She was looking at him, but not really, and then his voice brought her back.
‘And you forgive her because how could you not?’
‘Her?’ Lydia checked, her mind still on friendships that had failed.
‘I wasn’t there long enough to forgive her,’ Lydia admitted.
‘Just being a teenager...’
She could easily dismiss it as that, but it had been more. Oh, she didn’t want to tell him that her father had just died and left behind him utter chaos, for while it might explain her unhappiness then, it wasn’t the entire truth—it had been more than that.
‘Schoolgirls can be such bitches.’
‘I don’t think it is exclusive to that age bracket.’
‘No!’ Lydia actually laughed at his observation because, yes, those girls were now women and probably still much the same.
She glanced at her phone, which had remained silent.
Arabella hadn’t responded to her text.
Neither had she responded to Lydia’s last message.
And suddenly Lydia was back in Italy, hurting again.
‘What happened in Venice?’
Raul chose his moment to ask. He knew how to steer conversations, and yet he actually found himself wanting to know.
‘We went to Murano...to a glass factory.’ She shook her head and, as she had then, felt pained to reveal the truth.
It felt like a betrayal.
Money should never be discussed outside the home.
‘And...?’ Raul gently pushed.
Why lie? Lydia thought.
She would never see him again.
It wasn’t such a big deal.
‘My father had died the year before.’
He didn’t say he was sorry—did not offer the automatic response to that statement.
It was oddly freeing.
Everyone had been so sorry.
If there’s anything I can do... The words had been tossed around like black confetti at his funeral.
Yet they had done nothing!
When it was clear the money had gone, so had they.
‘I’d told Arabella, my best friend, that my mother was struggling financially.’ Lydia was sweating, and that wasn’t flattering. She wanted to call the waiter to move the shade umbrella but knew she could be sitting in ice and the result would be the same.
It wasn’t sexy sweat.
Lydia wasn’t turned on now.
She felt sick.
‘I told Arabella that we might lose the castle.’
She offered more explanation.
‘The castle was in my mother’s family, but my father ran it. I thought he had run it well, but on his death I found out that my parents had been going under.’
Raul offered no comment, just let her speak.
‘He took his own life.’
She’d never said it out loud before.
Had never been allowed to say it.
‘I’m sorry you had to go through that.’
And because he hadn’t said sorry before, now—when he did—she felt he meant it.
‘I still can’t believe he left me.’
‘To deal with the fallout?’
He completed her sentence, even though Lydia thought she already had. She thought about it for a moment and nodded.
‘Things really were dire. My mother kept selling things off, to pay for my school fees. The trip to Italy was a compulsory one. I got a part-time job—saved up some spending money. Of course it didn’t come close to what my friends had. They were hitting all the boutiques and Arabella kept asking why I wasn’t buying anything. In the end I told her how bad things were. I swore her to secrecy.’
He gave a soft, mirthless laugh—one that told her he understood.
And then they were silent.
In that moment they met.
Not at a breakfast table in Rome but in a bleak, desolate space a world away from there.
They met and he reached across and took her hand, and together they walked it through.
‘At the factory, after a demonstration, everyone was buying things. I held back, of course. There was a table with damaged glassware and Belinda, another friend, held up a three-legged horse and suggested it was something that I might be able to afford. I realised then that Arabella had told everyone.’
She could still feel the betrayal.
Could still remember looking over to her best friend as everyone had laughed.
Arabella hadn’t so much as blushed at being caught.
‘She suggested that they all have a whip-round for me.’
‘So you walked off?’ Raul asked, impatient to know and understand her some more.
‘Oh, no!’ Lydia shook her head and then sighed. ‘I used up all my spending money, and the money I’d been given for my birthday, and bought a vase that I certainly couldn’t afford.’
It was that response in herself she had hated the most.
‘How shallow is that?’