Page 18 of Daisy Darker

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“Doyoureally think it was an accident?” Conor asks him.

“Enough!” Dad snaps. “This isn’t a crime scene for a BBC correspondent to report on or a murder mystery story for someone to solve. She was mymother.She slipped and fell. Simple as that. There was no murder, there is no mystery. She was eighty, had already lost most of her marbles, and now she’s dead. That’s the end of it.” His face closes like a door. The conversation is over. Then Dad frowns and stares out of the window, almost as though he has forgotten the rest of us are here. “Forgive me, I think I need to be alone for a while,” he says quietly.

Lily returns with some sweaters and blankets, and has dressed herself in jogging bottoms teamed with a tight top. Dad leaves the room as she enters it, taking his whiskey with him and closing the door. We hear him go into the music room, and a few minutes later, we all hear the familiar sound of him playing the piano. Even though he is drunk, he plays perfectly.

“I’m still cold,” whispers Trixie, despite the sweater Lily has given her. It’s the pink sweater from last night, and matches her pajamas.

“I brought one of your books down for you,” Lily says.

“I’m too upset to read.”

“Suit yourself. Here, play with this, see if you can beat my highest score,” Lily says. Trixie takes her mother’s mobile phone and plays Snake, the glow of the screen reflected in her glasses and illuminating her sad little tearstained face.

“I’ll go and fetch some firewood,” offers Conor. “I think we’re in for a long night.”

“Thank you, Conor,” says Nancy with uncharacteristic sincerity.

He’s gone a very long time. I think maybe I’m the only one to notice until my mother speaks again.

“You don’t think Conor is doing a runner, do you?”

I think she was trying to make a joke, but it doesn’t quite land, and her face suggests she regrets it. Nana and Conor had a very special relationship; I don’t believe he could be capable of hurting her. At least, not like that. She was the grandmother he never had, and we all knew how much she adored him. There was a time when Nana didn’t just treat Conor like family; she treated him better.

A year after appearing in Blacksand Bay, Conor would regularly turn up at Seaglass, with or without an invitation. So did I. My mother often felt the need to “run away” without much notice—sometimes she visited my father while he toured abroad; sometimes none of us knew where she went—but I was always sent to Seaglass when my existence wasn’t convenient for my parents’ lifestyle. Not that I minded. I loved spending time here with Nana. So did Conor.

I was a bit too young to hold his attention back then, so if my sisters were away at boarding school, he would amuse himself looking for crabs in the rock pool at the rear of the house. It was carved out courtesy of the sea from the natural stone Seaglass was built on—a private treasure trove of watery magic, starfish, and crabs. Nana told us it was where fairies went to swim at night while the rest of the world was sleeping. If the weather was bad, Conor could often be found indoors helping Nana mix her paints—he and I were the only ones allowed in her studio—or playing with his yo-yo and staring out to sea. But one morning, Nana and I found him outside the back door, curled up asleep in the log store.

“Conor, it’s five a.m. and it’s freezing, whatareyou doing out here?” Nana asked, squinting at the boy in the shadows. His only blanket was the night sky, sequined with stars. There are no viewsof the bay or the mainland from the back of the house. All that can be seen or heard is the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as the sun goes down, the world outside of Seaglass’s walls is cold and dark. The sea looked black, and the tide was in that morning. Which meant that Conor must have been out there for hours. He knew better than to risk the rips and tides hiding beneath the surface of an unforgiving ocean.

“I didn’t want to wake anyone,” Conor said, staring at Nana. They had a silent exchange that five-year-old me was too young to understand.

“Come on, let’s get you inside. I’ll run you a hot bath so you can warm up.”

“Why are you limping?” I asked Conor as he followed Nana up the stairs. He smelled pretty bad too, and his blond hair looked shiny and wet with grease.

“Go to your room, Daisy,” Nana said. She could see that I was about to protest; being sent to my room was one of my mother’s favorite forms of punishment, not Nana’s, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. Nana’s face softened. “We can have jelly and ice cream with chocolate sauce for breakfast, but only if you go to your room,” she said with a wink. So I did as I was told. But I couldn’t resist creeping out onto the landing a little while later, and peeking through the crack where the bathroom door was open just enough to see.

Nana used my bubble bath for Conor, not that I minded. The bottle looked like a smiley sailor called Matey, and it turned the water blue. I loved bubble baths, but Conor didn’t smile or look happy at all. I watched as Nana helped him out of his sweater and shirt—he dressed like a middle-aged man when he was ten—and I saw the cuts and bruises all over his back. Conor looked ashamed, as though it were his fault.

“Who did this to you?” Nana asked, already knowing the answer that Conor wouldn’t give.

She held his face in her hands. “You’re going to be okay, I promise. You take the rest of your clothes off and pop them in this bin liner. I’m going to find you some clean, dry clothes and start making us all some breakfast. Call me if you need anything.”

“Mrs. Darker—” he said.


“Please don’t tell anyone. He didn’t mean to do it.”

Nana had her back to him, and I could see she had tears in her eyes. “I had a dad who didn’t mean to hurt me too, once upon a time. I promise you can trust me. For now, just have your bath. There’s a clean towel and washcloth on the side. Don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”

I ran back to my bedroom before Nana came out onto the landing, and listened to her march down the stairs. She was still wearing her fluffy purple dressing gown and pink slippers, but she looked really mad, and her face looking all cross like that made me feel a bit afraid. Nana was rarely angry about anything, but boy, did everyone know about it when she was.

The only telephone at Seaglass in those days—or ever—was in the hallway. It was on a little round table next to a fancy notebook full of handwritten numbers. I watched from behind the banister at the top of the staircase as Nana flicked through the book, found Conor’s dad’s number, and dialed. It was a rotary phone, so it took forever. Her foot was tapping the way it did when she was proper cross while she waited for someone to answer the call. Patience was never one of Nana’s virtues.

“Hello, Mr. Kennedy, how are you today? Oh, a little under the weather? I’m sorry to hear that. Is that why you beat your ten-year-old son with your belt last night?”

There was silence, in which I’m sure Conor’s dad and I were both busy putting together pieces of a puzzle we weren’t sure how to solve. Wondering if those pieces were in the right order. Not really liking the picture that they made. Nana went on.

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