. I am not right for her, it’ll never work out. You are her future Rob, while I am her past.”

Rob sat and looked at this ghost of a man, with a whisky tumbler in his hand, trying to be the human he so desperately wanted to be, and he suddenly felt great pity for him. He realised that Jack had never asked for any of this. It was thrust upon him. All he wanted was to make her happy, and this was exactly what he wished to do. He could see the pain that this was causing him and he reluctantly decided to not probe him any further. This whole experience was probably too raw for him, and reluctantly Rob decided that he didn’t need to know. They just needed to figure out how to put this whole mess right.

“Do we really need to tell her everything? As in everything, you know the fact that I have known who you are all along.” Rob asked.

“Yes, we do Rob. There should be no more secrets. It is not fair on her.” Jack answered with a huge sigh.

“Listen Jack, I really don’t think that it is such a good idea, you know, to tell her everything. Can’t I just, well, edit a little?” Rob thought that this was a reasonable suggestion to make.

“Edit a little?” Jack laughed at him. “That’s the editor in you talking that is.” His voice then turned serious. “Rob this is all or nothing my friend, if we keep up this futile pretence, well, it will only backfire on you one day. It really is best to get everything out in the open now.” Jack hesitated. “We need to tell her everything now; this will allow her to make her own decision, based upon the truth.” Jack paused once again and said in a gentler tone. “Listen Rob, I know Tess, she’ll see sense, and she’ll understand why you hid the truth from her.”

Rob felt a creeping unease slowly surrounding him. “Jack, I’m not so sure, how can she ever forgive me? If she can’t or won’t forgive me then there is no us. Jack, you need to look at it from her point of view. She hardly knows me, but I know everything about her, and to top it all off, I have been in contact with her dead husband, without telling her. Now tell me that doesn’t look bad?”

Jack remained quiet, his expression unreadable. But Rob could tell that he was processing what he had just said.

Finally, he spoke. “Rob, really, I know what you are saying, but, she has to know. Think about it…you want her to choose you, to fall head over heels in love with you…and so do I” He looked away from him, his shoulders slumped. “But for this to happen, she needs to know that I approve of you and well, look I haven’t done a great job so far have I?”

Rob smiled. “Starting fights and being antagonistic towards me haven’t helped to win you over.”

Jack smiled back in return. “Yes, you could say that.” He ran his hands through his blond curls. “The fact that you punched me is hardly going to win you many favours either. But if we tell her that I met you, I got to know you, and that well, things went wrong when I thought that I could stay…” His voice trailed off, as he was unable to finish the sentence and his thoughts.

“So if we tell her that we know each other, and that I understand why you were trying to help me, that I truly do believe that the two of us should be together… then well… perhaps everything will be okay?” Rob finished for him. He still didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Was life ever really that simple? Life had taught him that the answer was probably no. He looked at Jack for what seemed like an eternity while thinking over what had just been said. Jack made a good point and the more that he thought about it, the more he believed that telling her the truth might not be such a bad thing after all. They couldn’t go on with the deception. It was killing him and it hardly seemed fair to Tess. He also knew that once Jack was gone, she would need to talk to someone, and he hoped that the person she chose was him. Rob felt sick to his stomach, but he knew that they needed to tell her.

“How are we going to go about this Jack? That is the main question, how do we tell her the truth without hurting her?” He sat and pondered this question for a few moments himself.  “I think that we need to get Jenny on board and get her help, what do you think?”

Jack slowly nodded. “Yes, I think that is a good idea.” He pushed the whisky glass away from him, and looked once more at Rob. “I think we need to tell her together, don’t you?”

“With Jenny there too?” Rob asked.

“Yes, I think she should be there when we tell Tess, as I think she will need her support, someone who is on her side.”

Rob now understood what he was getting at. “So you mean that Jenny should not tell the truth about herself, not tell her that she is a Protector?”  He knew that this was probably not such a bad idea; Tess couldn’t possibly know that they had all lied to her.

“I think so, but that decision is Jenny’s of course. But I have a feeling that she will want to lessen the blow somewhat, so I think she will keep her part in this a secret and I am okay with that.” Jack added softly.

“Yes, I am fine with that too, there is no point in hurting her any further, and she will need a friend.” Rob said quietly.

Jack abruptly stood up, signalling an end to the conversation.

Rob wondered where he would go.  “Are you off to the hotel? Or will you call and see Tess?”

Jack looked at him with a sad face. “It’s the hotel for me, I’ll catch up with Tess tomorrow.”

“Okay, when should we tell her?” Rob asked hesitantly as he opened the door for Jack.

Jack stepped into the fresh night air and turned to look back at him. “How about tomorrow after you finish work? I can meet you in the bookshop café?”

“Okay, I’ll phone Jenny and explain our plan to her, she can meet us there, and then we can discuss how we are going to tell her.”

“Sounds good to me, see you tomorrow then.”

They gave each other an awkward hug, and with that Jack walked down the path and slowly disappeared.

*

Jack

Jenny looked at the pair of us. “So you’re friends again then are you?” She asked the question with a smile on her face. Rob had phoned and explained everything to her last right and luckily she had agreed to keep her little secret a secret.

“We’ve always been friends.” I laughed.

“Seriously though Jenny.” Rob said as he grinned at me. “Thanks for agreeing to help sort everything out with Tess. It’s just that, well… she deserves to know everything.”

Jenny took a sip of her overpriced syrupy latte and realising that it is was too hot placed it back onto the table. Rob had an Americano, sat untouched and well, I didn’t feel like one. I felt sick if that was at all possible. My plan was becoming real. Soon I would be gone from her life and although it was what I wanted and needed to do, I still regretted the choice I was making.

“There’s no point in upsetting her even more, but I agree that she needs to know everything about the two of you.” Jenny told us seriously. She then gave us a wink. “I think that once she understands that you never meant to hurt her, and she gets over the initial shock, well… I think that things will work out as they were originally intended.”

Although that was exactly what I wanted to hear, I wondered if she could really explain to Tess that we had never meant to hurt her.

As if reading my mind, Jenny turned and looked directly at me.  “This mess will soon be over.”

*

Unobserved by the three friends, Tess strode into the bookshop with Rob’s scarf draped over her arm. She hovered by the cafe entrance, wondering why they were all here. With curiosity finally getting the better of her, she stood in the aisle near where they were sat and pretended to read a book on ancient history. It was big enough to cover her face. She started to listen into their conversation.

She heard Rob’s voice clearly say, Tess deserves to know the truth.

She very nearly dropped the book. What truth? She placed the book back on the shelf and walked over to where they were sat.

“What truth?” she shouted.

All eyes turned to her and then they all turned to look at each other.

CHAPTER 27

Tess

Earlier that same day…

[*I *]looked up at the clock and noticed that it was very nearly 6pm. I must get home. I hadn’t heard from Jack all day. I thought that he would want to hear all about my meal with Rob, but apparently I was wrong. I just hoped he was alright, but I had a sneaky feeling that he would be waiting at home for me, a scowl on his face and ready to ask me twenty questions. But perhaps I was being unfair. Maybe he just wanted to give me time? It was true what I had told Rob last night. I was in love with the old Jack, the man who was my husband five years ago. I wanted him back so badly that when he finally came back into my life I didn’t question our future together. But now, in the cold light of day, I knew that it had to end. But saying goodbye to him again would break my heart. I just didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I was strong enough. I was also so confused about Rob. He loved me, but did I love him? I needed space and time to think about that one. I couldn’t rely on the prophesy, I had to follow my own heart. It was just so difficult with Jack in my life.

I finished popping my belongings into my oversized spotty bag and switched off the light. As I passed by Rob’s office I prepared to say goodnight to him. I had only seen him briefly at lunchtime in the canteen, but had managed to discreetly get away from him. Our conversation had been so awkward, so stifled after our date last night; we both didn’t know what to say to each other. I did hear a snippet of the conversation he was having though, to someone on his phone. I didn’t mean to listen in, but I had left my purse on the canteen table and had to retrace my steps, back past the table where he was sat nursing a cup of coffee, in order to retrieve it. As I did so, he averted my gaze and started to whisper into the phone, something which instantly caught my attention. I distinctly heard him say, “I’ll meet you at the bookshop cafe once I finish work, can’t wait to see you,” and for some reason I felt immensely jealous. I had no reason to believe that whoever he was talking to was a woman, but I just had the feeling that it was, and even though it pained me to admit it, I didn’t like that one little bit.

So, he’d obviously left work early to meet this mystery woman. Well, that was a first for Mr. Davies. He’d left his office door open as well, and it was as I went to shut it, that I noticed his scarf was slung across the back of his chair, and it was then that an idea struck me. I now had the perfect excuse to find out who he was meeting.

*

I walked into the bookshop with a bounce in my step, this was going to be hilarious. I couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he saw me standing in front of him. I carefully scanned the cafe and found him. But to my amazement he was not alone. I had to do a double take, thinking that my eyes were deceiving me. There he was sat with Jack and Jenny, and they were all laughing. I was glued to the spot; gravity would not allow me to move. I was transfixed to their smiling and happy faces. The tableau that I saw in front of me did not make sense. I needed to get closer; perhaps I had got it all wrong somehow? I needed to hear what they were saying. So I slid into a nearby aisle littered with books and casually picked one up in order to hide my face. I listened in to every single word and with a dawning horror I knew that they were talking about me. Were they laughing at me? I listened in more closely and in doing so I tried to hold my breath, so that my breathing would not distort the sound of their voices. But the blood was pounding in my ears. As I stood and listened, there was no doubt about it, they were talking about me. I heard very clearly the words, “she deserves to know everything.”

I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and wondered if I was about to faint. But I held my ground and continued to listen in. What was going on? I shouldn’t have to stand here and hide! But I was in shock, I needed to try and quickly control my breathing and the way in which my body was uncontrollably shaking. I very nearly dropped the book.

They were all friends! I shoved the book back onto the shelf and picking up my bag and Rob’s scarf, stormed over to where they were all sat, propelled by pure anger. They didn’t see me approaching them, and it was Rob who looked up at me, suddenly aware of my presence.  His jaw dropped open.

“Tess, what are you doing here?” Rob tried to hide the horror in his eyes, but he was unable to do so. His false smile could not fool me.

“Sit down,” Jenny told me softly. I shot her daggers as well. She had no need to play the innocent act with me. Why was she sat with them? Jack wouldn’t even look at me; he just stared blankly in front of him.

“I think I’ll stand, but please carry on, I didn’t mean to disturb you.” I snapped at them sarcastically. Each of them looked at each other not knowing quite what to say.

Jack finally stood up. “Tess, sit down, please.” He placed his arm on my shoulder, but I I violently shrugged it off.

“Not until you tell me what you meant by Tess deserves to know everything.”

He backed off and sat back down, turning to look at Jenny. Oh, so she was the spokesperson now.

“Jack it’s okay… Tess sit down.” She ordered. “I’ll explain everything to you, I promise.”

I wanted to run outside into the fresh air. What exactly was going on? I had walked into a living nightmare and I just wanted to wake up.

Then my gaze drifted back to Jenny. Why was she here with them, acting as though they all knew each other really well? Then I suddenly knew the answer. It was because they did all know each other; they were friends…. and Jenny had called Jack, Jack. I felt sick.

Reluctantly I sat down, feeling incredibly weak and shaky. I sat down on the chair next to Jenny, facing Rob and Jack, who were sat on the sofa. Jack still wouldn’t look at me. Rob at least had the grace to look ashamed. I threw the scarf at him. “You forgot this.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled. “How did you know I was here?”

I laughed; there was no humour to it. “Really? I don’t think that is important any more, do you?”

He shook his head and looked down at his coffee cup.

“Tess, we’ve met here as we all need to talk to you.” Jenny told me softly.

“I wasn’t here with you, or had you forgot about that part.” I told her, my words clipped and sharp. I was so angry that I practically spat the words at her. But somehow I managed to keep my voice low. I looked at her for confirmation. I needed to know. “You called Jack by his name. You know him don’t you? You lied to me.”

“Tess, I never lied… I just found out,” she said softly.

I wanted to scratch her eyes out. She had lied to me! “What do you mean? Just found out. What exactly does that mean?”

“That Jack really is your dead husband… I should have believed you.” She stared directly at me.

She was a really good actress but a terrible liar, and I hated being lied to. “Liar.” I shouted, no longer able to contain my anger towards them. Towards this betrayal. “Why should I believe you now. You’ve known all along haven’t you? You knew what I told you was true and you made me believe that I was mad.”

“No. No I haven’t,” she shouted back at me.

I had heard enough from her. She was a liar, just like everyone else. I turned my attention to Rob, who looked resigned to his fate. There were no protestations of innocence from him.  “What about you? Have you just found out?” I waited, hoping that I had got all of this terribly wrong. That it was all just one huge misunderstanding.

“No.” He said quietly. His eyes burned into mine.

I was stunned into silence. Firstly, by his honesty, and then from knowing the truth. They had all lied to me. I felt such a fool.

“Tess, I have known all along, I met Jack before I met you. He told me everything… but I never meant to hurt you, you must believe me.” Rob’s voice broke on his final words.

No, this couldn’t be true. He had known all along about Jack and they were friends? They had been in on this together, laughing behind my back. Jenny knew too. She told me I was mad and she knew. She had made me look like a complete and utter fool. The worst betrayal though was Jack. He and Rob were friends and they had both plotted against me.  I forced myself to look at him. “You told him about the prophesy didn’t you.” But it was not a question. It was a statement.

Jack looked up at me and his beautiful face crumpled. He looked like a man who had been destroyed, but he had destroyed himself. He should have told me that Rob knew about us, about our past. Why didn’t he tell me? I felt humiliated. His beautiful green eyes, now a much darker shade, pleaded with me to forgive him, but I needed to hear him say it, I needed for him to tell me the truth.

“Yes, I told him about the prophesy.” He whispered.

With a stabbing pain of realisation, I knew that Rob’s love for me was not real; he only loved me as he had been told that this was how he should feel. I couldn’t take this anymore: I felt ashamed, stupid and betrayed. They had all been laughing behind my back. I couldn’t breathe; I didn’t want to breathe the same air as them, as it was air that had gone bad, rotten, just like my life. I needed to leave. I staggered to my feet and grabbed my bag as I stumbled out of the bookshop, ignoring their voices of concern and the arm that tried to pull me back to them.  Taking a deep lungful of the now fresh air, I ran and keep on running.

CHAPTER 28

Jack

“Should I go after her?” I really needed to go after her; I needed to explain about what had just happened. To be honest, I was still in shock. I glared at Rob. “You had to go and leave your scarf behind didn’t you?”

“It’s not his fault.” Jenny snapped at me.

“Really! Not his fault.” I glared at Rob once again. “If you hadn’t left your scarf behind in that damn office of yours, then none of this would have happened. So forgive me if I am wrong, but yes, this is your fault.”

“Jack, just listen to yourself would you.” Rob growled. “Listen, no matter when we told her, she probably would have reacted in the same way anyway. Granted, finding out like this was probably not our sharpest move, but…at least she now knows.”

“Well, that doesn’t make me feel any better” I snarled at him.

“Jack, believe me when I say that I wish this hadn’t happened, but it did. We need to focus on Tess, not argue between ourselves, it’ll get us nowhere.”

“I agree, that’s why I need to see her, make her se sense, make her understand.”

“I don’t think that’s such a great idea Jack, she won’t let you through the door.” Jenny looked to Rob who nodded gravely. “We’ve messed up big time, she’ll never forgive us.”

“Well someone has to go and check on her, make sure she’s okay.” I hesitated. “I can do that without her knowing of course, but she needs one of us to explain things to her, we can’t leave it like this.”

“Let’s just calm down a minute.” Jenny said.

I couldn’t possibly feel calm. I had betrayed Tess, in the worst possible way. “Oh what have we done! She’ll think that we planned all of this and that we were laughing behind her back.” I looked to the others for confirmation and they didn’t tell me that I was wrong.

“Listen to me, she knows that you would never do that, and that goes for you too Rob. She’s upset at the moment that’s all, she just needs time.” Jenny looked first at me and then Rob, willing us to understand and accept what she was saying. I put my head in my hands.  How would we get out of this mess?

“I’ll call round and see her in a bit, okay?” Jenny asked me.

I nodded. Tess would probably listen to what she had to say. I didn’t even think Rob would get a foot in the door. He had been really quiet since Tess stormed out. Did he think that it was all over for him?

“Rob, this’ll all sort itself out.” Jenny said kindly.

But I could see the emotion in his eyes, he didn’t believe her.

I turned to Jenny and placed my hand on hers. “Jenny, I just hope she listens to you, otherwise I don’t know what we will do.”

*

Tess

The microwave meal had grown cold on the table in front of me; I couldn’t even be bothered to pop it onto a plate. I just sat in my kitchen, a space for some reason that I felt safe in, and thought about what had just happened.

I had no idea how I got home, it was all a blur. My head felt numb. My dead husband who proclaimed his love for me, was best friends with the man I worked with, whom I possibly loved and who had professed to love me. Although I had huge doubts about that now. Would he have fallen in love with me if he had not known about the prophesy? I was not so sure. Then there was Jack. He had been planning to say goodbye to me, that’s why they were all in the café having their meeting. They were making final plans.

I didn’t want to think about this anymore. I wandered into the living room and found a manuscript that I had brought home to read. Hopefully it would occupy my mind. I wandered back into the kitchen and boiled the kettle, I needed normality, and so I decided to make a cup of sweet tea before I sat and read. Hopefully the familiar ritual would help to calm my nerves.

I was just pouring the water into the teapot when the doorbell rang, making me jump and I accidentally splashed a little boiling water onto my hand. I cursed my clumsiness and quickly rinsed it under the cold water tap, letting the coolness numb my scalded skin. Which one of them was it I wondered? I deliberated whether to answer the door, but I knew that I had no choice. Whoever it was would either sit outside on the step to wait for me to answer the door, or they would simply materialise in front of me. So I reluctantly walked down the corridor, nursing my scolded hand and opened the door. In front of me stood Jenny.

“I should have known they’d send you.” I said sarcastically, and with that I turned and headed back into the kitchen.

“When did you find out?” We sat at the kitchen table. I couldn’t face sitting in the living room with her. I hadn’t made her a drink and my tea was now too far steeped to drink. She’d ruined that too. I sat and waited for her answer, her honest answer, wondering if she would feed me another pack of lies.

“A few weeks back Tess.”

“Really? I don’t believe you.” I studied her more closely, looking for any clues that she was lying, but she stared back at me defiantly.

“Look Tess I am telling you the truth, I bumped into them at the pub and they swore me to secrecy. You have to believe me.”

I really wanted to believe her. I sighed and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, none of this mess was her fault anyway. I was taking my frustrations out on the wrong person. But I was still mad at her for the deception.

She reached across the table and touched my hand, uncertain of my reaction, a very un-Jenny characteristic. “I didn’t want to hurt you. When I found out and they told me not to tell you, well, what good would telling the truth have done back then anyway?”

“What truth Jenny?” I asked wearily. “The truth that Jack really is my dead husband? You laughed in my face when I told you, why didn’t you tell me that you knew?”

Jenny looked down at her hands. She was unable to look at me.

“Then what about the fact that Jack told Rob he was meant to be with me, as it was his destiny? Do you know how wrong that sounds? It’s one thing to be told that a man will fall in love with you as it has been prophesied and a totally different matter to have that same man told all about it.’”

“He thought he was doing the right thing.” Jenny pleaded.

I shook my head. “So you agree with him?”

“No… no, I’m just trying to see his point of view.”

“He shouldn’t have met him or told him anything. He’s ruined everything. I can no longer trust either of them.” I shouted, no longer able to control my temper.

“Oh Tess,” Jenny began. But, she stopped when I abruptly stood up.

“I can’t trust you either, you knew about this, that they knew each other but more importantly you knew who Jack was.”

“Tess, I’m so sorry.” Her voice trembled as if she was holding back tears. I no longer cared.

“You laughed at me Jenny, you laughed in my face when you could have told me the truth. You could have supported me, helped me talk things through, but you chose not to. That’s why I can’t trust you now and you know what,” my voice was on the verge of cracking but I willed myself not to cry. “I could really do with your advice and support right now, but you know what, you’ve lost that right.”

Jenny looked like she wanted to say more but she stopped herself.

“I want you to leave… I can’t talk to you right now.” Tears started to stream down my face.  “Please go.”

She picked up her bag from the floor. I stood back to allow her past me. “You can see yourself out.”

I turned away from her and sat back down at the kitchen table. When I heard the door close behind her, I rested my head on the kitchen table and let the sobs overcome me.

I couldn’t trust any of them.

Rob was not the man I thought he was. He had known all along about Jack, and I thought about all the times we had spoken, and that unknown to me he had known the truth. I felt so stupid.

Jack had lied to me. He had told Rob who he really was, as well as revealing the prophesy to him. I thought only that the two of us knew. Now that Rob knew the truth, there was no way that we could have a relationship together.

They had all sat together and spoken about me. I felt so vulnerable. Ultimately, I couldn’t trust any of them. I realised that I was better off by myself, doing my own thing.

My only problem was Rob. I worked with him. I couldn’t possibly work with him now; I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye ever again. I inwardly cringed at the thought.

Oh… what was I going to do? Well there was one thing that they could  all do.

They could leave me the hell alone.

CHAPTER 29

[* *]

Jack

[* *]

I sat in the waiting room with dreary Musak blasting out from the speakers in the bright white ceiling; couldn’t they find something better to play? Something with at least lyrics? It drove me mad. Instead of tuning in to the dreadful din, I sat and studied my surroundings, my eyes rapidly blinking, in an attempt to adjust to the brightness that surrounded me. I had forgotten just how dull and dark Earth was. I sat and watched the hands of the large metallic clock slowly tick by, tick tock, tick tock. Not long now I told myself. It was nearly time.

The immaculately dressed and blond goddess of a receptionist, sitting behind the too large bright white desk, why does everything have to be so bright, seemed bored and I watched her with curiosity. She was surreptitiously reading a celebrity magazine that she had tried to hide beneath the desk, hoping that no one would notice or indeed care that she was reading it. But it was obvious to me. What I wondered was how she had managed to get hold of it? I thought that all contact with human life was forbidden here, but maybe I was wrong. Her intercom suddenly buzzed, startling her, making her drop the magazine. The muffled voice was barely audible. ‘You can send Mr Sullivan through now.’

It was time.

She looked over to me and nodded, knowing that I had overheard. “It’s just round the corner, the first on the left. “ She smiled at me and bent down to pick up her magazine from the floor. Then sighing, she continued to read.

“Thank you.” I mumbled, and headed in the direction she had told me. I just hoped that she could help.

“Welcome Jack, it’s lovely to see you again,” the Guardian Angel beamed at me. Once again she was dressed all in white, with her golden hair forming a kind of ethereal halo. She radiated power and control, but in a kind way. I was put in my place, but she also put me at ease. I was not afraid of her, just afraid of what she had to say.

She once again smiled at me and gestured for me to sit down on a plush cream sofa opposite from where she was sat, behind yet another huge white desk.

“Thank you.” I sat as instructed. Why was I so nervous? She would help me, although more importantly, she would want to help Tess.

“How may I help you Jack?” She asked kindly as she leaned back in her chair, waiting patiently for my reply.

I couldn’t help hiding my surprise. Really, I didn’t expect this as her first question. I thought it would be something along the lines of, “Why are you back here?” Or “I know the mess you have gotten yourself into, you’ve failed Jack, so what are YOU going to do about it?” But instead I was questioned about my needs and of how she could help me. This was why she belonged here and I did not. Well not yet anyway. I had much to learn.

So I told her the truth, that I desperately needed her help. “Tess won’t talk to me or Rob.” I nearly choked on my words as it was so painful to articulate. But I carried on. “She has signed herself off sick from work. It’s been a week now and she won’t answer the door or phone.” I took a deep breath. “We are all worried about her. We need you to help us.”

She leaned forward across the desk.  “Both you and Rob?” She looked at me, a soft smile playing on her face.

“Yes, both of us. We both love her.” I had difficulty swallowing down the lump that had formed in my throat. Talking about Tess was incredibly painful, but I knew that I needed to do so.

“Jack, I know how deeply you both love her. There is no question in my mind about that.”

I let out a slow breath; at least she knew this truth. She got up from behind her desk and glided over to where I was sat, gently lowering herself onto the sofa next to me.

“Listen to me Jack, you’ve made a huge mistake, but I forgive you. So let’s move on from the guilt. We need to focus on Tess.”

I didn’t feel that I deserved her forgiveness but I needed to compose myself. I needed to focus on Tess. “I couldn’t agree more but… I have no idea how to make this right. We’ve broken her.” I placed my head in my hands, feeling totally defeated. “I’m so worried about her. I’m scared she will hurt herself and that it will be my fault.”

The Guardian Angel leaned forward in order for me to look at her. “I won’t let any harm come to Tess, and neither will Jenny. She’s perfectly safe.”

“But broken.” I whispered.

“Yes, but she can be put back together again.”

Those few words suddenly gave me hope.

“Jack, I have been keeping watch over her, she will be okay.” She hesitated. “The prophesy is still true.”

“But how, she won’t talk to us… It’s got to be over.”

She sat and smiled at me, her calmness washing over me, and for the first time in the last few days I felt hopeful. All was not lost.

“No, this is far from over Jack.” She grinned at me and I couldn’t help but grin back at her. We sat in silence for a few moments.  I tried to piece together all of my random thoughts. I so desperately needed to make this wrong a right.

“You have to help me,” I pleaded. “I need your help to put this right, for the prophesy to come true. She needs Rob, and I now realise that he needs her.”

“Oh Jack.” She said softly. “You both love her deeply and deep down she knows this to be true. She is just very hurt at the moment. You need to give her time.”

“How much time?” I asked, and I heard the hollowness of my words.

“You have to remember that all the trust you had, is now gone. You need to earn it back Jack.”

“I know this, she needs to trust me again, and Rob for that matter, but how can we make her trust us again when she won’t even talk to us? How can we make that happen?”

“Aah that is very simple.” She started to chuckle.

What on earth was she thinking? But then she said something that was completely unexpected and it took me a moment to understand the complexity of her words.

“Jack, we need to find the ring.”

*

Eleven years earlier

[_ _]

Jack was up to something; it was just that I had I no idea about the plan he was hatching. He’d just been really secretive lately. He stopped talking mid conversation when I walked into the room, and he didn’t even try to hide the fact. The same went for when he was on the phone. But he didn’t look guilty. Instead he just wiggled those blond eyebrows of his and gave me his infectious grin, like he knew that I knew he was plotting some devious plan. I couldn’t help but smile back at him. He always made me smile. I knew that he was planning something good though, I just wondered what it was.

We were eating in a top notch restaurant tonight. I was so confused with all of the knives and forks when I saw them all laid out on the table, but it didn’t make me nervous, as we both just took one look at all of the cutlery and laughed. Jack was just as clueless as me. I kept waiting for him to tell me his secret as we sat and sipped our expensive red wine, but as yet he hadn’t revealed a thing. Perhaps he was planning a holiday? We had the whole of the summer holidays ahead of us before we started our final year, so perhaps he had booked us a getaway. We really could do with a break. We’d been cooped up in our bedsit cramming for exams and my head still hurt. I needed a summer of frivolity and absurd nonsense, nothing serious was allowed to happen.

I had made a real effort tonight, I was even wearing makeup and I had clipped up my short hair with silvery clips, Jack told me I looked beautiful and I had smacked his arm. I was just the same Tess I told him. But he had made a real effort; he was wearing a suit and tie for starters, which was something that he never ever wore. He was also very quiet and this unsettled me a little. Jack was never quiet.

“What’s on your mind?” I studied his face, trying to gain some insight, some clue as to what he was thinking.

[_“What do you mean?” _]

He was nervous.

“I’m not sure; it’s just that you’re so quiet tonight! It’s not like you.”

He put down his glass and raked his hand through his blond curls. “I need to ask you a question.”

“Okay, what is it?” I tried to sound relaxed but I was worried now. He looked so serious; I wanted my carefree Jack back.

“Look, I know we haven’t known each other that long, but I think that when you meet the one … then you know… and… you’re the one Tess.”

I was sure that my mouth hung open. Was he really going to ask me what I thought he was? He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a small box. Then with shaking hands he opened the lid. Nestled into the soft fabric sat the most beautiful ring I had ever seen. A simple gold band encrusted in tiny sparkling emeralds. It was perfect. I looked up at him and I saw apprehension written all over his face. He was not sure of my answer; he thought I might say no. I looked at him, this beautiful man who made me smile, who was my best friend, my soulmate. There was no doubt in my mind to the answer I needed to give him.

“Yes.”

“Really? You’ll marry me? “A massive grin took over his face.

“Yes, of course I’ll marry you Jack Sullivan!”

_With that he placed the ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. _

_“I love you Jack.” _

He gave me one of his sultry smiles. “I know.”

Then he kissed me.

CHAPTER 30

Tess

The rain had been relentless all day and there was no sign of it stopping any time soon. I was going to look like a drowned rat on my way home. What a day!

My first day back at work after a week hidden away at home and it had been a total nightmare. I had so much to catch up on, as it seemed that no one took on my workload while I was absent. Mind you, I never phoned to pass on any instructions, so it was partly my own fault. I’d been sending emails left, right and centre, trying to manically catch up. My to do pile was now on the brink of collapsing. So I had reluctantly acknowledged that a few late nights would be needed this week.

I walked over to the window, clutching my cup of coffee in both hands and took another look outside onto the dreary and murky world. It looked as though nothing much had changed, but to me everything had. I would never be my old self again. I was damaged.

I drew a large heart onto the cool glass, condensation allowing me to do so, and the lights of the lamps and streetcars outside illuminated it. They turned it into something beautiful. I sat and stared at my creation. Why draw a heart Tess? I asked myself. Whose name would I add to it? I had no answer.

I sighed once more and resigned myself to the fact that I may as well stay late tonight, it wasn’t as if there was anything waiting for me at home. Well there was a microwave meal with my name on it, but I didn’t count that. Jack had gone, and even though I didn’t want to entertain this thought, the fact that it was probably true could not be pushed aside. I needed to face the truth. I’d not heard from him for over a week, although admittedly I’d not made it easy for him by not answering his phone calls or opening the door to him. But a part of me wished that he had just appeared in front of me one day. That he would be angry enough or ashamed enough to want to make this final effort to talk to me. But I guessed I was wrong. It’s just that I thought he would say goodbye before leaving. He would owe me that much, no matter how much it would hurt me, or him. I just knew that I desperately needed to see him again.

Then there was Rob. I’d not spoken to him either, for exactly the same reasons. I was so angry with him last week. I had spoken to Jenny, well eventually, as she had sat outside for hours one night and I knew that she would have sat there all night if she had to. I had forgiven her as none of this was her doing. She just got caught up in the middle of it all. I believed her when she told me she didn’t mean to hurt me. I also believed Rob and Jack, I knew that they never meant to hurt me. But they did.

The anger I felt towards Rob now though had finally faded, you could only stay angry for so long. It was so draining and I no longer had the energy to be angry anymore. I thought I would have seen him today, that he would have popped in to see how I was. But he hadn’t done so.

Instead I had immersed myself in my work. It was a coping mechanism for me, as well as a welcome distraction. I would much rather read about other people’s problems than contemplate my own.

I opened up the attachment on my laptop, as there was a new manuscript that I needed to read. I had chosen it especially. It was a crime thriller, so far removed from any tale of love. I didn’t want to read about happy ever afters, they didn’t exist in my world. So I began to read and because I was totally absorbed in the story, I did not hear the soft knock at the door. I was only aware of the male presence in my room when a shadow appeared across my laptop screen. I jumped up, forgetting about the cold cup of coffee that was sat next to me on the desk and I sent it flying across the table and into the pile, of as yet unread manuscripts. My heart pounded in my ears. “I didn’t hear you come in?” I said breathlessly. All attempts at the angry tone I was going to use had suddenly vaporised as I had been scared half to death. “I didn’t hear you come in … and I’m reading a grisly crime novel.” I looked over at the soggy pile of manuscripts and made a dash towards them.

“Let me help you.” Rob started picking up sheets of paper and popping them onto the various radiators around the room. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you, I’m so sorry.” He did look extremely sorry, but I knew it was not just about making me jump out of my skin and for the soggy manuscripts.

“Are you well now?” He asked gently.

Well what was the answer to that one? Physically yes, but mentally, no, I’d never be the same. I just nodded at him and busied myself in wiping up the spilled coffee. I did not want to look at him.

A few minutes passed in silence. I had no idea what to say to him.

“Tess,” his voice was soft. He paused for a beat and I saw uncertainty written all over his face. “I’ll just take some of these next door to dry, there’s not too much damage.”

I continued cleaning up the mess and watched him walk out the room.

*

My heart rate began to slow and I made myself busy with sorting the rest of the papers out. What had just happened? His mere presence made me hyperventilate. I couldn’t seem to think straight when he was in the same room as me. I smiled at the thought.  I knew that he loved me, I just wasn’t so sure how I felt about him. Was it love? The problem was that I was not sure if I could ever forgive him.

I grabbed myself another cup of coffee from my thermos flask, and waited for him to come back. He had something to tell me, I just didn’t know what. I sat and sipped the potent brown liquid, my lifeblood, and wondered what he would tell me. At least this time I was prepared.

After ten minutes I wondered if I had misread the entire situation, but then I heard his gentle tap tap tap and his head appeared around the door.

“Can I come in?” He hesitantly asked.

I felt a twinge of guilt. I had ignored him for over a week, who could blame him for being unsure around me. He probably had no idea who I was anymore.

He walked ever so slowly across the room, another attempt to reassure me that he meant no harm and sat in the chair across from mine.

“Have you heard from Jack? Is he still here?” I asked him. I needed to know that he had not gone without saying goodbye to me.

“Yes… for now,” he replied quietly. “I’m sorry.” He looked unwaveringly at me, forcing my eyes to look on his.

“What for?” There was no way that I was going to make this easy for him.

“Everything,” he answered without hesitation.

“What do you mean everything? You are sorry for getting involved with me, with Jack?” My voice cracked. So he’d given up on me as well?

“No, no Tess, you’ve got it wrong,” he implored. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted, for not telling you that I knew Jack.” He reached nervously across the table to touch my hand but I pulled it away from him and picked up my coffee. “I’m sorry that I lied, I should have been honest with you.”

“Yes you should.” I stared into those hypnotic sky blue eyes, daring him to look away.

“Please Tess, you need to understand how it was for me, when I first met Jack and he told me about you.”

“Do I? Do I really? Do you know how messed up that sounds, that you knew everything about me before we met, but I knew nothing about you?” I was getting angry and I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that. I took a steadying breath. “Rob, the fact that he met you and told you about me, well, although that was very wrong, I suppose I can handle that. I don’t like it but that’s not your fault, that’s Jack’s. I never knew that he met you, he never told me. What I can’t handle is the fact that you lied to me about knowing Jack… I can’t trust you anymore.”

“Tess.” He seemed as if he was struggling to find the right words. He stood and walked around the desk and sat on top of it, facing me. “You can trust me, I just didn’t want to hurt you, Jack told me it was for the best… that you knew nothing about us knowing each other and I went along with him. I thought he was trying to help us… I had no reason not to believe him.”

For a moment I was lost. I knew how persuasive Jack could be and that yes, I was sure at the time he meant what he said. But that night at the flat when he called to see me with Jenny, he could have told me then.

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth weeks ago, what about when you came to the flat that night with Jenny? You knew what Jack was up to didn’t you?  Why didn’t you try to stop things then? You could have stopped him by telling me the truth?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you Tess and I could see the way you looked at him.” His eyes drifted away from mine, but not before I saw his hurt buried there. I was not the only one who was broken.  

He looked back at me and once again reached for my hand, this time I let him. I enjoyed the feeling of his warm skin against mine. He felt solid and safe.

“Tess, I love you.”

My voice caught in my throat.  “No you don’t, you only love me because of the prophesy. You believe that loving me is your fate, your destiny… if you knew nothing about it then you wouldn’t love me.”

He was suddenly on his feet, dragging me upwards with him, forcing me to gaze into his eyes. “No Tess, I fell in love with you the moment I walked into this office, that’s the truth. I would love you without knowing the prophesy, to me it is of no importance… only you matter.”

I dropped my head and stared at my feet. His hands gently cupped my chin and lifted it upwards, so that once again my eyes met his, forcing me to tell the truth. “I don’t know what to believe any more Rob. I’m so confused.”

“Do you love me?” He asked gently, his eyes begging for the truth. I couldn’t lie to him.

“Yes Rob…I think I do, against my better judgment. But… I don’t trust you. You lied to me and I’m not sure if I can get past that, if I’ll ever get over it. That’s the best I can offer you right now.”

He tried to contain his happiness, but a slight smile appeared on his face which he quickly hid. He let go of my hand, but then he did something totally unexpected. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms protectively around me. Then resting his head on top of mine, he whispered into my ear. “I’m waiting for you, I’m not going anywhere.”

CHAPTER 31

[* *]

Jack

I thought that I had it all planned out, that everything was at last going to go exactly as I wanted it. But then she had to walk in on us, and hear us all talking about her. Now that was awkward. I wanted to run after her and comfort her, but I knew that wouldn’t help her, or me to be honest. What she needed was time.

What I found really hard to deal with was the fact that she wouldn’t talk to me, that really hurt. She had ignored all of my phone calls. I even hovered around outside her house one night, all night in fact, but she wouldn’t open the door to me. I had thought about just going inside anyway, but I knew deep down that this would be an invasion of her privacy, that the decision to see me should be hers, not mine. I also knew that somehow; if I did just materialise in front of her, then this would make her even madder at me. A week though! I was really worried about her; she had never maintained that length of frosty silence before, not for over a week. The longest she ever managed was a few hours; we were always able to talk things through, but apparently not this time.

So when Rob phoned to tell me that she wanted to see me and that she sounded as if she would forgive me, then I knew that not all hope was lost. Rob also sounded very happy, although he didn’t go into any specifics and I respected that. This was how we needed to go on from now. I no longer needed to know what was said between them, it was for them to know, not me. It was no longer any of my business. So here I was. I stood on her doorstep for what would be the very last time. Rob had told me about their meeting and I now knew that everything was going to be okay. It would end just as I had planned. But even though I knew this to be true, a selfish part of me didn’t want to say goodbye to her, even though I knew I must. Closing my eyes, I reached out and pressed the bell.

The door slowly opened and there she was, the same messy bobbed brown hair and chocolate eyes staring back at me, although now they could not hide the pain she must be feeling. I felt the weight of this, as I was the one who was responsible, the one who had hurt her.

She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my neck, stroking the hair at the base of my neck. We stood like that for what seemed like forever. Eventually she stepped back with tears in her eyes.

“I knew you wouldn’t go without saying goodbye.”

*

We sat in the living room, side by side on the couch. Tess had her legs curled up underneath her and rested her head against my chest. I could sit like this forever. We sat in comfortable silence; the only sound was that of our breathing and the ticking of the clock.

“Tess, I can’t stay, you know that don’t you.” I mumbled into her hair.

“Yes, I know,” she said ever so softly. I felt the warmth of her breath against my chest. Neither of us said a word, neither of us wanted this moment to end. I needed to savour this, to always remember how we were together. I must not forget.

“Tess, will you ever forgive me?” I needed to know that she would. I would be at peace if she granted me this, although I knew that I did not deserve this kindness from her, not after what I had put her and Rob through.

She didn’t say anything for a few minutes and I took that to be a no, but then she wriggled from my embrace and sat up, so that she could look at me.

“I thought that I would never be able to forgive you Jack, but now that you are leaving,” her voice cracked ever so slightly, thick with emotion. “Well, there is no point being angry anymore with you. I have forgiven you Jack.”  She gently took my hand and lifted it to her mouth, softly kissing my palm. Then she placed it against her cheek. I could feel the warmth of her skin. “I really do forgive you Jack; I never could stay mad at you for very long,” she smiled.

“I love you Tess.” I had to tell her this one last time, although she knew this to be true. I had to say the words, then it would be real. She had to hear them one last time.

“I know, and I will always love you Jack. My love for you will never end. It will change, mould itself into something new, more manageable, but you will always be a big part of my life.” She paused to catch her breath. “I wanted you to come back so badly so that I could tell you once more that I love you, and my wish was granted. I got to see you again, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

“I’m glad that I did something right then. “I paused. “He does love you, you know.”

“I know.” She looked at me, suddenly shy, as if she should not be admitting this fact to me.

“Tess, he’s a good guy. Look I know I’ve made a mess of things, but at least I’ve met Rob and you know that I think he’s a good guy, no matter what the prophesy says. Plus, you have my blessing.” I gave her a wink.

She chuckled. “Well,” she laughed. “That’s alright then isn’t it.”

“Tess, that man loves you and you love him, and you know what, I am so happy for you. I want you to have a long and happy life with someone who loves you, and well, if it can’t be with me, then I’m happy that it will be with him.”

She didn’t say anything, just continued to stare at me. I wanted her to admit how she felt about him. “He’ll never hurt you Tess.”

“He already has Jack, or are you forgetting what happened?” She looked once more into my eyes as if wanting me to fully understand where she was coming from. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it, his betrayal.”

What was she saying? I did not understand this woman sometimes. “Tess, you’ve forgiven me.” I told her.

“Yes, I have, I can’t carry that burden with me any more Jack. I have forgiven you, as you are leaving, I don’t want any ill feeling between us. What you did… well, it was for the best.”

“Yes it was, but Rob acted the same way, he too was thinking of your best interests.”

“He lied to me Jack. How am I ever going to get over that? I can’t trust him.”

Oh ever the dramatist. “You lied to him too!”

She froze. I could tell that she had not even considered this.

“This works both ways you know. We were all deceitful, but you know what, he has forgiven you.”

She looked away from me, lost in her own thoughts and I let her sit, giving her time to think. She slowly looked back at me, her eyes filled with tears. “Oh Jack, what have I done?”

“You’ve done nothing wrong Tess.” I wrapped her in a big bear hug, stroking her hair, whispering that everything would be alright. “Tess, once I am gone, go and find him, tell him you are sorry and that you trust him, life is too short.” I gave a hollow laugh, then asked the question that I already knew the answer to. “Tess, do you love him?” I held my breath, wondering if she would tell me the truth.

“Yes, I love him Jack; I love him so much that it hurts.” Her eyes glistened with tears.

I swallowed down a lump that had formed in my throat. That was all I wanted to hear.

My work here was done.

“I know love. Tess, it’s time.”

I looked into those beautiful brown eyes for the very last time and I slowly bent to kiss her forehead. “I will always love you, be happy.”

I took a deep breath and inhaled her scent, her warmth. I wanted to remember this moment forever. I needed to remember. Then, with that, I slowly faded away.

CHAPTER 32

[* *]

Tess

He slowly faded and I was left alone. I sat and stared into my now empty and desolate flat. Time once again seemed to stand still. I was frozen in time, in thought and in feeling. The walls seemed to close in on me, and I felt a crushing pain in my chest that violently overtook my entire body, invading all of my senses. I found myself sinking to the floor, as my legs no longer seemed to have the strength to hold my body upright. I lay on the hard floor and I pressed myself into it; I needed to feel this contact, this solid presence beneath me. I needed to know that I was still alive. If I could feel something, anything, even if it was only the floor, then I was still here, I was alive in the world. I gulped in huge lungfuls of air, trying frantically at the same time to steady my rapid breathing. But all I could do was lie there with my cheek pressed against the patterned carpet, its rough fibres tickling my cheek.

I would see him no more.

The finality of it suddenly gripped me and once again spasms of pain rocked me, overtaking my body, invading me. I had no choice but to embrace it. Feeling this pain reminded me of him, reminded me that he had been here. The air that surrounded me felt noticeably colder and I turned over onto my back and wrapped my arms protectively around myself, in order to warm me up. How long had I lay there? This was not good, I told myself; I had been down this path once before and look where it had got me? This time Jack had given me new a new start. I had a new direction for my life. I therefore decided to swallow down the last of my tears; I would not cry anymore. I had cried enough during the past five years. I thought about his final words to me, and an image of his beautiful face and those vivid green eyes of his appeared in my mind. He wanted me to be happy again, and I knew now that I deserved to be happy again. But more importantly, he wanted me to be happy with Rob.

Gripped by a sudden panic, I realised that I needed to find Rob, and I needed to do so now. There was no time like the present. I had to see him. I had been living in the past, but now it was time to finally start living in the present and to face my future. I smiled to myself, I had Jack’s blessing. He had given me the best gift that I could ever have wished for, the chance to be happy again. I’d wasted far too much time already as it was.

I had to talk to Rob, to explain everything to him. I needed to explain to him why I acted the way in which I did. I needed to be brutally honest with him. I had been completely selfish. I really didn’t know how he had managed to put up with me for all this time. A lesser man would have been driven away, so I knew that he was very special.

I rolled over onto my side and gently eased myself up into a sitting position, testing my balance. My legs now felt strong enough to support my weight and I took a few deep breaths to steady my nerves. Slowly I told myself, that I could do this. Go find him.

With a determination that I never knew I had, I strode down the hallway to my bedroom and grabbed the first two socks that I found in my clean pile of clothes. I had yet to sort my laundry out. Therefore, the result was one blue and one red sock, but I really didn’t care I was in a hurry and I really didn’t think that Rob would notice, or indeed care, that I was wearing odd socks. I ran back into the hall and found my pair of tatty trainers sat by the front door. Shoving my feet into them, I grabbed my car keys and stuffing my phone into my bag, I dashed out of the flat.

*

Where is he? I tried to peek through the downstairs hall window, as the curtains were not drawn, but there was no sign of life inside. What should I do? I’d come all of this way to talk to him, I couldn’t abandon my plan now. I needed to phone him. I scrambled around in my bottomless pit of a bag. I really needed to sort out the mess that this bag accumulated, and finally found my phone. I scrolled down the list of contacts until I found his name and punched the call button. I heard his voice and I was about to say, “I love you,” when I realised it was a voicemail. That’s strange; he never had his phone switched off. I ended the call not knowing what to do next. Should I call back and leave a message? No… I needed to talk to him; a voicemail message would be so cold, too impersonal. I decided to sit in the car for another half an hour in order to see if he showed up, and if not, well, I’d have to catch him at work tomorrow. I was so disappointed. I so wanted to tell him how I felt today, right now. I wouldn’t get any sleep tonight if I didn’t see him. Trust him to choose tonight of all nights to go out. I shoved the phone back into my bag and I slowly walked back to the car,  uttering a silent prayer.

Jack

The image of Tess standing in front of me in her living room slowly faded from my mind and I found myself floating upwards and through the evening sky. I was weightless. I was finally free. I felt jubilant. I had succeeded. I could now finally be at rest.

Calming images whirled through my mind. Images of Tess from years past: our wedding day, the day we first met, out first home and then more recent visuals appeared. The moment when Tess opened the front door to me, I would never forget that look on her face. Then, finally the moment we said goodbye. They would always stay with me. She would always be with me and I would always be a part of her, and this thought brought me some comfort.

Not long now Jack, I told myself, until I could finally rest. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensation of weightlessness; I felt as if I was floating in a tranquil ocean. I had such inner peace.

I was just surrendering to this intoxicating and overwhelming state, when inexplicably my inner world turned to darkness. The darkness started to creep in on me and my head started to throb, and with the constant ache came the realisation that I was falling, spiralling downwards back towards earth.

There was nothing I could do to stop the trajectory that I was on. All I could do was go with it and hope that my landing was soft. I kept my eyes closed, trying to block out the pain that was rattling inside my skull. Then without warning, I stopped. I opened my eyes to find that I was sprawled out on the ground, luckily unhurt, and that my headache had mysteriously gone. What the hell?

I lay flat against the cold ground; thankfully I had fell onto grass. I did not want to move. The cold no longer seeped through my bones. I was confused, what had just happened? I stared up into the night sky and started to count the stars, all traveling on their own trajectory. Without warning, a crisp new image appeared in my mind and I closed my eyes in order to concentrate upon it. This was the reason I was back. It must have something to do with Tess. Panic gripped me, but I managed to breathe through my fear and to concentrate on what I saw.

What I saw in my mind was a black car that lay crumpled and torn at the side of a road. A huge gaping hole in its side. The roof had been sliced off and there was debris everywhere. It covered the road, both sides of the road, and the nearby ditch. I knew this road but I could not place it, even though it was so familiar to me. The still image transfixed me. Why was I seeing this? I knew that it wasn’t Tess’s car. The frozen tableau then slowly started to play, as if I was watching a slow motion film, and I saw every single detail. A man with dark hair was lying at the side of the road, and I know intuitively, that the man was Rob.  His body was bloody and broken, and while he lay there, paramedics worked in vain on his body. Trying to mend what they could not. They attempted to gain intravenous access, pushing fluids into his body in an attempt to keep him alive, but the fluids just kept oozing out.

No! No! No! This could not be happening!  

They kept doing their futile chest compressions, trying to mend his battered and broken body.

Then slowly they stopped.

They all nodded at each other in agreement. Someone called out, time of death. 22:08.

The image then slowly faded.

I sat shaking on the ground, long after the image had gone from my mind. What was that? Had that really happened? I didn’t know what to do. I was too late.

My phone suddenly started to ring, making me jump. I had forgot that I had put it into my jacket pocket. With shaking hands, I pulled it out and slid my finger across the screen to answer the call.

“Jack, there’s not much time.”

I was unable to answer; I was still too stunned.

“Jack, it’s me Jenny. Look at the time.”

I moved the phone away from my ear and glanced once more at the display and looked at the time. It was 21:15. What did she mean? Then with a shuddering jolt I leaped to my feet. “Jenny, where is he? I need to find him.”

“I don’t know where he is Jack. Listen to me. Close your eyes, you will find him. The Guardian Angel will take you to him.”

So I did as she said. I closed my eyes and once more found myself slowly rising high above the clouds. I had no idea where I was going, but I trusted in the Guardian Angel. She would take me to Rob, she would help me save him. He couldn’t die like that. I would not allow it. Tess had already suffered one death in her life, and I wasn’t going to let her go through that pain again. She would live a long and happy life with him; I’d make damn sure of it.

Where was he? I asked out loud.

Patience Jack, I am looking. Have faith in me, I will find him and take you to him. I heard her voice in my mind.

I once again closed my eyes, placing my trust in her hands. It was all I could do.

Please, please, please, let me find him in time. I couldn’t be too late, I just couldn’t. Please for Tess and for him. Please.

I zoomed through the night sky, the wind whipping my hair, catching my breath, invigorating me. I was pumped with endorphins, ready for action, ready to save him. We needed to find his car, it was about to happen. I needed to stop it, he couldn’t die. I needed to stop this. I opened my eyes, ignoring the sting from the whistling and biting wind in order to scan the roads below. We were too late. We must be too late.

Then suddenly I began to slow and I steadily fell towards the ground. There in the distance I spotted a black car.

CHAPTER 33

Rob looked at the clock on his office wall, it was 21.00 and he realised that he had worked far too late. His thoughts drifted to those of Tess and their last encounter. He now knew that she loved him. She had finally admitted that she did, but he was still unsure if they would have a future together and if she could ever really truly let go of Jack. Rob just didn’t know. All he could do was to be there for her, as he had always promised he would be. He would wait forever for her. As he had told her, he was not going anywhere.

He ran his hands through his hair and started to tidy his desk, making a mental note that he really did need to be more organised. He sighed, acknowledging that whatever was left could now wait until morning. With another weary sigh he picked up his jacket and bag and closed the door behind him. He made his way to his car that was parked outside in the staff car park. He didn’t usually drive, as he preferred to take the train home, it allowed him to unwind. He could sit and think on the train, it allowed him some breathing space. But this morning he had been running late, so he had driven in.

He was looking forward to getting home, putting his feet up and watching some incredibly boring re run of a [_so called _]comedy show on the television.

Jack

The car was zooming away from me, along the narrow road. I was running out of time, I couldn’t let it get away. I needed to reach him and to explain what was about to happen to him. No matter what happened to me, I needed to keep him alive. He could not be in a car crash! I closed my eyes and allowed the wind to whip against me, lifting me higher and taking my breath away as I found myself slicing through the air. I surrendered myself to the elements, knowing that it would guide me to where I needed to be. I began to slow and felt myself slowly falling back down. I must be near.

When I opened my eyes, I prayed that I had found him, and there, to my absolute relief was his car. I looked down to find that I was hovering above him, keeping the exact same pace. At least I had found him. My only problem now was getting into the moving car and trying to convince him to stop driving. Knowing Rob though, this was not going to be an easy task.

I gritted my teeth and once again I closed my eyes, willing myself to be inside the warmth of the car. The cold wind that surrounded me suddenly warmed and my body relaxed with the sudden warmth of the car’s air conditioning system. My body was moulded against a soft leather chair. I was once again in my human form. Rob who had been concentrating on the road ahead, whipped his head around to me and turned as white as a sheet. Momentarily the car swerved slightly to the right, and the screeching of tires against rubber was the only sound to be heard. But without missing a beat, he turned back to face the road ahead of him and corrected the path of the car.

“What the bloody hell Jack!” He shouted. “I nearly crashed the bloody car!” There was a tremor to his voice and I noticed that his hands were shaking. So he was not totally unaffected by my sudden and uninvited presence. “What are you doing?” Rob asked, shaking his head, his hands turning white on the steering wheel from his tight grip.

“Saving you from a crash.” My voice was clear, clam and insistent. “Rob, you need to stop the car!” I did not tell him that he’d die if he failed to do so. That would completely freak him out.

He gripped the wheel even tighter. “Are you mad? You very nearly made me crash the car!” He took a large gulp of air and I realised that he was trying to swallow down his anger. “I’m nearly home, and I’m not stopping now!” He barked at me.

“Stop the car Rob!” I shouted. Why wasn’t he listening to me? I couldn’t make myself any clearer. Maybe I should shout[_ stop the car or you’ll die! _]But I was trying to be subtle here.

He glanced once more at me before averting his eyes back to the road ahead. “Why? Why should I stop? You can’t just appear in my car, scaring me half to death, nearly causing me to crash and [_then _]tell me that I need to stop the car!” He shook his head in disbelief. “Anyway, I thought that you had left.”

“Well obviously not.” I snapped back at him. “I was leaving and then I saw the crash, it was a vision in my mind. Rob, you really do need to stop driving now.” I contemplated grabbing the steering wheel but decided against it. That would only make matters worse.

Rob swiftly snatched another sideways glance at me. But in that brief moment I saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes. He was starting to believe me. “What do you mean you saw the crash?” He asked ever so slowly. “How can you have seen it?”

“Rob, it’s hard to explain, like I say it was a vision. The best way I can explain it to you is that it was like watching a slow motion video. I could see everything in intimate detail.” I looked out of the window, the countryside whizzing by us. I really didn’t have the time for this. “Just trust me… I saw you lying at the side of the road, next to this car. You were… well you were in a bad way.”

“In a [bad _]way?” He sounded puzzled. “What _exactly does that mean?”

I hesitated, should I tell him? He didn’t believe me. The only way he would know that I was telling the truth was to tell him exactly what I had seen in my vision. “They pronounced you dead at 22:08.”

He froze, and his breath hitched. “You’re mad! I’m perfectly safe; I’ll be home in five minutes!”

“You don’t have five minutes!” I bellowed at him. “Stop the car… Or I’ll do it for you.”

He carried on driving. To my absolute horror I realised that he was not going to stop the car.

“Look at the dash, it’s 21.32. I don’t know what time the crash happened, but we’re running out of time. Please Rob, stop the car. Look, I’m not concerned about me, I’m dead anyway. But I am not going to let you die. I won’t allow it.” Then in a last minute ditch attempt I pulled the rabbit well and truly out of the bag. “Tess, you need to think of Tess.”

“Okay, okay… I’ll stop the car, but when the clock shows it’s 22.08 I’ll start driving again Jack. But I will then be late home, and it will all have been for nothing. You need to stop all of this messing about, but just this once, I will humour you, as I can tell you are not going to give up!” Grumpily he slowed the car and looked for somewhere to pull over.

I relaxed, at least he was doing what I asked. Although he didn’t believe me, I didn’t care, I just wanted him to stop driving. Then it suddenly hit me, this man had become a friend to me and I cared deeply about him. I also realised to my great shame that I was going to go without saying goodbye to him. Well at least now I would get that chance. “I was so wrong Rob about everything. I’ve spoken to Tess, she loves you, you know. Everything is going to be okay. You[_ can’t_] die.”

“Oh Jack,” Rob sighed. “I’m not going to die.”

I scanned the road, looking for somewhere safe that we could stop. “You can pull over there.” I pointed to the grass verge. He reluctantly pulled over just before we reached a set of lights that had just changed to green.

The moment he cut the engine we both saw the lorry. It was a freight lorry that cut straight across our path, sailing through the now illuminated red light. The light which should have made it stop. With a creeping chill, I realised that if Rob had not stopped the car when he did, he would have crashed straight into the side of it, taking the full impact. I turned to him and I knew that this thought was also running through his mind. If I hadn’t stopped, I would be dead.

Neither of us said anything. We just sat and stared straight ahead. Neither of us could believe what we had just witnessed.

“I would have hit the lorry, wouldn’t I?” Rob’s voice was barely audible.

Oh, so now he believed me. “Yes.”

He turned in his chair so that he could face me full on. “Thank you.”

I smiled back at him. “No problem; I couldn’t go and have you die on me now, could I?”

“I can never repay you.” His voice was low, full of grief that he could not hide.

“You don’t have anything to repay.” I looked away from him. He didn’t owe me anything. I wanted to help him and help Tess, and that’s what I had done. My mission had finally come to an end. It was time to go.

My phone started to vibrate in my pocket, startling me once again. I wriggled about the seat in order to fish it out of my pocket.

“Well done Jack, you can go home now.” Jenny’s soft voice told me. I heard both pity and sadness in the tone and texture of her voice.  “Oh, and Jack, don’t forget the ring.” She paused, and I could hear her gulp. “…I will miss you.”

The call disconnected. What ring? And then I mentally slapped myself. How could I have forgotten? I wriggled about the seat once more and thrust my hand into the back pocket of my jeans.

“Who was that?” Rob asked me curiously.

“Jenny.” I smiled. “She reminded me that I had this. It’s yours now.” I gently placed the tiny box into the palm of Rob’s hand.

“What is this?” Rob cautiously opened the box. The delicate gold band encrusted in emeralds twinkled back at him. Tess’s engagement ring. “Why are you giving me this Jack?” He asked quietly. “Is there something I should know?”  

He was trying to make light of my gesture. He was trying to make it easier for me. But he knew. He understood what this ring meant to me. He could see the emotion in my eyes. “It’s yours now. Keep it safe until you need it. Tess will… well… she will understand.”

Ron just stared at the ring, twirling it around in his large fingers. “I can’t take this Jack; it means so much to you. It’s part of Tess.”

I sadly shook my head. “No, this means more to her, and you are now part of her life. It’s part of you too.”

He swallowed several times and I knew that he was trying to keep his emotions in check and that they were just bubbling under the surface.

“She really told you that she loves me?” He eventually asked. I could see that he was unsure, that he didn’t believe this to be true as yet.

“Yes, she loves you and she desperately wants to talk to you. That’s all I’m saying. I’ve interfered and said too much as it is.”

He slowly chuckled. “Fair enough.” A radiant smile took over his face. “It’s about bloody time,” he laughed.

“Look after her for me.” I told him, my voice thick. But I didn’t hear Rob’s reply, as I slowly faded away.

CHAPTER 34

Six months later….

Rob paced up and down the kitchen, a cup of coffee in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other. He had read the same lines over and over again. He knew them to within an inch of his life. But he needed the comfort of seeing the words on the page, that final reassurance. It’ll all be okay, he told himself. What could possibly go wrong? The table was booked, the restaurant knew all about his plan, as did the pianist, so all he needed was a yes, and that’s all he wanted to hear. He didn’t know what he would do if she said no, which he believed to be a very strong option. She had been married, and happily married at that. Maybe she didn’t want to go down that road again, even if he did give her the option of it being with him.

He plonked himself down in the chair and slowly drained his cup, trying to empty his mind. He knew that worrying would achieve nothing. He looked over to the sideboard, to the photograph that stood upon it, of his parents. In the old and faded photograph they were happy, young and radiant on their wedding day. What would they think of Tess he wondered? But he already knew the answer; of course they would love her, as everyone did who met her. He wished that they had met her, and that he could have told them all about Jack. They would have helped him, given him advice. But with a heavy heart he knew that it was not meant to be.

He pulled his iPhone from his pocket and checked the time. Tess would be back very soon. He smiled, thinking that she would probably be laden down with bags of books and paper. Jenny would have that annoyed look on her face, as she would have been unsuccessful in her mission. She desperately wanted Tess to buy clothes. But that was just Tess, she was far happier with a new book than a new pair of shoes. He started to chuckle, it was well worth it though, just to see the look of desperation on Jenny’s face. He had grown close to Jenny during the past few months and true to her word, she hadn’t told Tess about who she really was, and Rob knew deep down that she never would. She would always be there to protect Tess, and this brought him comfort. She would always be looked after, even when he was no longer around.

He stood and walked over to the sink, and quickly rinsed his mug, placing it on the drainer. Grabbing his piece of paper, he then headed to the study, for one final practice.

Tess

I sat back and took in the familiar surroundings. The expensive furnishings, the man playing the baby piano. We were crammed into the corner of the room and I observed the overly attentive waiter, wishing that he would leave us alone.

Rob sat facing me at a table for two, nestled into a secluded corner of the extremely expensive restaurant. I couldn’t believe that I had sat in the very same restaurant just over six months ago, I was a completely different woman now. I now knew that Rob had changed me completely, and that by allowing him into my life, I was finally happy. Life was very different for me now.

I took a sneaky look at him, over the top of my red glass of wine, and my heart began to flutter. It took a long time to fall in love with him, and I silently hugged myself for getting him all to myself, and for his patience. I was incredibly lucky. He was handsome, gentle, kind and he put up with me. I [_was _]one very lucky girl. I liked looking at him, when he was unaware of me doing so; I could take in every single feature. His long dark eyelashes, piercing blue eyes and strong jaw. With a sudden pang I wondered if this would last. If he would ever grow tired of me? It all seemed too good to be true. But just as quickly I pushed this thought aside. We had been through far too much already; our lives were already entwined.

I watched him carefully studying the menu. He was a real foodie and a fantastic cook, he cooked every night, although he made a terrible mess in the kitchen. I smiled to myself at this memory. I loved the fact that he made a mess. My life had been much too ordered and lonely for far too long.

I quickly scanned the menu, my stomach rumbled, reminding me that I was here to eat.  Rob had told me that this was our six-month anniversary celebration dinner, to which I had laughed. But the food here was sublime and I loved being spoilt like this. A girl could get used to it.

I scanned the list of starters and I saw that garlic mushrooms were on offer. My mind automatically drifted to thoughts of Jack. Whenever we went out for dinner, he would always insist on eating garlic mushrooms. I smiled sadly to myself, I missed him. But not in a yearning type of way, not in the way I did, when I wished him to come back to me. A part of me still blamed what happened because of how much I had wanted him back. Perhaps if I hadn’t wished so badly, he would not have returned? But then maybe I would never have got together with Rob. Everything happened for a reason I supposed. I wondered if we were truly able to make our own choices in life, or if everything was already predestined and planned out? Who knew? Perhaps this truly was serendipity.

Thinking about Jack was much easier now. It no longer brought me immense grief or suffering. Instead there were fond memories, and that was the way it should be. He was my past and this gorgeous man sat having dinner with me was my future. How lucky was I!

The waiter came to take our order, chicken for Rob and pasta for me. We then sat in comfortable silence as we sipped our wine.

Rob suddenly put his glass down and looked at me, as if he was about to ask me something. However, he looked away from me and instead reached into his inside breast pocket of his suit jacket and took something out of it. I was transfixed. What was it? I couldn’t see what he was holding, as his hand was too large and the item too small. He held onto it protectively. He cleared his throat, running his free hand through his dark and now unruly hair. His pale blue eyes fixed upon mine. Oh no, he had a serious look about him. He slowly uncurled his hand to reveal a tiny box, and with a noticeable tremor he handed the box to me. “Open it.” He told me, his voice shaking.

I looked at him. His eyes were now averted, concentrating on the contents of his wine glass. He was nervous! My heart rate quickened as I slowly opened the box. I gasped. The ring that Jack gave me twinkled back at me. I gently touched it, barely daring to believe it was real. My eyes found Rob staring at me, apprehension written all over his face. I swore that he was holding his breath.

“How… I don’t… did Jack give it you?” I stumbled.

He smiled and with one word confirmed what I already knew to be true. “Yes.”

My mind was whirling. “When? When did he give it to you?” I slowly shook my head. This moment was about Rob, and I knew that he loved me more than life itself. The gesture of giving me this ring, showed me how truly special he was.

“Do you want to know?” He gently asked.

I knew beyond any doubt that if I asked him, he would tell me the truth. I smiled warmly at him. “No, I don’t need to know, he gave it to you, that’s all that matters.”

He suddenly stood up from behind the table and walked slowly towards me. He knelt down in front of me. “Tess, will you do me the great honour of being my wife? I love you and always will. Will you marry me?”

Once again I saw insecurity flash across his eyes. He was not sure of my answer and with a sudden stab of pain, I realised that he thought I might say no. “Oh Rob. Yes… yes, of course I will marry you.” I flung my arms around his neck.

He gently unfurled my arms, taking my hands carefully in his and planted a soft kiss on my lips. “I love you Tess.”

“As I love you.” I whispered back.

And to the tune of It Had to Be You, we kissed once more.

EPILOGUE

Tess

[_ _]

I [_stood outside the lecture theatre waiting for Jack, clutching my cup of takeout coffee.  It was just a plain old filter coffee with sugar. I needed the sugar today, I felt so tired. I was up half the night trying to finish my English paper and I was very nearly there, so the late night was worth it. I glanced at the clock on the wall opposite to where I was standing and realised that I was a little early, as usual. So I sat down on the small wooden bench in the foyer. _]

[_I slowly sipped my coffee and watched what was going on around me. Other students were sat chatting to each other, others sat and wrote frantically onto jotter pads. Some had their heads crammed into books. I noticed a group of boys standing nearby messing about with each other, but they were not bothering me. Why were boys so juvenile, even at eighteen years of age? _]

I put my cup of coffee next to me on the bench and rooted around for my copy of Oedipus Rex in my oversized satchel, as usual the book was right at the bottom of my bag. I really must sort this bag out. It needed a good declutter. I flicked to the page that I had last read, marked with a turned over corner, and begin to read. This was the third time I had read this play and every time I was struck by the very desolation and tragedy surrounding Oedipus. He never had a choice, what a life! I really needed to find something less depressing to read. A light comedy perhaps? But I had no choice as this was a set text. I realised though that I did need to get out more, but I loved to read and I didn’t know many other people at the moment, other than Jack. Thinking of him made me smile. I carried on reading, ignoring the background noise that surrounded me, while I waited for him to turn up. I was so immersed in the imagery and subtext of what I was reading that I only noticed him when a large shadow loomed over me.

“Hi.” He simply said.

[_His voice was already so familiar to me. I smiled at him, unable to look away from his beautiful green eyes with the unusual brown speckles. “Hi.” I managed to articulate. My voice was raspy. I barely recognised it.  No boy had ever had this effect on me before. To be honest, I’d not had a boyfriend or even dated before. I was too much of a loner. But Jack seemed to be changing all of that. A slow blush started to creep across my cheeks as I thought of how attracted I was to him. I quickly looked down, stuffing my book into my bag in order to try and hide my face from him, although I already suspected he had seen. _]

_“I’ll take your coffee,” he offered. Then without waiting for an answer, he swept down and picked up my cup. This was such a simple gesture, but for some reason it felt intimate and I was not sure why. _

He strode ahead of me and held the door to the lecture theatre wide open with his other hand. “After you ma’am.” Jack said in an exaggerated southern drawl.  I couldn’t help but laugh. He made me laugh a lot, and that was something that I could most definitely get used to.

[_ _]

_Entering the auditorium, I watched Professor Greene furiously writing on the large blackboard that dominated the small lecture theatre. We both found our seats, scrambling for pens, paper and our set texts. As ever I was sat next to Jack. We just seemed to migrate towards each other. He always sat to the left of me and I liked this familiarity and routine. He was off sick one day and it felt really strange without him sitting next to me. We had only had lectures together for a month but I already felt like I had known him all my life, and this both excited and frightened me. These emotions, feelings, were far too strong for someone I had just met. I turned to look at him, his eyes were scrunched up, trying to read the Professor’s scrawl. I swore that the Professor should have been a doctor. I studied Jack’s profile for a little while, as he was distracted and didn’t know that I was looking at him. I could look at him all day. But I needed to concentrate. _

[_I looked at the board once again. “Jack, what’s he writing?” I whispered. _]

_Jack leaned closer to me. I could smell his aftershave, mixed with the undeniable scent of him. I took a deep breath, inhaling his aroma. _

[_“Something to do with seven stories,” he whispered back. Then started to quickly write them down. _]

[_That gained my interest and I fished my spectacles out of their case. Once again they were at the very bottom of my bag. I tried not to wear them, as I was extremely self-conscious about how I looked in them. But I couldn’t read the board without them. Jack had told me that I suited wearing glasses, but I knew he was just being polite. _]

I closely followed what was being scratched onto the board and copied them into my notes.

[_ _]

The Seven Stories of the World.

The protagonist will:

1 Overcome a monster.

2 Undertake a journey and safe return.

3 As an individual or part of a group go on a quest.

4 Start from the poor and end up rich.

5 Experience rebirth/gaining a new life.

6 Experience tragedy.

7 Be happy ever after.

[_ _]

I sat and read each of the seven stories. Were there really only seven in the entire world? That seemed a bit too simplistic to me.

“So you see,” the Professor said to the auditorium. “There are only seven stories in the entire world. Each may stand alone or several stories can be mixed up, so that one story could indeed include all seven story elements. Aristotle first came up with the idea of stories and plots. However, please remember, that what is most important is that every story you read, write, or indeed live,” he chuckled. “Will be one of the seven that are listed here.”

[_He stood and surveyed his audience, making sure that we were all impressed with this revelation. I sat transfixed looking at the board and I knew that Jack was too. I read the board again, absorbing all seven story types. Was life really that simple? No, I didn’t believe that life was ever that simple. _]

“Each story is important and each one is unique.” The Professor continued. “We each will have our very own story to tell one day. Now if you please, can you write down a few examples of novels or plays that you are familiar with, that fit under each of these story categories, and we will then have a group discussion.”

I turned to Jack, and rolled my eyes. “Seven stories in the world?” I whispered to him. “Where do they get this stuff from?”

[_He started to laugh. “Tess, who knows where life will take us? We just don’t know what will happen in our lives.” He placed his hand on mine in a gentle gesture and slowly grazed my knuckles with his thumb. Electricity zinged through my entire body. He then let go to carry on writing. I could still feel his hand on mine. He seemed to be completely unaware about what this simple touch had meant to me. I blinked several times, to clear my mind. He was such a distraction. _]

[_“Jack,” I whispered. He turned to face me once more. “That is very true, we don’t know where we will be in five years’ time or even two. I bet my life though that there will be a mixture of extreme tragedy, coupled with that of grappling some kind of a monster.” I laughed at the thought. _]

_He playfully swatted me on the arm. “Tess, I don’t think you’ll be grappling any monsters, and believe me, your life could never be tragic.” His eyes suddenly softened. “Your life will be a happy ever after, I just know it.” _

I stared back at him, he was deadly serious. He was not mocking me. I once again found myself lost in his green eyes.

[_“Tess, you do know that we’ll both have our very own unextraordinary story to tell, don’t you?” _]

I gaped at him. Sometimes he completely took me by surprise. He always thought outside of the box. His thoughts could also be extremely intuitive. This was one of the many qualities that attracted me to him, that and the fact that he was unbelievably good looking. I smiled at him, and he offered me a huge grin in return. I looked back to the board and started to write.

But Jack was right. We did all have a story to tell, and this was mine.

My unextraordinary life.

The End

[* *]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

[* *]

Jo Hollywood lives in Lancashire with her husband and two young sons.

An Unextraordinary Life is her first novel.


An Unextraordinary Life

When Tess unexpectedly bumps into Jack one cold day in March, her world is quite literally turned upside down. Can she make a new life for herself with Jack, based on how happy they were in the past? Or does she need to make a new start and find love in the arms of her new work colleague, Rob? The path of true love never does run smoothly. Meet Tess, a woman who is still in love with her husband, who died five years ago. Meet Jack, the ghost, who wants to make Tess happy again. Finally there's Rob who wants to win Tess's heart. Who will she choose?

  • ISBN: 9781311130426
  • Author: Jo Hollywood
  • Published: 2016-05-26 23:35:23
  • Words: 58017
An Unextraordinary Life An Unextraordinary Life