Authors: Jenny Harper
When I was writing
, I was fascinated by the idea of how female friendships might be threatened by the re-emergence of dark secrets from the past. However, the book went through a number of drafts before it finally took flight and I am incredibly grateful for the wisdom and encouragement I received from the late Dorothy Lumley. I wish she could read the book now.
I also owe a huge debt to my editor, Rebecca Lloyd, whose insights and observations have been invaluable – as is, also, her faith in my writing.
Thanks to my writing buddies for their endless encouragement and suggestions, and to Jane Knights for her proof reading of my manuscript. Finally, to my husband, who tolerates my constant withdrawal to my computer without complaint and handles my often bizarre requests for information, character insights or responses to my work with great patience and good humour.
Sometimes Marta wondered how different her days might be if they were a family rather than a couple. If, instead of putting on a business suit at the sound of the alarm, she were to wake to the snuffling cries of a baby and pad across the carpet in the bedroom she shared with Jake to a cot in the corner. She imagined the feeling of picking it up, this squalling infant, of holding it to her breast and hushing it with love and milk.
She picked up her coffee from the counter of the small café, filled with a disappointment so profound that for a moment she thought it might set her weeping. This morning, again, her hopes had been dashed.
Still – she placed the cup on the table in the window and dropped her briefcase on the floor – it was a day of rare promise. She could see it in the slant of the morning light hitting the chiselled stone of the Georgian tenements across the road, and feel it in the warmth of the sun already beating through the window. It was going to be hot, a day for walking the beaches from Silverknowes to Cramond Island or strolling up the Pentland Hills with a flask of tea and a pack of sandwiches. A day not to be wasted.
By nature cheerful, she allowed her spirits to lift.
Across the road, sun hit glass as a door opened, reflecting low rays of light sharply into her eyes. A man emerged and stood, undecided, as the door swung to behind him. Was he a celebrity? It was August, and Edinburgh was teeming with personalities and stars, real and wannabe. Authors were here for the Book Festival, jazz musicians were opening their souls for the world’s inspection, dancers, actors, comedians and television personalities were vying with each other for attention and audiences.
She watched as the lights changed and the man crossed the road. He was tall and slim, stylishly dressed with well-cut jeans, brown loafers, a crisp white shirt and a grey sweater tied loosely round his neck. A battered brown fedora sat jauntily on his head and he carried a brown leather holdall over one shoulder. He was heading straight towards her.
Surely she knew him? The café door opened and she tried not to stare as she scanned her memory bank. Maybe she had just seen him on television. It was rude to stare. She dropped her gaze, dipped into her briefcase, spread notes on the table in front of her.
The two words did what Marta’s eyes had failed to do – now she knew. ‘Hello, Tom,’ she said.
The hat spun round and a pair of quicksilver eyes regarded her questioningly.
Tom Vallely, isn’t it?’
The man threw down some coins, picked up his coffee and crossed the floor to where she was sitting.
‘I’m afraid I can’t quite—’
‘Marta Davidson.’ She stuck out her hand. He took it and held it. ‘I was still Marta Henkel when we met, though.’
‘We met in London a few times. You were living with my friend, Jane. Jane Porter?’
He swung the leather holdall from his shoulder and let it slide to the floor, then removed his hat, revealing the floppy black hair she now remembered – perhaps just a shade thinner? And maybe with a strand of grey? Marta wondered how she could ever have forgotten the beautiful symmetrical features or the mercury eyes.
‘You do remember Jane, I suppose?’ she teased. Jane and Tom had been together for years, a pairing she and Carrie had always found odd, but which had nevertheless seemed set to last.
He smiled, a flash of brilliance that illuminated his face.
‘Dear Janie. How could I forget? Are you still in touch?’
‘How is she? Is she happy?’
As he pulled out a chair and sank onto it, Marta was thrown back into her past by Tom’s unexpected appearance.
Jane, Carrie and Marta. Marta, Jane and Carrie. Put them in any order, they’d always been inseparable – an unlikely trio, but always close. Carrie was ambitious, materialistic, driven: Jane family-focused and budget-conscious. As for herself – Marta liked to think that she slotted comfortably in the middle, relating to career on the one side and family on the other. She thought of Jane, always so busy – secretary of her local choir, keeping an eye on her aging mother, walking the dog, supervising the many activities of her three lively children. Was she happy? Marta had always assumed so.
‘Oh yes, very happy,’ she said at length, in reply to Tom’s question.
‘I suppose she’s still in London? Still playing the cello?’
‘No, she’s right here. In Edinburgh. And she gave up the cello years ago. Oh, sorry—’ in her handbag, her mobile was shrilling for attention, ‘I’d better take this. Hello? Mr Morrison, hello... you can’t? – but everything’s ready for you... What? ...Well, when can you? ... Oh. I see. No, I suppose we’ll have to manage... yes, yes, I understand. You will call when... Yes... yes, thank you. Yes, goodbye.’
She ended the call and dropped the phone back into her bag with a tut of exasperation.
‘My plumber. Our washing machine is leaking. He promised to come today to fix it, but his wife’s mother’s had a turn, apparently, and he’s got to drive up to Inverness.’
‘Can you get another one?’
‘Oh. No, well Mr Morrison’s been our man for ages. I think we’ll just have to wait.’ Marta glanced at her watch.
‘Are you in a hurry?’
‘I’ve got a meeting in twenty minutes.’
‘Are you still in tourism?’
‘You remembered! Yes, I work for a small company, Tartan Ribbon Tours. I’ve moved around a fair bit but I’ve been back in Edinburgh a few years now. I went to school here,’ she added, by way of explanation.
‘So that’s how you know Jane.’
‘Yes. And Carrie, of course. Did you ever meet Carrie Edwards?’
Tom’s smile was a lesson in engagement.
‘Now who could forget Caroline? I expect she’s still in London?’
‘Oh no. Carrie’s here too. We’re all here.’
Tom looked surprised. ‘She was so ambitious.’
‘She still is. She hasn’t changed a bit.’
‘Really?’ Tom looked thoughtful. ‘Now that is good to know. Married?’
‘Nope. Career woman, that’s our Carrie. I keep telling her what she needs is a good man, but she just laughs. Listen, what about you, Tom? What are you doing these days?’
Tom drained his coffee.
‘Still acting. I’m doing a play on the Fringe – you must come and see it, it’s only on for another week. My agent told me there are some big scouts in town. Theatre’s fine, but I’d really like a big film or television role again.’
‘I’d love to come. I’ll tell Jake – my husband – but he works late most nights. Where are you staying?’
‘Actually, that’s a bit of a problem.’ He gestured at the brown holdall on the floor. ‘Just got thrown out.’
‘For misbehaving?’ Marta teased.
‘Friend’s mother landed on her unexpectedly. She needed the room.’ He looked rueful. ‘Bit of a problem, though, I hadn’t budgeted on a hotel. You know what it’s like for us actors – always juggling things between jobs. The Festival’s terrific, but it hardly pays the bills.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Make a few calls, I guess. See if I can fix something else up. I haven’t got a lot of time, though, the play’s on at five thirty.’
‘We’ve got a spare room,’ Marta blurted out, surprising herself because Jake, teetering on the edge of depression since losing his job, had become something of a hermit.
Tom’s eyebrows rose a fraction.
Thinking of Jake, Marta’s generosity wavered before her irrepressible good nature won.
‘You won’t be here for long, I guess?’
‘A week at most.’
‘Well, I don’t see why you couldn’t stay with us, then. In fact, I can even give you a key.’ Marta picked up her handbag again. ‘This was obviously
, Tom. The plumber not being able to come, I mean, and meeting you like this. Here,’ she held out a set of keys, ‘I don’t normally carry spares, but I was going to give them to Mr Morrison.’
She dropped them into Tom’s outstretched hand.
‘Darling. This is extraordinarily generous. Are you sure? What will your husband say about a complete stranger landing on you?’
‘Jake’ll be fine,’ Marta said with conviction. ‘He’s used to me and my good deeds. I’m just pleased to be able to help. You can go there right away to drop your bag. The spare room’s upstairs, at the front. Jake will probably still be asleep, but I’ll call and let him know you’re coming.’
Tom bent forward and kissed her cheek, making Marta blush. ‘Are you an angel sent from heaven?’
‘That’s me. Now, here’s how you get to my place—’
Five minutes later, Marta shoved her unread notes in her briefcase and said a hurried goodbye.
At the door to the street she half turned, waved, and was rewarded with another of his life-affirming smiles.
Good deed for the day.
Some hours later, her hands full of shopping bags, Marta barged open the gate to their cottage in the seaside suburb of Portobello. Inviting Jane and Carrie for supper had seemed a good idea earlier, but now...
She paused at the foot of the stairs and called up to Jake. He’d be in his study going over job applications. Shifts in the bar at the Assembly Rooms brought in some cash but was hardly what he was qualified for.
There was no reply. He must be plugged into some music.
Marta unpacked her shopping methodically, leaving the ingredients for the main course by the sink, and those for the dessert on the worktop by the mixer. Absorbed in her preparations, she didn’t hear Jake come downstairs.
‘I broke a plate.’
‘What?’ Marta, concentrating on dicing lamb, jumped at the sound of Jake’s voice. ‘Which one?’
‘One of the kitchen set.’
‘Oh. Not so bad then.’
Jake leant against the sink and crossed his arms. ‘I don’t know what’s got into me.’
‘It really doesn’t matter, love.’
‘It’s not like me to be so bloody careless.’
Marta stopped chopping and glanced at him sympathetically. ‘Bad day, sweetheart?’
‘The plumber never arrived. I broke a plate. And I came down half an hour later to find a complete stranger making himself a sandwich and raiding my beer. Oh, and there were two more rejections in the post. Thanks, Mr Davidson, but no thanks. Bad day?’ His lips tightened. ‘You could say, yes.’
‘Christ.’ She dropped the knife with a clatter and clapped a hand over her mouth. ‘I forgot to call you about Tom. No wonder you’re cross. Oh Jake,
‘Tom. Let me see. Tom.’ He ran a hand through his short brown hair and scratched his head. ‘Could he be the sandwich-making, beer-drinking, key-holding thespian?’
Marta wiped her hands on her apron and crossed the kitchen to smooth down his hair. ‘I said sorry. I meant to call. Honest.’ She kissed him gently. ‘He’s an old friend of Jane’s. I bumped into him and he needs somewhere to stay for a few days. The plumber had to call off so I gave Tom the key.’
‘So I understand.’ His arms, still crossed, excluded her.
‘Don’t be cross, love, it’s only for a few days. He’s in something in the Festival.’
There was a small sigh, then his arms came around her, his head buried itself into her hair, and his body slotted into comfortable, familiar places.
‘Forgiven?’ she mumbled into the warm flatness of his chest.
‘Always forgiven, Pollyanna.’
She loved Jake for many things, but his unwavering love was top of the list.
‘What are you cooking?’ he asked as he released her.
‘Oh God, I’d better get on! Nigella’s lamb. I’ve asked Carrie round, and the Harvies. It’s a surprise. I thought they’d like to see Tom again.’
‘Really? Didn’t he used to live with Jane? I seem to remember you telling me he left her for some actress.’
Marta threw the last of the lamb into the casserole and opened a jar of caramelised onion. ‘Serena Swift. It didn’t last long. But the breakup with Jane was all very amicable. I was in South Africa at the time, but Jane wrote to me about it.’
‘You mean, there were no hard feelings?’
‘She was cool about everything.’
‘So she’s going to be delighted to see this man again tonight, is she?’
‘Yes. Don’t be such a cynic.’
‘You always look on the bright side.’
‘And you’re always pessimistic. It was seventeen years ago, for heaven’s sake. We’ve all moved on.’
She opened the oven door and put the casserole inside, then poured the cream into a bowl and started beating it, watching as the pale liquid began to froth and thicken.
‘Are you expecting me to join you?’
‘Aren’t you working tonight?’
‘Nope. Andrew messed up the rota.’
‘Fantastic! I mean, I’m sorry about that, but I’m pleased you’ll be here.’
Marta glanced at him sharply. ‘What? It’s lamb and cheesecake.’
‘It means I’ll have to be sociable.’
‘Oh Jake, don’t be grumpy. You like Neal, you know you do. And you’ve always adored Jane and Carrie. What’s the problem?’
A small smile softened his mouth and he held out his hand.
‘Give me the scrapings and I promise I’ll be nice.’
Marta laughed, pleased. ‘Here. A cheap victory.’ She grew serious. ‘I forgot to say, I got the curse this morning.’
His hand, half way to his mouth with a spoon laden with cheesecake mix, froze in mid-air. ‘Oh.’
‘I know. We just need to keep trying.’ Again that gnawing emptiness inside her. Every month she had to battle it, every month came the struggle to remain optimistic. ‘Don’t be down about it, Jake, I’m trying not to be.’
He handed her the bowl. He hadn’t eaten a mouthful.