An enthralling tale of the enduring power of friendship, SUMMER AT SEASTONE is the latest mesmerising tale of drama and intrigue from Judith Lennox, the author of HIDDEN LIVES and THE SECRETS BETWEEN US. Not to be missed by readers of Rachel Hore and Kate Morton.
Every summer Bea, Marissa and Emma meet at Seastone, Emma's family home on the remote Suffolk coast, to retreat from their daily lives and take comfort in their friendship. Over the years, their paths have not been easy. For Bea, the aftermath of a broken-hearted love affair influences the decisions she makes. For Marissa, the fear that her traumatic past will catch up with her haunts her still. And, for Emma, the sacrifices she has made for her family leave her full of longing and regret . . .
At Seastone, Emma's extraordinary mother, Tamar, is on hand to offer support and encouragement, but Tamar harbours her own heartrending secret that stems from a brief encounter during the Second World War. Coming together as friends each summer, these courageous women gain the strength to face the challenges that lie ahead...
(p) 2023 Headline Publishing Group Ltd
Release date: January 19, 2023
Print pages: 448
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Summer at Seastone
She imagined blue skies for this Channel crossing, sunlight dancing on waves. But the sky is grey and rain is spitting and she can’t yet see the sea. It’s pointless, this errand of hers, she thinks as the vehicles crawl forward. No, worse – it’s mad, and it’s a mistake. It’s arrogant of her to believe she has a hope of repairing this rift.
She could still change her mind. She doesn’t have to board the ferry. She flips on the windscreen wipers to clear away the rain, which is falling more heavily now, and bites her lip, weighing things up. She might make it worse. She could nip out of the queue, turn round and drive back out of Portsmouth. Sometimes, she tells herself, the best service a friend can give is to stand back and pick up the pieces. Sometimes you have to face the fact that the only thing you can do is to offer comfort and solace.
The car in front of her, a red Fiesta, stalls, and she brakes. She threads her fingers together, thinking, hardly conscious of the impatient hoots from behind her.
The three of them: Bea, Emma and Marissa. She thinks of all they’ve shared. She remembers how her friends have celebrated her joys and successes and consoled her in her grief. She owes them so much.
She scrabbles for a tissue in her handbag to rub away the steam from the windows. Sometimes, she thinks, a friend has to do whatever she can to help. Even if she makes a fool of herself, even if she risks putting her foot in it. This is one of those times. She has to try; she has to embark on this journey: it’s as simple as that.
At last the red Fiesta’s engine starts up and the queue begins to move again. For a moment she pauses, irresolute, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel. Then she puts her car into gear and drives forward onto the ferry.
He said, ‘They’re hungry today, don’t you think? They look like they could do with a sandwich.’ The boy standing on the far side of the pond was addressing Bea. He had black curly hair and an Irish accent, and his school blazer was grey to her brown. Her mother had told her not to walk home through the park in case of strange men, but Bea liked feeding the ducks and didn’t think this boy qualified as a strange man.
‘I keep the crusts from my packed lunch.’ She held out a piece of bread to him. ‘Would you like to give them some?’
‘That would be grand, yes, if you’re sure.’
‘I’m afraid they don’t get enough food, living here.’
‘I daresay other kind souls like yourself feed them.’
When he came to stand beside her, she saw that he was a lot taller than her. But then everyone was taller than her. Bea was seventeen and just about scraped five foot two in heels. She had inherited her dark hair and eyes from her French grandmother, and her petite vivacity from her mother, Vivien.
The boy threw a crust to a drab duck on the outside of the clacking circle. ‘Good shot,’ she said.
‘It’s one of my talents.’
‘Have you others?’
‘I can change a car tyre in twenty minutes.’
‘Goodness.’ When Bea’s father’s Wolseley had a puncture and he had to attend to it, it seemed to take him ages and much tutting.
‘I work in the garage after school and weekends,’ said the boy. ‘I’m on my way there now. You wouldn’t happen to have the time on you, would you? The winder’s gone on my watch.’
‘It’s half past four. I’m Beatrice,’ she said, offering him her hand. ‘Beatrice Meade. Bea, actually.’
‘Ciaran. That’s a nice name.’
‘Ciaran with a C. That’s the proper way of spelling it.’
‘I like your accent.’ A blush flooded her cheeks. ‘The way I speak is so boring, so . . . so out of date!’ Someone had once told her she spoke like Celia Johnson. Bea had tried to rid herself of her cut-glass vowels ever since, to her mother’s disapproval.
Ciaran laughed. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Which school do you go to?’
He gave her the name of the red-brick grammar she walked past each morning. He said, ‘You go to a posh private school, don’t you?’
‘How did you guess?’
He put his head to one side. ‘Your blazer. The handshake. It’ll be white sliced when I come here tomorrow.’ He said goodbye and walked away.
On her way home, Bea thought about Ciaran O’Neill. She hoped she would see him again.
The next day the weather was warmer. From time to time, during lessons and at break, she wondered whether he had meant it. Boys said things like that – see you, bye then – and the next time you encountered them they looked through you.
After the school day came to an end, she went to the park. She saw with a lift of her heart that he was standing by the pond. He had loosened his tie and slung his blazer over one shoulder.
‘Hello there, Bea!’ he called out. ‘Did you have a good day?’
She made a face, but quickly turned it into a smile. Her mother scolded her for making faces. You’re a pretty girl, Bea, so why do you make yourself look like a goblin? No boy wants a girl who scowls and grimaces.
‘We had to do a French translation and I got into a hopeless muddle with the subjunctive,’ she said.
‘Don’t the French themselves get into a muddle with the subjunctive?’
She laughed. ‘How about you?’
‘Chemistry practical test. It went all right, I think. Here.’ He took the end of a packet of Sunblest out of his pocket and offered it to her.
‘Do you want to be a scientist, Ciaran?’
‘Eventually, yes. I want to go to university to read chemistry.’ He lobbed a chunk of bread into the pond and the ducks dashed, quacking. ‘I’ll have to get good grades, though. If I make it, I’ll be the first in my family to go to university. What about you?’
‘I expect I’ll do a secretarial course.’
None of the girls from Bea’s school went to university. They did a secretarial course or a cordon bleu cookery course or they nannied for a suitable family or they went to a finishing school. Her mother said they couldn’t afford a finishing school, so Bea must do a secretarial course.
Ciaran said, ‘Is that what you want to do?’
No one had ever asked her this before. For as long as she could remember, her future had been mapped out for her. That the man she eventually married would be moneyed and from a good family was a necessity. If he were to have a title as well, her mother’s wildest dreams would be fulfilled. Bea’s pretty face and charm were the key to her glittering future. She was expected to meet this suitable boy at a cocktail party or on a weekend away. Failing that, she must complete the secretarial course and marry her boss, perhaps.
More and more her heart rebelled against a prospect that seemed out of date. When once she had expressed doubts, her mother had snapped at her. ‘You’ll run your house and you’ll support your husband and entertain his friends and bring up your children. What more do you want?’
So much more, Bea thought, though she didn’t dare say it. Though she enjoyed the parties her mother let her go to because she loved company and dancing, she knew that in this summer of 1970, in other parts of London not so very distant from her parents’ mansion flat in Maida Vale, far more exciting parties were going on. She pictured smoky dives where loud rock music played and psychedelic lights cast sliding coloured discs along the floor. The girls would be wearing clothes from Biba or Bus Stop and the men would be the sort her father disgustedly termed hippies before muttering about bringing back National Service. The air would be sweet with the smell of joss sticks and marijuana.
She said, ‘I don’t know. I like being with people.’
‘Maybe you could be a nurse,’ he said. ‘My sister Emer’s training to be a nurse. She loves it.’
‘Maybe I should.’ The idea appealed to her. Was it possible?
‘You’ll be great, Bea, whatever you do.’ Ciaran spoke as if it was not unreasonable for a girl like her to have ambitions.
On Friday, Ciaran bought her an ice cream from the van that stood by the park gates. He insisted on paying. Bea had noticed that his blazer was worn at the elbows and there was a patch on the knee of his trousers. She said she would buy the ices next time. When he protested, she said, ‘You have to let me. What about women’s lib?’
‘Fair enough. Sorry.’
They stood beneath the trees, eating their cornets. Green light filtered through the branches and flickered across his eyes, which were the deep blue of cornflowers. Go-to-bed eyes, her mother would have labelled them.
Today he was wearing a watch. ‘Did you mend it?’ she asked.
‘Fergal did. Fergal’s my brother; he can fix anything. I have to go, Bea. I want to get a full-time job at the garage over the summer, so I mustn’t be late. Gives a bad impression.’
‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ Immediately she regretted asking. Boys liked to do the running. Men tired quickly of demanding women. You should let a man chase you.
But instead of replying, he bent his head and brushed his lips against her cheek. ‘I’ve been wanting to do that ever since I first saw you at the pond,’ he said.
She moved a little so that he could kiss her mouth. His kiss tasted of vanilla. The city, the park reduced to the soft, dry touch of his lips on hers and the slight pressure of his hands on her hips. There was nothing else.
Though she had kissed boys before, playing sardines in a cold country house or escaping for a few stolen minutes from the watchful mothers at a party, none of those kisses were like Ciaran’s, which lit a fire inside her. Over the next few weeks, more kisses followed, each more blissful than the last, and soon they abandoned the duck pond for a patch of lawn screened by shrubs.
She fell for him so easily, so readily, it was as if she had been waiting for him, for his smile, for his voice with its soft Irish lilt and for his sweetness and generosity. Gloriously disorientated, she found herself headlong in love with him.
Ciaran lived in Notting Hill with his father and his elder brother. Both Mr O’Neill and Fergal were employed on building sites, though in the summer, Fergal worked on the motorways because the pay was better. Ciaran’s father was in Ireland just now, staying at the family farm in County Cork, so only Fergal and Ciaran were living in the flat. ‘It’s Fergal who wants me to go to university, not Dad,’ Ciaran told her. ‘Dad thinks it’s a waste of time. Fergal says one of us has to do well, and I’m the brainy one. He had to twist Dad’s arm to let me stay on. Fergal left school when he was fifteen to work with Dad. If he hadn’t taken my side, I’d have done the same. I’m lucky. I won’t be hauling a hod of bricks round a freezing building site in the middle of winter.’
Bea knew that her mother would disapprove of an Irish boy like Ciaran, so she didn’t say anything about him at home. She didn’t tell her friends about him either. She wasn’t sure why she held back. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them, and it wasn’t that she was ashamed, or afraid that they might think the worse of her for falling in love with the son of a labourer. Maybe it was because he was so special, special to her, that she didn’t want to share him.
Her friends fell in love with all sorts of men. Some had steady boyfriends, though none of them admitted to having gone all the way. They gleaned their information about sex from magazines like Honey and Petticoat and were all terrified of getting pregnant. They didn’t dare go on the Pill because they were afraid their doctors would scold them or tell their mothers. When they spoke of the possibility of pregnancy outside marriage, it was in a theoretical and alarming way. Someone knew a girl who had had to get married. Someone else had heard of a girl who had got rid of her unplanned pregnancy herself, using a knitting needle.
Bea and Ciaran talked about everything: about music and books and TV programmes and politics. He was a great reader of newspapers and lent her copies of Private Eye and Melody Maker. She felt her mind filling up with all sorts of new things. She told him how, when she was younger, she had longed for a brother or sister. Ciaran, who had four elder sisters back in Ireland as well as Fergal, said he had an excess of family and she could borrow a sister or two if she liked. His sisters were always poking their noses into his affairs. His mother had died when he was nine years old, and since then, Aislinn, Nora, Clodagh and Emer had taken it upon themselves to mother him. All four sisters wrote to him each week and expected a letter in return.
Ciaran was a dark smudge beneath a tree. Rain sheeted across the London streets, blurring the entrance to the park. They kissed as the rain pelted their heads.
‘Awful weather,’ Bea said. ‘What are we going to do?’
‘Fergal’s away, up in Birmingham, working on the roads. We could go to the flat if you don’t mind.’
‘Why should I mind?’
He gave a half-smile. ‘It’s not grand, Bea, that’s all.’
On the Underground train from Maida Vale to Ladbroke Grove, they stood face to face and kissed. Walking from the station to Notting Hill, they stopped to kiss some more. Rain drummed on the pavement and gathered in potholes in the road. She wanted to see where he lived because everything about him fascinated her and everything about him was attractive to her. They passed rows of small shops, a laundrette, a church where rivulets of water ran between weed-smothered gravestones. In an adventure playground, children roared round flimsy wooden climbing frames and rope swings, oblivious to the weather. Raindrops slid down the windows of a café, blurring the West Indian men and women sitting inside. Rain darkened the graffiti whitewashed on a wall: Power to the People. From the open door of a tall, thin house the beat of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ seemed to pulse in rhythm with the downpour. Two young men in patched jeans and torn singlets lounged in the doorway, smoking. The tall one with the Afro called out, ‘Hey, Ciaran, who’s the bird?’ It was only a couple of miles from Maida Vale to Notting Hill, but it might have been another country. Families like her own were a remnant from a dying era, Bea thought. They lingered now only in small pockets of London.
The O’Neills’ flat was in a side street. There was a betting shop and a long queue outside a fish and chip shop. Ciaran unlocked a green door. Inside, narrow stairs covered with cracked beige linoleum led up to a small landing. Bea could smell Dettol. A baby was crying; a couple were arguing.
Inside the flat, he found her a towel to dry her hair. While he hung their raincoats in front of a one-bar electric heater, Bea looked round. The room was sparsely furnished: a sofa, and a table with three chairs. There were some battered paperbacks on the table, along with a transistor radio and an ashtray.
‘That’s my dad’s room,’ Ciaran said, indicating a door. ‘And that’s Fergal’s. I usually sleep on the couch, but I use Fergal’s room while he’s away.’
The smallness of the flat startled Bea. She wondered whether there was another room somewhere that she hadn’t noticed.
Ciaran took the towel from her. She sat at his feet while he dried her hair. Now and then, as he ran the towel down a long, dark lock, his hand brushed against her cheek. She could smell the rain on his skin. She knew that soon they would go into Fergal’s room and lie down on the bed.
There was a moment when they might have held back, when he said, ‘Will it be all right? I haven’t any johnnies, I thought we’d be at the park.’ She said it would be fine, because by then she wanted him too much to stop. The rattle of the rain on the window receded, obliterated by a pleasure that soared and flew.
Later, buttoning up her dress in the bathroom, Bea inspected her reflection in the mirror and was surprised to see that she looked no different. After all, in losing her virginity, she had grown up, she had become a woman.
The summer term finished. Ciaran worked more hours at the garage and Bea took a little cleaning job, helping an elderly neighbour, Mrs Phillips.
It was the happiest summer she could remember and she would have liked it to go on for ever. After they made love, she liked to pad around the O’Neills’ flat wearing Ciaran’s shirt, making mugs of tea and slices of toast and pretending to herself that the two of them lived there together. Ciaran would put on one of his brother’s records; Fergal had a great collection. Ciaran had a fine voice and liked to sing along to Bob Dylan or the Clancy Brothers. While they drank the tea, they made plans. Once they had left school the following year, once they were both eighteen, Ciaran would go to university and Bea would train to be a nurse. It wouldn’t matter where they lived and it wouldn’t matter that they hadn’t any money, because they loved each other.
‘We quarrelled this morning, Fergal and I.’
They were in bed in the flat and Ciaran’s arm was round her. Bea’s head rested on his chest and she felt the steady beat of his heart.
‘About you. Though Fergal didn’t know that, thank God. He’s an idea something’s going on, though. He’s not daft. There we were, eating our cornflakes, and suddenly he’s saying I’ve my head in the clouds all the time and was I seeing one of our neighbours’ daughters.’
She craned round to look up at him. ‘What did you say?’
‘I told him he was an eejit even for thinking it. Fergal can be a right pain in the neck once he’s got his teeth into something. He said he’d kill me if he found out I’d been fooling around with some girl instead of getting on with my school work.’
Hearing a hammering on the front door, they both froze. ‘Jesus,’ Ciaran muttered. ‘Who the hell is that?’ He slid out of bed. ‘Stay there.’
He pulled on his jeans and went out of the room, closing the door behind him. Bea began quickly and silently to dress. What if it was Fergal, come home early from work, having forgotten his key? He would be angry if he found her there. He might tell Ciaran they mustn’t see each other again. She heard a click as Ciaran opened the front door, then the murmur of conversation. Straining to catch the words, she fumbled as she clasped her bra.
Ciaran came back into the room and turned off the record player. ‘It was my neighbour, complaining about the music.’ He let out a breath. ‘I forgot he’s working nights this week.’
‘Oh my God, I was so terrified . . .’ As she zipped up her skirt, Bea gave a high-pitched laugh.
‘I thought it was Fergal. Or my dad, come back from Ireland. Christ, that would have been a scene.’ Ciaran pulled on his shirt.
She saw that his good mood had vanished. ‘It’s all right, love.’
But the warmth had gone from his eyes. ‘Bea, what are we doing? I can’t see where this is going, can you? We’ve been lying to our families for months. Doesn’t that bother you?’
‘If my parents weren’t so snobbish and unfair, I wouldn’t have to lie.’ Her words echoed back at her, self-justifying yet weighted with guilt.
He sat on the edge of the bed. ‘What are we going to do when the weather gets colder? My dad’ll be back in London in a few days’ time. We won’t be able to come here then.’
Ciaran had skived off school that afternoon to be with her. Bea’s school term would begin the following week. Outside, the leaves of the London planes were tinged with yellow. The summer had worn itself out.
‘We’ll find a way.’
He swung round to her, blue eyes wide. ‘Will we? What if one day you just don’t turn up? What then? Would I go round to your flat? Would I knock on the door and ask your ma where you were? I don’t think so, do you?’
Bea stroked the nape of his neck. ‘Don’t, love, please.’
‘Maybe we should give it a rest for a while.’
‘Is that what you want?’ She was close to tears.
He groaned. ‘Of course not. How could I?’
They lay down on the bed, face to face, his hand resting on the hollow of her waist. ‘I don’t want you to get hurt, Bea,’ he murmured. ‘I don’t want to be the man who hurts you.’
‘You could never hurt me. I love you.’
‘People hurt the people they love all the time. They don’t mean to, but they do. Didn’t you know that?’
They were late leaving the flat. Ciaran walked with her to the Underground station. They kissed, then Bea ran down the escalator and jumped onto a train just before the carriage doors closed. Jolted as they lurched from stop to stop, she felt upset and nauseous. Maybe we should give it a rest for a while. She had felt him retreating from her, mentally preparing himself for separation.
As she walked home from Maida Vale station, the sky was grey and oppressive. Laurels, their sheen diminished by black grime, pushed between iron railings. She wished she was a year older. If they had both been eighteen, they could have married without their parents’ permission. They had met each other too soon, she thought, and the crushing panic she had felt earlier returned.
At home, Vivien was opening kitchen cupboards, staring at the rows of tins and packets. She looked up as Bea came into the room. ‘Did you get the ham?’
‘Sorry, I forgot.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, darling!’
Her mother’s expression altered, irritation giving way to suspicion. ‘Where were you? You’re awfully late. I thought you said you were going to the Prices’?’
‘No . . . well, I . . .’ She fumbled for an excuse.
‘I called Mrs Price and she told me Sarah was at the hairdresser.’
Bea thought of the O’Neills’ flat and Ciaran. We’ve been lying to our families for months. Just then, it seemed a huge effort to think up another lie.
‘I was late leaving Mrs Phillips’ flat,’ she said. ‘Then I went for a walk.’
Vivien was still frowning. ‘Perhaps I should have a word with her. She shouldn’t take up so much of your time. I need you here, even though you’re such a scatterbrain.’
‘It’s all right, Mummy, I’ll make sure I get away earlier tomorrow. Shall I make you a cup of tea?’
‘No, a gin and tonic.’
Bea opened the sideboard door. Her hand shook as she took out the gin bottle. Rising, she smoothed out the creases in her skirt. Her heart was pounding, and she was hot and sweating. In all the rush of leaving Ciaran’s flat, she had forgotten to check her hair and make-up. Her hand went to her breast. A few weeks ago, Ciaran had given her a silver chain. She wore it only when she was meeting him. Had she remembered to remove it? It was the sort of thing her mother would notice. With relief, she felt its slight weight in her pocket and recalled taking it off as she entered the building. When she glanced in the mirror above the sideboard, she saw that her fringe plunged messily to one side and there was a smear of mascara under her eye. She measured out the gin, tidied her hair with her fingers and dabbed at her eye to dislodge the smear. She must be more careful.
She went back into the kitchen. Her mother had opened a tin of beans and was taking eggs out of the fridge. The feeling that they had that afternoon narrowly avoided disaster persisted, and as she shook ice cubes from the tray, Bea mentally ran through her last conversation with Ciaran. She knew how much he hated lying to Fergal. When he spoke of his brother, it was always with affection.
Ciaran had a lot to lose. Though her mother often complained of being short of money, there was a difference between the Meades’ version of hard-up and the O’Neills’. She had the horrible feeling that she and Ciaran existed in a shimmering, dancing bubble that might burst as soon as it was exposed to a cold gust of wind. Her fantasies of the two of them living in their own place were just that: fantasies. It would be years before they could afford so much as a bedsit.
Her mother cracked an egg, shining and gelatinous, into a cup. A wave of heat and nausea swept through Bea. She closed her eyes and pressed an ice cube against her forehead, but the tide of sickness was unstoppable, and her mother turned to her as she gave a little moan before rushing off to the bathroom.
She felt lousy all weekend and went to bed early each night. Her father brought her treats – a magazine, some peppermints, a cup of tea. Sick three evenings in a row, Bea thought she had a stomach bug. Her mother was more bracing, but then her mother believed that giving in to physical frailty was a weakness. The expression in Vivien’s eyes worried Bea.
A wind had got up, whipping the leaves from the sycamores and gathering them up in leathery brown heaps on the terrace. On Sunday mornings, Bea and her father were in the habit of walking to the newsagent to buy the paper. This Sunday, as Jack was getting ready to go out, Vivien told him he should go on his own. Bea thought it was because she hadn’t been feeling well, but when the door closed behind him and she made to go to her room, her mother’s sharp voice stopped her.
‘Don’t you dare run off.’ Vivien slid a cigarette from a packet of John Player’s. ‘What’s going on?’
‘What do you mean?’
Frowning, Vivien tapped the cigarette against the packet. ‘Have you been doing something you shouldn’t? And don’t you dare lie to me.’
Bea didn’t feel anything at first, not even fear. Numbness was quickly followed by a blank despair. Her mother had somehow found out about her and Ciaran. She couldn’t see how, though.
The click of a gold cigarette lighter. ‘Well? Do I have to spell it out?’
‘I don’t know . . .’ She honestly didn’t, at that point.
‘Have you been with a boy?’ The lighter failed to catch, so Vivien flicked it again. She looked up. ‘If you don’t tell me the truth, I’ll speak to your father. He can have the pleasure of finding out what his darling’s been up to. Do you want me to do that, Beatrice?’
Bea shook her head. ‘No,’ she whispered.
‘Are you pregnant?’
Pregnant. The suggestion was so preposterous she almost smiled. ‘No, of course not!’
‘I mean,’ said Vivien acidly, ‘is it feasible that you’re pregnant? Have you been to bed with a boy?’
Bea thought of the flat and Fergal’s bed. Herself, barelegged as she made tea, wearing Ciaran’s shirt. The Dubliners on the gramophone and the smell of the street, fish and chips and car fumes, through the open window.
She stared at her mother. ‘But we were careful . . .’
‘Oh my God, you stupid, stupid girl . . .’
They had been careful – except, she remembered with horror, that first time, when they hadn’t. Her stomach lurched and she wanted to rush off to the bathroom again, but she didn’t dare.
Her mother put her hand to her mouth and closed her eyes. The gesture was more frightening to Bea than anger. And then the glimpse of vulnerability was gone, and questions were hurled at her.
Who was it? Was it the Price boy? No? Who, then?
‘I assume he has a name,’ Vivien added contemptuously.
At first she tried not to tell her mother anything, but it dawned on her that her disbelief that she might be expecting a baby was fired by the fact that such a thing was too terrible to be possible. She knew so little about pregnancy, about babies. She kept thinking about her father, how he mustn’t know, how she couldn’t bear him to come home while this conversation was going on.
‘Ciaran,’ she said eventually. ‘He’s called Ciaran O’Neill.’ Though she tried to say his name proudly, it sounded like a whimper. ‘We met in the park.’
Her mother’s eyes sparked with fury. ‘You went to bed with some boy you met in the park?’
‘It wasn’t like that!’
They both heard the vestibule door open. Vivien muttered crisply, ‘I shall take you to the doctor tomorrow morning and get this mess sorted out. Go to your room, Beatrice. You’re not to say anything to your father. I shall tell him you’re still unwell. I’m afraid this will break his heart.’
A succession of ordeals followed, each more dreadful than the last. First the appointment with the family doctor. After he had finished examining her, Dr Wilton said as she dressed, ‘Well, you’ve been a silly little girl, haven’t you?’ Then he spoke to her mother. Beatrice was around eleven or twelve weeks pregnant. He would do a test to make sure, but he had little doubt.
Even worse was that evening, when her mother told her father about the baby. Bea knew that she would remember the look in his eyes, of shock and hurt and disappointment, for the rest of her life. That he heaped all the blame on Ciaran only made it worse.
Her parents wouldn’t let her see Ciaran or speak to him. Apart from the visit to the doctor, her mother wouldn’t allow her to leave the flat and had told her school that she was unwell, so even though she wrote letters to Ciaran, telling him about the baby and explaining what had happened, she couldn’t post them. She didn’t know whether it was her pregnancy making her feel tired all the time, or if her fatigue came from her sense of being trapped in a nightmare.
Lying on her bed one evening in a stupor of misery, she drifted off to sleep. When she woke, thick-headed and disorientated from sleeping at the wrong time of day, she heard her pare
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