Last summer, I took my small grandchildren out in the seaside town where I’ve lived for the past fourteen years. Walking home, we passed a throng of tourists at the bus stop. Shortly afterwards, my mobile pinged with a message. ‘I’m trying to get hold of Jane’ it said. ‘My name is Lesley. I’m sitting on top of a bus and thought I saw you walk by with two little children.’
My heart almost stopped. Lesley? My childhood friend who I’d virtually grown up with? Whose father had put in a gate between our two gardens so we could go in and out more easily? Who had been my bridesmaid (first time round) and whose bridesmaid I had also been? Lesley whom I’d lost contact with because our lives had stupidly drifted apart?
I couldn’t believe it was her
I rang her immediately, my voice shaking. ‘It’s me,’ I blurted out. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she said. ‘Are you on holiday here too?’ ‘No. We live here.’ I replied ‘We?’ she asked. ‘It’s complicated,’ I said. ‘
By what I see as serendipity and she interprets as Divine providence, my old friend was staying in the town I had moved to with my second husband a decade and a half ago. Needless to say, I headed over to her hotel immediately. It had been 20 years since we’d last seen each other, but there was no awkwardness. We just hugged and laughed and cried.
She suggested we have a drink, but I explained I don’t drink alcohol any more, partly because my taste buds had changed after having my ovaries removed following a cancer scare and partly because, after the end of my first marriage, I’d worked as a writer in residence of a high security prison where many of the men had committed appalling crimes under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
I knew Lesley had set up her own business as a physio but it turned out she’d just retired. ‘It gives me more time to do street evangelism,’ she told me. As teenagers, we had both been active church members and used to put those colourful ‘God Loves You’ stickers on bus windows. Nowadays my religion is a quiet one, though still important to me. Lesley became a born-again Christian nearly 25 years before and is passionate about spreading the word of God.
How was it we had drifted apart?
As we sat and talked (and talked and talked) I reflected on how it had happened that we had drifted apart after being so close. It began when our personal lives started to diverge. Having married at 21, Lesley found herself unexpectedly divorced at 30 and she went to Saudi Arabia for a year to set up a physiotherapy department. By then I was married with two small children. Lesley was godmother to one of them. We wrote regularly (no email in those days.) I couldn’t wait for her to come home.
When she did, I attempted matchmaking her and my husband’s best friend. It didn’t work out. Which was probably for the best, because I went on to marry him myself!
Although Lesley came to stay when my beloved mother died, aged just 56, and I had left my staff job on a prominent woman’s magazine and gone freelance, it was a crazily busy time and we never got the chance to have any proper chats. After that, we drifted further apart as our lives became more different. But I never forgot her. How could I?
Midnight feasts and obsessions with boys
We’d met when she was eight after our mothers, who had become friends, introduced us. We bonded immediately. Lesley’s father, a lovely, warm man, put up a table tennis table in his study. We would spend hours playing. Lesley came on holiday with us to the Isle of Wight where my much-loved GP godmother had a cottage. We had secret midnight feasts and explored rock pools.
As teenagers, boys became our joint obsession. Lesley had an older brother – something which seemed truly wonderful to me. He was allowed to hold the occasional party, and we were allowed to go! The excitement of sitting in a bean bag snogging a stubbly 16-year-old boy still makes my heart beat faster.
Then there was the terrible weekend when Lesley was rushed into hospital with peritonitis. I will never forget that dark Sunday night when my mother told me that my best friend was seriously ill and might not live. It seemed impossible. As soon as she was allowed visitors, I was there, holding her hand and painting her nails to make her feel better.
When I went to university, Lesley came to stay. I would visit her in London when she did her physio training. We’d go out as a foursome with the boys we eventually both married to. We visited each other’s first homes feeling very grown up and responsible.
Laughter through the sadness
We talked on the hotel terrace all evening, filling in the gaps in the intervening years. Lesley had been through what she described as ‘some prodigal years in the pursuit of true love’. I told her more about my divorce and my second, happy marriage. We laughed as we had laughed as children, teenagers and young wives. And we laughed through the sadness at the lost years and at the happiness of rediscovering each other.
Before she returned to London, I took Lesley to meet my daughter Lucy – her goddaughter and the mother of my beautiful grandchildren. A hug was the cue for more tears and laughter all round.
Lesley and I have met up twice since our reunion. When my father passed away last Christmas, she came to the station on my way home to give me a comforting hug, and next month, she is coming to stay and spend time with her goddaughter. If I put our chance meeting in one of my novels, my readers might dismiss it as an unlikely coincidence. But we both feel it was meant to be. That we have been given a special ‘comfort’ prize as we approach our 68th birthdays. What an amazing gift it has been.
By Jane Corry
Jane Corry’s most recent book, published by Penguin is COMING TO FIND YOU, available in bookshops, supermarkets and online. Ebook is 99p for limited period on Amazon