A Year In France – Episode 49

Supplied © A Year In France illustration by Mandy Dixon

“How are you?” Philippe asked, giving Julia a concerned look as she sat on the sofa in the sitting-room. “You look rather pale.”

“I feel a bit shaky, to be honest.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“A cup of tea would be nice,” Julia said. “Where did Travis go?”

“I thought it best if he left,” Philippe said.

“Good. I really don’t feel up to seeing him just now,” Julia said, closing her eyes and lying back.

“I’ll get you that tea,” Philippe replied, going through to the kitchen. “You know you can’t keep refusing to talk to him,” he called through.

Julia sighed but didn’t answer. She didn’t need a brother – not even a half brother – at this stage of her life.

But why had Travis Edgar travelled thousands of miles to destroy her world? If he was right, her mother had lied to her all her life. Why had she never told her the truth?

She took the cup of tea Philippe was holding out for her.

“Thanks. I’ll drink this and then I’ll make your cake for tomorrow.”

“You don’t think you’d be better resting?” Philippe asked. “I don’t mind not having a birthday cake.”

“I feel bad enough you having to wait for your gift until we move,” Julia said. “The least I can do is bake you a cake.”

Philippe shook his head.

“I know it’s upsetting, but I think you should hear what Travis has to say, look at the research he’s done, and accept the truth, however hard that proves to be.”

“I can’t. Not just like that,” Julia replied. “If it is true, it means my mother lived a lie for the last twenty-six years of her life. That’s what I find hard to believe or accept.”

Philippe was silent for a moment.

“I think in the beginning she probably started out with the best of intentions, trying to protect you.

“Saying that your father was dead would mean you would be sad but would have to accept the fact, and wouldn’t keep pestering her with questions about when he was coming back. Questions that would upset her as much as you.”

“She should have told me when I was older,” Julia insisted. “Treated me like a grown-up.”

“You don’t know that she didn’t intend to,” Philippe said. “If the accident hadn’t happened.” He shrugged. “Didn’t the two of you ever talk about your father?”

Julia shook her head.

“Not much. Whenever I mentioned his name Mum became upset.”

“Could she have been feeling guilty for not telling you the truth? Maybe feeling she’d simply left it too late to confess her lie?”

Julia was silent before sighing.

“I’ll never know now, will I?”

Philippe insisted she took it easy that evening, and after she’d made his cake – an easy Victoria sponge rather than the elaborate one she’d planned – they sat together on the sofa and watched a film.

Halfway through, he glanced at her.

“You’re not really watching this, are you? Why don’t you go to bed? Even if you can’t sleep straight away, you’ll be resting.”

Upstairs Julia put on her pyjamas and cleaned her teeth. Coming out of the bathroom, a sudden thought struck her.

She went into the spare bedroom and opened the doors on the old armoire. Carefully she pulled out the boxes from the bottom.

They were boxes that she’d packed up with the papers from her mother’s flat. Boxes she’d promised herself she would deal with when they moved, full of personal stuff of her mum’s that she hadn’t been able to bear looking at.

She vaguely remembered holding and looking at one envelope in particular. Made from insubstantial brown paper, it had the word Confidential scrawled across it in her mother’s handwriting.

It was sealed, and she’d turned it over and over in her hands, hesitating to open something so important to her mother and nothing to do with her. The grief then was still too raw and she’d quickly stuffed it away with some other paperwork.

A rummage through the first box she opened failed to unearth the envelope. Pushing the second box containing paper wallets of photos aside, Julia opened the third box.

The envelope was halfway down and her hands trembled as she picked it out.

Gently she pulled at the sealed flap, easing it open before emptying the envelope’s contents on to the floor.

She picked up an official-looking piece of paper and knew in that instant that Travis had told her the truth. Her father hadn’t died. Her mother had lied to her. This piece of official paper with the words Decree Absolute across the top confirmed that.

Ten minutes later, when Philippe came upstairs to bed, he found Julia sitting on the floor, arms clasped around her knees and tears streaming down her face.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.