ROMANCE IN FRANCE

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Chapter 4

Chancy tried to get home from work quickly. Her mind was full of concern for Jemma and everything seemed to wage a war against her. The bus queues were miles long, then the bus came late, and she only just managed to squeeze her way on. Then to top it all, there were hold-ups all the way home, which caused a great deal of traffic congestion and created monstrously long queues, ending in the bus journey taking twice the usual time.

She jumped off the bus at her stop alighting eagerly and wrenched her ankle in the process, glad at last to be nearly home. Her mind felt in complete turmoil, she had been reprimanded twice at work that day, her brain unable to concentrate properly on her job. All day long, she had fretted constantly, whittling and worrying herself to death about Jemma and her whereabouts.

‘Oh God!’ she thought, ‘I’ll never forgive myself if anything’s happened to her.’ Jemma had been her sole concern for years. It was only the last couple of years that Chancy had even started to think about making some kind of life for her self. She had recognised the fact that Jemma was growing up, would probably meet someone, fall in love and eventually wouldn’t need her in the same way.

It had taken her a long time to get over her marriage to Dennis. She had dated a couple of times before meeting Tad but had been extremely wary not only for herself but also for Jemma’s sake. Now, it looked as if things might be beginning to work out right and she had at last found someone she could relate to, but Jemma had decided to start playing up.

She turned the key in the lock. ‘Damn! She still wasn’t home, where on earth was that girl?’ She placed her bag on the kitchen table and made her way into the hall to pick up the phone. ‘Maybe she had gone round to Abbey’s again,’ she thought hopefully. She stood on tenterhooks waiting.

Six times the telephone rang before Abbey’s mother answered.

Chancy temporarily forgetting her manners blurted out. ‘Hello, is Jemma there?’ ‘Sorry, is that Mrs. Carlton?’ said Abbey’s mother, feeling rather taken aback at Chancy’s rudeness. Her answer was in a slightly over emphasised grammatical voice.

‘I’m not sure, as I have only just entered the house myself. I’ll see. Please, wait a moment; she may be upstairs with Abbey.’ Chancy heard her calling up the stairs to Abbey in the distance.

‘No, I’m afraid she’s not here Mrs. Carlton,’ said Mrs. Marsh returning to the phone, after first speaking to Abbey.

Could I speak to Abbey? Please, Mrs. Marsh. I’m dreadfully worried. I haven’t seen Jemma, since yesterday. It’s most unlike her not to let me know where she is.’

’Of course, just a minute,’ said Mrs. Marsh. Her voice sounded slightly friendlier, as she began to understand Chancy’s rudeness on answering the phone earlier. She went to fetch Abbey. A couple of seconds lapsed, before Mrs. Marsh returned with Abbey, who then picked up the phone.

’Hello, Mrs. Carlton. Can I help?’

‘Do you know where Jemma, is Abbey? I haven’t seen her since teatime, yesterday. She told me that you were both going skating together and afterwards you were returning to your house to play on the computer.’

‘Oh!’ said Abbey, not quite sure how to reply to Chancy’s question. ‘Jemma, had told her she was going to her grandmothers, she was sure she did, why would she tell her mother something different,’ thought Abbey. She wrinkled her forehead and a puzzled expression appeared on her face as she wondered what had happened to Jemma and why her mother didn’t know where she was.

Abbey’s mother stood at the side of her daughter and watched her closely, noticing the look of puzzlement that appeared on her face. ‘Have you any idea where Jemma, is Abbey?’ she asked. Her voice was stern and she watched Abbey’s face intently. ‘If you do you should tell Mrs. Carlton, immediately,’ she said, giving her daughter a worried look. ‘What on earth is going on,’ wondered Mrs. Marsh.

‘Jemma told me she was going to her Granny’s for the weekend,’ said poor Abbey, becoming distressed at her mother’s inference and feeling as if she were the piggy in the middle. She didn’t know what might have happened to her friend either. It was no use her mother getting angry with her she hadn’t done anything.

At that moment Tad came home. He walked into the hallway to hang his jacket and found Chancy on the phone. ‘Hi Chancy!’ he said, turning to smile at her. He saw by the look on her face that she was upset and moved swiftly across the hall to her side. ‘What’s the matter love? You do look upset.’

‘It’s Jemma. She’s still hasn’t come home. I’ve just rung Abbey, to see if she knows where she is, and.’ Here she gulped twice, trying hard to swallow the lumps in her throat. ‘Abbey says that Jemma told her, that she was going to her Granny’s. I can make neither head nor tale of it all.’

‘Here,’ said Tad taking the phone out of Chancy’s hand. She collapsed onto the stool at the side of the telephone as he took over. All day she had worried herself sick about Jemma, now she felt absolutely exhausted. She lifted her hands to her face, trying to hide her eyes, not wanting Tad to see the tears that threatened to fall.

’Tad placed the phone to his ear. ‘Hello is that Abbey?’ his manner was practical but pleasant.

‘Yes,’ said Abbey, feeling alternatively upset and worried at the turn of events. ‘Ask your mother if it’s convenient for us to come over to your house Abbey, because I think we really need to talk with you, please.’ He heard Abbey speaking to her mum, and Mrs. Marsh answered the phone.

‘Of course it is. Are you coming over right now?’ she asked gazing worriedly at her daughter. ‘What could they be up to,’ she thought. Tad looked at Chancy; her eyes pleaded with him to do something.

‘Yes please,’ he said hurriedly. ‘We’ll be over in a few minutes.’ He put the phone down and took hold of Chancy’s arm. ‘Come on love, I know how worried you are, let’s go and see what Abbey, knows.’

They subsequently arrived at Abbey’s and she proceeded again to tell them all she knew, which wasn’t that much? ‘All she said to me was that.’ “She was spending the weekend with her grandmother.” ‘Then, she collected her things that she’d left here, and I’m afraid that’s about as much as I know.’ Abbey told them again, lifting her hands in the air and shaking her fair head.

‘Do you know what the things were that she collected?’ inquired Tad.

‘She took her sleeping bag and some toilet things she used when she stayed here occasionally,’ explained Abbey. Wondering what all the fuss was about. ‘After all, she only went to her Gram’s, didn’t she?’ asked Abbey, and she looked towards Chancy and Tad for an answer, but didn’t get one.

She didn’t understand what was going on and was beginning to feel just as puzzled about her friend Jemma’s whereabouts as everyone else. ‘I was too excited about meeting Craig, I suppose,’ she said, speaking more to herself than anyone else in the room. She began to feel a bit selfish, because she hadn’t asked her friend more questions about where she was going, especially now that it seemed her friend Jemma was missing.

Mrs. Marsh let them out of the door, sympathising with them. ‘Children are so selfish sometimes,’ she said tiredly. ‘They just take off. Not caring a damn for all the distress and the worries they leave behind them.’ Shaking her head, she went back into the house, intending to have a few meaningful words with her daughter.

‘I‘m afraid we didn’t learn much there love.’ Tad tried to smile reassuringly at Chancy as he led her back to the car. ‘Where does Jemma’s, Grandmother, live?’

‘That’s the point,’ said Chancy, her eyes were full of tears as she stared unseeingly out of the car window. ‘Denise’s mother’ she sobbed and stopped to wipe her face. ‘We never kept in touch I’m afraid. I wanted a clean break from that life, and I knew she had no interest in Jemma, anyway. Funny kind of woman she was, never even turned up at the wedding. I only met her once, and that was when she was at a reception that Dennis and I went to just after we were first married. I don’t even know.’ She stopped and glanced worriedly at Tad, what would he think of her, not keeping in touch with Jemma’s grandmother ‘If she’s still alive, and my mum. Well,’ she took a deep breath and looked into his face trying to gauge his response. ‘She took off for Australia years ago, with a new spouse. I lived in a home from being ten years old.’

‘My God!’ said Tad, and turned his face away from her, worry clouded his normally sunny features. ‘What sort of life had this woman he loved, had? Tad came from a loving family and realised what Chancy was going through. There was no wonder she was worried sick about her daughter, she must be the only relative she had.’ He smiled warmly, trying his utmost to ease her worries. ‘Don’t fret love. We’ll find her,’ he said optimistically. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, as he tried to appear unworried about it, but beneath the sunny exterior he portrayed for Chancy’s sake, his feelings were very different. He didn’t want her any more upset than she was, ‘better to err on the bright side,’ he thought hopefully.

‘Lets go home, and see if she’s taken any of her things with her, that way we might come up with some ideas,’ he said, meanwhile thinking to himself as he spoke to Chancy. ‘If Jemma has, taken some of her clothes with her, she probably had a destination in mind. Perhaps she’s met a boy.’ Tad didn’t say a word about the thoughts that were racing through his brain to Chancy, as he sat driving them home.

When they arrived at the house he ushered Chancy upstairs. ‘You see if she’s taken any of her things with her Chancy, and I’ll phone the police, see what they have to say’ Chancy came down the stairs just as Tad had finished explaining to the police officer what had happened. ‘He would like to speak to you now love,’ he said, handing her the phone warily.

After a few preliminary questions, the police officer told her exactly what she had expected to here. As she was a teenager she had probably taken off with someone and would return in a couple of days. She placed the phone back on the cradle and walked wearily over to the settee, to sit with Tad.

’Oh Tad,’ she cried. Her face crumpled up and he pulled her to him, wrapping his strong arms tightly around her, as they sat together on the settee. ‘Why? Where would she go?’

’I know it’s not much to go on love, but at least she has taken some of her things with her, so.’ He shut up, because he didn’t know how to say what else had been on his mind. He didn’t want to upset her anymore. She looked at him, gazing into the soft brown eyes that gazed tenderly back at her, displaying his love. She knew he was trying to be kind, and comfort her, the tears streamed down her face unreservedly.

‘What you mean is,’ she swallowed hard, trying to get the words past the huge blockage that stuck in her throat. ‘That as yet, she’s not in some hedge bottom,’ then the tears came and great sobs wracked her body.

Tad held her gently, letting the tears flow. ‘It might help a bit,’ he thought sadly, now that her worst fears were out in the open.

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