She hadn't known that summer would be their last together. If she had, would she have tried harder to bridge the gulf that had opened up between them? Maybe not. She'd been angry, but now that anger was shaded with guilt, because death often brought guilt along as baggage.
Did loyalty still matter when the person was dead? Did honesty matter when all it would produce was pain?
"Clare!" Her mother's voice drifted across the garden. "What are you doing out here in the rain? Come indoors."
Clare raised a hand, but she didn't turn.
She had a decision to make, and she'd always done her best thinking by the water. She considered herself an ethical and moral person. At school she'd been teased for always doing the "right thing," which had made it all the more extraordinary that her best friend had been a girl who made a point of always doing the wrong thing.
And now Becca had left her with this.
She was so lost in thought she wasn't aware of her mother until she felt her hand on her shoulder.
"You don't have to go, you know."
Clare stared at the lake. Its surface was dark and stippled by rain. In the summer it was idyllic, but with angry clouds crowding the sky and small waves snapping at the shore, the sense of menace matched her mood.
"She was my best friend."
"People grow apart. It's a fact of life. You're not the person at forty that you were at fourteen. Sometimes one has to accept that."
Had her mother sensed the tension between the two friends on that last visit? She'd walked down from the Gatehouse to see if she could help on that last day when Becca and Jack were busily packing the car and herding kids and luggage.
Clare had hoped the chaos would conceal the fragile atmosphere, but her mother had always been emotionally intuitive. Fortunately, Jack and Todd had been too busy talking cars and engines to notice anything. When they'd left, Becca had brought her cheek close to Clare's. Clare thought she'd murmured "'sorry'", but she wasn't sure and as Becca never apologized for anything it seemed unlikely.
"I can't remember a time when she wasn't in my life." She felt her mother's hand on her arm.
"And yet the two of you were always so different."
"I know. Becca was bright, and I was dull."
"No!" Her mother spoke sharply. "That wasn't it at all."
Perhaps dull was the wrong word. Steady? Reliable? Boring? "It's all right. I know who I am. I'm comfortable with who I am." Until recently, she'd been able to sleep at night, satisfied with her choices. Until Becca had presented her with an impossible one.
"You steadied her and she brought out your more adventurous side. She pushed you out of your comfort zone."
Why was that always considered a good thing? In this case it hadn't been good.
Clare was so far out of her comfort zone she couldn't have found her way back with a compass or SatNav. She wanted to cling to something familiar, which is why she stared at the boathouse. But instead of all the happy times, all she saw was Becca, her beautiful face smeared with tears as she unburdened herself.
"I know something happened between you. If you want to talk about it, I'm a good listener." Her mother produced an umbrella and slid her arm into Clare's, sheltering both of them.
Should she tell her mother? No, that wouldn't be fair. She hated being in this position. The last thing she was going to do was put someone else where she was standing now.
She was an adult, and way past the age where she needed her mother to untangle her problems and make decisions for her.
"I'm going to the funeral. My flight is booked."
Her mother adjusted her grip on the umbrella. "I knew you would, because you're you, and you always do the right thing. But I wish you wouldn't."
"What if you don't know what the right thing is?"
"You always do."