Emma ran though the rain, cursing under her breath as she felt her blouse grow wet.
Why hadn’t she brought an umbrella with her? Wasn’t that what her mum always said: doesn’t matter about the weather, always have a brolly ready. And now she’d be soaking wet for her meeting.
She’d only popped out quickly to get Dele an extra birthday present which, on reflection, he probably didn’t need. But she was so proud of him for getting a job as regional manager of the chain of bookshops he’d been working for, she wanted to get him something to show that and the book tie she’d seen online was perfect! All she needed to do is go to the boutique shop which stocked it and buy it before someone else did!
She put her head down as she ran, hoping to at least save her mascara from running too. If she could get back to the office soon and dry up, she might just be able to make herself look presentable before meeting with her new client. Now she was a partner in the agency, she had to be a little more professional!
As she was thinking that, she ran bang smack into someone. ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry, I – ‘
She paused as she looked at the man before her, ice running through her veins.
It was Lawrence Belafonte, Isla’s birth father!
He looked so different, that was her first thought alongside the tingle of fear. He had tried to take her daughter away from her, after all. He looked softer around the edges, strawberry blond hair balding at the top, the shirt he was wearing nowhere near as expensive as the ones he’d once worn.
‘Emma,’ he said, looking just as shocked as she felt.
Of course, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. He’d been released a couple of months back. But in her last email from Isla’s birth mother Jade, she’d said Lawrence was planning to move to Scotland. It had been such a relief to hear that. She knew he wouldn’t serve his full sentence for breaking and entering, and kidnapping a minor. But just a year?
But yet here he was, in Ashbridge, just twenty minutes from Forest Grove where he’d turned their lives upside down.
Emma had hoped by moving away from Forest Grove themselves, she’d escape the memories. But she could still see the treetops from the housing estate they’d moved to just outside Ashbridge… and Ashbridge was where they both worked.
A thought occurred to her as she looked at him: was there why he was here? Did he know they’d moved nearby?
Was he here to get Isla?
‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Emma said in a shaky voice. ‘We – we shouldn’t be talking.’
She quickly went to walk away.
‘Wait.’ He grabbed her arm. Emma flinched, looking down at his pale wet fingers circling her wrist. He blinked and let her go.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, ‘I didn’t mean…’
‘Leave me alone.’ She went to march away but heard him run after her, the soles of his cheap shoes slapping against the wet pavement.
‘Wait!’ he called out as people turned to stare. ‘I – I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just here to drop some legal documents off then I’m going to Scotland. I’ll be out of your lives forever, I mean it. I just – ‘
She turned to him, folding her arms. ‘Just what, Lawrence?’
‘I just want to know how Isla is?’ he asked softly.
‘Doesn’t Tatjana keep you updated?’ she snapped.
She’d agree with Tatjana, his ex, that she would send a brief line or two updating him on Isla when she sent letters about the sons they’d had together too. Emma didn’t keep as much in touch with Tatjana as she did with Jade, but they did sometimes meet for a catch up so the kids could run around together.
‘She does keep me posted,’ Lawrence said. ‘But you’re the one who knows Isla best. You’re her… mother.’
She looked into his eyes. Had he ever really said that before? Called her Isla’s mother, accepted that yes, it was she, Emma, who was Isla’s mother?
She sighed. ‘You’re really moving away?’
He nodded. ‘Absolutely. Come on, Emma, you can’t blame me for asking after her. I’ve been good, I haven’t written to you when I’ve been desperate to. I accept – ’ He swallowed, eyes filling with tears, ‘I accept I’ve blown my chances with her. But if you could just tell me a few bits, I can take those away with me when I leave.’
She examined his face for a few moments. She couldn’t forget how deceptive she knew he could be. How charming on the surface and yet, to put it bluntly, deranged and violent beneath it all.
… he was Isla’s birth father. Isla never talked about that day he took her against her will, except for once, on the anniversary of when it happened, Isla’s twelfth birthday a few weeks back. Of course, it would always taint her birthday, memories of what had happened that evening when Lawrence took her away in the night. They’d purposefully kept this birthday low key, inviting two of Isla’s friends for dinner and a cinema trip.
After, when they’d got home after dropping the girls off, Isla had been unusually quiet. Then she’d looked up at her parents with sad eyes and asked: ‘Can you tell me more about Lawrence? I mean, his life. His – his parents and stuff?’
So they’d sat her down and told her of his difficult upbringing, how he’d managed to pull himself up and yet those demons kept returning.
‘I’m not excusing his behaviour,’ Emma had said after, ‘but I think with a more settled upbringing, he would have had a better chance at resisting the demons inside.’
‘I wish he’d got adopted,’ Isla had said, snuggling into her parents, ‘then he’d be the luckiest kid ever, like me.’
Emma felt tears spring to her eyes as she looked at Lawrence now. He’d done so much wrong, so much. But hadn’t she too? She needed to give him something.
‘Isla’s doing really well,’ she said with a smile. ‘She’s doing brilliantly at school, especially in art and design.’ He smiled at that. It was his passion after all, architecture. ‘We have a dog now, she’s been hounding us for years to get one. She called him Zenix.’
Lawrence frowned. ‘Zenix, that’s an unusual..’ Then his face lit up. ‘Zeke and Phoenix.’
‘Yes, her bothers’ names.’
‘Brothers. I like that she sees my boys as her brothers.’ He sighed. ‘It’s such a shame it turned out the way it did, the life Tatjana and I could have had with the three kids.’
Emma’s face hardened. How could he say that? ‘I can’t believe you still think of it like that. Life would never have been how you imagined it if you’d got your way.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because you would have been part of it, Lawrence.’ Emma straightened her shoulders and looked him in the eye. ‘I have to go. I really do wish you luck with your life in Scotland but I hope you understand when I say I never want to see you again.’
Then she strode off, hearing her sister whisper in her ear, ‘Nice one, Em.’
Have you read Wall of Silence? You can read the epilogue for that here. If you haven't read Wall of Silence yet, click the link below.