“The Platz may have been my home for years,” Joey had confided to Carey, “but I love the Tiernsee best of all. We’ve got a chalet out there, still – it used to belong to St Scholastika’s. I’ll tell you all about them, one day. We’ll get to know each other properly, and I’ll tell you about Marie and what I know of your father,” her face had darkened at this point, “and I’ll see if I can talk any of my offspring into visiting.”
Joey – as she had asked Carey to call her – was such a whirlwind planner that Carey found herself agreeing to this before she knew what she had done, but she had insisted that they get some kind of testing done to check that she really was Marie’s daughter. Joey had telephoned her housekeeper, Karen, and the following day a parcel had arrived post haste from England, consisting merely of an old envelope. Joey had opened it gently, revealing a lock of dark hair. “The coroner in Basle arranged it for me,” she explained to Carey. “I told you, Marie’s parents were killed in a train crash. This is a lock of Amelie de Mabillon’s hair. I kept it for Marie, only she never… well. This will do, won’t it?” she had appealed to her grandson, David Entwistle, one of the doctors at the Görnetz Platz Clinic, who had agreed to perform DNA testing.
“Perfect, Gran,” he had agreed breezily, before producing a cotton bud and asking Carey to scrape the inside of her cheek.
“Oh, don’t call me that!” protested Joey, but Carey could see she didn’t really mind, and she kissed her grandson goodbye affectionately when he left, with instructions to fedex the results to Die Blumen.
But now they were back in Austria: Ceridwen and Liddy back at school, and Joey, Con and Carey staying in Die Blumen, across the lake from the Chalet School. It was a strange time for Carey: she was enjoying life more than she ever had done before, and at the same time there was a horrible niggle keeping her awake at night. What if it was all a mistake? What happened when the DNA results came back, and she wasn’t Marie’s daughter at all? What then? Back to her tiny little life, to greyness and nothingness and… No! No, she couldn’t let that happen! She’d changed, she had; she would make sure she didn’t turn back into the Carey Howard before the photographs came.
There, that was a resolution. She’d look for a new job, as well. Something more of a challenge, something more colourful. Maybe she could try and get some qualifications – after all, she’d done pretty well in her A-levels, hadn’t she?
But for the time being, she merely lived the halcyon days by the lake, chatting with Con Richardson, in whom she had found a kindred spirit, and basking in Joey’s affection.
One day, she asked about her parents. Joey had looked sad and, more than that, guilty.
“Marie met him – James, I think he was called – in Paris, that spring. They fell in love, they… well, quite. He went back to England, and that was that. Just a short affair. She was hardly the first girl to do it, and she was quite desperately in love with him. She came back to Freudesheim in the summer, and told me she was pregnant. It was a shock, I won’t lie. But… well, not to sound hideously clichéd, but these things happen. She was excited, you know, at the thought of having a baby.” Carey smiled faintly, and reached for Joey’s hand, squeezing it lightly. Joey smiled back, but then her smile faded, and she was in the past again.
“She was full of plans; she was going to England, to let him know, but then… he came here. Not intentionally, he was on holiday. The Platz was already starting to get a reputation as a ski resort, even then. He was there. And so was his wife. His pregnant wife.”
“Oh, no!” Joey was clasping Carey’s hand hard now, and it was almost painful.
“It was my fault. I can’t stand how much it was my fault. I was… I had been… I don’t know what I was thinking! I was feeling old, I think, and ugly and… well, men don’t age the same, and I thought Jack was… well, never mind that, it’s no excuse. I was furious at Marie for having an affair with a married man. She told me she hadn’t known, and I called her a liar. I… I called her other things as well. I turned her out. I told her she wasn’t welcome.” Joey looked down at Carey, and she could see the pain in the older woman’s eyes, the ravages of grief that still remained, all these years later.
“Do you know what ‘Freudesheim’ means, Carey? Happy home. I was so proud of my home, of my family, of what I offered everyone. A happy home – support and love, unconditionally. Marie was my daughter, and I betrayed her so dreadfully. She killed herself four months later. And I know – I *know* - that it was my fault. Oh, God, please forgive me! I killed her.”