Chapter no 48

Then She Was Gone

Bonny calls Laurel at work on Monday. Laurel recognizes her been-around-the-block voice immediately.

“We’ve been talking,” she begins, “about Christmas.”

Laurel stops herself groaning. She cannot possibly bring herself to think about Christmas even though it’s less than a week away and the world is full of lights and music and even the plumbing supplies shop has baubles in its windows. She’s not ready for it.

“Now, unfortunately we’re at my stepmother’s on Christmas Day itself, she’s eighty-four, far too frail to make it down to London, so we’ll be heading up to Oxford. So what I thought is that we could do a big Christmas Eve bash here. We can do gifts and games and cocktails and what have you. And I have space for thousands, so all the children, partners, etc. And you can absolutely bring your gorgeous man and his lovely daughter.” She pauses for breath; Laurel can hear the rattle of a cough in the bass of her breathing. “What do you think?”



Laurel fingers the pendant at her collarbone.

“Have you asked Jake?” she asks after another pause.

“Yes. Yes I have.” There’s a finality to this that tells Laurel immediately that Paul and Bonny are now aware of the current impasse.

“And is he coming?” “He says he thinks so.”

“And what about Hanna?”

“She said yes. She’ll be coming.”

Laurel’s stomach lurches. Hanna has completely transmogrified in her mind from an ice princess destined never to thaw to a scarlet woman throwing herself at other people’s boyfriends with no thought for anyone but herself. Laurel no longer knows what to think about her daughter.

“Well,” she says after a significant pause, “that does sound lovely. I’ll ask Floyd. He did say that he and Poppy usually stay in on Christmas Eve, but I’m sure they could be persuaded. Can I get back to you?”

“Yes, of course! Please do. But sooner rather than later, if you don’t mind. I’ll have to get my Waitrose order in by tomorrow at the very latest.”

Waitrose orders. Laurel cannot imagine that she ever had a life that involved Waitrose orders.

She puts down her phone and sighs.



At Floyd’s that night Laurel asks him how Poppy had reacted when Noelle dropped her on his doorstep and disappeared into thin air. “Was she happy?” she says. “Was she sad? Did she miss her mum? What was it like?”

“Well, first off,” he replies, “she looked awful. She was overweight, refused to let anyone brush her hair, bathe her, brush her teeth. So she was a mess. And that was basically why Noelle left her with me. She’d had this perfect little baby and she’d totally fucked her up because she did not know how to parent and she’d ended up four years later with a monster.



“And no, Poppy wasn’t sad. Poppy loved being here with me. When she was with me she behaved. She didn’t have tantrums. She didn’t demand chocolate spread on everything. She sat and we talked and she learned and she read and when Noelle left her here she was happy. Really happy. And of course”—he shrugs—“neither of us had any idea that we would never see her again after she dumped her with me. We thought she’d be back. And by the time it was clear that she wasn’t coming back, Poppy and I were a team. I genuinely don’t think she’s suffering because of not having Noelle in her life. I think . . .” He glances up at her. “I think it was a blessing.”

Laurel’s eyes flick to Floyd’s and then away again. A thought passes through her head, so fast and so unpalatable that she is unable to keep hold of it.



Poppy stands at the top of the stairs. She hangs off the banister, her head tilting at an angle, her hair swinging back and forth.

“Laurel,” she says in a stage whisper. “Quick. Come up!”

Laurel looks at her quizzically and then says, “OK.”

“Come in here. Quickly!” Poppy pulls her by the hand into her bedroom. Laurel has never been into Poppy’s bedroom before.

It’s a small square room overlooking the garden. She has a four-poster bed with white muslin curtains and the walls are painted white. Her duvet cover is white and her curtains are white with a fine gray stripe. There’s a chrome lamp on her white bedside table and white bookshelves are filled with novels.

“Wow,” says Laurel, stepping in, “your room is very minimal.”

“Yes,” she replies. “I like keeping it all simple. Sit,” she says, pulling out a white wooden desk chair. “Look. My Christmas present for Dad arrived. Tell me what you think?”

She opens the door of a white wardrobe and pulls out an Amazon delivery box.

Then she pulls out a large mug with the words “UNBEARABLE COFFEE SNOB” written on it.

“Oh!” says Laurel. “That’s fabulous! He’ll love it!”



“Because, he is, isn’t he? He’s ridiculous about coffee. You know that stuff he has to have otherwise he says he’d rather drink water. Grown in Ethiopia with water from angels’ tears . . .”

Laurel smiles and says yes, lots of people are a bit weird about coffee these days and she really can’t tell the difference and she’s the same with wine, it all tastes the same to her unless it’s bad and as she’s talking her eyes pass across the detail of Poppy’s room and she stops and clasps her chest.

“Poppy,” she says, getting to her feet, taking a few steps across the room, “where did you get those candlesticks?”

Poppy glances up at the top shelf of her bookshelves where a pair of chunky geometric silver candlesticks are displayed.

“I don’t know,” she says, “they’ve always been there.”

Laurel reaches to pick one up. It’s hugely heavy in her hand, as she’d known it would be. Because they are her candlesticks, the candlesticks taken in the burglary four years after Ellie disappeared, the candlesticks she’s always been certain Ellie took.

“I don’t really like them,” says Poppy. “I think they were Mum’s. You can have them if you like.”

“No,” says Laurel, putting it back on the shelf, her stomach churning over and over. “No. They’re yours. You keep them.”

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