Life's a Beach and Then... (The Liberty Sands Trilogy Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Life's a Beach and Then... (The Liberty Sands Trilogy Book 1)
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Chapter 24

 

 

Robert could taste the salt on his lips and feel the heat of
the sun on his skin. Although he hated to admit it, Rosemary had been right to
encourage him to spend the day fishing with Philippe. A few hours apart didn’t
mean he loved her any less and anyway it would be good for her to have a bit of
female company so that they could talk about girlie things.

The
Dolphin
, skippered by
Philippe’s friend, Billy, had brought them out beyond the reef and they were
now bobbing about on the deeper blue water with their rods trailing from the
stern of the boat. There wasn’t really much to this fishing lark thought
Robert, taking a swig of Phoenix beer direct from the bottle and enjoying the
flavour of the local brew on his tongue. Once you’ve baited the line you just
sit back and wait for a bite.

He glanced across at Philippe who was relaxing back in a weathered
old director’s chair with his eyes closed and feet up on the rail. Without
opening his eyes Philippe raised his beer bottle in Robert’s direction and
said, ‘Glad you came?’

‘Absolutely,’ Robert replied, ‘just what the doctor
ordered,’ he added, acutely aware of his thoughtless choice of words the moment
they had left his lips. He didn’t want to invite any questions about Rosemary’s
health, particularly as Philippe couldn’t have failed to notice how tired and
thin she was looking.

‘I know she is hiding something,’ Philippe said, causing
Robert to choke on his beer.

Had Philippe been reading his mind? he wondered.

‘Not used to roughing it my friend?’ Philippe teased. ‘It’s
a bit different from sipping on a fine red.’

Robert wasn’t sure what to say, so he made a big deal of
coughing to buy himself some time. He and Rosemary had agreed that they
wouldn’t tell any of their friends about her terminal condition unless asked a
direct question. Neither of them liked to lie.

‘Or maybe it is just the finality of it all,’ Philippe
continued, ‘particularly coming back to Mauritius.’

Robert was floundering now. He was trying to remember if he
had left Rosemary alone with Philippe and if so he wondered if she had
inadvertently said something to arouse his suspicions. Unless, of course, the
burden had become too great to bear on her own and she had needed to tell
someone. But surely she would have told him that she had told Philippe?

‘You’re very quiet, Robert,’ Philippe said, swinging his
legs down from the rail and turning to look at his friend. ‘Maybe she has asked
you not to talk about it?’

‘We agreed to keep it to ourselves,’ Robert confirmed.
‘There’s no point in getting too many people involved.’

‘Does Rosemary know too?’ Philippe asked.

Robert could feel the colour drain from his skin as he
realised that they had been talking at crossed purposes and he had almost given
the game away. Philippe had obviously been talking about Holly.

‘Er no,’ he stammered, ‘although I rather suspect they may
share one or two secrets today. She really has connected with Holly. I think
she views her as the daughter she never had.’

Philippe looked hurt. ‘I thought I was the son she never
had,’ he said. ‘Does she adopt all late thirty-somethings as her own?’

Robert laughed, glad to lighten the mood. ‘Wrong on both
counts,’ he said. ‘It’s just the two of you that she has taken a shine to, and
you’re not thirty-something as I can clearly remember celebrating your fortieth
birthday last time we were here!’

Philippe held his hands up. ‘Guilty as charged,’ he laughed,
‘but don’t tell Holly, she might think I’m too old for her.’

Robert was grateful for the chance to take the conversation
in a different direction.

‘You seem to have taken quite a shine to Holly,’ he said. It
wasn’t a question. Philippe had been very obviously attracted to her and
although hesitant at first Holly seemed to be enjoying his company too.

‘I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t be attracted to Holly,’
Philippe said, his eyes glowing. ‘Yes, she is undoubtedly beautiful and she has
just the sort of figure I like, with a bit of meat on her bones,’ a comment
that made Robert flinch. Philippe continued, unaware of what he had said.
‘There is something about Holly the person that I find captivating. One moment
she seems quite self-assured and confident and the next she seems like a little
girl lost. She intrigues me,’ he admitted. ‘I am desperate to know more about
her and find out if it is just the loss of her husband that has made her close
herself off from people. I want to help her.’

‘That’s exactly what Rosemary said after the first evening
we had dinner with her,’ Robert said. ‘There is something more that Holly isn’t
sharing with us yet.’

‘But I thought she had confided in you, Robert,’ Philippe
said, looking puzzled.

Robert felt like a rabbit dazzled by bright headlights. He
was so bad at lying.

‘Yes, yes she has,’ he said, avoiding Philippe’s quizzical
stare, ‘but I think there is still more,’ he continued, lamely. ‘Maybe Rosemary
will be able to get to the bottom of things,’ he said, looking towards the
shore in the direction of Tamarina Bay, very pleased that she wasn’t there to
hear his bungled explanations.

Philippe followed his gaze. ‘Have you two reached a decision
about the house yet?’

Robert hesitated. ‘We will make our minds up once and for
all on this visit.’

‘You should buy it my friend,’ Philippe encouraged. ‘You and
Rosemary seem so at home there.’

And therein lies the problem Robert thought, turning his
head to look out to sea. Will it be home without Rosie?

 

Chapter 25

 

 

The two women had sat in silence for a long time after
Holly’s revelations, neither wanting to be the first to break the extraordinary
feeling of closeness between them. Holly had never in her life felt love from
another woman. She hadn’t known either of her grandmothers and her mother was
an only child so there were no aunties to compensate for the lack of maternal
affection. There had only ever been three people who Holly had loved that had
loved her back, and they were all male.

Rosemary on the other hand had had a wonderful relationship
with her mother until she had died, as the result of a stroke, at the
tragically early age of sixty-two.

Her mother had been so delighted when Rosemary had met
Robert and they were married just six months later.

Some mothers might have questioned the haste of the marriage
but Rosemary’s mum, Faith, had said, ‘It’s taken you half a lifetime to find
each other, why waste any more time?’

Their wedding had been a small affair in the tiny church of
St Agatha’s, in the Surrey village where she had grown up, with only close
family and special friends on the guest list. They had all been hoping that the
village church would see more use for the christening of babies but it hadn’t
worked out that way. Instead the next gathering had been to bury Faith,
followed nine months later by her husband Morris who, the doctor said, had died
of a broken heart.

Rosemary was still stroking Holly’s hair. It was something
that Robert always did to calm her when she was upset. Holly’s sobbing had
subsided and there was just the occasional sniff from her now as she tried to
compose herself.

Rosemary was feeling a mixture of emotions. Sadness and
anger that someone Holly obviously loved so much could abandon her and his
unborn child, and a twinge of envy that Holly had fallen pregnant so easily,
something Rosemary had been unable to do despite the best efforts of the
infertility experts. Why does life have to be so unfair? she thought.

And then there was Holly’s mother. Rosemary was appalled. She
couldn’t imagine how a mother could behave like that towards her own child.
Poor girl, she thought, holding Holly close, any feeling of mistrust she had
felt after the admission of the lies Holly had told was replaced by a surge of
compassion.

There were so many questions she wanted to ask but they
would have to wait. For now she just wanted Holly to feel loved.

‘I have never told another soul what Mum said to me at my
dad’s funeral,’ Holly eventually said, ‘not even my son.’

‘So you have a little boy,’ said Rosemary.

‘Well he’s not so little now,’ Holly said, a hint of pride
creeping into her voice. ‘He’s just celebrated his nineteenth birthday.’

‘Really?’ said Rosemary, the surprise evident in her voice.
‘You don’t look old enough to have a son that age. I thought you were only
around thirty.’

Holly managed a watery smile. ‘I take after my dad,’ she
said. ‘People could never believe his age either.’

Rosemary watched Holly’s smile fade as she mentioned her
father. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ she asked gently.

‘I don’t know where to start really,’ said Holly. ‘He was my
rock to cling on to in the turbulent sea that was my mother’s moods. He was
such a good honest hard-working man, I often wondered why he stayed with her.’

‘Maybe he stayed for you,’ said Rosemary.

‘Maybe he did,’ said Holly, ‘or maybe he was one of those
people who made a life choice and felt it was his duty to see it through. Don’t
get me wrong,’ she continued, ‘I think he truly loved my mum but he didn’t like
the person she became when she had been drinking.’

‘Your mum had a drink problem?’ Rosemary asked.

Holly nodded. ‘Nobody ever spoke about it but I think she
was an alcoholic. I can remember even from a very young age the smell of whisky
on her breath,’ Holly said, wrinkling her nose in disgust, ‘although I didn’t
know what it was at the time.’

‘Didn’t your dad try to get help for her?’

‘An addict can only be helped if they want to be helped,’
Holly said defensively. ‘She wouldn’t admit that she had a drinking problem and
if my dad ever suggested she should try and cut down she would become abusive
towards both of us. I guess he just wanted to try and keep the fragile peace.’

‘Do you know why she drank?’ Rosemary asked tentatively.

‘Not really,’ Holly said, her lower lip trembling slightly.
‘The only time I ever asked her she glared at me accusingly and said... because
of you.’

Rosemary could see Holly was starting to get upset again and
that was the last thing she wanted.

‘Tell me about your son,’ she said brightly. ‘What’s his
name?’

‘Harry,’ said Holly, the cloud immediately lifting,
‘although it says Harold on his birth certificate. It was Dad and my little
joke and an homage to his favourite British prime minister.’ She turned to face
Rosemary to continue with her explanation. ‘My surname is Wilson you see, so
Harry is really Harold Wilson.’

Rosemary was looking confused again but not because she
didn’t remember the former Prime Minister’s name.

‘I thought you said your mum had forbidden your dad to have
contact with you,’ she said.

‘She had, but when Mum threw me out of the house, my dad
came running after me and handed me all the money he had in his wallet. He told
me he would find a way to help me and that I must keep in touch by ringing him
at work, so that Mum wouldn’t find out.’

‘It must have been awful for your dad, loving you both and
yet being forced to make a choice between you,’ Rosemary said.

‘Yes, I can see that now, but at the time it was just a
second rejection from someone I loved. I felt totally abandoned.’

‘So what did you do?’

Holly looked up at Rosemary. ‘It’s a long story,’ she said.
‘Are you sure you want to hear it?’

Rosemary nodded, knowing that until Holly had unburdened
herself of the weight of guilt she was carrying she would never be able to move
on with her life.

 

 

Holly recounted standing at the end of their garden path
clutching the money, with the two bags she had already packed for her return to
university at her feet. She watched her dad retreat behind the tatty front door
of the house where she had spent most of the last nineteen years and knew it
was probably the last time she would ever lay eyes on it, and possibly him. She
had no idea what to do or where to go.

As she waited for the bus to take her from Clifton into
Nottingham city centre she tried to think straight. Maybe she could go back to
university. She had her train ticket and a room in a house share organised and
she was only four months pregnant so she wasn’t showing yet, and she was sure
the university would be able to help her.

Then she thought of Gareth. He hadn’t been in contact with
her at all since he left for America. He obviously wanted nothing to do with
her and she wasn’t going to try and force him into marriage. She had her pride.
That was when she realised that going back to university wasn’t an option. She
couldn’t bear the thought of seeing him around campus with a new girlfriend.

Holly had used the train ticket but instead of going all the
way to Bath she had got off at Reading. She and Gareth had always joked about
the pronunciation, calling it reading, as in books, rather than Reading, which
sounded like the colour. She always had her nose in a book. When she wasn’t
studying, and there was a lot of reading in her English degree coursework, she
was engrossed in romantic novels. Somehow Reading had just felt right.

The council had found her a one-bedroom flat and put her in
touch with Social Services. Holly knew she would need some financial support
but she was determined to work for as long as she could and she managed to get
a job at the local library. She contacted Bath university and explained her
situation. They had wanted to know if the father of her baby was one of their
students but Holly had refused to say. She also had to let her housemates know
that she wouldn’t be needing the room. She wrote them a very short letter with
no explanation about why she was not going back to uni and no return address.

Rosemary had been watching Holly as she spoke. It was almost
as though she was giving an account of something that had happened to another
person. That’s how some of us deal with things, Rosemary thought, remembering
how unreal the first few months of her cancer treatment had felt.

‘So did your dad come and visit you in Reading?’

‘Not until after Harry was born,’ Holly replied.

‘Was no one with you when gave birth?’

‘No one except the midwives,’ Holly said, ‘but it was okay.
In a way I preferred not having to share my precious baby with anyone else. It
was the most magical moment of my life when I held Harry in my arms for the
first time. The love I felt for him was totally overwhelming.’

Rosemary could hear both emotion and devotion in her voice
and felt a pang of jealousy that she had never been fortunate enough to
experience that feeling.

‘I’m so sorry, Rosemary,’ Holly said. ‘How selfish of me
talking about how wonderful it is to be a mother when clearly it is something
you wanted so much.’

‘It’s history now,’ Rosemary said, managing a faint smile,
‘and anyway we’re talking about you not me. When did your father first visit
you and Harry?’

Holly explained that she had phoned her dad to tell him he
was a grandfather and he had taken the next day off work so that he could make
the round trip from Nottingham to Reading without arousing his wife’s
suspicion. He was totally besotted with his grandson the moment he saw him,
although surprised at his blond hair and blue eyes, so unlike his mother and
grandfather.

‘That was when we decided on the name Harry,’ Holly said. ‘I
was going to call him William, my dad’s name, but because they were so
dissimilar in looks it didn’t seem right. What I didn’t tell my dad was that
Harry rhymed with Gary, my pet name for Gareth. I guess at that point I still
had a tiny glimmer of hope that one day he might walk back into our lives.’ She
shrugged. ‘That was the start of regular monthly visits from my dad. He used to
bring little gifts for Harry and always give me a few pounds to help with the
bills. He even bought himself a mobile phone that Mum didn’t know about so that
we could keep in contact when he wasn’t at work in case there was an emergency.
The tragedy is that’s what killed him,’ said Holly, starting to get emotional
again.

Rosemary didn’t speak, she just waited until Holly was able
to carry on.

‘The police said afterwards that he had lost control of his
car on the M1 motorway less than thirty minutes from home. Apparently he was
talking to my mother on his mobile phone. He was dead by the time the emergency
vehicles arrived on the scene,’ said Holly, tears streaming down her face
again.

Rosemary was trying to calm Holly as she said, ‘Had your
mother found out about his secret visits to you?’

Holly shook her head. ‘No, she had no idea that Dad was
visiting us. She found the mobile phone bill, saw that all the calls were to
the same number and assumed my dad was having an affair, at least that’s what
she told the police when they called to tell her there had been a fatal
accident,’ Holly sobbed. ‘She had called his mobile phone number to accuse him
of cheating on her and he must have lost concentration wondering how he was
going to protect me.’ Holly was becoming hysterical now. ‘So you see it was my
fault. I’m responsible for my dad’s death. My mum is right to hate me.’

‘No, no, no,’ said Rosemary, once again cradling Holly in
her arms and rocking her back and forth. ‘If anyone should carry the guilt for
your dad’s death it’s your mother for putting him in such an impossible
position in the first place. It’s not your fault, Holly,’ she reassured her.
‘It’s not your fault.’

Finally Rosemary was beginning to understand why Holly had
spent so many years on her own, afraid of becoming too close to anyone in case
they left her. And the tragedy is, thought Rosemary, she has opened up her
heart to me and put her trust in me and I am going to leave her too.

BOOK: Life's a Beach and Then... (The Liberty Sands Trilogy Book 1)
10.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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