‘But it’s possible?’
‘Oh, it’s probably a scam. Someone who’s got Han’s details from social media and wants to…’
‘I wouldn’t dismiss it so easily. Stranger things have happened. You read about them all the time. What exactly did this girl – woman – say?’
‘I don’t know,’ Cleo admitted. ‘I was in a hurry to come to work, and Han tends to dramatise everything. I didn’t actually read the message.’ Now she wished she had. She’d do so as soon as she got home. What if she was genuine? She felt the colour draining from her face.
‘Well, there’s no sense worrying till you know more,’ Bev said in the brisk, common sense tone Cleo was accustomed to. Bev never seemed to let anything faze her. Even when her twin brother had arrived on her doorstep with very little warning and no explanation, she’d managed to cope.
‘Is there a third thing?’ Bev asked, reminding Cleo she’d only covered two of her concerns.
‘Yes, that missing girl. Did you hear the news this morning? Another young girl’s gone missing on the coast, and she was last seen walking home fromoursurf club. It could have been Hannah.’ Her eyes widened in alarm as her stomach churned.
‘I did hear. It’s a dreadful business. Did you or Hannah know her?’
‘I didn’t. I don’t know about Hannah. How are we supposed to keep our kids safe, Bev? What if there’s a serial killer out there?’
‘Is that what the police are saying?’
‘They’re not saying very much – and the other two girls are still missing. Neither they nor their bodies have been found.’ She shivered. ‘At least Hannah doesn’t walk home on her own after dark. She’s sensible about that. But once she’s no longer living at home, I won’t know what she’s doing or where she is. I don’t want to be one of those mothers who can’t let go, but I can’t help worrying.’
‘Think back, Cleo. What were you doing when you were her age?’
For a second, Cleo stared at her friend, then put her hands to her cheeks. ‘I was working in a café in Byron Bay and living in a tiny room at the back of an old house, saving madly so I could have my own café. I’d been there for three years. I left home when I was eighteen. My poor parents. I never considered how they might feel about it. I was so intent on proving I was grown up. It was hard at first, but I persevered. Then Stan came along.’ She smiled in reminiscence.
‘So, what Hannah’s planning isn’t so bad, is it?’
‘But it was different in those days. The world was a safer place.’
‘Really? There were no missing girls? No murders?’
‘Okay, okay. I take your point. We thought we were invulnerable, much as Hannah and her mates do now, I suppose.’ She gave a heartfelt sigh. ‘Sometimes I envy you, Bev. You don’t have any children to worry about.’
Bev’s face took on a closed expression, making Cleo regret her words. She wondered why Bev had never married. She was older than Cleo, ran a tight ship in the garden centre which appeared to be her whole life. It had never occurred to Cleo till now that Bev might be lonely. She wondered if there had ever been anyone, if Bev was hiding some secret sadness. But she didn’t seem like someone who’d been disappointed in love. And Cleo would never ask. There were some aspects of her friend’s life that were definitely out of bounds.
‘I’ve been checking out thisDestinationmagazine, Dad. It’s awesome. Are our photos really going to be published in it?’ Owen carried his iPad into the kitchen and, hooking a chair with his foot, sat down opposite Will.
‘If the editor likes what Coop sends him.’ Will grinned at Owen’s enthusiasm.
‘He surely will. Your old mate’s a whizz with his camera. Look at those epic shots he took of me, and his exhibition was sick.’
Will chuckled, but Owen was right. After spending years travelling the world and his photos being featured in all the top travel magazines, having won the prestige Atlas award twice, Martin Cooper had deigned to take the photos Owen referred to, before a local exhibition of his work resurrected his career.
‘We’ll need to be going soon. We’re meeting Coop and Ted at the beach in just under an hour. Do you want breakfast before we head off?’ Familiar with his son’s insatiable appetite, Will knew this was a hypothetical question.
‘Sure.’ Owen laid his iPad on the table and poured what looked like a mountain of Weet-Bix into a bowl before drowning it in milk and filling a glass with the remains of the carton. ‘Need to buy some more,’ he said, holding the empty container up for Will to inspect.
Will shook his head. How on earth were he and Nate going to manage in their new accommodation? Though, come to think of it, Nate had been living independently for some time. He supposed Owen would learn the rudiments of cooking, shopping and cleaning. One thing he was sure of, this girl they were sharing with – Hannah Johansen – didn’t look like the type to suffer fools gladly – or to take on a housekeeping role. Will and Nate were in for a rude awakening if they had any ideas on that score.
‘We’ll be sweet,’ Owen had said, the evening after he’d introduced Hannah to Will, tapping the side of his nose, ‘Han’s mum runs a café. Bet she’s a good cook. And she’s a girl. She’ll want the place to be clean and tidy, and probably loves to shop.’
Will had sighed, partly at his son’s chauvinistic attitude but mostly at the fact Owen had missed his mother’s influence in recent years. They both had. Will had tried his best to make up for Dee’s absence but knew he’d been a poor substitute.
Finally, they were ready to go, Owen grabbing an apple as they went out the door. ‘In case I get hungry,’ he explained with a grin.
Martin and Ted were already at the beach when they arrived, along with a young boy whose eyes gleamed with excitement.