In this, the concluding part of The Emerald Cave, Kate hears Emerald’s story and has a chance to put her side of the experience to her former friend. Will Kate find peace in the sharing of her trauma, and will her relationship Emerald be rekindled? Read on here to find out. We begin as the two have begun to converse. To read from the beginning of the story, check into previous posts…
She half shrugs. ‘We left the UK, Lincoln and I. We came here to France. We worked, mostly casual jobs like helping with the grape harvest. We…split up.’ She pauses. ‘Lincoln moved on. I stayed. I met Henri. We’ve lived here, in this village ever since. How about you, Kate? Are you married?’
She glances up, catches my expression of incredulity.
‘Me? How am I? I’m aware of my rapid breathing and knowing this is the prelude to a panic attack, I close my eyes and count the breaths in for a slow ten and out. After a minute I open my eyes and meet her gaze. She looks away. I snatch my chance.
‘My life was ruined, Emerald. It’s only through meeting my husband, David that I’ve been able to come to terms with my own, near-death experience and your drowning. I suppose you had it all planned out, did you? Befriending me, the hopeless, mousey loner, pretending to like me then luring me to that inaccessible place, drugging me and leaving me to fate?’ I lean forward and she recoils. Her eyes become moist. ‘Have you any idea at all,’ I ask her, ‘how terrified I was and how cold and desperate?’
She’s studying the table, tracing the wrought-iron pattern with a finger as she moves her head from side to side.
‘And the aftermath!’ I continue. ‘The circus of hospitalisation, police, journalists! My whole family spending weeks of creeping in and out of their own house; the curtains drawn day and night, the phone off the hook, the constant ringing on the doorbell! And you! You were swanning around France with your boyfriend having fun! Thanks, Emerald!’ I sit back. There’s silence.
‘It wasn’t like that.’ Her voice is low, almost a whisper. ‘My life then- maybe it looked fun and free. Maybe other girls envied me, I don’t know. But I wasn’t happy, Kate. I was alone, insecure. My Mum wasn’t there, ever in the house. She was with her boyfriend. At first it was just occasional nights, then weekends, then she moved in with him.’
‘Why didn’t you go, too, Emerald? Why did you stay in the house alone, if you were so unhappy?’
She shrugs; looks away. ‘Emerald?’ I persist. She stares at her lap.
‘He…’ she stops. Then I realise. She’d stayed in the house alone because the boyfriend she’d described as boring had been abusing her.
‘Did your Mum know? Why didn’t you tell her?’
‘I…couldn’t. Maybe she guessed; I don’t know. He threatened me. He said I’d never see her again if I told her. In any case she chose him instead of me, didn’t she, so I suppose she didn’t care much either way.’
I am aghast. ‘But after you disappeared, she was devastated. She was all over the news crying and telling her story.’
She nods. ‘She’s made money from it; selling her story to the tabloid press.’
We sit in silence while I try to digest what she’s told me. ‘How did you do it, Emerald? When did you start hatching your plan to escape?’
She sighs. ‘At the beginning, when we met up, I just saw you as a kind of ‘project’, I suppose. I liked the idea of befriending you. You seemed so lost and lonely. I told Lincoln I’d had enough and wanted to leave, to make a new start somewhere where my Mum and Geoff couldn’t find me, he came up with the idea of faking my death. Somehow, he thought of involving you, to make it more realistic.’
‘Is that where the drugs came from? From Lincoln? Was that the ‘occasional work’ you told me he did?’
She nods. ‘Yes.’
‘But you took them, too, Emerald! Why didn’t you pass out like I did?’
There’s a pause. She looks at me, her eyes wet with tears. ‘I didn’t Kate. I’m sorry. I just pretended to take them. But I knew the dose we gave you wouldn’t do you any harm.’
‘How? How did you know?’
She shakes her head, staring down at her lap; blows her nose on a tissue. Her voice is small, almost a whisper. ‘How did you get out, Kate? What happened?’
‘Do you care? Why?’
‘I’m an adult, now. I understand that what I did was shocking and criminal. But then I was a child and I was a victim, too.’
She’s right. ‘OK. Well, when I woke, I was terrified. I was cold and wet and thought you had drowned. It was dark. I couldn’t see a way to get out. All I could do was wait and wait. It was hours, Emerald, hours later that I heard a helicopter noise. I waded as far towards the entrance as I could and waved into their search lights. Then they dropped a line down with someone and hauled me up. I was in hospital for a couple of days but they said I was lucky. In the aftermath I became a recluse, refusing to go to school or anything else. My parents got me a home tutor. I started a university course but dropped out before the end of the first year. I drifted, living at home, doing dead end jobs. I started seeing a counsellor, David. He and I are married now.’
I sit back. I’m bone tired.
‘It didn’t last with Lincoln. He smuggled me out of the country. We did various jobs like fruit picking and we ended up here, doing odd jobs like helping with the grape harvest. He left. I stayed. I met Henri, the tour guide here and we got together. We live in the village and have three children.’
‘Does he know? Henri? Does he know about your past?’
‘Yes. I had no papers, Kate, so we could never get married and I can never go anywhere, either.’
I look around at the view of the vineyards and surrounding countryside. ‘There are worse places to be captive’ I say.
‘Yes, but I know I’ll have to confess at some point. I need to tell my children, for a start.’
The gravel crunches as David approaches our table. He looks from me to her and back again, an enquiring expression on his face.
‘This is Emerald, David. Emerald, this is my husband, David.’
She squints up at him. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ she says. He holds out his hand and shakes hers then pulls out a chair and sits.
‘I should get back to work,’ Emerald murmurs.
‘And we should go.’ David touches my arm, jerking me from the trance I feel I’ve been in.
I nod. ‘Yes, we won’t want to be cycling back too late.’ Emerald stands and holds a hand out to me. She doesn’t comment or ask where we’re staying. I take her hand. We don’t hug. We don’t arrange to meet up again. ‘Goodbye’ I say. She nods, turns and walks away. I look at David and he takes my hand as we wander back down and through the sleepy village, bathed in late afternoon sunshine.
We unlock the bikes and set off along the lanes, the rhythmic peddling soothing, the sun -drenched vegetation exuding a relaxing, earthy smell. I’m barely aware that I’m cycling as my mind processes what I now know.
Later I drift off to sleep in the barge’s cosy cabin and it’s a solid, dream-free slumber. When I wake it’s morning and I feel like a child waking on Christmas day, as though a weight has lifted from me.
We breakfast out on the deck. I’ve told David everything now. He’s anointing his croissant with jam, then leans across the small bistro table. ‘I’ve been thinking. Shall we go somewhere different next year? Italy, maybe? What do you think?’ I smile back. ‘Italy sounds good! We’re not tied to here, are we? We’re free to go anywhere we like!’ And it’s true. I am free; freer than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
Here we leave Kate to get on with her life. How was the story? Did you read from the beginning? Feedback , as always will be very much appreciated. Feel free to comment . Visitors to my blog, Anecdotage are extremely welcome!
Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conways-at-Earthsend-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B08VNQT5YC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ZHXO7687MYXE&keywords=the+conways+at+earthsend&qid=1673350649&sprefix=the+conways+at+earthsend%2Caps%2C79&sr=8-1 and The Year of Familiar Strangers [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Familiar-Strangers-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B00EWNXIFA/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2EQHJGCF8DSSL&keywords=The+year+of+familiar+strangers&qid=1673350789&sprefix=the+year+of+familiar+strangers%2Caps%2C82&sr=8-1 Visit my writer Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=jane%20deans%2C%20novellist%2C%20short%20fiction%20and%20blog or my website: https://www.janedeans.com/