Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1) (6 page)

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
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James jumped. Without hesitation he fumbled in his pocket for his car keys, “I’m not letting her go. I don’t deserve more. Anna’s it. The one I want to spend the rest of my life with. That’s my choice. I love her more than you could possibly imagine. And neither of you know me if you think I’m going to sit here and let her go.” James spat out the words before he spun on his heel and jogged up the driveway.

Justin watched as his best mate fell apart. They’d been friends forever, since before they knew what girls were. And he could read the pain on James face. He hadn’t even bothered to hide it.

Forcing the lump in his throat down, Justin couldn’t help but feel like something bad was about to happen. There was a gnawing in the pit of his stomach that he couldn’t ignore. The horrible feeling of knowing. Of suspecting. Of dreading. The kind of knowing you can feel deep down inside of you. That same knowing of what was right and what was wrong. And clearly this was wrong.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Anna climbed out of the taxi and dashed inside. She felt weak in the knees as she staggered into the hotel. Anna realised that if she was going to go through this she needed a drink. A stiff one. Quickly she stumbled into the bar and perched herself on a stool.

“Hello, Miss. What can I get you?” a gravelly voice casually asked.

“A vodka soda, thanks,” Anna replied without even looking up.

Silently he poured the drink and sat it in front of her. Anna raised her eyes and then she saw him—the man who had thrown her completely off balance at the gym earlier this morning. “Hi,” he grinned, flashing the perfect white teeth.

Anna felt the blood rush to her face and she was at a loss as to what to do or even say. Eventually she managed to splutter, “Hi.” Her mouth was dry and a lump had mysteriously developed in her throat.

“Wanna talk about it?” he pried.

“Excuse me?”

“Something is obviously bothering you. I can see it in your eyes. Talk to me,” he invited, whipping off his apron and sitting down beside her. “I’m on my break.”

“No thanks. I’m fine,” Anna murmured, gulping down her drink. She stood up. As she approached the door, she couldn’t help but look back and see if he was still watching her.

Trent’s eyes were fixed on her, tracking her every movement. Anna turned away and disappeared out the door, her heart in a flutter. Just the idea someone thought she was worth watching made her head spin. But it hurt her to think that someone wasn’t the man she was supposed to marry.

By the time she was throwing her clothes into her bag, the tears were flowing constantly. She was determined to not be in the room when James got back. She knew it would be too hard to face him. Anna kept telling herself that if she just vanished he would forget; he’d give up. But the idea of seeing him had Anna trembling. The hard reality of saying that dreaded goodbye made her shake with fear. She knew this was going to hurt like hell.

Ciao. Au revoir. Adieu. Adios. Bon voyage. Farewell. Goodbye. Anna knew they were the hardest words in the world to say. They were the words that hurt the most. They cut deeply into the soul, scarring it for life in a way that it can never recover. Those are the words that you remember forever. They are the closure you dread; the words that can break your heart. Anna knew it didn’t really matter which language they were in; they still held hurt all the same. They were the words Anna had spent her whole life avoiding. And now if she could only run fast and far enough she could avoid them once again.

She slid into the driver’s seat of her car, her cheeks stained with mascara, her eyes puffy and red from the non-stop crying. The only way Anna could keep her hands firmly locked on the steering wheel was by chanting to herself ‘no matter how much it hurts, in the end it is the right thing to do, for both of us.’

 

***

 

James

 

James sped through the traffic, barely even slowing to take the corners. He flew out of the car and ran up the stairs, not even bothering to take the lift. He came to a screeching halt before he opened the suite door.
What the hell will I do if I’m too late?
he asked himself. Slowly, he creaked open the door. No sign of her. He raced in and pulled open the wardrobe door; James’s worst fears were confirmed. She was gone. He was too late. He was too late to save her. He was too late to fight to get her back. He slumped to the floor and stared. He didn’t cry. He didn’t whimper. He just sat in all consuming silence as his heart broke.

Someone had once told James that if the world disappoints, the best thing to do was to look at it from a different angle. Now he was sitting on the floor in silence, looking at the world from a different angle. Anna had left in such a hurry; she had left one of her running shoes lying on the ground.
That is so
Cinderella
of her
, James thought miserably. That is when he saw the note, leaning against the vase in the centre of the table.

James leapt up and grabbed the envelope before sitting down crossed-legged on the floor. He was too terrified to open it. He just sat there, staring at it. On the front, written in Anna’s familiar scrawl, was his name. A knock at the door startled him and brought him crashing back down to earth. Predictably, in walked Justin.

“You okay?” Justin asked, wincing. He had followed James back to the hotel.

“She left a note,” James said, waving it in front of Justin’s face.

“What does it say?” Justin asked.

“I can’t open it. What if it says she doesn’t love me? How the fuck am I supposed to deal with that shit? I would have given her the world. I would have done anything for her and it still wasn’t enough. She still didn’t love me enough to stay,” James babbled.

“Open it,” Justin ordered.

Slowly James ripped it open. He pulled out a piece of pink paper and just stared blankly at it. Cautiously he unfolded it, careful not to tear it.

 

James, I love you so much, but you deserve better. To be fair, I decided the easiest way for us to say goodbye was simply for me to disappear. I will always love you and I promise I will never forget you.

I’m yours always, Anna.

 

It was as if the letter had turned a tap on inside James. Now tears were gushing out, running down over his cheeks. Justin fell to the floor beside him and clamped a hand on his shoulder. James had been crushed. Anna had left him devastated and now, Justin had no idea what to say or how to comfort him.

“Justin, where the fuck is she? I need to find her. Please. Help me,” James begged, lifting his head up slowly and looking straight into Justin’s shocked eyes.

“She really didn’t say all that much. Mainly she said she’d disappear to make it easier on you. Make it easier for you to let her go.” Justin tried his best to console his friend. “If you’re serious about finding her, I’ll help you. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

“Thanks. I’m going to need it,” James declared, standing up and grabbing his keys before heading towards the door.

“Well,” Justin started, springing to his feet, “you know her better than I do. If you were Anna, where would you go if you wanted to vanish?” As the words sunk in, James decided that Justin was right.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Anna drove ferociously. She was dodging and swerving across both sides of the road. Tears stung her eyes and she was gasping for breath, but still she didn’t slow. She was driving recklessly. Her chest was tight and her hands trembled as she white-knuckled the steering wheel. Anna was completely exhausted from the emotional roller coaster she had been riding all day. Her only hope of staying awake was to have the window wound right down so the cold night air could blow against her face. Without a thought in her head, Anna rested her head on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Just for a moment Anna took her eyes off the winding road and the car drifted. It bounced down a small ditch before colliding with a rock and being thrown sideways. After thirty terrifying seconds of rolling and scraping, the car came to a screeching halt on its roof. Anna was unconscious, a steady stream of thick red blood oozing from her forehead. Her face had been mutilated by shards of flying glass and was now nothing but a scratched, bloody mess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

James

 

James started on the phone, calling all of Anna’s family and friends. He rang anyone who may have had an idea as to where she would have gone. No one had seen or heard from her. James began to panic as the realisation sank in that he may have lost her.

“She’ll turn up. She has to,” Justin tried to reassure him. James couldn’t work out if he was telling the truth or just trying to make him feel better. Whichever it was it made it a little more bearable for those few moments.

“I have a really bad idea,” Justin mentioned nervously.

“Anything. Please, man. I’m desperate,” James begged.

“I know. Well, you are pretty well known right…” James just nodded, encouraging Justin to continue. “You could go on television and ask for help. I don’t know. Say you’ll take them to dinner or something if it’s their lead that finds Anna. I mean it’s a long shot, but if you’re desperate…”

James’s eyes filled with hope. “You’re right. That will work! It has to,” James declared. Before Justin had time to say anything else James was already on the telephone, dialling the number.

It didn’t take long before someone called in. A farmer had seen Anna’s car lying upside down in the ditch as he was passing. Immediately he slammed on his brakes and raced towards the car. When he got close enough he could see Anna lying motionless in the front seat, covered in blood, still strapped into the driver’s seat. He ran back to the car and found his phone and called for the ambulance. When they arrived less than ten minutes later, the agitated farmer had already become increasingly concerned. The smell of petrol hung heavily on the air and the thought that the car could burst into flames at any moment kept racing through his mind. Luckily, the ambulance officers together with the local fire brigade managed to pull her from the wreckage in one piece before they raced her back through the streets towards the hospital.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Anna had been admitted to the hospital. They quickly assessed her and determined she had a broken leg, a few broken ribs, and minor head injuries. Anna would be okay, eventually. She was now recovering in a stable condition. A nurse had come to check on her and to make sure the drip was pumping a steady stream of pain-killers into her body.

A short time later a very groggy Anna woke up. She couldn’t remember what had happened or where she was. The nurse came in quickly only to find her hysterical.

“What’s going on? Where am I? What happened?” So many questions came dribbling out of her mouth at once.

“There, there. Calm down, sweetie. My name is Nancy and I’m going to take good care of you.” The nurse had a cool wash cloth and was dabbing at her head. “Do you remember anything, sweetheart?” Anna quickly made her judgement about the woman who was caring for her. She was old, probably somewhere in her fifties, but she seemed so kind and with an honest heart. Her brown mousy hair was streaked with grey. She wore big round tortoiseshell rimmed glasses that covered up most of her face.

“No, I don’t remember anything. I’m sorry,” Anna spluttered out wearily.

“Is there someone I can call? Family? Friends? Just to let them know what has happened. Let them know you’re safe,” she asked sweetly, her voice laced with genuine concern.

“No, there’s no one to call,” Anna began to whimper, but as she did the pain came back with a vengeance. Then all of a sudden, without warning or hesitation Anna let out a horrifically painful scream. “James!”

There were a few nurses congregated in the tearoom, all standing around complaining about patients and doctors, sipping their tasteless lukewarm cups of coffee. They had the television blaring in an attempt to try and keep up to date with what was happening outside the hospital walls. It was then that he appeared. James was once again taking up the entire television screen. “I’m here tonight, appealing to the public for your help. A few days ago I announced my engagement and tonight I am asking you to please help me find my fiancée.”

One of the nurses interrupted his speech. “That boy is all kinds of fine.” She giggled.

“This is a recent picture of Anna. Please, I need to find her and I’m willing to do whatever it takes. If you see Anna or know where she is, then please call the station and help me.” His eyes looked hollow and sad.

“I wish I knew where that girl was, that’d give him a reason to come see me,” one of the nurses suggested.

At that moment Nancy came trudging through the door. “Who’s coming to see you?”

“Ooh, my man James Thompson. He’s looking for his fiancée. It seems that she’s already left him and they haven’t even made it down the aisle yet,” the nurse smiled.

A spark shot through the old battered nurse like a lightning strike. “What did he say her name was?” Nancy asked, remembering Anna’s wail of ‘James’ with her last ounce of strength. Combined with the photograph she had found in Anna’s wallet, it was all beginning to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.

“Amity? Andy? Anna? Something like that. Whoever she is, I bet she’s nothing more than a tramp.”

“What was the number of the station?” Nancy asked. She had already decided she would ring and get a detailed description before she told him it was Anna that she was caring for. If this was the same Anna, now more than ever before she needed him. She didn’t need his fame or his money—none of that could help her now—what she did need from him was his love, his comfort, but mostly she needed his assurance that everything would be all right.

 

***

 

James

 

A few minutes after the broadcast had aired, the switchboard lit up. Everyone knew her. Knew where she was but no one was willing to give away specifics. James sat anxiously in the call centre, waiting for the one call he knew would come. That one call that would tell him exactly where she was and then he would go, like a knight in shining armour, and rescue her, even if he was rescuing her from herself.

His mind was a million miles away, dreading the possibilities, trying to put into words what he would say to her when she was right back where she was supposed to be—wrapped safe in his arms. He was dreaming up ways to prove to her she was what he wanted, the only thing that he needed. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anna was his everything.

Justin’s voice didn’t even bring him back down to reality. “James…earth to James,” Justin taunted, slapping him on the back and almost giving him a heart attack.

“Have we found her? Where is she? Is she all right?” James’s mind was doing somersaults and words were falling from his mouth incessantly.

“There’s an old lady on the phone. Her name is Nancy and she wants to talk to you. It’s about Anna.”

James leapt from the chair using every bit of his flexibility and athleticism. He snatched the phone and started to prattle. “Hello. Do you know where she is?”

“I might. Can you tell me what colour hair she has?” Nancy enquired hopefully.

“She has long brown hair that spirals when she lets it flow wild. It reaches halfway down her back.” James knew every detail. He should. He’d spent enough hours running his fingers through her silky locks to know it by heart. And smell. Before she had the chance to ask any more questions, James continued. “She has big beautiful blue eyes that when you look into them it feels as though you can see into the depths of forever. They are so captivating that sometimes they look as calm as the ocean. And in other moments they are as dark and stormy as the night sky. She should be wearing a small white gold ring encrusted with four diamonds. It’s her engagement ring. A silver chain is hanging around her neck with a small crucifix. Please tell me that you know where she is,” James begged. He was so emotionally drained that he began to cry silently.

“I think I do. She’s in the hospital. She’s been in a pretty bad car accident…” but before she could finish her sentence James cut her off.

“Which one?”

“The hospital down on Crouch Street.”

“I’m on my way,” he stated, slamming the phone back down. “Found her! Gotta go.” Justin grabbed their coats and chased him out the door. “Thanks for the help, everyone,” James yelled out behind him.

They arrived in the hospital car park and James was out and running for the door before Justin had even pulled the car to a stop. He raced through the door, nearly knocking an old lady off her feet as he flew past. He was moving so fast he crashed straight into the information desk. The perky little receptionist looked up and smiled. She recognised him instantly and got that sly look in her eye that James recognised meant she would do anything to get in his pants. He’d seen it before. But right now he didn’t even have the time or energy to be flattered.

“Can I help you?” she inquired seductively, casually shifting her weight in the chair and thrusting her chest forward.

“I am looking for Anna White. She was in a car accident.” He was in such a hurry that he had absolutely no time for her bullshit.

“She’s in room 3. Ward 16. Third floor.”

He took off. He was in such a hurry that he ran up the stairs instead of waiting the few moments it would have taken for the lift to arrive. Ward 16. He had found it. James had completely forgotten why she had left or what had gone wrong; he just wanted her to be okay. He wanted to sit there beside her, hold her hand, and wait for her to open her eyes.

Anna was sleeping soundly when James slipped into the room. He was startled when he saw her lying there. Something stopped him from going to her. It was like there was a physical force field surrounding her. Instead, he just stood in a state of overwhelming shock, leaning on the door frame for support. Anna’s face was pale, she had a large white patch on her head covering a gash, and she had a drip all hooked up to her delicate little hand. She was lying there, completely motionless. On shaky legs, James wobbled over and sat beside her. He reached out and put his hand carefully on Anna’s. She seemed so cold, but James could see that she was breathing steadily. The constant rise and fall of her chest reassured him. The feeling of relief was unmistakable as it consumed him.

“I’m sorry,” Nancy said, no louder than a whisper. James could tell that she meant it and immediately James found himself trusting Nancy with Anna’s care. Instinctively he knew that she would take the very best care of Anna.

“Thank you,” James replied honestly, looking up at her. Nancy didn’t know it, but by simply doing her job she’d saved Anna’s life and in doing so, saved James as well. “How’s she doing?”

“She’ll be fine. She has a broken leg, a few broken ribs, and a mild concussion. She’ll be glad you’re here. When she woke up before, she was so frantic. No one was here. I think she felt abandoned and alone,” Nancy explained, giving him a pat on the shoulder before leaving them.

Justin wandered in. “How’s our girl doing?” he had stopped at the florist downstairs and bought her the biggest bouquet of bright yellow daffodils he could find.

“She’ll be okay. I’m staying here. Can you call Joel and tell him I won’t be at training for the next few days? Thanks for coming with me. I know I was pretty out of it. Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Justin said and with a handshake and a smile, he was gone.

James sat staring at Anna. Her constant yet peaceful breathing calmed him. He wished she would wake up so he could see for himself that she was all right. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to look after her, but he couldn’t bring himself to wake her. She needed her rest. Exhausted, James soon fell asleep with his fingers laced with hers.

 

***

 

Anna

 

For some reason Anna’s subconscious began to replay the accident, but this time Anna wasn’t driving the car. She was standing on the side of the road watching the car hit the ditch and flip. Anna could see herself walking up to the driver’s side door and looking through the window. She could see herself lying there unable to move, struggling to breathe; broken and bleeding, trying to scream but unable to form the words. Anna was watching it all, then with a jolt she was suddenly wide awake.

 

The pain was real. Anna tried to take a deep breath but her ribs ached. Touching her forehead, she found a patch of gauze. Anna looked down at her other hand. James was sitting in the chair next to the bed, his head resting gently on the bed, his hand firmly clasping hers. He’d come.

She looked around the room. It was already filled with beautiful bouquets of flowers. Every type imaginable filled the room. There were roses and daisies; orchids and lilies; carnations and sunflowers; as well as Justin’s daffodils. The room was a mass of colours and scents, which wafted through the air invading everything they landed on. In the corner of the room there was a small rectangular window with apricot curtains, through which the sun peeked mischievously. On the other side of the curtain was an old man. He appeared so sad, so lost, or alone. Maybe it was a combination of all three, Anna couldn’t tell. He had no flowers surrounding him, no cards, no get well balloons, he just lay there sleeping soundly, trying to hang onto what was left of his life.

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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