Life Through A Lens
Charlotte nally learns the extraordinary truth about her childhood
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
‘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.
‘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,’
‘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.