There is silence, punctuated only by the sounds of people crying. Samuel is gone, and there is nobody left now to hug me. I look down to see that Sam’s mother has gripped my wrist in one hand, and is silently sobbing into a handkerchief. I squeeze her hand, but how can I comfort anyone when I feel so lost?
During the funeral, I stare aimlessly at the ground as I process what had happened twelve days ago.
Twelve days earlier:
“Excuse me,” says a woman in the restaurant, “is this seat taken?”
“Yes, it is,” I say immediately, placing my hand a little too possessively on the fourth chair at our table. The other three are occupied by myself, my sister Johanna, and her husband, Elijah.
“Oh, okay,” the woman says to me, before scurrying away.
Elijah laughs. “I think you scared her away.”
“Are you sure he’s coming, Holly?” Johanna asks, checking her watch, “We’ve been here for twenty-three minutes already.”
“He’ll be here,” I insist, “he’s never stood me up before.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Johanna mutters, and I glare at her.
“Try calling him,” Elijah suggests.
“Already have,” I groan, “twice. It went straight to voicemail.”
Elijah looks concerned. “You don’t think something happened to him, do you?”
My eyes widen. “What? No, no, of course not.”
Elijah nods sympathetically. “Okay, but Holly—“
“He’s coming!” I say firmly. Just then, my phone rings, and I look at my two companions pointedly. “See? There he is now.”
I answer the phone. “Sam! Finally, are you okay? Where are—?”
The voice on the phone isn’t Sam’s—it’s his mother’s. My heart drops into my stomach. Why is she calling?
“Mrs. Kingsley,” I say, trying to keep the panic out of my voice, “um, is everything okay? Do you know where Sam is? He was supposed to meet us—”
“I know, honey,” Mrs. Kingsley sounds scared, and my mouth suddenly feels dry.
“Something‘s wrong, isn’t it?” I say, my voice barely audible.
“Sam…” Mrs. Kingsley begins, and her voice breaks, “Sam had…an accident.”
I’m not aware that I’ve started to cry until Johanna stands up and wraps her arms around my shaking shoulders. I hold onto her, desperate for an anchor as Mrs. Kingsley tells me what happened.
“Yes, I-I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I stammer, and hang up. I look around at Johanna and Elijah. They’re both staring at me expectantly.
“H-he was in a car crash,” I whisper, my voice breaking, “They don’t know if…they don’t know if he’ll make it.”
Elijah looks as scared as I feel, and Johanna’s gone pale. “Come on,” she says, taking my hand, “I’ll drive.”
We get there fast, and Johanna grips my hand tightly, but I break free and sprint towards the fire. I need to know where he is, I need to know he’s alive.
“Holly!” I hear my sister scream, but I don’t stop. I’ve reached the crowd of people gathered around the car. I shove past them, trying to find any sign of Samuel, but all I see is his wrecked Mazda. The car is still burning, and from my close proximity, I can feel the heat.
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step back—“ a paramedic yells over the sirens, but I shake my head frantically.
“Please,” I gasp, “I need to see him!”
“Step away, ma’am!” the paramedic says again, more firmly, and suddenly I feel someone wrap their arms around me and start pulling me back. Elijah. I struggle against him, but his grip is too tight.
“Maybe they pulled him out,” I insist, my face wet with tears, “let me go!”
Johanna takes my other hand, forcing me back to the present. I look up at the sky, furious that the sky is a pure, cloudless blue. Samuel is gone. It should be raining. It should be pouring, the raindrops should be freezing and painful against my face and turn my cheeks numb. Samuel is gone. There should be a storm tonight, thunder booming and lightning flashing, because the world—my world—is crashing down around me.
Three and a half years later:
“I can’t believe that you’re 27 years old and you’ve never had fish and chips before,” Charlie says incredulously, as I stare at the huge plate of cod and fries in front of me.
I roll my eyes teasingly. “I guess I never really got the chance. Some of us don’t have the good fortune of being British, you know. Have I really been missing out?”
He looks at me as if I’ve just grown three heads. “Holly, you’ve definitely been missing out. Try it—I promise you it’s pure heaven.”
I laugh at his serious expression, and take a bite out of the fish. My eyes widen—he’s right. Pure heaven. It’s crispy of the outside, and soft and perfectly cooked on the inside. And it’s so flavorful. I think I’ve found my new favorite food.
“Oh my god,” I declare in disbelief, “I can’t believe I’ve never had fish and chips before.”
He chuckles, recognizing that I echoed his words from a few minutes ago. “I don’t like saying ‘I told you so’, but—“
I roll my eyes. “Don’t pretend. We both know it’s your favorite phrase.”
He laughs. “You know me too well.”
He reaches across the table and takes my hand. I remember how Samuel did this on our very first date. His hands were rough and calloused from years of work as a mechanic, but Charlie’s are smooth—being a corporate manager doesn’t require much hands-on work.
I shake my head slightly—I shouldn’t be thinking about Samuel on my honeymoon. Even though part of me will never stop believing I was supposed to be in London with him today, and even though Charlie’s a wonderful person, Sam is, and will always be, incomparable.
I watch as Charlie pushes his dark, stylishly messy hair out of his eyes—it’s a bit long at the front, so it has the tendency to flop over his forehead. That’s the only thing he has in common with Samuel.
Suddenly, he frowns at me. “Is everything okay?”
I’ve been staring at him for too long. “Yeah. Sorry.”
He chuckles. “No worries. Are you enjoying yourself?”
I nod. “I love this food.”
Charlie smiles, but I think I see a flicker of disappointment in his eyes. My heart sinks when I realize why—he thought I was going to say that I love him.
I sigh quietly. Charlie’s my husband—I love him, and I’ve told him that I love him. But being his wife, being Mrs. Clarke…it’s something I’m still getting used to. I had planned on becoming Mrs. Kingsley.
“I’ve always wondered,” I say, trying to diffuse the sudden awkwardness as I eat another fry, “why do British people call them chips?”
He shrugs. “Why do you call them fries?”
I laugh. “Because they’re fried.”
“Well, they aren’t French.”
I blink, taken aback by his logic. He leans back in his seat and grins at me triumphantly. I roll my eyes and look out the window, unable to think of a retort.
Suddenly, I frown. Am I hallucinating? I blink a few times and look back out the window. And I swear my heart stops. I’m dimly aware of Charlie saying my name, but I’m too shocked to answer.
“Holly? Sweetheart, is everything alright?”
I jump, startled, and look at him. “I have to go.”
He looks utterly bewildered. “What? But Holly—“
I don’t wait to hear whatever protests he has—I get up and run out the door. I frantically hit the button to cross the road, but when the light’s taking too long to turn green, I recklessly sprint across the street crowded with vehicles, almost getting run over by one of those double-decker buses in the process. Ignoring the various honks, beeps, and yelling directed my way, I finally see him.
I thought he was dead, but there he is, right in front of me on the street, smiling at me. We’re only a few feet away from each other, but my feet carry me closer to him as if they have a mind of their own.
“No,” I whisper, when I’m only inches away from him.
He smiles, that crooked smile he does, when only one corner of his mouth turns up and his grey eyes twinkle, producing an effect that makes my heart slam around in my chest. I’d thought I’d moved on, but seeing that smile again, being this close to him, makes me realize that I’d been fooling myself for three and a half years.
“You died,” I say stupidly.
“No,” he says quietly.
“You were in a car crash,” I insist, “You’re dead.”
“No, I’m quite sure I checked,” he says with a small laugh. I step back, suddenly furious. He has the nerve to make jokes right now?
Suddenly, I feel someone’s hand on my shoulder. I turn around and find Charlie standing behind me, looking so confused that I feel sorry for him.
“Who’s this?” he asks, his eyes darting between me and Samuel.
“He’s dead,” I say, crossing my arms.
Sam just shrugs and holds out his hand to Charlie for a shake. “Samuel Kingsley.”
Charlie’s jaw drops, and he doesn’t take Sam’s offered hand. “You…you’re Samuel?”
“The one and only,” he replies, with a winning smile. “Well,” he adds as an afterthought, “perhaps not the only, since there are 7.6 billion people in the world, and at least some of them are bound to be named Samuel Kingsley—“
He would have rambled on for god knew how much longer, but he’s interrupted by me slapping him across the face. Hard.
He winces, and his hand goes to his left cheek, which is already starting to bear a red mark.
“Damn, Holly,” he says, and he sounds…impressed? “You’re stronger than you look.”
I can only stare at him, baffled. “I don’t understand.”
“I never would have guessed,” Sam says cheerily, and offers me his arm. “Let’s walk around and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Excuse me,” says Charlie authoritatively, “I’m not letting my wife go anywhere with someone who’s meant to be dead.”
For the first time since our meeting, Samuel looks surprised. “Your wife?”
He raises his eyebrows at me and I nod, ignoring the pang of guilt I feel as I say, “We’re on our honeymoon.”
“Oh,” Sam says slowly, “I…I see.”
I look around helplessly. “Can we just…go somewhere? To figure this out? All of us?”
Samuel and Charlie both nod, and I take Charlie’s hand. Sam watches, but I can’t tell what he’s thinking—he has an excellent poker face.
“So,” Samuel says, once we’re eating fish and chips. Again. I don’t mind this part as much—having my favorite food twice in the same hour is never a bad thing.
I raise my eyebrows. “So?”
Sam casually pops a fry—or a chip—into his mouth. “I’m guessing you’re confused about what’s going on. Both of you,” he adds, with a slight nod towards Charlie.
“Really?” Charlie mutters, “What gave it away?”
I glare at my husband and wait for Sam to speak. When he doesn’t, I redirect my glare towards him instead. “Talk!” I order.
Sam points to his mouth, which is bulging with food, and I want to scream in frustration. I tap my foot impatiently and cross my arms, watching as he chews, swallows, and…reaches for his glass to take a sip of water. And my patience has ended.
“No!” I growl, snatching his glass away from him.
“Hey!” he protests.
I narrow my eyes at him. “You aren’t getting it back until you explain to me exactly what happened.”
He quirks a brow. “Are you really going to hold my glass of water hostage?”
“Can you hit him again?” Charlie asks me casually.
“Hey, now,” says Sam, “no need to be rude. And Holly, I see you reaching for that fork, please put it down before you do something you’ll regret.”
I smile at him innocently before viciously stabbing the fork into the fish. “Fine. But if you don’t start talking in the next five seconds—“
“Alright,” says Sam hastily, “So, as you know…three and a half years ago, I was supposed to meet you, Johanna and Elijah for dinner.”
“Yes, yes,” I say dismissively, “and you never showed up, and then your mom called me to say that you—” I stop talking, and to my surprise, I find myself holding back tears. I bury my head in Charlie’s shoulder. “Oh, god,” I groan.
Charlie squeezes my hand and wraps his arm around me. “And then?” he asks, looking at Sam.
When no response is forthcoming, I lift my head to see Sam looking at us awkwardly. “Well, the thing is…the whole car crash? It was staged. I had planned it all out months before.”
“What?” I screech, so loudly that half the people in the restaurant turn to stare at our table.
“Shhh!” Sam says reproachfully, “it’s still a secret!”
Charlie scoffs. “What, you mean you don’t want anyone else to know you’re alive?”
“Exactly!” Sam says, pointing at Charlie and looking pleased, “promise you won’t tell anyone?”
“You have my word,” Charlie says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
I clear my throat loudly and gesture for Sam to continue. “Why did you do it?”
My words are sharp and cutting, and I’m furious at him for leaving me. “What reason did you think was good enough for you to disappear and leave me grieving for three and a half years?”
Sam flinches. “It wasn’t meant to happen that way,” he says softly.
“Then what?” I demand, my voice breaking.
“I…I…” Sam stutters, looking from me to Charlie and back to me again.
“What?” I say again, a tear sliding down my face.
“I was going to propose to you!” he blurts out.
My jaw drops. In fact, a piece of fish falls out of my mouth, which is disgusting, but at the moment I’m too shocked to care. “I-I’m sorry?”
“The crash was fake,” Samuel explains, “you were supposed to think I was dead, then I would get out of the car and propose to you.”
He’s met with stunned silence from both of us. Charlie speaks first. “Look, mate, I know you were trying to be romantic…but there were a million better ways to propose.”
I snort. “Samuel Kingsley’s always had a dramatic flair. So what went wrong?” I ask, turning to him, “Why did nobody see you for three and a half years?”
“I was kidnapped,” he says casually.
Charlie chokes on his drink. “What?”
Sam shrugs. “The whole thing was a mess. When the car crashed, I was safe. I saw you, Holly, out the window. You were trying to get to me. And then things went wrong.”
I put my hand over my mouth. “You saw me?”
He nods. “I was about to get out of the car, but then everything went black. When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. My kidnappers thought I was descended from royalty. I told them I wasn’t, which is true, but they didn’t believe me. They kept me there for a few days before realizing that I’d been telling the truth. They wanted to kill me, but I convinced them to let me live, so they gave me a ticket to London and made me swear I wouldn’t contact anyone from my old life. So I didn’t, and I’ve been here this whole time. I wanted to call you, Holly…I really did. But they would have killed me.”
“I understand,” I say softly, “I’m just…I’m glad you’re not, you know…”
“Dead?” Sam supplies helpfully, “Me too.”
“Charlie,” I say, “I need to talk to Samuel for a while. Alone.”
Charlie nods, like he knew this was coming. He kisses my cheek before standing up and leaving the table.
Sam watches him go. “Are you happy with him?” he asks. He looks more serious now than any other time today.
I sigh. “I thought you were dead, Sam. It took me almost four years for me to move on. I’m so sorry, I-I should have—”
He reaches out and grasps my hand tightly. “None of this is your fault. It’s all mine. I couldn’t have expected you to wait.”
I bite my lip, blinking back tears. “I hope you find someone.”
“I already have,” he says softly, and the look in his eyes tells me he’s talking about me. “I’ll never look for anyone again. We weren’t meant to be, Holly…but you were the one.”
I open my mouth to reply, but he stands up. “I’ll see you around, Holly. I promise.”
I stand up, too, and he pulls me into a hug. I gasp, and bury my head into his chest, relieved beyond measure that he’s still here. “I thought I’d never feel your hugs again,” I admit.
Even though I’m not looking at him, I hear the smile in his voice as he replies quietly, “Me, too.”
Even though neither of us says it, we both know he has to go. After all, he can’t be seen with me. Talking to me, or anyone else he used to know.
“I know I can trust you to keep this a secret,” he murmurs.
I think of the look on his mother’s face at the funeral, and I know how hard it’s going to be for me to not tell her that her only child is alive. But I have to keep it a secret. For Samuel. For the man I loved, and who I still love.
I nod slightly. “Of course I will.”
He smiles sadly. “Close your eyes.”
I look up at him, confused, but I do as he says. And when I open them, he’s gone.