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The Necklace V

Strawberries & Wine



Linda S. Rice



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Copyright © by Linda S. Rice. All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1533285659

ISBN 13: 9781533285652

Library of Congress Control Number: 1-325-1607301


Also by Linda S Rice


The Necklace – The Dusky Club, June 1962

The Necklace II – Back to Brighton, November 1962

The Necklace III – London, August 1967

The Necklace IV – Brighton, December 1999

The Necklace V – Strawberries & Wine

The Necklace VI – Snow on the Mountain

The Harpist



Acknowledgments

Many thanks to friends, acquaintances and relatives, who encouraged me to move forward with publishing “The Necklace – The Dusky Club, June 1962,” the first book in the series, the sequels, “The Necklace II – Back to Brighton, November 1962,” “The Necklace III – London, 1967,” and “The Necklace IV – Brighton, December 1999,” and now this fifth book of the series that continues the romance between James, a member of “the most famous band of all time” and Susan, the woman who has loved him since she was 12-years old.

Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Nancy Flood, for her editing help and to my numerous Facebook friends, for their encouragement and time spent previewing this work

Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my husband, Michael, for his patience while I wrote, re-wrote, revised and edited over the many months it took me to complete all five of these books.

Stay tuned a possible sequel series that will carry James and Susan back into their prior lives during an even earlier place in time…the Regency era…


To contact the author, e-mail Linda at: LindainMtLaguna@aol.com



Prologue

December 2015 – James Remembers

When the leasing agent called James in September, 2015, to let him know that the tenants who had been leasing his house outside of London were not going to be renewing the lease for another year, he resigned himself to the fact that the house would have to either be leased again or sold. He thought selling would be the best option, and when the agent told him he might have an interested buyer, James instructed him to evaluate the house once the tenants vacated and come up with a fair sales price.

Three months later, a week before Christmas, 2015, the agent called to say the tenants had moved out and he was making arrangements to have the house inspected for repairs, painted and cleaned before showing to any prospective buyers. He told James he’d drop off a key to the property in case he wanted to drive out and take a look at it while it was vacant. At first he declined, but then changed his mind and the agent dropped off the key the day before Christmas Eve.

Sherry, James’s daughter from his second marriage to Hilary, was coming to spend Christmas Day with him, the divorce settlement and custody agreement stating each would have Sherry for Christmas Day every other year and Christmas Eve on the opposite years. This year it was James’s turn to have Sherry on Christmas Day and he was looking forward to it. She had recently turned 12-years-old and was a very precocious and enjoyable child to be with. And, although he despised Hilary, he had to admit that she’d turned out to be a decent mother during the time Sherry spent with her, which was 20% of the time per the custody agreement. His new wife, Darcy, who he’d been married to for almost three years now, was also flying in from Boston where they usually made their home, but James had been in England for the past week meeting with his publicity team regarding a new album.

It was Christmas Eve day when, on impulse, key in hand, James decided to drive out to the house to take a look. He wasn’t really sure what prompted him to do it… it was forty-five minutes outside of London, and the weather was windy and rainy. The roads would be slick, but there was something niggling inside him urging him to go, if for nothing else, old memory’s sake. Once he made the decision, he packed a small case with his toothbrush and change of clothes just in case he got stuck out there due to bad weather.

James originally bought the house when his first wife, Susan, was battling a brain tumor, thinking she would be recovering there, but it never came to pass. They were in their retreat in Colorado with their three grown children, Carrie, the oldest, Thomas, the middle one, and Robert, the youngest, when Susan succumbed to the tumor. She never got to see the house and it stood vacant for almost two years until James decided to leave Colorado and try to resume life and his music back in England.

He hadn’t been to the house for almost sixteen years now…not since the disastrous Christmas Eve day in 1999 when his life had once again been torn asunder by a woman he’d loved deeply but who had once again deceived him with lies and treachery.

Susan.

Not his wife, Susan, who he’d been married to for twenty-nine years before she passed, but the green-eyed sorceress he’d first met at the Dusky Club in June, 1962 before the band he was part of became over-the top famous, not just in England and the UK, but all around the globe.

He involuntarily flinched thinking about her.

She had captivated him at first sight as she sat at a small table against the wall in the Dusky Club in 1962 where the band first started, her golden blonde hair spilling down across her shoulders, her incredible green eyes pierced to his, her soft and kissable lips parted in wonder as she watched him sing and play his bass guitar.

Looking at her that first night, he’d wanted her with a passion he’d never felt before, and when she agreed to go out to tea with him after the band quit for the night and also allowed him to walk her back to the hotel where she was staying, he was quite certain she’d allow him into her bed. After all, girls were constantly throwing themselves at him and, at age twenty, he’d come to believe that no female could resist his charms.

Susan, the 17-year-old American history student, in England for a history tour however, wasn’t like other girls. She thwarted him the first night in the hotel lobby, teasingly allowing him to kiss her hand but refusing to let him up to her hotel room. The second night had been no different even though he managed to get up to her hotel room door. The kiss in the hallway, however, sealed her fate, and when James took her out to his Auntie Annabelle’s cottage the next day for a picnic, knowing Auntie Annabelle wouldn’t be there, she quickly surrendered herself to him in a passion he’d never before experienced. Not only did she take him to sexual heights he’d never felt before, but she’d been a virgin and he’d been the first man to breach her. It wasn’t long before he’d fallen headlong in love.

There was so much more…her return with her brother in November, 1962, his proposal to her…her reclaiming her necklace at the Ted Flannagan show in 1964 and her coming back into his life in July, 1967 then again in 1999 with her daughter, Michelle…

He pushed the flood of memories from his mind, shaking his head.

The double gates in front of the long driveway to the house were open when James arrived just shortly before 3:00 in the afternoon. There had been a break in the rain on the drive from London and he could see patches of blue among the clouds in the sky. He hoped the weather might clear so he could take a walk around the grounds before it got dark.

James parked in front of the steps leading up to the front door of the house and got out. He stood looking at it for a few minutes wondering if he’d made a mistake by coming here. There were nothing but bad memories here after all, weren’t there?

Sighing heavily, he walked up the steps and inserted the key into the lock. It stuck and he had to work it back and forth a few times to get the door unlocked. The hinges squeaked a bit as he pushed the door open. Maybe the tenants didn’t use the front door often enough to keep it oiled.

A patch of sunlight streamed onto the entry floor from the skylights high up in the ceiling and James had to blink a few times to accustom himself to the space. His eyes first lit on the large fireplace that dominated the room. He remembered Susan insisting that the Christmas tree be placed to the left of it and planning to have the wedding ceremony held to the right as the tree lights sparkled and a warm fire blazed in the hearth.

He felt his heart clench and his breath catch as the memories poured forth from his brain, one after the other…Susan greeting the staff in this very entry hall when he first brought her to the house. He knew she felt out of place and a bit overwhelmed, and that the staff had at scoffed at her naiveté, but she’d conquered them with her kindness just as she seemed to conquer and overcome many things that were thrust at her in the days that followed.

He remembered her perched on top of a ladder trying to place an angel on top of the Christmas tree when he’d specifically told her not to climb the ladder, but to get someone else do it. As usual she’d ignored him, and when he walked into the entry and saw her precarious position, one foot on the top of the ladder as she leaned out to place the angel, his heart skipped a few beats fearing she would fall and break her neck. She didn’t, however, and teased him when he scolded her, which was what she always did.

He recalled chasing her up the staircase to the right side of the entry while she laughed, telling her she deserved a spanking after another one of her rebellious moments, and the memory of their fiery love-making after he caught her in their bedroom almost made him harden in his trousers just thinking about it.

It was almost as if Susan were still here in this very house, maybe down in the kitchen baking him a batch of chocolate chip cookies or in the library curled up on the couch reading a book in front of the fireplace…or in the yellow parlor waiting for him to come have tea with her and to make his exactly how he liked it with two sugars and just a spot of milk…or up in their bed, naked under the covers, watching him with those sultry green eyes of hers as he walked through the door unbuttoning his shirt.

James sat down on the bottom step of the staircase and covered his face with his hands. Why wouldn’t Susan go away? Was he cursed to think of her forever? Despite her deceit and lies? And despite the fact that he was now married again to a loving and caring woman?

He stood up quickly and walked back to the front door where he opened it then closed and locked it behind him. He was soon on his way back to London. It had been a mistake to come to the house; he wished he hadn’t done it.

By the time he got back to London, the clouds had covered the sun and it was pouring down rain.



Part I – August 2016 – December 2016

Chapter 1 – The Mysterious Mobile Phone

It was August 2016, and Thomas, age 43, was clearing out boxes from his London flat in preparation for a move to Los Angeles, California. He’d been offered a position with the Los Angeles Symphony, where he would have the opportunity to share the role of conductor as well as maintain a position as concert pianist. It was a prospect he couldn’t turn down and, to be honest, he was anxious to move to a sunnier climate.

Although he’d grown up in England and his father, sister and brother lived there, he was ready for a change in his life. His failed marriage haunted him. The London fog and rain depressed him, and the sameness of his position with the London Philharmonic bored him. He was given very little freedom to perform his own works and the politics had become intolerable.

There was one box left at the back of his closet when he heard his mobile phone ring out in the living room. He brushed the dust off his hands and went to answer it. It was his sister, Carrie.

“All packed up yet, Thomas? I’d offer to come help you, but I’m hands deep in clay. I’m almost done with the bust of Adonis…finally!”

“Haven’t you been working on that for over a year now? And, no, I’m not all quite packed up yet. I had a few boxes left in my bedroom closet that I’ve been going through. Most of everything else, though, has been sent ahead to my flat in L.A.”

“Won’t you be sad to leave England? You know I’m going to miss you.”

“Come on now, Carrie, you won’t miss me. We hardly ever see each other with your gallivanting all about the globe.”

“We see each other at Christmas when Dad’s in town, and we had dinner at Robert’s restaurant just last month. Plus, since my travelling companion, David, got married, I haven’t been doing much exploring. No fun to go by myself.”

“Still, I’ve only seen you two or three times in the past few months. No, I’m not sad to leave England. I’m ready for a change in my life. I need to brush all of the cobwebs off me, plus I’m ready for some California sunshine.”

“Dad is going to miss you. I think he’s rather enjoyed working with you on a few classical pieces for piano. It’s diverted him from that awful marriage to Hilary. God, Thomas! I’m so glad that woman is out of his life. What a disaster she was!”

“Not only a disaster but she took nearly half his fortune, especially when Dad insisted on having full custody of Sherry.”

“Well, he wanted full custody of Sherry, but the witch only gave him 80%. I think he would have given his entire fortune to her if he could have got full custody.”

“Probably, but it would have made her look bad…you know, a mother who gave up all contact with her child…and you remember how she loves the limelight.”

“Yeah, horrible, hideous woman.” Carrie shivered on the other end of the phone. “Dad said he’s really enjoyed spending time with you when he’s been in London. Like I just said, I know for sure he’s going to miss you.”

“Well, now that he’s married again, he won’t be missing me or any of us very much. He seems to be quite happy. I told him to bring Sherry on over to the states and stay with me in L.A. for a bit. He’s talking about recording another new album before he goes back out on tour, and said he might even record it in L.A. You should come too. We could all take Sherry to Disneyland.”

“Hmmmm…let me think on it, okay? Sounds like fun.”

“Well, don’t think too hard. Talk to Dad about it and let me know. I’ll call you as soon as I’m settled in.”

“Okay then, Tom-tom; I’ll talk to you later.” She giggled.

“Don’t call me that!”

Carrie laughed again. “No promises, Thomas. Bye.”

They disconnected, and Thomas went back to his closet for the one last box. It was way in the back and had been there for years. He knew what was in it, and for a few moments after pulling it out, he just stared at it, beginning to feel melancholy.

It was a box containing some clothing and personal items that had once belonged to a young woman named Michelle, the woman who had been his first true love, a love he’d never been able to forget. Just thinking about her and picturing her in his mind, brought sadness to his heart. He sighed heavily as he sat down on the floor next to the box, lifted the lid and looked inside.

The scent of a sweet perfume wafted up from the contents, and Thomas closed his eyes picturing a blonde girl with aquamarine eyes looking at him with a wistful look on her face. He blinked his eyes open and began lifting items from the box…a couple of dresses, blouses, jeans, intimate apparel, cosmetics, and a bottle of perfume that he’d bought for her. He wasn’t sure what had made him pack her things away after she left, but here they were, and the longer he sifted them through his hands, the clearer the memories of the girl he’d once loved so passionately came flooding into his head.

Ahhh…lovely, feisty, intelligent and passionate Michelle…the woman he thought he would spend his life with…the one who was supposed to marry him in a double wedding ceremony with her mother and his dad on Christmas Day in 1999.

Was it really almost 17 years ago? It didn’t seem that long. Seeing, smelling and touching her things made it seem just like yesterday.

He dug deeper into the box, removing a few more items of clothing before coming across another object at the bottom. It looked like a mobile phone, and as he examined it more closely, he realized that it must be the object he’d discovered out at Auntie Annabelle’s cottage shortly after Michelle and her mum vanished into thin air on that disastrous Christmas Eve Day, the day before he would have made Michelle his bride. At the time, he wasn’t sure what it really was, never having seen a mobile phone of that type before.

He noticed that the phone had the image of an apple on the back of it and found that to be very curious, as Apple phones didn’t exist back in 1999 when he’d found it at the cottage. Amazingly, it appeared to be an Apple iPhone, but it didn’t quite resemble his own mobile phone, which was a Samsung.

He turned it over in his hands a few times and tapped on the screen, but nothing happened. He wondered how it had come to be in the cottage in the first place and who might have placed it in the bathroom cabinet wrapped in a towel. No answers came to mind, making him even more intrigued.

Deciding it was a mystery that needed to be solved, he stood up and put it in the backpack he planned on taking on the plane to Los Angeles. He had a techie friend who worked for Apple in L.A and thought he’d show it to him. Brett would certainly be able to tell him what it was.

He glanced back at the box of Michelle’s things and sighed again as her vision passed through his head and heart. Sitting back down on the floor next to the box, he lifted one of her dresses up to his face and breathed in the scent.

Knowing she was from Southern California, would it be possible to find her once he moved there?

Dare he even try?



Chapter 2 – James and Sherry

James hit the “End” button on his mobile phone, an annoyed expression on his face, before shoving it into his trouser pocket and sitting back down at the table in the kitchen of his Boston condo.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” Sherry, his 13-year-old daughter asked, watching his expression. “Isn’t Darcy going to come to California with us to visit Thomas? Carrie is still coming, isn’t she?”

“Yes, sweetheart, Carrie is still coming, but Darcy is having problems at the newspaper so will probably be staying here in Boston.”

“She always says she’s having problems at the newspaper. Why can’t she get them fixed and go with us? I have to go back to London in just two weeks and she’s only spent one day with me since I’ve been here.”

“I know, I know. I don’t like it any more than you do. Maybe I can talk to your mum and see if she’ll let you stay an extra week or two.”

“She won’t, you know. She doesn’t like me being with you at all. She says you put bad things about her in my head.”

“You know I’ve never done that, Sherry. I would never try to turn you against your mother. We weren’t suited, that’s all.”

“She says you were mean to her and got drunk a lot…”

James slammed his fist on the table hard enough to make his tea mug jump. Sherry sucked in her breath and looked at him, eyes wide.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said, reaching out his hand towards her. “I didn’t mean to do that. It’s just that your mum and I agreed not to say bad things to you about each other or about the past. I’m upset that she didn’t keep her word.”

“It’s okay, Dad. I try to ignore it when she says bad things about you. I like being with you better and I think she knows it and it gets her all upset.”

“Well, it’s not right for you to tell her that, you know.”

“I know, but it’s true. I do like being with you more. You do fun things with me, like take me places, just you and me, and maybe with Carrie or Robert…that is when Darcy isn’t with us too, like when you’re on tour. And, now we’re going to California to visit Thomas and go to Disneyland. Mum would never take me to Disneyland.”

“She’s busy with her causes.”

“And her boyfriends. It seems like she has a new one every week…” She paused and bit her lip as if she were going to say more but changed her mind. “I don’t think they like me around.”

“I’m sorry, Sherry. The custody agreement gave me a certain amount of time to have you and it gave you mum time. I hate having to share you, but that’s the way it is. When you turn fifteen in a couple of years, you can decide if you want to be with me full-time, but until then, you need to split time with both of us.”

“I know, but I keep thinking that when I’m with you, Darcy will want to spend time with me like a mum would, but she’s always busy with that newspaper of hers. She told me last time I was here she’d help make chocolate chip cookies with me, but then when it came time to make them, she just sent me into the kitchen to have your chef guy show me.”

“Darcy doesn’t really like to cook all that much. She tells Phillipe what to make and he makes it. Don’t you like his cooking?”

“Yeah, it’s okay, but I think Robert is a better chef. Remember when you took me to his restaurant and he showed me how to make that Crème Brulee dessert? We even had to use a fire torch thing on it. It was fun! I’d like to learn to cook.”

“Robert’s mum loved to cook too. She even published a cookbook…” James sighed as he thought back to his first wife, Susan. She’d been the love of his life and he still missed her. Thinking of Crème Brulee, however, gave him a fleeting memory of another Susan. He quickly brushed it out of his mind.

“Well, I’ll tell you what. When I take you back to London, we’ll go see Robert and you can spend the day with him at Le Fonda and he can teach you how to cook some other things. How does that sound?”

“That would be utterly awesome, Dad. I’d love it!”

James looked at his watch. “Are you all packed for our trip to California?”

“Almost. What time does our plane leave?”

“In about four hours and we need to leave for the airport in two. Go on and get finished. I need to make a few more phone calls before we go, and maybe we can stop and get some luncheon on the way to the airport.”

Sherry jumped up out of her chair, came around the table and gave James a hug.

“You’re the best, Dad! I can’t wait to get to California!”

As she ran out of the room, James smiled. The only good thing to come out of his marriage to Hilary was this beautiful daughter. He was going to enjoy taking her on this trip.

He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket again and tapped in the number for Darcy’s mobile. It went straight to voice mail. He dialed her private number at the newspaper. Her secretary answered the call saying Darcy was closeted in with Charles, her new chief editor. It seemed like every time he called lately, she was in a meeting with Charles. He told the secretary to interrupt the meeting, that he had to talk to her, but after waiting for almost five minutes, the secretary came back to say that Darcy and Charles had left for an early lunch, but that she’d leave a message for her to call James as soon as she returned. James sighed and hung up.

James then called Carrie, who was already in Los Angeles staying with Thomas. Thomas and her were doing the tourist thing in Hollywood when she answered and she told him that she saw his star on the Walk of Stars and danced around on it for a minute or two while people looked at her like she was crazy. She said that no one recognized her or Thomas.

James told her that he and Sherry would be in around 5:00 in the afternoon and that they should be at Thomas’s condo about an hour later. She said she’d order pizza in when they got there, knowing how much Sherry liked it.

The last call he made was to Hilary. He gritted his teeth when she answered her mobile, doing his best not to light into her about the things Sherry had told him, asking if she could stay with him a couple extra weeks. Incredibly enough, she readily agreed saying she had a trip to Paris planned and that Sherry likely wouldn’t care to go anyway. James felt disgusted when he hung up.

Four hours later, James and Sherry were winging their way to Los Angeles.

***

Brett, Thomas’s techie friend who worked at Apple in Los Angeles, turned the iPhone Thomas had brought to him from London, over in his hand, a curious look on his face.

“You said you found this in a box in your closet, Thomas? And that it’s been there for almost seventeen years? This version of the iPhone…it’s a 6…wasn’t released until September last year! It’s impossible that it could have been there that long?!”

Thomas looked up from his Samsung Galaxy where he’d been reading a text message from his sister, Carrie.

“What do you mean it hadn’t been released yet? Isn’t it some kind of iPhone? And yes, I found it in a box of…a…a box of things in the back of my closet in London. It’s been there since 1999…December, 1999.”

“That’s not possible…really, Thomas…this is an iPhone6. I should know; I work for Apple! It wasn’t released until September 28, 2015! So, tell me…how did you really get this?”

“I am telling you! I found it in a box in my closet. It’s been there for sixteen, almost seventeen, years. Why would I make it up?”

“I don’t know, but it can’t be almost 17-years-old! Totally impossible!”

“Well, I’ll tell you more about it then. I originally found it in the bathroom at a cottage owned by my dad’s auntie. I went there for a while in December, 1999 after a…difficult and painful time. I wanted to be alone. I spent a week at the cottage and I discovered this, if you can believe it, hidden in a towel under the bathroom sink.”

“I’ve known you for a long time, Thomas, and I’m saying again that it’s not possible you’ve had this for sixteen years!”

“Well, I don’t know what to say then other than I’m telling you the truth as to where I found the thing. I was hoping you could open up the screen somehow and tell me who it belonged to. There was…there was a woman staying out at the cottage with my dad for a while and my first thought was that it must have belonged to her. Why she’d wrap it in a towel and put it under the bathroom sink, I don’t know, but I’m telling you again that’s where it was.”

Brett turned it over several times in his hands, noting that the phone appeared to be a slight bit worn with scratches on the screen. It was obviously an iPhone6. But, that still didn’t explain how it got into a box at the back of Thomas’s closet in London. Or, that Thomas swore it had been there for over sixteen years.

He looked up at Thomas. “Can I hold onto this for a while? I have another friend in research and I can have him take a look at it. We’ll need to get it charged up first, but I think we could break past the passcode, if there’s one set up, and figure out where it’s been. These phones have GPS built into them, so we can track its original location and all the places it’s been used for calls or texts or apps.”

“Fine with me. I have a lot to do getting my flat set up here…or condo, as you call it. And, I imagine I’ll be busy morning, noon and night with my new post with the Los Angeles Symphony. Not only do I have new pieces to learn for the winter season, but I’ve been given the chance to work towards a conductor position, something I never would have been offered with the London Philharmonic.”

“I’m happy for you, Thomas. It all sounds like a great opportunity and exciting as well. I’ll get in touch with my friend in research and get back to you as soon as we figure out this mystery,”

“Appreciate it, Brett. I’ll give you a call in a couple of weeks once I’m settled in and we can maybe get together for a few drinks and dinner.”

“Sounds good to me.” Brett pocketed the phone and reached out a hand towards Thomas, who shook it before turning and walking out the door of Brett’s private office at Apple.

As soon as he was gone, Brett took the mysterious phone out of his pocket again and looked at it. It was definitely an iPhone6, no doubt about it. He reached for the phone on his desk and dialed his friend in research, determined to figure out the puzzle of who it belonged to.



Chapter 3 – Thomas Tracks Down Michelle

Other than having his dad, Sherry and Carrie visit for a week at the beginning of September, Thomas was busy for the next couple of months, practicing night and day for his performances with the Los Angeles Symphony. Brett, his techie friend from Apple, had left him several phone messages that he’d meant to return, but even though he meant to, his schedule kept him so busy, he barely had time to eat or sleep let alone return phone calls.

Three days before his debut performance on November 20th, 2016 at the Los Angeles Center for the Arts in downtown Los Angeles, he received another phone message from Brett. When he heard the message, he immediately picked up his mobile and tapped in Brett’s number.

“You cracked the phone?!” he asked excitedly when Brett answered. “Who does it belong to? What were you able to find out?!”

“Slow down, Thomas. Yes, I found out who it belongs to, but what I discovered about it is crazy based on where you told me you found it. Can I maybe bring it over to your place along with a bottle of wine and I’ll tell you what I know so far?”

“Can you come today, like maybe this afternoon? I’m taking a respite from practicing. The season opens on Friday evening and I like to take a couple of days to just relax and get myself ready to perform.”

“Sure, I can make it today, no problem. Does 4:00 sound okay?”

“That works for me. I’ll order in some Chinese food and you bring the wine.”

“See you at four, then.”

Thomas hit “End” on his mobile phone, set it down on the top of the piano and looked out the window at the hills of Hollywood. As he contemplated the scene, his thoughts began to wander, and of course, what he thought of first after talking to Brett about the mysterious phone, was the blonde American solicitor he had once loved.

Yes, it had been almost seventeen years since he’d seen her and been with her, but it suddenly seemed like only yesterday. His heart began to beat faster as the thought of finding her again and possibly being with her again, invaded his mind.

He still never really understood what had happened all those years ago when she and her mother, Susan, had virtually vanished into thin air the day before their double wedding. His dad later explained that Susan had done the same thing to him, not just on that occasion, but on several before that, suddenly appearing in his life, then suddenly disappearing again, leaving him dazed, disoriented and confused.

Thomas had most certainly been dazed and confused as well as broken-hearted, and it had taken him months to recover from the loss of the woman he’d loved and thought he’d be spending the rest of his life with.

Brett arrived just a little after 4:00, bringing two bottles of wine. The Chinese food was due to be delivered at 6:00.

Knowing how anxious Thomas was to learn about the phone, Brett pulled it out of his pocket as soon as he walked in the door. Thomas opened the wine and poured two glasses. A couple of minutes later they were sitting on the couch in Thomas’s living room.

“So,” began Brett, “This is so unbelievable. There’s no explanation for it. The fact that you said you’d had this phone in a box in your closet for over sixteen years is a puzzle that there’s no plausible answer to. Before I tell you who this phone belongs to, can you tell me again where it came from? I’m just trying to make sense of this whole thing.”

Thomas took a sip of wine then set down his glass on the coffee table and stood up. He walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window on the other side of the living room and stared out the window for a moment before turning around with his hands behind his back and looking Brett directly in the face.

“It’s a bit of a long story…and it has to do with a girl I fell in love with when I was 24-years old…”

Brett leaned back into the cushions of the couch, swirling the wine in his glass.

“I have plenty of time, Thomas. Go ahead.”

A half hour later, after Thomas was done and the men were starting on the second bottle of wine, Brett whistled.

“That’s some story. And, I’m terribly sorry for the heartbreak over your Michelle, but why would her mother have left her mobile phone wrapped in a towel out at the cottage? Are you sure it wasn’t something else you found there and put in the box in the back of your closet and maybe you just came across this phone somewhere else?”

“Where else would I have come across this, Brett? No; I’m telling you. This is the exact phone I found out at the cottage and put in the box when I packed up Michelle’s things. At the time I found it, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t recognize it as an Apple phone until I unpacked the box before my move. I put it in my backpack before I came to Los Angeles and gave it to you a week after getting here.”

“Well, I’m stymied then. This phone wasn’t activated until October of last year.”

Thomas’s eyes widened. “That’s not possible.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you.”

“Who does the phone belong to then?”

“Susan…it belongs to a woman named Susan…”

There was silence in the room for a full minute as each man contemplated the mystery of the phone.

“Michelle’s mum…you’re telling me it belongs to Michelle’s mum…”

“I guess I am. There are text messages between Susan and Michelle and also between Susan and Donald, who you said was Susan’s husband and Michelle’s dad. There’s also messages between Susan and Steven, who you said is Michelle’s brother. I think that would make it obvious that this phone belongs to Michelle’s mother…”

Thomas swallowed the last of his wine and poured another glass.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to think…”

“Neither do I.”

“But maybe this means I can find Michelle again…”

“Do you want to find her again? It’s been almost seventeen years. After what you told me about her and her mom lying to you and your dad…plus, she could be married and have a bunch of kids by now…”

“But maybe not…”

“There’s a phone number in here for Michelle. I guess you could try to call it in the off chance she still has the same number.”

Thomas set down his wine glass, leaned back into the couch and folded his hands in his lap. Then, he sighed, stood, walked over to the piano and picked up his phone from the top.

“What’s the number?”

His hands were shaking as Brett read out the number and he tapped it into the screen of his phone. He took a deep breath, hoping it would ring on the other end and that it would still be Michelle’s number.

When the call went to voice mail and he heard Michelle’s voice, he sank down on the piano bench and bent over closing his eyes. Brett watched in silence.

You’ve reached Michelle,” the voice message said. “I’m sorry I’m not available right now. Please leave your name, number and the time you called at the sound of the tone and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you’re a client of mine, please hit ‘1’ and this call will be forwarded to my office.”

Not knowing what to say, Thomas hit “End” on his phone and lowered it to his lap. He looked across the room at Brett.

“It’s still her number…I got a voice message…I didn’t know what to say, so I hung up…”

“Amazing. I assume you’re going to call back and leave a message?”

“Yes…but I can’t think of what I’m going to say…after all this time. Just the sound of her voice…”

Brett shook his head. “I’ve never seen you like this, Thomas. You look like you’re floating away on a cloud or something. Maybe it’s the wine?”

“No, no…not the wine. It was hearing her voice again. It’s like hearing music…so beautiful, just like her…”

“People can change a lot in sixteen years, you know…”

“Yes, I know. I’ve changed a lot too. Look, my hairline is receding and I’m getting gray. Maybe she wouldn’t find me attractive…”

“Give me a break, Thomas! You still have women chasing after you. It’s not like you’re bald or fat. You have all that work out equipment in one of your spare bedrooms that you jump on every morning from what you tell me. I’m sure your Michelle would still find you attractive. But, what about her? Maybe she’s married with five kids and gained a hundred pounds.”

“I don’t want to think about that.”

“Well, why don’t we call her law office? The number is here in her mom’s phone. When someone answers, we can find out the name of the firm then google it. It should have a bio on the people in the firm, including your Michelle. If her last name is the same as her mom’s, that would mean she may not be married.”

Fifteen minutes later, Thomas had the information he was hoping for. Michelle was head of the law firm which was located in downtown San Diego about 150 miles south of Los Angeles. She still had the same last name as her mom and her personal profile didn’t mention any children, not that a personal profile for an attorney would mention such a thing anyway. Thomas began to feel more hopeful, especially when he saw her profile photo. When he showed it to Brett, Brett whistled again.

“Wow! That is one gorgeous woman, Thomas! So, are you going to leave her a message then?”

“No. I changed my mind. I think that I’ll drive down to San Diego to her law office next week and present myself in person. I don’t want to give her a chance to tell me she doesn’t want to see me again or take the risk she won’t remember who I am.”

“Just showing up seems pretty risky to me. And what about the symphony and all your commitments for the next few weeks?”

“My performance schedule is only on weekends through the first week in December. There’s another concert pianist who will be leaving the first of the year, and I won’t have a full schedule until spring. That means, other than practicing, the time during the week is open. And…even if it is risky, I’m willing to take the chance that she won’t boot me out. The fact that she’s never married gives me a lot of hope.”

Brett shook his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Thomas…”

Just then, the intercom buzzed. The Chinese food had arrived. Thomas answered and pressed the button to allow the delivery person to come up to the twentieth floor where his condo was located.

Over dinner, Brett and Thomas exchanged theories over the mystery of the mobile phone, but neither of them came to any plausible explanations as to how an iPhone6 that hadn’t been released to the public until September, 2015, had come to be wrapped in a towel in a cottage in 1999. For the time being, it would have to remain unsolved.

***

Thomas performed brilliantly at the concert on the 20th of November and the reviews all praised him for his flawless playing of Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 1. As he played, he thought of Michelle and imagined that she was in the audience. It brought inspiration and new meaning to the piece and the audience could feel his passion.

Taking his bow at the end of the performance, he looked out at the audience as he always did, searching for Michelle. Although he knew she wasn’t there, he had high hopes and dreams that maybe next weekend she would be, clapping and smiling up at him.

On Monday morning, Thomas packed a small overnight case and headed south to San Diego in his new Audi. It was a car he was partial to and although he could well afford a fancy sports car, the Audi just seemed to suit him.

He arrived in San Diego at 10:30, feeling as nervous as a teenager and parked in the parking garage below the courthouse building where Michelle’s law office was located. After five minutes just sitting in his car, he finally gathered up the courage to get out, walk to the elevator and punch the button to the twelfth floor. Stepping out, he looked at the directory to confirm the suite number then headed down the hallway feeling even more nervous. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and entered a small reception area.

“May I help you?” asked a young brunette at the single desk next to a potted palm tree. He saw a name plate on the desk saying her name was Anita.

“Ah…yes, Anita…Can you please tell Michelle that Thomas is here to see her?” He blurted the words out, hoping his nervousness wasn’t too obvious, knowing his voice was shaky.

She didn’t seem to notice.

“And your last name is, sir? Is she expecting you?”

“Just…please, just tell her Thomas is here. And, no she’s not expecting me, but…but we’ve known each other for a long time…”

Anita looked at him quizzically. He had an English accent. She didn’t recall any of Michelle’s clients being from the UK or having an accent.

“Are you a client? She normally doesn’t see clients without an appointment.”

“No…I’m a friend…an old friend. I just got to town and thought I’d stop by to say hello.”

“Well, I’m not so sure I should…”

At that moment, the door to the right of the potted palm opened and Michelle walked out, looking down at a file she was holding in both of her hands. She started to say something to Anita but when she looked up and saw who was standing in front of the reception desk, she stopped dead. The file folder fell from her hands onto the floor, papers scattering everywhere. Thomas immediately rushed over to help retrieve them but Michelle was frozen to the spot unable to move or speak.

In fact, she thought that she might faint.

Fainting, however, was something she never did. Well, it was something she hadn’t done in years. In fact, the last time she had fainted was…was…Oh my God! It was out at a cottage in England when she and her mom…

Thomas finished retrieving the papers, put them back in the file folder and stood up. He and Michelle stared at each other but neither could find words to say.

Anita looked back and forth from one to the other, her mouth agape. She’d never seen Michelle lose her composure before.

Thomas handed the folder of papers to Michelle, who took them with trembling hands and passed them to Anita.

“These are all my notes on the Claibourn discrimination case. I’d appreciate it if you could have them transcribed before you leave today and entered into the file on the server…”

Anita took the folder. “Yes, Ma’am.”

Michelle motioned Thomas towards her office and he followed her in, closing the door behind them. She walked to the window overlooking downtown San Diego and the harbor in the distance. He stood just inside the door watching her.

In his eyes, she was even more beautiful now than she’d been in 1999 when they were last together. Her hair was still golden blonde and he could see that her body was shapely and trim despite the very businesslike suit she was wearing. She moved as gracefully as ever and her voice was just as sweet and sultry as he remembered it.

But, as she turned to face him, it was those aquamarine eyes that pierced right into his very soul. They were as deep and mysterious as the ocean…eyes a man could drown in. And he felt as if he were drowning.

When he noticed the tears glistening on her lashes, he moved forward towards her.

“Michelle…” he said in a breathless voice.

It was all he had to say before she raced forward and threw herself into his outstretched arms.

“Thomas…oh my God, Thomas,” she sobbed, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck and lifting her lips to his.

His arms snaked around her waist, pulling her in closer, and without pause, his mouth came down on hers in a kiss so intense that it nearly knocked them both off their feet.

When it ended, they were both breathing heavily and unable to do anything other than look into each other’s eyes. Nearly a full minute passed. Thomas was the first to smile.

“It appears you may have missed me.”

She smiled back before raising up on the balls of her feet in the flats she was wearing to kiss him again very softly on his lips.

“It appears I have, Thomas…fact is…I’ve missed you terribly. I never stopped thinking about you after…after…”

He put his index finger up to her lips.

“Later,” he whispered before kissing her again.

***

James walked into Cherry Studios in London an hour after his plane landed at Heathrow. He’d been antsy on the whole flight, new tunes running through his head as they often did when he felt emotionally charged in either a positive or negative way. His current mood was leaning towards negative.

The previous night in Boston hadn’t gone well. He’d accused Darcy of having an illicit affair with her new editor, Charles, and she’d vehemently denied it telling him he must have his head up his ass to think such a thing. She claimed she didn’t have time for an affair; that she was trying to save the family newspaper business that she’d inherited from her grandfather and which she’d neglected since marrying him. She said she was worn out from living in hotel rooms with him while he toured around the globe putting on his mega concerts and that she needed a break from it.

When he told her that working at her newspaper business seven days a week, twelve hours a day, wasn’t a break and that it had been her idea to go with him on all his concert tours, the argument escalated. James told her he was going back to London and that if she cared about him, she’d forget the damn newspaper and come with him.

The next day, he was on a plane to England alone, Darcy making it clear that she had a responsibility to her family to get the paper back up and running and that she needed to bring it into the digital age which is what Charles was helping her do. She refused to come to London with him.

James left Boston feeling annoyed and angry, but once on the plane his mind became filled with music and he put his marital troubles behind him. Writing new music always improved his spirits and he intended to spend the next few weeks in the studio working.

Thomas’s London flat was sitting vacant so James decided to stay there since it was close to Cherry Studios. He’d sold his own flat along with the house outside of London at the beginning of the year after Darcy had talked him into buying a lavish condo in Boston which is where they spent most of their time when he wasn’t on tour.

He had to admit that he missed London; in fact, he missed England and it felt good to be back on home soil. Although he liked America and Boston, England is where he was born and raised and it had a special place in his heart. It was also where his daughter, Carrie lived as well as his son, Robert, who owned several upscale vegetarian restaurants.

In fact, he planned on getting in touch with both of them that evening after spending a few hours at the studio.

As it turned out, however, Robert and his wife, Meredith, were in Sussex at another one of their restaurants for the remainder of the week, but Carrie was in town. He asked her to join him for dinner at Thomas’s flat and she was thrilled to know he was in London, saying she’d be there at 7:00 and bring some vegetable curry.

When Carrie arrived, she set down the sack of food and flew into her dad’s arms giving him a giant kiss on the cheek.

“It’s so good to see you, Dad! I’ve missed you since you moved away to Boston. I don’t even remember the last time you were in London.”

“Well, we just saw each other in September when we took Sherry to Disneyland, don’t you remember? And besides, you know you can always come and visit Darcy and me in Boston when I’m not on tour.”

“But I don’t like Boston all that much, and I don’t care for that fancy flat you and Darcy have. It seems ostentatious to me and not like you at all. You and Mum never lived in a place like that.”

“Well, it’s what Darcy is used to and I thought it would make her happy.”

“But does it make you happy? I guess Boston just seems stuffy to me…but I do like Darcy. I’m glad to see you happy again after that disaster with…well, never mind…”

“Hilary…yes, that was a disaster, but I do have Sherry from that, which goes to show there can be a silver lining in every cloud.”

“And I adore Sherry too. She’s such a smart girl and very pretty too. Is she going to be staying with you while you’re here?”

“Not right away. Hilary enrolled her in a boarding school and she won’t have a holiday until the middle of next month. She’ll be spending the last two weeks in December with me before she has to go back.”

“And she agreed to go to boarding school?! I can’t believe it!”

“Actually, she did. It’s a school for performing arts. She’s decided she’d like to become a ballerina all of a sudden. Where she got the notion, I have no idea, but she’s set on it at the moment and I don’t want to discourage her.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a surprise! I know how she’s always liked to dance and spin around, but I’m still amazed she’d want to go off to a boarding school.”

“Her best friend, Claire, is going also, so that might have had something to do with it.”

“Ah yes, now I see…her and Claire. She’s quite a nice girl too. I met her at Sherry’s birthday party last year I think…So, where’s Darcy? Is she in taking a nap or something after your long plane ride?”

James’s face dropped and Carrie could sense something was amiss. She’d always been able to read her father like a book and now was no different.

“She’s in Boston,” James responded blandly. “Working at her newspaper.”

Carrie looked at him. “But she went back to working at her newspaper this past summer, didn’t she? Isn’t that why you haven’t scheduled any more concert tours? Didn’t she tell you that it would only take a couple of months to get things sorted out there?”

“That’s what she said…but that’s not what happened. It’s in more trouble than she thought. The people that took over when she married me were a lot of leftovers from her father’s and even her grandfather’s era. They didn’t have the foresight to ‘move into the digital age’ is how Darcy put it. She’s having to do a lot more to get the business back up on its feet. And, she has a new editor who’s helping her…”

“I’m sensing something else, Dad. What is it?”

“We got into a terrible row yesterday. I even accused her of having an affair with the editor fellow. She’s with him seven days a week, all day, every day and sometimes even into the night. When I call, she’s always closeted in with him and they take three and four-hour lunches outside the office somewhere…it seems obvious to me.”

“Did she deny it?”

“Of course she denied it! What else would she say?! But, I think she might be telling me the truth. I know what the newspaper means to her. It’s been in her family for over a hundred and fifty years. She’ll do anything to make it successful again.”

“Including ignoring you? I thought when you married someone, you gave all that up because you loved the person you were marrying. Isn’t that what Mum did? She was a journalist for a magazine, wasn’t she? And she gave everything up to be with you. In fact, she never left your side and even joined your band. We all traveled together. We were family.”

“I know, Carrie, but Darcy isn’t your mum. And, things are different. Our children are grown and have their own lives…”

“Well, I don’t see that it matters. If you really love someone, you do whatever it takes to be with them, including making some sacrifices.”

“I don’t want to ask her to make sacrifices for me. I want her to be with me because she wants to be with me, and I do understand what the newspaper means to her.”

“You’ve changed a lot, Dad…mellowed out, is how I’d put it. I figured you’d be bossing her around, just like you’ve always done to everybody, including Mum.”

“Maybe I have mellowed as you say, Carrie…maybe I have. Maybe getting older does that to a person. You start to think more of others than yourself…”

“Let’s get off this melancholy topic then and eat.” She picked up the sack of food and headed to the kitchen. “I’m starving!”

James followed her into the kitchen where she unpacked the bag while he got out plates and silverware. They were soon sitting at Thomas’s kitchen table enjoying the vegetable curry.

Carrie told him about her recent travels to Russia and the Ukraine and the art discoveries she’d found there and he told her about the new music he was planning to write at the studio which he thought would be a compilation of acoustic guitar solos and maybe even some tunes from the days of the band, some of their lesser-known songs or songs that were never released. Carrie asked if she could come listen and he told her he’d be happy to have her there.

As she was getting ready to leave, she suddenly thought of something.

“Oh my God, Dad!!! I forgot to tell you the news about Thomas! He called me this morning from Los Angeles and you won’t even believe it!! He found her!! He found…”

She gasped and quickly closed her mouth.

“Who? Who did he find?”

“Uh…well, I don’t think I should tell you actually…I, ah…think he should be the one to tell you…”

James stared at her, a puzzled expression on his face.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who did he find?”

“I’m sure he’ll call and tell you…”

“You’ve got me bursting with curiosity now. Tell me, Carrie. Who did he find and what’s so unbelievable about it?”

“I don’t think I should say…”


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