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‘It is. All you need to do is find yourself another woman.’

Eight

Cleo was trembling when she pressed to accept the call. She waved away a member of her staff who had been about to talk with her and dropped into an empty chair. ‘Hello?’

‘Hello, Cleo. It’s Pat. I hope this is a convenient time for you to talk. I wasn’t sure when to call.’

‘This is fine.’ Cleo gripped her phone tightly, wishing she had a large glass of something alcoholic; the bottle of water on the table was a poor substitute. ‘You were going to tell me about this girl, this Kerri-Ann who contacted Han.’

‘Yes. As I said, it’s a long story, but I’ll be as brief as I can. It was when we were all much younger, before Stan left for Australia. Gloria and he grew up together. She lived two doors down. We’d always known her and her family. Then, in high school, she and Stan started to see each other. No one thought it was anything serious, just two young people having fun together.’

‘But it went further than that.’ Cleo guessed.

‘You’re right. I don’t think Stan ever meant to… but one night they were at Gloria’s house alone and one thing led to another. I only know this because Stan told me afterwards. He was so ashamed. He said it was all his fault, but I knew Gloria and wasn’t so sure. She had a bit of a reputation. You know what I mean?’

Cleo nodded, then realising Pat couldn’t see her, said, ‘Yes.’ It came out as a croak. She cleared her throat and swallowed, trying not to picture Stan and this girl together. After all, it had been long before she knew him.

‘Anyway, as you no doubt can guess, Gloria became pregnant. It was all hushed up, as they did in those days – the family were very religious. She disappeared. We were told she’d gone off to school in a different state, to a small boarding school, one which her mother had attended as a girl. It made sense, and we didn’t think any more about it. Stan thought he’d had a narrow escape. It never occurred to any of us she was pregnant. Time passed, Stan finished school, went to uni, then to Australia.’

‘But how…?’

‘I’m coming to that. Gloria came back to town a few years later. She had changed from the outgoing cheerleader we’d known, but we all put it down to the fact she’d grown up. She got a job locally, married a local guy, then… this is where it gets interesting… about ten years ago this young girl suddenly appeared on the scene and moved in with Gloria and her husband. They didn’t have any children of their own. At first, we all thought she was a distant relation of Gloria’s husband, but she looked familiar. Then the rumours started.’

‘Did Stan know?’

‘Not for sure. I wrote and told him about Gloria and this girl, and he could do the adding up, I guess, but he couldn’t know for sure.’

‘And this girl… she’s Kerri-Ann?’

‘Gloria’s daughter – and most likely Stan’s, too.’

‘Oh!’ Cleo fell back in her chair. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected to hear. ‘But why contact Hannah? Why now?’

‘It would have been while Hannah was here. Gloria must have seen her or heard someone mention we had Stan’s daughter staying with us. Kerri-Ann doesn’t live in town anymore, but it wouldn’t have been difficult for her to work it out for herself and find Hannah on social media.’

‘Oh!’ Cleo said again. She was trying to get her head around this. ‘So, if Hannah hadn’t come to visit you…?’

‘Kerri-Ann might never have known of her existence. She had most likely worked out who her birth father was, or Gloria had told her, but Stan had been living in Australia and had died. There was nothing for her there. Hannah is a different matter.’

There was silence as Cleo tried to digest what Pat was saying.

‘You mean she might want to come here, to meet Han?’

‘It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.’

Cleo’s stomach churned at the thought of a child of Stan’s turning up here in Bellbird Bay wanting to…what? She realised Pat was speaking again.

‘I’m sorry, Cleo. I feel partly responsible.’

‘Why? What are you responsible for? It was Stan and this Gloria woman who are responsible, and Kerri-Ann… I guess she just wants to make contact with Han, with her sister.’ Cleo flinched as she said the word. She and Stan would dearly have loved to have given Han a sister or brother, but it wasn’t to be, and here was one suddenly appearing from the past. How she wished Stan was here, wished she was able to ask him about it, about her – both Gloria and Kerri-Ann. She wondered what he would say if confronted with his child, born all that time ago. She wanted to ask him if he’d loved Gloria, if he still thought about her, if… But she could do none of that.

‘Are you still there?’

‘What? Sorry, I was just thinking… about Stan, about what he’d do.’ But she knew what her husband would do. He was a kind man, one who didn’t shirk his responsibilities. He’d welcome this girl, if she was his daughter, welcome her with open arms – and expect Cleo to do the same. ‘Thanks for filling me in, Pat.’

‘If there’s anything I can do…’

‘Thanks.’ But what could Pat do? Everything had been done all those years ago when Stan and Gloria had… Cleo flinched again. It wasn’t the fact Stan had a relationship before her. He no doubt had more than one. He was no innocent when they met. Neither was she. But this… It was the fact there was this girl who wanted to meet Hannah. Because Cleo was now sure that’s what the message was all about. ‘Thanks, Pat,’ she said again and finished the call.

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