It's cold and grey outside so make yourself a cuppa and take ten minutes out to be whisked away from it all...
Jane never ceased to be amazed by how much mess a bunch of respectable-looking passengers could make in just a few hours. She cast her eyes from left to right as she walked up the left-hand side of the now empty plane, checking for anything besides rubbish that had been left behind. The navy purse was just led there, blending in with the navy seat; had it not been for its small gold clasp that caught the glimmer of sunlight from the opposite window, she never would have seen it.
Holding it up she turned it over in her hand. It was heavy, fairly new by the looks of it, smooth leather that hadn’t aged or worn out yet with use. She held onto it while she checked the last couple of rows and walked back into the galley.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Sam said from the opposite door. He was poised ready with his wheelie bag, jacket on and one foot already in front of the other.
‘You go on, I’ll catch you up.’ Jane put the purse down on top of her open bag, she would hand it to security on the way off but she needed to change her shoes quickly, preferring to walk through the airport looking marginally glamorous after a flight, not slipping along in her battered, flat cabin shoes, no matter how much more comfortable they were. The moments in her life when she felt even the slightest bit glam were so seldom these days that she couldn’t let a single opportunity pass her by.
Jane looked at her tired face in the hotel bathroom mirror the next morning, even a good night’s sleep didn’t make her look fresh faced any more. Middle age had hit her hard. Reaching forty-eight just last week with two children who no longer needed her, an ex-husband who had traded her in for a younger model, a body that had gone soft, for want of a better way to describe the way in which it had seemed to have lost all tone almost overnight, and a non-existent social life was not how she had imagined this stage would be as she careered at supersonic speed head-on towards the big five-oh. She let out a sigh and walked back through the door into the bedroom, a thick layer of make up was definitely necessary before she left this room, even if she was sure that she wouldn’t see a soul that she knew while she lost herself in the Manhattan shopping mecca.
She unzipped her wheelie bag on the bed and rooted around inside for her make up. The soft leather of the purse confused her at first, and her stomach flipped when she realised what it was. She had literally just stolen someone’s purse, she was a real-life thief, albeit an accidental one, but whether she had meant to do it or not, here she was holding something that quite clearly belonged to somebody else.
Jane looked at the metal wastepaper bin underneath the mahogany desk. Should she just throw it out, leave it for the cleaners to deal with? Would they presume it was hers and try to return it to the wrong person? Should she take it back to the airport and hand it in tomorrow, hope that the Duty Manager believed that she had accidentally stolen it? She sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at it blankly. Her thumb slipped under the clasp and popped it open. Julie held her breath as she took a look inside of a stranger’s life. One by one she lifted the cards from the front pockets, loyalty cards and bank cards that would take weeks to replace, she had lost her own purse once before and could remember the pain of having to replace everything acutely. Mrs K Lockley must be tearing her hair out right now no doubt.
It was the last card that answered her question of what to do. The photo was old, but she recognised the eyes, she remembered the twinkle in them when the old lady had asked for a whiskey, straight with just one cube of ice, and Jane had given her two miniatures. It had been too busy to be able to chat so that was all that she knew about her. Here though was an out-of-date driving license which told her that Kathleen M Lockley was seventy-four years old and lived at 3373 134th Street, right here in Manhattan.
So that was what Jane was going to do. She was going to personally deliver the purse back to Mrs Lockley, drop it through her letterbox… and run…
Sean Lockley Jnr shook his head kindly. ‘Mom, it’s not the end of the world, nothing we can’t replace. It’s just a purse.’ He poured her a large Single Malt from the crystal decanter, and another for himself. Truth be known, he didn’t even like the stuff, and he wasn’t sure that his mother did either, but every time he poured one out for them both it was a silent nod to his late father. He handed her the glass.
‘I hate getting old.’ Kathleen stared into her glass. Next week was her seventy-fifth birthday and everyone thought she should be excited about the planned celebrations, but walking into old age alone was scaring the heck out of her. Sean Snr had always had a protective arm around her, always had the right words, but now she was left here, in their expensive apartment with its high ceilings and antique furniture, with her only son a witness to her increasing number of mistakes, and all she could see ahead of her was her own demise, that sooner rather than later it would be her turn to be taken out of here in a box and buried under the cold earth. She shuddered at the thought and took a gulp of the whiskey, she mustn’t keep letting these dark thoughts creep in, she knew better than to wallow in self-pity. She held the empty glass out. ‘Pour me another.’
Jane thanked the cab driver and got out, watching the yellow car drive off and wondering if her decision to walk back was a mistake, the journey here had seemed much further than she had expected. She looked at her watch, it was 11am on this beautiful autumn day and check out wasn’t until five-thirty. It didn’t matter if it took two hours to get back, she would see parts of the city that she had never seen, and maybe burn some calories too… anyway, she just had to do this one thing first.
The brownstone building loomed overhead, and Jane felt her heart race as she took the first step up to the huge wooden door. At the top she stopped, the purse already in her hand, and realised that whatever she had thought she would do now was not going to happen. The door was locked, and there was nowhere that she could just ‘pop the purse and run’… the only options available to her right now seemed to be the brass intercom buttons, or more precisely the one at the top that had the name ‘Lockley’ etched next to it.
Jane turned away, this wasn’t what she had signed up for, she didn’t want to see the lady, or have to explain why she had taken her purse off of the plane… but she couldn’t just leave it on the step, or could she? She looked down at her feet and seriously considered this option, but without a pen and paper to at least write a note she knew that it was a no-go. Drat.
Her finger hovered over the button as she rehearsed in her head the short but concise explanation that she would give. ‘Can I help you?’ A deep voice interrupted her stalling. She turned to see a man about the same age as her with grey flecked hair and an expensive looking suit standing half in and half out of the door. He smiled at her, a perfect set of straight white American teeth, his blue eyes looking directly into hers. He was tall, well over six foot, with broad shoulders and a face that was… kind. Why was she having butterflies in her stomach?
‘Er,’ Jane tried to compose herself, it had been a long time since a man had made her go funny like this, and she really wasn’t sure how to deal with it. On top of that her brain was already busy trying to deal with her purse problem! Suddenly she saw an opportunity. ‘Um, actually maybe you can. I need to deliver this purse to Mrs Lockley in apartment 1, would you mind letting me in so that I can give it to her?’ Or leave it outside her door… and run.
‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ his smile stretched wider, ‘she was just getting herself all worked up about losing that, how on earth did you….’ He waved his hand instead of finishing the question. ‘Please, come in, you can give it to her yourself, she’s gonna be stoked.’
‘Oh I can just leave it with you. I need to be getting back…’ Jane turned slightly and signaled with her thumb towards the street.
‘No, I insist, you have to come in!’
Jane nodded reluctantly and stepped inside to the lobby, following Mr Handsome into the ground floor apartment. She was distracted at first by the expensive looking art that hung on every wall, clutching the purse to her chest as they walked along the hallway.
‘Mom, you’re not going to believe this.’
Jane immediately recognized the old lady, and the familiarity served to settle her nerves somewhat. She handed her the purse along with her rehearsed explanation of how she came to have it.
‘My dear, that you have come all this way just for this, how sweet you are,’ Kathleen held the purse in both hands and smiled almost lovingly at it, Jane thought. ‘Sean, you must get the girl a drink. Single malt?’
‘No, no,’ Jane laughed. ‘I really can’t, I have to fly this evening so I can’t drink. I won’t take up any more of your time, I really must be going.’
‘Please, do you have time to join us for lunch at least?’ Sean asked. ‘We were just going out. We’d love to thank you?’
‘That’s a lovely offer, but you really don’t need to thank me. I really must be going.’ Jane tried again.
‘Well maybe next time you are in New York we can take you out for dinner?’ Kathleen asked, pushing herself up. Jane couldn’t help but notice how tall and slim she was, her figure better than most girls half her age, flattered by her tailored trousers and cashmere sweater.
‘Perhaps,’ Jane smiled, suddenly inspired to walk fast all the way back in an effort to maintain her own figure like this lady. She turned, determined this time to leave. ‘I can see myself out, it was lovely to see you again Mrs Lockley.’
‘It’s this way,’ Sean called, a slight smirk on his face, as she headed in the wrong direction. Jane felt her cheeks flush as he led her once again down the hall of art. ‘Please, do let me know when you are in town next, I know Mom would very much like to take you out.’ He handed her a small card.
‘I will do,’ Jane stopped at the top step as he held the door open for her. She knew that she would never have the courage to call him, but those butterflies were back as they locked eyes, and she had to admit that seeing him again wasn’t the worst idea in the world, no matter how unlikely it was.
Kathleen had a spring in her step, she was on a mission and it had given her purpose! Sean had spent far too long wallowing after his wife had cheated on him with his business partner and tried to take him for everything when he divorced her. His children had both pursued careers in different cities, and as much as he denied it she knew her son well enough to know that he was lonely. She knew it because she felt the same, but she was old and he wasn’t… he had years left ahead of him, and she would not sit by and watch him be unhappy. She had given him time to heal, but it was time to move on now, and from the second she had seen the way he had looked at that lovely flight attendant she knew that for the right person he was ready… and that she was quite possibly the right person.
‘Which terminal Ma’am?’
‘Three please,’ she checked her watch, by her reckoning the crew would be arriving not long after her. It was a world she knew well, having met her husband when she herself did the job many moons ago. If she was right about this, and she usually was, having a flight attendant daughter-in-law could be a real hoot!
She recognized her straight away as she walked through the doors with the rest of her colleagues, so smart in their uniforms. ‘Jane!’ she called and waved, amused by the look of surprised confusion on her face as she walked over to her.
‘Mrs Lockley, what on earth are you doing here?’
‘Well, since we are now friends I was hoping, and please don’t think I am being cheeky, but I have a real soft spot for a certain brand of tea, and I was wondering if you would be kind enough to bring me some out next time you are here? I can give you the money now,’ she opened up her purse and pulled out an English note. It had been the best thing she had been able to come up with, and for once it suited her to be ancient, she could get away with being a bit crazy, and no one could say no to a sweet old lady.
Jane was too surprised to say anything other than yes. ‘Sure, I’ll be out again next week. Shall I drop it to the apartment?’
‘That would be wonderful, but not to the apartment, I must insist on taking you out as a thank you…’
One week later
The driver opened the door of the smart black BMW. ‘Enjoy your evening Ma’am. The restaurant is on the 92nd floor. Mrs Lockley will meet you up there.’
‘Thank you,’ Jane held out a ten-dollar bill.
‘That’s not necessary,’ he smiled.
Jane waited on the pavement for a moment, psyching herself up to go in. It wasn’t every trip that she got picked up by a driver and treated to a dinner at what she could only assume was an expensive restaurant. She had picked her outfit carefully, and even curled her shoulder-length hair for the first time in months. The only thing that she couldn’t get around was the bag of teabags that she didn’t quite go with the green wrap dress and high heels, even in their Marks and Spencer’s carrier.
Eventually summoning up the courage, she emerged out of the lift and was greeted by a waiter who led her across the restaurant to join… just Sean Lockley. Kathleen was nowhere to be seen.
Sean stood up, looking even more handsome than she remembered him, and her stomach fluttered furiously. ‘My mother is apparently sick and sends her apologies,’ he said with as he leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek. ‘I really hope you don’t mind it being just me.’
‘Oh,’ Jane was glad that she’d had the prosecco in her room as she got ready. ‘Not at all.’
Later, as they sat in the restaurant window overlooking the million lights of Manhattan, the ease with which conversation flowed between them was tangible, all nervousness long gone. They both agreed that they had been royally ‘set up’.
‘No doubt she will be miraculously better by tomorrow,’ Sean shook his head. He had all intentions of telling her that he was fully aware of her underhand tactics when he saw her too, after he thanked her for sending him on what was the most enjoyable evening he’d had in years, with the most perfect person.
Jane laughed. She had fallen for the sweet-little-old-lady guise hook, line and sinker… but she wasn’t complaining as she sat with this gorgeous man who ticked all the right boxes, with all intentions of swapping every flight she had this month for New Yorks so that she could see him again. No, she wasn’t complaining at all…
Kathleen swirled the whiskey in her glass and smiled to herself. It was past midnight and Sean still hadn’t called, just a message saying Thanks. A rare feeling of excitement fizzed through her as she dared to hope that she had been right in her judgement; that Jane wasn’t married, that she had been left behind in life just like her son, that they were perfect for each other. She couldn’t wait to see their relationship blossom, to hear all about Jane’s travels and tell her about hers, maybe she could go on trips with her... Her mind raced. Perhaps this next chapter of her life could be quite fun after all.