Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 4

Kathy and Emma had decided on a whim to spend the summer in France. When they left all they had planned was a train ticket and a return flight two months later. What they were to do in between was meant to be an adventure.

Emma thought about this as she tried to settle into life in London. She couldn’t quite work out if it was the beginnings of a new depth of friendship or the ebbing away of a once close bond as they moved onto a new stage of life. Two months is a long time to spend with one person, and that was a difficult discovery to come to terms with.

Before they set off all the talk had been of adventure and discovery, of excitement of creativity. They’d even joked about writing a book together, writing in English and French and illustrated with scenes from their travels telling the tales of what they had done. This hadn’t happened. The days and the weeks and the things that they did were all good and fun and interesting. But somehow, the cumulative affect had been slightly disappointing.

Emma could fully understand why when she decided to come home a week earlier Kathy stayed on alone. Although Emma did feel somewhat duty bound to return for a week with the family before Sam moved to London. She had not got used to him insisting on being referred to as Samuel, hard to change twenty odd years of what you call your brother she reasoned. It also struck her as slightly odd that he needed to go by his full name. The church he was working for, she’s visited a few times over the past two years and they didn’t seem too weird, albeit not what she would choose, but this she found odd in any conceivable understanding.

That had made the decision to come to London a little harder as she knew he wouldn’t really understand. When she got home she announced that she was going to move to London, her parents thought it was rather sweet that she wanted to be with her brother and naturally assumed she’d go to his church. Neither assumption was true, as her wanting to live in London had nothing to do with Sam and she’d made clear to him already she would be attending St Bart’s. Her parents had been very confused by all this, almost as much as when Sam had tried to explain why Holland Park Baptist Church had added (Continuing) to its name.

She had nearly backed out of coming to London at the last minute because of Kathy, and she struggled to articulate even in her head why she was reluctant to live with her. They had lived together for the last year in Durham, that was why they assumed they would get on well enough to avoid strangling each other as they made their way through France. But it was different, being alone together in a foreign country was different that living in a house with other people as part of a social group that never quite settled down. The first week of their trip and gone exactly as expected, as they took in the sights of Paris, went up the Eiffel Tower, down the Seine and through the Arc de Triumph.

Emma supposed it came down to money in the end. They had disagreed on where they would stay and how they would travel. When they planned it in the tea rooms of Durham they had spoken excitedly of walking from one village to the next, taking six weeks to cover the nearly 400 miles they would need to traverse to make their return flight. They would stay in barns they found along the route, gently and politely impose themselves on villagers too shell shocked that a tourist was visiting their settlement to find the words to turn down their request for accommodation.

It had been Emma’s parent’s who had expressed the most concern about this idyllic proposal. They had insisted she take a credit card to use in case of emergencies. Kathy had not quite been so excited at this plan to embrace the rural side of France, especially to spend six weeks travelling by foot. But she also knew that Emma could not afford to pay for the hotel, or even hostel costs on top of transport. So they settled into the walk. Emma still rued the day she told of her parents’ concern. Maybe the conversation had just dried up. Maybe there were less visually aesthetic surroundings to distract them. But she let slip that she had her parents’ credit card.

“So do I,” exclaimed Kathy, “That means we can have a bit more fun, try out somewhere else to stay. We could get the train and visit some other places before we get to Avignon.”

“It’s for emergencies, not for upgrading where we stay. You’re okay with what we’re doing? The place we’re going to stay tomorrow is beautiful, I think we should take a day off to rest and enjoy it.” Emma knew that despite not having any more money that Kathy thought she had before, the possibility of splurging on some comparative luxuries would crop up again and again.

Money had always been a bit of an issue between them. At Durham it hid away most of the time, only rearing its head when it came to shopping for ball gowns or Emma ducking out of the ski trip. As Emma thought back, that had been one of the most difficult moments and they’d recovered from that. It was not that Kathy didn’t care, just that she didn’t grasp that she was okay not having buckets of money, but needed everyone else to be okay with it too. Offering to pay for the trip to Val de Trios was mighty generous but hugely problematic, what would she say if asked how she afforded it, there was no part time job to pretend she’d been working overtime, or a generous grandparent doting on her only grand daughter.

And now they had both come to London their differences were never so evident. Kathy could wistfully talk of her plans for the future, and not worry about where the money came from. Whereas Emma had no safety net. Moving to London was a risk, she knew that making it as an artist was not going to be easy, even with the exhibitions under her belt she needed something that would give her a kick start. But art was never going to pay the bills, and Kathy barely understood that. Emma wanted a job that would not take it all out of her, but where she’d have enough time to get on with her real work.

It was just a few days after arriving in London, in fact, straight after her first visit to St Bart’s, that she saw the recruiting poster outside Leon. Kathy urged to hurry up because they were falling behind the gaggle descending on some generic central London pub and its unsuspecting landlord, but Emma scribbled the number down before skipping along to catch up.

If Kathy hadn’t moved to London at the same time, Emma wondered if she might have thought again about whether to go to Holland Park with Sam. It was only really the comfort in having someone to go with, someone to ensure that you were not alone that really made her mind up for her. She wouldn’t have known anyone else at Holland Park, and presumably Sam would not be available to stay with her through the service.

St Bart’s was a bit different from what she’d been used to in the past, while it was part of the Church of England Emma wasn’t entirely sure her parents would see it that way. At least when they visited Holland Park they could put on their suits, Sunday best had a far more flexible interpretation at St Bart’s which together with the songs, volume, and occasional pyrotechnic embellishment to illustrate a particularly important part of a sermon. It didn’t quite fit the image of a nice quaint Church of England service.

The most incredible unusual and disorientating part of it all was the social events that they arranged. That first Sunday she had literally been press ganged into joining a crowd at the pub for lunch, and perhaps what shocked her most was that the church paid the bill. She’d been used to church being pretty stingy, finding any excuse it could to avoid parting with a penny, but here was a church that didn’t flinch at paying for her half pint of cider as well as for the food. If it wasn’t for Kathy Emma thought she might have bailed after week one, and looked for somewhere in between, something more amenable to her tastes. A service which didn’t make her freak out, and with people who were not quite so friendly. 

As Emma made her way to Leon she couldn’t stop trying to work out what was wrong with people being friendly. When she first walked into the church she thought she knew what to expect, her church back in Durham thought of itself as lively and friendly. She wondered if when she returned she’d have to inform them that in the grand scheme of things it was more like a mausoleum than a lively church. Maybe it was the doughnuts they handed round during the interval, maybe it was the preacher wearing shorts, but most of all she thought it was the rock concert worship that threw her off balance.

Yet despite all her hesitations, Emma liked it. It was what she needed, something to keep her distracted to stop her fretting about the non existent artistic career she was intent on fostering. And there were plenty of young people around. After spending every holiday going to church with Sam she decided that other people within a decade of her age was an absolute must.

Even after just a couple of weeks she’d picked up that people liked to have a gentle poke making fun of the church and its practices. Rather abruptly, and to be honest Emma felt, inappropriately her small group started suggesting who they might set her up with. Suddenly the whole room had descended into something faintly resembling a very good natured squabble as they suggested that as she was so new why should she get the pick of the boys.

For Emma this was all a bit foreign, she was private, almost puritanical, about her romantic interests. So to have a gang of almost complete strangers conspiring, and then arguing whether she deserved their conspiratorial intents was incomprehensibly unusual.

But the thing that she definitely agreed with was their assessment of the competition she had to get a guy in the church. Certainly in her small group, of the eight single people, only two of them were guys. And although she was not inclined to jump to rash judgements, these two particular guys would not score particularly highly.

Was that the problem? Emma wondered, that the church just didn’t have enough guys and those there were tended to be rather tawdry. It must be quite a problem she thought for the church had taken it upon themselves to set up special date nights to get people together. That was not really how she thought it she work. All a bit functional, turn up, wait in line, move a long, give them marks, and decide which ones you want. It was not what matched up to the romantic ideals that Emma strove for. Or more pointedly, hope that others strove for in their pursuit of her.

It had been an unusually difficult dilemma this morning for Emma as she decided what to wear. Usually an interview demanded smart clothes, and the rest of the time she did her best to fit the bohemian artist image that others had perfected at immense expense but she replicated with a stylistic lack of effort. She’d tried to hit it somewhere in between, casual but neat. The downside of her apparel anxieties was that it had deprived her of a coat, and she ducked into Spitalfield’s Market just as the rain intensified and prompted the rivers running through the pavement

Fortunately she was only off to meet Sam later, otherwise she might have been more concious of the  effects of the rain. If she was going to enter the ring and compete with the countless, more attractive, and apparently more hardened girls at St Bart’s she realised that not caring what she looked like might have to take a rest. Emma caught herself in the middle of her train of thought, because it was not that she didn’t care how she looked. She wanted to look good, and gave thought to what she wore. It was simply that she didn’t hold a great deal to the categories that others would apply to her dress. She knew what she liked, and wore what she liked. It was not for anyone else that she made these decision.

But with a market place as competitive as the one she had entered she thought it perhaps a little conformity to what attracted attention was deserved. Kathy did not have the same challenge, not only could she afford to buy the faux charity shop items all the rage, but she insisted that her motives were the same as Emma’s, to wear what she wanted, not with an iota of credence to what others thought.

Until the summer Emma had never had any reason to question Kathy’s integrity, assuming that she had a natural style and ease that she lacked. It was a couple of weeks into their meanderings through the countryside that Kathy came down one morning into the spacious breakfast room in the farmhouse that so kindly had taken them in when they arrived after dark, with the story that became a well worn friend of chaos and confusion, and the need of two damsels for shelter for the night. Kathy was wearing a trouser and jumper combination that few Icelandic blacksmiths would consider fashionable.

Aghast, Emma failed to find the words to respond, but Kathy caught the meaning. “Why should I care what I look like, no one important will see me today.” Which was perhaps true, if a little hurting to Emma, she did not expect any effort but it pulled the veil away from the lens through which Kathy determined importance.

They had talked around it while on the road, dipping into and out of why they wore what they wore. Emma couldn’t decide if she felt betrayed by the inauthenticity of her friend. So many times she had suggest that she was wearing what she wanted, but all the time it was for the attention of a guy, or in the absence of any particular target, for guys in general. Emma had tried to do it before, mimicking the choices of those she had followed Hollywood in dubbing the plastics. But it didn’t really work and any confidence that Emma had in the way she looked plummeted through the flaw. 

As Emma made her way into Leon and sought out the manager she pushed this out of her mind with a the continued realisation that she was going to struggle with this unconventional rat race. At least, very unconventional within the church.

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