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His eyes did sparkle. I saw that too; in fact, the first time I met John, that was what most struck me about him.
He oozes charisma in a genuine, gentle way, nothing like the forced presence of a door-to-door salesman; quite the opposite. John was a natural public speaker, who could hold the attention of his audience with ease, yet he did so with kindness and consideration.
I have known him for almost ten years and in that time he’s put on a little weight around his middle, despite remaining fit and active, and his once dark hair is now mostly grey, but his smile is very much the same. He still has tanned skin all year round, perhaps from walking and cycling across the capital. Another thing that remained unchanged was the look in his eyes when he returned home and greeted Claire, it was identical to that captured in their wedding photo, which hung in the alcove next to the fireplace; its oak frame similar in style to the beautiful bookcase below it.
He gazed at her then as he does now, with a look of complete adoration and admiration.
In the other alcove stood an old ornate wooden piano, which had belonged to his grandparents. It needed to be tuned annually due to its age, but was worth the maintenance as it had a wonderfully distinctive sound. John rarely played, but Emmy was enjoying learning, so it was still in regular use and they both loved singing. Emmy was so confident; I used to joke that she was a pop-star in the making.
When John’s father died and his mother chose to move to a smaller property, she no longer had room for the piano which she had never learnt to play and John had decided to keep it. Transporting it to London had been costly, but now that Emmy was playing it, he declared that it had been entirely worth it. He smiled one night, as he said how pleased his grandfather would have been if he could have been there to see and listen to Emmy.
John had an incredible ability to rapidly switch between personal and professional life, ensuring he was always fully present in whichever role was required. When working from home, he would head to his office; a bright white study in the basement. Its window was below pavement level providing sunlight and it had a separate staircase and door which to my knowledge, remained permanently locked. The led ceiling lights, minimal style, vibrant coloured cushions, wall art, and accessories, were so different from the rest of the house. It was like walking into an ultra-modern new-build apartment.
It even had an en-suite shower room and w.c., which is why the original plan had been for me to have this as my room for the duration of my stay. It had quickly become apparent though that this would interfere with John’s need to use it. There were occasions when he had to work late into the night, or wanted to take a call from someone in a different international time zone. Plus making and putting away a sofa bed daily was tedious. After just three days it was agreed that I would share Emmy’s room instead.
The lower ground floor was soundproofed, so he wouldn’t be distracted by any noise from upstairs, which of course meant that we could not hear his conversations either, not that it had ever occurred to me to want to listen. Now though, I have so many questions.
Why did he know that an attack was imminent? Who told him?
He never talked about work, though from what he had said previously, I believe he was currently responsible for overseeing the emergency planning departments at the collective of London borough councils. He’d explained how he had started as an emergency planning officer after leaving university in Edinburgh, and that he had moved to London from Scotland, where he continued in similar though more senior roles. He had taken a break for a couple of years after being approached and offered a number of short-term positions in several wealthy foreign countries, the names of which I have since forgotten.
Private companies had sought his expertise to protect them and their employees from potential cyber and real life attacks. They, as the councils in the UK, needed to have considered every eventuality and hold a written incident management and contingency plan.
I asked him once if his role meant trying to predict what a terrorist may choose to attack and how. I had read articles about the amazing man who selflessly died trying to evacuate the twin towers in the USA. He had advised the powers that be of the prospect of a plane being flown into one of the buildings, but his premonition had been ignored. We were interrupted however and he never answered my question.
It was on John’s return from one of these trips, whilst he was visiting family, that he had met Claire. As he hadn’t yet signed a new contract, he decided to stay in London rather than accept another post abroad. I’m not sure when he gained his latest promotion, but I know from Claire that she felt it interfered more with their private lives than previous positions had.
Over the years he had obviously built up a large network of connections, including fire chiefs, heads of police, government security personnel, and major incident controllers. It seemed like he knew everyone involved with any aspect of planning for all possible eventualities.
Maybe it was an acquaintance who had given him the heads up, or perhaps he received the nod in a more official capacity. Either way, I will be forever grateful that he was contacted and that Claire had been able to reach me, so that I could get to Emmy.
Looking up momentarily I freeze; where are the children?
Glancing down the beach I spot them, and breathe deeply. How have they moved further away without me noticing?
It was all thanks to John that I came to Scotland when I did. I think he knew that no matter how long I stayed with them, I was unlikely to find my true passion. I had considered training as a nanny, after working as a babysitter part-time for their friends’ children and the families of Emmy’s classmates. The small group of nannies that I had met were lovely and their lifestyles looked attractive in some regards, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Plus, what kind of a nanny would I be, considering I can’t even concentrate on watching two children playing on the beach! I walk towards a low section of headland, close to where they are, hoping to find a little more comfort than on the rocks. Here I sit on a small patch of short dry grass admiring them for their inquisitive nature and determination.
The widow of an old friend of John had posted on social media that she needed an assistant to work in her cafe. It was advertised initially as a summer job, with the possibility of remaining permanently, should both parties so wish. John and Claire had obviously discussed it before he spoke to me, as the pitch was convincing. A change of scenery, beautiful surroundings, lovely people, my own bedsit, chance to do something different; even the potential to take over the business if I liked it, when the current owner retires. Worst case, I didn’t enjoy it and could look for something else at the end of the summer, or sign up to start a college course in September.
Claire had persuaded me to see it as a student would view a gap year; an experience, which I could make the best of; plus the beaches she said were stunning, and she thought it would feel like being on holiday rather than work. I was very conscious that I had been with them for a lot longer than they had initially planned and was worried that I had outstayed my welcome, despite them never having given me any indication they felt that way.
So, Claire and I had re-worded the introduction of my curriculum vitae that she had helped me to write over several evenings, when at eighteen I applied for my first full-time position. John had then forwarded this revised version to Susan with his recommendation, and the role was mine. I was to leave the following week.
John had kindly booked my train tickets and Claire helped me to pack, using the two new large suitcases that they had purchased to thank me for caring for Emmy. They were a lovely metal grey colour with a hard though flexible shell which spun freely, had extendable handles and were far lighter and more easily maneuverable than my old ones. This they felt would be a lot less stressful than travelling with several smaller bags and I now believe them to be right. I would most probably have left something on a train, had I attempted to take so much.
I was shocked and extremely grateful to discover that from London to Glasgow I would be seated in first class. The four and a half hour journey was undoubtedly more pleasant due to the spacious seats and extra legroom, complimentary wifi, and inclusive food and drink.
Saying goodbye had been hard. Waving Emmy off at the entrance to school as I had done since she started reception was emotional. I was going to miss her SO much. John had said his goodbyes before leaving for work and Claire had come with me to Euston station, where we ate brunch before hugging on the platform. I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes now, as they did then.
At that point I didn’t know when I would see her again. Now, I don’t know if I will see her again.