The Lost Sister: A gripping emotional page turner with a breathtaking twist
‘I can certainly arrange that for you.’
She smiles and lets herself into his garden through the gate, walking into the kitchen. There’s a lamp on, casting a soft glow around the room. She’s always liked his kitchen, full of knick-knacks picked up from his years running a pub in Ireland: ornate pint glasses, horses’ shoes, framed photos of racehorses. It feels comfortable in there, a contrast to the place she used to live in with her dad in Busby-on-Sea, which was always so sparse.
‘So, how is your mother?’ David asks, bringing a mug of steaming hot chocolate over to her.
‘Her usual defiant self. A few lies thrown in too, par the course.’
He smiles. She’s told him about her mum over the years – small details, but enough to form a picture.
‘I met her doctor,’ Becky adds, blowing on her drink, steam spiralling up from the mug. She takes a quick sip, feeling the tears start to come. ‘What she said is true. They think she only has a few days.’
David frowns, looking down at his own drink. ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ he says with a heavy sigh.
‘She wants to die in the cave she ran away to.’
He peers up at Becky, his frown deepening. ‘Really?’
‘Yep. It’s impossible, of course. What with all the medication and equipment she needs.’
‘Is it?’ He looks into her eyes. ‘Or are you just hoping it’s impossible?’
‘What do you mean?’
David places his mug down and drags his chair to be closer to her. Under the light of the lamp, she notices how old he looks, how tired.
‘I mean maybe you don’t want to do as your mother asks because she’s been doing as she wants all her life. Maybe this time, you’re in control and that feels good.’
Becky shakes her head. ‘It’s not like that. You know I’m not like that!’
He shrugs. ‘I didn’t know the little girl who got left behind by her mother. This is bringing all that back, I bet.’
Becky frowns. ‘Maybe. But the fact still remains, a cave isn’t a nice place to die.’
‘Isn’t it? Just don’t rush into a decision you might regret. If she thinks she was happy there, for a while anyway, then it might be the best place for her.’
I think you’ll be happy here, Becks, I really do.
A memory comes to her of her mum smiling down at her, the cave behind her. Her mum had said that to her once.
‘Sorry, this isn’t exactly the conversation to have at three in the morning,’ Becky says.
‘I don’t mind.’
‘No, really,’ Becky replies, standing. ‘I’m tired anyway. We both are.’
‘You know I’m always here.’
‘I do.’ She squeezes his hand. That’s the thing with David, he is more than just a neighbour. She always finds it so easy to talk to him. It’s probably because he gives such sensible, sound advice.
A few minutes later, Becky is back in bed, the dogs flat out on the landing. She closes her eyes and sleep comes instantly, but it’s peppered with dreams of her mum, as she was back then. So beautiful, full of curves, those blue eyes, arms wrapping around Becky’s small body. The cave again, her mum’s words: I think you’ll be happy here, Becks, I really do.
Then the scene changes. Her mum’s sitting on a swing, crying. She peers up, sees Becky and smiles. ‘Only you make me smile,’ she hears her whisper. ‘Only you, Becky.’
Scenes from a party next, loud music, a cake in the shape of a monkey. Everyone is smiling, happy, apart from her mum.
Then finally, the sight of her mum running away into the darkness, a look of freedom on her face that Becky had never seen before, the cave beckoning her …
Just as the sun begins to rise the next day, Becky makes her way back to the hospital. When she gets there, it’s eerily quiet. The light from the sun outside the vast windows is white, blinding. She heads to her mum’s room but a nurse, tired and disapproving, stops her. ‘No visitors until nine.’
‘It’s important,’ Becky says.
The nurse holds her gaze. Something in Becky’s expression must make her change her mind. ‘Okay, just a few minutes,’ the nurse says.
Becky walks to her mum’s room. Her mum is sitting up in bed, as though she’s been expecting her.
‘You wanted me to live in the cave with you, didn’t you?’ Becky asks her.
Her mum nods, smiling slightly. ‘I left your dad, darling, not you. I wanted to take you with me. I fought to have you with me. Even went to court.’
Becky frowns. ‘Court?’ She vaguely remembers talking to official-looking people, but nothing about her mum going to court. Her dad must have kept it from her. Maybe that was a good thing. ‘Why didn’t I get to live with you then?’
Her mum’s face darkens. She sighs and looks out of the window. ‘It doesn’t matter now.’
Becky walks to the chair by her bed, sitting down and taking her mum’s hand. ‘I’ll take you to the cave.’
Her mum’s face lights up. Then, for the first time in a long time, Becky sees her mum cry.
That evening, they arrive in the little car park near the cave. Becky peers behind her, anticipating a nurse chasing after them, maybe even the police. It feels so illicit, sneaking her mum out of hospital. Even more so grabbing all the medication and supplies Becky needed from the vet practice, telling Kay she’d explain everything but she needed a few days off.
She helps her mum out of the car, shrugging the large rucksack she’s brought onto her back. Her mum pauses, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looks out towards the bay. A hidden treasure, as the tourist website describes it. Stretches of golden sand. White cliffs. But the biggest draw: the white chalk stacks extending towards the sky. Perfect photo fodder, especially at sunset. Becky remembers being there as a child, walking on the sand, feeling it beneath her toes. Her mum posing against one of the rocks as her dad took photos. Click, click, click.
And then darker memories, glaring at the cave from a distance, its opening like the mouth of a monster who’d gobbled her mum up.
‘Good, the tide’s out. Let’s go,’ Becky says. Her mum nods and they step carefully onto the wooden pathway, Becky supporting her mum’s frail body.
The café is still there. Tired-looking. Quiet before the evening rush. Becky remembers they used to go there some evenings and weekends. She’d chase her friends around as her mum sat drinking gin, dark sunglasses over her eyes, Mike silent beside her. And then those times after her mum left; the awkward meet-ups that grew more and more infrequent as the months went by. The memories still cause her pain – how desperate she was to run to her mum and beg her to come back, but her childish insolence stopped her every time.
They step off the pathway and onto the sand, walking across the shadows of the chalk stacks slowly, surely. The next bay comes into view then. You don’t see them at first, the caves. Like hidden entrances in a labyrinth, they’re sliced into the sides of the white cliffs. The first one, smaller than the others, is strewn with rubbish, remnants of burnt-out candles. Becky wonders whether she’d have come here as a teenager if she had stayed with her mum, smoked things she shouldn’t have, curled up with boys instead of reading alone. It might have been a very different life to that she’d had in the town she and her dad had eventually moved to.
She helps her mum limp past the first cave, then the second, which is larger but so low you have to duck to get in. In the distance, her mum’s house, the hotel, stands grand above the last cave. Her mum’s step quickens, her breath too, as they draw closer to her cave, as she’s been calling it. It’s right at the end of the bay, away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular bay, cut off by a jagged plank of white cliff.
And then, there it is, in all its glory. The cave that swallowed her mum whole.
Glimmers of recognition rush through Becky as she stares at it. She hears flashes of laughter, a dog barking. Fish, slippery in her hands. The sun twinkling above. And then her mum, as she was all those years ago, looking down at her with love.
Why are they coming back now, all the good memories? Where were they when the bad ones crashed over her? The sight of her mum, tanned and strange, when she met her in the café all those times after she left them. Her dad’s anger, her mum’s nonchalance. The tears she shed when she was desperate for her mum’s arms around her, the hate that filled her when she realised she was never coming back.