I Lift My Eyes Up by pim
Summary:

In the aftermath of Mary-Lou's death, her friends rally round to help her daughter get to know her.


Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Hilda Annersley, Jack Maynard, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Kathie Ferrars, Mary-Lou Trelawney, Minor character(s), Nancy Wilmot, Nell Wilson, Nina Rutherford, OC, Verity-Ann Carey, Vi Lucy
School Period: Future
School Name: None
Genre: Angst, Drama, Family, Friendship
Challenges:
Series: Mary-Lou and Abby
Chapters: 12 Completed: Yes Word count: 29126 Read: 36962 Published: 17 Jun 2011 Updated: 17 Jun 2011

1. Prologue by pim

2. Chapter 1 - Initial Reactions by pim

3. Chapter 2 - A Funeral by pim

4. Chapter 3 - Moving On by pim

5. Chapter 4 - The Path Continues by pim

6. Chapter 5 - Nina by pim

7. Chapter 6 - Jo by pim

8. Chapter 7 - A Decision That Would Change Everything by pim

9. Chapter 8 - A Provision Of Support by pim

10. Chapter 9 - Naomi Lends A Hand by pim

11. Chapter 10 - Filling In The Blanks by pim

12. Epilogue by pim

Prologue by pim

“There’s a perfect day stretching out ahead of me. The pale blue, glass like sea goes on forever blending into a distant horizon with the hazy blue sky. There’s a calming breeze blowing across me breaking the sun’s warmth. I know the rough contours of the surrounding landscape so well by sight. If it weren’t for the people there’d be a blissful silence lulled only by the gentle lapping of the waves.

 

“I love this place more in the winter when the cruel grey skies, heavy with cloud bear down on us turning the sea to an angry grey. It’s so much more peaceful then as the icy breezes blow all around forcing the people to stay away and leave this place tranquil.

 

“A safe haven for a restless spirit.

 

“I love it when the rain lashes down and the waves rise higher to greet the new influx of water. I love it when the snow finely covers the beach like icing sugar on a cake. I love it at night, in darkness when the moon reflects, shimmering on the water. I love it at sunset when the fiery colours warm the sea. I love it as the tide comes in engulfing the beach, the sea knowing no mercy. I love it as the tide goes out revealing glorious unspoilt sand.

 

“I love the great sense of calm that comes as the waves lap gently on to the shore. The safe knowledge created on a calm day by the clearly defined horizon; a deep blue line of sea against the paleness of the sky. But I love the days when menacing grey clouds make the horizon a blur, its location undefined through hazy clouds. Things aren’t so safe then, the boundaries have changed.

 

“Time for change.

 

“The sea’s been almost perfect these last few days, not sea like at all. It’s more like glass and it looks so easy just to walk out on it. It’s freezing cold and the sand at the top of the beach is lightly covered in frost. Where the sun catches the water it glitters black and empty. Towards the horizon the sea’s a darker blue, more sea like than where the waves lap in.

 

“I came here seeking a sanctuary; somewhere I could be anonymous. This tiny village by the sea is perfect; people stare at you for the first few days with the novelty then leave you alone more interested in the weather and the price of peas. I spent my whole life fighting against routine and settling; always moving on seeking a new adventure. There was a whole world out there that I had yet to discover.

 

“Then something changed.

 

“I’ve never been quite sure what exactly happened to me a year ago that made me suddenly crave the safety of a place like this. I’d always been convinced before that when the time was right I’d move on to something new and even more exciting than what I’d been doing before. But then this time I suddenly began to crave a sense of security; something I hadn’t known since my childhood.

 

“So I came here. A sleepy, grey stone village miles from anywhere, a tiny grey stone house with roses climbing up the front wall. A mere stone’s throw from the tiny golden beach and the vast empty sea. For the first time in many years I felt safe, as though I had finally found somewhere to where I belonged.

 

“As though I had come home.

 

“It had been so many years since I’d called anywhere ‘home’. The perils of always moving on I suppose, but there were so many things I wanted to do. So many things I still want to do but now I guess I never will. I always wanted to ride the surf in Australia at daybreak or trek barefoot across the Grand Canyon or watch the sunset at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I had so many plans, so many places still to go, so many things to do but then I began to crave the security I’d always avoided.

 

“In the next pages I will attempt to recreate my life, as faithfully and as accurately as I can and hope that in doing so I cause no harm to anyone.”

 

 

Mary-Lou Trelawny sighed and laid down her pen. She’d known that trying to write everything down at this point in her life would be difficult. Years as a travelling archaeologist had left her without any firm roots as she’d moved on from place to place answering the call of her instincts. She’d followed adventures, always seeking something new and interesting. Over the years she’d lost touch with the people who’d helped to shape her early life; she knew it was the down side of her continual movement yet it still saddened her. She’d arrived here a little over a year ago when she’d retired to try and collect her thoughts together. A colleague on the last dig she’d worked in Greece had suggested she write her autobiography. At the time she’d thought it was quite possibly one of the worst ideas she’d ever heard, but the idea had grown on her after several other people had suggested it.

 

Coming back to Britain on a permanent basis had been a culture shock to her. She’d been back on numerous occasions over the years to deliver lectures but always knowing that it was only for a matter of weeks and soon she’d be off again. She had never been able to pinpoint the sudden craving for security she’d had or indeed why it had hit her. Upon her return she’d spent many painstaking weeks tracking down people who she’d met throughout her life; anyone who would be able to help her write. Of course a number of the people who’d helped to form her early years had since passed on, but a good number of them remained and had been more than happy to help out. She glanced up at the clock, time was running out.

Chapter 1 - Initial Reactions by pim

A handful of the broadsheet newspapers reported the death of Mary Louise Trelawny, the celebrated archaeologist, on their obituary pages. It was by sheer chance that Viola Lucy, or Viola Warrington as she now was, picked up that morning’s copy of the papers. Flicking through idly her eye was caught by a picture on the obituary pages. A face she knew so well, that she had known for so many years, but hadn’t seen for at least ten. At the age of 47 her once best friend was now dead. Vi skimmed through the report several times wishing it to be untrue, but knowing full well that it wasn’t. With trembling hands she picked up the phone and dialled a number that she hadn’t for many years.


 


There was no mistaking Verity Carey’s voice when she answered, still as silvery and fair as it had been back in their schooldays.


 


“Verity, it’s Vi Warrington. I was just reading the papers…” Vi broke off, unsure where to go next.


“You want to know if it’s true? About Mary-Lou I mean.” Verity’s voice remained neutral, almost impassive and emotionless.


“Yes.”


“I’m afraid so Vi.”


 


Vi and Verity exchanged a few more pleasantries and Vi hung up now in the knowledge of the funeral details. Alone, basking in the rare peace of a house without her family around, she read through the obituary once more as if trying to make sense of the last half hour. She hadn’t seen Mary-Lou in a good ten years, it had been impossible for them to continue their friendship.


 


Over the next few days Vi found herself speaking to friends she hadn’t heard from in a long time. It seemed strange hearing voices that she’d once heard every day but now hadn’t heard in years. In the thirty years or so since they’d left the safe confines of the Chalet School the world had changed so much; they’d changed so much. ‘The Gang’, as they had been known, had begun to splinter as they’d moved up the school; the movement into reality and the adult world had fractured it further. It had taken the death of their once great friend to try and begin to repair the cracks.


 


 


Robert Fenchurch looked around the small cottage that his ex-wife had taken on her return to England before her death. Sifting through a pile of papers on her desk there was one in particular which caught his eye; on it were written the words: “In the next pages I will attempt to recreate my life, as faithfully and as accurately as I can and hope that in doing so I cause no harm to anyone.” Robert laid the sheet down again; she’d been writing her life story. He wondered when she’d begun it; he knew she’d been here for a year or so but he had no idea when she’d decided to start this or even how far she’d got with it.


 


Mary-Lou’s death was still raw to him. She’d known for more than a year about the cancer but she hadn’t told him until the end when she’d suddenly got in contact to ask to see their daughter, Abigail. The name meant father’s joy, she had been just that to him, but not her mother. Mary-Lou had left when Abby was three months old, just over thirteen years ago and they’d not heard a word until the end.


 


 


On the beach by the cottage Mary-Lou had been renting, Abigail Fenchurch stood looking out to sea and idly throwing a handful of pebbles into it. It was August but the menacing low grey clouds suggested otherwise; the high white crested waves of an equally menacing grey sea crashed into the shore. Abigail flung the final pebble from her hand out as far as she could, before turning on her heel and heading back to the cottage.


 


The last couple of days had passed in a whirl for her once the news of her mother’s death had come through. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel over the death of someone she had never known but at the same time was such an important part of her life. How was she supposed to grieve for the mother she had never truly known? Abigail had seen her at the end, but it had been impossible to make up thirteen missed years in a few weeks.


 


“Everyone was so full of how wonderful it would be to be a mother, but I never felt it. I never felt anything, only trapped, a rat in a maze with no way out. Everyone else cooed and said ‘oh isn’t she wonderful’ but I couldn’t see it. I just saw her as an obstacle, something which prevented me from being free and pursuing my dreams. I didn’t want to be pinned down to one place for the rest of my life, I just couldn’t be. So I wasn’t. I left, walked out on my daughter and back into my work. It cost me friendships to make that decision, I know it was selfish. I’d often felt as though I’d been pushed into my marriage. Robert was a doctor, it made him perfect in the eyes of many people I knew. I did love him once but everything was so rushed, the wedding, then Abigail, that once I was finally able to stop and look around me I realised that it wasn’t what I wanted. I had wanted it at one point, but I couldn’t live with it, with it cutting away at my freedom. I needed to be free, to feel the wind in my face, the sun on my back, the sand beneath my feet. So I left.”


 


Abigail lightly fingered the row of sympathy cards on the bookcase. She found them slightly distasteful, they didn’t belong. She didn’t understand why she needed sympathy over the loss of somebody she’d never really known. As a young child she’d noticed the absence of her mother but it had never really bothered her. As she’d got older she’d realised that all she needed to do was find anything related to archaeology and she could find out where her mother was in the world. It was never quite the same as having her mother around but it came close enough. The occasional woman had passed through her father’s life, always ‘Auntie so-and-so’, a polite euphemism for his latest girlfriend, but they’d never stayed very long. Was it her fault? She would never know.

Chapter 2 - A Funeral by pim
Author's Notes:

Additional lyrics courtest of Simon & Garfunkel

The sun shone on the day of the funeral in a brilliant blue cloudless sky. The temperature had soared, prompting an outbreak of handkerchiefs mopping brows as a crowd congregated outside the church to pay their final respects. Amongst the masses Vi had easily picked out Clem Barrass and they stood awkwardly together picking out people they had known at school. Vi hated funerals, they never got any easier, and each one brought Hugh’s back to her.


 


 


The Chalet School was well represented at the funeral, as were all other walks of Mary-Lou’s life. She had touched so many people throughout her life. Amidst the crowd Abigail felt lost and confused, hearing all the voices around her saying what a wonderful woman her mother had been. Abigail’s thoughts kept churning back to the same one ‘my mother abandoned me’. Robert kept a protective arm around his daughter’s shoulder, shielding her from the looks of the strangers around her, shielding her from the strangers themselves. He could hear snatches of their conversations, the rumours, the accusations which floated between the people present. Deep down he wanted Abigail to understand what a wonderful person her mother had been, but like Abigail’s thoughts Robert’s churned back to the same one ‘her mother abandoned her.’


 


 


Eleven figures all clad in black lined the graveside as the coffin was lowered in. They were the fragments of ‘The Gang’, Mary-Lou’s greatest friends from school, who had made their way to the funeral, united in their loss. Viola Lucy, Lesley Malcolm, Hilary Bennett, Catriona Watson, Christine Vincent, Josette Russell, Jo Scott, Jessica Wayne, Nina Rutherford, Clare Kennedy, Doris Hill. Verity stood a way in front being comforted by her husband. A gentle breeze blew gently ruffling the hemlines of the row of knee length black skirts, but none of them felt it; they remained focused on the last movements of their once great friend. In an instinctive reaction to the grief Vi reached for Lesley’s hand; the show of emotion caught on, the eleven in their line, hands clasped one in the other, a final show of solidarity, a final united front.


 


I often wondered what my funeral would be like when they first told me about the cancer. I wondered who would come, who would be there to bid me my final farewell. It seemed so unfair knowing I would die so young, it just wasn’t right; I still had so much to do, so much to achieve. Now the chance of the life I wanted was being snatched away from me before my eyes, like the child being told ‘no’. It’s so easy to say that you don’t want grieving at your funeral, that you want it to be a celebration of your life, but you know that in reality you can’t stop people being upset, you can’t stop the hurt that they are feeling no matter how much you want to stop it. When I was told my father had died I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel, I was only ten after all and I could barely remember him. With Gran and mother it was different, they were people who had played such an indescribably huge role in my life that without them I felt lost and abandoned. I knew they’d suffered so much in the end that they were glad to go; but all the same, and I knew it was selfish, I didn’t want them to go, I wanted to keep them forever. I promised Gran that I wouldn’t fuss, and I didn’t, but deep down my heart was breaking and I missed her so much I could have never even begun to talk about it. When mother died I became aware of how alone I was in the world. I knew that I had friends, very good friends, but nothing can ever take the place of a mother. All my life after that I knew that there were certain situations I would find myself in which only she could have comforted me in or helped me through and that hurt. I wouldn’t have wished the pain and suffering she went through towards the end on her all over again but, just like a small child, there were times when I simply wanted my mother.


 


 


“Vi?”


Vi turned round as a hand was laid carefully on her arm. “Robert,” she replied softly.


 


Their eyes met for a moment, it had been a good eight years since they had last spoken. Vi had remained in touch after Mary-Lou had left them feeling that she owed that much to Abigail at least. She’d fallen out of touch with Mary-Lou before Robert. Vi had never understood why she’d walked out on Robert and Abigail; it had made the situation with Mary-Lou difficult to the extent that it had ruined their friendship and caused the final break between the pair. She had never been sure why she had drifted out of touch with Robert and Abigail; she supposed it had just been one of those things.


 


“Here on your own?” he asked. Vi nodded in reply. “Where’s Hugh?”


Vi swallowed hard. “Hugh died five years ago.”


“I’m sorry.”


 


The silence between the pair became awkward. Robert’s eyes scanned the room unable to meet Vi’s as he searched for Abigail amidst the throng of people. He spotted her on the far side of the room with Verity, Vi’s gaze followed Robert’s.


 


“That’s some girl you’ve got,” she said.


“Abby? She’s my world.”


 


Vi smiled knowingly, she’d said the same thing about her own daughters when Hugh had died. Ruth, Tacy, Cathlin, Livia and Alexis, each formed their own part of her world and each had brought her comfort in their own way.


 


 


Abigail turned and caught her father’s eye. The woman he was talking to looked familiar somehow, but she couldn’t quite place her finger on it. The day had been an unusual one for her, hearing so much about the mother she had never known had surprised her. Her father didn’t really like to talk about her and over the years they’d drifted apart from anyone who had known her, with the exception of Verity, so she’d been left to formulate her own opinions. Although her mother’s absence hadn’t really bothered her, she’d still kept a secret dream to herself in which her mother came back home to her father to be with him and be her mother, to be there when she needed her. Quite often she’d been jealous of her friends and the relationships they had with their mothers; it didn’t seem quite fair that she was the one to be missing out. It would have been different if her mother had died, but she hadn’t, she’d abandoned her.


 


“Abby.”


 


Verity’s silvery voice cut through Abigail’s thoughts and she suddenly realised that she hadn’t heard a word her Aunt had been saying to her for the last few minutes. She became aware of another woman standing with her, tall and slim in her mid sixties with long dark hair streaked with grey wrapped up in great plaits around her ears. Abigail stared, this was another face that meant something somewhere from her early years, but again she couldn’t place it.


 


“Abby, this is Jo Maynard. She…”


“I knew you mother from when she was younger than you,” put in Jo. The pieces in Abigail’s mind fell into place and she politely held out her hand. Jo examined Abigail carefully as she took her hand. “Yes,” she said with a small sigh. “You look just like her.”


 


I first encountered the Maynards when I was ten years old when I moved with mother and Gran from Devon to Armishire, more specifically to Howells village into Carn Beg the house which would be my home for so many years. I first met the triplets, Helena, Constance and Margaret, or Len, Con and Margot as they were more affectionately known, who were two years younger than myself, and the eldest two boys, Stephen and Charles who were a few years younger again. My first recollection of them was that they seemed so happy and carefree; I was still somewhat sore from the removal from Devon and guessed they’d never known anything like what I was going through. Their mother, Auntie Jo as she came to be, would soon begin to play an important role in my life. She was someone I could go to for advice and guidance. She had a wonderful gift of understanding people and being able to get right under their skin and figure out just exactly what made them tick. So many people said I had inherited her mantle but I was never so sure; I didn’t think that I could ever quite reach them in the same way that she could. Auntie Jo was always there for me through the hardest times in my early life, the death of my father, of Gran, of my stepfather, and my mother. She was always able to point me in the right direction and help me see things clearly when I simply didn’t know what to do. As I grew older we drifted somewhat, we both had such differing outlooks on life. I don’t think she ever understood the need that I felt to be free, to not be tied down. She thought Robert was perfect, I don’t feel that she ever pushed me into marrying him, but she certainly encouraged me in that direction. We never spoke after I left, she couldn’t understand why I chose to walk out on my daughter and I couldn’t explain. I regretted the split bitterly, without Auntie Jo in my life I’d lost the one person I could truly relate to and turn to in times of need.


 


 


Abigail simply blinked and stared at the older woman before her. No one had ever said that she looked like her mother before; people had often commented in passing that she bore a resemblance to her, but it had never been pointed out so blatantly.


 


“I…” she faltered.


Jo reached out and lifted the golden brown hair that fell straight as a yard stick to her shoulders. “Your mother’s hair was as straight as a ram rod like this; that was before the accident of course.” Abigail looked at Jo quizzically, she’d never heard about this accident, but it did explain why in all the pictures she’d ever seen of her mother she had curly hair. Jo looked back at Abigail in almost disbelief. “You’ve never heard about the accident?” she asked in a shocked tone. Abigail shook her head. “Abigail, how much do you know about your mother?”


Abigail shrugged. “Not much,” she mumbled nonchalantly.


“Robert doesn’t really like…” began Verity.


“Rot to that,” retorted Jo. “Abigail has every right to know about her mother. I know we didn’t part on the best of terms but no matter how much Robert tries to deny it, she is Mary-Lou’s daughter. I remember when the news came that Mary-Lou’s father had been killed on the Murray-Cameron expedition and I was the one who broke it to her. I told her then that she was part her mother and part her father and that she had inherited things from her father, which was why people said that she took after him. It’s the same for you Abigail. You are half your mother and you do take after your mother as well as your father, and so you have a right to know about your mother.”


 


Abigail stared at Jo. No one had ever put it in those terms to her. People had always pitied her, the poor child whose mother had abandoned her, she obviously wouldn’t want to know anything about her; it would be too hard on her. And now here was someone telling her that she had every right to know about her mother; for the first time in her life Abigail felt truly curious about her mother.


 


“Tell me about her,” she said carefully avoiding the cautious gaze of Verity. “There’s so much I want to know.”


 


Time it was and what a time it was, a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph, preserve your memory. That’s all that’s left here.

Chapter 3 - Moving On by pim
Author's Notes:

Additional lyrics courtesy of Jerry Rafferty and Rod Stewart

The wake began to break up in the early evening as people drifted away to make their journey home. Old acquaintances and friendships had been renewed over the course of the afternoon, probably not to the extent that they once had been but the first baby steps had been taken towards repair. The members of ‘The Gang’ left with a shared aim to teach Abigail about her mother; a motion firmly encouraged by Jo Maynard who declared that she fully intended to play her role in this scheme. Vi left feeling somewhat happier than she had done in a long time and with a promise to go to help Robert sort through Mary-Lou’s cottage that weekend. They’d planned to take Abigail and Vi’s youngest daughters, Livia who was Abigail’s age and Alexis who was three years younger to give Abigail the chance to get to know them.

 

 

In the privacy of her room that evening Abigail let the thoughts run round endlessly in her head. Closing the door firmly behind her she selected an LP from the collection on the shelf and removed it from its sleeve before gently laying it on the record player, which was her prized possession. She moved the needle to the right place and let the music of her favourite song fill the room. As the glorious opening saxophone solo sent its familiar shivers down her spine she flopped on to her bed, flat on her back, knees drawn up and hands behind her head. “Winding your way down to Baker Street, light in your head and dead on your feet, well another crazy day, you dreamt the night away and forget about everything.” Crazy day was an understatement she thought to herself. She knew so much more about her mother than she had done twenty four hours previously and there was a promise that she would know so much more. She couldn’t stop her thoughts churning, there was so much she wanted to know, so much she needed to know. You are half your mother. Jo’s words had struck something deep inside her, something that she’d known by instinct but something she’d never brought to her conscious mind. Mulling it over she supposed it had been something she’d always avoided thinking about so as not to upset her father. On the rare occasions she’d tried to ask about her mother he’d always changed the subject, or just given her answers that didn’t really help and left her even more in the dark than she had been before she’d asked.

 

The song faded out and Abigail slipped off her bed, lifted the needle on the record player and removed the LP. She slotted it back into its sleeve and pushed it back on to the shelf taking another one down as she did so. She lowered the needle on to a well worn track, her comfort song, the one she always played when she wanted to think about her mother. The music filled the room as she settled back down on to her bed and picked up her book off the bedside table. “When the rain came I thought you’d leave ‘cause I knew how much you love the sun. But you chose to stay, stay and keep me warm through the coldest winter I’ve ever known.” But she hadn’t stayed.

 

 

Abigail and Robert drove up to Mary-Lou’s cottage that Saturday. The fine weather from the funeral on Thursday had soon passed and the sky had clouded over once again and rain threatened. It felt more like October than early August thought Abigail as she huddled into her cardigan. They never talked much on car journeys, and even less when Robert had changed his car earlier that year to one with a cassette player in it. Music had always been a bone of contention between the pair as they had wildly differing styles. Abigail couldn’t see how her father couldn’t appreciate the lyrical genius of Simon and Garfunkel, the anguished torment of Janis Joplin, the catchy melodies of The Beatles, the raw emotion of Joni Mitchell, the pure genius of Elton John, the powerful voice of Barbra Streisand or the fact that she would do anything for Rod Stewart. She’d tried hard to drag her father out of his glam rock phase and constant listening to the likes of T-Rex and Alice Cooper, or the likes of Black Sabbath in his darker moods, but to no avail. There had been one agreement between the pair in the shape of The Clash. Abigail could still recall when she first heard them at the age of six when the raw anger of Janie Jones had related to something inside her. She still didn’t understand what it was, but she liked the music. Now they drove along, windows wound down with the London Calling album blaring.

 

A light rain had begun to fall by the time they arrived in the village and found the bed and breakfast into which they’d booked to spend the next couple of nights. The woman who owned it remembered them from their previous visit before the funeral and asked a few polite questions before they headed to the village pub where they’d arranged to meet Vi, Livia and Alexis for lunch before going to the cottage. They arrived first and settled down at a table by the window, casting a glance over the menu. Neither of them spoke but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. They talked a lot but there were times when neither felt the need to speak because there was nothing to say. Robert crossed the pub and picked up the morning’s paper as Abigail pulled her book out of her bag and buried herself in it. It was upon this scene that Vi, Livia and Alexis arrived.

 

Robert stood up and politely greeted Vi with a brief peck on the cheek as Abigail lifted her eyes over the top of her paperback. She recognised Vi from the funeral where they’d exchanged a few pleasantries and smiled politely at her. It was only on the second glance that she noticed the two girls standing behind Vi, who she supposed had to be Livia and Alexis. Livia was strikingly pretty, tall and slim with a mass of blonde curls tumbling around her face and deep blue eyes, almost a violet shade. She wore tight fitted blue jeans and a blue denim jacket over a red and white checked shirt. Beside her Alexis was a completely different story. She was much shorter, slightly plump and looked younger than her ten years. Her hair was a darker shade of blonde, but long and straight and worn back in a ponytail; only her eyes were the same deep shade of blue and twinkled with mischief. She wore a pair of slightly too big blue jeans and a baggy white t-shirt with a picture on that Abigail couldn’t quite make out. They both carried themselves with an air of confidence.

 

Abigail suddenly felt quite shabby as she looked down at her faded old jeans with the hole across the left knee. She had never really been one to take notice of her appearance; even at thirteen she remained somewhat a tomboy and the way she looked tended not to cross her mind. Her good friends out of school, the ones she’d played with in the street from being a small child, were all boys and so she’d grown up climbing trees, playing football in the winter, cricket in the summer, tennis when there weren’t enough of them and generally running herself ragged. She’d taken dancing lessons from the earliest possible age, studying ballet, tap and jazz dancing, but that hadn’t stopped her from being one of the boys. Neither had her music lessons, she’d begun learning the piano and recorder at primary school, graduating to a clarinet at secondary school. She’d been a Brownie and tried Guides but given it up after a year when she’d had a fall out with the Guide leader. Robert had always been mindful to keep her out of school hours occupied. Working as a consultant paediatrician meant he’d never been able to spend the time he really wanted to with Abigail. Single fathers were a rare occurrence and nobody really seemed to understand the situation he was in. It had been okay for the mothers to go home to their children but whenever he’d mentioned getting back to Abigail, wanting to take time off to be with her, he’d been met by a frosty reception. He was lucky in that Abigail had understood the situation and had never challenged him for not spending enough time with her and their relationship had never really suffered as a consequence.

 

 

After a slightly awkward lunch of strained conversations the five made their way over to Mary-Lou’s cottage. Abigail, Livia and Alexis headed off to the beach with tennis rackets and balls whilst Robert and Vi went to sort through Mary-Lou’s papers and possessions. Watching the girls go Robert realised there were marked differences between his own daughter and Vi’s. Beside Abigail, Livia seemed to be little more than a child in her views and ways; he’d never noticed that his own daughter had such a mature, almost adult, outlook and perspective on life. Vi had noticed it as well over the course of the lunch but in a way supposed that she had expected it given that Mary-Lou had been famed for having a more adult way of seeing things when they had been at school.

 

Robert and Vi made their way upstairs to the tiny study. Vi stood awkwardly in the doorway not really sure why she was there. Robert was flicking through the pile of papers on the desk with a look of determination on his face. In her will Mary-Lou had left everything to Abigail, save a few bits and pieces that had gone to Verity. For somebody who had only been too aware of their mortality there was still plenty that needed to be sorted out. Robert suddenly laid down the papers and extracted a sheaf of them, held together by a large paper clip, which he handed over to Vi.

 

“What are…?” she asked, taking them from him.

“Just read it.”

Vi’s eyes skimmed over the first few sheets and her eyes rested on the words “In the next pages I will attempt to recreate my life, as faithfully and as accurately as I can and hope that in doing so I cause no harm to anyone.” She looked up at Robert. “Autobiography?”

Robert nodded. “Not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but the essentials are there.”

Vi flicked over the pages only taking in the occasional word. “What do you want to do with it?”

Robert shrugged. “I suppose that since she left everything to Abby, it’s really her decision.”

“What about having it finished?”

“As a biography?”

“Well maybe…” Vi paused as a sudden inspiration hit her. “Maybe we could finish it for her. We could use the base that’s here and then ask people who knew Mary-Lou to contribute to it and write a piece about her.” Vi broke off and stared at Robert thoughtfully. “I think Abby would like it.”

“I don’t…”

“You can’t protect her forever, nor can you hide the past forever. Abby wants to know about her mother, this would be an ideal way.”

 

Deep down Robert knew that Vi was right but he was still driven by the desire to protect his daughter. He knew that she was growing up fast and that she was bound to ask questions, be curious about her roots. The funeral had made sure of that and even though she hadn’t asked him anything directly, he knew that the curiosity was burning away at the back of her mind. He’d always steered away from the awkward questions, and if he was truly honest to himself, it was because it was too painful for him to talk about it.

 

“Even if it’s never published Robert, it would still be something for Abby to have. She can’t remember her mother, this would be, well, I suppose, the next best thing.”

Robert stared at the floor for a few moments. “I suppose you’re right.”

 

 

For Vi the ensuing few hours were a trip down memory lane as she and Robert packed things away into boxes. Mary-Lou had kept so much from their schooldays that each new thing she uncovered prompted her to regale Robert with yet another story. It was clear to him as he looked at Vi’s animated face as she recounted the episode of Mary-Lou and Jo rowing on the Tiernsee and losing their oar.

 

“I wasn’t with them of course, I was back at the hotel with all the others worried to death about them caught out in all the rain. Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have worried so with it being those two, they always managed to land on their feet somehow and come up smelling of roses,” she said with a rueful smile.

Robert smiled up at her from the pile of books he was sorting through. “Seems like a wonderful place where you went to school.”

“Oh it certainly was,” replied Vi, her eyes shining. “And my girls seem to think so as well.” Robert gave her a quizzical look. “Oh Ruth went of course, Tacy, Cathlin and Livia are all there now, and Alexis will go next year when she moves up to secondary school.”

“But don’t you object to sending them all so far away? Switzerland, wasn’t it?”

Vi chuckled. “You’ve obviously not looked it up yourself for Abby then. The school moved back to England in 1974, it’s been based in the South West ever since, out in the middle of nowhere 20 miles or so from Exeter. You see, with the decline of TB there wasn’t much call for the San, and obviously the School got a good number of its pupils through the San and numbers started to fall anyway at the start of the 1970s. People just didn’t want to send their daughters all that way abroad so the School moved back here. I have to admit that I’m not sure that I would have sent my own girls that far away; oh I know I had a wonderful time there but the world’s changed so much since we were kids, values are different.”

“It never crossed my mind to send Abby to boarding school or to any sort of fee paying school. She’s always managed quite nicely at the local state schools.” Robert stood up and crossed the room to look out of the window over to the beach where he could see Abigail playing tennis with Livia and Abigail. “They’re perfectly good co-ed places; I’ve never been convinced by single sex education. Besides, I’m sure Abby would hate it, she’s always been one of the boys from a very young age.”

Vi stared at Robert. “And you’ve never minded that?” she asked with a note of shock in her voice.

“I just want Abby to be happy. Vi, her mother walked out on her and rejected her, if I were to send Abby away to school she’d feel that I was rejecting her too and she doesn’t need that. Boarding school may have done quite nicely for you and Mary-Lou, it might do equally nicely for your girls; but I’m afraid it’s not, and nor will it ever be, an option for Abby.”

 

 

The Chalet School, for somewhere that would form such an important part of my early life I was remarkably opposed to going. Of course with the benefit of hindsight I wonder why I felt the way I did. It was change; it was completely different to anything I had ever known in my life up until that point. In a few short months my life had been turned upside down and everything I had ever known had been changed for something different; I was having trouble adapting and adjusting to my new life. With the years I lost this aversion to change, but back then I thought the world was going to end. My time at the Chalet School was enjoyable and taught me so much – both educationally and about myself. It provided me with my first experiences of travelling and I loved it; the chance to live in a different culture firsthand. It proved valuable in the following years as I moved around. The Chalet School provided me with so many integral experiences and memories that I cannot imagine myself without them. The people I met at the time were crucial to forming me and I will remember them always.

 

The Chalet School had undergone so much change since its heyday in the 1950s. The decline of TB had led to declining numbers of pupils being sent to the school. Society had changed so radically as well in the 1960s with many parents unwilling to send their daughters all that way to get their education. Hilda Annersley, the redoubtable headmistress of the school had retired in the mid-1960s, followed by her co-head Nell Wilson a year later. Nancy Wilmot had taken over the helm with her good friend Kathie Ferrars as her deputy and it was in these positions that they still remained; a testament to their leadership throughout the turbulent years of the 1970s. As the need for the San had declined it had become harder for them to find adequate staffing there and the TB specialists had begun to feel somewhat out of place in the ever changing world of modern medicine. These days it remained in Switzerland as a leading research and teaching hospital attracting staff from all around the world to share in their expertise. TB had still not died out in the world and those who had specialised in the fight against it were often called upon to share their knowledge, particularly Jack Maynard long since retired but often in demand to teach. The school itself had left the Gornetz Platz in 1974 after a general consensus from parents that they would prefer their daughters at a boarding school in England. Even now the school retained its international thread and parents from abroad based in the UK were eager to send their daughters there. The general trilingual aspect of the school remained intact as well but the scope for the learning of further languages existed. Nancy Wilmot was now looking towards her retirement within the next couple of years safe in the knowledge that the School would be in safe hands and in a safe position.

 

 

Vi, Livia and Alexis left before Robert and Abigail as they were staying a couple of villages away. Abigail soon tired of hitting a tennis ball against the wall on her own and went inside to find her father. Robert was so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed his daughter’s entrance until she appeared at his shoulder.

 

“Is that her?” she asked pointing at the photograph in his hand.

 

Robert glanced up from the picture. Black and white, a young woman with short curls and dancing eyes, a face that had clearly stopped laughing only momentarily for the picture to be taken. She held on to the arm of the dark haired man with the animated face beside her. They were clearly having a good time.

 

Robert nodded in reply to Abigail’s question. “People in love do silly things,” he said quietly, half to himself.

“Walk under buses, burn their wings,” muttered Abigail in reply, almost under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” she shrugged. “Just a 10CC reference.”

“I didn’t think you… No, never mind,” he said waving his hand dismissively. “But it’s true. I was so crazy about your mother I would have done anything to keep her. But you can’t do that, we don’t own people, you can’t make them stay where they don’t want to be. People don’t belong, you can’t put them in a cage and expect them to stay as sooner or later they want to spread their wings and fly. Like your mother, she couldn’t be caged, she didn’t belong to me and I couldn’t stop her when she wanted to go. You have to let people go sometimes Abby, you have to let them spread their wings and fly away. You might not like it but you have to do it. Loving somebody means that you want them to be happy even if it means losing them. People are meant to be free, what right do we have to make them unhappy? Nobody has that right, nobody Abby.” Robert broke off to calm the lump rising in his throat.

Abby reached over his shoulder and took the photograph from his hand. “When was this?”

”New Year’s Eve 1969, the second time I ever met your mother.”

Abigail sat down on the floor at her father’s feet. “Tell me about it,” she said simply.

 

Robert sighed and looked down at his daughter’s expectant face and knew there and then that he had to tell her. “The first time I met your mother was in the summer of 1969,” Robert stopped as Abigail started humming a tune quietly to herself. He smiled wryly. “Wrong month, wrong year,” he said.

Abigail giggled suddenly. “Right decade though.”

Robert chuckled at her. “Fair point. Anyway, it was in London, some lunch party or another for a course I was on in children’s medicine. Your mother wasn’t meant to be there, she’d just gone along with an old friend – the only time they could meet up apparently.”

 

“I hadn’t seen Daisy Rosomon in quite a few years but it just so turned out that in the summer of 1969 we’d be in London for the same week. I was giving a course of lectures on a recent dig and she was on a course about children’s medicine having just gone back in to medicine after bringing up her family. The only free moment I had when I could meet her was when she had some lunch party to go to and she invited me along.”

 

“I quite literally walked into your mother’s life, really rather embarrassing but something we always looked back on and laughed at.”

 

“I lost Daisy more or less as soon as we arrived. So there I was, standing around like one o’clock half struck with a plate in my hand when somebody crashed into me sending my half-eaten sandwich flying.”

 

“Of course I had to pick the sandwich up for her, wouldn’t have been polite for me not to do so. When I looked up to see whose plate I’d sent flying I was stunned.”

 

“Dark hair, dark eyes, and an apologetic air about him, but there was something else and I didn’t know what it was. A shiver ran down my spine; well, I was an archaeologist, digging was what I did best and I intended to do just that with this man. So I made a wisecrack to put him at ease, just to show I wasn’t mad at him for walking into me.”

 

“We spent the rest of the afternoon talking and generally ignoring the world around us. She fascinated me; she had so much to talk about. I won’t say I was smitten, but I was disappointed when the afternoon broke up. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly.”

 

“I tried my best to put Robert out of my mind but every now and again my thoughts kept turning back to him and I couldn’t work out why. He was a nice guy, interesting, smart, funny, but nothing really special. Besides, I’d probably never see him again, unless my some twist of fortune.”

 

“I’d resigned myself to never seeing her and spent the rest of 1969 worrying about work and trying to get on, working towards my consultancy. Anyway, New Year was fast approaching and I had no fixed plans until I got a vague invite from a friend to one of his friend’s party. As I had nothing better to do I decided to go and see in the 1970s in London.”

 

“I came back to England to spend Christmas with Verity and met up with Clem who talked me into going to her New Year party. I didn’t really fancy an evening babysitting Verity’s kids so I accepted and headed off to London.”

 

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw your mother at the party, I swear my heart skipped a beat.”

 

“I never in a million years expected Robert to be at Clem’s party. But when he walked in through the door I knew that I had no intention of letting him go without a proper goodbye. As the night wore on I was acutely aware that neither of us had spoken to anyone apart from each other; but there was so much I wanted to say to him I couldn’t tear myself away.”

 

“As midnight approached we headed out on to the balcony to see in the New Year overlooking the Thames. As the chimes struck for midnight I suppose I got caught up in the festivities.”

 

“We heard midnight chime and toasted in 1970. And then he asked if he could kiss me. So we shared our first kiss as the New Year cheers echoed around us, overlooking the Thames as the fireworks exploded in the distance. It was magical.”

 

 

“We exchanged contact details when I left the following morning. She was heading back to her sister’s and then looking up a few old friends before trying to get some funding for her latest plan.”

 

“I’d come back to England with the express purpose of getting some funding for my latest project. I wanted to head to South America to follow in the footsteps of my father and the Murray-Cameron expedition. But I had no idea how much that party would change my ideas of where my next steps would lead.”

 

“Ten days later she phoned up and asked if I wanted to meet up at the weekend. It was proving quite difficult to get the money she needed to go to the Amazon and I guess it was pretty disheartening. I had nothing else planned so headed down to the south coast for the weekend.”

 

“That weekend was almost perfect, with the exception of the weather. Still we enjoyed ourselves, walking in the rain, talking of our plans, hopes, fears, dreams. I felt completely at ease with him and I was really quite sorry when the weekend was over and he headed back north.”

 

“If you believe my friends I was as miserable as sin away from her after that weekend. The agony of not knowing when I’d see her again was too much. I knew that we both had very different outlooks and ideas on where our lives would lead us; but there’s nothing in the whole world that can stop you dreaming.”

 

“By the end of January I had run into brick wall after brick wall and I was at the end of my tether, completely frustrated. I went to the one place where I knew I’d be safe.”

 

“It was pouring down with rain that Friday afternoon at the end of January when she appeared on my doorstep. I could hardly believe it.”

 

“We spent the evening curled up on his sofa drinking our way through a bottle of wine and talking. I had no idea where I’d go next, South America I decided would have to wait. In the end I stayed with Robert and worked my way around some northern universities giving lectures.”

 

“February 1970 was wonderful. We spent it getting to know each other better but nothing would prepare me for the way our paths would twist next.”

 

“At the end of February I was offered a place on a dig in Italy for a month. The catch being that I had to be prepared to leave on 1 March. For the first time I was torn over my work. Of course I wanted to go and I knew that really I couldn’t afford no to; but a large part of me wanted to stay with Robert.”

 

“I knew that she wouldn’t stay put forever, but even so it was a shock when she said she was off to Italy on a dig in a few days. At that moment I knew where my destiny lay and what I had to do. So I proposed.”

 

 

“The proposal was a shock, in fact, more than that. I hadn’t expected it in the slightest and I really didn’t know how to react. I know it was a spur of the moment thing, he was so afraid of losing me and if I’m truly honest I didn’t want to lose him either. I said yes but at the same time there was a small voice inside me saying that it wasn’t what I really wanted.”

 

“March was a long month, counting down the days until her return. I’d never felt that way about anybody before and I hoped I’d never have to again. It hurt so much at times.”

 

“I’d written and told a few people about the engagement before leaving for Italy and word had soon got around, largely, I expect, thanks to my Auntie Jo. The whole of March letters arrived in Italy wanting to know when the wedding would be and suggestions that it should be soon so it was over and done with. I did love Robert but suddenly I was beginning to feel trapped. The little voice inside me kept getting louder and it was getting harder to ignore it.”

 

“We planned the wedding for the first weekend in June in the hopes that we’d have nice weather. It wasn’t, it rained but that didn’t matter. It was the happiest day of my life. Your mother looked wonderful but there was something in her eyes that I couldn’t read. When I think back about it now I’m sure it was uncertainty.”

 

“Everybody loved Robert, thought he was wonderful. He was, I could hardly fault him but once the initial rush after the wedding was over I realised I was bored. My feet were getting itchy and I wanted to get out and on to another dig. But I couldn’t. I was pregnant.”

 

“I was going to be a father, it was the best news I’d ever heard and it had all happened so quickly I could scarcely believe it.”

 

“I couldn’t keep up with Robert’s excitement. Everybody kept telling me how wonderful it was going to be having a baby but I was never so sure. I couldn’t explain to anybody that I didn’t want to have a baby; I didn’t want to be a mother. I didn’t want restrictions being placed on my life. I knew I was being selfish and I kept on hoping that it would change when the baby was born, when I held it in my arms.”

 

“Abby, you were perfect when you were born. So tiny and beautiful, I couldn’t believe you were mine. I couldn’t bear to be away from you; without a doubt, you were the best thing that had ever happened to me.”

 

“I never felt that initial rush of love everyone talks about when they first laid Abigail in my arms. I looked down at this tiny bundle and felt nothing, I was numb. She reached up and reached out to me and I cried. I cried because I didn’t love her, because she represented the end of my freedom, the end of the career I’d worked so hard for.”

 

“I didn’t notice that she wasn’t bonding with you, if I had maybe I could have done something. Post-natal depression they call it, I’d seen it before but I never believed it would happen to me.”

 

“I liked Abigail very much, but not as my own child.  If she’d been someone else’s it would have been fine, I could have loved her. But she wasn’t someone else’s, she was mine, my responsibility, and I couldn’t take it. If she’d been a difficult baby I could maybe have understood my reluctance to love her, but she wasn’t.”

 

“You were wonderful as a baby, fed and slept at all the right times. Never caused any bother, hardly cried. That made it harder for me to understand why she couldn’t cope.”

 

“After three months I knew that I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t made to be a mother. The small voice that had tried to talk me out of my marriage now tried to talk me into staying and working it though with Abigail. I still loved Robert; surely I could learn to love my daughter? I’d tried to overcome my barriers, but I just couldn’t. I heard about the dig in Greece by pure chance and begged a place on it; everyone on the dig was sceptical about me going, convinced I’d run back to Robert and Abigail half way through. My friends couldn’t understand why I wanted to do it but they had no idea how I was feeling.”

 

“You were three months old when she came home and said she was off to Greece on a dig for six months. I tried to talk her out of it, tried to talk through things to work out where it had all gone wrong. But it didn’t work and I drove her to the airport to catch her flight. It broke my heart, but as we said goodbye there I knew I’d probably never see her again. We never bothered to sort out a divorce for one reason or another. I was left with you, at first there were times when I wondered how I’d cope but I loved you so much I knew we could get through anything. And we have, haven’t we?”

 

Abigail looked up from the photograph of her father, fifteen years younger, and realised how much older he looked now. She noticed that a tear had formed in his right eye and his expression was one seeking a reassurance that she loved him. Wordlessly she stood up and perched on her father’s knee, wrapping her arms around him as she did so. Taking his daughter in his arms Robert blinked back the tear that had formed, they so often did when he thought about Mary-Lou.

Chapter 4 - The Path Continues by pim

“So how did you get on with Livia and Alexis then?” asked Robert over dinner later that evening.


Abigail looked up from pushing her salad around her plate. “They’re okay I guess… for girls.”


Robert tried hard not to choke on his chicken at his daughter’s assertion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


Abigail shrugged. “Alexis is just a kid really, and even though she’s my age Livia is as well. She just doesn’t seem to care about anything that matters.” Abigail paused and caught the twinkle in her father’s eye. She knew he was thinking of all the scrapes he’d had to rescue her from over the previous two years. “Dad, all the protesting and stuff, we have to do it; we have to draw people’s attention to it. That’s just what I mean about Livia, she just doesn’t get the bigger picture.”


“So you wouldn’t like to go to school with them then?”


Abigail stared at her father wide eyed. “An all girls boarding school?” she asked incredulously, stabbing so hard at her tomato that seeds went in all directions. “You are joking right? I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I’d end up turning into Livia, very nice to look at but not much under the surface. And anyway dad, no one goes to boarding school anymore unless you’re in an Enid Blyton book or one of those Josephine Bettany’s, and nobody wants to be like that anyway.”


Robert stared at his daughter, his eyes twinkling. “I take it that’s a ‘no’ then?”


“Not in a million years.”


“Abby, do you know who Jospehine Bettany is?”


Abigail shrugged. “Some crusty old children’s writer who got a bit left behind the times. Alice made me read one of her books once, I didn’t reckon much to it.”


“She’s Jo Maynard.”


It was Abigail’s turn to try not to choke. “You are kidding me on right?”


Robert chuckled. “I’m afraid not Abby, and I’m sure she’d be very interested to hear your views on her books.”


 


Abigail flushed a brilliant shade of red and returned her attentions to her dinner missing the laughter written all over her father’s face.


 


 


By teatime the following day the few boxes that represented Mary-Lou’s life were stacked neatly by the front door of the cottage waiting to be put in to Robert’s car.


 


“It’s not much to show for a life, is it?” asked Vi with a sigh as she surveyed the scene before her.


 


Robert shrugged in reply. He’d never been much good in these situations, always awkward, unsure what to say, how to act. Vi sensed his unease and laid a comforting hand on his arm.


 


“There are never ‘right words’ to say in a situation like this,” she said. “No matter how well meaning you are, you have to find your own comfort.”


Robert smiled and laid his hand over Vi’s. “I can’t help but think that Abby would do so much better. She just knows, she understands people, like her mother really.”


 


They stood a few moments in their own silent contemplation. Vi was right, in a situation like this there were no ‘right words’. There were no words needed now, nothing they could say would make a difference or change things. The bond of silence between them said so much more than they ever could. Vi was the one to break it.


 


“Do you know where the girls are?”


“Down on the beach.”


“We should go and get them.”


 


 


The sun was still shining as Vi and Robert made their way down to the beach. It was one of those perfect days that stretched on forever to an indefinable horizon. Abigail, Livia and Alexis were at the waters edge paddling barefoot amongst the waves as they gently lapped in to the shore.


 


“They seem to be getting on well,” commented Vi. “Alexis thinks Abby’s wonderful. All she kept saying last night was ‘Abby this’ and ‘Abby that’. But I do think she’s a bit… deep for Livia.”


“Abby cares too much and about everything, she’s out to save and change the world,” replied Robert with a grin. “Amnesty International, Greenpeace, CND, Friends of the Earth… You name it, Abby has a vested interest. She can’t bear to see anyone unhappy.”


“Like her mother.”


“Yes, except that Mary-Lou tended to keep it at a local level rather than a global one.”


“Mary-Lou was our chief butter-in.”


“I’m sure Abby’s following in her footsteps then, she’s a very good friend to have.”


 


Engrossed in their own thoughts they didn’t notice the three girls running stumbling through the sand towards them until they landed at their feet all talking at once in an excited torrent.


 


 


For Vi the following days were occupied by endless phone calls to old friends, old acquaintances, so many names, faces and voices came out of the past it made her head spin. She and Robert had decided to keep their project a secret from Abigail. She knew that Abigail had begun to ask questions and she hoped that this would help to answer some of them. Reading over Mary-Lou’s notes had brought back a thousand memories for her; she’d laughed over some of their wilder exploits at school, she’d cried over the words from the depths of her heart over her family, she’d found a new understanding for why Mary-Lou had left Abigail. Promises were made over that week from so many people who had formed their past that Vi had a hard time keeping track of them all. Mary-Lou’s notes were far from complete, they were more a collection of her random thoughts in no particular order as though it had been something she’d intended to do at a later date. Except that later date had never come.


 


On more than one night Vi’s daughters had found her asleep by the front room window, a pile of papers before her and an open photograph album on her lap. It was often Ruth, the eldest, who found her in this way. It was Ruth who found her that Thursday evening asleep in her chair, her cheeks gently stained with tears that had fallen a few hours earlier and the photograph album clutched in her hands. Ruth prised it away from her mother’s hands; it stayed open at the page bearing a black and white photograph of two girls. Both were fair, one with a curly mass of short fair hair, the other with long fair hair up, their smiles as wide as their faces, they looked so happy and carefree laughing at the camera. Ruth smiled to herself, laid the album on the coffee table, kissed her mother’s forehead gently and covered her with the blanket which sat on one of the sofas. Vi never stirred but as Ruth quietly closed the door behind her, a smile flickered across her face.

Chapter 5 - Nina by pim

Abigail checked her watch as she turned her bike on to the hill; she had two minutes in which to make it home and she knew that she could do it with ease. Hitting the hill she let go of the brakes and lowered her body over the handlebars. The wind blew into her face and stung her eyes but she didn’t mind; it was the closest thing to flying as she whizzed by the houses. It was just a shame that it had to end she thought as she slammed on the brakes to turn the sharp corner on to her road. She stumbled through the back door on the stroke of four to be confronted by her father.


 


“What on earth have you been doing to yourself?” he asked,


 


Abigail looked down at herself. Her blue jeans were ripped clean across both knees and the baggy striped shirt she wore over her blue t-shirt had a hole at the elbow and was missing a few buttons. The toes of her trainers were scuffed and the laces undone. She suddenly became aware of the fact that her father was referring to the mass of blood and gravel that passed for her kneecaps.


 


“David just got a skateboard, I had to have a go and fell off on the hill…” she began.


Robert held up his hand to stop her. “Did you not think of getting that cleaned up?”


Abigail shrugged. “I didn’t want to look like a wimp,” she said defiantly. “I’m not a wimp,” she protested.


 


It was only at this point that she realised there was somebody else in the room with her father. A dignified looking lay with dark hair stood in the doorway behind him. Abigail felt her defensiveness slip a little and Robert, now over his initial shock, suddenly remembered his manners.


 


“Abby, this is Lady Nina Rutherford, an old friend of your mother’s.”


Nina laughed. “Oh Robert, less of the ‘Lady’ please. It’s so awfully stuffy.” The title had come a few years earlier in the New Year Honours list and, if truth be told, Nina was still a little shocked, and embarrassed, by it. “It’s nice to finally meet you Abby,” she said stepping forward.


“Aren’t you that pianist?” blurted out Abigail suddenly.


Nina laughed again. “Depends on which pianist you mean by ‘that pianist’.”


Abigail clapped a hand to her mouth as the colour flooded her face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, I… I just didn’t think!”


“No Abby, you never do,” said Robert with a grin. “Look, go and get yourself cleaned up; I’ll put the kettle on.”


 


 


Dinner that evening was a somewhat awkward affair. Robert was only too aware as to the reasoning behind Nina’s visit but the subject still remained a touchy one for him and so Nina and Abigail found the conversation steered in a different direction as soon as one of them mentioned Mary-Lou. It was not without guilt that Robert did this for as much as he knew that it was for Abigail’s benefit, it was something he couldn’t talk about without bringing up all the old hurt. He’d explained things to Abigail and as for now he felt as though he’d done enough. It wasn’t that he wanted to deny her the chance to know about her mother but even after thirteen years the pain of Mary-Lou walking out on him was so raw that his only way of coping was to try and push her out of his mind completely.


 


Nina quickly realised that Mary-Lou was a sore point in conversation as far as Robert was concerned and steered the conversation away from her. It bothered her slightly that Robert was so unwilling to open up about Mary-Lou but at the same time Nina felt awkward about tackling him over it, she didn’t feel that it was her place. She didn’t know whose place it would be to undertake such a task but she felt fairly confident that it wasn’t hers. Still, she thought to herself, it wasn’t all lost. She’d begged Abigail for the day tomorrow and she’d take her out for lunch and a good long chat. She liked Abigail, there was something appealing in her straightforward and honest approach to everything. As dinner wore on Nina realised that, even away from the influence of her mother, Abigail had most certainly inherited her mantle. Even though she hadn’t known Mary-Lou at thirteen, she’d known her at fifteen and she was sure that there couldn’t have been too much difference, only a slight maturity.


 


Nina Rutherford was the school’s musical genius. It was my friends who first encountered her on their train journey home for the Christmas holidays; I was stuck in the San having had my back dished after Emerence Hope’s toboggan had collided with me. They never really mentioned that first meeting, once or twice maybe in passing but the Nina I got to know was quite different from the one she had been at that point in her life. One of the first things to strike me about Nina was her confidence in her abilities as a musician, but she was never overbearing about it; for her it was perfectly natural talent and that was the image that she projected to others. It was a part of Nina, there was no need for her to boast or brag or be unbearable about it. When I first met her, her music was the be all and end all of things and during her first term at school this was almost her undoing after an unfortunate accident in gym class. Once Auntie Jo had got hold of her and explained things to her in a way that I could never dream of being able to do school life was much improved for Nina. Over the following years we got to know her as one of us, a normal schoolgirl who happened to have an extraordinary musical talent. I saw her have the occasional wobble in confidence but they were only ever momentary lapses, once she was performing Nina came alive. We drifted somewhat as we grew older, our chosen careers often meant that we were in different hemispheres and meeting up was almost an impossibility. She was, however, one of the few friends to stand by me when I walked out on Robert and Abigail; possibly she was the only one who could make any kind of attempt at understanding what I was going through. Global recognition and fame never changed Nina, she still remained the honest and enthusiastic girl I had known at school; someone I was proud to say was my friend.


 


 


Nina felt a little more able to relax the following day as she drove into York with Abigail so as they could spend the day. Abigail slumped awkwardly in the passenger seat beside Nina engaged in a fierce argument with her conscience over whether she should even be in the car. She only had a vague notion of the cost of such cars but she was more than aware as to just how far that amount would stretch in the poorer areas of the world; on top of that she knew how harmful exhaust emissions were to the environment. Still, she thought to herself with a half grin, she couldn’t really imagine the great Lady Rutherford on the bus.


 


Nina remained blissfully unaware of Abigail’s inner struggle with her conscience. She hardly knew the girl but there was something about her, as there had been with her mother, that drew Nina to her. A brief encounter at a funeral and a night’s strained dinner conversation were hardly ideal foundations but Nina was determined to overcome these initial problems. Even so, she thought casting a furtive glance at Abigail who appeared lost in her own thoughts, she had a primary goal for this weekend and one she intended to achieve.


 


After an hour’s aimless wandering around York’s shops Nina realised that shopping wasn’t really Abigail’s line and proposed a break at the next café they saw. They caused a quiet stir among the other customers. The elegant and refined looking lady turned heads as people muttered amongst themselves that they could swear that they knew who she was; then the slightly scruffy looking child beside her who clearly did not belong to the woman. Nina glided to the table ignoring the looks of the others, Abigail being more aware kept her head down and hurried past.


 


“Abby,” said Nina looking up from stirring her coffee after their drinks had arrived.


Abigail set the glass of milk she had been sipping down on the table a little too hard causing some to slop over the side. “Oops,” she muttered blushing furiously whilst dabbing at it with her napkin.


Nina ignored the mishap. “You do know why I’m here don’t you?”


Abigail nodded. “Course I do.”


Nina regarded Abigail for a moment. “Do you? I mean, you do?” she faltered.


Abigail shrugged. “Well I guess I do. It’s about my mum isn’t it?”


Nina let out a slow smile. “How did you know?”


“Everybody seems to be talking to me about her these days.”


“But I thought that was what you wanted.”


Abigail shrugged again. “I know what I said at the funeral; but it was different then.”


Nina tried to keep the puzzled expression off her face. “So you don’t now?”


“I don’t know.” Abigail paused and looked at Nina. “I mean, I do, obviously since I hardly know anything about her. Dad doesn’t like to talk about her, it’s too painful for him still, and I don’t want to hurt him any more than I have done by talking about the past. You know, sometimes I think it would have been better if I’d never been born.”


“I think your father might disagree.”


“Maybe. But she clearly didn’t want me,” said Abigail pointedly with clear reference to her mother. “Otherwise she would have stayed. Obviously I was a bit of a disappointment.”


Nina reached across the table and took Abigail’s hand in hers. “Now Abby you know that’s not true.”


“Don’t I? I wouldn’t know since she didn’t stick around to tell me.”


Nina sighed inwardly, this was evidently going to be more complicated than she had previously thought. “Abby, I don’t make any pretence that I understand what was going through your mother’s mind when she decided to leave you; it wasn’t something she really like to talk about. I mean, we hardly saw each other after we left school, we were usually on completely different continents for a start but I know that I was one of the few who remained in touch with her even after she had left you. I’m not sure that she herself understood why she felt she had to leave so I don’t expect you to either and I certainly can’t explain it. The only way that I was able to see it, is that there are some people who just aren’t cut out to be mothers. You know, your mother worked to hard to get where she was, she overcame so many obstacles with such determination that she didn’t want to lose what she’d managed to achieve.”


Abigail looked up. “Is that why you never had children?”


Nina nodded. “I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give them the attention and love that they deserved, it wouldn’t have been fair on them.”


“So what do you think changed my mum’s mind? Even for just that short time she was with my dad?”


“Well she was certainly in love with your father for a while but I suppose in the end she just loved her work more. It did hurt her a lot to leave you both but she was convinced it was the right decision to make.”


“I suppose then,” said Abigail slowly. “That it was better to not have her at all than have her and have her wishing she was somewhere else.”


Nina nodded. “It was her way of showing you that she loved you.”


Abigail took a long drink of her milk and then put the glass down. “Tell me what she was like at school.”


Nina glanced at her watch. “We’d best order some lunch then.”


 


 


The atmosphere was decidedly relaxed between Abigail and Nina by the time their respective meals arrived. Abigail suspiciously prodded her sandwich with her fork as Nina retold the tale of the Aladdin pantomime, which, for various reasons, had almost been an absolute disaster. Abigail’s eyes widened in horror as Nina reached the dramatic climax with the fire.


 


“Weren’t you terrified?” she asked in a voice filled with horror.


“Oh absolutely, but at the same time I knew that at least one of us in there had to keep our head! But given that I’d overcome all my initial fears and misgivings about conducting in the first instance it seemed that little bit easier with hindsight and perspective.”


Abigail shut her mouth sharply suddenly becoming aware that she’d been sitting there with it hanging wide open. “I don’t think I’d have had the guts to be that brave.”


“I knew that God would protect me,” said Nina simply in reply.


“Oh right,” mumbled Abigail as she played distractedly with her side salad. “I didn’t think of that. I don’t really… I mean, that’s never really been my scene. Dad, he said he stopped going to church when mum left, I think he was angry with God for letting her go.” Abigail stopped and chewed thoughtfully on a piece of carrot. “So I mean, I think I believe in God and all that but I’m not really sure since I’ve never really had the chance to do anything like that.”


“Your mother had incredibly strong faith.”


Abigail shrugged. “She wasn’t strong enough to be my mother though.” She stopped herself. “No, I don’t mean that. I think what I mean is that God’s meant to have this plan for all of us right?” Nina nodded. “And for her it obviously wasn’t to stay; or maybe it was and she turned her back on the plan for her. I mean, I really don’t know and I don’t think it’s my place to comment on things I don’t properly understand.”


Nina smiled. “But you’re trying to understand and that’s what makes you like your mother. She had this incredible gift of understanding people; she could get right under people’s skin and find out what made them tick. She was always looking for an explanation for things, just like you’re doing now. Really Abby, I couldn’t have asked for a better friend than your mother. She was so supportive and she had such faith in people; I know that I would have felt a lot worse about conducting Aladdin if it hadn’t been for her. But she was just an ordinary schoolgirl like everybody else, only she had the courage of her convictions and stood up for what she believed in. Mind you, from what the others told me I believe she was a bit of a holy terror in her younger days.”


“I don’t suppose you know much about them.”


“No, for those you really should talk to Mrs Maynard, a woman with a more flypaper like memory I have yet to meet. The things she remembers about the history of the Chalet School never cease to amaze me.”


Abigail chewed her mouthful of sandwich thoughtfully. “Did you ever read her books?” she asked.


“Of course I did, everybody did. I haven’t read them for a while though, well more than a while, years. I’ve outgrown those sort of things now; I hear she is still writing but I would have thought she was a little old fashioned for people of your age.”


Abigail nodded her face giving nothing away. “I just wondered.”


 


 


Dinner on the Saturday evening was a more relaxed affair than it had been the previous night. The bond between Nina and Abigail was apparent to Robert and he noted their caution to avoid reference to Mary-Lou. After dinner Abigail excused herself and slipped off to her room to read leaving Nina and Robert alone in the living room. Taking advantage of the more relaxed air Robert opened a bottle of wine and they sat in opposite armchairs sipping their wine and passing comment on the state of the world.


 


“You seem to have hit it off with Abby,” remarked Robert after a lull in conversation.


“She’s a great kid,” replied Nina. “I like her, she’s really rather like…” Nina broke off.


“Her mother,” finished Robert with a sigh. “I’ve heard that so often.”


“Well she is,” came the defensive reply. “You can’t deny her that. I know things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to but you can’t deny Abby her mother.”


Robert stood up and crossed to the window and stared blankly out of it. “I know,” he said quietly with an edge of sadness.


Nina crossed the room to join him. “It’s a nice part of the world here,” she commented vainly trying to change the topic of conversation.


“Don’t you ever get the urge to settle down in one place?”


Nina shrugged. “From time to time, but it usually passes. I wasn’t designed to settle; there’s so much world out there that I haven’t seen. And besides I’d have to give up playing then as well and giving up that would be akin to giving up life for me. It keeps me happy and it makes other people happy, as far as I’m concerned that’s all that really matters. I’ve never wanted anything else, I don’t know anything else.”


A slow realisation began to dawn on Robert. “You’re quite an amazing person, did you know that?” he asked staring thoughtfully at Nina.


“It has been said,” she said with a light laugh. “But I don’t think I am, I’m just me.”


 


They stood in the twilight, the two darkened shadows against the window, and stared at each other for a moment before Robert took his courage in both hands, leaned in and kissed Nina gently.


 


Nina was the first to pull away as though an electric shock had run through her body. Robert regarded her with a puzzled air.


 


“I… I don’t…” she stammered.


“Do you always do that?” he asked.


“Do what?”


“React like that whenever anyone gets close to you.”


Nina stared, puzzled. “I… I didn’t… It just didn’t seem like a good idea…” she faltered.


“So you do then.”


“Robert please, let’s not talk about it. It wasn’t meant to happen and I’d rather just forget what happened,” she said turning her back to him.


“Why are you so scared?” he asked running his fingers lightly across her shoulders.


“I didn’t say I was. I just said I didn’t think this was a good idea. Because we’ve had a bottle of wine and besides it just doesn’t feel right, not with everything that’s happened lately. The timing’s just all wrong.” Nina was vaguely aware of the fact that she was fishing for excuses. True the wine had clouded her judgement a little and she was fighting to be rational and silenced herself.


“When are you going to stop running away Nina?”


“I don’t understand.”


“You can’t spend your whole life running away whenever anyone gets close to you and hiding behind the pretence of your work.”


“I don’t,” retorted Nina trying to stop herself from raising her voice, but then realisation slowly dawned on her. “Robert,” she said gently taking his hand. “I’m not Mary-Lou, and neither is anyone else. I’m not running away, I don’t run away and I most certainly don’t hide behind my work. I pulled away from you because I didn’t think that we were making the right move. I didn’t come here for your sake; I came here for Abigail because she has the right to know about a mother that you’re denying her. Let’s just say that we got caught up in the heat of them moment and leave it at that if only for Abigail’s sake; goodness only knows she’s been through enough of late without us complicating matters for her,” Nina paused unsure how to carry on. She’d never been too good at this sort of thing having always tended to channel her emotions into her music but, she realised, there were times when words held more sway over her and this was one of those times. “Mary-Lou never ran away from you; to leave you took all the courage that she had. I don’t condone what she did but I know how hard it was for her to do what she did; she was only doing what she thought was best. You’ve said it yourself, you can’t cage people; there are times when you have to let them spread their wings and fly. And you have to as well, but not now, not here, not with me.”


 


They stood a few moments each lost in their own thoughts. Nina amazed with herself for her soliloquy, Robert taking something new from words that so many others had said to him over the years. He knew, deep down, that they’d always been right but it just hadn’t been the right time for him to take notice of them; but here and now it was all so different. Maybe it was Nina’s way; maybe he’d already subconsciously reached the decision himself. Either way it was as though a great weight had been lifted from his mind and suddenly things began to seem a lot clearer.


 


“You’re right,” he whispered as they fell into an embrace.


 


It was an embrace of true friends, a comfortable embrace.


 


 


Abigail noticed a change in atmosphere the following morning and the hint of a change in her father but she didn’t question any further. She sensed that he was feeling a lot happier now than he had done for a while. She knew that Nina was involved but decided that for now it was probably a secret best kept between Nina and her father; for Abigail knowing that they were happy was enough for her to be happy. After a leisurely morning over the Sunday papers the time arrived for Nina to leave with a promise of a return and tickets for her next concert in the area. Abigail and Robert stood at the top of the drive as they waved her off, Robert with a far away look in his eyes, thinking of what might have been. Abigail turned and looked sharply at her father.


 


“Dad, stop drooling,” she said firmly. “It’s so embarrassing in someone of your age.”


 


Robert was left open mouthed at the top of the drive as Abigail turned on her heel and ran off back towards the house to find her bike. He smiled inwardly, there were times when his daughter never ceased to amaze him.


 


“What time are you coming back?” he asked as she passed him on her bike.


“What time’s dinner?” she asked over her shoulder as she stopped a little way past him.


“About seven okay with you?”


Abigail shrugged. “Fine. I’ll be back later,” she replied glancing at her wristwatch.


 


Robert watched her tear off up the road at a speed that alarmed him mildly before shaking his head and turning round to head back indoors to finish reading the papers.

Chapter 6 - Jo by pim

Jo Maynard had found herself at a bit of a loose end the following weekend. The family had moved back to Plas Gwyn when Jack had retired from active practice at the Swiss San. They’d sold off Freudesheim but kept on the chalet in the Austrian Tyrol where they spent a few months of every year, otherwise renting it out to various friends and relatives. Jack was into his 70s now but was still considered a world authority on TB, more so since the death of Jem Russell two years previously, and he had been asked to give a talk on the fight against TB in Switzerland. It was a rare weekend for Jo in that none of her children wanted to visit with any of the grandchildren. Needing to do something to pass the time she had rounded up a few old friends and then phoned Robert to beg Abigail for the weekend. He’d been apprehensive at first but had soon come round to Jo’s way of thinking eventually and so it was that Abigail made the train journey to Armiford the following Friday afternoon.


 


Plas Gwyn was always a happy place, always full of people making a pleasant contrast to life with mother and Gran at Carn Beg. Auntie Jo was always warm and welcoming and there was usually inviting smell of Anna’s baking giving it that extra homely feel. It was somewhere safe, where you could never feel out of place or as though you didn’t matter. Auntie Jo always had time for everyone and you always left feeling that there would be a place for you there. When the Maynards moved to the Gornetz Platz with the San, which Uncle Jack was to head, everything at home in Howells changed. There was nowhere to escape to when I needed a change of scenery or a fresh perspective on things. I would never have begrudged Uncle Jack his career move, but all the same I bitterly regretted them leaving. Of course I saw them in Switzerland, their home was just next door to school, but it just wasn’t the same. I didn’t want to have to ask permission and make an appointment to go over to Freudesheim. The name of their house meant ‘happy home’ and it certainly was. I suppose it changed over the years as the Maynard children left home but I will always remember it as happy and filled with laughter, my haven.”


 


 


Abigail clambered down from the train at Armiford station trying carefully not to viciously attack anybody with her rucksack as she did so. She battled her way through the crowds to an almost empty spot of platform and glanced apprehensively around her. She hadn’t been overly keen about this weekend but she supposed it couldn’t be all bad, just so long as Jo Maynard didn’t expect her to have read any of her books. As Jo briefly crossed her thoughts Abigail wondered where on earth she was. The instructions to her father had been quite explicit that Jo would meet Abigail on the platform as she got off the train. She looked around again but there still didn’t seem to be any sign of her. Abigail sighed dejectedly and crossed the platform and sank on to the nearest bench all her apprehension disappearing as nerves overtook her. What if Jo had forgotten all about her? What would she do then? Not for the first time Abigail found herself wishing that she’d never agreed to coming in the first place.


 


Jo Maynard abandoned her car outside the front of Armiford station. She knew that she wasn’t meant to do that any longer but decided that she would take the risk now and suffer the consequences later. Checking her watch she swore under her breath, she hated running late especially when there was someone counting on her. As she ran over the bridge to the opposite platform she caught sight of Abigail perched uncomfortably on the bench looking around her.


 


“Abigail!” Jo shouted as she ran down the steps.


 


Abigail looked up at the sound of her name and saw Jo running towards her. Her apprehension and nerves vanished immediately and were replaced by a feeling of relief and she allowed her face to break into a smile.


 


“I’m so sorry I’m late,” said Jo. “I can never get used to the amount of traffic on the roads these days.”


Abigail shrugged. “It’s okay,” she replied standing up and swinging her rucksack on to her shoulder. “I’ve not been here all that long Mrs Maynard.”


Jo stared at Abigail with an expression of disbelief. “We’ll have none of that ‘Mrs Maynard’ business, if you please. I was Auntie Jo to your mother and so I must be to you as well.”


“Okay,” muttered Abigail. She was sure she could cope with that for the course of a weekend just so long as there was no mention of reading Jo’s books to go with it.


“I’ve invited a few of your mother’s old school friends over tomorrow,” chirped Jo as they crossed the bridge to get back to her car. “I thought it would be nice for you and we can all have a good reminisce.” Jo failed to notice the face that Abigail pulled behind her back and carried on oblivious to the fact that in Abigail there was a schoolgirl who wouldn’t fall instantly for all her charms.


 


Despite her initial misgivings Abigail quite liked the look of Plas Gwyn from the outside. The swing hanging from the big tree in the garden, the child’s toys belonging to one or the other of the grandchildren left scattered across the garden gave it a homely air and appeal. She’d liked the look of Howells village as they’d driven through it. It seemed as though time had stood still in Howells and Abigail was sure that it hadn’t been any different when the Chalet School had originally been here during the war. Jo let them in to the house and Abigail took in the décor with an initial shudder. It was quite clear that if time had stood still in Howells village, it had stood equally still inside Plas Gwyn. But there was something warm about it, like the garden the children’s toys were scattered across floors, surfaces and stairs. It was a real family home and Abigail liked it.


 


Jo led Abigail up the stairs to the room which would be hers for the weekend and then left her to settle in. As they’d progressed through the house Abigail had taken more of it in, in particular the photographs on the walls. Seeing these she had felt a pang of jealousy; she knew only too well that her father had done everything he possibly could for her but seeing the group shots of an only too evidently happy family had touched something deep inside her. All Abigail had ever wanted had been a proper family of her own but that was something she had to keep to herself; it was hardly the sort of thing she could share with her father. The room in which Jo had left her was clearly one used by visiting grandchildren or more specifically visiting granddaughters. The walls were painted a fresh shade of pink and a flowered rug covered the cream carpet. It was hardly Abigail’s ideal choice of décor but she forced herself to admit that it wasn’t all too bad. The bookshelves were lined with an array of titles including several Josephine Bettany books, she supposed that it was only natural. A sudden blaze of curiosity prompted her to reach out for the nearest one. Jo’s voice calling her floated up the stairs just as she did so and Abigail hastily shoved it back on to the shelf as though an electric shock had cut through her body.


 


“How do you like it?” chirped Jo as she poked her head around the door.


“It’s… nice,” responded Abigail diplomatically, she still wasn’t completely sure how she felt.


Jo beamed. “Good. Look, come on downstairs, I’ve looked out some old photographs of your mother so we can have a good look at them before dinner. Would you like anything now?”


 


Abigail shook her head and followed Jo down the stairs into the sitting room. It clearly hadn’t been decorated in a good ten years but it was everything else which made the room a welcoming and inviting place. There were more photographs of the family and friends on the walls and in frames scattered around the room along with trinkets from every corner of the globe. The big bookcase in the corner was well stocked with an array of books for all ages and from all eras.


 


“Have a seat, have a seat,” said Jo ushering her to the sofa underneath the windowsill, her arms full of photograph albums.


 


Abigail didn’t like to disagree and perched beside Jo at an almost awkward and precarious angle and craned her neck over the photographs. Jo opened the album at a page she knew so well. A tall girl with long fair hair in two plaits down her front stood under an apple tree with three younger girls. The younger girls, clearly sisters despite their outward differences, had cheeky smiles.


 


“My triplets,” Jo said to Abigail.


“Is that…?” she asked pointing at the elder girl.


“That’s your mother, the first summer she was at Carn Beg. We’ll take a walk by there tomorrow before the others get here but I don’t know the people who own it these days; they tend to keep themselves to themselves.”


 


Abigail stared at the picture and lightly fingered the end of her own messy plait. Jo had told her she looked like her mother, now she could see it. But there was something that prevented her from completely reconciling the carefree young girl under the apple tree with her friends with the woman she had become.


 


The telephone chose that moment to ring and Jo got up with a sigh to go and answer it. Abigail could hear her chattering away animatedly to whoever was on the other end; from the way Jo was talking it sounded like one of the many members of the family. Abigail began flicking idly through the photograph album, she recognised the triplets in the pictures in which they featured. She recognised Jo as well, she hadn’t changed all that much over the years, time had been good to her. Abigail tried to suppress the longing feeling in the pit of her stomach but found her curiosity aroused as a piece of paper dropped out of the back of the album. She reached down to pick it up, clearly a letter of some description. She knew that she shouldn’t read letters which belonged to somebody else, but she couldn’t help it.


 


Dear Jo.


 


I’m sorry we parted the way that we did. If I’m truly honest to myself I didn’t expect you to understand when I tried to explain it all to you. I keep thinking things over, and I’m none too sure that I understand myself. I just know that I couldn’t stay. Abigail means the world to me but I know that I wouldn’t be able to love her in the way she needs to be loved. I always said I was never going to get married, never going to have children, and I know why now. Oh you always laughed at me and said that it was exactly the same thing you used to say but there’s a difference between us. You loved your own children and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t love Abigail as a mother. I’m not you Jo, I can only be myself and I know that a wife and mother is not what I was made to be. I fought so hard to get where I am today, and you and Jack supported me all the way; I fought too hard to give it all up. Maybe one day I’ll change but for now I can only hope that you can accept my decision and at least try and understand why I made it. I shall be here in Greece for the next few months then I’ll be back in Oxford for a couple of months to present the findings of the dig. Please Jo, don’t let this tear us apart.


 


Abigail stopped reading as she heard Jo clattering the receiver back down and entering the room. She tried to hastily shove the letter back into the album but Jo’s eyes were too quick for her.


 


“I…” stammered Abigail, unsure what to say.


“Oh Abigail,” exclaimed Jo. “I’d often wondered where that letter had gone. I’m sorry you had to see it.” She sat down beside Abigail and took the letter from between the girl’s shaking fingers. “Abby?”


Abigail looked down at the floor. “I wish…” She turned her face to Jo. “I don’t know. I’ve heard it so often, just never from her. I suppose…” She broke off, biting her lip hard to bring her emotions under control.


Jo slipped a comforting arm around her. “You are allowed to cry,” she said gently.


“It just makes it all so real,” cried Abigail as her self restraint broke down and she let out the hurt she had suppressed for so long.


 


Jo took the sobbing girl in her arms to comfort her. Inside her thoughts ran round and around in circles. She had certainly never intended for Abigail to find that letter; in fact Jo had had no idea what had happened to it and how it had come to be pushed in the back of that particular photograph album. She’d always known what to do in awkward circumstances, but this was one that challenged even her.


 


They remained that way for a few minutes until Abigail broke her sobs.


 


“I… I’m sorry,” she mumbled scrubbing fiercely at her eyes with her sleeve.


Jo fished in her pocket for her handkerchief. “Here, use this,” she said holding it out to Abigail who took it with a weak smile. “Abby, you have nothing to be sorry for, you are allowed to cry. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard all this is for you.”


Abigail bit her lip to hold back fresh tears. “She never told me herself when I saw her at the end; it’s only something I’ve heard from other people. Now I’ve seen it in her own words it just makes it so… real. I wish she’d been able to tell me herself, but then I suppose she never imagined I’d find that letter.”


“No, I don’t suppose she did.”


 


The silence between them said so much. Abigail became acutely aware that the situation was awkward for Jo as well as her.


 


“I shouldn’t have…”


Jo knew what Abigail was trying to say and reached for her hand. “Abby, I made a promise to you to help you learn about your mother. I intend to keep that promise, along the way we may come across things that are unexpected and that may hurt. But I will always be here whenever you need support or help. I admit that I have never fully understood your mother’s reasons for leaving and I know full well that I did not offer her any support when perhaps I should have done. I don’t think that she herself was ever able to explain things fully.”


“I wish she’d told me herself at the end.”


“It wasn’t the right time then.”


“No, I suppose not.”


“She wanted to know you, Abby, as yourself. Perhaps she should have explained to you, but it would appear to be one of those things that we are fated to never know.” Abigail smiled weakly. “Now, how about some dinner? You may as well make yourself useful and come and give me a hand.”


 


They passed a quiet evening, Jo regaling tales from the ‘dark ages’ as she termed them, Abigail listening wide eyed at some of her mother’s wilder exploits. Hearing about her mother’s early life fascinated her as she tried to draw parallels between the carefree and friendly girl she had been and the dying woman in the hospital bed. Abigail, in turn, offered a few details of her own life to Jo, there were a lot of things that she felt Jo would not be able to understand fully and so steered away from those. She felt that her global conscience and the actions she had sometimes taken to express this, coupled with her religious apathy, would not go down too well with the traditional older woman beside her. After a few hours the long train journey caught up with Abigail and she found it harder to stifle her yawns.


 


“Tired?” asked Jo sympathetically.


 


Too tired to even speak Abigail nodded as Jo helped her up and led her up the stairs. Once in her pyjamas, washed and tucked up in bed Jo slipped into her room.


 


“Sleep tight,” she said as she kissed Abigail’s forehead.


“Goodnight,” came the reply, if a little muffled as Abigail snuggled down into the covers.


 


 


Abigail awoke early the following morning and for a few moments struggled to adjust as to where she was. As the world came into focus her eyes settled on the row of Josephine Bettany books and it all made sense once more. She struggled into a sitting position and took in the book titles once more and one in particular leapt out at her, Cecily holds the fort. It had been the one she’d been forced to read by her friend Alice and she’d hated it. Abigail felt immensely curious once more and slipped out of bed over to the bookshelf to fetch it down. She glanced at her wristwatch, it was only six thirty and she hoped that Jo wouldn’t expect her to be up for a good couple of hours yet. She clambered back into bed, wriggled down amongst the covers and began to read.


 


Jo decided to look in on Abigail at eight thirty, she wanted to allow her to sleep as long as she could and, as such, was pleasantly surprised to see her awake when she poked her head around the door.


 


“You’re awake,” she said trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.


“Couldn’t sleep,” replied Abigail as she tried to hide the book. But once again Jo was too quick for her.


Cecily holds the fort?” she asked. Abigail nodded and blushed. “My first book that,” said Jo reminiscently. “I wrote it the term after I left school, my second attempt actually. The first was so dreadful I ended up burning it. What do you think of it?”


“I… I…” faltered Abigail. “I’m not too sure to be perfectly honest. It’s not really my sort of thing; my friend made me read it a couple of years ago, but… I was just curious I suppose.”


Jo smiled. “I suppose you find it a bit old fashioned for you.”


Abigail turned a brilliant shade of red. “I… um… well…”


Jo laughed again. “Sorry, didn’t mean to put you on the spot there. How about you get up, have a wash and then come down for breakfast?”


 


After a leisurely breakfast Jo proposed a stroll down towards Carn Beg so that Abigail could see the house where her mother had spent so many happy years. Abigail took the house in whilst keeping half an ear on Jo’s chattering; in her mind’s eye she could just make out her ten year old mother outside the house. Abigail smiled to herself, Jo noticed the smile.


 


“Why the smile?”


“I was just thinking.”


“About your mother?”


Abigail nodded. “It’s so strange actually being here, seeing the house where she spent so many years. It makes her more of a real person I suppose, somebody who was once my age.”


 


There were no words that either of them could say as they turned and walked back to Plas Gwyn. Jo’s thoughts were firmly in the past; Abigail’s were developing a deeper understanding.

Chapter 7 - A Decision That Would Change Everything by pim

It was a snap decision that Robert made whilst Abigail was staying at Plas Gwyn and one that would have various repercussions for him over the next twelve months. He’d taken Abigail’s washing into her room on the Saturday morning and had been greeted by utter chaos. He’d always known that she was untidy but this was worse than it had ever been. Books and papers cluttered every conceivable surface, the walls were adorned with newspaper clippings regarding affairs about which Abigail was passionate, half the contents of her wardrobe were flung unceremoniously across her unmade bed and most of them were in need of some form of repair or another. It had never bothered him before, he’d always allowed her a certain degree of independence but now he wasn’t so sure where to draw the line. Abigail had always been different, unafraid to strike out on her own and stand up for what she believed in; but over the last six months or so he’d found it harder to keep her in check. He’d always encouraged her to form her own opinions and express herself as she saw fit. As he climbed over the pile of old broadsheet newspapers in the middle of the floor he realised that there were sometimes he felt as though he didn’t know his daughter anymore. It had really all begun six months previously when he’d had to go and collect her from the police station following a particularly riotous protest in the city centre. He could no longer recollect what issue she’d been protesting about on that occasion but it had challenged him to reassess his methods of parenting. She in turn had naturally objected to new restrictions placed on her freedom and they’d drifted; it had taken Mary-Lou to bring them back together. As his thoughts turned back to Mary-Lou, as they so often did, Robert made a decision that would change everything.


 


Nancy Wilmot hung up the phone with a sigh. “Well I never!” she exclaimed.


“Well you never what Nancy?” asked Kathie Ferrars from the chair which she was slumped over in a most undignified manner. “I only heard half of that conversation, stop being an aggravating soul and tell me what’s going on!”


Nancy chuckled. “You’ll never guess in a million years who was just on the phone.”


“If that’s the case,” Kathie flung the magazine she had been idly flicking through at her friend. “Just tell me would you!”


Nancy lay the hapless missile down on the desk and gave Kathie a stern glance. “I think that if you’re going to behave in that manner, I shan’t tell you anything.”


“Fine then,” retorted Kathie. “You be all dignified and headmistress-y. I shall just sit here and cast aspersions to myself. And I’d thank you to return my magazine.”


Nancy examined the publication. “New Scientist?” Kathie shrugged. “Well, as you wish my dear.”


“Nancy just tell me what’s going on! Please.”


Nancy chuckled at her friend once again. “That was Robert Fenchurch.”


Kathie screwed up her face as she tried to remember what the name meant to her. “Mary-Lou’s husband?”


“The very one.”


“What did he want?”


“To enter his daughter.”


“What did you say to that?”


“I’ve accepted her provisionally. As far as I’m aware there’s a space or two in the third form, which is the form she’d be going in to.”


“Why provisionally though Nance?”


Nancy shrugged. “I just got the impression that he hadn’t thought things through properly.”


Kathie gave her friend a puzzled glance as she tossed the magazine back to her. “What makes you say that?”


“I don’t know,” replied Nancy honestly. “I truly don’t, it was just a feeling I got.”


“You have to admit, it would be interesting having Mary-Lou’s daughter here. What’s her name again?”


“Abigail.”


“You never know, she might be her mother all over again.”

Chapter 8 - A Provision Of Support by pim

The first of Jo’s invited guests arrived at half past twelve on the dot. Lesley Malcolm and Hilary Bennet were easily recognisable as the mischievous school girls they once had been, only their faces were older. Both had ventured into teaching briefly after school. Lesley in maths at a girl’s day school in the north of England before pursuing a career in banking, where she had met her husband. Hilary had spent several years teaching PT at the English branch of the Chalet School before also leaving to marry. With their respective children now teenagers or on the brink of adolescence, a day off was well earned. Doris Hill arrived shortly after the other two, she had never pursued a career having married and had a family at a young age. Around the new faces Abigail was initially tongue tied and shy, preferring to keep close to Jo, of whom she was now over her initial misgivings. As the afternoon wore on and her understanding of her mother grew Abigail emerged from her shell around the older women and she began to question them as her curiosity grew. Through the words of those who had been there with her, Abigail began to learn to see her mother as the schoolgirl she had been – mischievous, fun loving, caring and always the first to help. They had not provided the deeper meaning and understanding that Abigail had found with Nina, but they had helped her to see her mother as someone who had once been her age.


 


“How did you find it?” asked Jo as they cleared up the afternoon’s chaos later on.


“It was nice,” replied Abigail with a half smile as she gathered a pile of photograph albums up in her arms. “The Chalet School sounds like such a wonderful place to have been, I almost wish I’d been there too. They seemed to have had such fun.”


Jo grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t argue with the time I spent there.”


“It never crossed my mind that boarding school could be like that. I don’t suppose that I’d ever thought it through properly. Auntie Verity never told me much about her school days; dad didn’t like her talking to me about them.” Abigail sighed. “It’s a shame it’s taken him so long to accept that I want to know things about my mother. I didn’t like to ask before, it wasn’t fair on him; but I always wanted to know, I was just afraid of hurting him anymore than he already was.”


“Just like your mother.” Abigail grinned broadly and on impulse enveloped Jo in a bear hug. “What’s that for?”


“Thank you,” said Abigail looking up at the older woman her eyes shining. “For helping me understand.”


Jo laughed. “Just you wait until tomorrow.”


“Why? What have you planned to do to me?”


“You’ll see.”


 


 


Hilda Annersley’s eyes had long since needed glasses, but that aside little had changed since her days as headmistress of the Chalet School. She and Nell Wilson had, admittedly much against their better nature, moved to a retirement village just outside of Armiford a year or so previously. The staff there had hardly been prepared for such an onslaught, particularly from Nell who saw it as an infringement of her civil liberties and was prone to open protest. Hilda, whilst firmly believing in Nell’s stance, preferred an altogether more tactical and subtle approach.


 


“Oh look, another trip to Skegness” remarked Nell with a forced brightness as they passed the notice board on their way to the car park that Sunday lunch time. “I never used to want to go to Skegness, why do they think I want to start going now?”


Hilda chuckled. “Honestly Nell, you’ll get us thrown out of here.”


“I think you’ll find that’s my intention.”


 


In the car park Abigail hopped nervously from one foot to the other. Jo was being too secretive about this for her liking and she had absolutely no idea what they were doing in the car park of a retirement village. It was Jo who noticed Hilda and Nell first since the latter pair were so engrossed in their own conversation they didn’t notice Jo waving wildly at them until they practically collided with her.


 


“Hilda, Nell, lovely to see you both,” said Jo warmly.


“You too Jo,” replied Hilda before she turned to Abigail. “I don’t need to ask who you are,” she said with a soft smile.


 


After mother, Gran and Auntie Jo, there was Miss Annersley and Miss Wilson who provided key guidance in my formative years. In my early years at the Chalet School they were joint Heads, it was only after the school moved to Switzerland and Miss Wilson went to head the finishing branch that Miss Annersley would come to the fore. They complemented each other well as co-heads with their beliefs, principles and desire to do what was best for the school. I held them in the utmost respect, whatever may have gone on behind closed doors they always presented a united front to the rest of the world. I admired their faith in human nature, the belief that there was good in each and every one of us, and their determination to bring this out. I was eternally grateful for their constant faith and support, their efforts to understand, and their unending influence on my life. I couldn’t have asked for better guidance throughout both my school life and the path I chose afterwards. They were the Chalet School, responsible for the way that each of us had turned out. They knew us almost as well as we knew ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our hopes and fears.


 


Jo caught Abigail’s confused expression and suddenly became mindful of her manners, realising that she hadn’t made any introductions.


 


“Abby, I’m sorry,” she said suddenly. “Forgetting my manners in my old age.”


“Less of the old age,” interrupted Nell with a wicked grin.


“Abby, this is Nell Wilson, and this is Hilda Annersley.”


“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” said Hilda stepping forward to shake Abigail’s hand.


“Weren’t you at the funeral?” asked Abigail. “I’m quite sure you were, but I didn’t speak to you.”


Hilda smiled. “We were, but no we didn’t speak to you. It wasn’t the right time, besides you were having a pretty busy day of it.”


“You were the Heads of the school weren’t you?”


“We were indeed,” said Nell. “For more years than we care to remember.”


“They even taught me back in the dark ages,” put in Jo. “But we can discuss all that later. I don’t know about you but I’m famished and don’t much fancy spending the afternoon in this car park.”


“Too right Jo, come one let’s go, I for one really need to get out of here before they force me into another trip to Skegness or soggy rice pudding with lunch,” declared Nell.


 


Jo grinned at Nell’s blatant indignation before they all clambered into the car and drove off, Abigail burning with curiosity, Nell full of glee at her escape, however short, and Hilda outwardly calm as she wondered what she was going to say to Abigail.


 


 


“Mum, Robert’s on the phone for you.”


 


Vi looked up from the pile of papers scattered across the coffee table at her eldest daughter.


 


“Did he say what it was about Ruth?” she asked getting up.


Ruth rolled her eyes. “As if he’d tell me. He did sound a bit agitated though.”


 


Vi shrugged and went to pick up the phone.


 


“Hello Robert.”


“Vi, I’ve done something stupid,” he said. “Something so completely and utterly unbelievably stupid, Abby is never going to forgive me.”


“Robert, wait, just stop there a second,” interrupted Vi. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go back and start at the beginning as I haven’t got a clue what you’re on about.”


“Sorry, it’s just it’s been running round non stop in my head since yesterday how stupid I’ve been.”


“Robert!” exclaimed Vi exasperatedly. “Will you please tell me what you’ve done?”


“I entered Abby for the Chalet School.”


“You did what?!” Vi could hardly contain her surprise. “After all the moral high ground that you’d never send her to boarding school and how the local state school was wonderful for her? You’re right, she probably won’t forgive you, or not easily anyway. What are you going to do?”


“I don’t know, that’s the thing. I don’t even know what prompted me to do it. The head, Miss, what’s her name, Wilmot, said she’d only accept Abby provisionally.”


“Quite sensible of her,” replied Vi dryly. “Abby’s at Jo’s this weekend isn’t she?”


“Yes, I’m expecting her back later this evening.”


“Well, you can’t go making any more rash decisions until she gets back and you talk it over with her. You never know, Jo Maynard can be quite a persuasive woman and Abby may come home raving about the school and wanting to go of her own accord and she therefore might be quite amenable to your suggestion. Or she’ll never speak to you again. Either way Robert, you mustn’t do anything else until she gets back from Jo’s and talk to her about it.”


“I know you’re right,” was his miserable reply. “But I just don’t know what came over me. One moment I was despairing to myself over the state of her room and realising how little I know about her these days, and the next I was on the phone trying to get her a place at boarding school, something I promised I’d never do. Vi, I’m sorry to lump all this on you like this, I just didn’t know who else to turn to.”


“I’m glad you felt you could come to me then.”


 


 


Jo, Hilda, Nell and Abigail had enjoyed a pleasant lunch in an Armiford pub talking over the good old days and now Jo had left Abigail to Hilda and Nell whilst she went to call on some friends. Abigail was somewhat in awe of the two older women, but their calm air of self possession made her feel that they were people who she could trust completely. Hilda sensed Abigail’s unease before Nell and tentatively approached the subject.


 


“Abby dear, are we really so frightening?” she asked.


Abigail was somewhat taken aback by the question. “No,” she replied almost defensively. “I don’t think you’re frightening at all. It’s just… I’ve heard so much about you both that it’s strange finally meeting you properly.”


Nell and Hilda exchanged glances and secret smiles. “And just exactly what have you been hearing about us?” Nell asked.


“I… I…” stammered Abigail.


“Nell!” exclaimed Hilda. “Don’t put the poor girl on the spot like that, or she really will be believing that we’re holy terrors!”


Nell grinned wickedly, her eyes shining. “Don’t mind me Abby, it must be being let out of the asylum having a bad effect on me.”


Hilda rolled her eyes. “Abby, you really will have to ignore Nell.”


Abigail smiled. “She talked about you both when I saw her at the end, mum that is. And everybody else since has said how much they owe to both of you and the school.”


“Abby, we’re not miracle workers Nell and I,” said Hilda with a smile. “We simply believe that everyone is able to achieve their full potential, and we only encouraged them in the right direction.”


“But…” began Abigail.


“But nothing, change must come from within. Whilst people may have been praising us and the school, I would assume that they have been overlooking their own roles in the process. There was only so much that either of us could do, we could only help, point people in the right direction and then stand back and watch which way they would go.”


“Mum, she said that you were both always there for her.”


“Part of the job remit Abby,” said Nell. “But your mother was a very unique person. Remember, we first met her when she was younger than you. There are remarkable similarities between the two of you, but I suppose you’ve been told that so often.”


Abigail nodded. “Auntie Jo was the first person to tell me that.”


Nell smiled gently. “She would. She wouldn’t have been the first to notice, but she would be the first one to ignore convention and tell you.”


“I wish I’d had the chance to really get to know her. It’s always been me and dad and I never minded, I always knew we were different from other families but being at Auntie Jo’s this weekend has made me realise more than ever just how much I’ve missed out on by only having dad,” Abby paused, wondering how to put her thoughts into words. “It’s like, in a way, I’m happy that she didn’t stay as she would have been unhappy, only I can’t help but wonder what might have been if she had stayed.”


Hilda reached across the table and took Abigail’s hand in her own. “That’s something we all wonder Abby and it’s something nobody can ever answer. I know it’s hard, but it’s best not to dwell too much on it. What’s done is done and can never be changed. I often wonder how different it would have been if I’d been told that my mother had been ill before she died, whether things would have been different between us; as it is, it’s something I will never know as I was never told.” Hilda broke off, some aspects of the past were a different country and often not one she enjoyed visiting.


“With you mother,” added Nell sensing Hilda’s discomfort and taking the initiative. “It was hard for her, you have to remember that she grew up without a father. Seeing Robert with you was incredibly difficult for her because it reminded her that she’d never had the chance to know her father. She was already hurting a lot Abby, hurting because she felt that she couldn’t love you, and hurting because she realised how much she’d missed out on with her father.”


“I never thought of it like that,” said Abigail slowly. “Everybody talks about how she left because she felt that she couldn’t be the mother I deserved; but the fact that I made her miss her father all the more never cropped up.”


“Nobody ever expected you to Abby,” put in Hilda. “She only ever told us about it, nobody else knew unless they had worked it out for themselves and kept it quiet. What you must remember though Abby, is that your mother did love you and you were very much a wanted child and if she could see you now she would be incredibly proud of you. But please, you mustn’t be afraid to ask if ever there is anything you ever want or need to know. Nell and I will always be at the other end of a letter, or a phone call and for as long as we are here; we will be here for you. We may not always have the answers, but we are always willing to listen. I can only imagine that this must be a very confusing time for you to suddenly get to know your mother only after her death.”


“It is a bit,” replied Abigail with a weak smile as she tried to blink away the tears. “I’ve spent my whole life knowing nothing about her, or almost nothing, and then all of a sudden there’s so much information coming at me. And everyone keeps telling me how like her I am.”


Nell grinned back at the girl. “You most certainly look like her, before that ghastly tobogganing accident with Emmy Hope anyway. Has Jo told you the full yarn there?”


Abigail nodded. “I liked the bit where she found out that Dr, Uncle Jack, told her she couldn’t look like a skinned rabbit as she didn’t have a rabbity mouth.”


Nell laughed. “She was always one to stand out from the crowd, and she certainly did not have a rabbity mouth!” Abigail giggled at Nell’s emphatic statement.


“Jo’s back,” said Hilda suddenly looking up. “Abby, my dear, no matter what may happen, you must remember that you are never alone.”

Chapter 9 - Naomi Lends A Hand by pim

It was with a slight reluctance that Abigail boarded the train later that afternoon at Armiford station. The weekend had certainly given her food for thought, and she spent the journey gazing out of the window at the passing countryside allowing the thoughts to run freely around her head. Her encounters over the weekend had now begun to fill in some of the blanks in her mind and she was beginning to build a clearer picture of the mother she had never known. She glanced idly at the books she had brought back from Jo’s with her. She had decided that, after all, Cecily Holds the Fort hadn’t been too bad on a second read; it was certainly different from anything she had ever read before but now it was different in a nice way. Maybe it had been a bit old fashioned but she suddenly realised that it was that she liked; it was a way of escaping the real world and entering into somewhere where she felt safe, as though no one could ever hurt her. It was a world of happy endings, where the good would always triumph over the bad and everything would work out. Her thoughts turned to her own school. She knew that she was happy enough there but the stories she’d heard over the course of the weekend had made her think long and hard about some of the prejudices and intolerances which existed amongst her peers and made some people’s school experience far from pleasant. She picked up the top book on the pile, Nancy meets a Nazi, which Jo had told her was loosely based on her own experiences at the hands of the Nazis when the school had been in the Tyrol. Abigail was only too glad that she had never had to live through anything like that.

 

Robert stood impatiently on York station his eyes flickering to the platform clock every few seconds willing it on that little bit faster. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to explain what he’d done but all he knew was that he wanted the train to arrive so he could get it over and done with. He heard the announcement to warn him of the train arriving and peered precariously over the platform edge to see if there were any sign of it. On seeing nothing he resumed his pacing of the platform not noticing the curious stares of other passengers awaiting the train. He eventually picked up on the sound of the approaching engine and heaved a sigh as the train pulled into the platform. His eyes anxiously scanned the descending crowds for his daughter hoping that she had managed to make all her connections without any problems. He was so involved in staring wildly about the crowd that he didn’t notice Abigail until she practically bowled him over in her enthusiasm to see him.

 

“Good weekend?” he asked giving her a hug.

“Lovely,” she replied enthusiastically. “It’s been really nice.”

 

Robert took her bags from her and they made their way over the bridge and out of the station to the car park with Abigail chattering away about the weekends events. He loaded up the boot and the climbed into the front of the car.

 

“Abby,” he said as he started the engine. “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

“What?” asked Abigail half nervous, half curious as Robert reversed out of the parking space.

“I’m afraid it’s something you probably aren’t going to like, but it’s not definite as yet.”

“We’re not moving are we?”

“No, nothing like that, well not quite anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“Abby, you see, it’s like this…”

“Dad, will you just tell me please? All this beating about the bush over it isn’t helping.”

Robert took a deep breath. “I entered you for the Chalet School.”

“You did WHAT?” exclaimed Abigail.

“It’s not definite, the Head has only accepted you provisionally so if you don’t want to go then you don’t have to.”

“What on earth possessed you to do that?”

“I have no idea Abby, I truly don’t. I wish I could explain why but I just don’t know what came over me. You don’t have to go.”

Abigail stared blankly out of the window unsure what to say. “Dad, I can’t believe you just went and did that.”

“I’m sorry, it’s all I can say.”

Abigail paused again, the silence was awkward. “Well, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,” she conceded.

“Is that a yes or a no?”

“That’s an I don’t know. You have to admit dad, this is all a bit out of the blue. After all you always insisted that you’d never send me to a boarding school, let alone an all girls one.”

“I know, I know,” replied Robert exasperatedly.

“But on the other hand, I’ve heard so much about there this weekend and it doesn’t seem all bad to be perfectly honest.”

“What are you saying Abby?”

“I’m not sure, but I think I might quite like to give it a whirl. That’s not a definite decision dad, I’d like a couple of days to mull it over if that’s okay.”

“So long as you reach a decision by Friday.”

“I think I will do.”

“Are you angry with me?”

Abigail shook her head. “I just wish you’d discussed it with me first rather than haring off and doing things off your own bat though! You’re such a typical know all doctor at times!”

Robert laughed. “Comes with the job territory I’m afraid.”

 

 

Abigail glanced anxiously over the top of her book at the clock on the wall of the living room. Her father was late, but he hadn’t said he was going to be. She knew that if she'd still been out with her friends she wouldn't have known and therefore wouldn't be worrying. But she'd come home after having had enough of the boys teasing about the Chalet School. It was Wednesday and she hadn't quite reached a decision yet, she was leaning in a definite direction but just needed that final push. She sighed and glanced down at her book again not really seeing the words that swarmed on the page in front of her. Hearing the familiar crunch of tyres on the gravel of the drive she breathed a sigh of relief, laid her copy of Werner of the Alps on the coffee table and got up to go and greet her father, only he wasn't alone. She didn't recognise the dark woman with the slight limp, but something about her appealed to Abigail.

"You're late dad," she reproached laughingly as Robert entered the house.
"And you never are?" he teased giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
"I was worried," she returned. "You hadn't said you were going to be late."
Robert paused. "What are you doing here at this time anyway? I don't usually see you until somebody's mother throws you out."
Abigail flushed. "I had a row with the boys, they wouldn't stop teasing so I decided to come home until they matured and accepted that I might be going to boarding school."
"Talking of that," Robert turned to the woman behind him. "Sorry I've been rude and not introduced you. Abby, this is Naomi Elton, an old friend of your mother's."
"It's lovely to meet you again," said Naomi stepping forward. "I haven't seen you since you were a newborn and were sick on me," she added with a grin.
"Oh it was you she was sick on," exclaimed Robert.
"Dad!" wailed Abigail.
"Sorry darling," he said ruffling her hair. "Only teasing. I'm going to go and make some phone calls. Why don't you put the kettle on and then you can have a good chat."

With that he left the room leaving Abigail and Naomi studying each other curiously.

 

“Why don’t I… I mean, why don’t you…” stammered Abigail, unsure what to do.

“How about we sort ourselves some drinks,” suggested Naomi putting her own nerves to one side and attempting to hide them. “Is there any water in the kettle?” She turned to Abigail. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I… I don’t mean to sound rude, but your hair wasn’t that colour at the funeral, was it?”

Naomi laughed. “You’re not being rude, and no it wasn’t. I just thought it was time for a change.”

“Oh right,” mumbled Abigail flushing furiously. “Um, there should be some water in the kettle.” She crossed the kitchen to hunt out a mug and glass from the dresser. “Do you want tea or coffee?” she asked opening the fridge to find the milk.

“Coffee is fine, the Chalet School used to serve up the best coffee going,” she said reminiscently as Abigail poured herself a glass of milk. “Have you reached a decision on that front yet?”

“Sorry?” replied Abigail, a note of shock in her voice causing her to spill the milk over the work top. She reached quickly for the tea towel to try and mop it up. “Did dad…?”

“Yes, I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“Don’t be,” muttered Abigail, putting the tea towel away and switching the kettle on. “He didn’t tell me you were coming so I don’t know what he would have told you.”

“Do you mind me being here?”

“No, of course not, it’s always nice to meet more people who knew her. It’s like making a collage, or a jigsaw, or something. And besides I’ve heard so much about you.”

“You have?” asked Naomi, slightly shocked and blushing a vivid shade of red. “I suppose, then, that you’ve heard what an ass I was when I first started at the Chalet School then?”

“I wouldn’t say you were an ass,” replied Abigail reaching for the coffee pot. “From what Auntie Jo’s told me, you had good reason to be one.”

 

The slightly stunned ensuing silence between them was broken as the kettle clicked to say it was boiled. Brought back to reality Abigail made up Naomi’s coffee and then suggested that they go through and talk in the living room.

 

They settled down in the living room, Abigail curled in the corner of the settee, knees under her chin, Naomi sitting in the rocking chair by the window stirring her coffee thoughtfully.

 

“What did you think of the Chalet School?” Abigail asked suddenly.

“I think I would have liked it more had I not been such an ass to begin with, I really didn’t make life very easy for myself. But I was so bitter about everything that had happened o me I couldn’t see the error of my ways. Your mother helped me a lot to come to terms with what had happened. She managed to get through to me where no one else ever had before during the half term trip to St Moritz.”

“That was the one with the avalanche wasn’t it?”

“How did you….”

“Auntie Verity.”

“Of course.”

“She never told me much though, dad didn’t like people talking to me about her. It never really bothered me, and then she died and suddenly everyone wanted to talk about her. I’m glad really, but I just wish… I’d had the chance to know her properly, to find out for myself. I don’t mind everybody talking about her, I like it, I suppose it’s the next best thing to knowing her myself.”

“She was… special, your mother. I wish we’d stayed in better contact as time went by, but it just got too difficult. She was never in one place long enough to pin down and I have enough on my plate with my work at the Royal Ballet.”

“You wanted to be a dancer didn’t you? Auntie Jo said.”

“I did, it was all I ever wanted to do until the fire that robbed me of my parents robbed me of my one true dream. After all the surgery and everything, when I felt strong enough to work it was Mary-Lou who pushed me in the direction of working for them. She helped me to learn to dream again, you should never give up on your dreams. I wasted too many years being bitter over not being able to dance, and I shouldn’t have.”

“But you had reason to,” said Abigail thoughtfully. “I honestly don’t know how I would have managed if I’d been in your shoes, badly probably.”

“I was managing badly,” replied Naomi with a smile. “Until I went to the Chalet School and met your mother. It’s a wonderful place to go if you decide to do so.”

“Do you think I should? I’ve only heard such wonderful things about her that I can’t help but think that I’ve got an awful lot to live up to. I know people say we’re alike, but that could be a good or a bad thing. Didn’t she have any bad points?”

Naomi laughed. “Bossy, forever sticking her nose in, a little too full of herself on occasion. But once you got past that, she really was something special.”

 

“I suppose it’s nice to know that she had her faults,” smiled Abigail. “Everybody’s been painting this picture of perfection of her and…” She broke off as the telephone rang. “I’ll be right back,” she said leaping up to go and answer it.

 

Naomi watched Abigail vanish from the room and sighed to herself. It was easy to see the comparisons between mother and daughter, not only in their physical appearances. She’d noticed Abigail’s way of thinking things over, of digging below the surface, and the way that things sometimes slipped out without quite meaning them to. She heard Abigail giggle on the phone and address the person on the other end as ‘Auntie Vi’. Viola Lucy of course, Naomi thought to herself, Mary-Lou’s best friend at school. There was a silence before she heard Abigail calling to her father to answer the phone.

 

“Sorry about that,” said Abigail with a grin as she re-entered and settled back on the sofa. “Only Auntie Vi for dad, honestly those two are always on the phone nattering away these days. She seems to be good for him though. Anyway, why don’t you tell me more about the Chalet School?”

 

They spent an enjoyable hour or so with Naomi recounting some of the exploits from her sole term at the school. Abigail listened enraptured at the half term trip to St Moritz, giggled at the Middles’ lost property trick and felt an empathy as Naomi tried to explain how she’d overcome her deep rooted problems. Neither had noticed the passing of time until Robert poked his head around the door to say that dinner was ready. They shared an enjoyable dinner together. Listening to Naomi’s laughter, Abigail struggled to reconcile her with the girl she had been when she’d arrived at the Chalet School, but every now and again something would flicker across Naomi’s eyes which would point her in the right direction. Abigail excused herself from after dinner conversation around ten to go to bed. At her request Robert followed her up a short while later to say goodnight.

 

“Dad,” she said when he poked his head around her door. “I think I’ve reached a decision.”

Robert crossed the room and perched on her bed as he had done so often “Go ahead then.”

“I’d quite like to go to the Chalet School, you can phone Miss Wilmot and tell her so.”

Robert reached out to stroke his daughter’s hair. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Quite sure dad, it seems I’ve got a lot to live up to, but I want to.”

Chapter 10 - Filling In The Blanks by pim

So many days I stood on the beach at the water’s edge willing the gently lapping waves to stop before they reached the toes of my shoes. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and I would have to run back quickly to avoid getting wet. It was there that I went to find my peace, staring out at that vast, empty sea I knew that there were more powerful forces in life that I could not control, and that I would never be able to control. It was on one of those days that I met Megan, to whom I owe so much. The beach was empty that afternoon, I stood at the water’s edge mulling things over and had been so lost in my thoughts I only noticed her sitting at the top of the beach huddled up in a black hooded sweater and jeans. I was struck for a moment that I shouldn’t interfere, but I couldn’t help myself, I was fifteen years old again and wanting to help. As I approached her the look of sadness on her face told me I was doing the right thing. She was unresponsive at first but I’d never yet allow that kind of thing to bother me. Eventually I realised that I had seen her around the village a few times and knew that she went to the nearby High School. Her mother had died a couple of weeks previously, as soon as she mentioned the name I remembered reading it in the local paper. As I sat listening to Megan my thoughts kept turning to Abigail, the daughter I had left behind so I could continue to follow my dreams. I’d often thought about Abigail but talking to Megan it hit me suddenly that once I was gone Abigail would have no memories of me to share as Megan was doing now. I realised in those few moments everything that I had missed out on, at the time I’d thought I was doing the right thing but now I wasn’t so sure.


 


Vi laid down Mary-Lou’s papers having read the final words. She wondered about Megan briefly and where she would be now, how she would be coping. But then her thoughts turned back to Abigail. She wasn’t sure how reading this would affect her. Vi left the living room and rang the one number she knew would be able to help her.


 


 


Naomi left the following morning with Robert as he went to work. Abigail stood half asleep in her pyjamas waving them off from the living room window. She glanced at her watch as the car disappeared from sight, it was still only eight o’clock, far too early to be up. Giving a half sigh, she curled up in the corner of the settee and switched the television on, wondering what to do with herself for the rest of the day. Having made the decision the previous evening to go to the Chalet School she wasn’t sure that she wanted to spend the day with the boys, they wouldn’t understand. She gazed at the screen not really seeing anything beyond the flickering movements on it, ordinarily she would be engrossed in the breakfast news but this morning she just couldn’t concentrate on the stories flashing before her eyes. The morning’s paper landed with a thud on the mat and she went to collect it to read over breakfast, but as with the news she found herself gazing meaninglessly at the pages of the Guardian, watching the words swim before her eyes not taking any of it in. Playing with her cornflakes she realised that once term started things would never be the same again.


 


 


“Okay then, thank you for letting me know, I’ll be in touch,” and with those words Nancy Wilmot laid the receiver back onto its cradle with a clatter.


“Anyone exciting?” asked Kathie Ferrars as she entered Nancy’s study, her arms piled high with text books and correspondence. “The post’s just come.”


Nancy groaned and rolled her eyes. “Wonderful,” she said with a hint of sarcasm.


“So who was on the phone then?”


“Robert Fenchurch.”


“Oh?” asked Kathie raising an eyebrow as she piled everything precariously on to Nancy’s desk.


“Oh Kathie must you,” said Nancy as she reached out to grab hold of the books to prevent them from toppling over.


“Sorry,” muttered Kathie looking guilty. “What did he want anyway?”


“Apparently Abigail’s decided that she’d like to take up her place here,” replied Nancy as she sat down, cautiously eyeing the pile of text books.


“Oh right,” said Kathie as she pulled a chair across to Nancy’s desk.


“Apparently it was all her own decision. She’ll be in the third form with Vi Warrington’s daughter.”


“Livia?”


“Yes, apparently Abigail and Livia have already met and spent some time together this summer.”


“Well at least she’ll know somebody then. Who else is in that form? Is it Anya Martin, Jinny MacDonald and that crowd?”


Nancy reached across her desk and pulled out the sheaf of form lists. “Yes, and going on their end of last term results, I think they’ll all be going into the A division again, even Livia managed to scrape the necessary grades. Obviously I don’t know anything about Abigail’s standard of work, but I’d like to think that if she’s anything like Mary-Lou she’ll easily be able to cope with the A division. That, of course, would be good news for Joanna Williamson since her form position puts her in only just in A, but she’s really not quite up to the standard there. Kathie, are you listening to me?”


Kathie looked up from staring at the floor whilst idly chewing the ends of her hair. “Sorry?” she asked. “No, I wasn’t I’m afraid. I was just thinking.”


“Careful,” warned Nancy with a smile.


Kathie pulled a face. “Hush. It was a serious think.”


Nancy raised her eyebrows. “Care to share?”


“It was just about Abigail, and Mary-Lou of course, and me,” Kathie coloured a little.


“Kathie?”


“Well, it’s just, you know how when I first started teaching here I had a few run ins with Mary-Lou and we didn’t exactly see eye to eye,” Kathie broke off and twisted her fingers nervously. “Well what if…”


“What if you find yourself feeling the same way about Abigail?” finished Nancy.


 


 


Jo Maynard hung up the phone and rejoined her husband at breakfast. She prodded the now somewhat soggy cornflakes thoughtfully before pushing them to one side.


 


“Who on earth was on the phone at this ungodly hour of the morning?” asked Jack glancing up from his newspaper.


“Hmm? Sorry, what did you say?”


Jack shook his head and gave a despairing half sigh. “I was just wondering who was on the phone.”


“Vi Lucy, Warrington,” replied Jo correcting herself.


“Oh right,” mumbled Jack deciding against asking any further and returning to his newspaper.


 


Jo took a sip of her now almost cold tea and mulled over the conversation she’d had with Vi, they mysterious Megan arousing her curiosity.


 


 


Vi returned to Mary-Lou’s notes a little happier and a little clearer. She’d known what to do really, she’d just been seeking confirmation if she was honest with herself. She read the words through again. I realised in those few moments everything that I had missed out on, at the time I’d thought I was doing the right thing but now I wasn’t so sure. Of course Abigail had the right to see those words. It didn’t matter how many times people tried to explain events to Abigail and tried to put her mother’s feelings into words, Vi knew that it would only be in Mary-Lou’s own words that she would truly understand.


 


 


Kathie nodded. “I know it’s silly, but…”


Nancy regarded her friend for a moment. “Well, not exactly silly, maybe you do have some justification for it. But in all honesty Kathie, you’re a lot older and wiser now; and besides Abigail is much younger than Mary-Lou was when you first met her.”


“I know that, but I can’t help…”


“Kathie,” Nancy interrupted sternly. “Will you stop being such a ninny?”


Kathie stopped and stared at her friend. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I know that things are different now, but I can’t help worrying a little.”


Nancy smiled. “Of course you can’t,” she said comfortingly.


Kathie looked at the precariously balanced text book pile on Nancy’s desk. “I should go and do something with those geography books,” she said standing up and gathering them into her arms. “I’ll see you for lunch.”


“Alright then, see you later,” said Nancy not noticing that the worried look hadn’t quite left her friend’s face.


 


Walking along the corridor Kathie tried to reason sternly to herself that things wouldn’t be the same this time around, but somehow she couldn’t quite convince herself. She knew it was silly but she couldn’t help being niggled by her resurfacing feelings.


 


 


The next few weeks passed Abigail by in a blur as things were organised around her for going to school. She pored over the prospectus trying to fit all the information it gave into her head. She wouldn’t ever admit it to anyone but the thought of surviving in French and German only on certain days of the week terrified her; her French was only shaky and she’d never done any German. She did wonder as well where she’d find the time to fit in some of her more non-conventional activities, she didn’t think the school would look too fondly on her wanting to go off and protest about whatever cause caught her attention next. She and Robert spent the weekend with Vi and her daughters a fortnight before term was due to start during which she begged any information she could from Cathlin and Livia. Ruth would occasionally wander into their conversation to add or correct something, before adding with a sigh that there were times she wished she were going back to school and not Cambridge.


 


“Silly Ruth,” grinned Cathlin on one of those occasions. “Of course you want to go back to Cambridge, you’d look a bit silly being nineteen and still at school when you clearly aren’t.”


Ruth pulled a face in return to Cathlin’s comment. “I know I do, but it is okay to be nostalgic you know,” she said aiming a friendly punch at her younger sister.


“Hey,” exclaimed Cathlin taking aim with her cushion.


“Oh you two,” groaned Livia rolling her eyes as Ruth pulled Cathlin off the sofa with a wild shriek. “Come on Abby, let’s leave the children to it.”


 


Abigail gave a half smile to Ruth and Cathlin who were engaged in what appeared to be a free fight on the living room floor and, not for the first time, found herself with that slight pang of jealousy again. She’d always had friends, but never siblings, something she’d often wanted. Over the course of that weekend she learned to overcome her initial impressions of Livia as a bit of an airhead. Livia herself would be the first to admit that Ruth and Tacy, who would be going into upper sixth that year and applying for Oxford, had got the family brains; but it was Cathlin and Livia who had inherited Vi’s artistic skills. Abigail had marvelled at some of the work they’d produced, she herself being more scientifically inclined as she intended to follow in her father’s footsteps.


 


Jo Maynard had also been having a busy time of late having persuaded Jack that they needed a weekend break, and so they’d come to the tiny village where Mary-Lou had spent her last months. Having dispatched Jack to the nearest golf course she was able to concentrate on her own intentions for coming. She’d spent her Saturday morning in the library reading over back issues of the local paper, scouring the obituary pages for Megan’s mother. It had been a long job since she’d had no idea when Mary-Lou had first met Megan but eventually Jo decided that she’d found the right obituary. Having treated herself to lunch in the village café she went for a walk along the beach to clear her head after her morning’s research. It was one of those perfect days with the sea as flat as a pancake and shimmering in a pale blue colour stretching on forever to the mistily defined horizon with the sky. Standing at the water’s edge Jo felt an irrepressible urge to have a paddle and kicked off her sandals to do so. As the cool water lapped around her ankles she suddenly became aware of somebody standing close to her.


 


 


Kathie Ferrars had also talked herself into taking a weekend’s break and had gone back to the house where she had grown up in the Cotswolds. Her aunt and uncle had died a few years ago now and the house had passed down to her. She knew why she was here, there were ghosts from the past to be laid to rest. The diary she’d kept during her first year teaching at the Chalet School had certainly seen better days but it was the content that mattered, not the condition.


 


 


Jo turned as she heard the splash of a pebble skimming across the glass like surface of the water. Her eyes rested on a dark haired girl of around thirteen or so with a faraway expression on her face. She wasn’t sure if this was the girl she’d come looking for or not. Jo stepped out of the water and picked up a relatively flat looking pebble which she attempted to skim, it landed with a solitary splash. She turned and grinned irrepressibly at the girl beside her.


 


“You’re much better at this than me.” The girl gave a half smile and let go of another stone with enviable ease and Jo watched it skip across the water’s surface. “How about you show me how to do that?” The girl stared at Jo wide eyed. “Seriously.”


 


The girl shrugged and crossed the few steps difference to Jo and began explaining what to do.


 


 


“I can’t believe it’s only two weeks until the start of term,” said Vi to Robert that afternoon as they sat in her garden with the day’s papers. Robert nodded and shrugged. “I suppose it’ll be strange for you not having Abby around.”


“It’ll be quieter,” he said with a smile. “But strange, yes. Although, at least I won’t be worrying constantly about where she is and what she’s up to.”


“Oh those worries don’t stop,” replied Vi smiling. “I never stop worrying about what mad scheme will enter my girls’ brains to try out next, especially Cathlin. They don’t tell me themselves of course, it usually comes out in their reports, mind you there have been occasions they’ve cared to share some of their wilder exploits.”


“Did you share that sort of thing with your parents?”


“Most things, besides we knew that if we didn’t tell them then Jo Maynard would, the perils of her being good pals with your parents really.”


Robert chuckled. “Do you get used to not having them around?”


“No, not really, it gets easier as time goes on but you never completely get used to it. These last two years have been the hardest only having Alexis at home, it’ll be harder when she goes next year. I don’t think I’ll quite know what to do with myself. Ruth only has short terms at Cambridge, and Tacy will as well if she gets to Oxford, so that makes it easier having them around and the beginning and end of term and that shortens the time to half term. And of course it was easier when Hugh was alive,” Vi broke off, her eyes met Robert’s and they both smiled. “Listen at me,” she said brushing away the tears that had begun to form. “Five years down the line and still inclined to weep when I mention his name.”


 


 


It’s been a few days since half term and already it’s blurring into memory. I’d have written about it before but I fell into Matey’s clutches having wrenched my shoulder at Wahlstein. It was all Mary-Lou’s fault, but of course if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t be here now. Let’s just say it may be the last time I visit a glacier for a while if they’re going to do that sort of thing to me again! All I remember was Mary-Lou grabbing me by the arm and I flipped at her for having the nerve to do that and when I turned round there was a great big hole where I’d been standing only a moment before. She doesn’t know what possessed her to grab me at that point but I’m so glad that she did, especially since she wrenched her back again doing that. In all honestly I feel a bit of an idiot for having been so off with her all term now; I’m sure some of her habits may continue to grate on me but really I have been an utter ninny.


 


Kathie flung her diary across the room telling herself sternly that this time around it was all going to be so different. Picking up the ill treated book she reminded herself that a lot of water had passed under the bridge since then; she’d grown up and had so much more experience, and Abigail was younger than Mary-Lou had been. Kathie knew that she wouldn’t make the same mistake again.


 


 


In Livia’s room she and Abigail could still hear the wild shrieks of Ruth and Cathlin coming from downstairs so they guessed that the pair hadn’t quite resolved their fight. Livia pulled her photograph album down from the shelf and explained various members of her form to Abigail and retold some of their wilder exploits and madder pranks. Thanks to her mother Livia also knew some of the legends that had passed into school memory and was able to bring those in as well. Abigail sat and listened fascinated by it all, it was so far removed from her own school experience.


 


 


“I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of this,” said Jo as another stone plopped straight into the water without skimming.


The girl shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”


“Thanks for trying to show me anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t be trying to acquire new skills at my time of life.”


“My nan used to be able to do this,” said the girl. “She taught my mum, who taught me.”


Jo bit her lip, knowing that it was now or never. “I know this is going to sound a bit rude and odd,” she said. “But are you Megan Webb?”


The girl stared at Jo for a moment. “Yes I am, but how… why…?”


 


 


“I’m sorry,” said Vi suddenly pulling away from the comforting arm Robert had slipped around her shoulder and dabbing furiously at her eyes. “I didn’t mean to go off weeping like that on you. It’s the last thing you need really.”


“Oh come on Vi, you’ve done the same for me of late, only without the weeping, but you’ve been there when I’ve needed you.”


“That’s what friends are for,” said Vi pointedly.


 


Although neither of them realised it at the time, something in their relationship changed there.


 


 


 


“Just a lucky guess in the first instance, but I have been looking for you” replied Jo in response to Megan’s question.


Megan took a cautious step back and eyed Jo warily. “Why…?”


“Oh dear,” said Jo. “It does all sound really rather strange.”


“Who are you?” asked Megan.


“Me? Oh goodness, I hadn’t realised I’d not introduced myself. My name’s Jo Maynard, I was a friend of Mary-Lou Trelawney’s, I believe you knew her.”


“I did, yes, she… she was very good to me. But I still don’t understand why you’re here and what this is all about.”


Jo glanced at her watch, she still had a couple of hours to spare before Jack would finish his game of golf. “How about we talk about it over tea and cakes?”


 


Megan led Jo to the village tearooms as Jo tried to explain Mary-Lou’s notes that Robert and Vi had found and were working on to try and come up with something for Abigail.


 


“That’s a nice idea,” said Megan. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d not had mum, I mean nan’s great and all that, but it’s not the same.”


“What about your father?”


Megan paled a little and bit her lip, but something in Jo’s face made her want to talk. “I haven’t really seen him since I was six,” she said with a shrug. “He left mum for somebody else, and didn’t want to know after that, even when she died,” Megan broke off there. “I’m sorry, she said, “it’s not something I like to talk about.”


“I’m sorry for asking,” said Jo. “I didn’t realise.”


“It’s not your fault.”


They sat in silence for a few moments before Jo decided to break it. “Megan, would you like to help us in putting together a picture of Mary-Lou for Abby? Helping with Vi’s project I mean.”


“Yes, I would.”


 


 


Kathie picked up the wine bottle to refill her glass only to find it empty. She’d been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed how much she’d had to drink. With a sigh she stood up and took the empty bottle and glass through to the kitchen, a quick glance at the clock told her it was too early to have consumed so much. The words she’d written so long ago continued to haunt her. I can’t believe that ass Mary-Lou, she really does have no idea what’s so awful about her and is blinkered to her faults. The things she gets away with are unbelievable and everyone just laughs it off and says ‘it’s only Mary-Lou’. A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts as she went to answer it.


 


“Nancy,” she said, half with relief, half worried, seeing her friend on the doorstep. “What are you doing here?”


“I was worried about you,” replied Nancy as she entered the house. “You just took off without letting me know where you were going, I only realised a few hours ago.”


“How did you know I was here?”


“Where else would you go Kathie?” Kathie said nothing in reply, only hung her head. “What’s eating you?” Her friend’s silence spoke volumes. “Mary-Lou still?” Kathie nodded slowly and sat down on the stairs. “Oh Kathie,” said Nancy softly sitting beside her friend and slipping a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Why didn’t you say something before?”


“It… it just seems so silly. I’ve reasoned with myself ‘til I can’t take it anymore, but there’s still something that won’t stop niggling. I just don’t want it to happen all over again.”


“Kathie,” Nancy backed away slightly on smelling her friend’s breath. “It won’t happen again, and you know why, because you’ve got me this time. You’re not the shy new mistress who didn’t feel she could turn to anyone now, if you don’t feel you can come to me about this then there’s something very wrong in this friendship.”


Kathie blinked back the tears that were forming and buried her head in her hands. ”Thank you,” she whispered from between her fingers. “I just needed to know I wasn’t on my own.”


“Just one more question Kathie, how much have you had to drink?” asked Nancy with a smile.


Kathie scrubbed her eyes furiously and flushed. “Just a bottle of wine.”


“I thought as much, I should have known there’d be a good excuse for you weeping like this.”


 


Kathie replied with a friendly punch and then proposed that they move somewhere more comfortable. Spotting her much abused diary on the side in the kitchen she took the executive decision to drop it into the bin. There was absolutely no reason for the past repeating itself and she knew that if it did there was someone she could turn to.

Epilogue by pim
Author's Notes:

With apologies to Don McLean

Abigail lay back on her bed listening to the music filling her room and reflecting that this time tomorrow everything would be so different. It was the last night she would spend in her own room until Christmas. I’ve got nothing on my mind, nothing to remember, nothing to forget, I’ve got nothing to regret. She was sure that she’d made the right decision about going to school, but, at the same time, the change was so huge she couldn’t help but be a little wary. But I’m all tied up on the inside, no one knows quite what I’ve got. And I know that on the outside, what I used to be I’m not anymore. Thinking back over the last few months she couldn’t believe how much her life had changed, how much the others around her had changed, and more importantly, how much she herself had changed. You know I’ve heard about people like me but I never made the connection, they walk one road to set them free and find they’ve gone the wrong direction. This time twelve months ago she’d been back at her state school wondering which cause to take up the fight for next. She’d known only the bare essentials of a mother who had left her as a baby, but now she’d been told so much she felt as though she really knew her. But there’s no need for turning back ‘cos all roads lead to where I stand and I believe I’ll walk them all no matter what I may have planned. She might never fully understand her mother’s reasoning to do the things she had, but she no longer blamed her, any negative feelings she’d built up over the years were fading. Can you remember who I was? Can you still feel it? Can you find my pain? Can you heal it? Then lay your hands upon me now and cast this darkness from my soul. At the time of her mother’s death she hadn’t known how she was supposed to feel, she still wasn’t. It hurt for so many reasons, the more she was told about her mother, the more painful it became to know that she would never get to know her properly. You alone can light my way, you alone can make me whole once again. Everything in Abigail’s existence had changed so rapidly, the boundaries had all changed and things were no longer so clear and safe as they once had been. We’ve walked both sides of every street through all kinds of windy weather but that was never our defeat as long as we could walk together. Robert put his head around Abigail’s door, after a few seconds she became aware of him there and they grinned at each other. She may never have had her mother, but she had always had her father. So there’s no need for turning back ‘cos all roads lead to where we stand and I believe we’ll walk them all no matter what we may have planned.

This story archived at http://www.sallydennylibrary.co.uk/viewstory.php?sid=218