Ghosts of the Past

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt


Drama Sad Thriller

WARNING: Rape and abuse themes towards the end, read with discretion and please stay safe <3

The cool breeze lifted the hem of the starched white tablecloth, making it flutter gently against my calf. Half of me didn’t think I should be here, in a beautiful restaurant I’d wrangled for me and Tom. The night was clear and balmy, so a table on the rooftop terrace was given to us, with a spectacular view of the beach and the ships passing in the distance. My treat, seeing as I was visiting him for a couple of weeks, and seeing as I had regular income.

We’d been together for about a month or two, since we’d met in the early summer, in a chance encounter in the small French town where I lived. I’ve no idea what made me go that particular way that day, but something did, and I ran into him. Literally ran into him. I was running along, choosing a song on my phone. Didn’t see him step out from the bushes. Knocked the GoPro out of his hands while he was mid-sentence, caught it, he caught me, I went down, he tried to keep hold of me, realised where his hands were, tried to let me go without dropping me, ended up almost on top of me, almost face-planted my face. But didn’t. It all happened in a matter of seconds, but honestly, it felt like slow motion. Anyway, he looked angry until our eyes met, and then the anger subsided to completely understandable ‘slightly pissed-off’. He got off me.

“I am SO sorry,” I’d said, flustered. I pulled my headphones down around my neck. I was sweaty, wearing barely anything (tight-fit running shorts and a running singlet), and my face now beetroot not just from exertion, but also from the shame. I was still holding his GoPro. “I didn’t see you…”

“You were looking at your phone, of course you didn’t,” he grumbled, but regardless he picked up my phone where it lay among the rocks, thankfully unscathed.

“Swap you?” I said, trying some humour. I held out his GoPro. “I’m really sorry. This way’s never usually busy… Especially not at…” I checked my Garmin, pausing it from tracking my run. “Eight on a Sunday morning.”

“That’s why I’m out here.” He took his GoPro, I took my phone. “Because I don’t want loads of people.”

“You’ve got a good few hours, then.” I tapped my phone against my palm. It didn’t really feel right to just run off. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“No, no… I’m alright. It’s alright.” He turned the GoPro off after inspecting it, and seemed pleased enough. “You? You’re not hurt? You took a tumble.” He was looking at my knee. I knew something was off from the faint trickle I could feel. I looked down. I felt sick.

“Well… I mean…” There was a gash in my knee caused by the sharp rocks on the trail I ran irregularly, because I fucking hated the hills. And the sharp rocks. “Yeah that’s kind of bad…” I tried to laugh it off.

“Sit down?” he gestured to the grassy knoll beside us and pulled his backpack off. He rifled through it and found some tissues and a bottle of water. “Here.” He was about to start cleaning me up himself, I realised, but then handed the stuff to me.

“Thanks…” I cleaned my skin with a dry tissue first, and then a wet one. The gash was deep, and now the initial terror of knocking into a (rather handsome) stranger had worn off, I felt a deep throbbing in my leg. Not my knee joint, thankfully, but the outer edge of it. “Shit, that’s deep…”

“You really should get that looked at.”

“That’s the most British thing anyone’s said to me in about a year,” I murmured, and he laughed. The sound made my heart flutter. “What?”

“You’re not a tourist, then?”

“No. I live here. Not too far, actually.” I gestured vaguely in the direction of home.

“You’re… French?”

“No. British. Mais, je parle Français parfaitement. I’m an expat. I commute up to Lille.”

“Makes sense. I was thinking your English is flawless.”

“Haha, thanks,” I chuckled, shaking my head. “Right… I don’t think this is going to stop bleeding on its own. I should probably head home.”

“Let me take you?” he asked, looking at me. “I’m done with what I was doing here.”

“Which was?” I asked. Nosey, I know, but I couldn’t help it. It was the first time in months that I’d actually spoken the English language for longer than a quick ‘hello, how are you, do you speak French’ kind of thing.

“Oh – I was filming some ancient graveyard things that have been found. Really interesting. For YouTube.”

“Sounds cool,” I murmured, standing. My knee didn’t want to bear weight, and I fell. He caught me again. Massive fucking cliché.

“Alright, you’re alright. You can’t walk home.”

“I suppose not,” I replied. “Sorry about this…”

“Don’t be. I should have checked the path before stepping out.” He slung his backpack onto his back and helped me along the path. “I’m so sorry – I didn’t catch your name.”

“I didn’t give it to you,” I smiled, leaning on him. “Amelia.”

“Tom,” he smiled. “Do you live close by?”

“Close enough. Fifteen minutes, or twenty at this hop.”

“I have a car.”

“Oh. Then ten minutes. Fifteen if you want to swing by the bakery on the way.”

“Is that a request?”

“I’ll pay you for your services in breakfast? Fresh croissants and baguette with jam, ‘ow can you resist zes charms?” I put on a French accent, and he laughed.

“Alright. Deal.”

“They do good drinks, too.”

We stopped off at the bakery, picked up croissants and a pain au chocolat, a baguette, a pot of strawberry jam fait à main, and some freshly-pressed apple juice, then headed back to my (thankfully clean) home. Tom seemed nice enough, carrying everything in while I hopped along. My knee didn’t like to stay bent much, so I kept it straight. I offered him plates and cups while I pieced my knee back together and dug out a bandage. He advised hospital, and I told him I’d go to the doctor tomorrow morning. To make the point, I made an urgent appointment in French. He seemed impressed.

We ate, and chatted, and with a bit of ice on my knee the swelling went down enough that I was at least able to take a shower without crumbling. Tom took advantage of a reliable internet connection (apparently not available on his phone’s reception) to take care of some of the work he’d planned to do. I know, I know. Odd to let a complete stranger sit in your living room while you go shower, but he insisted that he stay to make sure I didn’t fall and die. And he had stuff to do, too, so we both won.

My knee was miles better in the evening, so three hours before his Eurostar was due to leave, I bought us dinner, and at the end of the night we swapped phone numbers and the first text I got off him was ‘I’m home. Thanks again for a lovely day!’, in true British style. And that was actually our first date.

Our second date was in London, where I was for a long weekend with some friends two weeks later.

Our third date was on the beach in Brighton, where we spent the day together.

Our fourth, and latest, is here. In Worthing, of all places. But it’s a sweet town, I like it. It’s quiet.

Tom and I kept in touch over FaceTime. It was lovely. We’d usually FaceTime in the morning, and then we’d sit quietly and bounce ideas off each other when I worked from home, and he was replying to emails or researching. I am an English teacher in a boarding school, but as I teach mainly the first years, I don’t get to speak much English outside the basics. And, I’m part-time, so I only have to commute up to Lille on Mondays, stay until Wednesday, and then I’m scot-free until the following Monday. It’s lovely. I therefore spend my time writing – both freelance and novel.

The school holidays afforded me two weeks with Tom, and I loved every second of it. Worthing wasn’t on my radar of places to visit in the UK, being a Northerner, so it was a shock to me how beautiful the south was. Brighton had been stunning, too, but Worthing was more liveable, if that makes sense.

All of this to tell you that we were getting to know each other better and better, and I was terrified at the direction our conversations were inevitably taking.

I hadn’t realised Tom had returned from the bathroom, I was so lost in thought. It was only when he touched my hand that I looked back at him.

“I said, are you alright?”

“Yeah. Yes, sorry, I was daydreaming.”

“Ah,” his face resumed his usual contentedness. “The waiter’s coming over in a second. What are you having?”

Choosing seafood at a seafood restaurant was easy. I picked fish and chips, and mushy peas. We shared a starter, and a dessert. But after we’d finished dessert, and I’d taken care of the bill, the dreaded question I’d avoided came.

“You’ve never spoken about where you’re from,” he said softly, in response to my query about his mum’s recent birthday. “There’s only so much that happens in Nottinghamshire.”

“There’s not much to tell, really.”

“Come on. I don’t know anything about your family. You’ve practically met mine.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t have a family.”

“Oh…” There was a moment of silence. I was trying to figure out where to start, he thought they’d all died and he’d dragged up some trauma. “Amelia… I’m so sorry –“

“No, no, I’m just… okay. I don’t have a family by choice, first.” He relaxed visibly. “Second… it’s not something I like to talk about. I haven’t spoken to any of them for…” a quick count of the years in my head. “Fifteen years.”


“I left home for Uni when I was eighteen, as normal. I funded myself, worked two jobs, got my own loans, all that. I went home for Christmas, and it was like I was an alien. I hadn’t realised how small-minded my town was until I’d been surrounded by open-minded people.” Tom nodded. I guess he felt the same. “Anyway, my father was abusive and had grown more so because my mother had ‘let me leave’, and my mum blamed me because I’d done it on my own.”

“Surely your mum can’t be –“

“Let me stop you there. My father was abusive. I missed off ‘to me’. He loved her to bits, he fucking hated it when I came along and ruined her biological clock for a bit.” I shrugged. “He hated me. He never wanted kids, see – my mum didn’t either, but apparently the condom broke and here I am.” I gave a dark smile. “An unhappy and unwanted accident. Anyway, mum couldn’t get an abortion because that wasn’t the done thing, and anyway there was apparently a point where my mum actually did want me because the sonographer said I was a boy. They bought everything blue, painted my room blue, boy toys, boy clothes, all of it… and then out pops baby girl me. My father’s reluctant happiness at a boy to teach football to, and all that shit, died. My mum’s ‘big strong boy’ couldn’t really be a ‘big strong girl’, and so it was back to hating me. I don’t understand the logic either.” I licked my lips. “Anyway, whatever I did was wrong. Good grades? Try hard little bitch who thinks she’s better than everyone else. Bad grades? Lazy little shit who does nothing. Awards in school? Meh, whatever, could be better. No awards? Not doing hard enough, try harder, I should be more like the other kids. I was always too fat or too thin, depending on the mood of the week. I wasn’t allowed friends, and at the age of eleven I was a glorified fucking house elf, cooking and cleaning and washing and ironing. I couldn’t watch TV, or play games, or go outside to play.

“Fast-forward to university, and I was a beaten-down mess. I was my father’s punching bag, usually because he’d done some incorrect maths and determined that I’d cost him millions over the eighteen years I’d been alive. I’d reminded him one time that he couldn’t have had millions because he only earned thirty grand a year, and that had earned me a beating so hard I thought I was going to die.” I swallowed. Tom looked horrified. I was fully aware that this was trauma dumping, but I’d started. He’d broken the seal, and now the water wouldn’t stop. “I managed to escape to my room, and he knocked the door in and carried on until my mum came in and stopped him. That’s why I left for Uni in secret. I packed what I could, and I left.” Now came the hardest part.

“Jesus, Amelia…” Tom ran his hand through his hair. “I’m so sorry.”

“That’s not the worst part. I went home after I’d graduated because I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and my mum had called me and told me I could go home because they could use rent money. I went, and…” I was balling the tablecloth up in my hands. “I… I went back…” I screwed my eyes up. I had to tell him. He needed to know because he needed to know why I held back so much with everything. “Maybe… maybe we can walk for a bit?” Tom nodded. He stood, I stood, and we left the restaurant for a walk along the well-lit promenade. We got there in silence, only the waves crashing against the sand and some seagulls overhead filling that void. Tom let me take his arm.

“You don’t have to tell me, you know.”

“I do. Because I want you to know why I can’t bring it up again, why I won’t be taking you to meet my parents… why I might wake up screaming in the middle of the night if we get serious, or why I might take months to let you in properly.” I stopped on the sea’s edge, the tiny waves touching the tips of my trainers.


“My father raped me.” The words hung there, huge and obnoxious and disgusting and obtuse and imposing. Tom didn’t breathe. His jaw fell slack, and he looked at me for a moment. “Repeatedly.” That word subtitled the rest, but was as imposing. I don’t know why being at the seashore made those words a little easier to get out, but it did. As though the sea air blew them away. As though the vastness of the sea was bigger than those words, those traumatic times when my father violated every single boundary a father should have with his daughter. As though the sky, turning an inky black as the sun set, could swallow up all of my history and erase it from existence.

I hadn’t realised I was sobbing until a warm, strong pair of arms wrapped around me, and a kiss was pressed to my temple.

“I am so, so sorry,” Tom said softly. “I won’t ask about it again. I promise. But you’re worth so much more than all of that. Honestly.”

“I can never live in the UK, Tom,” I cried against his hoodie. “They always find me and they always make my life hell. I don’t know how they find me, but they do.”

“That’s why you moved to France?”

“Yeah. Neither of them have passports. They can’t afford them.” I wiped my eyes. “But I can’t live here, Tom. Shit!” I pushed back, away from him. “That’s why this won’t work! Never mind me being barricaded in a mental fortress, but I can’t move back here! And I can’t expect you to move your life to fucking Normandy for me. That won’t work.”

“Maybe not right now, but there’s no reason it couldn’t in the future.” His voice was quiet, but his eyes were sincere. “I don’t want this to end for the sake of having to cross the English Channel. I can work remotely, and the Eurotunnel’s cheap enough to get to London in a pinch. And hey, if you’re here for a couple of weeks while the schools are out, then you’re not technically moving back here.” He smiled at me, and it was reassuring. “France or England… it can work if you want it to. You deserve happiness too.”

“You’re right, aren’t you?”

“I am. I’m always right.” He kissed me softly. “Don’t let the ghosts of your past haunt you, Amelia. They’re just that. Ghosts.”

“Ghosts,” I murmured, leaning into him.

With every crash of the waves, I felt my heart relax a little. Tom’s warmth radiated through me, and I felt whole. He was right. My past was my past. Traumatic as it was, it didn’t need to rule my future. My family was my friends, my running buddies, my schoolkids who adored me… and Tom. Tom was my family, too.

And he still is. 

June 18, 2021 23:57

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Marie Bishop
12:39 Jun 23, 2021

Ahh this is so well handled. I really enjoyed the story even though the themes were dark. Awesome as always Amy.


Amy Jayne Conley
18:15 Jun 23, 2021

Thank you so much Marie! <3 I stepped outside my comfort zone for this one. Thanks for reading! xx


Marie Bishop
20:41 Jun 23, 2021

Its always good to do that, you learn more when you do.


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Zelda C. Thorne
08:06 Jun 19, 2021

I think you handled a dark subject very well here. A good mix of cute romance at the beginning, moving on to her traumatic reveal. I really felt the emotions, I was angry for her, so happy that he accepted it and still fought for their relationship. There's always that fear that if you reveal your past trauma, everyone will run away. Well done.


Amy Jayne Conley
10:22 Jun 20, 2021

Thanks so much for reading! <3 There's an element of truth to this. I've revealed trauma to 'friends' before now (not to the extent of Amelia's trauma, but trauma nonetheless) and those friends have run away, but I've also had friends who have absolutely stuck by me - kind of like 'I appreciate you more because I see your true strength now' kind of deal.


Zelda C. Thorne
12:59 Jun 20, 2021

I'm sorry to hear that. There's too much trauma in the world. And Yes, real friends stick around. 👍


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Shea West
05:15 Jun 19, 2021

The first interaction between the two was so believable and fun, in the way love at first sight people accidentally meet one another. I think you captured something here, that moment when you're dating and you're asked about your secrets. The exchanging of secrets sort of symbolizes the "next step," doesn't it? Amelia drops a big one on him...and he takes it in stride. So yes, this was sad but also there it's a tiny little love story hidden in all the awful to me. The kind of love that says, "I know your secrets, and I love you." Well done!


Amy Jayne Conley
10:15 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you so, so much! <3 This means so much to me! You got it in one - definitely a love story, but also as you say, 'I know your secrets and I love you'. It's that unconditional 'I love you with your flaws because they make you, you' kind of deal I've come to learn is so key to stability and happiness! Thanks again!


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