‘Nature calls,’ he told her, placing a kiss on her nose. ‘And then I’m going to drop you off, my little witch.’
He left the car door slightly ajar, and that was when she saw it—there, nestled in a little wad of papers which must have slipped out of his pocket in their love making. The envelope was folded in two and there, in bold type, was his mother’s name and address.
Charlie picked up the envelope, suddenly very wide awake, and committed the name and address to memory. If she had had a pen and piece of paper handy she would have scribbled it down, but then that would have taken time and he wasn’t going to be away for ever. She glanced nervously out of the car, made a mess of the papers and then slumped back onto the car seat where he found her a couple of minutes later.
‘What’s all this?’ he asked.
‘All what?’ She yawned and sat up. ‘Oh, not mine. I try and confine my bits of paper to my handbag. Must be yours. Gosh, I hope you haven’t lost any more…’ She began searching on the ground while he stuffed the papers back into his trouser pocket.
‘Forget it. Come on. Time to go, little one.’
Charlie smiled. She believed in fate, and fate had been working overtime when it had shown her that envelope with that all-important address on it.
Because how else would she have known where he was going? And how else would she have been able to think of the one way she knew to show him that, whatever his background, he had nothing of which to be ashamed?
What better way to get to know him than by paying him a surprise visit…?
‘BUT, Mum, I don’t like that kind of ham! Why can’t I just have some chocolate instead? Everybody in my class gets to bring a bar of chocolate for lunch! I’m the only one who brings in yucky sandwiches with yucky ham and yucky brown bread!’
‘Brown bread’s good for you.’ Charlotte Chandler barely heard the familiar lament from her eight-year-old daughter. She was running late for work and was not open to a lengthy debate on the quality of sandwich fillings or, for that matter, the nutritional value of chocolates for lunch. ‘Where’s your homework, Gina?’
‘In my room.’
‘Well, honey, run and get it! Oh, for goodness’ sake!’
She waited, tapping her heels by the front door, looking at her watch and waiting for her daughter.
Sometimes, at moments like this, she was assaulted by one of those ‘what if’ moments that always left her shaken.
What if, eight years ago, things had turned out differently? What if she hadn’t decided on a stupid whim to trek in Riccardo’s wake so that she could pay him a surprise visit? What if she had just stayed put with the two friends with whom she now had zero contact and just waited for him to return? What if he had loved her the way she had loved him? What if, what if, what if?
She had devised a method of dealing with the past, though. In her head she visualised a box, and into that box she put all those nasty, sad memories, and then she visualised herself shutting the lid of the box and sealing it down with masking tape. Most of the time, though, life was just too hectic for her to indulge her quiet regrets. And certainly, when Gina had still been a vociferous, demanding toddler, she had spent her days working flat out to meet the cost of the rent and the child minder and then flopping, exhausted, into bed at night, too tired from coping to have had much room in her head for anything.