Home > You And Me, Always(5)

You And Me, Always(5)
Jill Mansell

But this, now, was private, to be shared between her and her mother. Just the two of them.

For the very last time.

Lily took a sip of orange juice and opened the envelope. Whereas all the other letters had been written on thick lilac writing paper, this one was on a plain white sheet of A4. But the handwriting was the same, instantly recognisable with its extravagant loops and swirls. She ran the tips of her fingers over the paper, the first person to touch it since her mum had written the words, then lifted it to her nose and inhaled to see if it retained any recognisable scent.

No, it just smelled of paper.

OK, here goes. She took a steadying breath and began to read.

Hello, my dearest darling girl, and happy happy birthday! You’re twenty-five and I wish you all the love and happiness in the world. (I’m going to trust you here, and assume you haven’t opened your letters early. It’s a possibility by now, and it doesn’t matter a bit if you have, but I still kind of hope you managed to control your impatience and wait, so I can talk to my twenty-five-year-old daughter. Woman to woman!)

I wonder if you look like me? Is your hair still long and madly curly? It’s so hard to imagine what you’re like now, but I do know for sure that you are kind, thoughtful, loving and beautiful on the inside and out. I hope your life is as happy as it deserves to be. Have you found a wonderful partner yet? Are you married? Maybe you have a child … wow, that’s an incredible thought! I could be a grandma by now! Well if I am, I bet you’re a fantastic mother. (And if you don’t have children, you’re still fantastic anyway.)

A tear was trickling down Lily’s cheek. She paused and wiped it away. She could hear her mum’s voice so clearly, it was almost as if she were here in the room, saying the words to her.

She continued to read:

I didn’t know how long to continue writing to you on your birthday, sweetheart. A part of me wanted to carry on until you were a hundred! But it looks as if the decision has been made for me, as the last few days haven’t been great. I’m writing this in the hospital (hence the less than glamorous paper) and it’s becoming harder to concentrate. They’re upping my morphine so I’m going to be sleeping a lot more from now on. And I don’t want to start scribbling gibberish, so this is another reason to make this the last letter.

I have a little present for you too! Is it there? Have you already opened it? If not, let me just explain that it mightn’t have cost a lot, but it’s my most precious and treasured possession – apart from you, obviously, my beautiful darling girl – which is why I want you to have it now. It was given to me on my nineteenth birthday by Declan Madison. He was my first love and – as it turned out – the only love of my life. How I wish our relationship could have lasted – although if it had, then I never would have got involved with your father and we wouldn’t have had you! (Something else I wonder – will you get to know your father at some stage? Are you in touch with each other? Did he turn out to be not so bad after all? So many questions!)

Anyway, I’m passing on to you what Declan gave to me, and I really hope you like it. Has Coral told you about him? She will have done, I’m sure. He really was a lovely boy. We had the best time together – it was just the timing that was wrong. And if it’s strange to think of you being twenty-five now, it’s equally strange to imagine Declan being forty-eight. That’s old!

I hope you’re still in touch with Coral and Nick. And Patsy, too! I hope I chose the right people to look after you, my darling. I did the best I could. More than anything I wish I could have stayed with you, but sadly that hasn’t been possible.

Thank you for being the light of my life, the very best thing that ever happened to me. I wish you nothing but love, health and happiness.

Happy birthday, beautiful Lily.

All all all my everlasting love, sweetheart.

You and me, always.

Mum xxx

There, done, and the tears were now flowing down Lily’s face in earnest. Every letter ended with those same words: You and me, always. She and her mum had said it to each other each night at bedtime; it had been their mantra, their secret promise to each other. Whatever might happen – and it had happened – nothing could break the bond that existed between them.

She would reread the letter over and over in the years ahead, but never again for the first time. This was why she’d always preferred to open the envelopes in private. When it was done and she’d had the chance to compose herself once more, she would go downstairs and begin the rest of her birthday.

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