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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER TWENTY

Jenna didn’t wait to see the train pull out of Ipswich station. She had helped her mother take her bag out of the back of the car, and had given her the most perfunctory farewell. Then she had watched the small and lonely figure tow the case into the ticket hall. When Patricia was no longer visible, she got back into the Peugeot and put her seat belt on. Then, overcome by feelings she could no longer keep at bay, she leant her head on the steering wheel and wept.

They had lied to her. Her mother and her beloved grandmother had lied. They had told her that her father was dead, and they had kept that secret throughout the rest of her childhood, her adolescence, and on into her adult life. They had deprived her of her father, and they had deprived her children of their grandfather. And her mother’s sole justification for more than thirty years of deceit was, “I thought it was best.”

“Best?” Jenna had repeated, the previous evening. “You thought it was best? Who for? For you, or for me?”

“Best for you,” Patricia had said, pale but adamant. “A clean break.”

“I was twelve years old, Mum, I had friends whose parents got divorced, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal, why couldn’t you have told me the truth?” She stared down at her mother, filled with a rage she hadn’t known she was capable of. “Or was it just easier to pretend he was dead, rather than admit your marriage was a failure?”

That had hit home. Patricia had flushed red, and her mouth was set in a thin line. “That’s not how it was, not at all. How could he have kept in touch with you from the other side of the world?”

“Phone. Letter. Birthday cards. Christmas presents. Even in the 80s, it wasn’t that difficult.” A thought occurred to Jenna. “Were you afraid I’d want to go with him?”

“No, of course not. We agreed that you would stay with me.” Her mother’s expression was suddenly tinged with disgust. “I didn’t want you having anything more to do with them.”

Them? Did Dad have an affair?”

“He committed adultery,” Patricia said primly. “I told him to choose between us. He chose her.”

A myriad questions jostled urgently in Jenna’s mind. She asked the first one that came into her head. “Who was she?”

“Anne Butterfield.”

The name was familiar, and for a moment she couldn’t place it. Then she remembered. “Not – not Miss Butterfield? Not Buttercup?”

“Yes. Your teacher in your final year at primary school. Now do you understand?”

Jenna had loved being in Miss Butterfield’s class. She was young, enthusiastic and inspirational. They had studied Roman Britain and she remembered writing stories on long scrolls, just as the Romans had. They’d gone for nature walks in a nearby park, and there’d been a thrilling visit to the Museum of London, on a coach, and Miss Butterfield had said, at the beginning of the journey, that no-one had ever been sick on one of her school trips, so she didn’t expect anyone to be sick today. And no-one had been. After thirty-five years, Jenna couldn’t recall her face with any clarity, but she remembered that she’d been pretty, with long fair hair in a pony tail, and a penchant for floaty skirts. Most of the boys had had a crush on her, and Jenna had idolised her. Unlike many of her other teachers, who had receded into a vague and nameless blur, she was reminded of Miss Butterfield every time she watched The Princess Bride, which was one of her favourite films and often shown on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. She had a sudden, vivid memory of snuggling on the sofa at the St. Albans house with Rosie, a year or so back. Rick had been on a business trip and the twins away at university, so it was just the two of them and they’d had a lovely girly weekend. And she’d said to Rosie, “I had a teacher once called Buttercup.”

Rosie had giggled. “That’s a funny name!”

“Oh, it wasn’t her real one, her real name was Miss Butterfield, but we all called her Buttercup, and she was lovely. All golden and sunny.”

She remembered, also, the rows that she had overheard between her parents that last summer, her mother’s complaints, her father’s impatience. No wonder, she thought now. No wonder you fell in love with Annie Butterfield, who was young and pretty and so very different from your needy, demanding, obsessive wife. It didn’t excuse him – adultery was a shitty thing to do, she knew that, none better – but she could understand why he’d preferred her, why he’d abandoned his family and started a new life in Australia with her.

“There would have been such a scandal if it had all come out,” Patricia was saying. “She was nearly twenty years younger than he was, and one of his staff. I told him I would keep it quiet if he dropped all contact with you. It was the price he had to pay to make a new start in Australia. They would never have got good references if I’d told the governors what was going on.”

“You mean – you blackmailed them?” Suddenly things were becoming clearer. Jenna stared at Patricia in disbelief. Her prim and proper mother a blackmailer? It was surely impossible.

“That is a very crude and unpleasant word, Jennifer. I fought to keep my husband and my marriage, and when it became clear that I would lose the fight, I was determined to keep you out of his clutches. And the best way to do that was to ensure that he went as far away from you as possible. I used the weapons at my disposal, I am not ashamed to admit it.”

“Didn’t you think I’d have been better off and happier with Dad still in my life, whatever he’d done?”

“Of course not, he was an adulterer.” Her mother spoke the word as if it described the most filthy of perversions.

“I seem to remember you were very keen for me to make up with Rick, despite his adultery – and he’d had several women on the side, not just one. I wasn’t going to do that, but I wasn’t going to stop the children seeing him, either. At the moment they don’t want to, but I think Tom and Rosie, at least, will come round eventually.” Jenna stared at her mother, still filled with anger. “You lied to me. You told me he was dead. I never thought to question you, or Nanna May. Why did Nanna May back you up?”

“She disapproved,” said Patricia. “She thought I should tell you the truth. But she knew that I – that I was in a fragile condition. Any more upset might have pushed me over the edge.”

Which, Jenna thought in her anger, was entirely typical of her mother, the prime exponent of emotional blackmail as well as the more direct variety. “Do as I ask or I’ll have a nervous breakdown” had obviously been a very effective lever if it had persuaded the notoriously stubborn Nanna May to acquiesce in Patricia’s plan.

“And Dad agreed to all of this?” She couldn’t keep the terrible hurt out of her voice. Not only had her mother and grandmother lied to her, but her father, it seemed, was happy to cut off all contact with his only child.

Or his only child then. It seemed he’d lost little time in replacing her with the beaming Bill. Nausea swept over her. She cried, “How could you both do this to me?”

“Of course he agreed,” said Patricia, ignoring her daughter’s anguish. She tightened her lips. “He didn’t have much choice. Though he went back on it, later.”

“What do you mean, ‘went back on it’?”

“He promised not to contact us again. He broke that promise. He sent you cards, letters – “

So he hadn’t totally abandoned her. She had that to cling to, at least. Jenna said grimly, “And what happened to those cards and letters?”

“I destroyed them, of course. He didn’t deserve to be your father.”

Astounded, Jenna gaped at her. “But what about me? Didn’t I deserve to be his daughter?”

“You were better off out of his influence. And That Woman’s. You were always going on about her, Miss Butterfield this, Miss Butterfield that. I could see her getting her claws into you, winning you over, plotting to take you away from me, and then I’d have had nothing.” Her mother spat the words.

“But ...” Jenna fought to understand Patricia’s viewpoint, and failed. “You didn’t have to tell me he was dead! You didn’t have to force Nanna May to help you! You didn’t have to lie and deceive me all these years!”

But her mother merely folded her hands in her lap, and said through a clenched jaw, “I did what was best for you, what was right.”

“Dear God.” At last, she gave way to her anger. “And it never occurred to you that you were wrong? It obviously occurred to Nanna May. But you never really thought about me, did you, Mum? Never about what I might feel, or what Dad might feel. No, it was all about you, wasn’t it? Your feelings, your hurt, what you wanted. Just for once in your life, couldn’t you have put me first? Like parents are supposed to do with their children?”

“It’s done,” said Patricia. A bright red patch of colour had flared beneath the beige powder on her cheeks, and Jenna noticed that she wouldn’t look at her. “You can’t change it.”

“Oh, yes, I bloody well can. I can get in touch with my brother, for starters.” The strangeness of the words struck her anew, and she could almost savour them. My brother. I actually have a brother. Then a thought occurred to her. “How did you know about him? You must have kept in touch somehow, despite what you said.”

“Your grandmother was responsible for that.” Patricia’s mouth was like a painted gash across her face. “She went behind my back, she wrote to him. I didn’t find out until after she died. She left you a letter explaining it all.”

"A letter? For me? But if it was for me, how did you know what was in it?"

Her mother's face gave her the answer. "Did you find it in May's flat and destroy it? Yes, of course you did. How despicable. And presumably Bill knew about the twins going to Australia from Nanna May?” Jenna suddenly remembered Tom telling her a year ago that his great-grandmother, learning of their plans for a gap year, had suggested visiting his relations down under. He’d thought, of course, that she meant Rick’s brother David and his family. But it seemed that she’d been stirring the pot. Had she also written to Bill, or even Keith, to tell them to make contact?

“Tell me,” she said, staring at the mother who suddenly seemed like a malevolent stranger. “Is my father still alive?”

There was no answer. Patricia was staring fixedly into the fire, and her hands were locked together so tightly that her knuckles were bone white.

“For God’s sake, tell me!” Jenna cried. “Don’t you think you owe me that, at least? I’m not twelve any longer, Mum, I need to know!”

The silence stretched out. A log shifted within the stove, and a flame leapt up briefly, then died. Jenna opened her mouth to shout, and was forestalled. “Yes,” Patricia said. “Yes, as far as I’m aware, he’s still alive.”

Jenna let her breath out in a great gust. “Thank God for that. You know, I’m not sure I will ever forgive you for this, but at least it’s not too late for me to try and make amends.” She surveyed her mother, who was still not looking at her. “Meanwhile, I think it’s best if you go back to Berkhamsted tomorrow morning. I’ll take you to the station first thing.”

It had been a very uncomfortable evening. Patricia had taken refuge in a stony, self-righteous silence, and Jenna had felt utterly repelled by the thought of making even the most innocuous small talk. She wanted desperately to open up her laptop and make contact with the brother she’d never known she had, to try and speak to the father she’d thought had been dead for nearly forty years, but she couldn’t do it while her mother remained in the house. They’d eaten supper without exchanging more than the bare minimum of words that were necessary, and Patricia had gone up to bed immediately afterwards. It didn’t seem possible that only a few hours ago, they had been on almost friendly terms, talking about the cruise and Stuart.

Stuart. He was going to be in for a shock, if he learned the truth. She couldn’t imagine that Patricia would tell him, though, and she certainly wasn’t going to. That was her mother’s business, and she wasn’t going to interfere. Saskia would probably say that if he turned out to be a con-man, it would serve Patricia right. Earlier in the evening, Jenna would probably have agreed with her, in vengeful fury, but now, sitting in the quiet room with the stove dying down and the kittens, who had taken refuge behind the sofa while voices had been raised, curled up comfortingly on her lap, she just felt extraordinarily sad. Sad for her mother, whose twisted and obsessive neediness had led to this mess: sad for Nanna May, though she still wished that her grandmother had decided to tell her the truth before her death: sad for all of them, for the wasted years when she’d thought her father was dead: and for him, missing her adolescence, missing her children’s childhood, and thinking, perhaps, that she didn’t want to be in contact with him either.

In the car outside the station, she took a deep breath, wiped her tears and blew her nose thoroughly. All her sympathy now was for Keith, and the need to somehow make up and atone for those lost years, even though they hadn’t been her fault, grew strong within her. And also, the need to tell someone what had happened. But that could wait until she got home.

Aware that she was deeply upset and probably not thinking straight, she drove back to Orford slowly and carefully. At least the weather was dry, though overcast and cold. In the kitchen, the remains of their breakfast – cereal for her, toast and marmalade for her mother – still lay on the draining board. She put a fresh filter and more coffee into the machine, and set it going. Then she picked up her mobile, and dialled Saskia’s number.

It went straight to voicemail. Of course, it was still only half past nine on a Sunday morning. Her friend probably wasn’t even awake yet. Jenna looked at the other numbers, wondering who she could call. She felt suddenly, keenly, the absence of someone at her side, who would always have her back, who would understand what this devastating yet incredible news would mean to her. Not so long ago, she’d thought Rick was that person, but he’d betrayed her, proved himself unworthy of her love and her trust. Saskia would always be her most loyal and stalwart friend, but she was a hundred miles away, probably fast asleep, and quite possibly not alone. She needed to talk to someone now.

Slowly, her fingers scrolled back up the screen until they came to Fran’s number. Would he be up yet? With Flora around, he probably was. But could she dump all this on him again? When she had first confessed her suspicions that her father was still alive, he had been calm, perceptive and sympathetic. She wasn’t at all sure he’d be so eager to hear all her woes a second time. And she knew only too well, from long experience with her mother, just how annoying, infuriating and soul-sapping dealing with someone who was needy and demanding could be. A generously-lent sympathetic ear could so easily be exploited, and Patricia was an expert at manipulation. Oscar Wilde’s unwelcome quip came back to her. Weren’t all women supposed to turn into their mothers?

Not if I can bloody well help it, Jenna thought grimly. But she wouldn’t talk to Fran yet. She’d had to cancel her session with Flora this afternoon, at short notice because of Patricia’s visit, but she could ring him a little later and re-book. Meanwhile, she had something else to do. Last night, after her mother had gone off to bed, she had replied to Joe’s text. It had been hard not to pour out her pain and anger, but she wasn’t going to burden her sons with it. They could draw their own conclusions from the facts. Instead, she had merely asked Joe to get back in touch with Bill Clarke on Facebook, asking him to send her a friend request. Then she could contact her brother – her brother – directly, to find out what he knew, and what he wanted.

She put her phone down, and retrieved her laptop from the coffee table. Opening it brought the curious attention of Artemis, who had already decided that she enjoyed the sport of keyboard dancing. Fending off the kitten, she logged on and looked at her status page. And there it was, one friend request, from Bill Clarke, with the little thumbnail photo beside it, showing the same man she’d looked at on Fran’s laptop. And he’d sent her a message. Her fingers suddenly clumsy, she clicked on it.

‘Hi, Jenna! I know this is out of the blue, but I couldn’t think of any other way to reach you, not without your address or phone number. Seems you didn’t know about me and Jodi (my sis), so I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock to you. I always knew Dad left a daughter in England, and that you’d got kids, but not much more than that. Then he told me that your boys were in Oz, and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Plus Dad hasn’t been too well recently, and I think he’d like to set things straight. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you or caused any trouble, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I’d be so glad and happy if we could make contact properly. Your brother, Bill Clarke.’

It had caused trouble, it had upset her, but that wasn’t his fault. She couldn’t be anything other than pleased that he’d got in touch. The thought that she had a brother and a sister was still too new, too vast, but she suddenly longed to speak to him. That, however, would have to wait. She clicked on ‘confirm’, and then opened up his page.

This time, she didn’t feel so much of a voyeur. After all, he was her brother, and they were friends, if only online at present. She studied his smiling, confident face, looking again for any family resemblance. Now, knowing the truth, she could see a likeness to Tom, though Tom’s grin was more self-deprecating, and he was dark like Rick, whereas Bill’s hair was light brown, sun-bleached at the tips. She looked at Jodi, his sister – and her sister – and thought she looked more like herself, though again with that vibrant Antipodean confidence that could be bracing, encouraging or intimidating, depending on your mood. Was she prepared for a ready-made Australian family? All her life she’d been the only child, the only one. She’d often wondered, wistfully, what it would be like to have a brother or a sister, and now, astonishingly, at a single stroke of the key, she had both: and a father, restored to her.

She looked again through the photographs that Bill had posted, searching for one of his parents. It took a while, because there were lots, mostly of his friends. And then suddenly, amidst the parade of tanned, fit, healthy young men and women, she found a group round a barbecue. There was Bill with his girlfriend Natasha, Jodi, standing very close to a young Asian man, laughing, and beside her an elderly man with dark-rimmed glasses and short grey hair, holding aloft a pair of tongs that gripped a very large crustacean. The caption read, ‘Clan Clarke, Dad’s 75th, awesome shrimp!’

There was no sign of Annie Butterfield, now Annie Clarke. Either she was no longer part of the family, through death or divorce, or she was holding the camera. Jenna hoped very much that she’d taken the picture. And when she carried on looking through the photos, she soon found one of her father and her stepmother, obviously photographed at the same occasion. She’d have recognised her old teacher immediately, despite the fact that only last night she’d been unable to recall her features with any clarity. That kind, warm smile hadn’t changed, though her hair was now a rather windswept blonde bob, and her figure could better be described as ‘comfortable’ rather than ‘slim’. She looked like someone that Jenna would be happy to have in her life.

What would my life have been like if Dad had taken me with him? Jenna wondered. I’d never have gone to Norwich, never met Rick, or Jules, or Fran, or Jon, or Saskia, never had had the twins and Rosie. It was unimaginable. Someone in her friendship circle at uni, she couldn’t remember who, had once said in the course of a long, wine-fuelled evening that your life was like a tree: you started off as a baby at the base of the trunk, with no choices, and then gradually over the course of your childhood and adolescence more alternatives appeared, more branches to follow, or not, until you ended up at the end of one tiny twig at the top, with all the other possibilities and opportunities not taken sprouting out below and around you, ad infinitum. That film Sliding Doors had explored the very different consequences resulting from one pivotal moment, and she remembered feeling quite unsettled by it. That something so trivial could alter your life so dramatically seemed impossible, but she knew it could be true. The road not taken, the door not opened, the chance ignored ...

Her head whirling with all the possibilities, she sat and stared at Bill’s Facebook page. Last night, raging at her mother, this revelation had seemed like the end of her world, the ruin of all her assumptions and certainties. Now, she was beginning to feel excitement, hope and delight. She was not on her own. She had a father, a stepmother, a brother and a sister. She had family, a family she hadn’t dreamt existed. She did have someone to support her and watch her back, as her mother had never done, and as her children couldn’t be expected to do, for they were her children and had their own lives to lead.

She began to type below Bill’s message, not thinking too hard about what to say, but letting her feelings speak for her.

‘Hi. Thank you so much for getting in touch. Yes, you’re right, this has been a bit of a shock, but a lovely one. I didn’t know you existed for sure until last night, when my mother confirmed it, but I’d recently had some suspicions. I am just so glad that my Dad is alive, because I’d always been told that he was dead, and I’d love to get to know you all, though as we’re thousands of miles away, that might be difficult. But at least we know about each other now – the rest will follow. I always thought I was an only child, so it’s a bit overwhelming to learn suddenly that I’ve got siblings. A surprise for sure, but truly wonderful all the same. You’ll have to meet up with my sons, Joe and Tom, who are currently backpacking in Australia – they’re in Queensland at the moment. Their uncle on their father’s side lives in Sydney – where are you? And are your parents online, or on Facebook? I’m longing for the chance to talk to Dad, so that we can start to make up for the missed years.

Please give my best love to him, and to your mum, who used to be my teacher when I was eleven – did she tell you that? I always loved being in her class, she was a great teacher. And to my sister Jodi too. I can hardly believe it, after all this time, but now I’m so much looking forward to meeting you all, online and perhaps soon in reality.

With love, Jenna.’

Then, before she could chicken out, she pressed ‘send’, and watched the message change colour as it was registered. It would be evening in Australia. Perhaps he would read it before going to bed, but it was more likely that he wouldn’t see it until the morning. It didn’t matter. He would know that she welcomed his contact, and wanted the two lost halves of their father’s family to reunite. It might take a long time to forgive her mother for what she’d done, if she ever did, but suddenly that didn’t seem to weigh very much in the balance, against the thrill of a father rediscovered.

Her phone rang, making her jump. Hastily she picked it up, wondering if by some remarkable feat of sleuthing it was Bill, and looked at the screen. Then, with a smile, she answered. “Hi, Sass.”

“Hello, darling.” Her friend’s voice was slightly husky, as if she’d had a late and exhilarating night. “You called me. To what do I owe this pleasure? Do you know what time it is?”

“Five past ten, and high time you were up and about.”

“It’s Sunday, darling, supposed to be a day of rest. How are you, anyway? How’s the maternal visit going? Have you managed to refrain from murdering her?”

“Just about.” Jenna took a deep breath. “She’s gone home. I took her to the station first thing this morning.”

“Already? Have you had a falling out?”

“You could say that.” Jenna paused. “You remember I told you that I’d wondered if my father might not be dead after all?”

“Indeed I do. And?”

“He isn’t.”

What?” Saskia’s voice ended on a fit of coughing and spluttering, and Jenna said, “Have you been on the fags again?”

“What? No, darling, I have not,” said Saskia, with emphasis. “Hell’s biscuits, Jen, do you mean to say that your father’s alive?”

With memories of Brian Blessed expressing similar astonishment about Flash Gordon, Jenna found herself struggling not to give way to rather hysterical laughter. She said, “Yes, he is. And that’s not all. I’ve got a stepmother, and a brother, and a sister. Half-brother and sister,” she added pedantically. “They’re in Australia.”

“Christ on a bike,” said Saskia. “What a shock! So that’s why your mother buggered off home?”

“Yes.” Jenna swallowed. Suddenly, more tears didn’t seem too far away. “We were getting on fine. You know she was on that cruise? Well, she’s only managed to bag herself a man.”

“Jesus, he must be brave. Or a con-man who’s after her money.”

“She hasn’t got much, apart from her house and her pension. Anyway, while we were talking about this bloke Stuart, and drinking tea, and I was thinking the weekend might not be so bad after all, I got a text from Joe. The Bill Clarke who’s been trying to contact him has got in touch on Facebook and mentioned that he’s their uncle. And when I confronted my mother with it, she admitted it was true. Dad isn’t dead, he went to Australia and married my old primary school teacher and had two kids, this guy Bill, who’s about fifteen years younger than me, and a girl called Jodi.”

“Bloody hell, Jen, have you considered booking your family a slot on the Jeremy Kyle Show?”

Jenna laughed rather shakily. “No. Can you imagine my mother at her most glacial? She’d make absolute mincemeat of him.”

“I can, all too clearly. But how did she react when you showed her the text? What in Christ’s name did she say? ‘Sorry, Jennifer dear, for allowing you to think your father was dead for thirty-five years, but I only had your best interests at heart’?”

“More or less, yes. She kept saying it was for my own good. Then she clammed up – didn’t apologise, or explain much more than that. She did say that Nanna May disapproved, but since neither of them thought fit to tell me the truth, that isn’t much of a comfort.”

“So are you totally conflicted? On the one hand, pleased your father’s still alive, and that you have a family you knew nothing about, and on the other, furious with them both for lying to you?”

“In a nutshell. I’m finding it very hard to forgive my mother at the moment. She admitted that the reason they’d gone to Australia was that she’d threatened to tell the governors of my dad’s school about the affair. It would probably have led to disciplinary proceedings, or at the very least a bad reference. The other woman was a member of his staff, you see, and much younger than he was.”

“Why should it? She wasn’t a pupil. None of their business.”

“Yes, I know, but this was 1980, and it was a church school.” Jenna sighed. “He obviously thought her threat was a real one, because they upped and left. My mother cooked up this tale about a car crash, and I was sent to live with my grandmother for a year, presumably while the divorce proceedings were going on. I think Mum may well have had some sort of breakdown. Certainly she persuaded my grandmother to back her up by emphasising her ‘fragile state’. And the irony is that while all that was going on, not only was I totally oblivious, but I was having the happiest year of my whole childhood.”

“Didn’t you miss your father? Weren’t you grieving for him?” Saskia sounded almost shocked.

“Oh, of course I was, but he’d been quite a distant parent – he was a head-teacher, very bound up in his work, and he and Mum had been arguing a lot, which I hated. I loved him, and I missed him, and I was sad, but living with Nanna May was so much better than living with my mother, in every single way, that I was just enjoying the fun and the freedom. And poor Dad got pushed to the back of my mind. New town, new school, the river and the sea, Nanna May’s dog, not being criticised every five minutes for things I couldn’t help, fun and laughter and a little bit of rebelliousness – I cried when I was told I had to go back to my mother.”

“I’m not surprised. Nanna May was a one-off, though I have to say, darling, that I might model myself on her in thirty years’ time. As the saying goes, it’s not the years of your life that count, but the life in your years. So – what are you going to do? Hot-foot it out to Australia to meet them?”

Jenna laughed. “Hardly. Not yet. I think we’ll get to know each other online first. But I’m longing to speak to Dad. I think it’ll be a very emotional reunion.”

“I bet. And your dear mama?”

“At the moment, I’m not speaking to her. That isn’t to say that I might never be able to bring myself to speak to her in the future, but right now as far as I’m concerned she can go hang.”

“That’s my girl!”

“Or, rather less harshly, I’m giving her the space to reflect on the consequences of what she did. Because not only did she deprive me of any contact with my father – apparently he wrote to me, sent cards and presents, and she destroyed them all – “

“God, that’s despicable!”

“I know it is. So she's deprived my kids of their grandfather, and me of my siblings. And to top it all, she admitted that Nanna May had left me a letter telling me the truth, to be opened after her death, but she found it and opened it and tore it up. And although she’s justifying it by saying it was in my best interests, actually I’m sure it was all about her and what she felt and what she wanted. She didn’t want to admit to me that her marriage had failed. And I suspect that Dad took up with my stepmother because she was a lot nicer than my mother.”

“Not difficult,” was Saskia’s comment. There was a pause, and Jenna could hear some noises in the background, and then her friend’s rather muffled voice. “It’s Jen.”

“OK,” she said, with a grin. “I get it. Company?”

“You could say that.” Saskia sounded unwontedly coy.

“Then I’ll let you have the rest of your Sunday in peace.”

“Are you sure you’ll be OK?”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure. I just wanted to get it off my chest, and bring you up to date. Thank you for listening. Do you want to come up next weekend instead?”

“You know,” Saskia said, “I might just do that. All right if I bring a friend? He may have other plans, but just in case ...”

“As long as you don’t expect me to play gooseberry all weekend.”

Saskia gave her throaty, raucous laugh. “As if, darling! Though of course if you’ve got anyone hidden away ... “

“Chance would be a fine thing, and anyway it’s far too soon after Rick. Don’t you dare try and pair me off again, or I’ll unfriend you as well as my mother.”

“OK, OK, I get the message. Ta-ra, darling, and you keep your feet dry on that moral high ground, because you own it. Don’t let that selfish bitch of a mother get to you.”

“That’s a bit harsh.”

“No, it isn’t, it’s entirely fair. Take care, darling, and I’ll see you Friday night.”

“See you then. And have fun for the rest of the day!”

“Don’t worry, darling, I intend to.”

She sat for a while after ending the call, smiling to herself. It had been good to tell Saskia, and her friend’s bracing habit of cutting to the chase had clarified her own thoughts. She checked her laptop. No response from Bill, and of course she wasn’t expecting anything yet. It was hard to put a lid on her sense of urgency, her longing to contact her father, but she knew she must do her best. Living in close proximity to Patricia had given her a horror of people who were overwhelmingly needy and demanding, and she had no intention of succumbing to the same impulses that always seemed to grip her mother. She needed something vigorous to absorb her energies, and suddenly she knew the very thing.

Jenna turned the computer off, picked up her phone again, and dialled. “Hi, Ruth. Listen, would it be OK if I borrowed Sammy for a while?”

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I know my time is almost done. I can see it in the physician's face as he bends over me, and the tears in the eyes of my daughters as they sit beside the bed. I am suffering from a wasting sickness, w

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

Jenna had wondered if Saskia would rise to the bait, but to her delight she accepted the invitation with alacrity. "Why not? It only takes a couple of hours to get to you, darling, and I haven't got

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