“I’m sure it’s in here somewhere,” Nan muttered, reaching for her spectacles, before attempting to prise open a battered old biscuit-tin lid. Katie didn’t know whether to step in or let Nan soldier on. Although Nan’s arthritic hands gave away the fact that she had recently reached the ripe old age of eighty-three, her mind was still razor sharp. Katie always loved listening to Nan’s stories, even though she’d heard them over and over again.
The biscuit tin, which had once been full of Christmas Shortbread, was covered in tartan and festive flowers. Katie couldn’t quite place the era. She eyed Nan fondly, taking in her features; her white hair, cut into a short, modern style, and the slenderness of her frame. The biscuit tin looked dated, but somehow, Nan never did. Nan had always been such a stylish lady. Katie couldn’t think of many women in their eighties, who still wore jeans, apart from that Mary Berry, who did the cooking on TV. Today, Nan was elegantly dressed in a beige cashmere-look jumper. Tied at her neck was a gold, sequinned scarf, which brought warmth to her face and made her blue eyes, although furrowed with lines, appear vivid and bright.
Inside the old biscuit tin was an assortment of letters, cards, and photographs, along with many other odds and ends.
“I used to call this my Memory Box” chuckled Nan. “I put all my keepsakes inside it – you know theatre tickets, letters, that sort of thing. Haven’t opened it in years! It’s probably a load of old tat!”
As Nan rummaged through the old tin, Katie fell into a poignant silence. This assortment of forgotten items, each and every photograph or keepsake, told a story; the story of Nan’s life, which in turn, was a part of Katie’s own.
At twenty-two, the majority of Katie’s life still lay ahead of her. But lately, she’d been feeling a bit stuck in a rut. After leaving college, Katie had ended up taking a job in the City, as an office Junior, at the Insurance firm her Uncle David worked for. Just over three years later, she was still there, filing, typing, taking minutes at board meetings, making coffee and ordering stationery supplies. There was nothing particularly wrong about it. The salary wasn’t bad. Katie had a wardrobe full of nice clothes. She was saving up towards a deposit for a flat, and she had her own car. She caught the 8:08 train to Paddington every morning, and arrived home again at 6:32. It was familiar. It was safe. But sometimes, Katie wondered if she ought to have followed her heart, and done that Teaching Degree she’d looked into.
“Here it is!” said Nan, finally laying hands on what she had been searching for: An old black and white photograph of herself as a young woman.
“See? I told you! You look just like me!”
Katie gasped. She could definitely see the strong family likeness. It was astonishing how much nan resembled her father across the eyes. Nan’s shoulder length hair, much darker in those days, was set in elegant, pin-tucks and waves. She wore a dress with a perky little collar, cinched in dramatically at the waist, and high-heeled shoes, showing off her shapely legs.
“I was about twenty here”, Nan recalled, with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Nan, you looked like a film star!” Katie said, drinking in the glamour and femininity of the era.
“Oh, go on!” laughed Nan. “But I was rather slim, wasn’t I?”
“A million dollars! You must have had all the boys chasing you!”
Nan’s face lit up. “I had a few admirers. But I only ever had eyes for your Grandpa George. Oh how I miss that man!” She sighed. “This was a few months before we started courting.”
Courting. Katie couldn’t help smiling at Nan’s old-fashioned expression.
“How did you meet again?” Katie asked.
“Oh, it was a chance encounter” Nan recalled. “I was working at the dress-makers, you know, on the sewing machines. One day I was sent to the post office on an errand. Your Grandpa was standing behind me in the queue. He was the most handsome man I’d ever clapped eyes on! We started talking and he asked me where I worked. Well, that evening, he was waiting for me at the gates! Turns out he’d been waiting there for over an hour! And from that day onwards, he waited for me every single day – come rain or shine.
Katie sighed. How romantic!
“How old were you when you got married, nan?”
“I’d just turned twenty-one. I was a baby, really. But we were head over heels.”
Katie thought about her own life. There were no signs of anything remotely close to marriage on the horizon for her. In fact, Katie seemed to possess quite a talent for falling for the wrong type of guy. Katie and her best friend Sarah had once spent a hilarious evening coming up with nick-names for a few of Katie’s biggest dating disasters. There was vain Wayne followed by Lying Lee. Oh, and not forgetting, two-timing Tim, of course!
It would be so nice, for once in her life, to find the type of guy that would wait at the gates – do something truly romantic- for her. Katie sighed. She wondered if men like Grandpa George even existed anymore?
Joe Hart’s face flashed momentarily into Katie’s mind. But she batted the thought away as quickly as it had immerged. Don’t be so ridiculous.
Nan spoke very calmly, as she poured another cup of tea, as though she could see into the depths of Katie’s soul. “So, any young men on the scene for you, dear?
Katie shook her head, a little too quickly, before biting into one of nan’s famous home-made rock cakes. Chance would be a fine thing. “I’m afraid not, Nan. I still haven’t met the right one.”
Nan eyed Katie over the rim of her spectacles as though she were examining a candidate at an interview. “Hmm, you can’t fool an old fool like me! There’s someone on your mind, I can tell.”
Katie sighed, admitting defeat. “Well, there was this guy…Oh it’s ridiculous. I met him on my way home from work a few weeks ago…but, let’s just say it was definitely a chance encounter!”
Nan seemed unperturbed. “Well, what’s his name?”
“His name was Joe. Joseph Hart. It was just before Christmas. My train was cancelled. I had high heels on and my feet were killing me – so I found this cute little coffee shop. I sat down and started reading my book. I was miles away, when suddenly, this guy started talking to me. Turns out he was reading the same book! We got chatting, and he ended up buying me another Caramel Latte.”
“Oh?” said Nan, clinking her china teacup onto its matching saucer. “And what happened after that?”
Katie wriggled in her seat. “Well, it was all going great, until I found out he lives in Devon. He’d come to London for the weekend – to visit his cousin. We chatted for a while, but then he had to dash off for his train. So we quickly tore a napkin in half and scribbled down our phone numbers. And that was that. But, he’s probably lost my number, and well, Devon’s not exactly round the corner, is it?
“Not exactly,” repeated Nan. “But I’m pretty sure they have a university there. Maybe you should look into doing that Teaching Degree.”
Katie smiled. Nan was so wonderfully black and white. In her mind, it was simple: Boy meets girl. Boy waits for girl at the gates. Boy and girl fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. But unfortunately, it was no longer the 1950’s. Life just wasn’t that simple anymore.
“You never know, Nan. Katie sighed. “He might just surprise me!”
“Well, of course he will!” said Nan with a twinkle in her eye. “He’d be a fool to let you slip away!”
The surprise came a few days later. Katie was clearing out her wardrobe when her phone rang.
“Hello?” she said, not recognising the number.
There was a slight pause.
“Are you doing anything this evening?”
It took Katie a few moments to remember where she’d heard that West Country lilt. It was Joe Hart!
With her heart pounding like the clappers, Katie managed to reply in a composed manner. “Err, nope. No plans whatsoever. Why?”
“Cos, I just wondered if you fancied another one of those Caramel Lattes? It’s Joe. Joseph Hart. The guy from the coffee shop? Do you remember me?
Katie caught her breath. Are you kidding? “Hi Joe. Yes, of course, I remember you.”
“Well. I thought I’d pay my cousin another visit, you know, hit the January sales and all that.” His voice lowered slightly. “Actually, I hate shopping. But it seemed like a good excuse to see you again.”
Wait, was he in London now? Had he really come all this way, for her?
Katie’s heart did a flip. “Where abouts are you exactly?”
“I’m at that coffee shop. I’m just getting to that last chapter of the book. Have you read it yet?”
“Yep. I finished it last night. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s a good ending.”
“Ok. Well, I’ll be waiting here for you.”
“I’m on my way!” Katie grinned.
Practically flying down the stairs and grabbing for her coat and scarf, Katie’s mum stopped her by the front door. “Ooh you look nice, love. Where are you flying off to?”
Katie smiled. “I’m going to meet a friend for coffee.”
Mum smiled. “Well, have fun! Oh, and before you go, I was just about to throw this out, but it’s such a nice tin, I wondered if you could make use of it?”
Katie couldn’t help but smile when she caught sight of the empty biscuit tin that her mum was holding in her hands. Christmas Shortbread.
“As a matter of fact, that might just come in handy.”
Katie rummaged around in her coat pockets for her gloves and quite by chance, pulled out the napkin that had Joe Hart’s telephone number scrawled across it.
Instinctively, before leaving the house, Katie opened the biscuit tin lid, and placed the napkin inside.