Extract | The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant

Category: Extract


From the Top Ten Kindle bestselling author of The Perfect Neighbours, comes this riveting thriller about a murdered school teacher. The Good Teacher is out now in ebook! Here’s an exclusive peek at Chapter One…



Her back aches like hell. She tries for the hundredth time to read her watch but can’t see her wrist, no matter how far she cranes her neck. The hot metal handcuffs cut into her arm and send pain searing up to her shoulder. It might be broken, but fractures are worse than this; she knows that. Her body has taken a pummelling but the bruises will heal.

She shifts her buttocks, peeling the thick pyjama trousers from her clammy thighs. She’s in the lounge on a kitchen chair, old with paint splatters, the remnants of previous decorating forays. White speckles from several ceilings, large splodges of powder-blue bathroom sheen, and buttercup, pink and cherry from the nursery project. Happy days long gone. She’s never had to sit for so long in this chair. She usually perches on its hard edge long enough to force down a couple of cream crackers and a cup of camomile tea. Even the leisurely Sunday breakfasts are a thing of the past.

Reg Kenny weaves across the lane, taking care not to stray off the tarmac. Not that it would matter much – although the thick grass verge is soaked in dew, the ground below is rock hard. As he pedals, he feels sweat on his forehead. It’s going to be another scorcher. Doreen doesn’t know what she’s missing and he isn’t going to tell her. His early morning cycle rides are his only escape from the infernal woman. And besides he has his little detour ahead of him. He pedals faster at the thought of what lies ahead and breathes harder, taking in the country freshness.

The chance to freewheel downhill fuels his good humour. The riotous hedgerows rushing by, the morning birds in full voice, the warm air on his face. And the sun glinting through the trees that line the road – his road – through Martle Top, the one little bit of countryside between Penbury and the motorway. The car parked in the lay-by annoyed him earlier. The thoughtlessness of some people: radio blaring, passenger door wide open, driver probably stopped for a pee in the ditch. Just as well Reg didn’t see him. He’d have given him a piece of his mind. Still, he’s nearly there now. His stomach flutters and there’s a delicious prickle through his shoulders. He’s like this every time. The first few days he thought it was guilt, but he knows now it’s the thrill of anticipation.

Raging thirst replaces the hunger pangs. Her forehead throbs and it’s hard to swallow. She tries not to panic.

If only the curtains were open a crack, the postman might have spotted her through the window and called the police. After the sharp thwack of the letterbox, she heard his “This Is Me” whistling fade away down the gravel path. She tried to call out but, with the tape over her mouth, she only managed a pathetic humming sound that had no hope of reaching the man chirping off into the warm June morning. She hates those curtains now, garish with the broad daylight behind them. Their peach colour makes the room loud and stuffy, hurting her eyes and aggravating her headache. A clashing backdrop for the vase of dark red roses on the table, their pungent perfume tainting what precious clean air she has left. A familiar wave of nausea threatens, but she fights it off.

Reg chains his bike to the railings and walks briskly into the Little Chef. Why should he feel guilty?

Doreen’s fault. She shouldn’t have withdrawn her services. A grown man has his needs.

The chain digs into her ribcage whenever she arches her back, forcing her to slump into the seat. The carriage clock ticks behind her. Oh for a clock that chimes. At least she’d be able to count off the hours. She daren’t rock round to face the mantelpiece. If she topples over, she’ll bang her already-raw face into the hard floor. And it isn’t just herself to think about. She has to keep pain to a minimum; she might have to wait all day.

To deaden the ache in her neck, she rests her heavy arms on the chair and moves her knees apart, easing the pressure on the handcuffs around her ankles. But now it’s even harder to hold her bladder, so she squeezes her legs together again. If she wants to avoid wetting herself, she’ll have to accept the intermittent burning sensation up her calves.

Reg swings his leg over the saddle and sets off home replete. He deserved his cooked breakfast. That puny porridge Doreen serves up since he retired wouldn’t keep a toddler fed.

He gets off his bike again. The hill’s getting steeper. He used to be able to cycle up it. Better not tell Doreen. She’ll say he’s past it. Men of his age can’t expect to do so much. Stupid woman.

It’s just gone five past eight on Mids FM and on the line now is Carole in Briggham. Hi, Carole,” a radio shouts, polluting Reg’s country air. That bloody car in the lay-by is still there. No driver or passenger about. What on earth are they playing at? A crude thought creeps into Reg’s mind and he smiles. He pushes the bike across the road, quickening his pace.

He peers through the open passenger door. Well, there’s no one at it on the back seat. Hardly surprising. That shrieking radio would put anyone off. Reg lays his bike in the long grass. They must be in the ditch or the field beyond. You’ve got to admire their stamina. They’ve been down there longer than it’s taken him to ravish his Olympic Breakfast with extra mushrooms. With the stealth of a marine commando, he moves towards the ditch. Perhaps he’ll share this one with Doreen. It might put her in the mood for some how’s your fath—

“Father God in Heaven,” he gasps and stands stock-still, the taste of bile mounting in his mouth. His eyes fix on the glint of metal and the shiny patch of red seeping through the grass. In the next instant, stomach heaving, he’s back on his bike, tackling the rest of the hill from the saddle.

The milkman came at about 6.30 a.m. – at least she assumes it was 6.30 a.m. because that’s when he always comes. His chinking of bottles is often the first sound she hears on waking. This morning, frozen by the enormity of her situation, she didn’t think to call out to him until she heard the clanking, whirring sounds of his aged milk float dying away as it left. Hers is the only house in the street that still has milk delivered.

The final spin of the washing machine behind the closed kitchen door filled the silence after that. Then time became vast and empty until the whistling postman. The mail usually arrives before 8 a.m. despite changes at the Post Office, so that must make it about 9 a.m. now.

There’s a distant crunching outside. More steps follow and grow louder as they trip their way up the gravel. It must be Linda. Of course, it’s nine o’clock. Linda and Dean will have dropped the children off at school and then come to pick her up, as arranged. She pictures Linda teetering up the path, her broad feet forced into tiny sandals.

In the background a car engine rumbles. She’s amazed that she can hear it above her hammering heart. Dean will be waiting in the car. She hears a light tapping on the front door glass. Linda’s false fingernails. She forms the words “Linda, help” at the back of her mouth, trying to force them through the heavy adhesive that clamps her jaws together.

“Gaby, are you in there?” Linda’s voice invades the house through the opened letterbox. “Are you going to let me in?”

With all her might, she gulps out one more “Help”. The sound reverberates in her ears and, for a moment, she thinks it’s reached the front door. The letterbox snaps shut and footsteps move around the house towards the lounge window. She rocks against the chains, causing two of the chair legs to lift and then slam down with a muffled thud on the carpet.

“Dean, she must have forgotten.” Linda’s voice is directed away from the house. “I’ve put their milk in the bushes otherwise it’ll be honking in this heat.” Linda’s jerky steps return past the front door and recede down the path, the sound of gravel scattering in their wake.

Gaby struggles to catch her breath as a car door closes and the car speeds away. Tears prick her eyes. Her best hope of rescue will be joining the Penbury ring road without her. Crying makes her head throb, but she weeps on. The fight flowing out of her.

Reg – ice-numb now despite the heat – tries to lean his bike against the potting shed but it slips, clattering to the ground. The noise brings Doreen to the back door.

“Where the heck have you been all this time?” She squints at him. “You look peaky, a bit like your porridge looked before I chucked it. I suppose you want me to get you something else now?”

“Whisky,” Reg gasps.

What time is it now? Exhaustion giving way to panic again. How long can she survive without a drink? It’s been hours and her lips feel like crumbling plaster. Gaby makes another effort to calm down by breathing in through her nose and letting the air slowly reach her lungs. She clutches at any passing thought to occupy her aching mind. The letters on the doormat. She likes getting letters, even if most are mailshots. Her thoughts wander to the postman. She blinks back tears again, regretting that she’s never really looked at him before and wondering whether there’ll ever be another chance.

A car pulls up outside the gate. The engine stops and a door slams. Heavy shoes trudge along the gravel accompanied by faint crackling voices like a radio. She breathes in sharply, preparing to hum out as before, but this time ready for disappointment.

“Yes, sarge. If there’s no reply, we’ll force entry,” a calm voice says on the other side of the front door.

Gaby’s breathing quickens and she can hardly believe her ears. She’s in some other world, unable to move. Seized by terror, suddenly afraid to end her familiar incarceration after so many hours. But then her survival instinct takes hold and she presses against the chains, rocking back and forth, willing herself closer to the window. After hearing three sharp knocks at the door, she crashes to the carpet. Shattering pain spreads across the side of her face. Everything numbs and darkness comes.

The Good Teacher is available on Kindle now for just 99p! 

Extract | The Last Lie by Alex Lake

Category: Extract

The Last Lie


Get an exclusive first glimpse at bestselling author Alex Lake’s pacy new psychological thriller, The Last Lie. Out on 27th December!



The woman driving the car knew better than to stop for hitchhikers. Maybe, decades ago, she would have considered it. Things were different then. People had good intentions. Kids were polite, and respectful to adults. They didn’t hang around the streets wearing hoodies and intimidating passers-by. A hitchhiker would, more than likely, be in search of nothing other than a lift to their destination. So yes, she might have picked one up years ago.

But only in the right circumstances. If she was with someone. And it was daylight. And the hitchhiker looked respectable.

Even back then she would never have picked someone up alone, at night, on a quiet road through deserted countryside, a road lined by half-bent trees and high hedges.

And she wasn’t about to start now.

It was still awkward, though. You didn’t want to acknowledge the person as you passed them because that meant acknowledging you were not generous enough to help them out. It was like passing a beggar on the street; you didn’t want to look at them, didn’t want to have the embarrassment of saying ‘no’ when they asked for money. So you marched on, eyes forward, as though they weren’t even there.

It was easy on a busy street with other people around, other things to look at, but on a country road at night? It was much harder. There was nothing to pretend you’d been distracted by. It was obvious you would have noticed the hitchhiker. You couldn’t not.

Who was, she saw as she approached, a young woman. At least she thought so, from a distance. Long hair, slight build. For a moment her resolve wavered – maybe she would pick her up, she shouldn’t be out here alone – but then she stiffened. She’d heard of this kind of trick: put an innocent, unthreatening woman out there and then, when the driver stopped, a thug – or gang of thugs – would jump out, steal the car and leave her there, alone.

Or worse. Raped. Dead.

She got ready to swerve in case the young woman jumped or stumbled into the road. That was another trick she’d heard about. Or maybe she was drunk. It wouldn’t be a surprise. Nowadays young women got drunk all the time, out in town centres that were no-go areas at night, vomit-streaked war zones populated by feral youths intent on fighting and drinking and having sex with each other.

The hitchhiker’s head turned towards the sound of the car. She raised her hand. It was a curiously weak movement. Hesitant. Tentative. Fearful, almost. The woman driving the car shook her head. She was definitely not stopping. The girl was probably on drugs, as well as drunk.

And then the beam of the headlights lit her up and the woman driving the car let out a sharp gasp.

The hitchhiker was a young woman, in her late twenties, or maybe early thirties.

She was also completely naked.

But that wasn’t the most shocking thing about her.

The most shocking thing was that the woman driving the car recognized her.

It took her a few moments to realize where from, and then she gasped again.

She wasn’t a hitchhiker – although there was no doubt she needed a lift – she was something completely different.

She braked, coming to a halt a few metres past the young woman, then opened her door.

The young woman stared at her, her eyes wide and unseeing. Her hair was matted, and she was streaked with dirt. She took a step towards the car, and the driver flinched, glancing around to see if there was anyone hiding in the shadows.

There was nothing. Just the hedges and the moon and the silence of the night.

She looked back at the young woman.

‘Are you—’ she said, then paused. ‘Are you her?’





Claire Daniels stood on the tiled floor of the bathroom and stared into the mirror. She studied the face that looked back at her. She recognized every feature and freckle and contour. She had seen them a thousand times. More. Many thousands. The face belonged to her. It was utterly familiar.

And yet, in a few minutes, she might be a totally new person.

From time to time a person could change in an instant into someone new. It had happened to her twice: the day her mum died and the day she met Alfie. Once for bad, once for good. And today – this morning – it might be about to happen a third time.

That first time was awful. Beyond awful. She was fourteen and had just walked in from Lacrosse practice after school. Her best friend Jodie’s mum had brought her home and on the way back she had asked if they wanted to go to a Coldplay concert, on their own. Jodie’s mum said she would drop them off and pick them up but they could watch the concert without any adults present.

Thank you, Mrs Pierce, Claire said. That would be amazing.

Call me Angie, Jodie’s mum said. But you need to clear it with your parents.

Which was what Claire had been planning to do when she ran into the house. Her dad would be at work, but she could hear the television in the living room, which was where her mum would be.

She was there, all right, slumped on the cream leather sofa in the living room. At first Claire had thought she was sleeping, but then she noticed the trickle of blood coming from her nostril and the vomit on her jeans and the glassy-eyed stare into nowhere.

She was dead. Claire knew it as soon as she saw her, but that didn’t stop her slapping then hugging then slapping her to wake her up. What followed was a whirl she had never been able to put in order however many times she had thought about it. She’d called her dad and then it was sirens, medics, police officers. A doctor had given her something and she’d gone to bed, only to wake up the next day to the same horror.

Her mother never gave permission for Claire to go to the Coldplay concert. She never gave permission for anything else ever again.

Heroin, her dad told her a few days later. Her mum had overdosed, an addiction from her twenties that she’d managed to beat down had come roaring back in her forties and burned her out.

It snuffed out Claire, too. Left her hollow. When she looked at herself in the mirror she saw someone else. Someone lost, unsmiling, changed. There was a gap at the centre of her, a gap that was only filled when she met Alfie. She remembered getting home after their first date, a date that had begun as an afternoon coffee and grown into dinner and drinks and a night-time walk through central London. She’d glimpsed herself in the mirror. Something about her reflection had caught her eye and she’d paused, and looked again, and seen a new woman. Seen herself again.

And she knew she had changed in the space of that night, had started to emerge from the hole her mum’s death had left her in.

Started. Even after three years of marriage – three happy years – there was still something missing. And hopefully that final piece of the puzzle would be in place any minute. If it went as she hoped, she’d look in the mirror and see, once again, a new person.

A mother.

At least, a mother-to-be.

A mother who would not overdose on heroin and leave her daughter alone. A mother who would love and cherish her child, her children. A mother who would heal her own wounds by making sure she didn’t inflict them on her children.

And then she’d go and wake up her husband, the man who had made her feel warm and safe and whole from the moment they’d met and every moment since, and tell him that she was pregnant. After all these months trying, finally, they were going to be parents, going to have new titles, new roles.

Claire and Alfie, daughter and son, wife and husband.

Mum and dad.

She blinked, and opened the bathroom cabinet. She took out a pregnancy test. It was the first of a packet of two. She’d bought them nine months earlier in anticipation of needing them sooner, but her period had come, on time, month after month. She and Alfie did everything right: they had sex constantly when she was ovulating, and plenty besides, but it didn’t matter. Inevitably at the appointed time she started to feel bloated and lethargic and then her period arrived.

But not this month. This month she was two days late. Two whole days. She knew there could be many reasons why, but she didn’t care.

She was pregnant. She felt it.

And it was her birthday this weekend. She had drinks planned after work – it was a Friday – and then a party at her dad’s house on Saturday. It was the perfect present. It all hung together. It was too right not to be true.

She took the test from the cardboard and sat on the toilet. She positioned it between her legs and a few seconds later a stream of warm urine ran over the white plastic. She left it there until the stream stopped and then placed it by the sink. She didn’t look at it; the line she craved could take a minute or so to show up and she wanted to give it every opportunity.

She washed her hands, her heart racing and her stomach tight. She pictured herself walking into their bedroom and shaking Alfie awake. Telling him the news. Watching him smile. No – she stopped herself. She shouldn’t get carried away. Her dad called it the commentators’ curse: just when a commentator was saying how some football team was about to score or some player was playing well, something bad would happen.

But this was it; she was sure of it. There’d be a line and she’d be pregnant and even if it didn’t work out, if there was a problem of some sort, she’d know she could get pregnant, and even that would be enough, would be better than the doubt and worry and anguish of wondering if it would ever happen.

She picked up the pregnancy test. Turned it around. Let her eyes travel to the end where the little window contained—


No line. Not the faintest imprint of a line.

She shook it. She put it down next to the sink and waited a minute or two. Then she picked it up again.

No line.

She pressed the pedal at the base of the bin and flipped the lid open. She looked one last time – to be sure – and then threw the test, the negative test, into the trash. She’d ask Alfie to take it out later. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want any reminder of her failure.



Alfie Daniels lay in bed listening to his wife move around in the bathroom. He knew what she was doing, despite the fact she’d said nothing. He knew when her period was due and he knew it hadn’t come because Claire had not walked into the living room with tears in her eyes or sent him a text message with sad emojis saying she had her period.

For nine months he had hugged her each time and prom­ised her it would happen eventually, only to watch her hope build through the month and be dashed again.

And now she was late and he could tell she was convinced that this was it. For the last two days he had watched her move from a state of quiet introspection to nervous excite­ment. She thought she was pregnant.

If she’d told him, he would have suggested not getting her hopes up, but it was too late for that now. Her hopes were flying high and turning into dreams of the future and there was only one thing that would bring them down.

Which, from the sound of things, had just happened. There was no cry of excitement or rush of steps to come and tell him the good news. Only the thud of the bathroom door closing and a slow, heavy tread towards the bedroom.

The door opened and she came in. She stood by their bed, her face set and unsmiling.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘My period was late. I took a test.’

Alfie sat up on his elbows. ‘And?’

Tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She shook her head.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and held out his arms. ‘Come here.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I want to be alone. I’m going to have a shower.’

‘I don’t think so. Not before a hug.’

‘I’m OK.’

‘It’s not for you. It’s for me. I’m disappointed too.’

It was clearly the wrong thing to say. Her lips quivered and tears welled in her eyes. She let out a loud, wracking sob then slumped on the edge of the bed and buried her face in his neck.

‘I tried not to hope,’ she said. ‘I told myself not to get my hopes up, but it’s impossible. I want this so much.’

‘Me too,’ he said. ‘And it’ll happen. It takes time for lots of people.’

I know,’ she replied. ‘But what if we’re the ones who it never happens for? What then?’

‘We’re a long way from that,’ Alfie said. ‘A long way.’

‘But what if?’ Claire said. ‘What if we can’t have kids?’

‘Don’t think like that.’

She nodded. ‘I won’t. I’m going to have a shower.’


When she came back her eyes were red.

‘You not feeling too good?’ Alfie said.

‘I was sure I was pregnant this time,’ she said. ‘I felt different, somehow. And I’ve been so regular. I don’t know why my period would suddenly be late.’

‘Stress can do that,’ Alfie said. ‘This is a difficult time for you. For us.’

She wiped a tear from her eyes. ‘I can’t stop crying. It’s the sense of loss. Even though I wasn’t pregnant – so there was nothing to lose – I’d let myself think I was, and I was already imagining a future with us as parents. And now it’s gone.’

‘Only for now,’ Alfie said. ‘We’ll get there in the end, I know it.’

He held her tight, then sat up.

‘I have to get ready for work,’ he said. ‘I’ve got an early meeting.’


In the bathroom, Alfie stripped off. He looked in the full-length mirror. He flexed his pectoral muscles, then turned sideways and admired his flat abdominals. His chest and back were waxed and smooth, unlike the thick, brown hair on his scalp. He kept himself in shape; the only thing he couldn’t do anything about were the pock-marks on his face, the scars left by the acne he’d suffered from as a teenager.

He turned on the shower and stepped in. He let the hot water run over him. He washed his hair, massaging the shampoo into his scalp. The shampoo he used cost over thirty pounds a bottle, but it was worth it. According to his hair stylist, he had the kind of hair that movie stars had. He could be a hair model, she said, and it was worth paying the extra for good shampoo. So he treated himself.

And besides, they could afford it. Claire’s dad was both rich and generous.

When he was finished, he wrapped a towel around his waist and grabbed his razor. As he started to shave the bath­room door opened.

‘Would you take out the bin?’ Claire said. ‘The test is in there. I don’t want to go near it.’

Alfie nodded. ‘OK.’

‘And thanks,’ she said. ‘For being so supportive. I’m lucky to have you. And we’ll be pregnant, one day.’

He smiled. ‘We will. I know we will.’

She closed the door and the smile fell from his face. He looked at himself in the mirror and shook his head.

Stupid bitch.

She wanted him to take out the bin. Of course she did. She was too infantile to deal with a negative pregnancy test so she needed him to deal with it for her, like it was a fucking python or something. It was pathetic.

It was typical of her.

As was the way she used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. ‘We’ll be pregnant, one day.’ He hated that ‘we’. Hated the cloying, saccharine refusal to accept the biological truth of the situ­ation: it was her who would be pregnant, not him.

The irony – and he took great pleasure in it – was that, whatever words she used, she was wrong. They – she – wouldn’t be pregnant any time soon. Ever, in fact.

Because what she didn’t know was that her husband had no intention of having children. They were the last thing he wanted. There were many reasons why, but the main one was because the arrival of kids would render all his careful plans redundant.

They would tie him to the simpering bitch forever, and there was no way he was letting that happen.

But she couldn’t find out he didn’t want them. Not yet, at any rate. He still needed her for a while, which was why he had never mentioned – and did not plan to – the reason why she would not be getting pregnant any time soon.

Her husband had had a vasectomy.

He’d had it done a year after they married – almost exactly two years earlier, now – when she had started talking about having kids in earnest. He’d gone to see the doctor, told him what he wanted – the doctor was surprised given how young he was and had tried to talk him out of it, but he had referred him nonetheless – and then, one morning, Alfie had gone to the hospital and had the operation.

He’d been back at his desk the same afternoon. He was a bit sore, but it was OK.

And it would remain his little secret.

He glanced at the bin. The negative pregnancy test lay there, pointing at him, accusing him.

‘Fuck you,’ he said, then wiped the shaving cream from his face.


The Last Lie is out on 27th December. Pre-order here.

Extract from Camilla Way’s Watching Edie

Category: Extract

We are really excited about the upcoming paperback of Camilla Way’s creepy psychological thriller, Watching Edie, a tense story of a friendship gone wrong! Here’s a sneak peek for you:






Outside my kitchen window the long afternoon empties of light. I look at London stretched out far below, my dripping hands held poised above the sink. The doorbell rings, one long high peal; the broken intercom vibrates. The view from up here, it’s incredible, like you’re flying. Deptford and Greenwich, New Cross and Erith, then the river, and beyond that there’s the Gherkin, over there’s the Shard. From my top-floor flat here on Telegraph Hill you can see forever and as usual it calms me, soothes me: how big it is, how small I am, how far from where I used to be.

The doorbell rings more urgently – whoever it is putting their finger on the buzzer and holding it there. The night hovers.

At first I used to see Heather everywhere. Connor too, of course. From the corner of my eye I’d catch a glimpse of one or the other of them, and there’d be that sharp, cold lurch that would leave me sick and shaken long after I’d realized that it had been an illusion; just a stranger with similar hair or the same way of walking. Whenever it happened I’d go somewhere busy and lose myself amongst the crowds, roaming the south-east London streets until I’d reassured myself that all that was very far away and long ago. A small West Midlands town a million miles from here. And the doorbell rings and rings as I’d always known it would one day.

I live on the top floor of a large, ugly Victorian building, and there are lots of us squashed in here side by side, in our small, draughty little flats. Housing Association, most of us. And when I wedge my door open with a shoe and go down to answer the bell, past four floors of white doors marked with brass letters, the early evening sounds seep from beneath each one: a baby crying, a telly’s laughter, a couple arguing; the lives of strangers.

I’m entirely unprepared for what’s waiting for me beyond the heavy wide front door and when I open it the world seems to tilt and I have to grip the door frame to stop myself from falling. Because there she is, standing on my doorstep staring back at me. There, after all this time, is Heather.

And I have imagined this, dreamed of this, dreaded this, so many hundreds of times for so many years that the reality is both entirely surreal and anticlimactic. I see and hear life continuing on this ordinary London street on this ordinary afternoon – cars and people passing, children playing down the street, a dog barking – as if from far away, and as I stare into her face the sour taste of fear creeps around the back of my tongue. I open my mouth but no words come and we stand in silence for a while, two thirty-three-year-old versions of the girls we’d once been.

It’s she who speaks first. ‘Hello, Edie,’ she says.

And then she does the unthinkable. She steps across the threshold (my heart jumping as she looms so close), wraps me in her arms and hugs me. I stand there rigid, enclosed, as memories slam into me: the wiry feel of her hair as it brushes against my cheek, that weird fried onions smell her clothes always had, her tall, heavy presence. My mind is empty, I am only my heart knocking in my throat and now she’s following me into the hallway no no no this is just one of your dreams and up the stairs, past all the other doors with their brass letters and their chipped paint and we’re at the top and I’m watching my hand as it pushes open my door and we’re here inside my kitchen no no no no no, and we’re sitting down at my table, and I’m staring into the face I’d once hoped never to see again for the rest of my life.

Neither of us speak at first and I’m filled with longing for my quiet, solitary life within these three cramped rooms of moments before. The tap drips, the seconds pass, the browning tendrils of my spider plant shiver on the windowsill. I get up so I don’t have to look at her, and I turn away and grip the work surface. With my back to her like this, I manage to speak. ‘How’d you find me then?’ I ask and when she doesn’t answer I turn and see that she’s gazing around the room, peering across the hallway to the narrow lounge with its fold-down bed.

‘Hmm?’ she says vaguely. ‘Oh.’ She looks at me. ‘Your mum. Still lives in your old place, doesn’t she.’

And I nod, although I hadn’t known, because Mum and I haven’t spoken in years and in that instant I’m back there, in the old Fremton house. We’re in the kitchen, the strip light flickering, the blackness outside making mirrors of the windows. I’m crying and telling Mum everything, every single thing about what happened that night, as if telling her might stop the screaming in my head, clear the pictures from my mind. I tell her about Heather and Connor and what they did but it’s like I’m telling her about some horror film or a nightmare I’ve had. I listen to myself say the words and I can’t believe that what I’m saying is true. I don’t stop talking until I’ve told her every last detail, and when I’ve finished, I reach for her, but Mum’s body is rigid and her face grey with shock. She backs away from me, and never, never again in my life do I want someone to look at me the way she does then.

When she speaks she spits out her words like stones. ‘Go to bed, Edith,’ she says. ‘And don’t ever talk to me about this again. Do you hear me? I never want to hear about this again.’ She turns her back then, staring at the window and I see her pinched, awful face reflected in the glass. The next morning I get up before dawn, take some money from her purse and catch the train to my Uncle Geoff’s in Erith, and I never go back there again.

I’m stunned by what Heather has told me: that my mother had my address to give her amazes me. My uncle never knew what caused the rift between us and always hoped that we would one day reconcile, so the fact he passed it on to her is no surprise. But that Mum had actually written it down and kept it safe somewhere is a revelation.

I suddenly feel exhaustion roll over me in waves, but I force myself to ask, ‘What do you want, Heather? Why have you come here now?’ Because I always knew, really, that this moment would come. Hadn’t I dreamt about it night after night, woken in the small hours sick with the fear of it, looked over my shoulder certain it was approaching, out there somewhere, getting steadily closer?

She doesn’t answer at first. On the table in front of her she’s put her bag: a black woollen knitted thing with a chipped plastic button. Clinging to the wool are bits of fluff, crumbs, and lots of little ginger hairs – cat hairs, maybe. Her small hazel eyes peer at me beneath sparse pale lashes; she wears no make-up except for an incon­gruous smear of bright-pink lipstick that looks like it should be on someone else’s face. In the silence a woman’s voice drifts up to us from the street, Terry . . . Terry . . . Terrrrrrr-eeeeeee . . . and we listen to it dwindle and die, and at that moment the darkness over London pounces, that sad, final instant where daylight vanishes, the electric lights of the city suddenly strong, and I hear a faint tremor of hurt and reproach in Heather’s voice as she says, ‘Nothing. I don’t want anything. I just wanted to see you.’

I try to make sense of this, my mind confusedly grasping at various possible explanations, but then she starts to speak again, and she says – with loneliness like an open wound, so raw and familiar that I have to turn my eyes from it – ‘You were my best friend.’

‘Yes,’ I whisper. And because I have no idea what else to do I get up and put the kettle on and I make some tea while Heather talks, for all the world as though this is an ordinary visit – two old friends catching up: how she lives in Birmingham now (‘We moved not long after you left’), the newsagent’s where she works part-time.

As she talks I take in little glances. Such an ordinary-looking woman. A bit on the large side, her chubby hands folded in front of her on the table, her soft Welsh accent, her shoulder-length hair, her eager smile. ‘Do you still live with your mum and dad?’ I ask, for something to say, falling in with the game she’s playing, if that’s what this is. And she nods. Yes, I think – it would be hard, even now, to imagine her coping without them. She was never stupid, Heather, not back­wards or anything like that – in fact she’d always done well at school. But despite her cleverness there’d always been an inexplicable something missing somehow, an innocence that made her vulnerable, too easily led astray. I sit down in the chair next to her. ‘Heather,’ I say quickly, before I lose my nerve, ‘Heather, what do you want?’

Instead of answering, she reaches over and, taking me by surprise, gently pulls a strand of my hair between her fingers. ‘Still so pretty, Edie,’ she says, dreamily. ‘You haven’t changed a bit.’ And I can’t help it: I flinch so obviously that I have to get to my feet, clattering the tea things together in the sink, her eyes boring into my back.

‘Can I see your flat?’ she asks, and when I nod she goes and stands at the door to my tiny living room. I follow her, and together we look in at the cramped, dusty mess, the fold-down bed, the rail of clothes, the crappy, second-hand telly. ‘It’s lovely,’ she says in a hushed voice, ‘you’re so lucky,’ and I have to stifle a sudden desire to laugh. If you had asked me at sixteen what sort of person I would become, what sort of life my future self might lead, I would never have pictured this.

It occurs to me that she must have found her way to London by herself, before making her way through the city to get here, and I’m both impressed and horrified by this. The thought hits me that she might expect to stay the night, and the idea is so awful that I blurt, ‘Heather, I’m sorry but I have to go out, I have to go out soon and it’s been so nice to see you again but I really do have to—’

Her face falls. ‘Oh.’ She looks around the room wistfully, disappointment etched into her face. ‘Maybe I could stay here until you get back.’

She eyes my sofa hopefully and I try very hard to keep the panic from my voice as I lie, ‘I’m going away for a few days actually, with friends,’ and I begin to steer her back towards the kitchen. ‘I’m sorry.’ Reluctantly she nods and follows me to where she’s left her coat and bag. I watch her, my heart sinking, knowing I should relent. She’s only been here fifteen minutes after all. But I stand there as she puts her coat on, and I say nothing.

‘Can I have your number?’ she asks. ‘I could phone you and then next time we could spend the day or even the weekend together.’ There’s such longing in her eyes that I feel myself nodding hopelessly, and she rummages eagerly in her bag. I watch her, my arms folded tightly, as she slowly punches my name into her mobile.

She looks up expectantly, but my posture or the angle in which I’m standing reveals something to her and as realization dawns, her mouth gapes. ‘You’re pregnant!’ she says.

For the briefest moment I see something in her eyes that makes me shudder, though I don’t know why – just for a second something else peeps out at me from behind her hazel stare. My hands fly defensively to my belly and an image, gone almost before it’s there, of Heri’s face flickers across my mind. I don’t reply.

‘Well,’ she says after a silence, ‘congratulations. How lovely.’ As she continues to gaze at me her pupils twitch intently, and sensing that she’s about to ask more questions, I rattle off my number and watch as she punches it in, agonizingly slowly, until finally I open the door, say goodbye as warmly as I know how, and at last she turns to leave. But before she does she stops and pauses and says very softly, ‘Do you remember the quarry, Edie? How we used to go up there together, all of us?’

I feel momentarily light-headed, a wave of nausea washes over me, and when I speak my voice is barely a whisper. ‘Yes.’

She nods. ‘Me too. I think about it all the time.’ And then she leaves, her sensible lace-ups clattering upon the staircase as she retreats lower and lower. I lean against the wall, weak with relief, until from far below I hear the front door’s heavy slam as she closes it behind her, like a jailor.


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