Only You

By Lorna Peel

Women's fiction, Romance, Crime & mystery

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6 mins


Read An Excerpt From Chapter Three…

It wasn’t a date, she kept reminding herself. She was just meeting a student to discuss a mystery in his family tree. Even so, she still went through her entire wardrobe the next day. She sat on her bed, telling herself not to get any funny ideas about dazzling him with style then lifted out a pair of black trousers, a white blouse and her short black leather blazer. The decision had taken hours and she gave herself a final appraisal in the wardrobe mirror, hoping it wasn’t too much for a simple meeting, before leaving for the pub.
The Crown was crowded when she went in and she found herself scanning the people around her looking for a blond man.
She heard Robert’s voice and turned. The badly-dyed blond hair was gone, as were the unhealthy complexion and the bloodshot eyes. Instead, the tall, dark and effortlessly handsome man she was used to seeing on magazine covers was getting to his feet. She took a deep breath and joined him.
“Sorry, I was looking for Mitch.”
He smiled and they shook hands. “Thankfully, he’s dead and buried. Please, take a seat. What can I get you to drink? A glass of wine?”
“No, a pineapple juice, please.” Jane hung her handbag over the back of a chair and sat down at the table. “I’m driving.”
She watched him go to the bar to order and pay for the drinks, wondering if anyone would recognise him. To her surprise, no-one gave him a second glance.
He returned with the pineapple juice and a mineral water for himself and sat down opposite her.
“I brought my research.” He nodded to a plastic zip-up folder on the table. “Help yourself.”
She opened it and took out two birth certificates. The first was Robert’s. Robert David Armstrong, born on the 23rd of March 1979 at St Catherine’s Hospital, London, the son of Grace – neé Butler – and David Armstrong. The second birth certificate was almost identical except for the first name and the date of birth. Michael David Armstrong was born on the 24th of March 1979 at St Catherine’s Hospital, London, the son of Grace – neé Butler – and David Armstrong.
“Usually twins have their time of birth on the certificate, too,” she mused.
“But Michael is definitely my twin?” he asked, drawing her attention back to him and her heart did a back flip when she met his eyes. “Born the other side of midnight?”
“Yes, unless someone lied to the Registrar.” She lowered her eyes again and frowned. “Oh, there’s one discrepancy, here,” she said, pointing to Michael’s birth certificate and then Robert’s. “The dates of registration are different. Michael’s birth was registered the day after he was born. Your birth was registered a week later.”
“What does that mean?” He leant forward to take a closer look.
“I’m not sure. It is a bit strange, especially as you’re twins.” Jane was sure she could feel his breath on her hand and that her hand was starting to shake. “When a child was baptised immediately, it suggested that the child was ill and would probably die, but these days baptism isn’t seen as being so important. In this case, the immediate registration could mean the same thing as immediate baptism – that the child was likely to die. Did you have time to search the death indexes?”
“Yes, I did, and I discovered he died the year he was born. I didn’t have time to order the death certificate online so, this morning, I took a chance and I went to the register office closest to St Catherine’s Hospital. I used their while-you-wait service and it was expensive but I had the death certificate within an hour. Michael died when he was twelve days old of a congenital heart defect. The thing is, I’ve contacted the cemetery nearest to my parents’ home and Michael isn’t buried there. So I started to widen the search. I’ve been on the phone to cemeteries all afternoon and I just can’t find a record of his burial anywhere in London.”
“Is there anywhere else he might be buried?” she asked, racking her brains. “Were either of your parents born outside London? Could Michael be buried where your mum or dad’s families are from?”
“Both my parents were born in London and both sets of my grandparents were buried in London so, no, I don’t think so.”
“Can I see the death certificate?”
He nodded, took the certificate out of the folder and passed it to her.
“Thanks,” she murmured as she read it. Michael David Armstrong died on the 5th of April 1979 at St Catherine’s Hospital, London. “He was born and he died in the same hospital and his death was registered on the 8th of April. Everything seems to be above board,” she said and passed the certificate back.
“It’s a strange one, isn’t it?” His eyebrows rose and fell as he gave her a baffled smile and reached for his glass as her heart did a somersault.
“Yes, very,” she squeaked and cleared her throat. “Tell me about your parents.”
“Well.” He took a sip of mineral water. “The grammar school I went to had a drama club. I joined and that was it. I just knew I had to become an actor. When I told my parents they went ballistic. They told me I had to stop persisting with this stupid acting idea but I wouldn’t, so I ran away.”
Bloody hell. “How old were you?”
“Sixteen. I went to live with my maternal grandparents. I went to the local comprehensive school, did my A Levels then got myself a job.”
“An acting job?”
He shook his head. “No, in a fast food place and then in a bookshop. After that, I managed to get a job in a theatre box office. I was allowed to do bits and pieces backstage and after a while, I was given small acting roles – non-speaking at first – then a few lines and a year or so later some larger parts. I lived in complete dumps so I managed to save quite a bit of money. I eventually auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, no less, and I got in.”
He smiled almost shyly and her poor heart pounded.
“And you haven’t been in touch with your parents since you were sixteen?”
“No. They left me alone at my grandparents’ because, I suppose, they thought I’d return home. But when I left school and got my first job I moved out. My grandparents died shortly afterwards so I had lost all contact with my parents by the time I got into RADA when I was twenty-two.”
“Why do you think they were so determined that you were to be a solicitor and not an actor?”
“It’s because my father was a solicitor. His father was a solicitor and so was his father. It was a family tradition and I was their only son – their only surviving son. Other than that…” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I’m forty now. I last saw and spoke to them when I was still a kid. All I know is that they’re still in the phone book at 6 Guildford Road.”
Jane studied her pineapple juice and felt him watch her intently. She fought a hard battle to control a blush.
“Any ideas?” he asked.
“A few, but they’re all a bit far-fetched.”
He smiled and she fixed her gaze on his blue shirt. It brought out the dark blue of his eyes perfectly. “Try me.”
“How old is your father?”
He looked away for a few moments while thinking and she availed of the opportunity to gaze at him.
“Dad’s seventy-two now. My mum is older than him but never used to admit to it. Your parents allowed you to make your own decisions, I suppose?” he inquired and she nodded and took a sip of juice. “How long have you been a genealogist?”
“I’m not actually a genealogist at the moment – a professional genealogist – I mean. The genealogy research service closed a couple of years ago.”
“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking?”
“No, not at all. My husband and I ran it together but Tom left me for a client and is now my ex-husband,” she explained.
“Ah. I’m sorry.”
“So now I teach family history, adult literacy and English literature classes and I really enjoy teaching.”
“You don’t mind speaking in front of a lot of people?”
“No,” she said, finishing the last of her juice. “But I’m not trying to be someone else.”
“That’s true. You sussed me out quick enough, though.”
“Maybe if Mitch hadn’t been so—”
“Mitch?” he finished and she laughed. “I’ve never frightened a woman like that before. I didn’t like it.”
This time she met his eyes without flinching or blushing. Well, maybe a little blushing. Only someone without a pulse could not blush while looking at him.
“My sister made me buy the personal alarm. I’ve never had to threaten someone with it before. I didn’t like it, either.”
“Better to be safe than sorry.”
“Yes. When is it on TV? The drama about Mitch?”
“It will be decided in a month or two. Will you continue with adult education classes or will you go back to professional genealogy?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Robert carefully placed the certificates back in the folder and they left the pub. Again, he walked her along the street to her car and leant back against the bonnet, seeming reluctant to leave her.
“You think I should contact my parents?” he asked quietly.
“In an ideal world, yes, but it isn’t.”
“No. And to be honest, I don’t think I can. Not after so long. I sound like a right coward, don’t I?”
“No. My ex wants to ‘meet up for a chat sometime’, but I can’t. I don’t love him anymore, but I don’t think I can ever forgive him for what he did, either.”
“He’s got a bit of a nerve,” he said and she sighed remembering how Tom’s cavalier attitude to everything had become more and more exasperating as he’d aged because his outlook on life didn’t mature too.
“He always had a nerve,” she muttered, retrieving her car keys from her bag as Robert pushed himself up off the bonnet with his hands and they stood in an awkward silence for a few moments before she unlocked the car door.
“Thanks for coming this evening, Jane. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
“What?” She spun around. “You mean, you’re still going to come to the classes?”
“Yes, why?”
“Well, they’ll recognise you now,” she spluttered and he shrugged.
“I don’t know about that.”
“You’re not Badly-blond Bloke anymore and—” She broke off and cringed at having let slip her nickname for him.
“‘Badly-blond Bloke’?” he echoed with a grin. “Badly-blond Bastard, more like. I’ll be in class on Tuesday evening, having undergone a complete image makeover.”
“Okay, then. Goodnight, Robert.”
“Goodnight, Jane,” he said, holding the door as she got into the car then slammed it shut.
She put on her seatbelt and started the engine. As she drove away, she glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw him cut rather a lonely figure as he stood on the pavement watching her go.



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