It was while Susanna was volunteering at the shelter that I found myself answering the door to a teenage girl with long blonde hair and emerald green eyes.
“Hello?” I said uncertainly, wondering who she was.
“Hi. My name’s Kylie - I’m Joel’s younger sister,” she told me. “Please,” she said, her gaze and tone suddenly filling with desperation. “You’ve got to convince your sister to let Joel go. It’s not just that Joel is engaged: a relationship between him and your sister is forbidden. I’m not allowed to say anything more than that, but you should know that Susanna could end up in danger.”
“In danger?” I repeated, alarmed. “What d’you mean?”
Kylie looked distraught, like she shouldn’t even have been on our doorstep in the first place.
“I can’t say. But please, Jennifer, if you care about your sister, persuade her to end it with Joel. Before bad things happen...”
With that, she turned and ran off, ignoring me as I shouted for her to wait.
Kylie’s words filled me with fear, even though a part of me was saying that no genuinely serious consequences would come of a broken engagement - not in this country. Kylie had seemed truly terrified.
So when Susanna came back from the animal shelter, I dragged her up to my room for a chat.
“Susie, I’m worried...,” I said to her. “Do you really want to keep annoying Joel’s family like this?”
Susanna looked like it had gone too far for her to stop now.
“It’s not my fault they don’t like us being together,” she murmured, refusing to meet my anxious gaze. “I love him, Jen. I’m sure of it now.”
“His little sister dropped by earlier - she said you might come to danger. D’you know what she meant, Susie?”
Susanna sighed, looking much older than 19.
“It’s going to be all right, Jen: Joel’s family won’t hurt me.” But I sensed there was something she was hiding from me.
“Susie,” I begged; “don’t stay with him if it’s dangerous. What if something happens to you? Uncle Mack and I would be devastated! Just think - you’re going to uni this autumn: there’s so much to look forward to in your life. Don’t throw that all away.”
“I can’t do it without Joel,” she said quietly. “I can’t face a future that he’s not a part of. And he’ll keep me safe, Jen. Trust him. Trust me. I would never take such risks if I wasn’t completely sure - if I didn’t think it was utterly worth it. We are meant to be together.”
I fought tears, so frightened because Susie was acknowledging this unknowable danger and there was nothing I could do to make her change her mind.
“I don’t understand why it’s all so serious. But if you love him, I can’t stop you. I’m just scared, Susie. Scared for your safety. Can you forgive me that?”
Susanna hugged me tightly.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Jen. I can understand your concern. I wish I could tell you more but I can’t. But I’ll be careful, Jen. I know there are people who care what happens to me.”
“I guess that’s all I can ask for,” I mumbled, though it still didn’t seem like enough.
On Sunday, Joel’s fiancée broke off the engagement. Susanna was relieved but I could see that she felt slightly guilty too.
“Poor thing. None of this was her fault. I really hope she finds the right guy,” was her response to the news.
It also seemed that Joel’s family had stopped trying to break them up. I hoped strongly that they would be left in peace now.
But it soon turned out that that was not meant to be...