Acknowledgement: Thank you to the beta reading team for taking the time to help me out.
We all have our childhood nemesis - the bully, the prettiest girl in school, the most popular, the funniest, the brightest and the list goes on and on. It is all dependent on which category, and there could be more than one, that threatened your existence when you were an innocent in what was supposed to be a world of equal opportunity.
Things didn't change for a long time, or what seems like forever, when you were growing up. However, at some stage between the ages of eighteen and eighty we mature and see things for what they really are.
Life isn't always fair!
Once you become acquainted with that particular disenchantment, you can expect, and do, become like the vast majority of our species ready to proceed along whatever path is open to you. As you carry on, there is a degree of certainty that things will work out in some satisfactory way that will suit you as an individual.
Or that's the theory anyway!
I can testify that now, at forty-five, my life is settled. I love the work I do and the friends I have. My home life is easy going with only my cat Ferdinand (Ferdy) to worry about when I need a vacation. Fortunately for me, and Ferdy, our home is by the beach, in a wonderful part of the world. I have a number of friends who will gladly cat-sit for me if I decide to opt for a vacation.
If anyone asked me now what I am afraid of I'd have to say not a great deal. Ok, I've replaced my childhood fears with a healthy aversion, if you can call any aversion healthy, to mice and giant spiders. The latter seems to have a knowledge best suited to a clairvoyant always appearing in my tub the exact moment I decide to take a relaxing bath. With all that aside, I'd call myself pretty darn happy with my lot in life. I pride myself that I don't have a bad word to say about anyone that I know personally and I hope they haven't for me.
Alas, what I hadn't bargained on was a disruption to my ordered life coupled with the realisation that some fears were only buried superficially. Because a week ago my world tipped back three decades when along came Sally!
* * *
Just for the record, my name is Angela Barossa and I've lived in this small town all of my life. My parents were born here and came from true emigrant Italian fishing stock. My grandparent's profession does not sustain the family any more. My parents decided that real estate was the game and made a tidy profit buying and selling properties in the early years. Eventually the business was passed on to me when they retired to the city. A lifetime by the sea in a small town had been enough for them and they wanted more adventure. I suspect my eyes rolled at the time when they came up with that particular reason for leaving. Now, on reflection, I can't see them being any place else. They love the hustle and bustle of the city and have a small but perfect apartment in the centre of what might be called a bohemian area. They love it and I am happy for them.
Barossa Realty is situated in the centre of the town's main street which is one of only two streets of note. Ours is the only real estate agency in town. Though we aren't cheap, we don't over charge our customers which have made us a family firm to be proud of. Other realtors have tried and failed in the town as they attempted, when living by the beach became a vogue to the city wealthy, to ride on the band wagon of the beach being a popular spot for second homes. My parents had prided themselves on being able to offer the community who wanted to stay here the opportunity to do so with their families. What was left on offer went to the highest outside bidder and I'd made a hefty profit with a couple of smart private purchases of my own in the past. At the end of the day, there was a healthy mix of what was good for the community and what was good for the bank balance.
I share my office with my associate Jane Campion who is ten years younger than me. After three failed marriages and constantly moving out of a shared domain she decided that it was time to put down her own roots. That is how we met. She was reeling from her third divorce and I'd been given the reigns to the business and needed an assistant. I helped her find her dream home in her particular price range and she showed me that she had a natural flare for what was good and bad in a house. Subsequently, I offered her a job shortly after we had viewed one of the homes she was considering. That was five years ago - how time flies.
I told you it was a week ago didn't I? Ah yes, of course I did. Jane and I were in the office as usual on a Friday afternoon discussing whether to close an hour early. That way we could celebrate my forty-fifth birthday with a few beers and a pool game at Starkie's bar which was one of my favourite haunts.
A few minutes later, as I was locking up the filing cabinets and Jane was collecting the placards situated on the sidewalk, a fax began to shoot through the machine. My eyes glanced at the offending machine and I contemplated ignoring it until the next day until I heard the final beep indicating it was done. Jane was in charge for the Saturday hours and I had the Sunday part-time hours; it worked well for both of us. Jane being a devout religious person refused to work on a Sunday. I, on the other hand, was what she merrily called a philistine and she was probably right on the button. I think the only time I go to church is the usual three events, births, deaths and marriages. Should I or shouldn't I read it? Of course otherwise I'll be thinking about its contents if I don't sneak a peek. I walked briskly over to the machine and plucked the A4 sheet from the paper tray and glanced at its contents.
"Hey, anything of interest? You look like you've seen or read about a ghost." Jane's voice brought me out of my seemingly numb state. I must have been standing there like a fool holding a piece of paper with my mouth wide open.
"What? No, no nothing like that. Here read it," I passed the sheet over to Jane and waited for her to say something. As I sat down heavily in my chair I thought that beer we've been talking about sounds like a great idea right about now.
I didn't have to wait long as Jane whistled and with a cheerful note in her voice read the contents to me out loud.
Required for immediate purchase:
Returning resident of this area needs a property with views over the sea, lighthouse and peer. Minimum two bedrooms must be in excellent condition and fully modernised. No price limit.
"Wow this is great. I love the last part…no price limit. Do you know this person Angela?"
Do I know this person…do I? Of course I do.How could I ever forget her? She was my nemesis at school. Through all my formative school years from the age of five to fifteen that person had been in my face constantly or so it appeared to me back then. "Yes, I know her."
I saw Jane turn her head and I had no choice but to look squarely into her eyes. She must have seen something there that was unusual for she asked me directly, "Is this a problem for you?"
Shaking away the notion that someone I hadn't seen in thirty years had any meaning in my life I replied briskly, "don't be silly Jane. I think I know just the place."
I stood up and smiled weakly. "Let's go have that beer. I'll tell you my ideas for a property and you can answer the enquiry tomorrow."
"Wow this could be a big deal. Don't you want the commission?"
I had to consider my words carefully before I replied to that perfectly good question. Especially in light of the property I had in mind the commission would be sweet. Though, I would still, as owner of the reality business, have a bite of the cherry too just not as much. "I'll get commission Jane. Don't forget I own the business."
With that we locked up the shop. Jane had apparently been thankfully appeased with my answer. As we walked into the bar and purchased our drinks we saw a free pool table and put down our money and began to play.
An hour later the question I was dreading finally dropped into our conversation and I knew I would have to answer it. Though how much truth and how much fiction I could spin had me battling inside.
"Angela, what do you know about Sally Maguire?"
I knew Jane's motives were purely business. It was a useful part of a realtor's game if they researched or had prior knowledge of what a client liked or disliked in a property.
"What do I know…?"
My mind drifted to the first time I'd had ever set eyes on Sally Maguire…
My eyes bulged as I gazed at the child who was seated next to me in my very first class. She was like no one I had ever seen before. Her hair was a thick crown of gold, which topped a face that looked to me like an angel on top of the Christmas tree. Her body, at first sight, could be called fragile. She was one of those children that everyone who met her adored immediately. At least that's what my five-year-old brain was telling me or perhaps that was my interpretation of back then. Whatever it was, I felt totally sidelined beside her. I had swarthy dark skin of Mediterranean decent and dark often unruly curly hair, along with chubby features, which, in contrast, made me look like a fat gremlin. It didn't take long to make me realise that some people were born to be the centre of attention. Others either lavished attention on that person or were suitably left out in the cold.
Siberia descended on me in a short space of time as Sally became the most popular child and I, because of my shyness, the least liked one. As our junior years crawled by I found that I was an average student and yes, of course, Sally had the brains to go with her looks. I did in time make my own friends but was never able to become one of the inner circles that belonged with Sally.
If you were to ask me now if I really wanted to be part of that scene I'd ask you which planet did you come from? Of course I did it was the only place to be.
Life could have dealt me a little slack by allowing our paths in high school to go separate ways, but oh no, not my life. There is a truth I've always believed - someone up there enjoys a good joke from time to time. But why did it have to be at my expense.
Anyway, to cut a long story short we attended the same class for every semester until we reached the age of fifteen. To make matters even worse I'd turned my puppy fat, as my dad always called it, into adolescent bulges reminiscent of my mother and her figure. Let's say she has a matronly shape which would have looked good on the catwalk for the oversized. And, I had the misfortune to be seated next to the girl with the most enviable figure imaginable.
Sally Maguire went from being the most popular and prettiest girl in juniors to an all round stunner who had every jock on campus vying for her attention. I, on the other hand, was lucky to have a guy give me a second glance. Not that I cared for boys didn't interest me back then and truthfully never have. I guess right now it would be fair to say that as a five year old I had been smitten by an angel and have never fully recovered. Not that I would ever admit that to anyone.
Over the years it was something I smiled about on occasion especially when my mother would hassle me about producing grandchildren. What it comes down to is that for ten years I was constantly in the grip of a crush on someone who didn't know I existed even though I was barely feet from her most of the school year. As the years progressed I did often wonder what had happened to her. She'd moved suddenly in our final year which I thought was rather thoughtless of her parents and a sad blow for me. She might not have known I was alive but at least I saw her most days. Now, after all these years, she was returning to her home town which in itself that was a mystery. Why come back at all?
"Have I lost you?" Jane's voice brought me back to reality as I gave her a wry smile.
"Nope I was thinking that's all. Actually the last time I saw her she was fifteen. She had the perfect figure and looks that strike most of us with envy coupled with being intelligent enough to score in the top five for every subject. Beyond that, I don't really know her." My words were absolutely correct. At the end of the day that was all I did know about Sally Maguire - not much at all.
Jane pulled at her lower lip. "I bet the property you are thinking of is the Grey's House?"
I smiled warmly at Jane for she was right on the button. The Grey's house had entered the market about two years ago after the death of its long time owner. Although it was a marvellous place and had all the right views for a full appreciation of the area it was highly priced and it was stipulated that it could only be sold to someone who had been born in the area. The locals who envied the property hadn't the means to purchase at such a high value. I tried but failed to convince the lawyer to lower the price. I had even thought of investing in the place myself if there were no takers in another six months. "Yes that's right, I'm sure that the lawyer will be pleased if this sale goes through for it will finish his final asset under Muriel's will."
It was no secret that Muriel Grey had no living relatives and the will had stipulated that the money from her possessions would go towards the up-keep of the town hall. The mayor was going to be excited if he could finally get his hands on the bulk of the estate.
"Do you want to catch some dinner Angela?" Jane asked, discreetly glancing at her watch.
"Isn't it your book club evening?"
"Yes, but if you want to go…" She shrugged. "It is your birthday."
"Don't worry about me, Mom and Dad, are due over tonight around nine. I'll have supper with them." It was true my parents were coming by. They were on their way to meet up with old friends on their yacht for several weeks' vacation on the high seas. Maybe they would be hungry and there was Ferdy to consider. I'm sure he'll want some attention and fresh chicken for dinner.
Half an hour later we said our goodbyes and headed in opposite directions.
* * *
After returning from the bar I spent almost two hours slaving over the stove to prepare a meal for my parents. As predicted they arrived around nine and seemed delighted that I had cooked for them. They were like many like many other seniors who had embraced retirement with a vigour putting their own children to shame with their enthusiasm for life. My father was his usual cheerful self full of the odd wisecrack that he'd picked up in one of his social gatherings. My mother was, as always, a bundle of energy. She rummaged through my weekend laundry and clucked like a mother hen that things could be done in a much more orderly fashion. Leaving smelly laundry in the house all week wasn't the most hygienic solution in her eyes, or mine, but time seems to race by as the work week progresses. I accepted her words with my usual deference to her strong will and rolled my eyes at Ferdy. My cat was now hiding in his basket on the top shelf of the hot water cupboard. He would be there until my parents left early in the morning.
We were sitting around the table after dinner talking over a few family matters when my mother asked, "How's the business doing?"
"Good. Pretty good considering it is the slow season. Winter does have a marked run down on sales. I'm expecting better things starting spring. Prices are still buoyant." I drank my wine and settled back in my chair with what must have been a reflective expression on my face because my father asked the next question.
"Any thing new that you want to share?" he asked gazing directly at me. I had my father's eyes, piercing grey orbs though not as intelligent. I wish I had even a smidgen of his brain power sometimes.
I considered that question carefully and gave him a rueful smile. "I might have interest the Grey House?"
I knew that would spark curiosity. The house had been a problem and they had often advised me to pass on its long term run on my books. Hopefully my perseverance might pay off as it was a beautiful place. I was half a mind not to have Jane mention it at all however, I already owned two properties in town and a third would eat all my capital. In my particular profession one never knew what was around the corner and having a nest egg was prudent.
"Really? Who?" Even with their years away from town they still kept in touch with most of their friends. They probably knew more about what was going on in town than I did.
"I left work this afternoon I had a tentative enquiry before from someone who might fit the bill. Time will tell I guess. It's too early yet. Jane will contact the prospective buyer tomorrow." My tone was low key feigning disinterest but my mother knew me better.
"Ok, who is it Angela? I sure as hell know it isn't anyone currently in town."
Why is it that your mother is always right?
"Sally Maguire. You might recall…"
Oh, they recalled alright, but it was the information that they threw into the conversation that amazed me. I had never heard it before.
"Why Sally is your age isn't she Angela? You attended school together didn't you?" Before I could reply my mother began again. "John Maguire was such a lovely man. I still can't believe she did that to him and caused all that upset. Such a shame really. It must have been heartbreaking for those poor girls."
My mind was reeling who did what to whom? This was the first I'd heard of any scandal or was it my mother and her over active imagination.
My father piped in, "Yep, Johnny was a great guy. A real pity. It was like he and the girls kind of fell off the face of the earth."
I held my hand up and leaned forward in my chair. "Hey guys, what's the story?"
My mother with her chubby pretty features gazed at me in astonishment. "How many years have you lived here Angela?" she said in amazement. "You haven't heard about this? I guess thirty years is a long time and people eventually do forget."
"Yes mother, people forget. All I know is that Sally left high school early and that was it. No explanation." Or maybe there had been but I hadn't been in the right circle to know.
My father stood up and wandered over to the window that overlooked the beach. Even in winter as the moon glanced off the breaking waves it held a fascination that was totally different to the daylight hours.
"Well, back then I guess it was a scandal. These days that kind of situation it's ten a penny. Johnny's wife ran off with the local preacher. Shauna Maguire was a mature version of her girls and believe me she turned all the men's heads. I'd be a lying fool not too admit my eyes travelled in her direction when she walked down the street." At that comment my mother clucked at my father as she wagged a finger at him. I could see that this was old news and had not affected their relationship in any way. I knew my parents had a bond that superficial beauty would never sever.
"The local preacher? You don't mean Pastor Henri? I always wondered what happened to him." I was incredulous and they both laughed at me.
"Ah Angela you have a small town way of looking at things. If I didn't know you better I'd say you were shocked."
I pursed my lips and scowled. My father moved past my chair and kissed the top of my head. "Long may naivety remain within you Angel."
"What happened?" I gave both my parents what I hoped was a calmer demeanour. Darn it all. This was news to me. It might be old to them but very, very new to me.
My mother moved closer to my father who had sat down next to her on the sofa. They clasped hands as memories were dredged up of that time.
"Shauna had been having an affair with the pastor for almost a year some said. Both of them had families. Of course you know the Maguire family, John and the three girls. Well, Pastor Henri had a young wife and a baby son. A few remarked that the affair started when the wife was barely pregnant. Anyway, that summer it must have come down to leave town together or break up because they stole away in the night without a word. No one knows what happened to the Maguire family after that. Out of shame they just picked up and left never venturing back until now it would seem."
I was shocked, genuinely shocked particularly as I'd never heard of this before. People talk, they always do in small towns. It was as natural to gossip in this environment as it was to breathe. "What about the pastor's family?"
Both my parents shrugged. It would have been comical if we hadn't been talking about such a tragic episode in people's lives. "Danielle left within a day or so of the Maguire's. No one knows what happened to her or the child."
I stood up and expelled an exasperated breath. "Are you telling me that not only is this particular tale of events never talked about, but that the whole thing is shrouded in mystery? I just don't believe it! One thing I do know after living here all my life is that someone knows something."
My parents eyed each other and then my father spoke for them both. "We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow darling we need our sleep. We're leaving at seven and don't expect you to see us off."
Standing, I gazed at them. The subject matter apparently closed as far as they were concerned. "You know I'll be up. Want any breakfast before you leave?"
My mother smiled warmly. When hadn't I made breakfast for them when they visited? It would be unusual if I didn't. They accepted with a twinkle in the eyes. I was then subjected too goodnight hugs reminiscent of when I was growing up with whispered happy birthdays. They left me to my musings as they shut the door behind them.
I looked at the clock. It was ten after midnight and if I was going to do the hostess thing in the morning I'd need to be up by six. Yawning, I switched off the lights and checked the locks on the doors. With a quick glance at Ferdy, who happily was settled in his warm perch, I wished him goodnight and climbed the stairs.
Tomorrow I was going to make some enquires of my own. There must be a reason why no one in the town talked of the Maguire family and what had happened. If I didn't find out that way…Hmm, one person who might be heading to town would definitely know. But, would I have the courage to even speak to her?
* * *
The Coffee-Break was the liveliest café in town. In the seasonal months when the town throbbed with activity a couple of others opened but couldn't measure up to the ambience of the Coffee-Break. I'd been coming here since I was a teenager. It was initially because my best friend Alex's parents ran the place. Alex had left the town years ago wanting to live in a much larger, more fashionable city hundreds of miles away with her own family. Alex's parents had retired and now their eldest son, Rowan, ran the café along with his partner Dave. At first, the fellow's relationship had been a scandal, but times change and he was one of our own so eventually the town's people accepted, to a degree, the alternative lifestyle. Besides, they made the best darn coffee and bagels for a hundred miles around and that alone was forgiveness in most people's eyes. I scanned the tables and saw the usual mix of regulars and the odd passing through day-tripper. Then I saw who I was hoping to see, Harriet Downing the local gossip. What she didn't know about the town hadn't been spoken or done yet. She was the perfect person to find out more about the Maguire's.
I walked across to Harriet's table with a smile that had to be tugged out of me. Harriet wasn't the most liked woman around. Generally, if you saw her walking around the corner it was wiser to avoid her than be in her line of sight. "Hi Harriet, do you mind if I join you?"
Harriet Downing peered up from reading her dog-eared book. Her spectacles were shinning and the artificial light from the overheads bounced off them like a spike of electricity. Harriet, in her mid-sixties, was the secretary of the local paper and a member of the town council. I knew she had been married at one time but I hadn't taken any particular interest in knowing the circumstances of why her husband was no longer a part of her life. Maybe what I am going to ask is not a good idea. Unfortunately, it was too late to change my mind because she gave me a wide smile motioning for me to sit opposite her. Dutifully I sat down and she immediately began to speak.
"I see your parents were here on a fleeting visit. The weather in the Caribbean will be wonderful for that cruise with the Armstrong's." What did I tell you…this woman knew it all!
Closing my eyes briefly, I summoned up my patience and smiled weakly. "Yes, they'll have a great time they usually do."
My coffee and bagel was placed on the table by Rowan who winked at me wickedly as he passed onto the next table.
"Now my dear, how are you? How is the real estate business these days?" I wasn't sure if this was genuine interest or merely a fact finding mission. Nevertheless, I volunteered a little information telling her I was well and the business was steady for this time of the year.
Harriet at length gave me her version of the weather forecast and its impact on the forthcoming season. She then told me about her grave doubts about some of the newer business propositions for the beach front. Thereby duly extolling the merits, or not, of the purposed changes in the community. Eventually she stopped to drink her tea and bite into her scone filled with cream and jam. Eyeing her plate, my stomach lurched at the thought of the sweet pastry at this time of day. Breathing in deeply I took the opportunity to ask my question.
"Do you recall the Maguire family? They lived in town over thirty years ago." I asked in a nonchalant way. However, the beady eyes of the woman immediately rose to capture mine with a searing glance. Harriet swallowed her mouthful and daintily placed the napkin to her lips to remove the odd crumb that lodged there before speaking.
"The Maguire family? A little, why do you ask?"
I tore my eyes from hers, glanced down at the plastic table cover and traced my finger over the bold flower pattern. "No special reason. The name cropped up in conversation recently. I went to school with one of the girls…Sally."
Harriet's voice took on a melancholy tone as she spoke again, "Ah yes, poor Sally."
Poor Sally? How on earth can anyone ever think of Sally Maguire as being poor? She has everything, everything! "Do you know what happened to them?"
"Such a tragedy for the family," she said sorrowfully. "I believe certain stories are better left alone Angela."
I bit my lip for a moment. "You do? I heard that the mother left with another man. That situation happens all the time."
Harriet gave me a long suffering look. "You young people think it is so easy these days to give up on a relationship. When a mother runs out on her young it's a tragedy my dear of the highest moral order. In that woman's case, it was a double travesty!"
Okay it appears I've hit a nerve. I don't know if Harriet Downing was on the best of terms with the Maguire or the Henri families back then, but I have a feeling I'll find out. "I didn't mean to make it a trivial matter Harriet. Sometimes things don't work out no matter how hard we try. I was wondering why I'd never heard any mention of it that was all. All I recall is that the family left town suddenly."
Harriet gave me a scowl then she picked up her tea and drank heavily from the cup. She replaced to cup on the saucer so firmly it rattled the table with the force of her action "The town has a lot of respect for the privacy of both the families. No one wanted to cause anymore hurt to them than they had already experienced. Not only that, but many of the people in town were affected on a personal level. It hit the town hard and the best thing for everyone was to move on and forget it ever happened."
Her words sounded genuine which was remarkable for a woman who loved to gossip as much as she did. There I was foolishly thinking that the one person I thought would be happy to gossip about an old event was as clamped up as my parents. How very strange. "That's okay Harriet I wouldn't want to dredge up old memories."
Thankfully Harriet had an appointment and I was left alone at the table. Contemplating what to do next, I looked across the street to my office and wondered, should I or shouldn't I?
Nope.Today I'll go for a walk on the beach and clear my head of things that have nothing to do with me. It is all past anyway. What does it matter to anyone.
Except, for some perverse reason, it mattered to me!
Continued in part two
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