WRITTEN BY MARIE PENMAN
She’d never forgotten her whirlwind student romance – but had she left it too late to track him down?
Although not quite at the age where the obituaries were the first thing she looked at in a newspaper, Angela often found herself drawn to the births, marriages and deaths page.
All life was revealed here, and in her overly-emotional menopausal state – she was fifty-two – she could occasionally be reduced to tears by announcements that were particularly touching.
David has died and although I am lost without him, I will forever be so glad that he chose to spend his life with me.
Or After eight years of trying, we have finally been blessed with a beautiful baby to love and cherish.
She enjoyed reading the notices in The Times most, perhaps because people occasionally chose to reveal more detail or to write more poetically. An old boyfriend from Angela’s university days, who came from quite a well-off family, had told her that his mother “took The Times” and had proudly showed off his sister’s engagement notice when it appeared in the paper.
Angela smiled as she thought of Tom. They’d shared a passionate couple of weeks at the end of their final term, when they were both twenty-one and not looking to settle down. After graduation, Tom had gone to volunteer in Malawi for a year and Angela had worked at Camp America, then had moved on to a relationship with a serious young man from Chicago, before finally leaving him and returning home to the UK.
She’d lost touch with Tom, of course – it was the days before mobile phones and social media – but she often thought of him as the one who got away. They had a real connection.
They’d met at a student party, where he’d poured her a glass of champagne and shook her hand politely as he introduced himself.
“Thomas Faber – but call me Tom. Only my mum calls me Thomas.”
Angela had been enchanted by the young man in front of her. Tall and handsome with pale grey eyes and a quick smile, he was funny, charming and very clever. Unlike any other boy she’d met, in fact – then and now.
They’d talked for hours at that first party, then wandered the streets together, before falling asleep against each other on Angela’s old, faded sofa in her student flat. Until then, she’d never fully understood what people meant when they described having chemistry with someone, but after a few days with Tom, she knew. Something clicked and within three days, a crazy thought slipped into her head – she wanted to marry this man.
But then real life kicked in. Tom flew to Africa and Angela headed in the other direction and despite their best intentions, they never met again. They wrote the occasional letter to each other at those overseas addresses but these stopped after a few months.
It was funny that Angela had thought of Tom again now, as she was currently sitting in her lawyer’s office, about to sign the papers on her second divorce. She had picked up a copy of The Times in the reception area, just for something to read while she waited.
She flicked through the news stories half-heartedly, then came to the obituaries page. And there, jumping out as though it were printed in block capitals in red ink, were the words: Faber, Thomas – recently deceased. Much missed by his mother and father, sister…
Angela gasped aloud in shock. No! It couldn’t be Tom. He couldn’t be gone!
For decades, in and out of marriages and relationships and children, Angela had dreamed about tracking Tom down and rekindling their romance. She knew it was far-fetched – she didn’t even have his address – but whenever her life had become challenging or difficult or just sad, she’d consoled herself with the thought that at least Tom was still out in the world somewhere, and that maybe they’d meet again…
She felt tears come quickly to her eyes as she read the notice in the paper. She hadn’t known his parents’ names but vaguely recalled his sister’s engagement notice. She’d been called Catherine, and now, in front of her, this was the name in the death notice.
Although Tom and Catherine were both quite common names, Angela thought it was too much of a coincidence to have siblings with the exact same first and second names.
She was stunned. The idea that Tom Faber might be dead, might no longer be the happy ending to her disappointing love life, filled her with dismay.
Just then, her solicitor popped his head out of his office door to call her in for her appointment and Angela pushed all thoughts of Tom from her mind as she focused on ridding herself of husband number two.
Later that day, Angela met up with her sister for a post-divorce cocktail in a bar in town.
“So, is that you a free woman again?” Laura said with a grin as she placed two extravagantly-dressed glasses on the table in front of us. To her horror, Angela started crying.
“Ange, don’t cry!” Laura yelped. “You said getting rid of Jim was the best decision you’d ever made!”
“I’m not crying over Jim,” Angela sniffed. “I’m crying about Tom Faber… He’s – he’s dead!”
Laura looked genuinely shocked.
“What – Tom from university?” she asked. “The one who got away?”
Angela cried even louder.
“I always thought we’d find our way back to each other, but now he really has got away – he’s dead!”
Laura listened as she explained all about the obituary and the sadness and the missed opportunity.
“But how can you be sure it’s your Tom?” she asked, two cocktails later. “It”s not that unusual a name…”
“He had a sister called Catherine – I remembered that from her engagement notice: Miss Catherine Cora Faber to be married to Jack Cumberland.” Angela gave a half-smile. “I pointed out that her initials would be CCC…”
Hmmm. Now that’s quite an unusual name – I know you said Tom had never been on social media, but have you tried tracking down his sister at all?
Within seconds, Laura had found her on Facebook.
“Look, Angie, it’s her – it must be!”
Sure enough, Catherine Cora Cumberland appeared on screen, looking very wealthy and glamorous. Angela read over her details, feeling slightly drunk and dazed, as though she were falling down a rabbit hole. Memories of her past, of Tom, of the tender moments they’d shared… She felt a tear trickle down her cheek again.
But Laura was in a proactive mode.
“Nope, enough of that, Ange!” she announced. “Give me twenty-four hours to do some research and I’ll find out if Tom is still around. Let’s drink to that!”
They clinked glasses, hugged and then headed out to catch the train home.
In bed that night, Angela couldn’t help but think of Tom and the brief time they’d spent together. He’d been so kind and witty and lovely – she sometimes thought that deep down, her two marriages had failed because neither husband had lived up to the high bar set by Tom Faber.
But that was crazy, wasn’t it? She couldn’t possibly have fallen in love with someone so quickly, and at such a young age… could she?
Angela eventually got out of bed in the middle of the night and dug around in the big storage container she kept under her bed, which contained photos, cards and other remnants of her past.
Right at the bottom, underneath her degree certificate (she’d wondered where that was!) she found a couple of faded photographs and half a dozen airmail letters clipped together. The sum total of her time with Tom Faber.
She looked at the photos, at his floppy hair and smiling face, and felt a tug on her heart-strings. He couldn’t be dead. It would be too unfair.
After reading through his letters, sent from Malawi and full of chat about the village he was living in and the kids he was teaching, Angela went back to bed, lost in a melancholy sadness. Why on earth hadn’t she looked Tom up when she”d moved back to the UK? Why had she let him get away?
She finally fell asleep around three o’clock and slept very late the next morning, wakened by her phone beeping beside her as a text from Laura came in. It was just two words.
Angela sat bolt upright and gasped in amazement. She phoned Laura.
“So I’m thinking about retraining as a private investigator,” Laura said as soon as she picked up the phone – she worked as a dental nurse.
I’ve found out so much since I left you last night! Honestly, sis, you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff people put on social media!
“Tell me everything you know!”
Laura had begun by researching the death notice in the Times, which quickly ruled out that it was Angela’s Tom who had died – “It’s actually a pretty common name”. This then took her on to his sister’s social media accounts, both personal and professional.
She’d put in a friend request, had had that accepted (why did people accept friend requests from complete strangers?) and had then been able to see all of Catherine’s posts, updates and photos.
Including those taken at her daughter’s recent wedding – where the bride was photographed hugging her Uncle Tom.
Laura sent the photos via WhatsApp and although terrified that they would be a let-down, Angela clicked on them straight away.
He looked the same, but different. Still handsome, still in good shape, still with that winning smile. To her horror, Angela gulped down a sob. She felt such longing, such regret, when she looked at Tom. He seemed to represent everything she’d lost – her youth, her passion, her love of life…
Laura was still talking on the phone.
“You have to go and see him,” she declared. “This was meant to be! You don’t normally read The Times, so you wouldn’t have seen that notice, and that wouldn’t have got you thinking about him.”
Which was all true, of course. But…
“Isn’t he married?” Angela blurted out.
“Not any more… his wife died five years ago.”
She explained how Catherine had posted photos from the annual Race for Life, which she’d run in memory of her sister-in-law who had died of cancer, and which showed Tom waiting for her at the finishing line.
This just left the final question, and by now, Angela was almost too nervous and wound-up to ask it.
“Where is he now then, Sherlock? Have you found out where he lives?”
“No, but I know where he works…”
And so, a couple of days later, Angela caught the train into the city and made her way to the office block where Tom apparently worked in a finance role for a charity sending aid abroad.
Angela had no plan beyond getting to the office, but decided to sit on a bench in the small square opposite, in the hope that Tom would come out at lunchtime. She felt like a teenage girl with a crush, secretly stalking the boy she fancied.
After a couple of hours Tom appeared, looking better than she remembered. Angela’s heart lurched and she wasn’t sure she could breathe properly.
She jumped up, grabbed her bag, and scurried after him. He was walking fast – those long legs! – and she thought she might lose him in the crowds so without thinking, she called out, “Tom!”
He stopped, saw her and beamed.
“Angela! So lovely to see you again!”
And as their eyes met and the old spark between them was rekindled, Angela knew without any doubt that after today, Tom Faber would no longer be the one that got away…