The Secrets Chapter 4

The Secrets Chapter 4

The Secrets, set in England and Mallorca, and told through the voices of Ariana and Laia explores the universality of love and rejection, friendship, betrayal and grief and handles the issues of child abandonment and alcohol abuse with empathy. The death of their mother has left Claudia, Ariana and Mara with unanswered questions. While clearing out Vanessa’s belongings they find a chest packed with memorabilia and diaries which reveal secrets which turn their world upside down. Will the sisters learn to accept the past and embrace the ties that bind them as a family?


Romance / Women's fiction

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Janna Gray (Australia)

Abraham Birnbaum’s office was something out of the Victorian era, all dark wood, heavy drapes and bookshelves groaning under the weight of hefty legal tomes with obscure titles. My sisters and I, legs neatly crossed at the ankles, perched on straight-backed chairs while he leafed through a pile of papers on a leather-topped desk, pursing his lips and exhaling noisily.
‘Claudia, Ariana and Maria-Eugenie, I presume you know why you are here?’
‘Certainly not for the pleasure of seeing you, Abraham,’ I said. ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’
‘If you must.’ He rummaged in a drawer and slid an ashtray in my direction. ‘You’re here for the reading of your mother Vanessa Eugenie Hernandez’s will. Please accept my sincere condolences. The will is straightforward. As you know, your father Joachim Hernandez Alvarez left everything to your mother Vanessa, and in turn she bequeathed the estate to his four daughters.’
Claudia nudged me. ‘Four daughters? The old boy has got his wires crossed.’
‘Probably a slip of the tongue.’ I was longing for a drink but couldn’t see a decanter.
‘I’m sure you don’t want me to go into all the details –each of you will be given a copy of the will at the end of this meeting – Hartwood, the estate in Mallorca, the stocks and bonds, ISAs and shares are to be divided equally between the four of you. May I say, my dears, you will be very comfortably off as a result of excellent financial planning.’
‘You said four daughters, Abraham. There are only three of us, can’t you count?’ I said.
‘The will states quite clearly that your parents’ estate is to be shared between Claudia Parker, Ariana Mason-Elliot, Maria Eugenie Hernandez and Laia Hernandez Delgado.’
‘What on earth are you on about? We don’t have another sister!’
Abraham passed me an envelope. ‘Read the paper within. It’s a birth certificate. Bona fide.’
I motioned to my sisters to move closer, the better to read the document.
Laia Hernandez Delgado, born April 16th, 1984. Father Joaquim Hernandez Alvarez, mother Maria-José Delgado Morena.
The revelation hit me like a snowball in the face. ‘Shit! No wonder Mum said she’d be in hell were she to be with him when she died. Papa had an affair with the cook at Villa Azure, for God’s sake! He betrayed us!’
The room suddenly felt overwhelmingly stuffy. The clock ticked, each second agonisingly drawn out. Claudia fanned her face with the birth certificate, Mara knitted her fingers. I had an overwhelming desire to vomit.
‘I’m so very sorry. This news has clearly come as a shock to you.’ Abraham buzzed his PA. ‘Sherry, my dears, or would you prefer brandy? Yes, brandy please, Elizabeth. The Armagnac.’
‘Are you quite sure this, this aberration is kosher? I lit another cigarette from the glowing stub between my fingers, hoping an extra nicotine hit would calm the awful roiling in my gut. Beads of sweat popped on my top lip and dribbled in to my mouth.
‘Entirely. Your father has always provided for Laia. It was his express wish that the financial support be continued, which it will once probate has been completed.’
‘That’s utter bollocks! We’ll contest the will. There’s no way Laia will get another penny from any of us. She has had enough, I’m sure. How old is she?’
‘Do the maths. Laia is twenty eight,’ Mara said. ‘We can’t contest the will. It’s Papa’s wish and we must honour it.’
‘I agree,’ Claudia said. ‘Thank you Abraham. Perhaps we’ll have that drink with you at a later date? In the interim is there anything we should do or have you got everything under control?’
‘I do indeed. I’ll be in touch shortly. Until then, I suggest you make contact with Laia Quiñones as she is now known. I have met her – a charming young woman and not unlike you to look at, Ariana.’
‘I’d rather eat cockroaches! I will have nothing to do with my father’s bastard. Never.’
I threw my coat over my shoulders and left Abraham’s office, my eyes stinging. We were living a nightmare. In a few moments I’d wake up and life would be normal. Just me, Claudia and Mara. No Lydia, or whatever her name is, to sully Papa’s reputation. It was a scam. A bloody great scam. I’d phone Tia Caterina and Tio Jorge; they’d have the answers, tell me the truth.
Deaf to the loud chorus of irritation and disapproval for queue-barging, I hurled myself in to a taxi and barked out my address.
‘Cor love, I thought a bloody great bat was about to hijack my cab! In a hurry are you?’
‘Whatever do you mean?’ I disliked cabbies at the best of times, so many of them thought it acceptable to engage their passengers in inane conversations about the traffic, the weather and their bunions, but this chap took first prize with the bizarre comment.
‘Your coat, me duck. Looks like flipping bats’ wings.’
I settled my aching head against the worn head-rest, closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. The taxi didn’t move. ‘Engage the gears and while you’re at it, your brain. I have places to go.’
‘Can’t love. Your coat’s caught in the door. Unless you want it to trail in the filth of the road, I suggest you remove it.’
I retrieved my coat, dusted it down and the cabbie pulled out into the traffic. Abraham’s disclosure buzzed in my ears, the words settling and stinging like gnats. We have another sister. Why hadn’t one of the Mallorcan family informed us of her existence? Did she know about us? Was she aware she stands to inherit a quarter of Papa’s estate? Had Papa seen her regularly? I Certainly not when we holidayed at Villa Azure. Maria-José had left to work elsewhere, we were told.
I thought about my mother, my heart squeezing in sympathy for the shame, the sorrow she must have experienced, when the proverbial penny dropped with a mighty clang. Mum’s demeanour had altered around the time Laia was born, after Papa had sired another child with another woman. Poor darling Mum. Was it any wonder she withdrew from him? The knowledge that another woman, younger, had given him what he so desired must have cut her to ribbons, frayed her self-esteem, crushed her confidence. It was too horrible to contemplate further.
I paid the taxi driver, refused to leave a tip as I found the suggestion that I resembled a bat deeply insulting. The house was in silence when I entered. Unusual, as Paul was home from his travels, and his music, the sort that set my teeth on edge, was normally played at ear-shattering volume. Perhaps he’d popped out. I was about to pour myself a drink, I desperately needed one after Abraham’s outrageous disclosure, when I heard the door to the playroom creak. Whispers, followed by the sound of the front door opening and closing with a muffled clunk attracted my attention.
‘Hey Mum, how did it go with the solicitor dude?’
When we hugged I smelled a distinct whiff of pot.
‘You’ve been smoking that blasted stuff again. How many times have I told you weed is verboten in this house? Your father will be livid were he to find out.’
‘If you keep schtum about it, I won’t tell him you’re drinking at three in the afternoon.’
I could hardly argue when I was holding a bottle of gin. ‘Fair enough, but alcohol is preferable to the crap you inhale or whatever you do with the stuff. Besides, I’ve had a shitty day. I need a lift.’
‘I’ll pour you one. Go upstairs, change in to something comfortable. We can talk in the garden, chillax.’
‘You’re shitting me!’ Paul said when I’d filled him in on the life-changing news. ‘Abuelo Chimo did the dirty on Granny and you’ve got a bastard sister? Fuck!’ He laughed.
‘Don’t be crude, darling. It’s not remotely amusing. Can you imagine how Granny must have felt?’
He considered my words before wrapping me in a hug. ‘It’s a bummer, Mum, a total bummer, but you can’t take on Granny’s hurt or change the past. You’ve got to accept your karma, live in the moment.’
Paul’s New Age adages got up my nose at the best of times but today they annoyed me intensely. Live in the moment? What the hell did he think I was doing? The moment was very real, in my face. Horribly unpleasant and not one I wanted to live in or accept.
‘What do the Ugly Sisters think of it all?’
Paul and Lottie’s nickname for my sisters was a wacky term of affection; they adored their aunts.
‘They are totally shocked, but knowing them as well as I do, they’ll insist we meet the cuckoo.’
‘What’s my new aunt’s name?’
‘I am being serious. L A I A, pronounced L-eye-ah. Liar.’

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