It was an interesting place to meet, Elaine thought as she sipped her coffee. It was public, but not too public. She was sitting outside the café on the decking overlooking the park underneath the rustling trees. It was early in the year and not many people were braving the brisk spring sunshine, but Elaine was glad of the fresh air. It was public enough that she could call for help if she felt threatened, but quiet enough for a private conversation. The email she had received had stressed that the conversation should be private.
The cherry blossom around the café had just started to come out. It was a little early this year. Elaine looked at the breaking buds. Somehow it didn’t reassure her. There had been cherry blossom when she had met Keith, there had been cherry blossom when he proposed. She had hoped that there would be cherry blossom when she got married at the end of the month.
She pulled out her phone and tried to distract herself from running through the lists for the wedding. It wasn’t working very well. There had been something compelling in that email that meant that she couldn’t refuse to meet, but she really didn’t want to know what it meant.
She heard a car pull up and looked round. An immaculate BMW had parked next to the café and a slim man got out, holding a large manila envelope. He glanced around and then came over. “Hi, I’m Steve Adderson. Thank you for meeting me.”
“Why did you email me?” Elaine wished she could take the words back. She had wanted to be so reserved and dignified. She sounded desperate. A cherry blossom petal dropped onto the table in front of her.
“I’m here on behalf of a client.” Steve looked around quickly and sat down opposite Elaine.
“Who? Who are you acting for?”
“My client wishes to remain anonymous, but he knew your grandfather, Herbert Pettigrew.”
For a moment a pang squeezed Elaine’s heart. She missed her grandfather. “Did they work together? Or what? How did he know my grandfather?”
“My client felt indebted to your grandfather but never had a chance to repay that favour.” Steve smiled faintly. “You could call it a strange inheritance, a bequest of a favour owed. When he came into possession of some information he thought it important that he let you know at the earliest possible time.” He pushed the envelope over to Elaine. “He considers the debt paid.” Steve hesitated. “You may not like what you see, but there is no malice on behalf of my client. It’s well meant.”
Elaine watched Steve stand and walk briskly over to his car, get in and drive away. When he was finally out of sight she pulled the envelope towards her. Her fingers trembled as she opened it and pulled out a sheaf of blown up photos.
She had sort of guessed, sort of half known. Keith was very keen on getting married but not so keen on her. She slowly worked her way through the photos. Keith holding hands with a mystery blonde. Keith kissing the blonde. A candid shot through a window showing Keith and the blonde in bed. The picture that hurt the most, though, was perhaps the least compromising. Keith and the blonde were sitting opposite each other in a café. They weren’t touching, they weren’t even close, but they were sharing such a look of intense love that Elaine broke. She carefully slipped the photos back into the envelope with trembling fingers and watched the cherry blossom petals fall, too numb for tears.
“Hi.” Elaine smiled awkwardly at Steve. “The wedding didn’t go ahead.”
Steve stayed professional. “I’m sorry you had such an upheaval, but perhaps it’s for the best. Is this the piano?”
Elaine nodded. “My grandfather always said it was a gift from someone special. I suppose it’s a wrench to part with it, but I need to make some changes and the money will come in useful.” She managed another smile. “Cancelling a wedding with less than a month to go is expensive.”
Steve was checking the piano with care. “The money has arrived in your account, hasn’t it?”
Elaine nodded. “I triple checked.” She looked through the window at the movers Steve had brought. They were waiting patiently by the van and Elaine got the impression that this was a very specialist type of movers. “I’m planning on selling everything up and going travelling. Or perhaps I’ll go back to college. Or move somewhere exciting.” She shrugged. “I’m going to do something.” She ran her fingertips in a farewell over the battered upright piano. “It’s haunted, you know. I know lots of people don’t believe me, but I’ve heard it playing at night.”
“It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted. May I?” Steve pulled out a small, dusty button that looked like it had belonged to a long-discarded toy.
“Of course.” Elaine had no idea what she was agreeing to but watched with interest as Steve carefully placed it over a decorative rose on the top of the piano.
“You’re not easily shaken, are you?” Steve asked.
Elaine looked him up and down. He was a slim young man in a sharp suit who looked like this was the first time he had left an office in a decade. She had been raised with grandfather’s folk tales and horror stories. “I am really not easily shaken.”
Steve pressed the button. There was a faint click and then with no further warning a pair of ghostly hands appeared above the keys. They stretched professionally, ran themselves up and down the keys in some scales and then started playing a wild Hungarian waltz. Elaine didn’t recognise it, but it was evocative of moonlight, red roses and reckless romance. She found herself almost hypnotised with the swirl of music. She half closed her eyes and she could imagine herself dancing with dark strangers in a clearing in the wild woods. She felt a sense of loss when the music spun into a breathless crescendo and the hands disappeared. Steve put the button back in his pocket.
“Take me with you.” Elaine said impulsively. “It looks like the best adventure I could take. And you look like you need a PA. I am an amazing PA and I would be no trouble.” She put a pleading hand on his sleeve. “Please.”
“Are you sure?” Steve asked quietly.
“I’ve left my fiancé, quit my job and given up my lease.” Elaine said. “I’ve set myself up to go looking for adventure. I think that actually adventure has come looking for me.”
Two stories, the first with uncanny help from the past, the second with haunting music, from Across a Misty Bridge which you can find as a downloadable read on Story Origin or you can read it here.