On their way back from the furniturr store, Charlie and Brandon find a glass bottle.
One of my favourite stories that my grandmother used to tell me as I grew up, was about a mysterious young man who had captured her own grandmother's heart one unseasonably warm night in November 1880. She was a seamstress in the employ of Lord and Lady Yates, and was returning to their mansion after a rare day off. It was her birthday the following week, and that visit would be the last chance her family would have of giving her the crudely wrapped gifts that were now covered by a simple rag in the baskey she carried on her left arm.
The young man had appeared from behind a tree, and offered to accompany her on her journey.
"No, thanks, sir. It's not that far".
"Ah, but even so, a pretty young woman like you should never walk alone so late in the day", he'd said, "This neck of the woods isn't safe".
"We're not in the woods", my great, great grandmother had replied. According to my grandmother, the young man had smiled.
"Come on! Where are you going? I'll accompany you, and make sure no one else gets you".
"Well, then. I'm going that way anyway!"
My great, great grandmother had apparently cast him a sidelong glance that said she didn't quite believe him, but couldn't stop him, either, and he fell into step beside her. For a moment, they walked in silence.
"What's your name, then?" My great great grandmother had asked this stranger.
"Simon. And yours?"
"That's a pretty name".
Elizabeth had smiled.
"I bet you say that to every girl who doesn't stop you from walking her home!" She preened.
Simon whipped off his cap, and said, "No, Elizabeth. I'm not like that! You're the prettiest girl I ever met!"
"Really", Simon answered.
My grandmother told me her own grandmother had smiled, pleased with the compliment, and tucked a strand of her dark brown hair behind her old bonnet. She'd courtsied, as women still did in those days.
"And what do you do, Simon?" She asked.
"I'm a deck-hand on a ship", he replied.
Elizabeth's eyes widened. "That's a dangerous job!"
Simon grinned. "It's the only life for me".
They were approaching the Manor's gates.
"You'd better go now", warned Elizabeth, "Her Ladyship doesn't like us girls keeping company with strange boys we've only just met."
Simon had raised the back of her hand to his lips. "I'm going to sea in the morning", he said, "Can I write to you?"
"If you must", smiled Elizabeth.
My grandmother told me that Simon had sent letters to Elizabeth for a few months, but suddenly, they stopped and Elizabeth never saw, nor heard from Simon again.
I was thinking of that story as I left my own job as an bank clerk and climbed into my battered old Micra. I questioned the accuracy of it after so many years and the number of times my grandmother had told it, but despite myself, I wondered what had happened to Simon, who probably wasn't a Simon at all. Elizabeth never found out his surname, so there was no way I check the internet for a stranger called Simon who'd wrote letters to my ancestor in the 1880s.
How times had changed, I thought, starting the engine. Five generations, and one hundred and forty eight years separated Elizabeth and me. I didn't live at work, didn't have to walk there and back - especially not on my days off, although I could if I'd wanted to. E-mail and social media had replaced handwritten letters and I could look up someone who died nearly a century and a half ago, as long as I had his full name.
I stopped for pizza on the way home and allowed myself a wry smile. Elizabeth had never known the joys of that, either.
But in some ways, things hadn't changed at all. Elizabeth and I were both working women, a sincere complement would still make me smile, just as it had Elizabeth, back in 1880, and here I was, wondering what had happened to her suitor all those years ago, just like she would have been.
I arrived at my flat, exhausted after a day, working with customers and their mortgages. My colleagues had wanted me to join them for a night out, but all I was looking forward to, apart from pizza, was catching up on my favourite programmes, and an early night, which reminded me - I needed a new bed. The one I had was past its best, and if I held on to it for much longer, I'd wake up to find myself on the floor, surrounded by the bed frame.
"Computer, turn on lights and television", I commanded. The computer did as it was told while I balanced the pizza box on the arm of my weathered armchair and kicked my feet up, tucking them under me as I reached for a slice of my favourite Hawaiian. Typical! I tutted. The TV programme would have to start in the middle of adverts!
But, one caught my eye. It was for a brand new furniture shop in the middle of the city. It was advertising sofas and beds and trying to summon up my enthusiasm by saying something about the furniture being manufactured by some brand new, never-before-seen technology. I couldn't care less, as long as I didn't fall through it.
I shouldn't be surprised, really, that the TV showed me adverts for furniture! It's 2028! The computer probably overheard my boyfriend telling me that morning that I needed a new bed, and was simply showing me the relevant ads. I'd go to this new shop tomorrow, after work. It was my half-day, so I'd have plenty of time to go shopping for a new bed, and Brandon had the day off, so he could help me.
The following morning, I couldn't wait to get finished at work, and had to remind myself to be patient and professional with customers. A colleague of mine noticed.
"You're acting like you've got springs in your feet, Charlie. What's wrong?"
"Nothing", I replied, "It's just I'm going to that new furniture store in town after work, and I can't wait!"
Emma grinned, and glanced at her watch. "Get yourself away, then! We only have half an hour to go. I'll cover for you - say you had an appointment - and lock up".
"Thanks, Emma. I owe you!" I replied, grabbing my jacket from the back of the chair, before running for the door.
Brandon met me outside in the car park and I ran into his arms, flinging mine around his neck and kissing him passionately.
"Ready?" He asked.
"Just try and stop me", I replied, jumping into the driver's seat.
The store was a half an hour's drive away, and, judging by the number of cars in the car park, it was already popular. After parking, I took Brandon's hand, and wondered, briefly, if all these people needed new furniture, or if they were here for the novelty of a new store.
The doors whispered open with a gentle hiss, and a fan above them blasted us with cool air as we crossed the threshold. Immediately in front of us were sofas, armchairs and two-and-three pieces suites. I could probably do with a new three piece, too, I thought, but then reasoned that my salary wouldn't stretch that far. New sofas and chairs would have to wait.
We meandered through the living and dining room furniture, and eventually found the bedroom section. We were trying out our third bed when a sales assistant arrived.
"Hi, I'm Patrick. Could I be of service?" He asked.
"What's this new technology?" Brandon enquired. State of the art gadgetry fascinated him.
"These beds", Patrick replied, "have been hand crafted by the latest in artificial intelligence".
"Handmade?" I raised a sceptical eyebrow, "By robots?"
Brandon was sold.
"She'll take one!" He announced, immediately.
"Hey! It's my decision Bran - not yours!" I huffed.
"It could be ours", Brandon hinted.
I sighed, then chose to ignore him and wandered around the beds, trying to decide which one I liked. Brandon did Patrick's job of trying to convince me to buy from that shop, while the sales rep hovered on the perifory.
Finally, my mind was made up, and I signalled to Patrick that I was ready.
"I'll take this one!"
We arranged delivery for the following weekend and left the store, Brandon dancing around me in excitement at the prospect of sleeping in a bed that had been made by robots.
We stopped at the beach on the way home that evening, and walked hand in hand along the shore, talking about my grandmother's story and how accurate it had likely been.
"It was probably my great, great grandad!" I sneered.
"Probably." Agreed Brandon, "what was he called?"
Brandon turned his head to look at me, flashing a grin that could still melt my heart after a year together. "Not a Simon, then?"
I shook my head, then asked, "What's that?" Pointing to something half-buried in the sand just ahead.
Brandon followed the direction of my finger, then left my side to investigate. He pulled out a glass bottle, with a message inside.
"A message . . . In a bottle!" He cried.
I ran over and joined him, holding my hand out as a gesture for him to let me have a closer look.
"Here!" Brandon wanted the bottle back. "I'll break the glass with my shoe - You read the letter, seeing as you found it."
I agreed, and soon Brandon was handing me a piece of old paper, which I carefully unrolled:
"My Dearest Elizabeth,
I hope this letter finds you well, and apologise for the delay in writing.
Our ship ran into a storm off the coast of Africa, and we were forced to abandon it as it was taking on water faster than we could bail. Myself and two other crewmen survived by fastening planks of wood together and forming a raft. We're stranded now on a desert island, waiting for any passing ships that might be willing to rescue us.
I hope to be able to tell you all of this in person before this letter arrives, but if I can't, I just want you to know I love you, and have since the day we met, five months ago.
Until we meet again,