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A Kiss Stolen by Georgia Le Carre (1)

Prologue

Jake

(She’s a Rainbow)

“Dad, I’m moving out.”

I stare at my daughter in astonishment. “What? Why?”

She straightens her shoulder and her jaw takes on that intractable line it does when she’s absolutely determined to do something come hell or high water. “Because,” she says firmly, “I’m going to be twenty in a few days and it’s about time.”

I frown. “Why is it about time?”

“Dad,” she cries exasperated. “All my friends moved out of their parents’ houses like two hundred years ago.”

I fold my arms. “That’s not a reason.”

She folds her arms with equal determination. “Come on, Dad, be reasonable. I want to move out because I want my own space.”

“You have your own space here. Hell, you have a whole wing to yourself. No one ever bothers you there … not since you put excrement in your brother’s bed for coming into your space, anyway.”

“For heaven’s sake, stop bringing that up. I was nine years old when I did that,” she says crossly.

“My point remains. Nobody ever disturbs you in your part of the house.”

She uncrosses her arms and leans forward, her bright blue eyes shining. “No, Dad, I mean, I want to be independent. I want to have my own little apartment in London. I want to paint the walls myself in the color I choose. I want to wake up in the morning and nip down to the bakery for some croissants or an apricot Danish that is still hot from the oven. I want to open my window and look down on a busy street full of people rushing to work. At night, I want to lie in my bed and to listen to the sounds of people coming back from pubs and clubs. I want the electricity bill to have my name on it. And when the postman rings I know the package is for me. I don’t want a big place. Just a one bedroom apartment or a studio would do me fine. Actually, if I had a choice I want a tiny cramped place so I can make it really cozy. Something like the movie version of the apartment Bridget Jones was living in.”

I sigh. I came from nothing and my dream was to live in the biggest house in the street. My daughter has lived in absolute luxury all her life and now her big dream is to go live the life of a poor person in London. How could I fight the romantic draw of poverty?

“Please, Dad.”

I hate the idea of her leaving home. It doesn’t feel right. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a strong instinct warning me against something. My instinct never failed me before.

“You didn’t expect me to commute every day to London to finish my Internship in the city, did you?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. It is barely an hour’s drive and I’ve already arranged for your transport.”

“No, that’s not what I want. Please, Dad,” she pleads. “I can’t live at home forever. Anyway, I’ll come home at the weekends.”

I look at her and realize suddenly, as if it crept up on me without warning, that my little girl has grown up. Not only has she grown up, she wants to spread her wings and fly away. For years I refused to allow myself to think of this day, but it is here now and I can’t control it. I see her as a stranger. An incredibly beautiful woman, with long black hair, and sparkling sapphire eyes. It makes me afraid. I choose my words very carefully. “All right—”

She jumps out of her chair, starts whooping and doing a Red Indian dance.

“I’m not finished, Liliana,” I say.

She stops and looks at me suspiciously.

“You can move out, but you must stay at our apartment in London.”

Her face falls.

“Nobody,” I continue, “from our family will come unless you invite us. It will be yours only. You will have complete privacy.”

She slumps back into the chair and exhales loudly. “Dad, you don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to live in a grand four-bedroom apartment in the middle of Mayfair with a live-in chef and a cleaner coming in five times a week. I want my own little place with a tiny kitchenette where I will cook my own meals and maybe I will throw a small dinner party where everyone has to sit on cushions on the floor. I want to be completely independent.”

“Fine, fine. Just give me a few months and I will buy a smaller apartment for you outside Mayfair. Perhaps Knightsbridge or Kensington?”

She stands up. “Dad, the truth is you didn’t let me finish. I don’t need you to find me an apartment because I’ve already found the perfect little place in Victoria. It’s above a cute little hairdresser for boys. The chairs where the kids sit look like little cars.” She chews her bottom lip. “I’ve also already paid the deposit. I’m moving in next week.”

Now, it’s my turn to slump into my chair.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I know it’s hard for you, but I’ll come back every weekend. I promise, it’ll be like I never left at all.”

I search her eyes. “What about your mother? Have you thought how this will affect her?”

Her voice is gentle. As if she is the adult and I am the child. “I told her last night and she was okay with it.”

I frown. How strange. Lily never said anything. She was normal. Then I remember she held me tightly when we got into bed and said the strangest thing. “You will stay with me until the very end, won’t you?” I kissed her and when I looked into her eyes she seemed vulnerable and lost. And it made me remember that incomprehensible time she miscarried. It makes the hairs on my neck stand to think of that period. How she became a total stranger. Even now it hurts to think she wanted to die. She actually contemplated leaving us all.

My daughter moves quickly and crouches at my feet. She takes both my hands in her delicate soft ones. “I haven’t forgotten, Dad,” she whispers.

I look into her eyes and nod. The memories swim in my head. I see my daughter again as a seven-year-old child lying next to my wife in our bed. The curtains are drawn shut. “Mummy,” she asks in a pitiful voice. “Are you angry with me? Have I done something wrong?” And my wife says nothing. Silent tears pour from her open blank eyes. I rush into the room and pick up my confused, frightened child from the bed. Her cheeks are wet. I hold her close to my body. “You’ve done nothing wrong, my darling. Nothing. Mummy is just not very well.” And my wife lies there in the semi-dark, unmoving, unresponsive, trapped in her black world of unrelenting sorrow.

I don’t realize that my own cheeks are wet until Liliana wipes them with her thumbs. “She’ll be all right. That time is past now. You’ll see. As long as she has you, she’ll be all right.”

I nod. “She’ll always have me.”