Emily had seen John Sanders around and about the university. Although he had not been her tutor, they were on nodding terms when passing each other in the buildings. But she always felt a little uncomfortable about the way he looked into her eyes as they passed. So why was it, she wondered, that he had asked to see her in his study just hours before she was to walk out of St James’ college for the final time?
“Thanks for coming Emily. I suppose you are wondering why I asked to see you, especially on your last day at Jimmy’s”.
“Emily, you know me, that is, you’ve seen me about the place, but you don’t know about me”
“I’m sorry?” said Emily “What do you mean? Why would I want to know about you? I'm sorry, I've shouldn't have agreed to meet you. I need to go”
"Wait" pleaded John Sanders. "Please wait, just for a few moments" He slid of the desk and sat in his leather chair as if wishing to use the desk as a barrier between them. He sat for a moment with his hand over his mouth, sighed then leaned back.
“Emily, twenty one years ago my wife and I were expecting our first child. We’d been trying for years. I had a good job. I was a professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at Charterhouse. But I stupidly got myself mixed up in something, something seriously bad. There were threats made to me against my wife and then unborn child if I didn’t carry out an illegal assignment in Russia. Things didn’t go as planned and for reasons I needn’t go into now, I was unable to return home, and I was denied contact with my family. To all intents, I disappeared. It was several years before I returned to the UK, and when I did I was given a new identity, a new name, John Sanders. Emily, my name when I was married was Ian Cartwright. Does that name mean anything to you?”
“Cartwright” said Emily staring into her lap. She looked up and said “my Mother’s name used to be Cartwright before she re-married”
“Joanna Cartwright” said John Sanders. Emily wondered what was coming next.
”Over the last three years I’ve watched your mother dropping you off and collecting you from Jimmy’s, but I never possessed the courage to reveal myself. Emily, what you don’t know about me is that, err, Emily, I’m your father. Emily, I -”
“Stop!” shouted Emily. “Just stop, because there’s something you don’t know about me”
Emily stood, and sauntered over to the window. She could see her mother sitting in her car waiting to carry her and her cases away from St James’s for the last time. Without turning around Emily began to speak, quietly, slowly.
“I’m not your daughter Professor Sanders” She turned toward him and said ”I don’t know how to tell you this”
John Sanders sat in silence wondering what he was about to hear.
“Your wife had a difficult childbirth. In fact she lost your child soon after it was born”
“But..but I don’t understand” stammered John Sanders.
“Please don’t interrupt me” said Emily “I need you to listen to me”
”The lady in the next bed to your wife in the maternity hospital also had a difficult birth. But it was she that lost her life, and her baby survived. You were missing and somehow her newly widowed husband and your wife found themselves able to comfort each other. They remained friends for many years, and when you were declared ‘missing presumed dead’ it was only natural that they should marry”.
“John, my mother lost her life giving birth to me. Your wife brought me up as her own. She's never forgiven you for what you did.”
Emily walked back across the room, tapped on the window pane and waved. She picked up her bag and started to leave the room. As she stood in the doorway she looked back at the stunned John Sanders and said "Goodbye Professor Cartwright. Please forget we had this conversation. I promise you I shall”
John watched from the window as Emily rushed across the forecourt and embraced her step mother. He wiped a tear from his eye as he watched them drive away for the last time.
Picture by Exemi at deviantART