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For the next few minutes, Cleo sat staring into space, her hand still gripping her phone. Then she roused herself. She should close up here and go home. Then she needed to see Hannah. She needed to tell her daughter what Pat had told her – or a sanitised version of it.


‘Han?’ Cleo’s hand was slippery with sweat when she heard her daughter’s voice. When she got home, she’d tried to eat something and made a cup of camomile tea, forcing herself to drink it in an attempt to calm down before she rang Hannah. But it hadn’t helped, and the leftover lasagne had stuck in her throat. She was still strung up from Pat’s call.

‘Mum? Is something wrong? You sound strange.’

‘I need to talk to you. It’s about the message you received … from Kerri-Ann.’

‘Oh, that. I’d forgotten all about it. I have better things to do than worry about some stupid message. I deleted it and blocked the sender. And I’ve upped the privacy settings on my profile. I don’t expect to hear from her again.’

Cleo swallowed. She wished she’d never asked Pat about the girl. But would it have made any difference? She’d still be there, a reminder of what Stan had done, and she might try to contact Hannah again or even turn up out of the blue.

‘Well, we need to talk about it all the same. Can you pop round?’

‘Oh, Mum! I was planning to write up my programme tonight – or at least make a start on it. Can’t it wait?’

‘No, I need to see you. Would it be better if I came to you?’

There was a pause during which Cleo imagined Hannah glancing around her room, or the kitchen, or the living room, wherever she happened to be – and wondering if she could bear to have her mother see it. ‘No,’ Hannah sighed. ‘I’ll pop home, but I can’t stay long.’

‘It won’t take long.’ Cleo gave a sigh of relief. ‘I brought home a couple of slices of Ruby’s hummingbird cake. We can have it with a cup of tea or coffee.’

‘You twisted my arm,’ Hannah laughed before ringing off.

Cleo was glad she’d packed up the cake before leaving the café. Ruby’s hummingbird cake, a delicious concoction combining the flavours of coconut, pineapple and banana was one of Hannah’s favourites.

Cleo filled in the time before Hannah’s arrival by tidying her already tidy kitchen and turning on the coffee maker. She knew Hannah preferred coffee over tea, and it did go well with the cake. Then she put the slices of cake onto a plate and sat down to wait, her heart in her mouth, her entire body trembling at the prospect of what she had to tell Hannah.

‘Hi, Mum. This had better be good,’ Hannah called, letting herself in and coming straight to the kitchen where she hugged Cleo. ‘Yum!’ she said, seeing the cake. ‘But as I said I can’t stay long. I have to have my programme in by the end of the week. It’s a real pain – almost as bad as a uni assignment.’

She dropped into a chair, picked up a slice of cake and took a bite. ‘Mmm. Now what’s this about the message, Mum?’

Cleo carried two cups of coffee over to the table and joined her. ‘I spoke to your Aunt Pat,’ she said, to gain time.

‘How is she? I’ve been meaning to contact her. She and Uncle Ed were so good to me when I was there.’

‘She’s good.’ Cleo paused. ‘I rang to ask if she knew anything about the girl who messaged you – Kerri-Ann.’

‘And did she?’ Hannah took a sip of coffee and another bite of cake. ‘Mmm, Mum, this is so good. Do you think Ruby would give me the recipe?’

‘I doubt it. She swears it’s a secret family recipe. Your Aunt Pat knew who I was talking about.’

Hannah stopped, her hand on the way to her mouth. ‘She did? She’s a real person?’ she asked, her mouth full of crumbs.

‘Very real.’ Cleo gave Hannah a potted version of what Pat had told her.

Hannah’s eyes widened. ‘What? Why did Dad never tell us?’

‘He may not have known.’ This is what Cleo had been trying to tell herself since she first spoke with Pat.

‘That’s crap. How could he not have known? But I can’t believe Dad would have… He was a good dad… he’d never have… I don’t believe it.’ She slammed her cup down on the table.

‘Hannah, darling, we have to accept it may be true. Your Aunt Pat seemed convinced. If Kerri-Ann is your dad’s daughter – even if he didn’t know about her – she’s your half-sister.’

‘No! I don’t believe it,’ Hannah repeated, becoming irate. ‘I don’t want to know any more about her.I’mDad’s daughter, not some girl in California we’ve never heard of. I need to go, Mum. I’ve stuff to do.’ She rose and, giving Cleo a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, stormed off, the front door slamming behind her.

Well, Cleo thought,that went well.

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