Kathryn Hughes’ bestselling novel The Secret is a gripping, heartrending story of how far a mother will go for her child. A huge bestseller in ebook and paperback, The Secret is the second novel from Kathryn, author of Kindle phenomenon The Letter.
If you’ve read The Secret, you’ll be fascinated to discover this unseen material, revealed exclusively to Bookends readers by Kathryn, which shows how she originally intended to end the novel.
Four years later
Jerry reached into his cavernous fridge and pulled out the little bottle of live yoghurt. He peeled back the foil lid and drained the contents in one go before lining up his vitamins along the counter top. He picked them up one by one and chugged them down with a glass of water. He knew it was important these days more than ever to take care of himself and whilst he may not be rippled with muscle, his body was lean and his heart was strong. His old seventies bicycle might have looked like something the vicar would ride and he’d been subject to plenty of ridicule back then, but it had kept him fit, saved him a fortune on fuel and nurtured a love of cycling that remained to this day. Living with just one kidney for the past four years had only made him more determined to stay healthy and he was fortunate that the Melbourne climate suited him just fine. It was seldom unbearably hot or unbearably cold and its reputation for lots of rain was unfounded. Jerry surmised this was just a rumour put about by jealous natives of Brisbane or Sydney. He called up the stairs to his wife. ‘Are you coming, Lydia?’
She appeared at the top in a pair of pale grey jogging trousers and a lime green vest top. She’d piled her hair into a bun stretching the skin around her eyes. With her toned brown arms on show she looked nowhere near her sixty-two years. ‘I’m just looking for my runners, I’ll be right down.’
Every morning, at seven, they habitually power-walked the length of the beach, stopping for a cappuccino in the cafe at the end before completing the return leg. Sometimes they would come again in the evening to watch the colony of Little Penguins return home to the St Kilda breakwater at twilight. Jerry volunteered as a Penguin Guide and was always happy to answer visitors’ questions, although he spent most of his time telling tourists not to use flash photography or shove their selfie sticks into the penguins’ nesting sites. He’d educated countless children about the colony and had delighted in their enthusiasm but there was still one special little boy he was looking forward to showing the spectacle to; his beloved grandson.
‘Lydia, I’ll wait for you outside. I’m just going to do some stretches.’
Lydia bounded down the stairs. ‘I’m here now. Do we really need to do this today? I’ve still got loads to do.’
‘I’ll help you and we’ve got plenty of time, they don’t land until this afternoon.’
She stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. ‘You’re such a creature of habit, Jerry Duggan.’
Beth had always been a nervous flyer and this mid-air turbulence was not doing anything to convince her that air travel was the safest mode of transport there is. She looked at Michael, plugged into the entertainment system, oblivious to the imminent threat to their lives. She tugged at his sleeve, ‘Michael.’
He pushed the headphone back from his ear. ‘What?’
‘All this bouncing around, do you think we’re safe?’
‘Of course, we are. Aircraft are hardly ever brought down by clear air turbulence.’
‘What I mean is aircraft nowadays are built to sustain these kinds of stresses. We’ll be through it soon, stop worrying.’ He clamped the headphones back onto his ears, leaving her to fret alone.
She looked at her son then. He was staring unblinkingly at the screen in front of him, hardly able to believe his luck that he was being allowed to watch unlimited television. She gripped the seat as a particularly violent jolt caused the plane to drop but he merely turned and grinned at her. She offered a smile in return that she hoped he would interpret as reassurance.
Although they Skyped regularly, Beth had not seen Jerry and Lydia since they’d come over to England last year for Daisy’s funeral. Even at eighty-eight years of age, Daisy had continued to live alone, fiercely resisting all attempts to shoehorn her into assisted housing. That’s for old people, she had insisted. When Michael had found her, sitting in her favourite armchair, knitting still in her lap, he had assumed she was just asleep and nothing had prepared him for the fact she was serenely dead. She might have had a long and largely happy life but this was not much consolation to Michael and the grief had remained etched into his face for weeks afterwards.
‘Can I get you anything more to drink?’
Beth smiled at the pretty young woman leaning over her seat, admiring her flawless skin and doll-like features. Michael had joked that he wanted to fly with Singapore Airlines because they had the most attractive cabin crew and Beth was beginning to think he had a point.
‘I could use another gin and tonic, please, a large one.’
Beth settled herself into her seat once more. Surely if the crew were still allowed to walk around the cabin serving drinks then this turbulence couldn’t be all that serious? Thank God, they were travelling on a one-way ticket. She wouldn’t have to face this journey again for a very long time. She downed the gin and tonic, reclined her seat and tried to sleep.
As the three of them entered the Arrivals Hall, Michael making a valiant effort to keep their overloaded trolley steady, Beth’s eyes scanned the throng of people waiting to greet the passengers, who mostly consisted of bored-looking taxi drivers holding up name placards. It didn’t take her long to spot Jerry and Lydia who were both waving enthusiastically.
‘Welcome to Australia,’ beamed Jerry. ‘Did you have a good flight?’ Beth embraced her father, his familiar lemony fresh scent bringing on a rush of affection. She gave him an extra squeeze. ‘A bit bumpy but we came through unscathed.’
She held his hands at arm’s length and looked him up and down. ‘You look well, Dad, a bit too trim maybe, I hope you’ve not been overdoing things.’
Jerry tutted and turned to Lydia. ‘She’s only been here thirty seconds and she’s telling me what to do.’ He pushed her affectionately out of the way. ‘Now, where’s that grandson of mine.’ He spotted him hiding shyly behind the trolley full of cases. ‘My goodness, look how much you’ve grown, I hardly recognised you.’ He held out his hand. ‘Come on then, let’s get you back to our house and we’ll have a nice cool glass of Grandma’s homemade lemonade.’
The yellow and white striped awning shielded the heat of the sun from the patio. Lydia placed the huge jug of lemonade stuffed with lemon slices and mint on the table and set out the glasses. A cloud of blue smoke wafted over the garden fence.
‘That’s Bruce next door, barbecuing his shrimp,’ explained Jerry.
Michael snorted on his lemonade, the liquid coming out of his nose. ‘Bruce is barbecuing his shrimp? Please tell me he’s married to Sheila and then we’ll have a hat trick of Australian clichés.’
Jerry frowned. ‘No, his wife’s called Maisie actually.’
‘Michael’s just teasing you Dad,’ Beth explained.
‘What…oh, I see, yes, Bruce and Sheila, very funny.’ He rubbed his hands together and scanned the garden. ‘Now where’s that little lad of yours got to? Oh, here he is now.’ He smiled at his grandson as he wandered onto the patio, staring intently at something in his hands. ‘What’ve you got there, son?’ asked Jerry.
He brandished the photo frame towards his grandfather. ‘I found this on the side in there. It’s my brother.’
They all fell silent as Jerry took the frame from Ben’s hands and gazed down at Jake’s beaming face. His school tie was slightly askew but he looked smart in his new blazer. It had been almost four years since Jake passed away and even now Jerry could not look at his photo without his throat tightening or his nose tingling.
‘He died when I was still in Mummy’s tummy.’ Ben announced with a nonchalance only a boy of three could muster.
Michael held out his arms. ‘Come here, Ben.’ He pulled his son onto his lap and he immediately nestled into his chest. Michael stroked his hair. ‘He was a very brave boy, your brother. A very special boy.’
Ben pushed his thumb into his mouth and his eyes began to droop as Michael rocked him from side to side. It was a lot to take in for a three-year old who had been born only months after his brother lost his battle. Even though the transplant had been a complete success and Jake had died with a fully functioning kidney, he had been unable to fight off an infection that had ravaged his body. Michael and Beth were both at Jake’s bedside as he closed his eyes for the last time and quietly slipped away. Their devastation was absolute and had it not been for the new life growing inside her, Beth truly believed she would not have had the strength or the inclination to carry on. They spoke about Jake all the time though, often spending hours poring over his photographs, watching home videos and reminiscing about his short life, his spirit and how his health problems had reunited an entire family. That was his legacy and although it was a lot to live up to both Michael and Beth were determined that Ben would not feel he had been born in Jake’s shadow. As far as they were concerned, he had been born in his light.