Fleur Lester tied back her wispy blonde hair then twirled it into a knot on top of her head. Her phone rang and she reached for it, smiling at her brother’s name on the screen. ‘Hey, Jono.’
‘Fleur. How are you?’
‘Good. Just getting ready for work.’
‘When do you start?’
She liked the familiar sound of his voice. Liked having a family member involved in the everyday details of her life. She had missed him so much during all her years in foster homes. ‘I’ve got a couple of hours before I start.’
‘Getting ready early?’
‘Yep. It helps me prepare mentally.’
‘Are you still seeing a counsellor?’
She tensed. ‘Not at the moment.’ Why was he asking? ‘Clare helps me more than any counsellor does.’ She wasn’t sure why she failed to tell him that Shadrach Broughton had also taken her under his wing. She wasn’t sure what to make of the opinionated young man she’d met at the combined youth group bonfire night.
‘Yeah, she’s good value,’ Jono said, and Fleur heard the smile in his voice.
Good value was an understatement when it came to Clare. How did you ever repay someone who had stood by you, even when you tried to push them away? Someone who shared the love of Jesus with you so that you had a reason to live?
‘Fleur?’ She was brought back to the present as Jonathan drew in an audible breath. ‘I have some news.’
Her heart rate picked up. His tone was so serious. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I got a call from the prison hospital. Dad has passed away.’
She drew back and tried to process what she was hearing. ‘Already? You’re sure?’
‘Yes, Fleur. It’s over. He’s gone.’
She shook her head. She had known he had cancer but hadn’t expected this so soon. She didn’t know what to feel. She was numb. Jonathan’s voice brought her back. ‘You okay?’
‘I will be. Just trying to take it in.’
‘I told them we don’t want a funeral.’
Profound relief filled her. She couldn’t pretend to grieve for Ken Lester. ‘Thank you.’
‘You want me to come? I can come if you need me.’
‘No. I’m okay.’
‘Promise you’ll give me a call if you change your mind? If you need anything?’
He hesitated, as though trying to work out if she meant it. ‘Okay. There’s something else I need to talk to you about. Are you up to talking about the house in Caldon?’
She bit her lip. Dad had put their childhood home in her name to preserve his assets the day he was given his life sentence. When she turned eighteen the house had become hers, but she still hadn’t felt safe going back. If her father had ever escaped from prison he’d have known exactly where to find her. But now he’d never find her again.
She picked up her hairbrush and absently twirled it in her hand. ‘What about it?’
‘The tenants left a few months ago and I didn’t want to put it back on the rental market in case you decided to go back now. The agents are pressuring me to let someone else in. I wondered what you’d like me to do?’
She sat down on her bed and stared out her window. ‘I’ll think about it.’
‘Good.’ He sounded pleased. His voice softened. ‘It’s really over, Fleur.’
She let out a long breath, her shoulders slumping. ‘It doesn’t feel real.’
‘I know. It might take a while.’
‘Are you okay, Jono?’
‘Honestly?’ He sighed. ‘I’m sad he never tried to contact you. Sad he never said sorry or asked you for forgiveness.’
‘I didn’t want him to. I wouldn’t have let him, anyway.’
‘I know. But he’s our father and I wish he’d tried. I guess I wish … I wish he was someone else.’
She knew what he meant. ‘I’m glad you’re nothing like him, Jonathan.’
‘Me too.’ His words were so quiet, so sad, she almost missed them. ‘But it scares me, you know. What if I was? What if those genes had been passed on to me?’
Was it about genes? Or was it about being completely selfish and depraved and not caring for anybody else in the world?
‘You’re a good man, Jonathan.’ And he was a Christian now. In her experience, that made a person trustworthy. She drew in a deep breath. ‘I need to get ready for work. I’ll call you back when I decide about the house.’
‘Thanks. I love you, Fleur.’
She froze. He’d never said that before. She managed to mumble something back and ended the call. Her hands were shaking. She dropped her phone on the bed and went to the top drawer. She needed a cigarette.
The first draw wasn’t enough. She took another.
She was supposed to have forgiven her dad, she knew that. But she hadn’t been able to manage it and now he was dead. Too late.
Maybe she should head off to work early. She didn’t like the idea of being alone in her flat, memories stabbing her, reminding her of wounds still open and bleeding.
She wasn’t sure why she still pushed people away rather than allowing them to be there for her. Maybe she should call Clare, but Clare now had a fiancé to absorb her every waking thought. Clare Bateman was proof that some people’s lives did turn out okay. Maybe hers could too, now Dad was gone.
She lifted the cigarette to her lips again, remembering that awful day her nine-year-old heart had shattered into tiny pieces. She’d heard her mother’s heart-rending cry and run into the kitchen. Mum was staring at Dad’s laptop screen, and Fleur caught a glimpse of the pictures of herself. Mum looked up, her expression filled with absolute horror, anguish and pity. Before Fleur could speak, Dad walked in. He realised what Mum had seen, panicked and tried to wrestle the laptop from her. Mum raced for her phone, and Fleur watched in terror as her parents struggled. Dad shoved Mum hard, there was the sound of a sickening crack and Mum’s head hit the kitchen bench. Dad ran, and it was the last time Fleur had seen him. Mum hadn’t survived. The one person in the world willing to fight for Fleur; to protect her no matter the cost, was gone. As was her innocence, her family, her reason to live.
Her father’s betrayal destroyed her soul.
Until two years ago.
She bit her lip, remembering that day. Sixteen years old, she lay in hospital, frustrated but also relieved her attempt at suicide hadn’t worked, trapped somewhere between the will to live and the belief she had nothing to live for.
And that’s when her friend Clare had stepped into her hospital room and spoken the words that reached somewhere deep inside and offered hope.
‘Just because one person didn’t love and respect you the way they should, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be loved and respected.’ Her tone begged Fleur to believe her.
How desperately Fleur wanted her to be right. But could she take the risk and dare to trust someone again?
Clare had then asked her if she believed in God.
She’d seriously considered it. She’d seen the difference faith made in Clare’s life. ‘I want to … but …’ She gathered up the courage to ask the question that burned inside her; the one that left her so twisted up inside; that no counsellor had been able to answer. ‘How could God let my dad do what he did to me?’
Clare bit her lip, expression pained. ‘I don’t know. But I do know that God didn’t make your father make the choices he did. He’s totally against it. And I know God wants to help us through this life; be our closest friend.’
Fleur’s heart twisted. ‘But you’re nice, Clare. If God knows everything about me he can’t love me.’
‘He knows.’ Clare’s earnest brown eyes begged her to believe. ‘He also knows what I used to be like; what I’m still like sometimes, deep down inside.’ Clare swallowed hard. ‘Believe me, I’m not nice. But God is helping me, changing me. It’s God’s love that made me care so much about you, no matter what you said to me.’
Fleur grasped the lifeline. How desperately she wanted to believe; to be like Clare, to learn to trust again. ‘And you believe he loves me too?’
‘With everything within me. He’s just waiting for you to turn to him for help. He knows we need it!’
‘But why would God care about me?’
‘Because he made you. He made you and he wants you back. All you have to do is forget your pride and accept.’
Tears stung Fleur’s eyes that day as she stood on the cliff edge between life and death. She pictured God reaching out his hand, begging her to trust him, to let him love her and give her a reason to live. ‘God is my only hope,’ she whispered, recognising the truth of it. She needed a miracle. ‘I need him. I can’t keep living with this pain. This loneliness.’
Clare’s eyes filled with desperate hope. ‘Can you tell him that?’