For Disclaimers, or lack of them, see Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Read her work at Barbara Davies
Jo sat on the floor in front of the gas fire in her lounge, staring at the photograph.
The girl's hair was blonde, naturally highlighted by the sun. It looked clean. She remembered seeing footage of homeless people on the news once, and the fact that their hair always looked as though it hadn't seen a drop of water or shampoo in years had struck her. This girl was different. The blonde hair fell across her forehead, the very tips tangling with the dark eyelashes that framed her eyes. Jo took long moments looking into those eyes. If she looked closely she could see other colours mixed with the green. Hazel and gold. The eyes of the girl stared out at her, unflinching, and Jo found herself having to look away from them. She lowered her gaze to the lips, and now Jo could see that they were slightly parted and the very edge of even white teeth could just be seen. Again, Jo was surprised. She expected a person living on the streets to find the everyday toiletries that she took for granted hard to come by. Jo smiled to herself, amazed at the absurdity of the thought that sprang into her mind. It would make kissing her a more pleasurable experience if she'd brushed her teeth in the previous 12 hours or so.
Jo started to laugh. What was she thinking?
Her laughing brought Harry from the kitchen where she was watching the milk that was boiling in a saucepan.
"What's funny?" Harry asked.
Jo shrugged. "Just thinking stupid thoughts."
Harry watched her for a moment, and then returned to the kitchen.
"Stupid, stupid thoughts," Jo whispered to herself. "Who are you, Rocky?"
Harry returned some moments later with two mugs of steaming coffee.
"What are you going to do now?" Harry sipped her coffee, curling herself into the armchair.
"Well, I thought we'd take a drive around when it gets light, see what we can see. Charles said something about Whitechapel. We'll take a look around down there, maybe ask some questions. If we've found nothing by the evening, we'll see if we can latch on to one of those soup wagons. I think they travel to more than one place. I'll take the photo; someone must have seen her."
Jo looked up to see Harry regarding her, open-mouthed. "What?" Jo asked.
"Would you listen to yourself, Jo. What the hell is going on?"
Jo's mouth opened and closed a couple of times; no sound was forthcoming, however.
"You're really going to scour London looking for what is obviously a vagrant." Harry placed her mug on the low table and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. "And then what? Have you thought about that?"
The colour was draining from Jo's face, confusion now in the blue eyes.
"Didn't think so." Harry continued. "So when you find her you say: 'Oh hi. I'm Jo, and I've been dreaming about you. I'm not crazy, but I want you to come home with me.'" Harry sat back, crossing her arms across her chest, waiting for her friend's response.
"I have to do something," Jo said quietly. "I feel I have to. Need to."
"You're chasing after some kind of fantasy, Jo."
"No. She's real, I'm sure she is."
"I'm real, Jo. I'm here. I don't understand you." Harry's head fell forward, her eyes squeezed shut.
"What are you saying?"
"You really don't know, do you."
"No I don't." Jo watched her friend with concern, taking in the silent tears that tracked down her cheeks.
Harry let out a long, hitching breath. "I think I should go," she said, standing.
Jo was on her feet quickly, stepping in front of Harry as she made for the door. She placed her hands on the shorter woman's shoulders, forcing Harry to look up. "I'm sorry if I've hurt you. You're the best friend I've ever had."
"Exactly," said the blonde, and shrugged out of Jo's grasp, collected her coat and left quickly.
Ten minutes later, Harry was walking purposefully along the street when a car pulled alongside her. She recognised the silver Merc immediately. She opened the door and got in without question. "I forgot it was only 4 o'clock," she said, looking down at her hands.
"Me too," said Jo, her voice little more than a whisper. "I didn't realise; I'm sorry."
Harry shook her head gently and ran her fingers through her own dishevelled hair. "I value your friendship, Jo. And I know we've always said there would never be anything... else, between us. But I couldn't help myself."
Jo reached over and took her hand. "I love you, Harry. You know that right?"
Harry nodded, and sniffed. "Yeah, it's just been really hard watching you the last day or so. Getting crazy over a photo."
"I don't understand it any more than you do."
There was silence for a moment in the car, the glass fogging up. "We'd better go before we attract the attention of the police." Jo reached over and turned Harry's face towards her. "Where do you want to go?"
"Home," she said simply. "I'm sorry, Jo. You're going to have to do this on your own."
Jo nodded. "Yeah, I know."
Joanna had never felt lonely in her small house before. Now, as she walked into her lounge, the hairs on the back of her head stood on end, and she suppressed a shiver.
She'd watched Harry walk away from her and disappear behind the large door of her house. She'd never really considered the fact that her friend had wanted more from her than friendship. They'd discussed that on more than one occasion. Had talked about Jo's cavalier way with women, and how many hearts she'd broken. And now she realised she'd broken her best friend's heart too. But that was exactly what Harry was, her best friend. And as hard as she tried, Jo just couldn't contemplate their relationship being any more than that.
She slumped down into the armchair. It was 5.30am on a Sunday morning. It was an hour that Jo was not unfamiliar with. Though the other times she had experienced it, she had usually been just arriving home after a particularly excessive night out.
Still clutched in her right hand was the photograph, and once again her attention was drawn to the face of the woman she'd never met, but who was, strangely, becoming a part of her life.
She fought the urge to leave immediately, knowing she was exhausted and would probably crash the car straight into the Thames before she got anywhere. So she closed her eyes, her thumb moving unnoticed across the lips of the blonde girl in the photo.
Jo woke, with a pain in her shoulder where she'd slumped against the arm of the chair. Also her neck refused to obey her brain's instructions to support her head, a head which seemed to have acquired its own bass drum. The drum in question had struck up a monotonous rhythm, which intensified as Jo straightened up in the chair.
She'd left the fire on low, and now her mouth felt as if someone had forced a wad of cotton into it. She raised herself slowly, looking more like her mother's mother than her mother's daughter, and made her way to the kitchen.
After draining two large glasses of orange juice, she went back into the lounge, glancing at her watch as she did. It was a little before 8am. She picked up the picture from beside the chair. It had fallen face down from her hand as she slept.
She felt the flutter in her chest and the clenching of her abdomen as she looked upon the face again. As she left the house, she briefly wondered how she would cope with meeting the girl herself - the picture alone was giving her palpitations.
Charles had mentioned Whitechapel, and so that was where she'd start.
She'd studied the photograph in great deal, and, once she'd managed to tear her eyes away from the face of the girl, she realised there was a shop of some kind in the background of the shot. She saw only the first three letters on the sign: Chi. That was all she could see.
So there she was, on a bleak December morning, searching the foggy streets of Whitechapel, looking for a lost soul. Though at that moment Jo didn't realise just how lost the girl in the picture and in her dreams was.
A church clock was chiming the hour of nine as Jo parked the Merc. She'd seen homeless people before, huddling around fires that they'd lit in some dark damp corner. But now there were none to be found.
Glancing occasionally at the photo, she started walking the streets.
It was cold, and Jo pulled the collar of her coat up against the biting wind, which howled gently around the corners and into the alleys that made up much of that part of London. Ahead of her, out of what looked like an old church building, a number of people were filing into the cold morning dampness.
She looked at the faded blue-and-yellow sign above the ancient door. `St Augustus hostel for the Homeless.`
A number of men shuffled towards her, their belongings clutched in a few tattered bags. Each one eyed her as she stood, letting them pass, unable to ask any of them the question that burned in her throat.
She looked over at the door as it was being pulled closed.
"Wait a minute!" she called, and the young man opened the door a little.
The man had a pleasant face, his hair cut fashionably short with a small tuft just above his forehead. He wore a plain white tee-shirt and faded jeans. "Can I help you?"
"Maybe," said Jo. "I'm looking for someone."
He didn't try to hide the incredulous look on his face. A woman of her obvious standing wasn't usually the kind to be seeking one of his guests.
Jo pulled out the picture. "Have you ever seen her?" she asked, as he took the picture from her.
He shook his head. "We don't take women in here. They cause too much trouble with the guys. There's another hostel in Whitechapel Road; they have facilities for women there."
Jo experienced her first failure, and it must have shown on her face. The man sighed. "Is she family?" he asked.
Jo hesitated. The answer that screamed in her head was `yes`.
"No, she isn't," said Jo as she took the picture from him. "I just... I need to find her." Jo shook her head, unable to explain even to herself the reason for her quest.
"The Salvation Army run a hostel for homeless women. It's on Argyll Street. Maybe someone there can help you." The young man smiled, closing the door quietly and leaving the tall woman standing on the doorstep.
Jo turned back to the street. Most of the men that had exited from the hostel had left the area, but one or two had only made it as far as a couple of benches.
She approached them cautiously, trying to discern which one might be amenable to a few questions.
A younger man caught her attention. His hair was dirty, as were his clothes. He appeared to have anything that could be pierced on his face adorned with some kind of jewellery.
He was rummaging through a large bag when she appeared in front of him.
He looked up quickly and dismissed her just as quickly.
"Excuse me," she said, waiting for him to look up again. He didn't. Jo cleared her throat.
"You wanna give me money?" he asked, his voice slurred.
"Well, I don't..." Jo took a step back as he stood suddenly.
"So what do you want?" He reached out a hand, feeling the edge of her leather collar.
"I... I'm looking for someone."
"Baby sister run away from home?" He walked around her, before appearing in front of her once again. "Or maybe your old man preferred the streets to you." He turned away from her and collected his belongings from the bench. "A lot of people out here don't want to be found. Go back to your tv and your washing machine; leave us alone."
Jo watched the man walk away from her without a backward glance. She was shocked. Shouldn't she be the one disgusted? Yet it was she who felt dirty, felt as if she were imposing on someone else's privacy. This was their world. The same city, but a different world entirely. And if she were to survive here and learn about these people, she would have to be more careful.
She made her way along the street in the direction that the young helper at the hostel had pointed her. Argyll Street appeared out of the mist, and, as at the men's hostel, a number of women were milling aimlessly around the entrance.
She regarded them carefully. Shuffling away slowly was an elderly woman pushing a shopping trolley ahead of her. Quickening her pace, Jo caught up with the woman and fell into step beside her.
"Hello," said Jo when the woman cast her a sideways glance, not really taking in her face.
The woman dismissed her and carried on shuffling along.
"I was wondering if you could help me?" said Jo, trying to ignore the fact that the woman was making a good job of ignoring her.
"Public loo is round the corner, cop shop two streets away." The woman waved her arm dismissively.
"I'm looking for someone."
"Then you want the cop shop."
"Would you look at this picture please?"
The elderly woman stopped, turning aggressively towards her. "Look..." she began, then her eyes found Jo's and she faltered, grabbing onto the younger woman as her world tilted.
"Are you alright?" asked Jo, as the colour drained from the woman's face. She took her arm and led her to a low wall, not letting go until the woman was settled on the cold damp stone. "Should I call someone?"
The woman shook her head. "Takes me like that sometimes," she said as she watched Jo retrieve her trolley and bring it to her.
"You're looking for someone?"
Jo sat beside her on the wall and pulled out the photo, silently handing it to the woman. "Do you know her?"
The grey head nodded, and Jo noticed tears filling the old grey eyes. Unmindful of the damp grass, Jo knelt in front of the woman, gently pulling the photo from her hands. "What? You know her?"
"What do you mean? Was she here?" Jo's heart was thundering in her chest. "D'you know where she is now?"
The old woman nodded, the tears now dripping from her chin. "Rocky died, about three weeks ago."
Jo couldn't remember driving home, but that's where she found herself. She felt out of breath, as though she'd run home rather than driven a top of the range Merc.
She staggered out of the car after leaving it in the garage, and made her way up the stairs into her house.
She went into the lounge and poured herself a large whiskey. And then another. Cradling the glass in her hands, she slumped onto the sofa and reached into her pocket for the picture that had become her most treasured possession. It wasn't there.
The glass slipped from her fingers, its contents staining the carpet. She sobbed as the realisation hit her. She'd lost everything. Not just the picture, but the dream. This woman had invaded her dreams, her soul. And she'd not even been given the chance to know her. She had felt her calling to her. Why? Had she died alone, in pain?
"I don't believe in ghosts," Jo said out loud, as if to convince herself. She closed her eyes, picturing the gentle face. "And I don't believe you're dead."
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