Life Through A Lens

Char­lotte nally learns the ex­tra­or­di­nary truth about her child­hood

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Serial By Teresa Ashby -

The café was quiet and Char­lotte found a ta­ble while Calum went to get drinks. When he came back he was car­ry­ing a tray with two big wedges of choco­late cake and two cof­fees.

‘Thanks, but I can’t eat that,’ Char­lotte said.

‘You should eat,’ he said. ‘You’ve lost weight.’

‘How do you know that?’ she snapped de­fen­sively.

‘Your clothes look a lit­tle too big,’ he said. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it as a crit­i­cism. It’s just you look so lost and sad.’

She tipped two pack­ets of brown sugar into her cof­fee.

‘Who is Alexan­der Wil­liams?’ she asked.

‘I don’t re­ally know him. What’s he done to up­set you so much?’

‘He bought our house and went to visit my grand­mother claim­ing to be her grand­son,’ Char­lotte said. ‘It doesn’t sound much in the grand scheme of things, but Scotty’s all I’ve got, and I have to pro­tect her.’

‘And you think Alex mis­tak­enly be­lieves she’s his grand­mother too?’ Calum said. ‘I see why that would worry you. How did Scotty take it?’

‘It’s hard to know. She doesn’t re­mem­ber much. Some­times she re­mem­bers my par­ents and her own par­ents, but never me. She thinks they’re still alive. All of them.’

‘I see,’ he said. ‘That must be tough. I don’t think you need to worry about Alex though. He seems like a nice guy.’ ‘How did you meet him?’ ‘He needed an all-rounder to work on the house and he found me through my website. He comes over when he can and does a bit of gar­den­ing. That’s all I know.’

‘He hasn’t told you why he bought the house?’

‘He said it felt like home from the minute he saw it.’

‘Is he plan­ning to move in or sell it on?’

‘What do you think?’ Calum smiled. ‘He’s mov­ing in once all the work is done. The neigh­bours are nice too.’

‘You mean Fiona,’ she said. ‘Lovely lady. She makes me end­less cups of tea and bakes a lot of cakes.’

‘Just as well.’ Char­lotte laughed. He’d de­mol­ished his slice of cake.

He laughed too, then be­came se­ri­ous.

‘So I did the right thing, get­ting her to let you know about the box?’

‘Yes. It be­longs to Scotty. Did you tell Alex about it?’

‘I as­sumed it must be­long to the for­mer own­ers. I guess I should maybe have checked with Alex.’

‘I still don’t un­der­stand how you found it. I re­ally did check the place thor­oughly.’

‘There’s a gap be­hind the chim­ney breast up in the at­tic. If you didn’t know it was there, it’s un­likely you’d have found it. Are you re­ally not go­ing to eat that?’

She shook her head. Her in­sides were churn­ing.

‘Go ahead,’ she said.

‘What was in it? Just that?’ He nod­ded at the photo al­bum on the ta­ble. Char­lotte had brought it along, not want­ing to let it out of her sight.

‘That was it.’

‘Strange thing to hide isn’t it? But care­fully pack­aged, so it was ob­vi­ously pre­cious to who­ever hid it.’

Char­lotte pushed her empty cup to one side and opened the al­bum, find­ing where she’d left the rib­bon book­mark. She turned the page. There was her mother, An­gela, sit­ting up in a hos­pi­tal bed, smil­ing all over her weary red face, her hair stick­ing damply to her fore­head.

She was cradling a tiny baby in each arm.

Two ba­bies? But how was that pos­si­ble?

‘Cute ba­bies,’ Calum said. ‘Who are they?’

‘That one is me, I think. With the pink hat on.’ She con­tin­ued, shak­ily. ‘I don’t know who the other one is.’

His face re­flected her own shock. How could she never have been told she was a twin?

She turned the page. One of the ba­bies was in an in­cu­ba­tor with tubes and wires all over him. It was the lit­tle boy in his blue hat. Char­lotte rubbed away a tear.

Had her twin brother died? Had Alexan­der Wil­liams stolen his iden­tity? But later pho­tographs showed him at home too. So he had sur­vived.

Now the ba­bies weren’t wear­ing hats, she could see that her hair was red and wispy and her twin’s was an ex­plo­sion of dark fluff on his head.

‘I think this is Alex,’ Char­lotte said.

She kept turn­ing the pages un­til the pho­tos stopped abruptly. The next page was empty. She turned it over any­way. And the next. The empty pages and what they rep­re­sented were what fi­nally un­locked the pain she’d been hold­ing in for so long.

The tears came so hard and fast, she thought they’d never stop. Calum got her a cup of tea and put loads of sugar in it, then he handed her a wad of paper nap­kins.

‘It seems in­ad­e­quate,’ he said. ‘Would you like a hug?’

She blew her nose and glared at him.

‘No? OK,’ he said. ‘But there must be some­thing I can do?’

‘I have to see Alex,’ she said. ‘Can you give me his ad­dress? I’ve got to talk to him. I have to find out what’s go­ing on.’

‘I can do bet­ter than that,’ Calum said. ‘He’s due at the house to­mor­row.’

‘I’ll be at work,’ she said, chew­ing her lip. ‘I can’t take any more time off.’

She’d used up all her leave when Scotty moved into

The Cedars.

‘He should be here un­til the week­end. Maybe you could speak to Scotty be­fore you see him?’

‘I should go and see her now.’ She hadn’t re­alised how late it was get­ting.

Char­lotte picked up the al­bum and held it against her chest. ‘Thank you for this, and for the cof­fee and tea, and for putting up with me ac­cus­ing you of all sorts and then burst­ing into tears. I don’t nor­mally be­have like that.’

‘Strange thing to hide, isn’t it? But it was ob­vi­ously pre­cious

to who­ever hid it…’

‘I know,’ he grinned. ‘Ac­tu­ally, I don’t know, but I guessed. Come on. I’ll walk you back to your car. You OK to drive?’

She nod­ded, but she held his arm, glad he was there.

‘I haven’t had sup­per yet,’ Scotty said when Char­lotte walked in. She looked cross.

‘That’s good, be­cause nei­ther have I. Shall we make some­thing to­gether?’

Scotty perked up.

‘Omelette?’

‘That sounds lovely.’

Scotty slipped her arm through Char­lotte’s and to­gether they walked to the kitchen. Char­lotte dis­creetly en­tered the se­cu­rity code to open the door.

They made life as nor­mal as was safe here, and the res­i­dents were al­lowed to use the kitchen with su­per­vi­sion.

It was set up in such a way that it was easy to find plates and cut­lery, and Scotty set the ta­ble while Char­lotte cooked the omelette.

‘Don’t for­get to turn the hob off,’ Scotty said.

‘All off, see?’ Char­lotte said. ‘Tasty,’ Scotty said. ‘Jam?’ ‘You don’t have jam on omelette, Scotty.’

‘I do!’ She frowned, and Char­lotte got the to­mato ketchup from the fridge.

‘Ah, jam,’ Scotty said hap­pily. When they’d eaten and washed up, Char­lotte helped Scotty to wash and get into her py­ja­mas.

‘Would you like to look at some pho­tos?’

A voice in­side was telling her not to show Scotty the al­bum she’d found. Good­ness knows what it might stir up.

‘It’s you,’ Scotty said when Char­lotte opened the book. ‘You look ready to pop. Did you have the baby?’

‘Twins,’ Char­lotte said, turn­ing the pages.

‘How beau­ti­ful,’ Scotty said. ‘A pi­geon pair. I don’t knit. Shame.’ She sighed. ‘But I bought lots of bibs and vests and other things. How are the ba­bies?’ ‘They’re fine,’ Char­lotte said. ‘That’s John,’ Scotty said and her face crum­pled. ‘Is he still an­gry with me?’

She’d asked that be­fore, but Scotty was con­fused about a lot of things. It didn’t have to mean any­thing. ‘Do you think he’ll come back?’

‘Of course he will.’

Char­lotte closed the al­bum. She’d been self­ish. It was one thing go­ing through pho­tos that Scotty re­mem­bered so that she could en­joy happy mem­o­ries, but forc­ing this on her was un­for­giv­able.

‘Lucy is bring­ing your hot choco­late soon,’ she said. ‘Shall I read to you un­til then?’

‘I want to see the ba­bies,’ Scotty said, her voice small and wist­ful.

‘And you will, dar­ling,’ Char­lotte promised. ‘But you’re tired now. Let me read to you for a while and we’ll talk more to­mor­row.’

Tears rolled down Scotty’s

cheeks, and the sight of them sent dag­gers through Char­lotte’s heart. Scotty rarely cried, which made it so much harder when she did.

‘Please don’t cry,’ Char­lotte said as she dabbed at her face with a tis­sue. ‘I love you.’

‘I know, love,’ Scotty said, and there was such warmth and af­fec­tion in her voice that Char­lotte al­most be­lieved she knew who she was. She reached out and cupped her hand round Char­lotte’s cheek. ‘Tell John I love him, and I’m sorry.’

Back at home, Char­lotte opened her lap­top and did the search she’d wanted to do since she was a teenager. It came up with no rel­e­vant re­sults at all.

She searched her par­ents’ names, their ad­dress, the road on which they were killed and there was noth­ing.

Per­haps it was just too long ago, or per­haps Scotty had lied about that too.

To­mor­row she would meet Alex, the man who could have the an­swers. But what was his story? Had he been put into care? She felt chilled at the thought. Surely Scotty wouldn’t have taken one twin and aban­doned the other?

She went to bed, but sleep evaded her.

Calum opened the door when Char­lotte knocked the fol­low­ing evening.

‘I’m sorry I’m late. I got stuck in traf­fic. Is he here?’

‘He’s sit­ting in the gar­den. Are you OK, Char­lotte? You look aw­ful.’

‘Thanks,’ she said.

‘No, I mean you’re very pale. Haven’t you slept?’

‘Hardly at all,’ she ad­mit­ted.

‘I’m not sur­prised. Go on through. You know the way. He’s pretty ner­vous too.’

‘Is he?’ She had ex­pected him to be con­fi­dent and all-know­ing. ‘I’ll be work­ing in here if you need me.’

The back door was open and she found Alex sit­ting on the bench. He stood up and held out his hand to her.

‘Char­lotte,’ he said. His voice was soft and he was tall and slim with dark hair, just like their fa­ther. ‘You look just like Mum.’

He held her hand and stared at her, then gave her hand a tug and pulled her into his arms, hold­ing her tight. In­stinc­tively she hugged him back. Her brother! Now, she had no doubt he was who he said he was.

They may have dif­fer­ent­coloured hair and she was a foot shorter than him, but when she’d looked into his eyes, it was like look­ing into a mir­ror.

When he fi­nally let go, he took a step back and cuffed his face. He was cry­ing. They both were.

‘We’re not iden­ti­cal,’ he said and laughed.

‘Ev­i­dently not,’ she replied. ‘I didn’t even know you ex­isted un­til a few months ago,’ he said. ‘Af­ter Nan died, Pop told me ev­ery­thing. He said I had a right to know, and he’d never ap­proved of what they did. From what Calum said, you only found out that you had a twin yes­ter­day. Be­lieve me, I know how shaken up you feel.’

He mo­tioned to the bench and they sat down side by side. It seemed per­fectly nat­u­ral to hold hands, and what a com­fort it was.

‘Nan?’ she said. ‘Pop?’

‘Mum’s par­ents. Louise and Alexan­der. They brought me up.’

‘But why did they split us up?’ ‘I only know what Pop told me,’ he said. ‘Scotty and Nan had both lost their only chil­dren and they both wanted to take care of us. They dis­cussed hav­ing us spend time with each of them, but in the end de­cided that would be un­set­tling.’

‘So they sep­a­rated us.’ Char­lotte was ap­palled.

‘John wouldn’t agree to it. Scotty wouldn’t at first ei­ther.’ ‘What changed her mind?’ ‘Nan said that if it came to it, she would push for cus­tody of us both and was sure that she’d win. Ap­par­ently she kept me be­cause she’d al­ways wanted a boy.’

He hung his head at that mo­ment. She squeezed his hand, en­cour­ag­ing him to con­tinue.

‘John said he wanted noth­ing

When she looked into his eyes, it was like look­ing into a mir­ror

to do with it and if Scotty agreed to it, then she’d be go­ing home alone with you.’

‘Scotty told me he died.’

‘They di­vorced. Af­ter Pop told me about it, I tried to find John, but he died fif­teen years ago.’

Char­lotte shook her head. ‘They were so in love. He would never have done that, and Scotty wouldn’t have cho­sen me over him.’

‘Well, she did,’ Alex sighed. ‘Ob­vi­ously there was much more to it than we will ever know, but Scotty had a card to play. When her mother moved in with them, she paid off their mort­gage on con­di­tion the house was put into Scotty’s name. Scotty told John it was her house and her de­ci­sion.’ ‘That’s aw­ful.’

‘They agreed to a clean break. They thought it would be kinder if we were never told about each other. At some level they must have known how wrong it was, but you have to re­mem­ber they were all torn apart by grief. No-one was think­ing straight. And we have three very stub­born in­di­vid­u­als all be­liev­ing they’re right.’ ‘Three?’

‘Not Pop. He thought it was wrong, but he went along with it. He brought me down here to visit you and Scotty a few times when Nan was on hol­i­day with her friend. We used to play to­gether.’ He laughed. ‘Not that I re­mem­ber re­ally, do you?’

‘No,’ Char­lotte said, her voice heavy with re­gret. ‘I don’t.’

‘It stopped when Nan came home from hol­i­day early and found out what he’d been do­ing. She said all ties must be sev­ered.’

For a few mo­ments they were both lost in thought, try­ing to re­trieve mem­o­ries that were too far away to reach. The breeze rus­tled Roland’s Rose, send­ing the scent to­wards them on the warm air.

‘Pop gave me some pho­tos of us to­gether in this gar­den,’ Alex said. ‘I’ll bring them next time I come. He said Scotty was a keen pho­tog­ra­pher.’

‘She was. It was her pas­sion.’ ‘I went to visit her, but she didn’t re­mem­ber me.’

He stared straight ahead to­wards the end of the gar­den, his eyes shim­mer­ing.

Two mugs of cof­fee had ap­peared on the lit­tle gar­den ta­ble be­side them. Calum must have brought them out.

Char­lotte picked up one of the mugs and passed it to Alex.

‘I don’t know which one is yours,’ she said.

‘Doesn’t mat­ter,’ Alex said. ‘There’ll be loads of sugar in both. He’s a nice guy.’

‘Why did you buy the house?’ ‘I plucked up the courage to come and see you and the house was empty with a sold sign in the gar­den. I found the owner and made him an of­fer, but I’d lost my nerve by then about ap­proach­ing you.’

She squeezed his hand again. ‘I’m not that scary.’

He cov­ered her hand with his. ‘I know.’ He put his mug down. ‘I got some­thing for Scotty. What do you think?’

He rum­maged through a ruck­sack on the ground be­side the bench and took out a box.

‘It’s an in­stant cam­era, very sim­ple to use. I thought maybe she’d get some­thing out of it.’

‘I wish I’d thought of that,’ Char­lotte said. ‘It’s per­fect.’

‘Once the house is fin­ished, I’m go­ing to look for a job down here and move in. Pop will be com­ing with me. It’s time our fam­ily was re­united, don’t you think?’

At The Cedars, Scotty was in the con­ser­va­tory, sit­ting in front of an easel. The paper was cov­ered in bright or­ange paint with a few splashes of green. Lucy, who had been sit­ting with her, got up with a smile.

‘I’ll be nearby if you need me,’ she said.

‘Here you are,’ Scotty said. ‘Oh, my dar­lings, you do look happy. Isn’t it a beau­ti­ful day? I’ve just fin­ished my rose thing.’

‘It’s beau­ti­ful,’ Char­lotte said. ‘Would you like to have a walk round the gar­den with us?’

Scotty got to her feet and hugged first her, then Alex. ‘I knew you’d come.’

She held each of them by the arm as they walked slowly round the gar­den.

‘Look at all the lovely flow­ers,’ Scotty said. She frowned a lit­tle as she strug­gled with her frag­mented mem­o­ries, know­ing the gar­den wasn’t hers, but un­able to re­mem­ber where hers was. Then she smiled. ‘The birds love this gar­den. I like it here. I’ll be sad to go home re­ally.’

Alex’s eyes met Char­lotte’s over Scotty’s head. ‘You can stay here as long as you like,’ Alex said.

‘Can I? How lovely. I will have to go home one day though. John will miss me.’

They sat on a bench and Alex gave her the cam­era, show­ing her how to use it. It took a while for her to get the hang of hold­ing it and, pa­tiently, Alex went through it with her over and over again.

‘Take a pic­ture,’ he said.

‘I will take one of you,’ she said. ‘Bunch up. Smile.’

When it was done, Alex took the cam­era back and printed a small photo, the first of the twins to­gether since they were ba­bies. Scotty was bowled over by it.

‘I can get a big­ger copy printed,’ he said.

‘I want to keep this one,’ Scotty said. ‘It’s per­fect.’

‘Shall we get Lucy to take one of the three of us?’ Char­lotte sug­gested and they sat to­gether on the bench, one ei­ther side of Scotty as Lucy came over and snapped a photo.

‘I’ll show John later,’

Scotty said.

‘You can show Pop… Alexan­der too,’ Alex said. ‘He’s com­ing to see you to­mor­row. He’s mak­ing a hang­ing bas­ket to hang out­side your win­dow.’

‘I don’t know who that is,’

Scotty grasped Char­lotte’s hands. ‘You’re never on your own in a gar­den’

Scotty said. ‘But I can’t wait. Can you?’

Char­lotte hugged her.

‘I can’t wait ei­ther. We’re not go­ing to be on our own any longer, Scotty.’

Scotty grasped Char­lotte’s hands and for a brief sec­ond, it was as if she was back.

‘You’re never on your own in a gar­den, An­gela,’ she said, then she waved her fin­gers at Alex. ‘Give me the cam­era.’

Char­lotte watched as Alex helped Scotty with the cam­era. Her life had been a lonely night­mare re­cently and for the first time she dared to be­lieve that she wouldn’t be fac­ing a dif­fi­cult fu­ture alone.

‘Smile then,’ Scotty or­dered. They smiled big, happy smiles. Char­lotte would get a new al­bum to record this new chap­ter of her life – and what bet­ter way to start it than with pho­tographs taken by her beloved Scotty.

the end

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