Out of Love and Loss

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Emma only wanted to run her parent's shop. Fate, through a strange young man, ensures that she will never be the same.

“Mum, what’s this?” A little voice called from her mother’s room. Emma sighed and made her way down the hall, to her room, where she found her daughter rummaging through her bridal chest. In it was a dress, a few pictures, linens, and a small collection of journals, one of which her daughter was holding in her tiny hands, running her small fingers over the tarnished brass lock and the cracked red leather.

“Mary, what have I told you about going through my things without my permission?” Emma deflected her daughter’s question, putting her hands on her slender hips in an authoritative manner. Her own blue-gray eyes looked back at her, filled with tears, and the young girl, five years old, ran to her and clung to her skirts.

“I’m sorry, mama, but John hid all of my books and I needed something to read and then I remembered that you had a few books in your chest. I’m sorry, mama. I just want my books.”

The little girl was in tears and Emma sighed, reaching into the chest and pulling out one of her favorites, Little Women. She placed it in the child’s hands, taking the fragile journal from her. The little girl smiled, running out of the room, off to find a place to read quietly, as Emma silently cursed her son, who loved to torment his little sister.

She sighed again, pushed a lock of brown hair from her face and sat in the worn reading chair in the corner of the room, running her fingers over the cover of the journal. Her hands were shaking as she looked at it; old memories, healed wounds suddenly torn open. Even though the book was closed, locked, she knew every line, every word, every curve in the handwriting she knew by heart, of the small journal.

1893. The year that had changed her life. Love and loss, hand-in-hand, had left an impression that she would never be able to shake, that she never wanted to forget. With a resigned sigh, she found the key to the journal, the key on a chain around her neck, right next to her heart, and turned the lock, immersing herself in the memories.


The air of the London was cold from the harsh winter and snow seemed to permanently affix itself to every visible outside surface. It was January, the month of new beginnings, and she had just turned twenty when Emma first set eyes on him, the man who would slowly steal her heart.

It had been snowing outside when a man entered the bookstore where she worked and lived. His shaggy blond hair and clothes were soaked and he looked as if he were about to freeze to death, but his eyes, one blue and one brown, were bright as they first gazed around the bookstore, a small building that was filled with shelves upon shelves of books.

At first he wandered the shelves, eyes scanning every title, with a nod to himself here and a word or two there. Emma tried to continue her work, but she could sense the man’s thirst for words, for literature, for she too, had the same addiction. She went up to him, asking if he needed any help. He quietly observed her for a moment and then smiled.

“If only I could stay here forever, in a world of books, in the lives of others who can’t possibly exist, and not my own,” He smiled at her wearily, running his fingers nervously through his hair. He was so shy and timid, Emma thought, yet he was charming, with a childish curiosity for everything around him. Before she knew it, she offered him a job working at the bookstore, as she was, in fact, looking for someone to help her with the book crates that she could hardly manage. With only a slight hesitation, he agreed, his eyes shining, the brown like gold and the blue like the color of the clear sky.

He introduced himself as John Aubrey and immediately began his work

The months passed quickly, the bookstore filled with the laughter of the two, private jokes and book discussions. Both had been very lonely; Emma had lost her mother and her father a few months before, and John, though he hadn't told her much, had been formerly living in the comfort of fictional characters. Though he seemed to smile more, to break from his shell, there were times when his countenance grew haunted and the blue under his eyes hinted at many sleepless nights, but this only happened when he thought she wasn't looking, when he thought her in her office instead of behind a bookshelf near the reading chairs. But, whenever she was in the room, John's eyes twinkled and Emma passed his expressions off as nothing, simply concern for a character in the novel he was reading or an obscure idea.

The arrival of spring brought a new warmth and flowers filled the parks with color. Emma and John took to strolling through Hyde Park, which was within walking distance of the bookstore.

One day, he stopped her under a grove filled with blossoms, taking her hands in his.

"Emma," he said in a warm, loving voice, his eyes twinkling in the twilight glow. "When I first met you, I was searching for a distraction. That is why I love books. They're wonderful distractions. That is all humans look for, isn't it? Distractions from life in order to live? To keep us from seeing the truths? To keep us going as our inner demons slowly scrape away at our insides? But these distractions, they let us, even if it is for a brief, brief moment, forget and they let us live. Emma, I had been looking for a small one, something to occupy me as I slipped into insan... anyways, I found you, Emma, the most beautiful and wonderful distraction of them all. I've done things that I hope to God you will never know, but being with you makes me feel as if all is forgiven, as if I have been graced by an angel and that this is heaven. You are my angel, my heaven on Earth, and I will gladly go to Hell if I can spend the rest of my life with you. Emma, will you marry me?"

Emma did not know what sins he had committed, but she didn't think that they could be too terrible. John was shy and sweet and she realized that he took away the grief and loneliness that had overcome here since the passing of her parents and that she loved him. Maybe she too was using him as a distraction, but, with him, she was the happiest that she had ever been. So, she said yes.

But, in June or July, there was a change in John's behavior. He became reserved and reclusive, Emma often found him in a chair an obscure corner of the store when he wasn't working. Before, he had gone through novels unhurriedly, but now, he tore through them, reading at least two a day. He stayed later and later, even after the store closed. Often, Emma discovered him late at night asleep in a chair, reading glasses falling from his nose and a book in his lap, with a stack on the floor beside him. She would lightly shake his shoulder, waking him. He always awoke with a name on his lips, calling out for "James", then he came to his senses and, with an icy stare and not another word, he left, Emma soon felt more alone than ever.

On a cool night in October, Emma again found John sleeping in the chair, but was unable to wake him. The circles beneath his eyes had grown darker as of late and Emma decided to let him sleep; he did not seem to be getting much rest. Instead, she did the bills. While totaling her sheet, she heard the door open. She paid it no mind, thinking that it was John leaving on his own accord.

But the knife that she found pressed against her collarbone told her otherwise. She let out a muffled scream as a hand came over her mouth.

"No one can hear ya. Where do ya keep ya money, lady?" A deep voice was in her ear. The man holding her smelled foul and she let out another cry as the blade pressed deeper into her skin. She felt the prick of it, right on her neck. Her heart was beating rapidly and she felt light-headed. Her knees buckled and then the man was standing over her, his eyes black and a grim smile on his face. "You're goin' to die for that." He spat as he raised knife to her neck, tracing a path from ear to ear with the point.

"I would leave, were I you." A familiar voice had said behind her. "No one is allowed to touch her. She's mine." Distracted, the man with the knife turned toward John, giving Emma enough time to scramble to her feet and grab a weapon -- a candlestick holder. She snuck up behind the man whose head instantly came into contact with the weapon. He slumped forward, a sickening crunch resounding as his nose broke upon contact with the floor. Before she could do anything, John jerked the man up by his coat and threw him onto the street.

Blood covered the floor and Emma stared at it, watching the scarlet pool creep across the floor, in both awe and horror at what she had done. John came back, tucking something into his coat pocket. There was something different about him, Emma noticed, as his head was held higher and he was looking at her with contempt as he watched her from a chair.

"I really don't see his fascination with you." He said finally, resting his head on one of his blood-stained hands. His eyes were dancing in the dim lights. "I should kill you now, but I think I'll torture him a bit longer. Oh, I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Jack." He held out his other bloody hand and paused, shaking his head as if awakening from a trance.

"Emma," he whispered as he looked at his trembling hands, then at the pool of blood on floor, and finally to her, his eyes pleading, his face pale. "I didn't kill him, did I? I didn't hurt you? Please tell me you're alright."

Emma simply nodded, rising to her feet as she looked at him, finally looked at him. His face was smeared with blood, his hands were trembling and he looked weak, almost sick.

And she couldn't bear to look at him any longer; his secrets, his coldness towards her, his haunting words, and his sad eyes, she couldn't stand any more of it. She ran up to her rooms, locking the doors behind her, leaving him in the chair, forlorn and bereft.

When Emma went downstairs the next morning, he was gone. Nothing but a dark stain on the wood was left and Emma was alone. She didn't hear anything from him for a week, until she found a letter slipped under her door, apologizing and offering an explanation over tea the next day. Reluctantly, Emma forced herself to go, arming herself with a letter opener in case he tried anything. She had been foolish, she thought in retrospect, but a place in her heart was still his and she had been extremely lonely in the past week.

She arrived at his house and they sat down for tea in the front parlor. Every room in the house was packed with books, though a place on the mantle held free of them, displaying only a photograph of two young boys, twins, staring blankly into the camera. When she asked for an explanation, he told her she would know soon enough.

“This is the last time you’ll be seeing me.” He said finally with a weary, exhausted smile. “I’m a danger to you. So I'm breaking our engagement. I'm sorry.” The bags under his eyes were the darkest they had been and he looked ill. “I will get to the explanation, but take this first.” He pushed towards her a small red journal with a lock on it. A key sat on top of it and Emma put it in her bag, thanking him and telling herself to look at it later. Then he went into the explanation.

He had been born with a twin brother, James, and they had lived happily in the countryside until his parents were killed. Forced into an orphanage, they had been adopted quickly by the owner of “a house of sin,” as John had called it. He didn’t go into detail, but Emma knew the memories pained him. One day, when they were near adulthood, a client had attacked the brothers and John, the weaker brother of the two, with a sudden feat of strength, killed the man, whilst James ran off into the night, never seen again. Driven mad by the years of abuse, mental and otherwise, he had become a bloodthirsty monster, calling himself Jack the Ripper. He went through the streets of the East End, murdering the women that reminded him of his childhood, systematically killing them as well as tormenting the police with letters. Then, one day, Jack grew bored and receded into the depths of John’s mind. But the blood on John’s hands still haunted him, isolated him, until he found Emma, the girl who made him forget. Then, Jack wanted to play. Jack wanted to kill Emma and torture John in the process, wanted John to feel the guilt of killing the one he loved. And that was why he had become withdrawn. He wanted to ease out of the relationship, to be easier on her, but that did not seem to be working.

“I love you Emma. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can die, because I know what heaven is like. I can feel him, Emma. He’s too strong. When he comes out, I want you to kill me on the spot.” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks. He stood, taking her hands in his, and then Emma found herself against the wall, a knife being pressed against her neck again, the same knife from the attack.

"Kill me," he whispered with the last of his strength. She slowly slipped the letter opener from her sleeve, and with a moment’s hesitation, she stabbed him in the chest, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

His knees buckled and he was smiling. “Thank you, Emma. I love you.” He said as he coughed up blood. His breathing became shallow as she held him. She leaned down and she kissed him, her hand over his heart, where the blood seeped onto his shirt. She pulled away when his heart stopped, cradling his head in her lap. She felt as if her heart had stopped with his and she felt numb, no tears rolled forth, as they did in novels. She just felt… hollow.

“I love you too,” She whispered as she closed his eyes, the blue and the brown colors dull. And everything else became a blur. The sleepless nights and nightmares, waking with his name on her lips, seeing blood everywhere, all blended together, merging with the loneliness to form something she hadn’t really experienced, loss. She had loved and lost her parents, yes, but this loss seemed to take away her energy, her everything. And then…


“Is everything alright, Emma?” Her husband said as he found her in the chair, the red journal in her hands. “Mary said you were crying over a book, so I came up here.” He noticed the journal, taking it from her and setting it lightly on the table, John’s journal, his recollections of his love for Emma, his pain, his inner struggles, his acceptance that if she did not kill him, he was going to take his own life.

He took her hands, her face drawn and covered with tears, looking as it had ten years before, when he found her in that cemetery, standing over his brother’s grave. He had seen the obituary and made plans to visit his lonesome brother’s grave on Christmas Eve, but instead he had found a distraught woman, who ran at him and hugged him, admiring him lovingly when she first saw him who then broke down crying when she realized he was not the man she loved. Still, she grew to love him, as she had John, and gradually, he thought, her pain had faded. Out of love came loss and out of loss came love; it was a cycle.

“She’s just like him, Mary, I mean.” He whispered in a consoling manner. “He loved books as a child too. Someone who loves beautiful things like books and who was strong like him belongs in Heaven, don’t you think? Now, John and Mary want to go to the fair that’s in Hyde Park. What do you say?”

And Emma nodded, looking forward to the welcome distraction.


Submitted: February 05, 2015

© Copyright 2021 ACWade. All rights reserved.

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This was a beautiful story. I tried to find something to critique but I got too wrapped up in the story.

Thu, February 5th, 2015 5:10am


Thank you so much!

This story was my favorite one to write and I am grateful for the positive feedback, as this is my first time showing any stories to the public.

I have submitted to a few competitions, but they smaller, more critical audience that did not favor my works. Again, thank you for the feedback.

Wed, February 4th, 2015 9:53pm

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