Chapter 2: Finding Katie
Once again, having experienced true affection from a wonderful girl, JJ was lonely. Karen McClair had been spotted by a record producer, and had been offered a contract. This meant that she would leave Bristol for a new life in London.
He felt especially lonely, because most of his friends had left Bristol. Effy, Tony Stonem's sister had gone to London to start work with a hedge fund company, taking Naomi with her. Naomi had been offered a place at Goldsmiths College. Emily Fitch had left for a job in the United States, while Pandora had gone to Harvard University, also in the USA. No doubt, she would resume her relationship with Thomas, who had gained a sports scholarship to that university.
Losing Karen's delightful company had knocked JJ back. Just as he was beginning to believe the relationship had a promising future, he had lost the girl of his dreams. His natural shyness resurfaced, and he retreated to his room where, in his spare time, he would read books, while listening to all kinds of music. He seemed to be able to take in two streams of information simultaneously and pay attention to both of them. He could, for instance, be reading 'The Lord of the Rings' while listening to an opera or the 'Gladiator' soundtrack album.
This almost hermit like existence was beginning to worry Celia, his mother. Edward, his father felt it was probably a normal part of growing up for someone with Jeremiah's condition, and kept himself to himself. Apart from the fact that JJ's outbursts of frustration were less frequent, it appeared that he had slipped right back into his former ways before he had met Lara.
This situation did not appear to be improving for a considerable period. At times, it almost seemed that JJ was gradually losing interest in life. Celia and Edward did take him on holidays and short breaks, in the hope that these might improve his condition. He seemed brighter while was away from home, but lapsed within a few days of returning to Bristol.
One evening, when JJ had been living the life of a hermit for about eighteen months, Celia, now very concerned, persuaded Jeremiah to visit one of his old haunts, and try to take in the atmosphere there. It was the pub where Cook used to take the gang for various celebrations and pub quizzes. JJ wasn't very enthusiastic about the idea, but felt he had nothing to lose apart from some reading and listening time.
The Fishponds Tavern had not changed much since his previous visit with the 'gang', so despite the absence of his friends, he was in a familiar and homely place. He felt comfortable there. He ordered a pint of lager and sat down, hopefully he thought, out of anyone's way.
Fortunately for JJ, he was not the only one acutely feeling the loss of the other members of the gang. That particular evening Katie Fitch had decided that the Fishponds Tavern would be a place to sit on her own and think about 'old times'. Apart from JJ, she was the only member of the 'gang' still living in Bristol.
JJ was sitting on his own, letting random thoughts race uncontrollably through his mind, when he heard a familiar voice from his now increasingly distant past.
"Hello, JJ." said the voice, "what on earth are you doing out here? I haven't seen you for ages."
JJ snapped out of his trance like state and looked round. A short, pretty red-haired girl had sat down next to him. She was smiling.
"Hello Katie." said JJ, "I might ask you the same question."
"You're the only person who can instantly tell which one of us is which." said Katie, "Anyway, I was feeling so lonely, now everyone else has gone. I suddenly felt that going back to one of our old haunts and absorbing the atmosphere might help."
"And has it?" asked JJ.
"Yes, it has," said Katie, smiling, "Because I've met you. Is this the first time you've been here since we all went our separate ways?"
"Yes, it is." said JJ, "My mum suggested I should get out a bit instead of moping about in my room every evening."
"That's almost spooky." said Katie, "It's my first time too. It's almost as if fate drew both of us here on the same evening. Do you think that could mean something?"
"That depends whether you believe in fate." said JJ, taking a draught from his pint, "I think it was just coincidence."
"I believe it was a lot more than that." said Katie, "I truly believe that we're two lonely people whom fate has brought together to become friends."
"Would we get on together?" asked JJ, "Of the twins, you seem to be the much more forthright one. I don't know whether I'd be able to live with that."
"That was the 'old' Katie." said Katie, "Since learning about my premature menopause, I've come to terms with it and I've mellowed a lot. I think you'll find the 'new' me even sweeter than Emily."
"How is Emily, by the way?" asked JJ.
"I haven't heard much from her," said Katie, "But she seems to be thriving over there. She does miss Naomi, though."
"That's understandable," said JJ, "They were so in to each other for quite a while."
"Yes," said Katie, "I didn't realise just how long they'd known each other. Now they're thousands of miles apart, and it's all my fault."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." said JJ, "I think Ems might have wanted to go to the States anyway."
"No, I don't think it was that." said Katie, "I believe I drove her away by my attitude to her relationship with Naomi. I drove both of them away."
Katie's eyes filled with tears, and she started sobbing. JJ put his arm across her shoulders and gently caressed her in a gesture of consolation. This appeared to have the desired effect as Katie's sobs subsided.
"As I said before," said JJ, softly, "Don't blame yourself. We've all got our lives to live. I'm on my own because Karen wanted to Pursue a musical career in London. In any case, Naomi had got herself a place at Goldsmiths College, so she was going to London anyway."
"I suppose so." said Katie, still a bit tearful, "I guess I was being a bit selfish trying to control my sister's life. Anyway, she's gone her own way now, and there isn't a lot I can do about it."
"As you said," said JJ, "You do seem to be a gentler, more understanding person than I remember, when you took the 'older sister' position. I like the 'new' Katie."
JJ smiled and cuddled Katie. She wiped away what was left of her tears and smiled back. The couple, for that was what they were rapidly becoming, decided to continue the evening by going into the centre of Bristol and taking a quiet stroll along the harbourside, then having another drink in one of the city centre pubs. As he felt Katie's affectionate presence, JJ was beginning to feel more cheerful than he had been for well over a year.
"This is nice." said JJ, as they commenced their walk near the arm of the harbour near the city centre.
They strolled along the harbourside until they were opposite the SS Great Britain, then walked back to the 'V Shed' public house near where they had started their walk. They held hands for most of the way. They spent the rest of the evening drinking and chatting in the 'V Shed'. JJ was delighted that he had struck up a friendship with the person he had always thought of as the somewhat 'prickly' Fitch twin. The 'new' Katie showed herself to be a gentle, compassionate and understanding person, for whom he could have a lot of affection. They talked about many subjects, including JJ's ambition to eventually go to university if and when he could reduce his autism symptoms to a manageable level. Katie expressed the opinion that his forced avoidance of relationships with girls had made him worse, because he now seemed quite 'normal' to her, now that she had become closely acquainted with him.
Katie didn't open up too much about her long-term plans, as she didn't want to upset JJ on their first evening together. That subject would have to wait for an appropriate moment. Over the next few months, two things were happening. JJ was dating Katie Fitch on a regular basis, and came to regard her as a really close friend, but because of her as yet unspoken ambitious, she could not think of him as a permanent boyfriend. Meanwhile, Celia and Edward, JJ's parents, having taken JJ on various holidays in the hope that they might improve his condition were just beginning to think along very different lines for their next vacation.
One Friday evening, after they had been going out for about a year, Katie felt she could no longer keep her secret. She would have to tell JJ about her plans, as she was now committed to move to Liverpool in about four months time and, regrettably would have to terminate what seemed to be a promising relationship with him. Fortunately for her, JJ's parents had, that very afternoon broached the subject of their next holiday with him. They had suggested that it should be a cruise. JJ was excited by this prospect. As a result of this, his immediate future would not now seem to be a bottomless abyss when Katie broke her news.
JJ and Katie settled down in the 'V Shed', which had now become a frequent venue for the start of their dates. JJ seemed happier and more stable than usual, so Katie felt that this might be the most appropriate moment to tell JJ about her ambitions. Katie bought the first drinks.
"JJ, there's something I've got to tell you," said Katie, "And I've been putting it off for months, in case it upsets you."
"It must be worrying you as well," said JJ, "Because you usually come straight out with things you have to say. What's the problem."
"It's not actually a problem," said Katie, "But it does mean that we won't be seeing each other anymore within a few months."
All sorts of worrying thoughts were now racing through JJ's turbulent mind. Was Katie terminally ill? Had she found another friend? Were her folks moving away?
"What's happened?" asked JJ.
"Nothing has actually happened." said Katie, "And I'm not suffering from a terminal disease, in case that's what you were worried about. It's that I've been offered a job with good prospects in the Autumn. The only problem is that it's based in Liverpool, so I'll be moving away in about four months time."
"That seems a good reason to make the most of what time we have left." said JJ, "I know I'll be sad when you go, but at least you're here for a little longer." he paused, then said, "I'm beginning to think there's nothing permanent in this world, especially in relationships."
"That was a melancholy thought." said Katie, "But from your initial reaction to my news, it sounds as though your immediate future contains something nice."
"It does." said JJ, "I don't know where we're going to go yet, but my parents have suggested that our next holiday might be a cruise. I'm really looking forward to it."
"Perhaps you might meet someone aboard the ship." said Katie, "Stranger things have happened."
"I don't think that's very likely." said JJ, "Anyway, the cruise might not happen, but I'll be pleased if we do set sail."
"What makes you think it might fall through?" asked Katie.
"I've been promised so many things in the past which haven't happened for one reason or another." said JJ, "My life so far has been a string of disappointments. Both of my promising relationships have ended for reasons beyond my control, and now you're going to disappear from my life. I'm just beginning to believe I'm doomed to be lonely."
"Wow!" exclaimed Katie, "That was a melancholy torrent of words. Seriously, you need cheering up. - How about this?"
Katie embraced JJ, and kissed him fully on the lips, then smiled, looking him straight in the eyes.
"Wh - what was that for?" said JJ, astonished, "I liked it, of course, but what made you do it?"
"It was for you being you." said Katie, "It was for you being the gentle, honest, thoughtful young man that I've come to love. I'm almost regretting going to Liverpool, but unfortunately for us as a couple, that's where my future lies. As for you, I've noticed a change in you since we've been together. You're more confident and outgoing these days. You're a lot stronger. If you can keep that attitude when I've gone to Liverpool, I'm sure you'll meet someone even more suited to you than me."
"That's quite an ask." said JJ, "You're going to be a hard act to follow."
That evening, when he returned home, JJ told his parents about the impending separation from Katie Fitch and the reason for it. He also said he was beginning to be somewhat fatalistic about his relationships. Celia consoled him and advised him to make the most of his remaining time with Katie. He replied that he had already discussed it with Katie, and come to the conclusion that that was the best plan.
"Anyway, it's sleep time." said Celia, "Tomorrow, we can discuss what kind of cruise we're all going on."
"You mean it's actually going to happen." said JJ.
"I know you've been let down in the past," said Celia, "But yes, we're definitely going on this cruise. The only decision is which one? I've got a sheaf of brochures about various itineraries, so we can talk about it tomorrow, but now, it's time for bed."
The next day was Saturday, so Edward and Celia would have plenty of time to browse through the brochures and decide where to go on the proposed cruise. Unusually for him, Edward was taking an active interest in the planning, as he didn't particularly want to go somewhere where the weather was too hot. This ruled out the Maldives and the Caribbean, although he did say that he wouldn't mind the Mediterranean. JJ seemed more interested in the possible 'educational' and cultural aspects. This left four main options; the Eastern Mediterranean with the Greek islands, the coast of Norway with the possibility of the Northern Lights, Iceland with the North Atlantic, or the Baltic and Russia.
Another factor to be taken into consideration was the port of departure. The Atlantic and Baltic cruises sailed from UK ports, while most of the Eastern Mediterranean cruises involved a flight to Athens. The Norwegian trip either used an East coast port in the UK, or a flight to Bergen.
In the end all three, Edward, Celia and JJ had decided on a sixteen-night Baltic cruise that sailed from Avonmouth in about four months time.
"That one seems perfect." commented JJ, "It should be educational. It won't be too hot, and best of all, it sails from only a few miles from here."
"Which visits attracted you on the Baltic cruise?" asked Celia.
"St Petersburg, obviously, since I've read 'War and Peace'," said JJ, "And I would certainly like to see Berlin, now it's the Capital of Germany again. I'm really looking forward to this. Strangely, deep down, I've got a good feeling about this one."
"What do you mean?" asked Celia.
"I can't put my finger on it," said JJ, "But it's a sort of premonition. It's a sort of faint feeling that something unbelievably nice is going to happen."
"Well," said Celia, "You might meet someone you really like on the trip. I expect most of the passengers will come from the Bristol area."
"Oddly enough, that's something Katie said last night." said JJ, "Of course, I rejected it out of hand, as the least likely outcome. Most cruise passengers, from what I've heard, are from your generation or older."
Having agreed on their itinerary, Celia went ahead and booked the Baltic cruise. Now that JJ had something really positive to anticipate, the inevitable ending of his close relationship with Katie Fitch no longer seemed like 'the end of the world'. JJ, as he said he would, made the most of his remaining time with Katie. She spent a lot of their time together boosting his morale, and nurturing the 'good feeling' he had about the forthcoming cruise.
The departure date of the cruise was the day after Katie's final departure for her new life on Merseyside, so JJ was able to say a loving goodbye to her and wouldn't have any time to dwell on his possible return to a lonely existence.
Obviously, Katie's departure was a sad occasion for JJ, but any melancholy feelings were counterbalanced by his optimistic and eager anticipation of the imminent sea cruise. His 'good feeling' about the voyage seemed to be intensifying.
"So, this is 'adieu' then." said Katie, as the couple stood outside Temple Meads station before the departure of Katie's train, "You don't seem too downhearted."
"I think that's because I've been psychologically preparing for this moment for months." said JJ, "In any case, this time tomorrow, I'll be on board the Marco Polo, getting ready to see the world, or at least, part of it. I've still got this strange feeling that something good is going to happen, probably quite early on."
"Perhaps you are going to meet your lifetime partner." said Katie, "You do so need a relationship that's going to last. You've now had three 'temporary' associations; Lara, reclaimed by her former boyfriend, Karen and her musical career, and now I'm deserting you because I'm going away. Do you think you've changed?"
"I think I have." said JJ, "I'm less pessimistic. The prospect of your departure hasn't knocked me back as much as losing Lara or Karen. I suppose I've had a few months to prepare for it, so It wasn't a sudden shock. Also, like you, mum seems to think I'm going to meet someone on the ship. Obviously, I'll be disappointed if it doesn't happen, but I feel optimistic."
"Keep that feeling, JJ." said Katie, "You need someone to guide and inspire you. I hope I've done that over the last year or so."
"You've certainly done that." said JJ, "There were times when I really thought we were going to make it, but alas, it had to end, just like both the others."
"That sounded a sad thought." said Katie, "I'm sure you'll find someone soon. You're a lot more confident these days, so I won't be too worried about you, but I will still think about all the memories we've created together. Anyway, my train is nearly due, so adieu, sweetest Jeremiah, we've had such a wonderful time together. I'll try to keep in touch."
"So will I." said JJ, "I guess we can still 'be together in electric dreams'."
"That's a lovely thought." said Katie, "I love that song. I'm never going to forget about you either."
Tears filled Katie's eyes and she started sobbing. It fell to JJ to console her and again promise to keep in touch. The couple enjoyed one last long intense kiss before Katie headed for the ticket barrier, leaving JJ for ever. He felt tears welling up in his eyes, as he saw Katie walk away for the very last time. Although he had parted with his two short-term girlfriends in the past, this was an unfamiliar sensation. He was perplexed, but on the positive side, it did mean that he was getting in touch with his emotions.
He didn't have much time to feel melancholy, however as he had to partake in the final preparations for the cruise, which was to sail from Avonmouth the next day. He arrived home, still feeling a bit weepy. Celia consoled him, and said that it was absolutely normal to feel like crying after saying 'adieu' to such a close friend. Katie had been JJ's constant companion for well over a year, and had kept him on an even keel for the whole of that time.
Once his tears were diminished, JJ made final preparations for the voyage. His best dress suit was already packed. He added three bow ties; one white, one black and one red, for the 'formal dress' evenings.
The Jones family went to bed that evening knowing that there was nothing more to do before boarding the taxi to Avonmouth docks the following morning.
They woke up as the next day dawned cloudy and damp. The weather didn't look promising. However, the forecast did promise a clearance from the West and a clear night.
After breakfast, the taxi arrived and took them to the dockside. They joined the queue of other prospective cruisers waiting to board the ship. He couldn't be quite sure, but JJ thought he had caught a brief glimpse of Roundview's College Director, David Blood in the crowd.
"That's just about the last person I want to meet." thought JJ.
Once they had checked in, they went to their cabin, an inside one on the starboard side of the ship, and made themselves at home. JJ was still feeling a bit gloomy after saying goodbye to Katie the previous day, but was putting a brave face on it.
Once everyone was on board, and after they had enjoyed a buffet lunch in one of the restaurants, it was time for the usual lifeboat drill involving life jackets and the escape routes to their muster stations. While this was going on, JJ thought he caught another glimpse of David Blood, but attempted to put it out of his mind. However, random disturbing thoughts were beginning to race through his mind.
As JJ appeared to be getting a bit fidgety, Celia and Edward decided to have their dinner in Marco's, the self-service buffet restaurant where they had lunch, rather than the more formal surroundings of the Waldorf waiter service one.
After dinner, once it was dark, JJ asked whether he could go out for some fresh air, as he wanted to be alone to try to calm his thoughts. Celia said he could, provided he didn't get lost. While exploring the higher decks of the ship, he found an open area ahead of the bridge and one deck down. It was unlit, so it offered a good view of the night sky. By this time, the ship was sailing South-West off the North Devon coast. JJ for the time being found the peace he sought, looking up at the late Summer stars. He returned to his cabin feeling unusually calm. His 'good feeling' had intensified. He did not know it at the time, but the next day, he would meet someone who would change his life for ever.