By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.
(Images courtesy her campus.com and etsy)
Meredith filled the kettle from the tap at the kitchen sink. The view outside the window was obscured by the driving snow. On any other day, Meri would have thought it was picturesque but today it felt bleak and oppressive. She was trapped inside her tiny cottage with nothing to do. She hadn’t even been able to take her customary walk into town for a coffee. The daily ritual provided her with more than just exercise, it gave her the chance to meet her new neighbors, to become a familiar face in the small college town that she had called home since the start of the fall semester.
The water overflowed in the kettle while she was staring at the snow. She poured some of it back out and dried her hands. She used to love the way her Gran made tea. The igniter on the gas stove would tick, tick, tick until the flame caught and whooshed up from the burner. Gran would set the kettle to boil and reach for the tea tin, the one Meredith still used to store her tea bags. Her Gran had used loose tea –Ceylon– and she’d spoon a measure of the leaves into her small ceramic pot, pour the boiling water over them and put on the lid. Exactly four minutes later, with the gentle scent of the brew wafting up on the steam, she would fill a small cup for Meredith and a larger one for herself. Meredith sighed at the memory as she switched on the electric kettle and put a tea bag in her mug.
When it was ready, she settled onto the sofa with her book. As she sipped, she found herself reading the same sentences over and over, unable to concentrate. It had been six months since she had left her flat in the city. Left Rob. Well, that was an exaggeration, now wasn’t it? There wasn’t really anything to leave, was there? She hadn’t had the courage to tell him how she felt. They’d circled each other like a couple of prize fighters waiting for the other one to make the first move. In the end, when the semester finished at City University, it was like the bell rang, signaling the end of the match, with the result being a “no decision.”
Meredith’s reverie was broken by pounding on the door. Who the devil would be out in this weather? “I’m coming!” she shouted, setting her cup down on the side table.
The wind gusted as she opened the door, leaving a fine coating of snow on the entryway floor. The shivering figure of the postman stood on the front stoop.
“Charlie! For goodness’ sake, come in, won’t you?” Meredith said, standing aside to admit the older man. “I know you have to go out in all kinds of weather, but this is taking it a little far, don’t you think?”
Charlie chuckled. “No worries, Miss Miles. You’re my last delivery. I’ll be heading home now.” He handed her a bundle of letters and a small package. “I thought I should get these to you right away. It’s looks like there might’ve been a problem forwarding your mail from your old address. Some of these are months old. Figured you shouldn’t have to wait any longer for them. Just in case they were important.”
“Thank you Charlie, you’re very kind.”
“Right, well. I’ll be going then, Miss,” he said, ducking back out into the storm.
Meredith thumbed through the envelopes, some of them junk mail. She tossed these aside. The remaining three envelopes had caught her attention. United States postmark, return address, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sent by David W.Jennings, her cousin, her closest living relative. Damn, why hadn’t she just given him her e-mail? The first one had been sent shortly after they had met at the gravesite of her great grandfather, David’s great granduncle. The next one, a month later and the last one just a few weeks ago. She found her letter opener and slit open the one dated May 1st.
It was such an unexpected pleasure meeting you last week. I wanted to express my thanks for your taking the time to fill in some of the gaps in my family history. I also very much enjoyed getting to know you as well. The tour of the Flanders region was an extremely moving experience. Again, I thank you for spending your afternoon with me.
I hope this isn’t too forward of me, but I felt a real connection to you and would like to pursue a friendship. As we are the only two left of our small extended family, I thought perhaps you would welcome the idea. Business will bring me to England in the late summer. Maybe we could meet for dinner? I’d be delighted to spend a few extra days in the country, if you have some free time. You mentioned that you taught at City University? Would you be between semesters then? I’m not familiar with how the British education system works, forgive me! Anyway, I’ll wait to make my arrangements until after I’ve heard from you. If it’s too much trouble or not a good time, I will understand.
Meredith sighed. What a shame. The letter had missed her by a few days at the most. The next one, dated a month later was a greeting card with a quick message.
Hi, Meredith, Just a quick follow up. I need to make my plans for August and was checking to see if we are able to get together? Best regards, David
Finally, the last one, dated August 17th.
I’m trying one last time to get in touch with you. I went to the address you had given me, on the outside chance my correspondence hadn’t reached you. Much to my dismay, I found out that you had moved. Fortunately, one of your neighbors was home and saw me knocking on the door and told me that you’d been gone since the end of May. I assume my first letter didn’t make it in time. If, after this note, I don’t hear from you, I will take it to mean that you do not wish to correspond. I truly hope this is not the case. I’m including my e-mail address so that you may reply (or not) right away. Sorry to be a bother.
Meredith looked at her watch. It would be the wee hours of the morning on the east coast of the United States. If she sent David an e-mail now, he would see it as soon as he checked his mail this morning. She went to the desk in the corner and powered up her laptop. While the machine booted, she tore open the paper on the small package. A handwritten note wrapped a small gift box. She set the note aside and opened the lid to reveal an antique locket. She opened the delicate hinge to see two tiny portraits inside. The faded images were of a pair of little boys. Meredith reached for the note and read:
I thought of you when I found this among my father’s things. It belonged to our great great grandmother and the photos within are of her sons, Frederick and William, our great grandfathers when they were little boys. As the last of the women in our family line, I wanted you to have this. Enjoy. Love, David
Her eyes brimmed with tears. What a sweet man her third cousin was. The poor dear had probably given up hope of hearing from her. Well, it was time to make that right. She opened the e-mail and began.
I am so sorry…