The Leaves Are Turning Brown – Chapter 19

The Saturday morning sun blasts through the open curtains.  It was so late when we came to bed that we didn’t bother closing them.   Mum came home a little after 11, just as we were climbing the stairs.  I said goodnight without coming down and we came to bed.  I roll over and snuggle up to the warm body next to me.  Jules is fast asleep and breathing steadily.  I wriggle backwards and out of bed to close the curtains, plunging the room into a sienna haze.  Climbing back into bed makes Jules stir, but I manage to snuggle back up to her and rest my head above hers on the pillow.

I lie like this for a good while, pondering the day, thinking about yesterday, and how much fun we had together.  I’m reminiscing of all the moments we shared in the past few days, splitting them up and replaying them one by one, watching each moment pass by from a different angle.

Morning’s like this are rare, even though we’re hiding out in the provinces, just lying next to each other, warm in bed.  I find I can think so clearly here with Jules, that my thoughts can meander and swarm around a theme without becoming hectic or confused.  For the first time in years my mind is calm and focused.  Even here in this blissful moment I start thinking about work, and have a mental breakthrough for a problem I’ve been experiencing, that’s eluded me thus far. I wish I had my computer here to take some notes and start working on it.  Jules stirs just a little and my mind falls back down to earth, back to this bed and back to being wrapped up in this duvet.

As with all lie-in’s the physical requirements of a body get in the way, so I wriggle out and head down to the bathroom.  Looking in the mirror I see myself looking back.  Apart from messy hair and needing a shave I don’t look too bad.  I feel a little bit muzzy from the wine we drank after the days adventures, and drinking, but generally feel clear and calm.

When I get back upstairs Julie is sitting up in bed, smiling at me.  She beckons me back to the bed by reaching her hand out sideways.  I oblige and get back under the covers, sliding up next to her, feeling her smooth skin against mine under the covers.

“Let’s go out for breakfast, I’m starving.  Shame on you for not cooking me dinner!” she jumps out of bed and giggles.  She grabs her towel from the chair and wraps it around herself, then goes out of the room.  A few moments later I hear the shower running, and just catch the sound of some truly terrible, but lovely nonetheless, singing.  A smile comes over my face and I lean back, relaxing into the middle of the double bed.  I close my eyes for a moment.

“Hey! Hey! Sleepy face! Get. Up.” Jules wiggles my toe and I sit up with a start. I didn’t feel myself slip off to sleep, but the warm duvet and pillow that smells of her embrace me, reminding me of why I dozed off again.  I get up and head down, showering and washing, then return to dress.

Downstairs my mum is reading the paper in the conservatory, her usual cup of tea of the table next to her, getting cold through neglect.  I lean down and kiss her cheek, saying good morning.  She motions me to join her, as Jules comes in.  They greet each other casually and we all sit down.  The toast is cold, but the tea in the pot is still drinkably warm.

“Any plans for today?” mum asks, looking up from the paper briefly.

“Nothing really, might go for a walk across the meadows, or back up into town.  What do you think?” I ask, looking over at Jules, who is engrossed in spreading margarine and marmite on her toast.

“Sure, the weather looks good.  Let’s go for a walk, get some fresh air”.

After we have had some tea we layer up our clothes and head out, cutting down the back streets again, and heading up over the railway tracks, out into the wilderness.  We are a mile down the track in no time, passing through the small village and walking silently up the dual carriageway, our pace quickening to get away from the deafening blast of the cars.  We only walk a few hundred metres and find ourselves in the woods, atop the hill, looking back down over the town.  It looks like a model town from up here, with only the bare hint of movement adding to the illusion.  I put my arms around Jules as she stands against a fence, and kiss her neck.  She takes my hand and we walk across the top of the hills, avoiding the mud and climbing a few fences.  The air is so clear up here, and the only sound is the dull hum of the road down below, with the occasional engine sound from a motorbike or lorry.

All the time we walk we are hand in hand, Jules leading the way on our aimless stroll.  I check the time and see that we’ve been out here for two hours already, and have walked a fair distance.  I suggest we head down to the small suburban centre just below us, where we can get a snack, or more if she’s hungry.  Coming down the hill is great fun.  When we hit a steep part we both break into a trotting run, keeping control and trying not the slip in the soft soil.

As we approach the small parade of shops below the illusion of being a model is broken by the people and cars, moving around purposefully on this weekend morning.  We find a small cafe and I have a coffee, Jules a diet coke.  I order some chips and we pick at them, but I’m not really hungry and Jules eats most of them.

As we leave through the open door I see several glimmers split off and go in different directions.  I pause and Jules stops just in front of me.

“Wait a minute” I say with some urgency, which changes Julie’s expression instantly. “Something’s happening, but I can’t quite see yet”.

I follow each glimmer, watching one break into a run and head back towards the hills. Another walks calmly towards the main road.   The others are pale and difficult to make out.  I pull Jules away and walk calmly towards the road, following this glimmer at a distance.  I watch it ducking between people and keeping a steady pace.  All of a sudden it stops and breaks left, running alongside the shops windows and out the end, where I lose sight as it goes behind the bank.  I pull Jules along, following the path.  At the point where the glimmer started to run I look around and see a man running toward us.  I push Jules hard towards the windows and she picks up the pace quickly, running.  Just as we reach the bank hands push me sideways and I trip, falling into the building, grazing my knuckles and hitting my knee.  I stand up and run forward, watching Jules ahead of me.  I glance behind me and there is the man from the train, the one who was hunting for me.

As I turn the corner the black car comes into view.  I watch the other man grabbing Jules and pushing her into the car, and again I feel the hands behind me, pushing me towards the wall.  I fall again and just about make it to my feet when I see the two men get into the front seats.  I hear the engine rev and pull out into the main road.  I run as it speeds off down the road, watching it fade into the rest of the traffic and disappear out of sight.

Exhausted, I double over to catch my breath.  The car was heading for the ring road, and there’s no way I can catch it.  I turn around to see if anyone noticed, but this end of the parade is empty.  I turn back, hoping to see the car again, or see Jules, but I see neither.  They are both gone.  I saw the glimmer run but didn’t react.  I saw myself see what I saw 30 seconds later.  I could’ve run sooner, or changed direction.  What had I done? What would they do to Jules?  My heavy breath is still sharp and fast as I try to work out what I can do.  I feel pathetic, weak and useless. No, I need to get moving.  I know where they’ll be taking Jules.  I need to get there.

In moments I’m walking along the main road towards the bus stop.  It takes two buses and a walk to get back to the house.  When I walk in my mum is still there, relaxing in the warmth of the midday sun. She senses my anxiety and asks me what’s going on.  I can’t not tell her. If nothing else, the absence of Jules is so obvious that I couldn’t possibly lie my way out of this.  I tell my mum as much as she needs to know, and as much as I can tell her without leading to more questions.  She understands what I say, even though it is quite far fetched.  She stands up and walks to the hallway, taking her car keys from her purse and putting them in my hand.  She leans forwards, hugs me, kisses me on the cheek.

“Take these, get your things, and go after her.  My car will be faster than the bus or train.  Go, fetch that girl back”.  I look into my mum’s eyes and see her understanding.  I say thank you and run upstairs, grabbing anything I can see of ours.  I run back down, waving and shouting my love to mum, before getting in her car and reversing back out of the drive.  I know these roads well and am quickly out on the main road heading back to town.  I know how long it will take to get to the country estate, and what route to take.  I wish I could go faster, but I’m pushing the limit already.  The radio is tuned to a classical station, which is ideal for driving at speed.  I can think of only one thing. I must get Jules back, get her to safety.  I can’t think of anything beyond that.  I speed on in the fast lane, replaying the moments before we ran, the moments before the glimmer ran, examining what I could have done differently.

How did they find us? They must have found out my old address, or found my mum’s and assumed I’d come here.  We had two trouble-free days, so it makes sense.  That’s how long it would probably take me to find out what options I had, and then make my way to the most obvious of the possibilities.

The car’s engine roars as I stay in the fast lane, keeping pace with the faster cars, filled with businesspeople and the odd white van, hurtling along faster than it should.  We approach the junction I need and I pull across, keeping up the speed as the turn becomes sharper.  I’m back on smaller roads now, and at the mercy of the slower cars ahead.  Still I maintain focus.  I know where to go, but I still haven’t thought about what to do when I get there.

The fear and panic is rising in me.  It’s like it used to be, feeling the anxiety of all my thoughts racing.  I can feel myself hyperventilating and open the window to get some fresh and loud air.  This time the fear is different though.  My thoughts aren’t messy and disorganised, they are all focused on one thing, Jules.  I have to get to her, set her free and take her far away, where they won’t find us.

A stray thought comes into my mind and flitters about amongst the others.  What if I am hallucinating all of this.  What if the things I’ve seen and felt recently are all a part of a complete breakdown, and I am descending into insanity, not at the leisurely pace I thought about, when I thought about the care home, but at full speed. I feel a sharp pang of fear that this is all a construct of my psyche.

No, those men were real. Esther was real.  These things happened.  The glimmers I could pass off, but those men took Jules away.  That happened.  They took me to see Esther and I was knocked out.  That must have happened, it was too visceral.  But is that not the way with true insanity, it seems so rational and realistic on the inside.  Only when viewed from the high ground of sanity, does a madman look truly lost.

I turn off through the small hamlet, just a side road in a cluster of houses,  I step on the accelerator as I career down ever-shrinking roads.  I’ve been here just once but in my heightened state I know I am going the right way.  I can feel the path ahead of me.

I turn onto the drive and, without the fear of oncoming traffic, floor the accelerator and hammer the car up to the big house in the distance.  The wheels scream on the loose stones and I skid on every turn, barely holding the car on the road.  There’s no way they won’t be able to hear me coming, but I still have no plan, and so don’t think about it. All I can think of is Jules, beautiful, frightened, Jules.  The wheels lock outside the large front portico and I skid sideways.  The main door is open and I’m running towards it before I can think.  Still at full running pace, I rush in.