Authors: Jill Mansell
Copyright Â© 2012 Jill Mansell
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Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover illustrations by Lisa Mallet
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Originally published in 2012 by Headline Review an imprint of Headline Publishing Group, London, a Hachette UK Company
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A walk in the park/by Jill Mansell.
1. Family secretsâFiction. 2. Bath (England)âFiction. I. Title.
To the lovely Elsewine.
“OK, we can see it from here.” Lara Carson pulled up at the side of the road, buzzed down the window, and pointed into the valley below. “See the L-shaped house with the white gates and the green car outside? That's the one.”
Home sweet home. Or maybe not. Eighteen years had passed since she'd last set foot over the threshold. Who knew what it was like inside now?
Gigi was leaning across from the passenger seat, breathing minty chewing-gum fumes over her as she peered down at the house. “Does it feel funny, seeing it again?”
“No.” That wasn't true. “A bit.” Lara gave her daughter's hand a squeeze.
“Are you going to cry?”
“What am I, some sort of
? I'm definitely not going to cry.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds, looking at the old house with its ivy-strewn walls, blue-painted window frames, and neatly tended garden. “OK, come on then,” Gigi said at last. “It's nearly time. You don't want to be late for your own father's funeral.”
Lara was one of the last into the church. It felt like being in a film. Her high heels click-clacked across the gray flagstones and people swiveled round to see who was making all the racket. Of the seventy or eighty mourners, most were strangers and didn't recognize her, which suited Lara just fine. But there were a few who clearly did. Eyebrows were raised and elbows nudged. She made a point of steadily meeting their gaze before looking away and slipping into an empty pew at the back.
What a weird situation to be in. People were spreading the word about her now; she could practically feel the mini wave of whispers rolling forward. Finally it reached Janice in the front pew, flanked by her sisters and wearing an extraordinary feathered black hat. Together the three of them stiffened then turned their frosty glares upon her. With the feathers waving around her head, Janice resembled an angry crow with an acute case of bed hair.
Was it very wrong to think ill of the grieving widow during her husband's funeral? Obviously it was, but where Janice was concerned, it wasn't easy to think of anything nice.
The organ music started, everyone rose to their feet, and the coffin was brought in.
Lara watched it being carried past her pew. The weirdness intensified. Charles Carson, her actual father, was inside that coffin.
He was dead.
And she genuinely didn't feel a thing.
Outside the church, Evie waited for the service to end. It was a long shot, but she hadn't been able to help herself. The moment she'd seen the notice in the local paper announcing the death of Charles Carson and the date of his funeral, she'd booked the time off work. The chances of Lara turning up at the funeral might be slim, but it could just happen. And if it did, Evie wasn't going to miss her.
They'd been best friends once. There were so many unanswered questions. Coming here today was an opportunity she simply couldn't pass up.
Not long now before the service was over. From this distance Evie heard the organ cranking up again, launching ponderously into “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer.” It was hot out here; the sun was blazing down and her hair was sticking to the back of her neck. Pushing open the car door for extra ventilation, she swiveled sideways and swung her legs out, then tipped her left hand from side to side to admire the way the emeralds and diamonds flashed in the sunlight. Was Lara inside the church? Would she be seeing her again for the first time in eighteen years?
Oh well, soon find out.
The funeral ended. The genial vicar made the announcement that refreshments were available at Charles and Janice's home, and that everyone would be welcome back there, but Lara guessed she probably wasn't included in the invitation.
Luckily she didn't want to go anyway.
From her pew at the back, she watched Janice and her sisters lead the exit from the church. As they came down the aisle, the looks they gave her pretty much confirmed her suspicions. The black feathers shuddered with outrage and three sets of pale eyes ringed with black makeup bored through her. Since now wasn't the time for a confrontation, Lara averted her gaze and waited for the malevolent trio to pass.
The church emptied. She sat and waited a few minutes longer for the mourners to disperse. Soon came the sound of cars being started up and driven off. Finally, when all was quiet again, Lara rose and headed outside into the welcome heat and sunlight of a glorious summer's day.
Everyone had left, apart from a lone figure at the bottom of the driveway. Someone was sitting on the wall next to the open gates, someone with red hair, wearing a cobalt blue shirt and a white skirt. Which in turn meant she was likely to have moss and lichen stains on the back of it.
Lara attempted to focus but the distance was too great and her superpowers weren't that strong. She hadn't thought to bring her binoculars with her.
Butâ¦ there was something familiar about the figure that was causing prickles of recognition down her spine. It couldn't be, could itâ¦?
Her pace quickened and the distance between them was reduced. The redhead slid down from the dry stone wall and began to move toward her. Moments later they both stretched their arms wide and broke into a run. It was like one of those slow motion Hollywood sequences that more traditionally featured two members of the opposite sex.
you,” shouted Lara.
.” Evie beamed as they collided and hugged each other until they were both panting for breath. “Oh my God, I can't believe it, you're really
.” She pulled back to study Lara's face. “Your dadâ¦ I'm sorryâ¦ are you upset?”
“No, no.” Vigorously Lara shook her head. “Don't worry, you don't have to be polite. I only came back because of the lawyer. He phoned and said I needed to get myself down here. Anyway, let's not talk about that now.” She was so thrilled to see Evie she was burbling uncontrollably. “How are you? You look fantastic! Oh, I've missed you so much. You have to tell me everything!”
It was true, she had missed her oldest friend more than words could say. But at the time she'd known it was the only way. And look at Evie now, eighteen years older and obviously looking olderâ¦ but at the same time miraculously unchanged. Teasingly, she turned Evie sideways and peered at the back of her white skirt. Thirty-four years old and she still hadn't learned how to keep herself stain-free. “You've got dirt on your skirt.”
“Have I? Oh no! How did that happen?” As she always had, Evie seemed genuinely surprised. For a couple of seconds she slapped ineffectually in the general area of her rounded bottom before giving up. “Oh well, never mind, you're
. This is so brilliant! I'd almost given up hope, then I heard someone say on their way out, âWas that her? Was that the daughter who ran away?' So I knew you were in there. Everyone's gone back to the house for drinks. Is that where you're going now?”
“Urgh, no way.” Lara checked her watch: almost two o'clock. “I'm meeting the lawyer in his office at three thirty. But I'm free till then. Do you have to be somewhere or can I buy you lunch?”
Fifteen minutes later they were sitting at a pavement cafÃ© by the abbey, drinking Prosecco and catching up. Having spotted the emerald engagement ring, Lara now heard all about Joel and the imminent wedding. Less than six weeks from now, Evie was set to become Mrs. Barber. Joel was the one she'd waited so long for, and she'd never been happier in her life.
By unspoken mutual consent they'd covered Evie's story first, getting it out of the way. Then it was Lara's turn. Evie said, “Tell me what happened,” and Lara took a deep swallow of fizzy, ice-cold wine.
“The people at the church, you said they called me the one who ran away. Is that what everyone thought?” She placed the glass carefully in the center of the table. “I didn't run away. They kicked me out.”
“I went round to your house to see where you were,” said Evie. “Your dad answered the door. He just said you'd gone and wouldn't be coming back. Then Janice appeared next to him and you should have seen the look on
face. Like she'd finally got what she'd always wanted. Which I suppose she had. But I'm telling you, it gave me the shivers. I was so worriedâ¦ you could have been
“I was late home,” said Lara. “I had to be back by eleven o'clock and I missed the last bus. By the time I got home it was almost half past. That was when it all kicked off.” She didn't go into detail; this wasn't the time or the place. “It was the biggest argument we'd ever had. Janice called me some vile names and told me she wished I'd never been born. Dad said I was ruining his life and he'd had enough, he wasn't going to put up with it anymore. He gave me an hour to pack my things. Then he told me to get out.”
Evie was appalled. “How could he do that? You were sixteen!”
“Didn't matter.” Lara shrugged and emptied her glass. “He wasn't going to change his mind. On the bright side, looking back on it now, I'm glad it happened. Mind you, at the time it wasn't so great. I'd never been so scared in my life.”
“You should have come to our house!”
“I couldn't. It was three o'clock in the morning. And I was just desperate to get away. So that's what I did. I sat outside the train station for the rest of the night, then caught the first train out of Bath.”
“Where did you go?”
“I called my aunt Nettie and asked if I could stay with her for a couple of days.” Lara broke into a smile at the thought. “That was it, basically. I turned up on her doorstep in Keswick and that's where I've been ever since.”
“Keswick? In Cumbria? We had no idea,” said Evie. “None of us knew where you were. I kept waiting for you to call or writeâ¦”
“I know. I'm so sorry.” The guilt had haunted her all these years, but even now she wasn't able to tell Evie the rest of the story. “I just knew I'd never come back to Bath as long as my father was alive. It was easier to make a clean break.”
The food arrived, they talked and drank some more, then it was time for Lara to head off for her appointment with the lawyer in nearby Harington Place.
“And I have to get back to work.” Before they left, Evie took out her diary and said, “But we're not going to lose touch again. Give me everything you've gotâ¦ address, email, phone numbers, I want the lot. And you have to have mine too.”
Once that was done, Lara walked back to Evie's car with her. They hugged each other again hard.
“You must come to the wedding,” Evie begged. “It'll be fantastic. You will, won't you? On the twelfth of August.” She squeezed Lara's hands. “Please say you'll be there!”