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In Harm's Way

By Susan Claremont-Smith
17th July, 2011

 

 

    

 Prologue

 

The windmill’s sails clunked rhythmically, blocking the view intermittently with every turn. April smiled upwards, her cheeks dimpling as she waved up at the top floor window where Amy, wiped diamond shaped windows clear of condensation with a cloth from inside and April realised her employer probably couldn’t see her down in the meadow below.

     Pushing a wheelbarrow through early daffodils towards old farm buildings, April shivered. It was a blue-sky day, coldness stabbing the air, but it wasn’t the weather sending shivers through her. It was her twentieth birthday in a month’s time - she felt sick. The barn door creaked. Inside she leaned the wheelbarrow against a stony wall, pulled at the knees of her jeans and sat down heavily on a pile of compost in plastic bags.  

    Amy and her family had been her mainstay for the past year. It was down to them that she was strong again, physically and mentally, so different to the way she first felt on her arrival to work for them in the nursery garden and guesthouse. They would be shocked to know she was thinking of leaving them, but they didn’t really know her.  Didn’t even know her by her real name.  

    Their voices were cheery, she could hear them chattering together in the windmill’s garden, planning the Easter egg hunt at the end of the month. It reminded her about the posters for display around the village. Amy had printed them off and asked her to put them up in the community centre, and on the post office window. April slapped at her backside to remove dirt and headed back to the house, kicking clods of earth as she went.

    “Amy,” she shouted upstairs. “Have you got the posters- you know – the Easter egg hunt ones?”

    “On the kitchen table, beside the eggs!” Amy bellowed down in reply.

    April slid a chocolate smeared tea towel and heap of small Easter eggs to one side. How pretty they looked, some wrapped in coloured foil, others handmade and decorated with icing, then wrapped in clear bags topped with dried lavender sprigs from last years plants. She had helped to tie them in place, which reminded her of college days with her friend Lindsey, studying floristry together in untroubled days. 

    “They’re not here,” she said looking puzzled.

    Amy appeared at the door. “Don’t need to look so down about it – they’ll turn up - wonder where they’ve gone?” 

    “The Eggs are looking good.” April run her fingers through her windswept caramel hair. “Shall I put them in these boxes?” 

    Amy bustled, pulling table drawers open. “Now, where are those posters?”

    The boxes full, April lifted them into the larder out of the warm chicken and sage soup-smelling kitchen. The recipe was Amy’s very own and April loved it.

    “There they are, under the boxes all the time.” Amy laughed. She was slightly older than April’s mother and so different in every way. Rosy-cheeked and untidy hair. Her clean, but worn stripy blouse bunched up on one side and stuck out of her skirt waistband. “Every year I mean to be more organised.”

    April chuckled, she hadn’t known Amy long, but she couldn’t imagine her ever being organised. Her thoughts began to drift again - to - home, where everything had a set place and April’s mother always looked perfect, even when she wore jeans, a matching scarf or jewellery set off her outfit, her hair permanently lacquered too.

    “You alright? You’re looking a bit peeky.” 

    April opened the door. “I’m fine,” she waved the posters above her head. “I’d better get a move on before the post office shuts. The sooner these are up the better.” She closed the door quietly, without saying good-bye. 

    Down at the gateway she turned around and stared  fondly back at the windmill as she came to a crucial conclusion - knowing now what she must do.

 

Chapter One 

 

Today was important to Olivia Gadsby. It wasn’t her birthday, but April’s, whom she hadn’t set eyes on for two years. Her daughter simply walked out of their lives on her eighteenth birthday. Not a word, no clues, nothing. 

     Always, Olivia remained hopeful for her return. At first, April’s boyfriend, family, and friends believed the worst, thinking it only a matter of time before April’s body was unearthed. At these times, Olivia listened to them carefully, but found it difficult to tell them the truth.  

   What reason could April have for walking out of their lives? It was a question she’d asked herself again and again. Was she herself, in some way to blame?  Should she have noticed her daughter’s dilemma?

    She leant on the table.  Silvery strands of hair clung to her damp cheeks and she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. Nib pressed firmly down, she signed a birthday card with a flourish, sealed the envelope, kissed it, and then rested it carefully with the others. Christmases, birthdays all gone by, and a small selection of gifts and cards had accumulated.

     A photograph of April in a gilt frame rested on the windowsill. Olivia struck a match and lit a pure white candle, settling it beside the image.

     The house remained dull and cold. She heard the back door open, and then her husband’s voice. “Bye then, see you later.” Then he was gone.

 

***

 

First birds sang as Richard crept out, unable to face Olivia he shouted his farewell.

     Shoulders slumped; he stared back awkwardly towards the house. Today he needed to be strong for Olivia; he would control his true emotions. The tears and confusion they shared were severe, but just lately they had been arguing too.  Unable to face another quarrel, he left the house early, not wishing to carry on the charade of strength. If he crumbled, he would be useless to her.

     Police had carried out an extensive and thorough investigation. Their findings offered relief, but spattered with shame. With sympathetic expressions, they had relayed their findings a month later. April was alive, but her whereabouts would be concealed. As an adult, her wishes for privacy respected.     

    Recently, Olivia spoke often about hiring a private investigator, which he vehemently opposed; afraid the truth would be too bad for him to endure. April would have thought hard about her actions before leaving and the law was there for a reason. 

    Richard knew Olivia would be badgering him about further investigation today, and not wishing to antagonise her, made his escape. 

    Shafts of sunshine illuminated the renovated oast house. He reversed onto the back lane, leaving Hop-bine House behind.  Brightness flickered through the branches and created patterns on the road. Light and dark he thought, just like our lives and Olivia’s moods. He turned left, bumping his Land Rover onto a muddy track before entering gates.  A rustic sign swung in the breeze, ‘Cherrydene Nursery, Portchelsea,’ he read proudly. His inspiration ten years ago, when April and her elder brother Seth were children.

   Spending time in the enormous greenhouses always helped him to gather his thoughts. He needed solitude. As anticipated, no one else was around.  Inside the humidity was high. He breathed in the green fragrance and took off his jacket. Staff usually arrived at eight o’ clock. He found his own personal selection on a shelf away from the numerous rows. Richard pinched the damp soil of young Fuchsia plants. They reminded him of April as a child. Dainty little dancers, wearing her favourite colours, pink and purple, curtsied sweetly in the breeze.

    Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, he then carried on. Systematically, he nipped away unhealthy growth, watered pots, reset thermostats, and recorded his actions in a dog-eared ledger.

     Light from Olivia’s Flower Emporium opposite lit up the gravel path. Richard readjusted his flat cap and rubbed his hands to warm them. His rubber boots crunched outside the florist shop as his thoughts reverted to Olivia. This had been her pride and joy, until April went missing, and then her interest in life was lost. Solemnly, she waited at home, in hope of receiving a message. Nothing or no one else mattered to her any more. And, that included him.

 

***

 

Wind gusted, Lindsey McPhearson arrived at Olivia’s Flower Emporium promptly, uncertain of what the day would bring.

    Olivia relied on Lindsey, who began employment in the florist shop after leaving Floristry College and was the same age as April.  The girls had been close for years; their friendship born at senior school and deepened further at college.

    Lindsey missed April, especially on her birthday and the anniversary of her disappearance. Lindsey had thought they confided in each other about everything. Bewildered, not a day went by when she didn’t ask herself about April. Why hadn’t she been in contact with anyone? What was so bad to keep her away? 

     Quite often, she wondered if Steve Chandler, April’s boyfriend had had anything to do with it. He hadn’t been her typical sort, at least ten years her senior, his body emblazoned with tattoos.

     They met a few weeks before her disappearance, at the springtime fair on Portchelsea Common. Lindsey and April had been riding the bumper cars, which was where he worked and she could still hear his husky tones, shouting above catchy pop music, as he balanced on the back of theirs, his dark hair shining in the flashing coloured lights. 

    Sprays of white sparks and the smell of metallic friction above them added to the excitement.

     April had been miserable leading up to that time. Sometimes she looked worried, but that day she looked happy. Enviously, Lindsey watched April smiling, her head thrown back, hair blowing in the wind.

    Steve had been the main suspect in the police enquiries, but soon he found an alibi with his heavily pregnant wife, and the investigations were-diverted. Lindsey was shocked and hated him, having learnt about his wife and her condition. Had April found out about Maggie Chandler? Was Maggie the reason for her friend leaving? Steve had simply carried on with his life, without a care for April, or her whereabouts.

    An old-fashioned bell jangled as Richard shoved the shop door open.  

    Lindsey patted her carroty curls.  “Morning Rich! You’re early today, as if I didn’t know why,” her eyebrows arched quizzically as she balanced a tower of flowerpots beside packets of potpourri, scenting the air. Glancing at him, she compared him to an ostrich, its head firmly buried in sand. “Not spending the day with Olivia today then?” 

    “What’s happened to your hair?”

    “Thank you very much. “   Lindsey’s voice held more than a trace of sarcasm. “Not, your hair looks great Lindsey! My mother cut the fringe for me last night, it’s meant to be a trim, but it’s all gone wrong.”  Lindsey patted the tufted hair down. “She’s even given me the cash to pop into the hairdressers my way home to sort it out. That was just after she’d tried to convince me I looked wonderful… And you’re trying to change the subject by the way.”

    He cast his eyes down. “It’s hard for me too you know. I like getting out and keeping myself busy. Olivia prefers staying at home. Later on, she’ll go to church and that’s not my sort of thing. Anyway she won’t even notice whether I’m there or not.”   

     Spotting Richard’s watery eyes, Lindsey pressed her lips firmly shut and thought back to his and Olivia’s sorrowful pleas to the media back then and wished she could retract her words, but it was too late.

    The phone rang, shattering the awkward silence. Relieved Lindsey lifted the handset and waited.  

    Another hush prevailed.

 

***

 

“Tell me the truth Natasha. Where did you go last night?” Seth Gadsby poked his nose menacingly into his wife’s pale pretty face. Then shrugged his broad shoulders and rolled sulkily out of their bed.

     “With Isabel, from work; I told you,” she whispered truthfully and buried her face into her feathery pillow, before glancing up. “We went to the cinema.”

   “But that’s not true is it?” Seth swished the curtains roughly along their tracks, almost wrenching them away from the wall. Natasha didn’t like the way events were proceeding. 

   “You know it’s true. Why are you always so jealous?” Now out of bed, she pulled her satin nightgown around her slenderness.

    “Enjoy the film?” he asked sarcastically, and flicked her cheek as he passed by.

    “Don’t be so ridiculous,” she kneaded her cheek with her knuckles. “Yes Romantic Tale was good. Why did you pretend to be asleep when I came home, it was only ten pm?”

    “I didn’t feel like talking,” he mouthed the words precisely.

   Natasha’s heart thumped. She wished Seth’s flashing green eyes and broken nose good looks didn’t arouse such strong emotions. She always felt so defenceless, and shuddered. 

    He caught hold of her arm and she flinched. This wouldn’t be the first time she believed him capable of causing her physical pain. He reminded her so much of her abusive father. 

    Suddenly he pushed her roughly away, pausing for a while before changing his form of attack. 

    A twisted smile crept over his face. “You should be at home - caring for a baby - instead of out, gallivanting around town,” he paused. “And without me!” 

  Her shoulders stiffened, she breathed in, subconsciously holding her breath. Her fingers flicked through her ebony waves. How could he be so cruel? He knew how badly she craved a baby and with her medical history, fertility questionable. She sensed his anger. He wanted to hurt her; she could see it in his eyes. She guessed he would try to wheedle his way back into her affections later. As always, she would yield effortlessly to him.

    In an attempt to change the mood, she flicked on the radio. Catching the end of an announcement, followed by a rhythm and blues song that reverberated through the flat.  

     Today would be gloomy in many ways. Natasha was pleased to see Seth’s attention seemingly re-directed. He pulled on his jeans and brushed his hair, but his aggression showed, his fists clenched. Natasha knew she would need to be careful. 

     April’s birthday, but life went on. Natasha always made excuses for Seth’s petulant ways. It had become second nature to her.  If only Olivia and Richard could have adopted him sooner.

    Natasha often chatted with her mother-in-law over coffee and biscuits. They had much in common and it was on one of these occasions Olivia told her about Seth. Her eyes generally misted at this stage, as she reminisced about the fair-haired, five-year-old, who settled with them, his new adoptive parents. Olivia told Natasha how they’d been childless for years and adoption was their only option. They adored their new son, and good fortune seemed to be on their side at last. Their marriage fruitless for years, but suddenly nature rewarded them with a natural pregnancy. Olivia and Richard told Seth he would be having a baby brother or sister. 

    Olivia would seem animated for a while, and then she always faltered, her voice unsteady.  “April was born and Seth showed jealousy towards his sister, it didn’t matter what Rich and I did to try and compensate.”  

    Natasha realised his jealousy had intensified with adulthood. 

   “Hey daydreamer,” Seth broke into her thoughts. “I’m late. Dad will be at Cherrydene already. You’ll be here when I get home, won’t you?” He squeezed her buttocks roughly, his palm slipping lingeringly over the satin. Love you!”  He gave a slap.

      “Love you too,” her voice trailed away, as she willed him to look at her, but he didn’t. The door slammed, he ran downstairs from their flat above Sita’s Sweetshop.

 

***

 

Lindsey lifted the telephone expecting to hear a sales person at the end of the line. 

    “Good morning, Olivia’s Flower Emporium. How can I help?”

     After a few seconds, Lindsey heard her mother’s hesitant voice.  “Hello – Lindsey– is that you?” At first, she wasn’t worried. Her father had left recently for a younger woman and sometimes Morag McPhearson became lonely. Although, it was odd, so soon after Lindsey had just left home for work.

    “My hair’s fine Mum. Don’t worry,” she lied, but shocked by her mother’s sharp response. 

    “You on your own?”

     “No.” 

    “Don’t say a word. Start thinking of an excuse to get yourself away.”

     Lindsey had never heard her mother sound so secretive. 

    “Listen carefully.” Her mother’s words stunned her, and then she asked her to repeat them, afraid she may have misheard. She hadn’t and blushed, her voice quavered. Many questions leapt around her head, stifled by the trouble they would cause, especially with Richard within earshot. He mustn’t know. 

    He did seem unaware as he leant against a display unit sipping cinnamon dredged hot chocolate. Lindsey became conscious about stumbling over her words and never usually stuck for something to say.

     Hiding her emotions and biting her bottom lip, she listened to her mother’s news. Her mind whirled; she tried frantically to think of a plausible explanation for her return home.

     “Okay then Mum. I’ll be home A.S.A.P.” Stuttering, she turned to face Richard.

    “I need to go home. Mum’s fallen off a stepladder cleaning the windows, and the doctors’ receptionist says they can fit her in as an emergency, if she gets there soon.”

   “I’ll drive the Land Rover around and take you.”

   “NO! I mean - no thanks.” Lindsey’s head buzzed. “Mum’s booked a taxi. Thanks for the offer, but she gets embarrassed easily.”

    Lindsey regarded Richard’s quizzical gaze and tried to disguise her concern, as she tried to escape.  She tripped on her way out, and then steadied herself. Her shoulder bag hindered her, as she mounted her pushbike and pedalled madly away, uncharacteristically leaving the shop unlocked. The keys were still in her pocket. Richard would have to stay put.

 

***

 

Olivia slapped her thigh. “Come on girl, it’s time for walkies.” She jiggled the lead, but the Dalmatian was already jumping up at the back door. “Atta girl, Jinty, let’s get some fresh air.” The dog belonged to April.

    As much as Olivia loved and missed her daughter, she also realised how self-centred she must be. Fancy her deserting her beloved Jinty. Olivia allowed herself a bitter smile and cupped Jinty’s ears enjoying their velvety touch. How anyone could turn their back on family and friends was a complete mystery to her and if April ever returned, she would give her a piece of her mind. 

    Out in the back lane, Olivia pulled her hood up, as the sun slid behind a grey cloud. Jinty skipped on in front, running back and forth between her and a rabbit hole in the bank. Olivia bent down, removed a stick from her companion’s mouth and threw it up the lane again for the dog to fetch. Lost in her thoughts she trudged further than usual and found herself beside Winston Estate at the edge of Cherrydene Nursery. At the stile, she leant on the fence and gazed proudly towards the family business. The fresh air cleared her mind.

   In the distance a cyclist pedalled speedily towards her, it looked like Lindsey. Olivia stared and reached in her pocket searching for her long distance glasses, but they weren’t there. “Damn,” she said aloud, but decided it wasn’t important. The figure looked like Lindsey, but it couldn’t be at this time of day, she would be busy in the shop. But, as the cyclist approached, Olivia was sure it was her employee, rosy cheeked and breathless. She stopped beside her.

     “I’ve left Rich in charge of the shop. Mum’s fallen off a ladder and I’m taking her to the Doc’s,” she said, her eyes downcast.

    “Your Mum’s looking out of the window” Olivia pointed towards a row of houses with their back gardens edging the back lane. “Do you want me to come and help?”

    “No thanks. We’ll be all right!”

     Jinty raced beside the bike, playfully snapping at Lindsey’s ankles. “Go away Jinty. I’m in a rush,” she pushed the dog nervously away, turning the bike into a side alley and disappeared out of view.

    Jinty barked wildly by the fence of Lindsey’s back garden. Olivia pulled her away.

     “What’s wrong girl – come on let’s get back home.” She had already been away much longer than usual. “Stop that Jinty.” The dog pawed at the fence, pushing her nose through the struts, barked again and tried to leap over. “Bad girl!” Olivia snapped the dog’s lead on and dragged her off towards home, surprised at the dog’s strange performance and disobedient ways.

 

***

 

Lindsey’s legs ached and her chest heaved as she skidded on the tarmac outside 8 Churchill Close, a roomy semi-detached house that was home. The curtains downstairs twitched as she clambered from the bike. The front door slowly opened. She tried to look nonchalant, even though she felt like hurtling up the path. Once inside Lindsey inhaled deeply and rushed into the living room. Morag backed into a corner, her hands pressed to her mouth, which she opened, but without effect. Lindsey had never seen her mother so flummoxed and lost for words. She followed her mother’s stare, which rested upon a young woman, who edged forward, with arms outstretched.     

    “I’m sorry,” the young woman said plainly.

    “April!” Lindsey uttered.

     Morag left the friends alone and closed the kitchen door.

    They embraced, clinging to one another. Their tears mingling as their cheeks touched. Lindsey was the first to draw away shocked, taking stock of April’s tall willowy figure. Her caramel coloured hair lacked lustre, and her hesitant dove grey eyes gazed in disbelief. 

     Lindsey was taken completely off guard. Questions spun around her mind, too many to ask straight away. What to ask first? Then she blurted out. “Where have you been? - Are you okay? – And why here? - Your Mum and Dad. Everyone’s been so upset.” Then facing one another, they clasped hands.

    April’s pale lips quivered. “I can’t tell you.”

   “Can’t or won’t?” Lindsey rubbed the tears from her eyes with her fingertips and waited, confused and angry.

    “That’s the main reason I’ve stayed away so long. I was afraid of telling you all the truth. Then I decided if I came back now - maybe - everyone could accept me and respect my wish for privacy about the last two years. I’ve good reasons, but I know I’m being unfair.  It’s a lot to ask of everyone.  I really have missed you all so much. Every single day of my time away, I’ve longed to come back and been so worried about the trouble I’ve caused and the sorrow.” Her shoulders drooped. “How could I have caused such suffering to Mum and Dad – to you all? In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking properly. Just running away, with no one to share the problem. Not even you, Lindsey.”

    Lindsey’s face crumpled thinking of her friend’s despair.  “I thought we confided in each other about everything.”

    “Not this. Even now the shame.” The words caught in her throat. ” Maybe, one day I’ll be able to talk about it, but for now I just want to be back home. Help me tell Mum and Dad? To let them know I am all right. Ask them to have me back. I love them and now I’m thinking straight again, so ashamed.”

  Lindsey firmly guided April onto the settee and sat close. “What’s happened to you?” 

    “A set of circumstances.”  April closed her eyes and shook her head.

     “But we, everyone thought the worst. You can’t just come back and think life will go on as normal with no questions.”

   April evaded the questions by asking another unimportant one, but it diverted Lindsey’s line of questioning. “What about Steve?” she enquired sipping tea left by Morag, who was out pegging washing on the line. 

 Lindsey blinked and gnawed the edge of her fingernail. “Forget him - did you know he was married? Was that the reason that you ran away?”

      April stared back and left the question unanswered.

    Unsure of what to think, Lindsey’s thoughts drifted to Seth. How would he react now April had returned? He’d shadowed his father lately, learning the family business in preparation, assuming it was his alone when Richard retired. She often cringed when she heard him bragging to his drinking mates at The Cat and Cracker about his inheritance. Strange, April hadn’t mentioned him. 

    Then - as if April read Lindsey’s mind. “Was Seth affected by my disappearance?” Her face blanched of colour and her eyes clouded.

   “Of course,” Lindsey scrutinised her friend from narrowed eyes, remembering Seth’s quietness, with irrational outbursts of temper.

     April rested her mug on the coffee table and turned to Lindsey, placing her hands on her friend’s shoulders. She stared into her face, searching for the right words. 

 “Come to Mum and Dad’s with me.  Before I change my mind.” 

 

***

 

Olivia returned home, donned her gardening clothes, and kneeled by a flowerbed loosening the soil around some snowdrop and daffodil bulbs. She’d found the house claustrophobic and felt better in the fresh air. Her eyes wandered to the candle still flickering in the window. It had burnt low, so she would go in and replace it soon.  Distracted, she snagged her thumb on a rose bush. Blood beaded, she put the wound to her mouth. The sound of a car in the back lane stole her attention. It sounded like Richard’s car, two hours before he was due home.

     Richard drove with Seth beside him onto the drive, the car stopped abruptly, car doors opening together.

   “What’s wrong?” Olivia said warily, wiping her hands down her cord trousers.

    Richard stuttered and seemed uncertain. “We’ve closed up early; I found the spare shop door key in the back of the drawer. It was quiet.” 

    Olivia searched his eyes and then turned to Seth. “Are you going to tell me?”

      Seth pulled the French door open and stood aside for her to go in. “Let’s go indoors – we don’t know what’s happening ourselves yet.”

    “We’ve got a hunch…”  Richard’s words trailed away. A taxi had drawn up behind his car.

    Olivia squinted through the window, blinded by sunlight dazzling and reflecting off the taxi’s windscreen. “What’s Lindsey doing here? What about Morag?” Now she was really worried. She thought she could see another occupant in the taxi. Afraid - she was mistaken. Were her eyes playing games? The taxi driver opened the window, Lindsey asked him to wait. Then she went around to the boot, took out a battered suitcase, and left it on the garden path before opening the other rear door.

    Now Olivia was certain. Her heart thrummed and her breathing quickened at the sight of April heading guardedly towards the house, gripping Lindsey’s arm. Just outside the door, Lindsey disengaged herself and April walked into her old home alone. Olivia clutched the back of a chair for strength, her legs trembling.  “April – why didn’t you let us know you were coming home – why haven’t you phoned or written?” her voice shook. “It’s been two long years.” One part of her wanted to slap April’s face for all the upset she had caused, but she knew in her heart that April must have a very good reason for staying away. She would bide her time, but for now matters were out of her hands.

     Richard moved forwards, his arms welcoming his daughter. “My love - where have you been? … Come here.”

    “Dad.” April said meekly.

    With Olivia, the three hugged one another. Seth stared until they eventually let go of one another. He walked hesitantly over to April, put his hand on her shoulder, and kissed her on the cheek. “So the prodigal daughter returns,” he said calmly.

    April turned to Olivia and Richard. “Forgive me?” she murmured. “Please - try to forgive me.”

 

***

 

April closed her bedroom door and leant against it, totally drained by the day’s events. When she had first decided to come home, she hadn’t thought anything through. It had been a case of now or never. Back, now, her eyes roamed around the room. It looked like a shrine.  A cardboard box of presents left in the corner. A posy of fresh violets and primroses neatly arranged as if the room remained occupied. An old photograph album, she picked it up, scrutinising it thoughtfully. Family snaps taken before she left - of carefree times.    

    The familiar smell of fresh linen lingered in the room. April pressed her face into her pillow and sniffed, the laundry powder smell sent her back in time. Her lips felt the softness. Even Paddington Bear sat in exactly the same place. She’d always sat him astride the arm of a wicker chair. Lost memories, but now they all came flooding back.

      Muffled voices of Olivia, Richard, and Seth drifted up to her through the bedroom floor. Talking about her no doubt, composed now, but deliberately low.  She couldn’t blame them. April gave a shudder at the memory of her mother’s high-pitched tone after her initial demonstration of affection. She’d begged April to tell them where she had been.  Where had she been living or had she enough money to live on? April told them she would eventually let them know the truth.

    After a while, she heard Seth. “Bye for now, I’d better get back and let Natasha know what’s happened. I’ll borrow your car if that’s okay. We can sort them out tomorrow morning.”

     There was a lull in their conversation, she guessed they were whispering.

    Then the latch clicked shut.

 

***

 

Richard sat opposite the solicitor.  Dust floated through a beam of sunlight brightening the cluttered desk. At last, he was going to bring his idea to fruition and sat proudly.  Olivia hadn’t agreed with him about his decision in the beginning, but Richard had been unusually forceful. The land had been in his family since 1876 and passed down to him from his Great-Grandfather.

     The last few weeks had passed in a daze since April’s return. She’d been helping at Olivia’s Flower Emporium, the gift shop, and greenhouses, but he thought she needed a purpose of her own and had been impressed by her horticultural knowledge. 

    Richard took two documents from the solicitor and signed them, then he  sealed in manila envelopes. One for Seth, The other for April. Richard scooped them up, thanked the solicitor for his time, and put them safely in his breast pocket. 

   Hopefully, these papers will bring them closer together, he daydreamed.

 

 

Chapter Two

Two Years Later

Events over the past few years proved to be remarkable in many ways for the Gadsby family. April; a runaway at eighteen, and returning on her twentieth birthday.  Emotions diving, then soaring. At the age of twenty-two, she felt at ease. Her life had been an undulating journey, but thankfully, it now seemed to have evened out.  

    

Richard and Olivia would do anything to keep April near, and at last, she seemed settled. The family was content. Olivia was back in control of her Flower Emporium - full of optimism again. Richard was happy to potter about and simply to be figurehead of the Cherrydene Empire.

 

***

 

Seth planned expansion for the nursery garden business. His intention, to supply supermarkets with houseplants and potted herbs, and he wasn’t going to allow anyone to hinder him or his arrangements.

   “Morning. Had a good weekend? Lovely weather!” he called. Annie Arnold, packed small houseplants into light wooden crates. Her arthritic fingers were surprisingly deft, she concentrated on making the pots fit, her glasses balanced at the tip of her nose. Tom, her husband, worked for April. The couple were of retirement age, but worked to fund holidays with their daughter in Spain.  

    Seth charged through the packing shed. Outside, he stood hands on hips surveying a silver and purple sprigged field crowded with workers.

     Usually he stayed and helped Annie on Monday mornings, processing orders accumulated over the weekend. Today was different. As soon as he’d seen the activity in the field through the window, he’d been incensed. He didn’t intend to hang around, especially at the sight of one person working beside the other manual workers. She always managed to arrive at work before him. “Trying to prove something no doubt,” he mumbled as he strutted towards the group. He’d been annoyed and perplexed when April ordered her half of the land to be planted with lavender plants. Land that he thought had been his alone until two years ago, and yet here she was, her confidence mounting, with a business venture that she seemed unwilling to reveal to him.    

      Two men stood talking to April. Some others, about ten in all, bent over picking the first lavender harvest. A colourful assortment of folk, the women wearing patterned headscarves, the men sporting their caps. All chatting, and flinging lavender sprig bundles into metal drums and when full, lugging them to an old tractor and trailer. Later, lorry trailers packed with the crop were taken to Portchelsea railway station, where the sacks of flowers would travel to the next town for distillation.

    Seth turned to April and pulled her to one side. “Bit like hard work,” he sneered.

    “We have cutting machinery on order for next year. We had to cut costs this year. It’ll be the first and last time we cut it by hand,” she smiled. The harvest had been very fruitful.

    Her expression gradually changed though, as he started to wave his arms about. “You know what some local farmers are saying don’t you?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Growing lavender’ll ruin the soil. You’re heading for trouble.”

    “Well you know that’s wrong Seth - don’t you?”

    “ Lavender fields in the south of England have failed in the past.”

    “Not because of lavender using all the soil’s nutrients. It was down to Shab and the disease,  if it hits, is due to very bad luck.” April frowned and wrenched secateurs from her tabard pocket, turning her back on her brother. He stomped away between the glorious rows, occasionally tripping on clods of earth, which he kicked, his expression set in a distinct scowl.

    

April and Lindsey raised their eyebrows at each other and carried on picking with the other workers.

    April had learnt plenty over the past few years about lavender. With her natural ability inherited from her paternal grandfather, a keen botanist, it would put her in good stead for her future. “This is only the first part of my scheme Lindsey,” she squeezed a flower stem between her finger and thumb and held them under her nose.

   “You seem pretty relaxed about it all,” Lindsey shook her head and looked towards the sun, chuckling. April joined in. 

    “It must be this beautiful scent. It’s so soothing. She tilted her nose up, breathing in the fresh sweet fragrance, eager to share knowledge with her friend and new employee. “The camphorous undertones are perfect, especially to English lavender. It’s a good crop Lindsey.” The sun played on her skin, a bumblebee buzzed closely by and she began to whistle, ‘Lavender’s blue dilly dilly’, her favourite childhood nursery rhyme.

    Lindsey looked impressed by her friend’s adeptness. “I can see there’s plenty I need to know about all this. Are you sure you really want me in on this fantastic idea of yours April?”

    “Of course.” April rubbed the small of her back, and shifted the weight from one foot to the other. “Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine. It won’t take you long to learn and anyway I’ve still masses to learn too.”  

   Lindsey halted picking and spread her arms wide. “Just how much lavender’s needed to produce the oil?” 

    “One ton of lavender generates between four to five pints of essential oil. It’s amazing.” April spoke with passion, as she too spread her arms, her purple-stained palms facing towards her fellow pickers, a thoughtful expression crossed her face. “One field’s not going to be enough though. This is only the beginning of my precious plan.” She stood proudly, her hands behind her head and appraised the landscape ahead of her. A smug expression on her face.

 

***

 

Essential Hair and Beauty’s plate-glass door swung and crashed against the counter. Fresh air rushed in mingling with the warm scent of patchouli. Tiny bottles of essential oil chinked and rattled in a display stand, a box of hairbrushes fell across the floor. Natasha glanced warily from the appointments book to Seth, who stood glowering, tapping his wristwatch, and waving it at her. She avoided his eyes and tried to keep calm.

   Ten past twelve and she was late again. They had arranged to meet at The Singing Kettle at twelve and he hated waiting, but just as she’d been about to leave, the salon had filled up with customers booking appointments for haircuts and aromatherapy treatments. 

     Isabel Peters, Natasha’s friend peeked sideways to the desk where a commotion brewed. She angled a mirror at the back of a woman’s head, tweaked tendrils of hair, and smiled falsely.

     “It’s a quarter past twelve. You’re late!” Seth shouted across the heads of clients in a queue. Some customers sitting waiting and looking at new hairstyle magazines looked up. Natasha blushed.

    Seth pointed threateningly at Natasha. “I’ll wait outside – don’t be long!” 

    The door ricocheted as it slammed behind him. Natasha flinched. Outside he paraded like a worried bear, glaring through a window display of shampoo. She fumbled with her earrings. “Sorry Isabel,” she said to her friend - I’ll have to go straight away.”

    Taking the pen from her, Isabel scribbled in the appointments book. 

    “Off you go,” she said over her shoulder.

    Isabel ripped off the till receipt and thanked her customer for the tip. She turned to Natasha and blinked sympathetically.  Natasha grabbed her handbag. “Thanks Izzie. See you later,” she said embarrassed, from quivering lips.

  “Don’t forget to call in to Essential Oils South East, on the way back,” Isabel called after her. 

    A car’s horn sounded from the busy road. On the pavement, Natasha pummelled the side of Seth’s shoulder. He laughed and held her fists before kissing her roughly on the lips. Then he thrust her away, before pulling her arm brutally through his. Squeezed it firmly between his elbow and body, and yanked her across the pavement.

 

 

Chapter Three   

“The problem is - one field isn’t going to be enough for all the lavender I need to grow.” April stood in the doorway of an enormous greenhouse. Black clouds framed her outline and she stepped inside. Large splodges of rain smeared the glass.  “This year’s crop’s been fantastic, but if I increase the yield, as I intend to I’ll need more land.”  

    Richard laughed kindly.   “Well I can’t ask Seth for his share on your behalf.” He carried on potting miniature rose bushes. “He’s worked hard over the last few years and his business plan makes sense, it’s beginning to all come together. The bank manager’s impressed with his first year’s turnover too.”

     April passed a water-spray gun to him.  “I didn’t mean that, Dad.” Her mouth set into a straight line. Her business plan was spurred on by her love of lavender, the premature gift of land, but mostly by her need to succeed and to gain complete independency. Often she felt her mother and father humoured her, probably not expecting much. Her suspicions told her they felt unsure about whether she would leave them again.

    Richard worked methodically, pressing compost around the stems of tender new plants.  April added another row of flowerpots to the hundreds already in place. Richard started filling them, whilst she started inserting nametags quickly, completing a further batch of new plants in no time at all. Father and daughter worked quietly and enjoyed an unspoken camaraderie. 

    April became pensive. She stole a glance at her father then closed her eyes. Guilt surged through her once more about the conversation she’d overheard yesterday evening at home. Olivia and Richard warned Seth to hush, but he’d carried on, not realising she had been in the next room. Goodness knows what started him off. He’d ranted - how the secret she kept must be bad. Her mind unbalanced.  Where had she lived? Where had she earned money to survive? Had she lived rough? He put more and more doubts in their minds. 

     If only she could find the courage to tell them the truth. Nevertheless, she knew they would be appalled. The only person who hadn’t seemed affected by her time away was Seth, which didn’t surprise her at all.    

    Richard busied himself cleaning windows. April stared forlornly outside, her chin resting on her hands.   Yellow lightning cut through the sky, followed by thunder.  Rivulets of rain ran down the glass. Both Richard and April shivered and shrugged their shoulders, the electric weather changing their mood. Headlights shone through the bad weather and lit up the greenhouse.

   “I wonder who that is. I’m not expecting anyone are you?”  Moving closer to the glass Richard waved at a visitor driving through the main gates. Recognition brightened his eyes.  Before long, a man in his fifties popped his head around the door, tipping his trilby hat their way.

   “Long time, no see.” Richard put out his hand. 

    “It’s great to see you, Rich.”  The two men shook hands heartily. The man smoothed his greying moustache, before turning to April.

  “This is my daughter April. April, this is Jim Mitcham.”

    “Pleased to meet you.” April offered her hand.

    “What brings you to this neck of the woods?” Richard enquired. “You haven’t been here for months.”

   “Well, I haven’t come to see you Rich.” He smiled warmly at April. “It’s April I want to meet. I’ve been hearing lots of intriguing things about her.”

   “Intriguing things?” April repeated, inclining her head at him.

   Jim faced her. “That doesn’t sound good does it?” he laughed.” What I mean is; I’ve something I want to discuss with you. A business proposition,” he added hesitatingly.

    “A business proposition with April?” echoed Richard.

    “Don’t sound so surprised Dad,” she said good-naturedly.  “We’ll pop across to the teashop, shall we? Have a chat over lunch. You’ve got me interested, Mr. Mitcham.” She reached for her umbrella. “The storm has made it so dark outside. You’d’ never think it’s midday.”

   “Call me Jim.” he re-shaped the brim of his hat.

   “You coming too, Dad?”

   April wondered what Jim wanted to talk about. Her father told her in the past of an old acquaintance of his who owned a chemist shop in town. She couldn’t imagine what he wanted to say.

    The teashop was packed, but they managed to find a quiet corner beside a lime washed dresser brimming with jugs, teapots and cruets, which rattled when people walked across creaky floorboards nearby. They ordered mushrooms on toast and a pot of tea.

    Jim looked thoughtful. April wondered when he would begin. She sipped her tea and tried to appear nonchalant. Richard had almost finished his lunch and ordered another pot of tea.

     “Dad told me you own a chemist shop in town,” April began.

     “Yes – we go back a long way. From when I first moved to Portchelsea … Pharmacy and perfumery have been my business for more years than I care to admit. I worked with a French perfumer in the beginning. Later, I created one of my own, named Eleanor, after my daughter, aged sixteen at the time. It was  successful.”

    April began to guess where the conversation might be going. She passed around a plate, piled with a selection of fancy cakes.

    Jim took an iced bun and resumed his conversation. “After the perfume’s success, I decided to expand the business. I searched and eventually found a shop in a good position. One on a busy street…. Here in Portchelsea, just by the castle where locals and tourists pass by all the time.” He brushed crumbs from his chin.

     April’s eyes twinkled. Her father scratched his head, his serious expression marred by doughnut sugar around his mouth.

    He told her before about the dilapidated chemist shop in the cobbled area of town. It was refurbished at about the time of her return two years ago; the white plaster and beamed Elizabethan façade returned to its former glory.

    Jim sipped his steaming coffee, his long narrow nose wrinkling as he continued.” My wife and I took ages clearing out many years of rubbish. Then we made an exciting discovery.”  He paused dramatically.  “We found books with handwritten formulae for fragrances dating back to Queen Victoria’s time underneath a dusty display material.”

    April’s back remained straight. Her mind soaked up the information, including the possibilities of new business with Mr. Jim Mitcham. His secret formulae and expertise; and her lavender.  This brought her back to her worries earlier in the day.

    She would definitely need more land.

 

***

 

Rock music blasted from the radio. Toast popped from the toaster. Olivia shouted upstairs to April basking in a warm, Jasmine bubble bath.

    “Can you hear me, April?” Olivia adjusted the waistband on her leggings and pulled down her tunic to cover her hips.

    “Sorry, Mum, I can’t hear you. What did you say?”

    “Portchelsea Post’s here.” She didn’t wait for a response, but continued. “You and your enterprise are on page four.” She left the newspaper on the table and open on the appropriate page.

   April stepped hurriedly from the bath, dried her feet on the bath mat, wrapped a bathrobe around her, and darted down the stairs two at a time.    

     “Let’s have a look, Mum.” She jiggled the toast rack between the milk jug and sugar bowl, then grabbed the newspaper. “This is just what we need.” 

    Mother and daughter sat cosily, their heads together. A triangle of sunlight cut through the marmalade turning it into orange glass and casting amber light across the tablecloth. Usually it reminded April of marbles from her childhood, but today her story in the paper was her prime concern.

    “Pass the butter. The toast’s getting cold.” Olivia poured them both a cup of percolated coffee. “Let’s get comfy and then we can read this properly.”

     April eagerly spread the newspaper in front of them, patting the pages flat with the palm of her hands.    

  Garden of England Fragrances. The main headlines announced. The two of them squealed, each of them clutching a page each. They scanned the story. ‘Lavender perfume made from an old English formula created for Queen Victoria is in production. Two types of lavenders, blended under the guidance of a local pharmacist, who discovered the long lost recipe, will be used.’ Olivia clapped her hands. “These are good.”   

     Two photographs accompanied the story. The first one showed hand pickers at work amongst wide rows of lavender. The second image was April smiling up from the page, holding a sample bottle of Garden of England Fragrances lavender perfume closer to the camera, with shelves of dried products in the background. A quotation from April underneath the photograph said. ‘We have had very positive feedback from our market research. Good sales are anticipated and we are preparing to expand the business further. We’re also in the process of looking for more land in the area.’

    Olivia remembered her was surprise when April first mentioned planting lavender. Even as a child, April had held a keen interest in floribunda, often collecting flowers and drying them. In her teens, she’d entered flower-arranging competitions. It had seemed a natural progression that she studied floristry at college. However, lavender was different, more specialised. Olivia believed April had gained her knowledge whilst away. Sometimes April started conversations about it and then stopped abruptly.

   “When you first mentioned planting lavender I’d no idea you were thinking of perfume too.” Olivia brushed crumbs from the tablecloth into the nest of her hand.

  “Nor did I,” replied April. “In the beginning, my idea was to sell the plants. That and producing pot -pourri and such like to sell at the gift shop. You know the sort of thing - calico bags, sleep pillows, perfumed satin coat hangers, scented drawer liners…” The phone broke in. Olivia answered it. “Hello - It’s for you, April. It’s a man,” she mouthed.

    April wandered into the garden with the phone and made herself comfortable on a bench. Absentmindedly, she plucked leaves from the hedge and nodded attentively at the caller.

    Olivia tried to guess what the conversation was about. She busied herself opening post, whilst keeping one eye on April outside. Her daughter’s eyes became rounder and brighter in between snippets of conversation, which made no sense to Olivia at all.

    “Thank you Mr. Gunner, I’ll be in touch soon. Thank you” April’s face beamed, she clicked the phone off, before rushing over to her mother, hugging and spinning her around. Savouring the moment, Olivia gently squeezed her daughter. Then April told her the good news.

 

***

 

“At last - my dreams of growing lavender on a larger scale are coming true.” April turned to Richard and Lindsey, her face full of hope as she pulled her jacket closer around her. Springtime sunshine was bright but she could feel a vicious nip in the air. The field ahead of them, ploughed over winter, then left, allowing the frost to break up the soil. It was now in a good, well-structured condition and ready for planting. The earth looked moist, rich and ready. Richard bent down, picked up a small clod, and crumbled it affectionately, letting it fall back to the ground. Lindsey shielded her eyes from the sun. Her head bent back, she viewed the other fields edged with pine trees rolling out before them. Fields that local farmer, Lofty Gunner had loaned to April, after reading about her in the newspaper. Up until then he’d been ignorant of his neighbour’s needs and enterprising plans. The fields were hers - and in return, he expected a percentage of profit accumulated from the crop grown there. Excitement latticed the air.

     Stacks of crates containing thousands of plants were set at even spaces on the fields. A small gang of casual workers from the travelling community worked on hands and knees planting the small lavender plants. April and Lindsey helped.

    “So much hard work,” April nudged Lindsey. “Next year should be easier.”

    “My knees are killing me already.”

    “Poor Old Thing.” The two friends eyes met and they laughed.

    April brushed earth from her knees, stood up and called to Richard who was carrying crates to them. “Thanks Dad.”

    “Okay – Mum was telling me you’ve found a planting machine for next year.”

    “Yes, thank goodness. A farm on the other side of Portchelsea has an old strawberry planter. I asked for first refusal when they were asking advice about buying a new one on a forum on-line. They got back to me a few days later saying it was mine at the end of the summer, which is when their new one arrives.”

    “Will a strawberry planter be alright for lavender?” Lindsey was stabbing at the soil with a trowel and then pushed in another evergreen shrub.

    “Perfect. It’ll plant roughly between four and five thousand plugs to the acre.”

    “No more sore knees then.”

    “No and it’ll save on labour too. A team of five people using the strawberry planter will be able to plant seven acres in one day.” April turned and watched the workforce. Some whistled, others sang, their breath white and misty. “It’s a shame, I’ll miss this colourful bunch, but progress marches on.”

 

 

***

 

In the distance, Seth watched the activity from the Fragrant Meadow Garden, hands on his hips, shoulders thrust back. His part of business was doing extremely well, but Garden of England Fragrances generated much more attention. He wondered where April had gained her knowledge of lavender growing, as she was so confident about it all.    His eyes scanned to the left, over rough pathways, towards the first successful field. The bases of shrubs were mound-layered with sandy loam. He recognised the free draining soil around each, leaving the tops exposed to stimulate new roots and shoots. Late summer and they would be cut away and treated as cuttings. He’d learnt about it at horticultural college, but how did April know? Their father possibly, but he didn’t think so. He’d  already questioned him about it.

    The busyness of April and her workforce annoyed him. From across the roofs of Cherrydene Nursery buildings and over the car park the field workers voices blew to him on the wind.

     From his vantage point, he could see everything. Somewhere else the reversing beep of a digger started up, loud voices called out to one another above hammering and the churn of a cement mixer. He could even hear the faint sound of a radio on the building site by the packing shed. 

    Usually, his staff, including Annie worked there, wrapping houseplants, packing them ready for delivery to supermarkets. Seth would be expanding his part of business with potted herbs for culinary departments. Now with April’s ideas, the building was too small. She had received planning permission for a large warehouse, distillery, and drying barn that were now all in the process of construction beside his packing shed. 

    Seth stood alone surveying the scenes below, thrust his hands deeply into his pockets, grunted, and wondered just what his dear little sister would instigate next. 

 

***

 

Olivia glanced up from the counter at the Flower Emporium where she was busy cashing up. A customer with a rolled newspaper under her arm sauntered from one bucket of bouquets to another, rustling cellophane, leaning down to smell the flowers and gently pressing the petals for freshness.

   “Looking for anything in particular?” Olivia enquired as she checked to see if there would be enough till roll for the next day. She noticed the elderly woman nervously peeking at her, and recognised her from the previous week. Then the woman had fussed, but eventually bought twelve orange rose buds, explaining they were for her husband’s grave. He had died the year before.  The woman told her, he had requested his burial in Kent, where he spent his younger years. 

    Today, the woman didn’t reply, but seemed to be deep in thought. “Anything special in mind?”  Olivia rephrased her question in the hope of a response.

      “Not really. I just felt like treating myself. I was passing by and decided to pop in.” Her accent wasn’t local. Olivia had spent childhood holidays in Norfolk and thought she recognised the inflection. 

    Her face was kindly with short brown, grey streaked hair and weathered skin. Her eyes sad, but friendly. Olivia felt she had something to say.

    “What I’d really like are some of these lavender products I read about in this newspaper.” She pulled it from under her arm, put it on the counter, and then resumed her conversation. “I found it in a pile of old magazines in the guesthouse I’m staying at. “ She picked at the side of her thumbnail and hesitated. “I’ve been down south for a couple of weeks - from Cromer. I travel back on the train tomorrow. I’d prefer to buy souvenirs made from produce grown locally. My family and friends will appreciate them much better than the tat you see in town.” She waited for a reply.

    Olivia stopped counting the float, thought for a moment.  She scribbled an amount on a note and popped it under a clip in the till drawer with a twang. “You’ll need to go to the gift shop for those. You go out of this shop, turn right. You’ll see a red tiled roof. That’s the gift and teashop. We sell the whole range of Garden of England Fragrances there.” She peered at her watch. “Mind you - it’ll be closing time soon.”

    The woman seemed puzzled, fumbled, and then scrunched the newspaper pages open and slid it across the counter closer to Olivia, tapping the photograph of April with her middle finger.

   “Do you know her?”

   Uneasiness swept over Olivia, the back of her neck and cheeks burned. “Why do you want to know?”

    Noticing Olivia’s agitation the woman added. “I’m sorry I should explain myself. I’ve gone about things rather badly. I nearly asked you about her last week when I came in, but I felt a bit silly and wasn’t sure if it was Jane after all.”

    “Jane!” Olivia interrupted.

    Amy stared at her and then carried on. “I went away, but the more I’ve looked and thought about the photograph; the more certain I am it is Jane. I haven’t seen her for two years. Heading south she said, but she never left a forwarding address.”

    Olivia hurried around the counter, wide eyed she stopped in front of Amy. “Who are you?” Soon she had her expression back in control - non-committal. 

     “My name’s Amy Wesley. I live in Norfolk, in a village near Cromer with my family. We own a guesthouse and run our own garden nursery business too.  A few years back, a young girl, Jane Beckinsale, came to work for us. Good little worker, quick to learn and keen to find out all she could about the business. We specialise in lavenders. Anyway, she only worked for us for a year and then shocked us by handing in her notice… saying she was going to live back with her family. She’d never mentioned her family very much before. Been a bit secretive about them really and so sad at times; it would make your heart break to watch her.”

    “Only with you for a year you say?” Olivia blinked back a tear.  Where exactly was that?

    “Strand Farm, Overstrand. Do you know it?”

     Olivia ignored Amy’s question and asked another. “Where did she live before coming to you?” 

   Amy seemed a gossip, her mannerisms un-nerved Olivia. It was obvious the woman had something to say and wasn’t going to leave without saying her piece.

   With hand on hip, her head quivered knowingly, Amy continued. “Well, she told us she’d lived and worked in a village close to us. She’d been a resident housekeeper there. We tried to take up references, but without success. We decided to trust our instincts about her and offered her the position, although we could only afford minimum wages.  We had advertised the job to include a rent-free room at the guesthouse and she was over the moon. Seemed to enjoy being around us, even though she never said very much.”

   Olivia turned her back on Amy. She had enough information to check up the details later, after she had had more time to think. Looking down, she put finishing touches to a flower arrangement started earlier and appeared uninterested. Although she preferred fresh flowers she was pleased with the way the artificial poppies and cornflowers looked as she arranged them on a piece of driftwood, due for delivery at a hotel. “I’m sorry. I need to get on, I’m delivering these flowers on my way home.” she lied and nodded towards her work. Nervously she played with her earring, so relieved it was April’s day off. This Amy may put the cat among the pigeons. Everything had been running so smoothly lately and Olivia wanted the situation to stay that way. 

    Amy’s shoulders slumped and she rubbed her hands agitatedly together. “I think I had better go.”

     Olivia pointed towards the newspaper. “That photograph’s of April Gadsby. She can’t be the Jane person you’re talking about. April’s lived and worked with her family at Cherrydene Nursery for years. She’s only ever been away on annual holidays.”

     Racking her brains Olivia tried to think of something to stop this woman from going to the gift shop and maybe questioning the staff. If April had been in any type of trouble whilst away, Olivia really didn’t want it to go any further. She hadn’t been able to protect her daughter years ago, but was adamant now to do her best.

      “I’ve worked for the Gadsbys for years; it isn’t the Jane you know. I should know.” Olivia bit her lip and shrivelled inside. That was the second lie she’d told Amy Wesley. Olivia felt a fraud.

      Amy blushed.” I only wanted to say hello to Jane - if it was her? But it‘s not – oh well.” She snatched the newspaper, seemed embarrassed and bustled out. 

    It was almost closing time; Olivia flipped the closed sign over early. Outside Amy waited by the road, looked either way and then thankfully she walked the opposite way to the gift shop. Olivia guessed she headed for the bus stop outside the main entrance. Hopefully, she would never see or hear from the woman again.

     At the back of the shop she slumped down, hand to her throat onto a pine chair. Wondering how she would deal with this, when she was unable to speak to April about it. 

     Her daughter was still unwilling to reveal her past, but the time Amy spoke about didn’t sound too bad. In fact, Olivia was pleased to know April had been with a caring family for a while.  

    It was the first part of April’s time away, which was the most mysterious now. Olivia wished she had asked Amy for her telephone number, but then that would have seemed odd. Why would she want the phone number of a person with whom she had no connection? She had even concealed the fact she was April’s mother, averting Amy to believe she was just an employee. Olivia wished she had been able to ask more questions, helping her to piece together April’s missing years. Was it the last she had seen of Amy Wesley? Somehow, she didn’t think so. And, she didn’t relish Amy revisiting and unwittingly causing trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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