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?’
‘People have been known to drown in shallow waters.’
‘Well, it’s certainly not easy to swim in them! Anyway, I didn’t see them much after that...’
‘You left school?’
‘I went to the local comprehensive for my final year. Far more sensible...but hell.’
Everything—not just the fact that she was a new girl for the last year, but every little thing, from her accent to her handwriting—had ensured she didn’t fit in from the very first day.
Raul knew it would have been hell.
He could imagine his schoolmates if an Italian version of Lydia had shown up in his old schoolyard. Raul could guess all she would have gone through.
‘I was a joke to them, of course.’
He squeezed her hand and it was the kindest touch, so contrary to that time.
‘Too posh to handle?’ Raul said, and she nodded, almost smiled.
But then the smile changed.
Lydia never cried.
Not even when her father had died.
So why start now?
Lydia pulled her hand back.
She was done with introspection—done with musings.
They hurt too much.
Lydia was somewhat appalled at how much she had told him.
‘Raul, why am I here?’
‘Because...’ Raul shrugged, but when that did not appease her he elaborated. ‘Maurice was getting in the way.’
Lydia found herself laughing, and it surprised her that she could.
A second ago she had felt like crying.
It was nice being with him.
She had told another person some of the truth and he had remained.
‘Maurice is my stepfather,’ she explained.
‘Good,’ Raul said, but she missed the innuendo.
Lydia didn’t respond to his flirting as others usually did, so he adopted a more businesslike tone. The rest they could do later—he wanted information now.
‘Maurice wants you to be at some dinner tonight?’
Lydia nodded. ‘He’s got an important meeting with a potential investor and he wants me there.’
Lydia gave a dismissive shake of her head.
She certainly wasn’t going to discuss that!
‘I probably shan’t go,’ Lydia said, instead of explaining things. ‘I’m supposed to be catching up with a friend—or rather,’ she added, remembering all he had heard, ‘an acquaintance.’
‘Arabella.’ She was embarrassed to admit it after all she had told him. ‘She works in Rome now.’
‘I thought you fell out?’
‘That was all a very long time ago,’ Lydia said, but she didn’t actually like the point he had raised.