The Beauty of Broken Things
by Victoria Connelly
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: June 9, 2020
United by tragedy, can two broken souls make each other whole?
After the tragic loss of his wife, Helen, Luke Hansard is desperate to keep her memory alive. In an effort to stay close to her, he reaches out to an online friend Helen often mentioned: a reclusive photographer with a curious interest in beautiful but broken objects. But first he must find her—and she doesn’t want to be found.
Orla Kendrick lives alone in the ruins of a remote Suffolk castle, hiding from the haunting past that has left her physically and emotionally scarred. In her fortress, she can keep a safe distance from prying eyes, surrounded by her broken treasures and insulated from the world outside.
When Luke tracks Orla down, he is determined to help her in the way Helen wanted to: by encouraging her out of her isolation and back into the world. But Orla has never seen her refuge as a prison. and, when painful secrets and dangerous threats begin to resurface, Luke’s good deed is turned on its head.
As they work through their grief for Helen in very different ways, will these two broken souls be able to heal?
“Luke?” Orla said softly.
Luke turned around from the window, his expression a little vague as if he wasn’t fully there in the room with her.
“You said you wanted to talk to me—about Helen.”
A dark shadow seemed to pass across his face and that gentle, vague expression was gone.
“We don’t have to—if you don’t want to,” Orla added quickly.
“No—no—it’s okay. It’s what I came here for, isn’t it? And I have something for you.”
“Something from Helen. It’s in the van.” He motioned to the outside. “Mind if I get it?”
Orla walked to the door with him and unlocked it. One Ear accompanied her and stood on the threshold with his mistress as Luke walked down the steps and across the driveway towards his van. She watched as he opened the passenger door and lifted a box from the footwell. Carrying it carefully, he closed the van door, locked it, and returned to the castle. Orla led the way back to the great hall, where Luke placed the box on a table.
“Helen was going to send it to you, but...” He swallowed hard, pausing. “Anyway, it’s yours.”
“What is it?” Orla stepped forward, her fingers touching the sky-blue ribbon.
Orla untied the ribbon and took the lid off the box, gently removing the layers of bubblewrap and tissue paper to reveal the blue and white vase.
“Oh!” she gasped. “It’s lovely!” She handled it carefully, mindful of how fragile it was and how much care had gone into choosing it and wrapping it. She was deeply touched that a stranger should go to so much trouble for her.
“It’s chipped, I’m afraid, but she said you wouldn’t mind that. That’s what you liked about old things.”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Helen liked that about you—that you saw the beauty in broken things.”
“She said it’s easy to love something that’s shiny and new, but it takes someone special to love the old, neglected things.”
Orla felt her eyes sting with tears. “She said that?”
“You were a great inspiration to her. She started her own small collection because of you. I say small because our house is small. But she took so much pleasure in every single piece she found.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Luke nodded, and Orla could see that he was becoming emotional, too, and she couldn’t help wondering if he was remembering some special moment with Helen. Maybe he’d been there when she’d bought the vase or maybe he remembered her bringing it home.
“There’s a card with it,” he said, pointing to the box.
Orla placed the vase on the table and moved the last of the tissue paper from the box and reached in for the card. She could feel Luke watching her as she opened it and read the words, her eyes filling with tears again.
“I can’t believe she did this for me,” she whispered, returning the card to its envelope with shaking hands.
“You meant a lot to her. Your friendship. Your advice.”
“You know about that?”
“Little bits,” Luke confessed. “She used to talk about you and...” Luke stopped. “I found her journal and—well—she said that you encouraged her. You helped her.”
Orla bit her lip but didn’t say anything, and then she looked at the vase, picking it up and holding it tightly.
“I’ll treasure this always. It means the world to me. It really does.” She noticed that Luke was still standing. “How rude of me—please sit down.”
Luke nodded, and, as soon as he was sitting, One Ear looked up from his basket and then got up, stretching his long body before trotting over to say hello. Luke smiled and patted the dog’s head, and, after placing the vase on one of the deep windowsills, Orla sat in a chair opposite him.
Luke was perched forward on the sofa as if he was about to be interviewed for a job he didn’t want. One Ear nuzzled up against him, and Luke continued to fuss with the dog, delaying whatever he wanted to say a little while longer.
“Luke?” Orla prompted him. “You were going to tell me what happened, weren’t you?”
He nodded, and Orla realised how very difficult it must be for him.
“It was last month,” he began slowly. “Helen had a job in London, and she’d catch the train in and out every day. She usually got back home around quarter past seven. But she didn’t come back that day. I waited, thinking she’d gone shopping or that there were delays on the trains. It’s usually a good line, but you can never tell in this country, can you? A spot of rain or a windy day and the whole system can collapse.” He gave a hollow sort of laugh. “I wish it had just been rain or leaves on the track that day, but it wasn’t. There was some sort of signal failure.” He paused, as if trying to find the right words, and then they gushed out of him all at once as if he wanted to be rid of them. “There was a train crash. Two trains. Eleven people died, and Helen was one of them.”
“Oh, Luke! I’m so sorry.”
He dropped his gaze to One Ear and ruffled his head again.
“Perhaps you saw it on the news? It was everywhere for a while. You couldn’t escape it.”
“I don’t watch the news,” Orla told him. “How did you find out?”
“The police called at my house.”
She sighed. “I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for you.”
“I can’t remember much about it to be honest. It’s all a bit of a blur. The whole month has been. Cards, phone calls, emails. I’ve never had to talk to so many people before.”
“And I’m so grateful that you thought to contact me.”
“Helen cared about you. Even though you’d never met.’”
“And I cared about her.”
“I felt that. I felt that connection between you. It was as real as any regular kind of relationship.” Luke smiled sadly. “She used to look forward to your posts so much, and she’d miss them if you didn’t post. She’d look at them each morning at breakfast before she went to work. I think you put her in a good mood for the day. ‘Something bright in a sometimes dark world,’ she’d say of your posts.”
Luke nodded. “She used to share them with me, reading them out and showing me the pictures.” He gave a faint smile. “You have a lot of tea cups!”
Orla laughed, tears in her eyes. “Yes. I do.”
There was an awkward silence as some of the darkness seemed to seep back into Luke.
“She sent me a message,” he began again at last, “just before the train crash. She said she had a proposal for me, but I can’t think what it could have been and it’s been driving me crazy.” He paused and then took a couple deep breaths before speaking again. “I don’t suppose she talked to you about it?”
“You mean the night of the crash?’”
“Yes. Did she message you, perhaps?”
“What date was the accident?”
“The twelve of April.”
“Let me check.” Orla got up and went to get her phone.
“Have you got anything? Did she message you?” Luke asked desperately.
“Wait a minute.”
Luke crossed the room and peered over her shoulder as she searched her phone.
“Here,” she said at last. “The twelfth. She asked me a question.”
“What was the question?”
“Do you think I can make a living from my photography?” Orla looked up at him.
“She asked you that?”
“Yes.” She turned the phone round for him to see and he grabbed it in shaking hands before reading the message, taking a moment to digest it. Orla gave him a bit of space as he absorbed each and every word Helen had written. Finally, he looked up from the screen and suddenly seemed to realise that he’d taken the phone without asking.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quickly handing it back.
“I only read Helen’s—“
“It’s okay. Really,” Orla told him.
“Do you mind me asking what you said to her? I mean, if you replied.”
“I told that I thought she could make a living from it and that she should give it a go.” Orla looked at her phone, reading the words she’d sent to Helen. “I said, ‘Go for it! Your gift for photography and your passion for what you do is a recipe for success!’”
“Did she answer back?”
“Just this.” Orla turned the phone back to Luke so he could see the smiley face that Helen had sent in response.
“Was that her last message to you?”
“Her last message was a smiley face,” he said.
“What time did she send it?”
Orla looked at the screen again.
“Oh, my God,” Luke said. “That was just a few minutes before the crash. She messaged me at 6:15, so you must have been the last person she messaged.”
Orla’s fingers closed tightly around the phone as if that knowledge made it all the more precious, and then she looked up at Luke, whose eyes were filled with tears.
“She left the world with a smile,” he said.
Have you read any of Victoria Connelly's books?
Victoria lives in a 200-year old cottage in Suffolk. Where would you choose to live if money were no object?
Two randomly chosen people who comment on this post before 11:00 PM, May 19, will receive a copy of The Beauty of Broken Things.
*Must be 18 or older