Cassandra Wivenhoe stood at the foot of the open grave and watched her daughter's coffin being lowered into the Devon earth. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her dark grey wool suit and swallowed several times. She simply must not think of Charlotte, lying there, alone and unprotected: soon to be abandoned to the windy moorland churchyard.
'Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts . . .'
The secrets of our hearts! She looked up and into the eyes of Kate Webster, her oldest and closest friend, whose compassionate gaze stiffened Cass's spine and gave her a small measure of courage. She blinked back tears, remembering Kate's words: 'If you go on playing Russian roulette, one of these days you'll get the bullet.'
But I didn't want anyone else to suffer, Cass cried silently. Not my children! Not Charlotte! She was only fifteen!
'. . . to take unto Himself the soul of our dear daughter . . .'
Despite herself, images superimposed themselves on the churchyard scene. Charlotte; as a baby, as a small child playing with Kate's twins, as a bigger girl learning to cook in a too-large apron - her face serious and intent - on her pony, and then, as a teenager, shy and awkward . . .
No! screamed the voice inside Cass's head. I can't bear it! It is simply not to be borne!
'. . . earth to earth . . .'
Handfuls of damp black moorland soil thudded softly onto the wooden lid, breaking into crumbs.
She jerked her head up and met Kate's eyes again. She saw that Kate's own hands were balled into fists and she knew that Kate was willing her some of her own strength.
Cass swallowed, her face twitching pitifully and gave Kate an infinitesimal nod.
'. . .in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection . . .'
Memories crowded unbidden into Kate's head: so many scenes and conversations, a whole way of life that had finally brought them to this graveyard on a wild autumn afternoon. Through unshed tears and a whole shared past, Kate looked back.