"I'm sorry, Joan, it's not your fault." Those words, those cursed words, ran through my mind like a broken record that refused to stop. I replay the scene in my head as if it had just happened yesterday. My mother, Teresa Yvonne Quincy, was lying on the faded white sheets of her hospital bed. She looked up at me solemnly, and there was something in her eyes – I could not quite pin point what it was. She lifted her arm and placed a small slip of paper in my palm. My skin tingled when her scarred, wrinkled hand brushed against mine. Then she said those unforgettable words, "I'm sorry, Joan, it's not your fault." And she died.
It has been a month since my mother passed away, but the feeling of her gnarled hand still sends shivers through me. I suppose months of radiation would do that to a person. The more I dwell on that last exchange, the more I believe what I saw in my mother's eyes that day was fear. But what was it that frightened her so?
I sat silently taking in the scene around me. I was in box five, seat twenty-three on a train bound for London. London, a city I'd come to despise. For years, my mother would disappear for weeks at a time on visits to London. On rare occasions, she would stay for months. When my dad died, she had to keep the trips to a minimum. However, I could never change my mind about it. London was a source of evil.
The verdant knolls rose and fell before my eyes. I stared blankly and caught sight of my own reflection in the mirror. It was another reminder of my mother. No matter where I looked, I could not escape her. I am the carbon copy of Teresa. Our eyes were sea green and oddly circular shaped, unlike the regular oval of most people. All Quincy women carried the trait for the circular eyes. My mother and I also shared the same skin color. My complexion is composed of various whites, reds, and yellows, resulting in a tan appearance.
My thoughts were interrupted when the elderly woman next to me began to speak.
"So, are you traveling to London alone?" she said thoughtfully as she clutched her pale pink handbag. Of course I was traveling there alone. There was no one left to accompany me.
"Yeah," I replied abruptly without even giving the woman the courtesy of meeting her gaze. I hated when people interrupted my thoughts. Here we were on this train to London, and not a soul had spoken me the entire way. I had come onto the bus alone with only one suitcase. Yet, the woman still insisted on believing that I was traveling with someone.
"Are you going to visit family?" she inquired optimistically. I finally turned my icy stare on her.
"My father died of a heart attack when I was five. Recently, my mother passed away from cancer. Neither of them had any siblings and I do not know my grandparents," I shot back. Okay, so maybe I had some unrelieved aggression. But that is why I was going to London.
I was saved from an awkward silence when the train began to pull into the station.
"We've approached Station 148 on East Starring," I heard a voice announce over the intercom. I quickly grabbed my suitcase and lugged it onto the aisle, pushing my way through the crowds. When I finally got off the train, I was relieved to find a sparse amount of people. I was traveling from Worchester, where I had been born and raised. The Worchester station was always crowded at all times of the day. The East Starring station was in a poor suburb of London. Many people chose not to brave the slums of the town. I had no choice.
I took the slip of paper that my mother had given me out of my pocket and read it once again.
1288 Sattire Lane
Imperial, Joan Yvonne
I was confused by the paper, to say the least. The first line was obviously an address in London, but the rest of the words baffled me. I approached the information booth and asked the girl if she knew of a Sattire Lane.
"Oh yeah, it's bout five miles from here. It's in Franklin Square. But we don't go no buses goin' that way 'cuz of the strike," said the teenage girl in what seemed to be an American accent. The girl was about my age, 19 years old, and she spoke with a cheerful tone.
"So I how can I get there?" I asked impatiently.
"Well, you can walk."
I looked at her unbelievably. "Yes, I'll go walk five miles at six o'clock at night. I have nothing better to do."
"That's good. 'Cuz if you did, you would probably be late for it," the girl replied. After shooting her a spiteful glance, I sauntered off. The bench nearby was occupied, so I was forced to rest my back against a wall and let it all sink in. I am in London, miles away from my home, I thought, there is no family left for me. My mother sent me on a wild scavenger hunt with no other clues than an address. What if I can't find the address? What if I have no place to sleep tonight? I only have thirty pounds with me, and I won't receive more until I return home and claim my mother's will.
The more I thought this over, the stupider I felt. I should have never come here. I should have stayed where I was comfortable and sure of my existence.
"Hey miss!" I heard a voice call. I snapped my head up in its direction and saw a man approaching. "I couldn't help but overhear you story," he began, "and well, I'm headed to Franklin Square. If you need a ride, I can give you one." I eyed him warily. He was probably in his mid twenties, a rather handsome man. I could not tell, though, if he was being sincere or if I would end up splattered on the side of a highway somewhere. I searched his eyes, but there were only two, bright brown irises staring back at me. Finally, I resorted to weighing my options. I could 1) walk five miles and probably end up at my destination by 8 o'clock, 2) walk five miles, get lost, and sleep out on the streets tonight, or 3) hitch a ride with this stranger. Three seemed the most tempting.
"Look, you don't have to come with me if you don't want. I was just offering," he said, as if sensing my uneasiness.
"You're right," I replied, "A ride would be nice." I gave a weak smile and stuck out my hand. "My name's Joan."
"My name's William Black man, but you can call me Will." I looked up at Will, who was considerably taller than I, and smiled. He returned it with a boyish grin and nodded to his left. "My car's this way."
"Right," I said coming out of my stupor. I remembered the slip of paper. "Do you know where this address is?" I asked handing him the paper.
"Sure, that's the Imperial hotel. Don't be fooled by its name, though." I looked at him peculiarly. "I'm not saying that it's a trashy place, but it has a reputation. It's not a royal establishment like they make it out to be." This comment struck me as odd, but I did not have time to inquire as Will quickly continued. "Joan Yvonne, is that you?"
"No, my name is Joan…," I caught myself. I couldn't give out my real name to a man I had just met. Any woman knew that. I quickly averted my eyes and saw an advertisement on a billboard. It was an extravagant sign that displayed a large blue diamond surrounded in red rubies. The name read Redfield's Jewelers. "My name is Joan Redfield," I replied. The man looked at me with amusement in his eyes.
"We should be off then, Joan Redfield," he said, emphasizing the name. I shot him a questioning glance, and he appeared to be a wry. We went outside and got into his black sports car.
"Buckle up," he said putting on his own seatbelt. A seatbelt was the least of my worries then. This man was too strange, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I buckled up, nonetheless.
Will drove in silence for what seemed like an eternity. It was, in fact, only two minutes before he spoke.
"So, what brings you to London?"
For some reason, I had the urge to tell him about everything – my mom, the final words, my fears. But I couldn't. I needed to pour my heart out to someone, but I was in London. There was no one I could trust here.
"I'm, uh, visiting my uncle," I lied.
"Your Uncle Redfield?" Will replied. His voice gave him away, though. There was something he was hiding. He spoke the words almost as if he was mocking me.
"Of course my Uncle Redfield," I shot back. "Why do you ask?"
"There is a jewelry shop in Franklin Square that is owned by the Redfield family. I didn't know if you were related to them," Will said as he began to slow the car to a stop.
"Yes, yes that's my uncle," I said hastily while gathering my belongings. Will gave a small chuckle.
"What's so funny?" I demanded.
"Nothing, not a thing at all." I got out of the car and thanked Will for the ride. "Not a problem," he said nonchalantly, "If you ever need any help getting around London you can give me a call." He opened his glove compartment and ripped off a corner from a yellow piece of paper. Next, he wrote his number on it.
"Thanks," I said pocketing the paper. I was positive I would never be using it.