The Emerald Cave [Episode 3]

In Part 3 of the story Kate describes her experience of the events that day she spent with Emerald and discovers something astonishing as she looks round the Chateau gift shop…Parts 1 and 2 of The Emerald Cave can be found in the previous 2 posts.

The area of coast Emerald and I travelled to that day is renowned for its towering cliffs and rocky shores and many of the bays are fringed by huge rocks and cave complexes. As a family we’d spent many days on the beaches there but Emerald told me of a small cove we could walk to where few people went, because it was less accessible and had no facilities such as toilets and cafes.

‘We’ll have to pee in the sea or behind a rock!’ she suggested, which threw us into hysterics again.

It was a fair walk to her cove and hard work in the increasing heat but she was right, only a handful of people had bothered to clamber down the steep, rudimentary steps to the small, curving bay, which curved round between two protruding cliffs so that the beaches on either side were obscured. We went to one end, where banks of rocks piled up against the cliff and small cave entrances were visible. Here we were a fair distance away from any other bathers. We wriggled into swim gear and laid our towels down on the sand, then ran into the sea, shrieking. It felt good after the long, hot walk and we played about, splashing and somersaulting before lying on our backs and floating gently in the waves.

When we’d had enough, we ate some snacks and basked in the sun, until I could feel my skin burning. Emerald said we should get some shade and why didn’t we explore the caves? We clambered up the boulders and peered into one, but it was small and didn’t extend far back. Emerald led me further round towards the end of the cliff, stooping to climb over rocks and hauling herself up until she stood above me. I glanced below us. Here, the sea lapped up against the shore, slapping against the strewn boulders, the tide having come in quite a lot since our swim. Emerald was gesticulating and grinning, beckoning me to hurry up then she disappeared from view. I followed her path up the rocks to where a much larger cave entrance lay. After the glare of the sun, it was hard to see into the aperture, although I could hear her calling me from inside. I stumbled in. It was spacious and had a sandy floor littered with rocks and pebbles. She was perched on a boulder looking delighted.

‘It’s so cool!’

‘Cooler than out there’ I replied and she laughed. I sat down and she began delving in her bag, pulling out a bottle of water and a small package.

‘We can have a rest here in the shade before we trek back to the station,’ she said. ‘Here, catch!’ and the tossed one of two small envelopes across to me. I frowned at the envelope.

‘What is it?’

‘Have a look.’

I undid the flap and looked inside. There were two, tiny pink tablets in there. I frowned at her. ‘What are they?’

She laughed, tipping the contents of the other envelope into her hand. ‘They’re cool stuff that makes you feel great!’ Try them! She tipped her tablets into her mouth and swigged some water before tossing the bottle to me.

I’ve asked myself thousands of times why I took the drugs but there’s no answer to it. I loved Emerald and wanted to please her, wanted the fun, happy-go-lucky times she’d given me to continue, so I followed suit, swallowing down the tiny pills, then waited for something to happen. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t been told a hundred times about the perils drug-taking, lectures both at home and at school. It was as if none of it was now relevant. All that mattered was having a good time with my best friend.

At the end of our wine tasting session, David buys an over-priced bottle of red and we drift off, he with his camera to do some creative photography and I to the gift shop, in which a half a dozen people are browsing. We agree to meet in about half an hour at the café on the terrace. I take my time in the shop, even though there’s nothing I want. I’m looking through a stand of silk, hand painted scarves when the sound of a voice jerks me round. I look for the source. There are two women serving at the counter, one of whom is tall and willowy, grey-blond hair piled up in a wispy bun. She is wrapping up an item in gift paper. While she is older, she has a voice and a face I can never forget. It is Emerald. I stare. She finishes the wrapping, handing over the parcel and offering the card machine, bidding the customer ‘bon journee’.

I feel my heart pounding, a beat in my ears as I swallow, my throat suddenly dry. She tidies the counter, putting scissors away, chatting to her colleague and I know that any minute she will look up, look over and see me. Will she recognise me? Do I want her to?

It was dark when I woke in the cave, light only filtering in from an almost full moon. I was lying up on a flat ledge near the back. Sea water was slopping against my legs and almost all of the cave floor was submerged. I was disorientated, shivering with cold, dressed as I’d been before in only shorts and vest top. An empty water bottle floated back and forth with the waves but of my bag, towel and phone there was no sign. I sat up, looked around and discovered I was alone. My stomach lurched as I realised that Emerald must also have been asleep and must have been washed out to sea along with everything else. Waves of nausea swept over me and I retched over the ledge into the dark, foamy water.

I sat up and waited for the dizziness to pass before taking stock of my situation. Where was Emerald? Was she even alive? How could I raise an alarm? How long would it take for my parents to call someone and how would they know where to look for me? I was cold and wet. I bit my lip and folded my arms around my knees in a bid to limit the shivers. My only chance of alerting someone would be to try and get to the cave entrance and out past the water then shuffle round the rocks and back to the bay. I felt sick and faint and it seemed a mountainous, challenging task. I had no idea what the time was. The enormity of my problem overwhelmed me as I wept, crying for myself, for my one and only best friend.

I’m unable to take my eyes from the older, adult Emerald at the gift shop counter. She’s tidying up and talking to her colleague. When she’s done, she’ll look up and she’ll see me. She straightens and glances across the shop floor, stopping still at the sight of me. There is a moment when we’re both held in the gaze. The blood drains from her face as she grips the counter and I begin walking towards her. She says a few words to the other woman then comes out and around to the front where I’m standing.

‘Let’s go outside’ she says, leading me out through the hallway and around to the café. We sit at a wrought iron table. There’s a silence between us that has to break.

‘Tell me’ I say. She sighs, stares down at the table. Her face is made up, her nails immaculate. A pastel wisp of scarf is slung around her neck, the epitome of French elegance. She begins to talk.

‘You don’t know how glad I am that you are alright, Kate. You cannot imagine the guilt and worry I’ve suffered all these years.’

I’m at a loss for words. I’m alright? She has suffered? I clear my throat.

‘Tell me what happened.’

Check into next week’s Anecdotage to read Episode 4 of ‘The Emerald Cave’.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. She is the author of two novels. Eco thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Mystery, The Year of Familiar Strangers is available to download from Amazon. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

The Emerald Cave [Episode 1]

The next month’s posts will feature brand new fiction, beginning today with Part 1 of ‘The Emerald Cave, a psychological drama. In Part 1, Kate begins to look back at an event from her teens that caused her mental illness…

There was a period years ago when I lost my memory. At the time it was said by the counsellor to be caused by the trauma. I suppose these days you’d call it PTSD. I’ve always worried that I’d suffer more bouts of memory loss as I got older, but since adulthood it hasn’t happened; in fact, I feel I can recall more and more of the events of my childhood and teenage years as I age.

                While I wasn’t bullied at school, it’s safe to say I was ignored. Why? I was a quiet, nondescript child. I was neither beautiful nor ugly. I had no stand-out features. Back then I’d have been described as ‘mousy’, my father even calling me ‘Mouse’, thinking it a term of endearment. I was the middle child of three girls; my elder sister, Sarah being the one of whom great academic things were expected, my younger sister, Jo, the vivacious, pretty all-rounder, loved by everyone.

 I attracted no attention either way from my peers at our all-girls grammar school, ticking along with average results, the teachers barely acknowledging my existence, so when Emerald Blackman began engaging with me and involving me in her life, nobody was more surprised than I was.

Emerald. She joined my class when I was fourteen, making a swift and dynamic impact, imbuing every girl with a desire to be her friend, to belong to her circle. It was not only that she was beautiful, blond and blue-eyed with clear skin and a svelte, athletic body but that she exuded such confidence, even the teaching staff were in awe of her. We learned that she’d moved to the area with her mother following the split of her parents, a situation that in itself seemed glamorous and exciting to those of us who lived in humdrum, nuclear families with two parents. She also appeared to enjoy a remarkable level of freedom for a fifteen-year-old, by all accounts and was already working at a Saturday job, sweeping up and making tea in a salon and earning enough to get out and about at weekends.

At some point during the first term, she acquired a boyfriend, further elevating her status in our eyes. The fact that the boyfriend had a car thrilled everyone to fever pitch, inducing most of us to press our eyes to the window each afternoon at the end of the school day, when the young man’s battered, black, souped-up Ford Fiesta swerved up the school driveway and squealed to a halt beside our exit. There would be a pause. Emerald, lingering in the cloakroom, didn’t dash outside and leap into the passenger seat, preferring to raise a languid arm and pull a brush through her long, blond hair, releasing it from the confines of its regulation tied back style. Then she’d sigh, pack a few things into her bag and dawdle to the exit, looking everywhere except at the boyfriend as she opened the car door; a masterclass in cool. Once the car had swooshed away down the drive, we’d sigh and begin our own plodding walks to bus stops.

I’m daydreaming all this as my feet turn the bike pedals and we follow the easy, shaded tow path along the Canal du Midi, a trail we’ve taken on many occasions during our forays into the South of France. I got lucky with David, meeting him in my late twenties and marrying at thirty-two, later than most did, then. We were old enough to understand that sharing common interests and backgrounds was as good a basis as any for a strong marriage. A few weeks after we met, when I was comfortable enough to confide in him, I told him what happened with Emerald when I was fourteen, a story I’d never been able to tell anyone else outside of the family, a story that still dogs my dreams, entering my consciousness uninvited. I asked David, a clinical psychologist, if he thought the effects of that time had shaped me and he said he couldn’t say, since he hadn’t known me before then, but that our teens are an impressionable age and it’s likely that some aspects of my character may have been enhanced or suppressed by it. But I was never a socialite, never gregarious or popular, never one for small talk or banter. I’m an introvert, a trait that has continued into adulthood. For that brief, early period of my life though, my standing amongst my peers became elevated as a result of my friendship with Emerald Blackman, as if I’d inhaled some of the magic that surrounded her and been transformed into a teenage socialite.

We take most of our holidays in France, David and I. We find a gite, one that is near to centres of historic interest or natural beauty. We like to explore by bike or on foot. This time we’re staying in a Dutch barge on the canal between the coast and Narbonne, from where we can cycle down to Gruissan at the coast, or up as far as medieval Carcassonne and beyond. We might pick up groceries and cook in the barge’s galley kitchen or we might find a brasserie and eat there. The barge has a comfortable deck area where I like to read, or often to sit with a glass of wine and watch the water drift past carrying ducks, driftwood or weed. The canal is flanked by a row of plane trees along each side, their canopy of leaves casting a soothing green glow on to the water, glints of sunshine filtering through as the breeze blows.

It’s a therapeutic space to sit and process painful life events. I may be much older now but I still need to replay the scenes that led up to what happened with Emerald and how it played out in the immediate aftermath. My problem is not knowing. I will never know what happened to her, or to me, in the cave; the cave I’ve come to think of as ‘The Emerald Cave’.

I’d been waiting at the bus stop for half an hour when the noisy, smoky Fiesta pulled up and she wound the window down. I’d mislaid a text book in our form room and had missed the school special as a result. At first, I didn’t register that it was her, that she was calling to me. I remember looking round at the other people waiting, thinking she must know one of them. She opened the window and beckoned me over.

‘Need a lift?’

I couldn’t recall that she’d ever spoken a single word to me before. I walked across to the window and leaned down, conscious of the lank strands of hair that had escaped from my inexpert pony tail and the crop of spots that had sprung up on my chin the day before in preparation for my period. She put a hand out and pulled the lapel on my blazer so that my face was inches from hers. I felt my cheeks burn and knew the boyfriend was looking my way as he revved the engine, making noxious, grey smoke billow around the bus stop.

‘I’m not…I don’t…’ I spluttered in a pathetic squeak.

‘Come on, Kate. We’re going for a quick coffee. Hop in the back. We’ll take you home after!’ She beamed at me, continuing to pull on my lapel.

‘I don’t have any cash on me’, I managed to blurt.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that! Lincoln’ll get them, won’t you, Linc?’ She relinquished the blazer and grinned at the lad beside her, who rolled his eyes.

I cast a sheepish glance over my shoulder at the waiting passengers before grasping the rear door handle and sliding in, pulling my backpack in next to me. The car smelt of stale cigarettes and there were discarded cans, crisp packets and polystyrene cartons strewn around the floor. Just as I was wondering how late I’d be getting home Emerald turned to me.

‘Are your folks cool with what time you get home?’

‘Um…not really, I mean I don’t know.’ I looked out of the window.

‘You could call them.’

There was a pause while the car, driven by a silent Lincoln, swerved round a corner and into Tesco car park.

‘I don’t, um…I don’t have my phone.’

We three girls had phones, the cheapest, most basic pay-as-you-go’ type that could be bought, for what my mother called ‘safety’ purposes, although we were not allowed to take them to school and were only to use them for ‘emergencies’. What type of emergency there could be she’d never elaborated, but we rarely did anything independently, which was what I was doing now.

Emerald did not scoff or laugh or make a scornful remark. She tossed her phone at me.

‘Use mine.’

I knew my parents were not home yet. I called and left a message to say I’d missed the bus and would be a bit later than usual. Then we all got out and went to the coffee bar on the High Street.

There’s a small, canal-side café ahead of David and me. It’s bathed in sunshine, wrought-iron tables and chairs arranged outside and a blackboard of delicious-sounding snacks. It isn’t lunchtime yet but we feel we’ve cycled enough miles this morning to have earned a slice of tarte-au-citron and a café-au-lait. It’s a far cry from the fare on offer at the ‘Hard Mock’ café, a long, thin diner offering CDs, posters, T-shirts and rock band memorabilia, alongside coffee, toasted sandwiches and doughnuts. David locks up the bikes and I settle in the sunshine.

We slid into one of Hard Mock’s booths on a plastic-covered bench, Emerald squeezing in next to me, leaving Lincoln, who’d gone to the counter, to order our drinks- cappuccino for Emerald and flat white for me, to occupy the opposite seat. I’d taken a quick look at the price list and selected the cheapest Item I could find.

‘Fancy a doughnut?’ Emerald spoke into my ear to be heard over the top of the music which was playing at a high decibel level, heavy metal of some kind. I shook my head.

Lincoln brought the coffees to our table. ‘Thanks Babe’, Emerald cooed, pursing her lips. My mind flipped at the idea of one of my peers calling a boy ‘babe’. I nodded and muttered my own thanks. Lincoln continued to look at his phone while Emerald chatted with me, asking what music I liked, what I did outside school, did I get on with my sisters? I began to relax as she seemed so interested in me, making me laugh with tales of her own home life and sly digs at Lincoln, who did not appear to be listening.

‘I wish I had a sister’ she sighed. ‘It must be so cool to always have someone to hang out with.’

‘It’s not always like that,’ I told her, ‘We’re all different. My older sister doesn’t lower herself to fraternise with me and my younger sister has so many friends she doesn’t need me.’

Emerald threw an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. ‘Well,’ she whispered, ‘you’ve got me, now.’

David is accustomed to my long silences, having known me for so many years. He’s pouring over a small map of our route for the day on his phone, searching for somewhere to explore this afternoon, somewhere we’ve not been before. He is not handsome, my husband, but he does have a calm, restful face, which is what attracted me to him after I began my weekly visits to his surgery. He inspired, and continues to inspire confidence in me, deftly foiling my panic attacks and cheering me with gentle humour.

Before he was my husband, David was my trauma counsellor. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I experienced the mental health crisis that led me to seek him out and he helped me to understand that I’d never fully processed what had happened in my teens.

Check in next week to read Episode 2 of ‘The Emerald Cave’…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her latest novel, The Conways at Earthsend is available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.