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Chapter 50

Michael

It’s an ordinary house, as average as they come; one small property in a block of near-identical brick-built terraces. The paint is fresh, but not too fresh. And the door, fronting directly to the road, looks well-used. But the windows are clean; no litter fouls the frontage…

And there is a light on inside…

Charlotte sits in the car, inert. Her face is a pale sheen and, as I take her fingers in mine, her hand iscold.

I lift the fingers, press them to my lips. “This is it, then.”

She nods but doesn’t move. “Suppose she doesn’t want to see me?” She’s gasping for air…

Panic attack?

“… She abandoned me all those years ago. Suppose she just didn’t want me?”

“Why would she not want you?”

“Because I’m his.”

James speaks. “There are plenty of mothers whose children have unworthy fathers, but they still lovethem.”

“You don’t have to do this, Charlotte,” I say, “but if you don’t, you’ll never be happy. Whatever happens,good or bad, at least you’ll know. Your life can move on.”

A figure moves past the window. Partially silhouetted against the light inside, nonetheless, there is theimpression of a pale face, a red tint to the hair.

Charlotte straightens up, muttering. “Right… I’m okay. Let’s do this.” Without looking back, she stepsout of the car and crosses the road.

I wind the window down. “Got any tissues in the car?” murmurs James.

“Course I have.”

*****

Charlotte

I stand in front of the door, suddenly timid again. My heart pounds so hard there’re touches of black atthe edge of my vision.

Chill out…

Calm down…

*Deep breath*

*Roll neck and shoulders*

My chest loosens and my breath flows a little more easily.

Good to go…

My finger hovers over the brass-button bell, then presses. A Bing-Bong echoes from somewherebeyond.

And almost immediately, there is a hollow rumble of movement, the bang of a door, the rattle of thehandle turning.

The door opens.

She’s there.

Her face is pale and tired. Lines radiate from the corners of her eyes. Her mouth is down-turned at thecorners. Silver threads through amber hair. But her green eyes - I know them. I see them every day inthe mirror.

I start to speak but find I can't. Sucking for saliva, I try again. “Hello. I’m… I’m Jenny.”

Like a statue she stares at me, her eyes running up and down me. Reaching out, she touches my face,her eyes widening, her mouth opening. She’s trying to speak, her lips making words that don’t comeout. Then…

“Jenny?” The words turn into a shriek. “Jenny!” And she flings herself at me, throwing her arms aroundme. “You’re alive. Oh, God. It’s you. You’re alive. You’re alive!”

And she’s laughing and crying and so am I. And she holds me tight, then stands back to look at me,then pulls me close again…

*****

James

Michael reaches under the dash and pulls out a box of tissues, then a rucksack, slinging it over hisshoulder. “Why d’you reckon women cry when they’re happy?”

“Beats me.”

We both get out of the car, standing to lean against it. Eyes creasing, Michael is holding in a smile, thetissue box cradled in one hand.

Bound to want ‘em soon…

Charlotte and her mother are flooding tears, babbling incoherently at each other. Up and down thestreet, curious faces are swinging their way.

Jade…

My Jade…

Finally finding your dreams…

The two women pause, I think to grab air. Charlotte looks my way, swiping the back of her hand underher nose and Michael waves the tissues at her. She nods as he walks across, offering the box. Hermother’s eyes…

Green…

So familiar…

… follow him, then return to me.

“Um, this is Michael… my husband… Mom…” Charlotte whispers the final word and Mitch shudders abreath.

“Come in,” she says. “You’d better come inside.” She motions across to me. “Your friend too.”

I stride across, hand offered. “James Alexanders. I’m a family friend. And I am delighted to meet you atlast.”

***** 𝑛𝑣.

We gather in the tiny lounge. Shabby with age, but immaculate; dingy but dust-free, it looks like cheaprentals everywhere. The same tired furniture. The same dismal wallpaper. I’ve stayed in a few like itmyself in my time; after my divorce, when money was tight, and home was wherever I hung my hat.

Charlotte’s mother serves coffee. It’s cheap supermarket instant, tasting mainly of chicory and it rattlesdown my throat kicking and punching as it goes. But I drink the dreadful brew anyway. To my side,Michael looks down at his cup, then knocks it back in one gulp…

Get it over with…

Mitch says, “Would you like another?”

“Actually…” He beams that ‘win-‘em-over’ smile of his, holding up his rucksack. “I have somethingbetter. “Champagne. Thought I’d keep it back ‘til I was sure we’d need it.”

Charlotte turns shining eyes on him, albeit eyes shining red and still streaming. “Thank you.”

He leans, kisses her cheek. “Congratulations. I’m so happy for you, Babe.”

Mitch’s eyes follow him…

Not just a daughter regained…

But a son-in-law…

If I was a woman…

Meeting my new son…

And it was Michael…

He pours champagne into disposal plastic flutes, handing them around, then sits back, an ankle restingup on one knee. Mitch accepts the flute with a ‘Thank you’.

Tall…

Handsome…

Devastatingly charming…

… I’d be pretty pleased about it…

I raise my glass. “To Family...”

The others follow suit. “Family.”

“… and Mitch… may I call you Mitch?” She nods, blinking. “Mitch, Michael and I both know how muchthis means to Char… to Jenny. She’s been searching for you for years…” I’m set to ramble on, butMichael jabs an elbow in my ribs…

As good a hint as any…

And I shut up.

Charlotte and her mother sit side by side, holding hands, sipping champagne. Neither seems to knowwhat to say.

Where to begin…?

I take the chance to study Mitch. So much like my Jade-Eyes. The same Celtic-pale skin, the finefeatures, the same red-gold hair, the same hypnotically green eyes.

But the differences show. The age difference of course; silver winds through the copper of her hair. Theeyes are tired, and the creases at the corners are crow’s-feet rather than laughter lines. Her mouthturns down…novelbin

Surreptitiously I survey the dismal little room.

A hard life…

Less than you deserved…

And as I look closer again, hiding my examination behind my flute…

Is that a bruise?

Perhaps it is just the poor light casting on her cheekbones,

Mitch finally speaks. “How did you find me?”

Charlotte’s fingers curl tighter around her glass. “David gave us your address. Well… he gave Michaelyour address; the old one a few streets away.”

Mitch jolts, giving Michael a startled glance. “He did? I'm surprised Stephen let him.”

Charlotte’s voice trembles. “Stephen didn’t. David visited us. Stephen didn’t know. He…” Her wordscrack. “Stephen won’t have anything to do with me. But Michael… He's worked so hard trying to findyou. He found your marriage certificate to… to Frank. And he found my birth certificate…”

Mitch's eyes lift to hers.

“It's alright.” Charlotte’s voice is tight. “I already know that Frank wasn't my father…” Mitch’s eyeswiden, her breath escaping in a slow exhalation… “… But… But…” Charlotte’s eyes flood again…“Why did you leave me? Why did you leave me there? At Blessingmoors. With him?”

Mitch thunders upright from her seat. Face reddening, her mouth twists. “I did not leave you. I wouldnever have left you…”

“I thought you must have abandoned me…”

“No.” She swings on Charlotte, eyes glossy. “I left because…” Her voice hushes… “… because youwere dead.” Mitch presses fingers to her forehead. “You were dead. He told me that. How can you bealive? How?”

“Who told you?” I ask. “Klempner said that? He told you your baby had died?”

“No, not Larry.” Hands pressed to her cheeks, Mitch swings her face to one side then the other. “It wasFrank. He said you were dead, that he'd seen Larry murder you.”

The bang of a door closing echoes through the room, then boots on linoleum coming closer.

Mitch whirls to the door. “He’ll tell us.”

“He?”

The door opens and a figure steps into the lounge. Not overly-tall although perhaps once beefily built;muscle has run to fat and the paunch is matched by the jowls. The face is red-threaded with veins, andthe eyes are bloodshot.

As he steps inside, “Look who’s here,” Mitch announces. “Can you believe it?” Her smile is wide andwhite and bright. “It’s Jenny. Jenny’s alive.”

The man looks, gapes then scowls. I’ve seen the face before, albeit much younger then, on the photoMichael found in the files.

Frank Conners.

*****

The Story Continues In

‘Her Mother’s Love’

This chapter is updated by 𝒻𝑤𝒷𝘯𝓋.𝓂