‘I’m home,’ Sarah called as she wrestled the key back out of the lock, trying not drop the bags of shopping as she did.
‘I got you a present,’ she called as she bumped the door shut with her bum. ‘Paul. Are you there?’
She stood in the hallway waiting for Paul to respond but heard nothing. The house was silent.
Paul must have gone out. Whenever he was in the house there was always a radio playing, or the TV blaring out.
‘Paul, Paul. Are you there?’ Jenny dropped her bags in the hallway. Where had he gone?
She ran up the stairs calling his name as she went. He wasn’t in the study, or the bedroom. The bathroom door was closed. She went up and knocked gently.
‘Paul. Are you in there?’ she called pressing her ear against the cold gloss painted door.
She knocked again and tried the handle. It was unlocked and she slowly pushed the door inwards. The bathroom was empty. Sarah turned and ran back down the stairs. She skirted round the shopping bags in the hallway and headed into the lounge. She rushed through the lounge into the conservatory and then back through the kitchen door. No sign.
She stopped and stood by the island in the middle of the kitchen breathing deeply. Why was she so panicked? He was a grown man and he could come and go as he pleased. For the last five months he had always been there when she got home.
‘Of course the phone,’ she muttered to herself as she headed back out into the hallway. She was bent double, rustling around in her handbag looking for her phone, when she felt a breeze. She turned and looked towards the kitchen; with her head still upside down she saw a piece of paper flutter across the floor. She slowly righted herself and went to pick it up.
The paper was a piece from the shopping list she kept pinned to the wall besides the provisions cupboard, only it had been folded in half and had her name written, in Paul’s neat hand writing, across the middle.
Sarah sat looking out over the sea and slowly sipped her coffee. She was shaken from her thoughts as the waitress placed a plate of fish and chips in front of her.
‘Sorry, thank you.’ Sarah said as she looked up at her.
She smiled and walked back towards the counter. Sarah pushed the food around the plate, eating a few chips and a small portion of the fish. After about an hour she was the only one left in the café and the waitress came over to take the plate away.
‘Was there something wrong?’ she asked as she went to pick up the plate.
‘Oh no, nothing like that.’ Sarah smiled.
‘Can I get you anything else?’
‘No thanks. Is it okay if I sit here a little while longer?’
‘Sure it’s not as if we’re busy is it?’ the waitress waved her hand around the café. ‘Let me get you another coffee and if you want to talk I’m on a break now.’
The waitress returned with two cups of coffee, ’I can go away if you want.’
‘No stay please.’ Sarah indicated to the chair opposite her.
‘So are you here on holiday? I’m Jackie.’
‘Sarah. I’m not really here on holiday. My boyfriend left me three weeks ago and I had hoped a break would help.’
‘And is it?’
‘Not really he was originally from Brighton, so coming here isn’t really helping me get over him.’
‘Are you expecting to see him?’
‘No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.’
‘Do you think he’ll come back here?’
‘Probably not, but his letter didn’t really explain why he left.’
‘Wow, it must be difficult to know where to begin.’
Sarah was wandering through Brighton and had knocked on three doors looking for Paul but so far no luck.
She walked through the lanes, turning this way and that, not quite sure why she didn’t stop at any of the plethora of coffee shops and cafes that there was on offer. It was almost as if her feet were carrying her in a direction all by themselves.
She wasn’t meandering, her feet had purpose. She had been here before. Only she hadn’t. She had only been in Brighton three days and she hadn’t been cruising the shops, she had been out in the residential areas. How could she recognise this place?
She shook her head. These lanes all looked the same, with the little shops and the cafes. She hadn’t really been here before it was just a delayed case of de ja vu.
She turned the next corner and walked along stopping outside a newsagent. What was going on? She turned and look in the newsagents window, in the reflection she could she a large cake in the shape of a cup cake. She approached the window. Why would a newsagent have a cake in their window? As she got close to the window the cake had gone. That was it she was officially going mad. She needed to get back to her hotel room and have a lie down. She turned and there in front of her was the cup cake.
As she walked into the café, she marvelled as to how it was exactly as she remembered it. Three bar stools at a bar in the window, a long counter with large display cabinets full of different types of cup cakes along the far wall and a collection of tables covered in gingham table cloths. What was she thinking ‘exactly as she remembered it’? She had never been here before.
She was obviously exhausted and emotionally drained. She needed a rest and some food. She ordered a strawberry topped cup cake and a coffee and sat at one of the tables. There was no way she had ever been to this café before and she didn’t think she’d ever been inside one like it, but it all felt so familiar. How weird.
Sarah had finished and was debating whether she could justify another cake when a woman about her age walked in and rushed up to the counter.
‘Oh thank god you’ve got plenty left. My batch of cupcakes for the parents evening have gone horribly wrong and I don’t have the time to make anymore. Can I take a mixed box of twenty four please?’
‘Of course. I will need to go and fetch some carry boxes out of the back. If you can give me two minutes,’ the girl behind the counter said as she turned and disappeared.
The woman stood at the counter and started to look around. Sarah looked up to see the woman was staring at her.
‘Josie, Josie Kendal is that you?’ the woman said as she rushed over to Sarah’s table. ‘It is you. You remember me? I’m Mary Montford. We went to St Ignatius Primary together.’
Sarah looked at the woman, squinting to see if she recognised her.
‘I always wondered what happened to you.’ Mary continued. ‘The summer after we were six you didn’t come back we never saw you again. What happened?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Sarah muttered as she finally managed to get a word in. ‘You must have me mistaken for someone else.’
‘Don’t be silly. You haven’t changed a bit.’
‘Look I don’t know who you think I am, but I am not her.’ Sarah got up and tried to leave.
Mary stood in her way, ‘I don’t know what you mean but I know you are Josie Kendal.’
Sarah pushed passed the women and rushed out into the street. She ran along the lanes until she was out of breath. She stopped and looked around her, no idea which way she had run or where she was. On the opposite side of the road was a bench and she carefully crossed over a sat down.
‘What are you doing in Brighton?’ her mother’s voice questioned down the phone.
‘I needed a break and here seemed as good a place as any,’ Sarah said, leaning back on her hotel bed. How her mother managed to make her feel like a small child always amazed her.
Sarah had never known her dad; he had died in an accident when she was very small and so it had always been just her and her mum.
‘Why didn’t you come and see me? I could have helped you. You know you can always talk to me,’ her mother said.
‘Look Mum, I just wanted some me time.’
‘I’ll come up and see you soon I promise,’
‘Okay well don’t leave it too long. I might not have long left you know.’
‘Oh mother, you’ll outlive us all. You know you will.’
‘So want did you call for? Corrie is about to start you know.’
‘Sorry Mum, I’ll be brief. I wondered if we’d ever been to Brighton?’
‘What? Why do you ask?’
‘It’s just some of the places seem familiar. And I met a woman today who was convinced she knew me, only she called me Josie.’
‘No dear we’ve never been to Brighton and if you know what’s good for you, don’t stay there too long. I need to go now.’ Her mother hung up.
The next day Sarah tried two more addresses looking for Paul, before she decided she needed to find out who Josie Kendal was.
She tried googling the name but there were too many so she headed off to the offices of the local newspaper. She wasn’t sure what she expected to find but if the girl was a local, she might have featured in the local news for something.
‘Can I help you?’ a rather haggard looking man asked as she entered the offices.
‘Is this the offices of the Brighton Gazette?’
‘Yes. Not exactly what you expected I bet. Unfortunately local newspapers struggle on with only advertising revenue to keep them in business, so we don’t get the fancy offices or huge archives the nationals have.’
‘In that case you probably aren’t going to be able to help.’
‘Try me. I have been here twenty years as a reporter and my father worked here before then.’
‘I was just trying to find out about Josie Kendal.’
‘Now there’s a name from the past,’ the man whistled through his teeth.
‘You knew her?’
‘Not personally but most locals know of her. She was snatched from the beach when she was about six years old and never seen again.’
‘Snatched? What by a paedophile?’
‘That’s what people thought at the time, but no body was ever found. Everyone always hoped she would be found some day.’
‘And do you have anything I could look at to follow the story through?’
‘Sure. Most of our big stories are on flash drive. I will have to dig it out and I’m needed at the Rodean graduation ceremony this afternoon, but if you leave me an email address I’ll pop you something over this evening.’
That evening Sarah lay on her bed reviewing all the reports that the guy from the gazette had sent her. It was exactly as he said, Josie Kendal had vanished from the beach and everyone had assumed she had been snatched. The beach had been packed on a sunny summer’s day she had been with a large group of children who were all making sandcastles together. When Mrs Kendal had gone to collect her the child had vanished. No-one knew how long she had been gone and no-one had seen anyone take her.
Sarah looked at the photo of Josie Kendal. It was almost identical to the first picture Sarah had ever had taken at school. She remembered it well as it still stood on her mother’s mantle piece.
Sarah had never questioned why she couldn’t remember anything before she was six or seven. Other people had told her it was weird and that they had memories from when they were two of three. She had always assumed that it was the trauma of losing her dad. But maybe it had been the trauma of being kidnapped.
What was she going to do now? Who should she speak too? Her mother? The lady from the cake shop? Josie Kendal’s mother?
She sat staring at the screen when there was a knock on her bedroom door. Whoever it was would go away if she ignored them. They knocked again. She sat totally still, not wanting to make any noise that would give away the fact she was in the room.
‘Sarah. Are you in there?’ it was her mother’s voice.
‘Sarah, let me in we need to talk.’
Sarah wasn’t sure what to do, but she was so shocked that her mother had travelled all the way to Brighton that she got up and opened the door. Sarah didn’t look at her; she left the door open and returned to sitting on the bed.
‘Sarah. I’ve come to talk to you about Josie Kendal.’
‘You know who she is, don’t you?’ Sarah snapped.
‘Yes I do and before we go any further you need to know that you are not Josie Kendal.’
‘But the photo. Look at it. It’s me.’
‘No it’s not.’
‘It is me. I know it’s me. I can’t remember anything from before I was six and that’s when you snatched me isn’t it?’
‘No we didn’t snatch you. We adopted you.’
‘Adopted me. Is that what you called it? It that how you justified it to yourself?’
‘Let me explain. Mrs Kendal and I had been old friends from school and you father and I used to come down here and spend the summer with her and her husband. The summer Josie was kidnapped we were here. The press coverage was awful. They camped outside the Kendal’s house and they couldn’t go anywhere. So they asked us to look after you for the summer.’
‘But… I don’t understand, if I’m Josie how could they have asked you to take me away.’
‘You’re not Josie. You’re her twin and your name is and always has been Sarah.’
‘If that’s true why didn’t you give me back?’
‘Because Mrs Kendal killed herself and her husband asked us to look after you. He couldn’t cope. He had lost a wife and a daughter.’
‘So he just abandoned me.’
‘I can’t imagine what he went through. After your father died I asked him to visit you and sent him photos and letters about how you were getting on but eventually he stopped returning my calls.’
‘Well that explains a lot,’ Sarah said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t have any memories and perhaps that’s a good thing. I knew you never cared for me like a real mother would have done. Always pushing me, never praising.’
‘I did everything I could for you. I lost my husband six months after I took you in. Jack Kendal gave up when his wife died but I didn’t have that luxury. I had to just struggle on. Maybe I didn’t want to get to close but in the end you are such a wonderful daughter that I couldn’t help but love you,’ she fished around in her handbag and pulled out a tissue.
‘Then why have you never told me before?’
‘Because one day I will die and then you will be alone again. I guess I thought if I was distant you wouldn’t be sad when I was gone.’
‘Mum what a stupid thing to say. You’re my mum, or at least I thought you were. I will always love you even if you annoy me sometimes.’
Sarah’s mum smiled through her tears. ‘Thank you. I am sorry about Paul. I guess I should have let you sort that one out for yourself.’
‘Paul. Is it your fault he left?’
‘He was from Brighton wasn’t he? I found out he worked for the local paper before he moved to London. He was using you sweetheart. He was just looking for a story.’
‘You can’t know that. Why do you always have to interfere?’
‘I do know because he told me. The day he left, I went to talk to him while you were at work. He told me he had moved to London to try and break into the dailies. He thought you were Josie and he was trying to find out what had happened to you.’
‘Why didn’t you come and talk to me?’ Sarah stood and stared out of the window, her back to her mother.
‘Because I knew you would think I was sticking my nose in where it wasn’t wanted.’
‘And you were weren’t you?’
‘No I was trying to protect you. As soon as I told him the story he started packing. He didn’t even wait for me to leave.’
Sarah turned from the window and sat next to her mum on the bed. She looked at her through tears and her mum pulled her tight and held her close. Holding her for as long as it took for the tears to stop.