Home > Sea of Memories(8)

Sea of Memories(8)
Author: Fiona Valpy

‘When I first met Dan, yes. I’d had a few boyfriends before him, but no one special. But when I met him I knew. In a heartbeat, like you said. And we were both full of the confidence and hope of youth then too. But, like you say, life happens. The hope gets buried under all the other stuff that comes along. And the confidence gets eaten away . . .’ I tail off, my throat constricting again suddenly. I don’t often admit to anyone – least of all myself – just how difficult things are at the moment.

We sit in silence for a moment. And then Ella takes my hand again, giving it a squeeze. ‘Never lose hope, Kendra. Even when everything else is gone. Life without hope is a living death. Hope is what makes us human. Without it, we are in danger of losing touch with what it is to be alive.’

I nod. ‘But sometimes it’s just easier not to. Hope hurts.’

She glances at me again, with that deep green gaze of hers. ‘I know it can do. But in my experience, when you’ve lost so much, feeling that pain just might be better than feeling nothing at all.’

Her words – and her look of profound sadness as she utters them – make me think again of her estrangement from my mother. Does Ella still hope for a reconciliation? Before it’s too late? Writing her story seems to be linked to that somehow, although I still don’t know how or why. But maybe the act of sharing it with me and of knowing it will be there on paper after she’s gone gives her hope of some sort too. At the very least, perhaps it gives her a sense of purpose – or is she simply doing this as a way of trying to encourage me to heave myself out of the rut I’ve found myself in? I thought I was supporting her in coming to visit, but I have the distinct impression that I am gaining far more than I’m giving . . .

The last rays of sunlight slip down behind the wall and the shadow that has been creeping across the grass towards us veils Ella’s face. She shivers slightly. ‘Come on, that was nice while it lasted, but it’s time we went in now.’

I help her to her feet and offer her an arm as we walk back towards the door. ‘I’ll see you back to your room. It’s nearly supper time anyway.’

‘Thank you, Kendra. For the fresh air as well as for coming to see me. I have another tape for you. Oh, and I found some more of Caroline’s letters that you might like as well.’ As we reach the back door, she pauses and turns to look back at the deepening shadows where one or two white roses glimmer. ‘Do you think Finn would like this garden?’ she asks. ‘You could bring him with you sometime perhaps?’

‘If the weather is good he might. He loves going to the allotment with his dad. But he needs to be introduced to new places gently . . . Anything unfamiliar makes him panic. We’ll have to see.’ I know he’d hate the nursing home, with its strange smells and narrow corridors and unknown people, all of which he’d find terrifying.

Ella doesn’t push it. But she smiles as she says, gently, ‘Well, I hope I’ll see him again sometime.’

1938, Île de Ré

Day after day, Ella settled into the easy rhythm of summer on the Île de Ré. When they weren’t sailing off the island’s sand-soft beaches, they were criss-crossing its dusty roads on bikes, until the landscape of salt-pans and sand-dunes felt more familiar to her than her home and her life in Edinburgh.

The steeple of the church in Sainte Marie beckoned them homewards from their outings on land and sea, pointing skywards amongst lush green vineyards and golden cornfields inlaid with swathes of scarlet poppies. The watercolour wash of sea and sky imprinted itself on her very being, honing and refining her eye for beauty. She loved it all, from the white fisherman’s cottages to the vast citadel by the beachfront in St Martin; from the spires of hollyhocks that spilled into the narrow cobbled lanes in the villages to the tapestry of wildflowers – scabious and cornflowers, Queen Anne’s lace and sea-holly – which lined the lanes; from the oyster beds to the salt-marshes, where the precious white drifts of finest fleur de sel were raked into heaps to bleach in the sunshine and where the little shaggy donkeys, Anaïs’s kin, that worked the salt-pans wore curious striped leggings to protect them from the scouring salt and the biting flies, giving them a sweet, clown-like air.

Cycling through La Flotte one day, they passed a préventorium where children lay on ranks of canvas stretchers in the sun, presided over by a stern-looking matron in a starched cap and apron. ‘They come here to benefit from the island’s healthy climate,’ Caroline explained. ‘Some may be recovering from tuberculosis, others from anaemia. The sunshine and sea air is the very best cure there is.’ The three waved as they cycled onwards and the children cheered, before being hushed by their disapproving nurse. And Ella felt sure that those children could be in no better place to regain their strength: she herself glowed with well-being, her hair bleached blonde and her skin tanned golden by the wind and sun that were constant companions on their outings.

News from the world beyond the island was intermittent: the occasional letter arrived from Ella’s mother, enquiring how her French was progressing and giving news of her parents’ annual visit to Fife for the golf and the bracing walks on the beach at Elie; and sometimes, in the hallway, the muffled sound of the radiogram could be heard from the drawing-room, to where Marianne retreated from working in the garden, to escape the heat of the afternoon. When Caroline asked her mother what news there was from Paris, Marianne would shake her head and smile a smile that never quite transformed the sadness in her dark eyes. ‘More of the usual craziness,’ she once remarked.

But their days were carefree: sailing in Bijou, picnicking on the beach or exploring the island on three slightly rusty bicycles. It was as though the slender stretch of water separating them from the mainland were an impenetrable barrier, one which nothing from the outside world could cross.

Christophe, Caroline and Ella were inseparable, spending every waking moment together. And whilst the powerful bond between Ella and Christophe continued to draw them together, Caroline was always there too, a welcome member of the trio with her air of gentle calmness and her steady loyalty to them both, chaperoning them unobtrusively on their outings.

Sitting in the dunes beyond the house one day, she put into words what each of them had sensed. ‘It’s funny, before you came, Ella, I always felt that Christophe and I made up two halves of a whole. But now I realise that you were missing from us, and I can’t imagine life without you in it.’

Ella nodded, her oval face solemn. ‘I feel the same way. I don’t even want to think about how it’ll feel to leave you at the end of the summer. Promise me you’ll write, both of you? And I promise I’ll write back to you in Paris when I’m home in Edinburgh.’

They hatched plans, for the twins to come and visit her in Scotland sometime, and for Ella to come back again next summer. ‘And all our summers for evermore,’ declared Caroline, drawing a heart-shape in the sand at their feet. She wrote their three names inside it, in a circle. ‘There, look I’ve made a magic spell, so it will come true.’ She turned to Christophe, her eyes shining suddenly. ‘I know, Ella must come and stay in Paris next year. We’ll actually be spending most of the summer in the city anyway once we both start work – sadly, there’ll be no more lovely long holidays for a while. We can show you the city and you can keep improving your French – although you are pretty much fluent now already. Perhaps you might even decide you like it enough to contemplate working there once you have completed your secretarial course.’ She jumped up, dusting sand from her shorts. ‘I’m going to go and tell Maman to write to your mother immediately, inviting you. Then we’ll have that to look forward to already.’

Christophe rolled on to his stomach and smiled his long, slow smile at Ella. They were rarely alone like this, just the two of them, and she felt suddenly self-conscious.

‘Will you come and visit us, Ella? It would make returning to Paris almost bearable if you promise you will.’

With the sharp edge of a razor shell that she was holding, she retraced the outline of the heart Caroline had drawn. The wind was already catching a few of the grains of loose sand, softening and blurring the letters of their names, reclaiming the beach as its own.

For a moment, at the sight of those names fading away, she felt an upwelling of emotion so strong it made her throat constrict, making it impossible to speak. As if unable to help himself, Christophe reached out and traced the line of her jaw with his finger. She raised her eyes to his, then took his hand in hers, stroking the skin across the back of it in her turn, where it was brown and smooth.

Finally, she smiled. ‘I promise.’

All at once, it was the last full weekend of their summer on the island. This time next week they’d have packed up and be setting off on the journey back across the water to their real lives, in the real world.

The August heat was oppressive today, the usual breeze from the ocean having died away for once, leaving the air still and heavy. A dark cloud-bank, thick with foreboding, was gathering out at sea.

Ella sensed a change in the atmosphere around the breakfast table that had nothing to do with the change in the weather. The twins’ father was arriving later on that day, and it seemed that the prospect had made Christophe’s mood equally brooding. Monsieur Martet would be joining them on the island for the final week of the holidays, his work at the bank having kept him in Paris during the rest of the summer. Marianne and Caroline, whilst not as evidently morose as Christophe, seemed strained as well, talking just a little too brightly of the plans for the coming days while Monsieur Martet was there. The week would culminate with the social event of the season, a soirée dansante at the former Governor’s house in Saint Martin to raise funds for the charitable préventorium it had now become. Marianne wanted to check that each of them had something suitable to wear.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» Sea of Memories
» Gypsy Moon (All The Pretty Monsters #4)
» Gypsy Origins (All The Pretty Monsters #3)
» Gypsy Freak (All The Pretty Monsters #2)
» Gypsy's Blood (All The Pretty Monsters #1)
» Natural Dual-Mage (Magical Mayhem #3)
» Natural Mage (Magical Mayhem #2)
» Natural Witch (Magical Mayhem #1)