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Chapter no 53

Then She Was Gone

Laurel drives past Hanna’s flat on her way from Floyd’s to work that morning. She’s hoping for a sneaky glimpse of Theo and Hanna leaving for work together. But it’s dark and quiet and at least now Laurel can picture where her daughter has been. She has been in Theo Goodman’s bed.

Theo is a schoolteacher now. Hanna had told her that, funnily enough, about a year ago. Said she’d bumped into him somewhere or other. Laurel couldn’t really remember the details. That must have been when it started, she supposed.

Laurel is unfairly horrified by this twist in the fabric of things.

 

 

Theo was Ellie’s. He’d belonged to her and she’d belonged to him. They’d inhabited each other completely, like a pair of gloves folded into itself. And now she is cross with Hanna. Cross enough to wonder what Theo even sees in Hanna, in comparison to Ellie. She imagines, in the warped threads of her irrational thought processes, that Theo chose Hanna as a consolation prize.

But then she remembers seeing that blonde girl coming out of the supermarket on Sunday morning, that smiling, golden girl who looked nothing like the sour-faced girl who greets Laurel at her door from time to time, the pinched child who never laughs at her jokes, the tired-looking woman who sighs down the phone at the sound of her mother’s voice.

 

 

And it occurs to her for the very first time that maybe Hanna isn’t intrinsically unhappy.

That maybe she just doesn’t like her.

 

 

She calls Paul later that afternoon. He’s at work and she can hear the warm rumble of normality in the background.

“Listen,” she says, “can I ask you something? About Hanna?” There’s a beat of silence before Paul says, “Yes.”

He knows, thinks Laurel, he already knows.

“Has she said anything to you about a boyfriend?” There’s another silence. “Yes, she has.”

She exhales. “How long have you known?” “A few months,” he replies.

“And you know—you know who it is?” “Yes. Yes, I do.”

Laurel closes her eyes. “And she told you not to tell me?” “Yes. Something like that.”

Now Laurel pauses. “Paul,” she says after a moment, “do you think that Hanna hates me?”

What? No. Of course she doesn’t hate you. Hanna doesn’t hate anyone. Why would you say that?”

“It’s just, whenever we’re together she’s so . . . spiky. And cold. And I’ve always put it down to arrested development—you know, losing Ellie when she was just on the cusp of adult life. But I saw her the other day, with Theo. And she was so bright and so happy. She looked like a completely different person.”

“Well, yes, she is madly in love, by all accounts.”

“But when she’s with you, and Bonny, what’s she like then? Is she lighthearted? Is she fun?”

“Yes. I’d say she is. On the whole.”

“So, I’m right, you see. It is me. She can’t stand being with me.” “I’m sure that’s not true.”

 

 

“It is true, Paul. You’ve never seen it. You’ve never seen what she’s like with me when it’s just the two of us. She’s like a . . . a void. There’s nothing there. Just this blank stare. What did I do, Paul? What did I do wrong?”

She hears Paul take a breath. “Nothing,” he says. “You did nothing wrong. But I’d say, well, it wasn’t just Ellie she lost, was it? It was you, too.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You. You went kind of—off radar. You stopped cooking. You stopped— you stopped being a parent.”

“I know, Paul! I know I did! And I’ve apologized to Hanna a million times for the way I was then. Why do you think I go to her house every week and clean it

for her? I try so hard with her, Paul. I try all the time and it makes no difference.”

“Laurel,” he says carefully, “I think what Hanna really needs from you is your forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness?” she echoes. “Forgiveness for what?”

There is a long moment of silence as Paul forms his response. “Forgiveness . . .” he says finally, “for not being Ellie.”

 

 

Paul’s words have unfurled a whole roll of thoughts and feelings that Laurel hadn’t known were so tightly wound inside her and she is plunged straight back into the minutes and hours following Ellie’s disappearance, recalling the sour resentment at being left with Hanna, denying her the lasagna that Ellie had staked her claim on, as Ellie had staked her claim on so much in their family. Everyone had fought for Ellie’s attention, for a blast of her golden light. Then the light had gone and they’d dissipated like death stars falling away from the sun.

And yes, Laurel had never accepted Hanna as a consolation prize. She really hadn’t. And as a result she’d got the relationship with her daughter that she deserved. Well, now she knows this, she can work on it and make things better.

Laurel calls Hanna. It goes through to voicemail, as she’d known it would.

 

 

But this can’t wait another moment. She needs to say it right now.

“Darling,” she says, “I just wanted to say, I am so proud of you. You are the most extraordinary girl in the world and I am so lucky to have you in my life. And I also wanted to say that I’m sorry, so sorry if anything I’ve ever done has made you feel like less than the center of my world. Because you are, you are absolutely the center of my world and I could not live without you. And”—she draws in her breath slightly—“I wanted to say that I saw you the other day, I saw you with Theo, and I think it’s wonderful and I think he’s a very, very lucky man. A very lucky man indeed. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to say and I’m sorry I haven’t said it before and I love you and I’ll see you on Christmas Eve. I love you. Bye.”

She turns off her phone and she rests it on the kitchen counter and feels a wave of relief and weightlessness pass through her. She is unburdened of

something she hadn’t even known she was carrying.

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