Chapter no 55

Then She Was Gone

Laurel’s mother is still alive when Laurel pops in to see her the next day on her way to work.

“Still here then?” she asks, pulling her chair closer to her mother’s. Ruby rolls her eyes.

“You know it’s Christmas Day on Friday,” she says. “You can’t go and die before Christmas and ruin it for everyone. You do know that? If you were going to do it, you should have done it last week.”

Ruby chuckles and says, “Next week?”

“Yes,” says Laurel, smiling. “Next week is fine. It’s always a quiet time.”

She takes her mother’s hands and says, “We’re having a big Christmas Eve do. At Paul and Bonny’s. Hanna will be there. Jake. My new boyfriend. His daughter. I wish you could come.”

“No thank you,” says Ruby, and Laurel laughs. “No,” she says. “I don’t blame you.”

“How is n-n-new b-boyfriend?”

The smile freezes on Laurel’s face. She doesn’t know how to answer the question so she smiles and says, “He’s wonderful. It’s all good.”

But as the words leave her mouth, she can feel the heavy lie of them. Her mother feels it, too. “Good?” she repeats, concernedly.

“Yes,” she says. “Good.”

Her mother nods, just once.

“If you say so,” she says. “If you say so.”



Laurel calls Jake when she leaves her mother’s care home.

He picks up the call within two ringtones. “Mum,” he says, a note of concern in his voice.

“Everything’s fine,” she says. “Not an emergency. I just wanted to say hello.” “I’m really sorry, Mum,” he starts immediately. “I’m really sorry about me and

Blue and what we said to you the other day. It was out of order.”

“No, Jake, honestly. It’s fine. I’m sorry I overreacted. I think I was just so shocked to find myself in a relationship after so long I was a bit raw. Just wanted everything to be perfect. You know. And of course nothing’s perfect, is it?”

“No,” says Jake in a voice full of things he’d like to say but can’t. “No. That’s true.”

“Am I seeing you tomorrow?” she says. “At Bonny’s?” “Yes,” he replies. “We’ll be there.”

“You know Floyd will be there too? Will that be a problem?” “No,” he says, overly assured, she feels. “No. It will be fine.”

She takes a breath, ready to get to the point of her call. “Is Blue there?” she says. “I wondered if we could have a word?”

“Yeah,” says Jake. “Yeah. She’s here. You’re not going to . . . ?”

“No. I told you, Jake. Water under the bridge. I just want to ask her something.”


She hears him call out to Blue, who comes to the phone and says, “Hi, Laurel.

How are you?”

“I’m good, thank you, Blue. I’m fine. How are you?” “Oh, you know. Busy, busy. As always.”

There’s a pause and then Laurel says, “Listen, Blue, I wanted to apologize for the way I reacted last time we spoke. I think I may have been a little over the top.”

She can almost hear Blue shrug. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, really. I’m sorry. And I just . . . I’ve been . . . I don’t know. I suppose I just wanted to know more about why you thought what you thought when you met him.”

“You feel it, too.”

Laurel blanches and brings her hand to her throat. She feels horribly caught out. “No,” she says, “no. It’s—I just want to know what you think, that’s all.”

Blue sighs and continues. “Floyd has a dark aspect. Very dark. Dangerous, almost. But the discrepancy between his true self and the way he presents

himself is striking. It’s like he’s taking cues from people. Working out how to be. And then there’s the way he is with his daughter. It’s not quite right. He watches her all the time, did you know that? You can almost see him prompting her under his breath. Like she’s acting, too, and he’s there to stop her making a mistake, to stop her exposing him for what he is. I don’t think . . .” She pauses. “I don’t think he really loves her. Not in the normal sense of the word. I think it’s more that he needs her, because she makes him human. She’s like a cloak.”

Laurel nods and makes an affirmative noise, although she is still processing what Blue has said.

“But what you just said, about him being dangerous. What do you mean by that?”

“I mean,” says Blue, “that a man who can’t love but desperately needs to be loved is a dangerous thing indeed. And I think Floyd is dangerous because he’s pretending to be someone he’s not in order to get you to love him.”

Laurel shudders at Blue’s words. They chime so completely with her own feelings yesterday standing by the Christmas tree.

“What about Poppy?” she says. “What did you make of Poppy?”

“Poppy is like a rainbow. Poppy is everything. But she needs to get away from her father before he starts taking her colors away.”

There is a long pause. Then Laurel says, “Thank you, Blue. Thank you for your time.” She slowly slides her phone into her handbag and drives to work feeling slightly numb.

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