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Watching You / (by Lisa Jewell, 2018) -

Watching You /    (by Lisa Jewell, 2018) -

Watching You / (by Lisa Jewell, 2018) -

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Watching You / (by Lisa Jewell, 2018) -
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2018
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Lisa Jewell
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Gabrielle Glaister
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upper-intermediate
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10:51:01
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Watching You / :

.doc (Word) lisa_jewell_-_watching_you.doc [948.5 Kb] (c: 2) .
.pdf lisa_jewell_-_watching_you.pdf [1.77 Mb] (c: 5) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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{include file="engine/modules/cuttext.php?txt=
To Selina and Jonny. With love. My Diary 20 September 1996 I dont know what to think. I dont know what to feel. Is this normal? Hes an adult. Hes twice my age. Theres no way No. Theres no way. But OH GOD. I wish there was. Dear diary: I think Im in love with my English teacher. Prologue 24 March DC Rose Pelham kneels down; she can see something behind the kitchen door, just in front of the bin. For a minute she thinks its a bloodstained twist of tissue, maybe, or an old bandage. Then she thinks perhaps it is a dead flower. But as she looks at it more closely she can see that its a tassel. A red suede tassel. The sort that might once have been attached to a handbag, or to a boot. It sits just on top of a small puddle of blood, strongly suggesting that it had fallen there in the aftermath of the murder. She photographs it in situ from many angles and then, with her gloved fingers, she plucks the tassel from the floor and drops it into an evidence bag which she seals. She stands up and turns to survey the scene of the crime: a scruffy kitchen, old-fashioned pine units, a green Aga piled with pots and pans, a large wooden table piled with table mats and exercise books and newspapers and folded washing, a small extension to the rear with a cheap timber glazed roof, double doors to the garden, a study area with a laptop, a printer, a shredder, a table lamp. Its an innocuous room; bland even. A kitchen like a million other kitchens all across the country. A kitchen for drinking coffee in, for doing homework and eating breakfast and reading newspapers in. Not a kitchen for dark secrets or crimes of passion. Not a kitchen for murdering someone in. But there, on the floor, is a body, splayed face down inside a large, vaguely kidney-shaped pool of blood. The knife that had been used is in the kitchen sink, thoroughly washed down with a soapy sponge. The attack on the victim had been frenzied: at least twenty knife wounds to the neck, back and shoulders. But little in the way of blood has spread to other areas of the kitchen no handprints, no smears, no spatters leading Rose to the conclusion that the attack had been unexpected, fast and efficient and that the victim had had little chance to put up a fight. Rose takes a marker pen from her jacket pocket and writes on the bag containing the red suede tassel. Description: Red suede/suedette tassel. Location: In front of fridge, just inside door from hallway. Date and time of collection: Friday 24 March 2017, 11.48 p.m. Its probably nothing, she muses, just a thing fallen from a fancy handbag. But nothing was often everything in forensics. Nothing could often be the answer to the whole bloody thing. I 1 2 January Joey Mullen laid the flowers against the gravestone and ran her fingertip across the words engraved into the pink-veined granite. SARAH JANE MULLEN 19622016 BELOVED MOTHER OF JACK AND JOSEPHINE Happy new year, Mum, she said. Im sorry I didnt come to see you yesterday. Alfie and I had shocking hangovers. We went to a party over in Frenchay, at Candys new flat. Remember Candy? Candy Boyd? She was in my year at school, she had all that long blond hair that she could sit on? You really liked her because she always said hello to you if she passed you on the street? Anyway, shes doing really well, shes a physiotherapist. Or a chiropractor? Anyway, something like that. She cried when I told her you were dead. Everyone cries when I tell them. Everyone loved you so much, Mum. Everyone wished you were their mum. I was so lucky to have a mum like you. I wish I hadnt stayed away for so long now. If Id known what was going to happen, I would never have gone away at all. And Im sorry you never got to meet Alfie. Hes adorable. Hes working at a wine bar in town at the moment, but he wants to be a painter-decorator. Hes at his mums now, actually, painting her kitchen. Or at least, hes supposed to be! Shes probably made him sit down and watch TV with her, knowing her. And him. Hes a bit of a procrastinator. Takes him a while to get going. But youd love him, Mum. Hes the cutest, sweetest, nicest guy and hes so in love with me and he treats me so well and I know how much of a worry I was to you when I was younger. I know what I put you through and Im so, so sorry. But I wish you could see me now. Im growing up, Mum. Im finally growing up! She sighed. Anyway, Id better go now. Itll be getting dark soon and then Ill get really scared. I love you, Mum. I miss you. I wish you werent dead. I wish I could go to your house and have a cup of tea with you, have a good gossip, have a bitch about Jack and Rebecca. I could tell you about the gold taps. Or maybe I could tell you about the gold taps now? No, Ill tell you about the gold taps next time. Give you something to look forward to. Sleep tight, Mum. I love you. Joey climbed the steep lane from Lower Melville to the parade of houses above. Even in the sodium gloom of a January afternoon, the houses of Melville Heights popped like a row of childrens building blocks: red, yellow, turquoise, purple, lime, sage, fuchsia, red again. They sat atop a terraced embankment looking down on to the small streets of Lower Melville like guests at a private party that no one else was invited to. Iconic was the word that people used to describe this row of twenty-seven Victorian villas: the iconic painted houses of Melville Heights. Joey had seen them from a distance for most of her life. They were the sign that they were less than twenty minutes from home on long car journeys of her childhood. They followed her to work; they guided her home again. Shed been to a party once, in the pink house, when she was a student. Split crudely into flats and bedsits, smelling of damp and cooked mince, it hadnt felt bright pink on the inside. But the views from up there were breathtaking: the River Avon pausing to arc picturesquely on its mile-long journey to the city, the patchwork fields beyond, the bulge of the landscape on the horizon into a plump hill crowned with trees that blossomed every spring into puffballs of hopeful green. Shed dreamed of living up here as a child, oscillated between which house would be hers: the lilac or the pink. And as she grew older, the sky blue or the sage. And now, at twenty-six, she found herself living in the cobalt-blue house. Number 14. Not a sign of a lifetime of hard work and rich rewards, but a fringe benefit of her older brothers lifetime of hard work and rich rewards. Jack was ten years older than Joey and a consultant heart surgeon at Bristol General Hospital, one of the youngest in the countys history. Two years ago hed married a woman called Rebecca. Rebecca was nice, but brittle and rather humourless. Joey had always thought her lovely brother would end up with a fun-loving, no-nonsense nurse or maybe a jolly childrens doctor. But for some reason hed chosen a strait-laced systems analyst from Staffordshire. Theyd bought their cobalt house ten months ago, when Joey was still farting about in the Balearics hosting foam parties. She hadnt even realised it was one of the painted houses until Jack had taken her to see it when she moved back to Bristol three months ago. You bought a painted house, shed said, her hand against her heart. You bought a painted house and you didnt tell me. You didnt ask, hed responded. And anyway, it wasnt my idea. It was Rebeccas. She virtually bribed the old lady who was living here to sell up. Said it was literally the only house in Bristol she wanted to live in. Its beautiful, shed said, her eyes roaming over the tasteful interior of taupe and teal and copper and grey. The most beautiful house Ive ever seen. Im glad you like it, Jack had said, because Rebecca and I were wondering if you two would like to live here for a while. Just until you get yourselves sorted out. Oh my God, shed said, her hands at her mouth. Are you serious? Are you sure? Of course Im sure, hed replied, taking her by the hand. Come and see the attic room. Its completely self-contained perfect for a pair of newlyweds. Hed nudged her and grinned at her. Joey had grinned back. No one was more surprised than she was that she had come back from Ibiza with a husband. His name was Alfie Butter and he was very good-looking. Far too good-looking for her. Or at least, so shed thought in the aqua haze of Ibizan nights. In the gunmetal gloom of a Bristol winter the blue, blue eyes were just blue, the Titian hair was just red, the golden tan was just sun-damage. Alfie was just a regular guy. Theyd married barefoot on the beach. Joey had worn a pink chiffon slip dress and carried a posy of pink and peridot Lantanas. Alfie had worn a white T-shirt and pink shorts, and white bougainvillea blossom in his hair. Their marriage had been witnessed by the managers of the hotel where they both worked. Afterwards theyd had dinner on a terrace with a few friends, taken a few pills, danced until the sun came up, spent the next day in bed and then and only then did they phone their families to tell them what theyd done. She would have had a proper wedding if her mother had still been alive. But she was dead and Joeys dad was not really a wedding kind of a man, nor a flying-out-to-Ibiza kind of a man, and Joeys parents had themselves married secretly at Gretna Green when her mum was four months pregnant with Jack. Ah, well, her father said, with a note of relief. I suppose its a family tradition. Hi, she called out in the hallway, testing for the presence of her sister-in-law. Rebecca made a lot of noise about how delighted she was to be housing a pair of twenty-something lovebirds in her immaculate, brand-new guest suite Its just so brilliant that we had the space for you! Really, its just brilliant having you here. Totally brilliant but her demeanour told a different story. She hid from them. All the time. In fact, she was hiding from Joey right now, pretending to be arranging things in their huge walk-in pantry. Oh, hi! she said, turning disingenuously at Joeys greeting, a jar of horseradish in her hand. I didnt hear you come in! Joey smiled brightly. Shed totally heard her coming in. There was a mug of freshly made tea still steaming on the kitchen table, a newspaper half read, a half-eaten packet of supermarket sushi. Joey pictured Rebecca Mullen twitching at the sound of Joeys key in the lock, looking for her escape, scurrying into the pantry and randomly picking up a jar of horseradish. Sorry, I did shout out hello. Its fine. Its fine. Im just She waved the jar of horseradish in a vague arc around the pantry. Nest-building? Yes! said Rebecca. Yes. I am. Nest-building. Exactly. Both their eyes fell to Rebeccas rounded stomach. Her first baby was due in four months. It was a girl baby who would, on or around 1 May, become Joeys niece. One of the reasons, Joey imagined, that Rebecca had agreed to let her and Alfie have their guest suite was that Joey was a trained nursery nurse. Not that shed touched a baby since she was eighteen. But still, she had all the skills. She could, in theory, change a nappy in forty-eight seconds flat. There was a stained-glass window halfway up the oak staircase that ran up the front of the house. Joey often stopped here to press her nose to the clear parts of the design, enjoying being able to see out with anyone seeing in. It was early afternoon, almost dusk at this time of the year; the trees on the hills on the other side of the river were bare and slightly awkward. She watched a shiny black car turn from the main road in the village below and begin its ascent up the escarpment towards the terrace. The only cars that came up here were those of residents and visitors. She waited for a while longer to see who it might be. The car parked on the other side of the street and she watched a woman get out of the passenger side, a boyish, thirty-something woman with jaw-length, light brown hair wearing a hoodie and jeans. She stood by the back door while a young boy climbed out, about fourteen years old, the spitting image of her. Then a rather handsome older man got out of the drivers side, tall and leggy in a crumpled sky-blue polo shirt and dark jeans, short dark hair, white at the temples. He went to the boot of the car and pulled out two medium-sized suitcases, with a certain appealing effortlessness. He handed one to his son, passed a pile of coats and a carrier bag to his wife and then they crossed the road and let themselves into the yellow house. Joey carried on up the stairs, the image of the attractive older man returning from his family Christmas break already fading from her consciousness. RECORDED INTERVIEW Date: 25/03/2017 Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW Conducted by: Officers from Somerset and Avon Police POLICE: This interview is being tape-recorded. I am Detective Inspector Rose Pelham and Im based at Trinity Road Police Station. I work with the serious crime team. Could you please give us your full name? JM: Josephine Louise Mullen. POLICE: And your address? JM: 14 Melville Heights, Bristol BS12 2GG. POLICE: Thank you. And can you tell us about your relationship with Tom Fitzwilliam? JM: He lives two doors down. He gave me a lift into work sometimes. We chatted if we bumped into each other on the street. He knew my brother and my sister-in-law. POLICE: Thank you. And could you now tell us where you were last night between approximately 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. JM: I was at the Bristol Harbour Hotel. POLICE: And were you there alone? JM: Mostly. POLICE: Mostly? Who else was there with you? JM: [Silence.] POLICE: Ms Mullen? Please could you tell us who else was there? At the Bristol Harbour Hotel? JM: But he was only there for a few minutes. Nothing happened. It was just POLICE: Ms Mullen. The name of this person. Please. JM: It was it was Tom Fitzwilliam. 2 6 January Joey saw Tom Fitzwilliam again a few days later. This time it was in the village. He was coming out of the bookshop, wearing a suit and talking to someone on the phone. He said goodbye to the person on the phone, pressed his finger to the screen to end the call and slid the phone into his jacket pocket. She saw his face as he turned left out of the shop. It held the residue of a smile. His upturned mouth made a different shape of his face. It turned up more on one side then the other. An eyebrow followed suit. A hand went to his silver-tipped hair as the wind blew it asunder. The smile turned to a grimace and made another shape of his face again. His jaw hardened. His forehead bunched. A slow blink of his eyes. And then he was walking towards his black car parked across the street, a blip blip of the locking system, a flash of lights, long legs folded away into the drivers side. Gone. But a shadow of him lingered on in her consciousness. Alfie had been a crush. For months shed watched him around the resort, made up stories about him based on tiny scraps of information shed collected from people whod interacted with him. No one knew where he was from. Someone thought he might have been a writer. Someone else said he was a vet. Hed had long hair then, dark red, tied back in a ponytail or sometimes a man-bun. He had a small red beard and a big fit body, a tattoo of a climbing rose all the way up his trunk, another of a pair of wings across his shoulders. He often had a guitar hanging from a strap around his chest. He rarely wore a top when he wasnt working. He had a smile for everyone, a swagger and a cheek. In Joeys imagination, Alfie Butter was kind of otherworldly; she ascribed to him a sort of supernatural persona, and tried to imagine what they would talk about if their paths were ever to cross. Then one day hed stopped her at the back of the resort next to the laundry and his blue, blue eyes had locked on to hers and hed smiled and said, Joey, right? Shed said yes, she was Joey. Someone tells me youre a Bristol girl. Is that right? Yes, shed said, yes, that was right. Whereabouts? Frenchay? Hed punched the air. I knew it! hed said. I just knew it! You know when you get that feeling in your gut, and someone said you were from Bristol and I just thought Frenchay girl. Got to be. And I was right! Im a Frenchay boy! Wow, shed said, wow. It was a small, small world, shed told him. Which school did you go to? And Alfie had turned out to be neither supernatural nor otherworldly, a vet nor a poet, nor even very good at playing the guitar, but spectacularly good in bed and a very good hugger. Hed had her name tattooed on his ankle two weeks after their first encounter. He said hed never felt like this about anyone, in his life, ever. He slung his heavy arm across her shoulder whenever they walked together. He pulled her on to his lap whenever she walked past him. He said hed follow her to the ends of the earth. Then, when her mother died and she said she wanted to come home, he said hed follow her back to Bristol. Hed proposed to her after she returned from her mothers funeral. Theyd married two weeks after that. But what do you do with an unattainable crush once its yours to keep? What does it become? Should there perhaps be a word to describe it? Because thats the thing with getting what you want: all that yearning and dreaming and fantasising leaves a great big hole that can only be filled with more yearning and dreaming and fantasising. And maybe thats what lay at the root of Joeys sudden and unexpected obsession with Tom Fitzwilliam. Maybe he arrived at the precise moment that the hole in Joeys interior fantasy life needed filling. And if it hadnt been him, maybe it would have been someone else instead. 3 23 January Tom Fitzwilliam was fifty-one and he was, according to Jack, a lovely, lovely man. Not that Joey had asked her brother for his opinion of their neighbour it had been offered, spontaneously, apropos of an article in the local newspaper about an award that the local school had just won. Oh, look, he said, the paper spread open in front of him on the kitchen table. Thats our neighbour, lives two doors down. He tapped a photo with his forefinger. Tom Fitzwilliam. Lovely, lovely man. Joey peered over Jacks shoulder, a half-washed saucepan in one hand, a washing-up sponge in the other. Oh, she said, Ive seen him, I think. Black car? Yes, thats right. Hes the headmaster of our local state school. A superhead. He made quotes in the air with his fingers. Brought in after a bad Ofsted. His school just won something and now everyone loves him. Thats nice, said Joey. Do you know him, then? Yeah. Kind of. He and his wife were very helpful when we were having the building works done. They used to send us texts during the day to let us know what was happening and calmed down some other not-so-nice neighbours who were getting their knickers in a knot about dust and noise. Nice people. Joey shrugged. Jack thought everyone was nice. So. He closed the paper and folded it in half. How did the interview go? Joey slung the tea towel over the side of the sink. It was OK. Shed applied for a job at the Melville, the famous boutique hotel and bar in the village: front-of-house manager. The pleasant woman interviewing her could tell the moment she walked in that she was not fit for purpose and Joey had made no effort to convince her otherwise. Glorified receptionist, she said now. Plus four night shifts a week. No thank you. She didnt look at Jack, didnt want to witness his reaction to yet more evidence that his little sister was a total loser. She had quite wanted the job; the hotel was beautiful, the owner was nice and the pay was good. The problem was that she couldnt actually see herself in the job. The problem was well, the problem was her. She was nearly twenty-seven. In three years time she would be thirty. She was a married woman. But for some reason, she still felt like a child. Fair enough, he said, turning the pages of the newspaper mechanically. Im sure something will come up, eventually. Bound to, she said, her heart not reaching her words. Then, Jack, are you OK about me and Alfie being here? Like, really? She watched her brother roll his eyes good-naturedly. Joey. For Gods sake. How many times do I have to tell you? I love having you here. And Alfie too. Its a pleasure. What about Rebecca, though? Are you sure shes not regretting it? Shes fine, Joey. Were both fine. Its all good. Do you promise? Yes, Joey. I promise. Joey got a job three days later. It was a terrible, terrible job, but it was a job. She was now a party coordinator at a notoriously rough soft play centre in the city called Whackadoo. The uniform was an acid-yellow polo shirt with red pull-on trousers. The pay was reasonable and the hours were fine. The manager was a big, butch woman with a crew cut called Dawn to whom Joey had taken an instant liking. It could all have been worse, of course it could. Anything could always be worse. But not much. All employees of Whackadoo were required to spend their first week on the floor. Nobody gets to sit in an office here until theyve cleaned the toilets halfway through a party for thirty eight-year-old boys, Dawn had said, a grim twinkle in her eye. Cant be any worse than cleaning vomit and J?gerbombs off the bar after a fourteen-hour stag party, Joey had replied. Probably not, Dawn had conceded. Probably not. Can you start tomorrow? Joey stopped in the village on her way home from the interview and ordered herself a large gin and tonic in the cosy bar of the Melville Hotel. It was early for gin and tonic. The man sitting two tables away was still having breakfast. She told herself it was celebratory but in reality, she needed something to blunt the edges of her terror and self-loathing. Whackadoo. Windowless cavern of unthinkable noise and bad smells. Breeze-block hellhole of spilt drinks and tantrums, where a child shat in the ball pond at least once a day apparently. She shuddered and knocked back another glug of gin. The man eating his breakfast looked at her curiously. She blinked at him imperiously. You could see the painted houses from down here, a bolt of running colour across the tops of the narrow Georgian windows. There was the cobalt blue of Jack and Rebeccas house, the canary yellow of Tom Fitzwilliams. It was another world up there. Rarefied. And she, a half-formed woman working in a soft play centre: what on earth was she doing up there? She looked down at her bitten nails, her scuffed boots, her old chinos. She thought about the elderly pants she was wearing, the decrepit bra. She knew she was two months past a timely trip to the hairdresser. She was drinking gin alone in a hotel bar on a Thursday at not even midday. And then she thought of herself only five months ago, tanned and lean, clutching her bouquet, the talcum sand between her toes, the sun shining down from a vivid blue sky, standing at Alfies side; young, beautiful, in paradise, in love. You are the loveliest thing I have ever seen, her boss had said, wiping a tear from her own cheek. So young, so perfect, so pure. She switched on her phone and scrolled through her gallery until she got to the wedding photos. For a few minutes she wallowed in the memories of the happiest day of her life, until she heard the bar door open and looked up. It was him. Tom Fitzwilliam. The head teacher. He pulled off his suit jacket and draped it across the back of a chair, resting a leather shoulder bag on the seat. Then, slowly, in a way that suggested either self-consciousness or a complete lack of self-consciousness, he sauntered to the bar. The barman appeared to know him. He made him a lime and soda, and told him hed bring his food to the table when it was ready. Joey watched him walking back to his table. He wore a blue shirt with a subtle check. The bottom buttons, she noticed, strained very gently against a slight softness and Joey felt a strange wave of pleasure, a sense of excitement about the unapologetic contours of his body, the suggestion of meals enjoyed and worries forgotten about over a bottle of decent wine. She found herself wanting to slide her fingers between those tensed buttons, to touch, just for a moment, the soft flesh beneath. The thought shocked her, left her slightly winded. She turned her attention to her gin and tonic, aware that her glass was virtually empty, aware that it was time for her to leave. But she didnt want to move. She couldnt move. She was suddenly stultified by a terrible and unexpected longing. She turned slightly to catch a glimpse of his feet, his ankles, the rumpled cowl of grey cotton sock, the worn hide of black leather lace-up shoes, an inch of pale, bare flesh just there, between the sock and the hem of the trousers shed been aware of him slowly tugging up before sitting down. She was in the hard grip of a shocking physical attraction. She turned her eyes away from his feet and back to her empty glass and then to the wedding photos on her phone, which had only 2 per cent charge left and was about to die. But she couldnt, she simply couldnt sit here staring into an empty gin glass. Not now. Not in front of this man. She was aware of him taking papers out of his shoulder bag, shuffling them around, pulling a pen from somewhere, holding it airily away from him in one hand, clicking and unclicking, clicking and unclicking, bringing it down to make a mark on the paper, putting it away from him again. Click, click. One foot bouncing slightly against the fulcrum of the other. She would leave when the waiter came with his food. That was what shed do. When he was distracted. The screen of her phone turned black, finally giving up its ghost. She slipped it into her handbag and stared at the floor until finally the barman disappeared at the sound of a buzzer somewhere behind him and reappeared a moment later with some kind of sandwich on a wooden board arranged alongside a glossy hillock of herbs and curly leaves. She saw Tom move paperwork out of the way, smiling generously at the barman. Thank you, she heard him say as she picked up her jacket and squeezed her way between her chair and the table, almost knocking it over in her keenness to leave without being noticed. That looks lovely, he was saying as she crossed the bar, her heavy boots making a loud knocking sound against the dove-grey floor tiles, the strap of her shoulder bag refusing to sit properly against her shoulder, her trailing jacket knocking over a small display of leaflets about the village farmers market as she passed. The barman called over, Dont worry. Ill pick them up. Thank you, she said. She wrenched open the door and threw herself out on to the street, but not before, for just one flickering second, her eyes had met his and something terrible had passed between them, something that she could only describe as a mutual fascination. 4 26 January Joey stared at Alfie sitting on the bed, cross-legged, the laptop open and balanced on his knees. His once flowing red locks were short now, growing back from the brutal number two hed inflicted on himself when they got back to the UK that had made his head look suddenly slightly too small for his body. His lower face was covered in a mulch of four-day stubble. He was wearing a grey vest with deep-cut armholes that showed off most of his tattoos and a pair of elderly Gap underpants. He was huge. A solid brick wall of a man. Even sitting on a slightly fey bed he looked like a Celtic warrior. A Celtic warrior whod forgotten to get dressed. She scrutinised his hard, young mans body. And then she thought of Tom Fitzwilliams soft, grown-up body and she wondered what would happen to Alfies hard body as the years passed. Would he turn to fat or to sinew? Would he still be Alfie Butter, crap guitarist, brilliant hugger, hopeless painter and decorator, big-hearted romantic, attentive lover? Or would he be someone else? How could it be possible that she didnt know? That no one could tell her? That she would just have to trust in the universe to bring everything to some kind of satisfactory conclusion? How could it be? Joey felt her brain swell and roil. She thought of her nasty Whackadoo uniform, the smell of fried nuggets and boys toilets. She thought of Tom Fitzwilliam, the click, click, click of his ballpoint pen. She thought of the feeling that had enveloped her when he was in the bar, the feeling that had taken her the most part of the afternoon and evening to purge. She thought of her mother, the lack of her, the loss and she felt, suddenly, dreadfully, out of control. Are you OK? said Alfie, looking at her curiously. Mhm. You sure? Yeah, she said, making herself smile. Sure. Possibly having a tiny, baby, shit-job-missing-Ibiza crisis, but nothing worse than that. Come here, he said, big freckled arms spread apart, Ill hug it away for you. She acquiesced although part of her wanted to shout, A hug is not always the right answer, you know. But as she felt his arms around her, his warm breath against the crown of her head, she thought that it might not be an answer, but it was certainly better than yet another question. She stopped at the corner shop on her way home the next day. It was the end of the first day of her new job and she felt rubbed raw by the rudeness of people, the loudness of children, the lack of sunlight, the sheer length of the day. She wanted to go home and shower and put on joggers and a hoodie and drink a cup of tea. But mainly she wanted wine. Lots of wine. As she turned into the booze aisle of the shop she saw Tom Fitzwilliams wife. What was her name again? Jack had told her but she couldnt remember. Something beginning with an N, she thought. She had her hand in the chilled drinks cabinet, about to pull out a bottle of cold mineral water. She was flushed, her hair sweaty and tied back, wearing shiny black leggings and a black fitted top that revealed a slightly sinewy, over-worked-out physique. On her wrist was a lipstick-pink fitness tracker. On her feet were bright white trainers. She turned slightly as she became aware of Joeys eyes upon her. She smiled coolly, then took the bottle to the till at the other side of the shop. Joey could hear her from here, chatting to the cashier. She was well spoken with a slightly northern slant to some of her words. She told the cashier that shed just started running again, a new years resolution after a broken ankle the year before had put her out of action. It was wonderful, she said, to be pounding the tarmac again. She always felt out of sorts when she wasnt running regularly. Two miles a day cleared out the cobwebs, she said, got the cogs turning. Joey peered around the corner of the cereal aisle to get a better look at the woman Tom Fitzwilliam had chosen to marry. She looked weightless, sprite-like. Everything about her was delicate, sinuous, as though shed been drawn with sharpened pencils. Joey was small, but Toms wife was doll-like, with hair as fine as gossamer and a button nose. She imagined those tiny hands grasping his soft waist. She wondered if hed ever been unfaithful to her. She wondered how often they had sex. She imagined, suddenly, this tiny childs toy of a woman astride her big, handsome husband, her head tipped back. She grabbed a bottle of something cheap with a screw-top lid and took it quickly to the till. As she walked back up the hill towards the painted houses she saw Toms wife just ahead of her, a matchstick silhouette clutching a bottle of water, shoulders hunched against the bitter January wind. And there, high above, in the pale backlight of a top-floor window in the Fitzwilliams house, she saw a small beam of a light, the movement of a person, the fall of a heavy curtain, sudden darkness. 5 27 January Freddie Fitzwilliam switched off his digital binoculars, let the curtain drop and wheeled his chair back across the bedroom floor, from the window to his computer. There was a shiny track in the carpet now recording the many journeys hed made by office chair from one side of his room to the other. He was the captain of his own ship up here, in his attic room with its sweeping views across the village and the river valley and the landscape beyond. The digital binoculars had been a Christmas gift from his mum and dad. They had revolutionised his life. He could now clearly see Jenna Tripps road from here. He could also see the dimpled glass of Bess Ridleys bathroom which occasionally shimmered and radiated with the suggestion of naked flesh behind. He could see Jenna and Bess meeting up each morning outside Jennas house in their tacky Academy uniforms: short, short skirts and bare legs even in the chill of January, linking arms, sharing earbuds, gossip. He could even see what flavour Pringles they were eating. Freddie didnt go to the Academy where his dad was headmaster. He went to a private boys school across the other side of town that took him half an hour to walk to every morning. Hed been in Melville for one year and one month since hed woken up one morning in his old house in Mold and been told that they were moving to Bristol and that they were moving next week and that no, they werent coming back. His dad was a bigwig head teacher. The government sent him all over the country to special measures schools, schools that were on the brink of being shut down because they were so fucking terrible. This one had been so fucking terrible that theyd had to sack the old head and have him walked off the premises the same day: something to do with embezzling school funds, something really bad. At first Freddie had hated it here. His school was shit; it looked like a prison and it smelled worse. The teachers were all really old and very British, not like his old school where theyd been mostly fresh-faced Europeans. He liked European teachers; he could impress them by talking to them in their mother tongues. They always loved that. He could get away with murder if he could compliment a teacher in fluent Spanish or whatever. Freddie could speak six languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin and Welsh. The Welsh hed picked up when they lived in Mold; the rest hed taught himself. He could also speak in about twenty different accents to such an extent that locals couldnt tell he was putting it on. He was going to join MI5 when he left university. His parents had been telling him all his life that the government would love a clever little bastard like him, and he tended to agree with them. What else could he possibly do with all these brains, all these facts, the constant spin and bubble of his brilliant mind? It had to go somewhere. And, of course, the digital binoculars (and the Smartwatch spy camera and the spy glasses and the spy software built into his Samsung Galaxy) had played right into the whole Freddies-going-to-be-a-spy narrative that he and his parents had been writing for nearly fifteen years. And at first that was what hed used them for. In the absence of any friends or any real desire to have friends, Freddie had spent the past year or so compiling a dossier called The Melville Papers, a kind of quasi-local paper about the local community. In it he reported on the comings and goings in Lower Melville as seen from his perch at the top of the house. He logged the visitors to the Melville Hotel once he had seen Cate Blanchett going in; she was really, really small. He logged the dog walkers White-haired man with miniature schnauzer left home 8 p.m., returned 8.27 and the joggers two middle-aged women with big bottoms, left home 7.30, returned 8.45, bought expensive crisps from the deli. He logged the occasional infraction of the law a dog walker failing to collect their dogs poo, countless episodes of double parking or parking on the zigzag lines by the zebra crossing, at least three shoplifting episodes, one of which had ended with the shopkeeper chasing the man all the way to the other side of the village before almost having a heart attack. But recently, Freddie had found his focus shifting from the humdrum and the day to day; there were after all only so many times he could make a note of the white-haired man walking his miniature schnauzer before it stopped being interesting. Nowadays, Freddie found most of his attention being taken up by logging girls. It was strange because Freddie had never liked girls, not ever. A dislike of girls had, in fact, been one of his defining characteristics. He had assumed that not liking girls was his default setting. But apparently not. Jenna and Bess were the two prettiest girls in the village by far. Jenna was tall and athletically built with fine dark hair and quite a big bust. Bess was small with what appeared to be naturally blond hair which she wore quite short with a fringe that hung in her eyes. They were older than Freddie, year eleven to his year ten. He spent most of his time logging them now; he knew what nights they did after-school clubs, what days they did PE, what their favourite Starbucks drinks were, how often they changed their earrings. Yes, Jenna and Bess were by far his favourites. But there was someone new now. Shed moved into the blue house two doors down a few weeks ago and she was really pretty. Hed first seen her in the restaurant at the Melville down in the village when he was having dinner with his mum and dad. Shed been with a man. He was big and rough-looking with shaved red hair and tattoos that you could see through the fabric of his shirt. Freddie had heard her first, her Bristol accent, a loud laugh. Hed been intrigued, turned his head just a few degrees to check her out. She was necking wine in a floaty top. She had a really full mouth, big white teeth, white-blond hair in a messy bun, gold hoop earrings, small feet in blood-red suede boots with little tassels. And that was what he called her while he tried to find a way to discover her real name. He called her Red Boots. He was watching her now; hed watched her get off the bus in the village, then lost her for a while before picking her up again trailing a few feet behind his mum up the hill. He zoomed in tighter and tighter until he was close enough to see that she looked terrible and now, as he uploaded the film on to his laptop he zoomed in further still and there, in one frame, he saw a yellow T-shirt worn underneath a big ugly coat. He went right in on it: there was the familiar yellow and red of the Whackadoo logo. He passed Whackadoo every morning on his way to school, a big yellow breeze-block building with a huge plastic toucan outside. It was for kids or something. Christ, he thought, Red Boots is working at Whackadoo. What kind of crap job was that? He saved the film into the top-secret folder that no one in his house was even halfway clever enough to uncover. Then he went downstairs to ask his mum what he was having for supper. 6 3 February Jenna Tripp kicked off her black trainers, unknotted her nylon tie, dropped her rucksack at the bottom of the stairs, pulled the hairband from her ponytail, rubbed at her aching scalp with her fingertips and called out for her mum. In here! She peered round the door into the living room. Her mum was perched on the edge of the leather sofa, the laptop on the coffee table in front of her, a notepad to one side of her, her phone on the other. Her pale gold hair was scraped back into a ponytail. She looked pretty with her hair off her face; you could see the fine angles of her bone structure, the shadowy dip below each cheekbone, the delicacy of her jawline. Shed been a model for a short while in her teens. There was a framed photo of her modelling a bikini on a windswept beach nailed to the wall outside Jennas bedroom. Her arms were wrapped tight around her body (it had been November apparently) and she was smiling up into the sky above. She was pure joy to behold. Check out there, will you? she said now, sucking her e-cigarette and releasing a thick trail of berry-scented vapour. Can you see a blue Lexus? One of those hatchbacks? Jenna sighed and pulled back one drawn curtain. She looked left and right around the small turning where their cottage was and then back at her mum. No blue Lexus, she said. Are you sure? Yes, she replied. Im sure. Theres a blue Ford Focus, but thats the only blue car out there. Oh, thats Mikes car. Thats fine. She didnt ask her mum more about the blue Lexus. She knew what her mum thought about the blue Lexus. She let the curtain drop and went into the kitchen. She boiled the kettle and made herself a low-calorie hot chocolate into which she dropped a small handful of marshmallows (shed recently learned that marshmallows were surprisingly low in calories) and then she took the hot chocolate, her school bag and her phone to her room. She stopped on the way to study the photo of her mum. Frances Tripp. Or Frankie Miller as shed been known in her modelling and acting days. Shed changed back to Frances in her twenties when shed married Jennas dad and started campaigning for animal rights. He told her it would give her more gravitas. Jenna wished shed known the girl in the photo, the carefree beauty with the wind in her hair and the sky reflected in her shining eyes. She reckoned shed have liked her. By the way! Her mothers girlish voice followed her up the stairs to the landing. Yes! Did you change the bulb in your vanity mirror? Jenna paused before she replied, her shoulders falling. No, she said, although it would have been easier in some ways to say yes. Right, said her mum. Odd. Very odd. Jenna opened the door to her bedroom, slipped through and closed it behind her before she got pulled into any further conversation about the bulb in her vanity mirror. There was a Snapchat from Bess on her phone. It was a photo of her holding the local paper next to her face, pulling a kissy-face at a photo of Mr Fitzwilliam on page eight. Shed scribbled a pink love heart around both of them. Jenna tutted. Seriously, what was wrong with the girl? Mr Fitzwilliam was so old. He has charisma, Bess had said once. Plus he smells good. How do you know how he smells? I make a point of sniffing when Im close. And he does this thing What thing? Jenna had said. This thing with his pen. He clicks it. Bess had mimed clicking a pen. He clicks it? Yeah. Its hot. Youre on glue, mate, I swear. She replied to Besss message now: Meth head. Bess replied with a sequence of crystal emojis. Jenna smiled and put her phone on her bedside table to charge. Bess was the best friend in the world, the best friend shed ever had. They were like sisters. Like twins. Shed known Bess for four years, ever since her mum and dad had split up and shed drawn the short straw and moved to Lower Melville with her mum while her little brother Ethan had stayed with Dad in Weston-super-Mare. Not that there was anything wrong with Lower Melville. The cottage (or what Jennas mum referred to as a cottage, but was actually a tired post-war terrace with pebble-dashed walls) was in fact the house her mum had grown up in and while the cottage was as scruffy as it had always been, the village around it no longer was. Kids at her school thought she was posh because she lived here. They were so wrong. Jen! She closed her eyes at the sound of her mothers voice climbing up the stairs. Jenna! Yes! Check out the back, will you? Tell me if that mans still sitting in his window. She drew in her breath and held it hard inside her for as long as she could. Why? You know why. She did know why, but sometimes she needed her mum to find the words to explain these obsessions, in the hope that it might wake her up to the nonsense of what she was saying. She let her breath out, put down her hot chocolate and knelt on her bed. There was a man sitting in his window at the back of the terrace that faced the end of their garden. He was side on and absorbed in something on a screen in front of him. She watched him lift a teacup to his lips, take a sip, put the cup back down, run his hand briefly round the back of his neck, and then start moving his fingers over a keyboard. No! she shouted down to her mother. Theres no one there. No man. There was a beat of silence, filled, Jenna assumed, not with feelings of relief, but of disappointment. Good, her mother said a moment later. Good. Let me know if he comes back. I will. Thanks, darling. Jennas phone pinged. Another Snapchat from Bess. The photo of Mr Fitzwilliam from the paper, his face covered over in Besss lipstick kisses. Jenna smiled and sent another message. U R madder than my mum. 7 There was a photo of Tom Fitzwilliam on page eight of the local paper. He was standing at the entrance to the Academy, his arms folded across his stomach, a thin blue tie blown slightly askew by the wind, looking at the camera sternly with a half-buried smile. The headline said SUPERHEAD TACKLES GANGS. Joey did not read the accompanying article. She was too intent on absorbing every last detail of the photograph: the lanyard around his neck on a yellow strap. The dull gleam of the narrow gold band on his ring finger. The way his waistband sat, no belt, slightly slack, just above his hip bones. The jut of his chin. The wide slope of his shoulders. The slight disarray of his hair in the same breeze that had disordered his tie. And the way he stood in full and complete possession of his surroundings. My school. My kids. My responsibility. Tom Fitzwilliam. SUPERHEAD. She touched the outline of his stomach with one outstretched fingertip, caressing the image thoughtfully as she remembered the potent look theyd exchanged a week ago as shed left the bar at the Melville. And then she jumped at the suggestion of a hand against her waist and a sudden bloom of warm breath on the side of her neck. It was Alfie, smelling of daytime sleep and stale T-shirt. Fuck, Alf, you made me jump! Sorry, angel. His arm snaked around her body from behind and he buried his face in her shoulder and planted his mouth firmly against her skin. Mm, he said, breathing her in. You smell fucking gorgeous. I do not smell gorgeous. I smell of chips and boys farts. No, he said, sliding his hand down the front of her terrible elasticated trousers and into the top of her knickers the feel of his fingers against her so soon after her reverie staring at Toms photograph almost winded her, you smell of your hormones. She covered his hand with hers and pushed it harder against herself. And what do my hormones smell like? They smell like honey. He encased her fully with his big dry hand and rocked with her from side to side, his words falling into the hot space between his lips and her skin. And summer rain. And birthday parties. And kittens paws. And hot sand. And He paused and brought his other arm around her body, pulled her so close to him that they were virtually one being. You, he finished. Just you. She turned then, spun inside his arms and kissed him hard. Then she dragged him up the two flights of stairs between the kitchen and their room, fast, desperate, the newspaper left open on the kitchen table below, Tom Fitzwilliams eyes staring upwards at the ceiling. You know something? Alfie said after, Joeys head tucked under his arm, their hands entwined together. No, said Joey. Tell me. Youre probably going to think this is mad. She ran a fingertip down the tendrils of the climbing rose that covered his torso, following them to their tightly curled tips. Try me. He paused then and fell quiet for a very long time. She saw a slight flush spread across his face and she turned to face him fully. What is it, Alf? I know weve only been married a few months, and I know weve only known each other a short time, and I know were both still quite young, but what do you think about the idea of starting to try for a baby? She felt a bubble of unhinged laughter rise from the pit of her stomach and she swallowed it down. Alf, she said, taking his hand in her. God. I mean. Yes. Maybe one day. But we need to get ourselves sorted out. Get proper jobs. Find somewhere to live. I really dont think nows the time. Alfie looked perplexed. But, you said, remember, that night when we went down to Cala dHort with that really nice weed from that French guy, remember? And we were talking about the future? Yeah? And you said something like Id really like to be a young mum. Joey blinked and shook her head. I wouldnt have said that. But you did say that. I remember it, like so clearly because it was the last thing Id thought youd say because youre so, well, you were, you know, so He flailed around for a word for a moment. Unmaternal. Joey flinched and Alfie stopped for a moment, licked his lips. No. No, not that. Youre not that. But youre just, I dont know, youre just not like all the girls I knew from home, all those girls who grew up waiting for the first chance to get pregnant. You always seemed like you had more important things to do. Ha! The repressed laughter escaped like a clap of thunder. Me! Important things! He looked at her, his blue eyes clouded with confusion, and suddenly she felt horribly sorry for him. She brought her hand down on to his cheek and cupped the side of his face. No, she said, no. Im not really an important things kind of person. Im still trying to work out what the important things even are. Babies! said Alfie triumphantly. Babies are important. And I am one hundred per cent ready to do this. He wrapped her hand inside both of his. One hundred and ten per cent. Just totally bring it on. And youd be an amazing mum. You really would. And you say that based on ? On the on you. Just based on you. Alfie, she said, I sometimes think I worry that you think Im something Im not. Im clueless, Alfie. Totally clueless. Im not sure I could cope with the responsibility of raising an actual real-life person. Truly. She looked at Alfie, reaching into his blue eyes, expecting to see disenchantment coming down like shop shutters. But his gaze was still bright, still hopeful. Well, he said, I believe in you, Joey Mullen. I totally believe in you and I think you and I could make the most beautiful baby youve ever seen and give it everything a child needs. Will you at least think about it? She cocked her head and regarded him. Beautiful Alfie, the love of her life. Yes, she said, Ill think about it. 8 8 February Freddie checked the time: five fifty-three. He pushed his chair across the floor to the window and picked up his binoculars. It was early evening, dark already, but maybe he could get a couple of good shots of Jenna coming back from her Wednesday-afternoon netball club in her skirt and hoodie. She should be turning the corner of the high street any second now. Freddie was not a voyeur. Voyeurism was a form of control, like mental abuse, like rape, like bullying. It was nothing to do with the physicality of the action, and all to do with the feeling of power it gave the perpetrator, the balancing out of delicate ids and egos. But Freddie wasnt a pervert. He wasnt a bully. He wasnt a criminal. He watched girls in order to understand them. He was just trying to work it all out. It was just another project. He focused his binoculars and trained them on to the village. He saw his mum hurtle past the Melville in her running gear, looking like a small boy with her hair scraped off her face and tucked inside a black baseball cap. He saw the man with white hair walking the miniature schnauzer. He saw two younger boys from the Academy, clutching skateboards, heading, he assumed, towards the playing fields by the river on the other side of the roundabout where there was a skate park. And there, there she was: Jenna Tripp, powder-pink sports bag slung over her shoulder, long, solid legs, white trainers, navy hoodie, earbuds, dark ponytail and a huge clear plastic cup of some overpriced frapp? from Starbucks in her right hand. He got some more footage as she turned off the high street into her little side street and then he saw her stop and he panned out to see what she was looking at. There was a woman standing on the pavement outside Jennas house. Freddie was pretty sure it was Jennas mum. She was wearing a T-shirt with the words STOP FRACKING NOW emblazoned across the front and held a 35-mm camera that she was using to photograph a car across the street. Jenna picked up her pace and approached the woman, who started to gesticulate agitatedly, pointing at the car and then, suddenly, chillingly, looking up and, very deliberately, pointing at him. Freddie snapped one more photo before diving off his chair and on to the floor. When he peered over his windowsill a moment later, Jenna and the woman were both gone. He plugged his binoculars into his computer and opened up the images. He went to the last photo hed taken and zoomed in on the womans face. Her eyes were narrowed and locked completely on to him, her finger pointing at him and her mouth clearly forming the word you. 9 Mum, what the hell are you doing? What does it look like Im doing? Acting like a crazy person is what it looks like youre doing. Did you not see him? Who? Up there, in the yellow house. Hes taking pictures again. Jenna looked up at the painted houses above and found the yellow one. Where? Up there in the top window. Hes always at it. Jenna narrowed her eyes at the top window. She couldnt see anything. But then she hadnt expected to. Well, she said, whoever it was has gone now. She knew better than to try to disabuse her mother of her outlandish observations. Shed tried that approach for ages. It hadnt worked. Come on, she said. Lets go in. Her mother narrowed her pretty blue eyes at her; then her gaze passed over Jennas shoulder towards something behind. She said, Look at this. Look. Jenna sighed. The sweat from netball had dried on her skin in the cold evening air and she was shivering and desperate to get indoors. Her mother crouched down next to her red Vauxhall Corsa and indicated a point just above the back-wheel arch. Look, she said. That scratch. That was not there yesterday. And thats been done deliberately, you can tell. Someones done that with a key. Look, you can see the teeth marks. Jenna leaned down and examined the scratch. Her mums car was so old that she could remember being driven to her first day at nursery school in it. The scratch certainly looked newer than some of the other damage, but that meant nothing. Why? said her mum. Why us? Why me? I dont understand. Come on. Jenna offered her mum her hand. Lets go in. Im freezing. Her mum got to her feet. I think I need to call the police again. For all the good that itll do me. But honestly. Its getting ridiculous. And now your school seems to be involved too. Jenna pushed the latched door open and went indoors. What do you mean, my school? Your head teacher. That superhead. Its him up there taking photos. Im sure it is. And you know who else seems to be living up there now? That woman I told you about, the one who was on that tour with us in the Lake District? Remember? Its all connected. The whole thing is connected, Jen. And its just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Jenna dropped her PE bag in the hallway and hung her blazer off the banister. Im going to run myself a bath, Mum, she said. Do you want me to leave the water in for you? Yes please, love. Thank you. Remember to rinse it out first though! she called up after her. In case theres any broken glass! Yup, Jenna called back. Sure. 10 11 February Joey was sitting on the 218 bus on her way home from work on Saturday when she saw a tall man in a blue jumper and blue jeans leaving the big JD Sports holding a carrier bag and looking slightly lost. Her instinctive reaction, coming a split second before realising that the man was Tom Fitzwilliam, was attraction. Intense attraction. The sort of attraction that makes you burn at your core. The bus came to a halt at the traffic lights and she watched him walking first in one direction and then in another. He appeared to be looking for something and then she saw his pace quicken to a gentle run and his arm extend from his body as though it seemed momentarily possible he was about to take to the sky, like Superman. As he pulled his arm higher above his head, his blue jumper pulled away slightly from his stomach and she glimpsed for a startling moment an inch of bare flesh, creamy pale with the smooth, supple give of freshly baked bread crust. His long legs took him swiftly to the kerb, to the taxi that had pulled over at his command (not request. No. Command). He swung in his big carrier bag and then himself. The taxi pulled away in front of Joeys bus and she watched it with some excitement from her seat near the front. By the time theyd loaded up with passengers at the next bus stop, Tom and his taxi were gone from view. The house was empty when Joey got home. Alfie was at his mums, in theory painting her kitchen, in actuality most likely watching sports on her leather sofa eating a home-cooked meal off a tray on his lap. Jack was at work and Rebecca was on a hen weekend in Gloucestershire. For a while Joey wandered from room to room, absorbing the sense of space. She still felt unable to spread herself around this house and usually went straight from the kitchen to her bedroom and from her bedroom to the front door without lingering or settling. When she did occasionally sit in the living room, it was as a guest, conscious of not outstaying her welcome. Make yourself at home, her brother always insisted. But that was easy for him to say. They were siblings. Brother and sister. Extensions of one another. He would never feel her presence as a weight or an unease. But the same was clearly not the case for Rebecca. Joey was a stranger to her, someone to hide from and to avoid. The rooms in her brothers house felt anonymous, no different in some ways to the rooms at the Melville Hotel in the village: all pale furnishings and soft golden objects with no obvious purpose. She could not imagine a baby coming into this house. She could not imagine the noise of it, the uncontrollability of it, the endless head space that it would occupy. Her thoughts returned, as they had a dozen times since Alfies unexpected pronouncement of last week, to the concept of her own baby. Wouldnt it be nice, Alfie had said later that evening, for our baby to be the same age as Jack and Rebeccas baby? They could grow up together. Be best mates forever. The clear implication being that they should make a baby now. Not soon. Not at some point. But now. And Joey did not want a baby now. Most definitely not now. As she thought this she came upon a photo of her and Jack posed between their mother and father outside their grandmothers house in Exeter. She was about three years old, wearing a red sweatshirt and her hair in pigtails. Jack was an incredibly awkward thirteen-year-old with a heavy fringe that almost covered his eyes. He had his hand placed protectively on her shoulder. Hed loved her with a passion from the day shed arrived. The ten-year age gap had never divided them. If anything the absence of sibling rivalry had brought them closer together. But it was her parents who drew her inspection now; if she was three in this photo then her mother would have been thirty-one. Thirty-one, married and a mother of a toddler and a teenager. Joey could see the bloom of youth still upon her mothers skin, the lustre of her chestnut hair. Young, she thought, my mother was so young. Only a few years older than I am now. She had not thought of her mother as a young person when she was a child and then her mother had died before Joey had had a chance to notice that she was now old. On her way back up to her bedroom, she passed Rebeccas study door. Rebecca worked from home three or four days a week as a systems analyst. For hours at a time she wouldnt come out. Joey would hear the hushed tones of her voice through the door as she passed by on her way to her attic room, or the plasticky click of her fingertips against the keyboard. But more often there was silence. As though there was no one in there at all. She peered down the stairwell to check no one had noiselessly returned home, before gently pushing open Rebeccas study door. She jumped and clutched her heart. A man, in the corner. But no, not a man, a life-size cardboard cut-out of her brother in Hawaiian swimming trunks. She remembered it from the photos of her brothers stag night. He and his mates had carried the cut-out all around Bristol, getting pretty girls to pose for photos with it along the way. It was a small square room. Three walls were covered with built-in shelves and a fourth housed a deep bay window overlooking the street. There was a coffee machine and a kettle, a tray of mugs and cups, a small fridge, a small cream sofa. Everything to ensure that she need rarely leave the room. On her desk were three large monitors, two keyboards, neatly stacked paperwork, a photo of her and Jack on their wedding day. Joey picked it up and gazed at it. She could barely remember her brothers wedding. Shed arrived in the UK with a hangover and basically drunk her way through the next forty-eight hours until it was time for her to catch the Sunday evening flight home. She could not have told you what Rebecca had been wearing but, glancing now at the photo, it seemed it was a cream satin slip dress. She also saw that Rebecca had worn her hair down and combed to a shine and had small diamond drops from her earlobes. She had smiled, clearly at least once, and thankfully the photographer had been there to capture it. But Joeys overriding memory of the weekend was looking at her amazing brothers slightly mousey new wife and wondering why she wasnt smiling. She put the photo down and let her hands wander indiscriminately over the objects on Rebeccas desk. A chartreuse paperweight. A tube of Cath Kidston hand cream. A very realistic plastic cactus in a green pot. A silver Links of London bracelet. A tiny photo of a Border collie being cuddled by a teenage girl who Joey assumed was Rebecca. There was a window seat built into the bay, upholstered with grey ticking cushions. Joey sat down for a moment to take in the view across the valley. From here she could see over the tops of the trees opposite. She could see the chimneys of the houses in the village and the river and voluptuous hills beyond. And from the left-hand portion of the bay she could see directly into the right-hand portion of a mirror-image bay on Tom Fitzwilliams house. She could see a suggestion of a table lamp, the blur of a mirror, the profile of a womans face. Nicola Fitzwilliam. Applying face cream. Her fingertips working into her porcelain skin. 11 Freddie heard the tantalising echo of high-heeled shoes against the paving stones outside and quickly pushed his chair across his bedroom floor to investigate. It was late afternoon on Saturday. The sky was growing dark, grey veins threading through the pale evening sky, a smudge of moon just visible on the other side of the river. It was her. Red Boots. And she was wearing her red boots. Red boots, skinny jeans, leather jacket, big scarf, blond hair all puffed up on top of her head, lipstick. She looked as pretty as he remembered her looking the first time hed seen her at the Melville. He grabbed his camera and went back to the window. Red Boots was already halfway down the hill. She turned left into the village at the bottom of the hill and he followed her with his lens across the road to the bus stop. He checked his bus app and saw that the next 218 was not due for eight minutes. She pulled out her phone and played with it for a while. Every now and then she would look upwards directly, it seemed, towards the painted houses. He zoomed in on her and saw her bottom lip pinched between her teeth. What was she waiting for? What was looking at? Then suddenly, when the 218 was only two minutes away, she stood up abruptly and walked towards the village. A moment later he saw her walking across the other side of the road. The bus had been and gone and she had a bottle of something in a blue carrier bag which she took back up the hill. She reached the blue house and bypassed it, coming to a stop outside his. What was she doing? Had she clocked him watching her? She couldnt have. He was brilliant at watching people without them realising. But then he thought of Jennas mum last week, the pointing finger, the word you. Maybe he wasnt as stealthy as he thought he was. He pulled back into the shadows of his room waiting for her either to knock on his front door or to turn around and head back to her own house. But she did neither of these things. She stood there for exactly three minutes and eighteen seconds until there was the sound of footsteps up the hill and a man appeared, cast in the shadow of the street lights that had just been switched on. Freddie pushed open his window and put his ear to the gap. What are you up to, sexy? asked the man. It was him. The husband. I dont really know, Red Boots replied. I was going to get the bus into town and meet you somewhere but you didnt answer your phone. So I bought a bottle of wine and came home instead. Sorry, baby, said the guy. I ran out of juice and didnt have my charger with me. Dont worry, she replied. It was a pretty half-hearted attempt at going out; Im not sure I really wanted to anyway. And now youre here so looks like it was too late anyway. Yeah, said the guy, Im knackered. Guess what? What? I finished it. Your mums kitchen? Yeah. All done. Just need to go back and do a second coat on the skirting. But apart from that, Im done. God, finally. Ill show you pictures once Ive got some charge in my phone. It looks really good. So after all those weeks of farting about, it ended up taking you one day. Yeah. I know. I just thought after what we talked about the other day its about time I got serious about things. There was a short silence. Freddie couldnt see what they were doing. Then Red Boots said, Well, youre a very, very good husband, Alfie Butter. Im very impressed. And youre a very good wife, Joey Mullen, and I think we should go inside and drink that wine and do the things that good husbands and wives get to do on Saturday nights. Netflix? Possibly. Come on then. Then Freddie heard the sound of a key in the lock of number 14 and the bang of the door behind them. He exhaled his held breath and thought two things; firstly that he now knew Red Bootss name. The second was that although he now had an explanation for her sitting at the bus stop for six minutes and then coming home again, he did not have an explanation for why she had stood outside his house for three minutes and eighteen seconds pretending that she wasnt. RECORDED INTERVIEW Date: 25/03/2017 Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW Conducted by: Officers from Somerset and Avon Police POLICE: Ms Mullen. Could you tell us what you were wearing last night? JM: Yes. I was wearing a blue jersey dress from Primark. POLICE: And what sort of shoes? JM: Boots. Red suede boots. POLICE: Did they have a tassel? JM: Yes. I think so. Yes. They do have tassels. POLICE: Thank you. And were you wearing these clothes when Tom Fitzwilliam met you at the hotel? JM: Yes. POLICE: So, can you give us the approximate timings of this liaison at the Bristol Harbour Hotel? JM: Yes. I got there at about seven oclock, just after, and checked in using my own card. Then Tom arrived about half an hour later. POLICE: And what happened then? JM: Nothing. We just talked. POLICE: In a ?180-a-night hotel room? JM: Yes. POLICE: And then what? JM: Tom left. POLICE: And this was at what time? JM: I suppose it was about seven forty-five. POLICE: And after Tom Fitzwilliam left? JM: I stayed in the room. POLICE: And why did you stay in the room? JM: Because I dont know. Just to get my head together. I stayed for another ten minutes or so and then I left. I got a taxi home. POLICE: And then what did you do? JM: Nothing. Just watched TV with my husband. Went to bed. POLICE: So you didnt knock at Toms door at eight fifteen? JM: [Silence.] POLICE: Well, did you or didnt you? JM: No. I didnt. I nearly did. I thought about it. But I changed my mind. I went home. POLICE: Thank you, Ms Mullen. That will do for now. 12 17 February At the end of the week, after a particularly rough day at work, Joeys manager Dawn said, Lets go to the pub. Joey almost said no, she was skint and smelly and wanted to lie in the bath for two hours drinking Baileys and staring at the ceiling. But then she thought about Alfie and the way he kept looking at her as though he was wondering what she was thinking and remembered that he wasnt working at the bar tonight and she decided that drinks with someone she barely knew and who, as far as she knew, had no interest in having a baby with her would be preferable. They took along a boy from the Whackadoo caf? called Krstyan, who sat with his thumbs on his phone, taking rhythmic mouthfuls from a pint of lager and barely registering their existence. A few moments later Dawns wife Sam arrived with a friend of hers from work and then that friends friend joined them and chairs were procured from other tables and added to the small table where theyd started and soon there was quite a group of them, all pretty much strangers but all the better for it. Joey dealt with the strangeness of it by necking two vodka and tonics, and then a pint that someone bought for her without asking. The music in the background was loud and metal-based, the clientele mostly students and ageing rockers. The bar and the floorboards were painted lead black and a band was setting up in the back room where two lurchers sat with their heads on their paws looking as though theyd seen it all before and just wanted to go home. Im going to order some food at the bar, Dawn shouted over the music. Do you want anything? Joey shook her head. No thanks, Im good. She was enjoying the sensation of alcohol hitting the empty pit of her stomach, the soft swirl of it, the redistribution of her psyche into more manageable chunks. She didnt want to mop it up. Sam turned to Joey as Dawn made her way to the bar. She was a sweet-faced girl with pink-tipped hair and a pink stud in her nose who looked not much older than eighteen. How are you getting on in the seventh circle of hell? Oh, said Joey. Whackadoo? Sam blinked. Indeed. Its pretty grim, she said. But Dawns a great boss. And sometimes its even a bit fun. How long have you two been married? Just over a year, said Sam. And dont worry. Im older than I look. Im actually twenty-seven. In case you thought I was some kind of child bride. How about you? Are you married? Yes, she said, still finding the concept strangely unlikely. Yes, I am. How long for? Oh, just a few months, actually. Oh, bless. Have you known each other long? Ha! No. Also just a few months. It was a bit of a whirlwind. Wow, said Sam, I wish you luck! And it was as she said this that Joey cast her gaze around the bar and her eye caught upon the back of the head of a man standing at the bar. A tall, well-built man with short dark hair, silver at the temples, wearing a rumpled work shirt with the sleeves pushed up. He turned, his large hands forming a triangle around three pints of beer, his mouth turned up into a wry smile and Joey froze. It was Tom Fitzwilliam. He carried the three pint glasses towards the room at the back of the pub and he rested them on a table in front of two men with beards and waistcoats, the ones with the lurchers. He pulled a chair across and joined them, his long legs slung effortlessly in front of him. His hand reached down briefly to touch the head of the dog nearest him. The younger of the two men said something and Tom Fitzwilliam tipped back his head and laughed. Joeys phone fizzed on the table in front of her and she pulled her gaze from Tom Fitzwilliam to her screen. It was a text from Alfie: When you coming home? She started to compose a reply but could think of nothing to say so turned off her phone. When she glanced up again Tom Fitzwilliam was looking in her direction. Her heart pulsed hard for a second and her breath caught in her throat until she realised that he wasnt looking at her, he was looking towards the door of the pub where two more men with beards had just arrived. All three men in the other room got to their feet to greet the new arrivals and more pints were bought and chairs moved about and dogs petted and hands shaken. Dawn brought drinks back from the bar a vodka and tonic for Joey. Its a double, she said with a wink. You look like someone who wants to get blotto. Joey grinned and said, Youre very observant. She drank it in the space of three minutes, during which Tom Fitzwilliams beardy friends had necked their own drinks and headed towards the stage where they started to pick up musical instruments and twang on guitar strings. The one in the beanie hat sat astride a squat stool behind the drum kit and rubbed a pair of drumsticks together. Tom Fitzwilliams friends were the band. The band, according to the decal on the bass drum, was called Lupine. How on earth, Joey wondered, did Tom Fitzwilliam, government-feted superhead, middle-aged dad, consummate suit-wearer, know a hairy rock band called Lupine? Oh God, said Sam. She tipped her head in the direction of the back room. Not this lot again. Joey looked at her curiously. They were on last week as well. Bloody racket. Dawn looked up from her chicken pie and groaned. Oh God, yeah. I remember them. Cats being tortured. Donkeys being murdered, agreed Sam. With chainsaws, added Dawn. Do you know them? Joey asked. The band? said Dawn. God no. But apparently two of them are teachers at the local comp. Geography teachers playing rock stars on their night off. She laughed. Bit tragic really. Joey went to the ladies toilet. Like everything else in the pub, it was painted matt black and smelled of stale beer and old mops. Through the thin wall she could hear the rat-a-tat of snare drums, an isolated thwang of bass guitar. She took in her reflection in the mirror. She looked terrible. She searched her handbag frantically for lipstick, for a hairbrush, for a stub of black eyeliner. She fixed herself, fluffed out the dry bleached ends of her ponytail, studied herself again. She would do. She would have to. Tom Fitzwilliam turned the corner towards the toilet just as she turned it going the other way. The narrow space was immediately filled with him, with the solidity of his existence. Joeys first instinct was to squeeze herself small against the wall and give him space in which to pass. But his eyes were already on her and he was half smiling and he said, Oh. I know you. I think do I? She could have said, No, I think you are mistaken, grabbed her coat from her chair, said goodbye to everyone and left. But she did not. She stood straight and she returned his half-smile and she said, I have a funny feeling we might be neighbours. I think Ive seen you in the bar at the Melville. He folded his arms across his stomach and he made a show of appraising her and then he said; Yes. I think thats it. I remember you. You knocked over the leaflets. She smiled and her stomach roiled. Hed seen her. Hed noticed her. This big, important, handsome man. That sounds like me, she said. And if Im not mistaken, he continued, Ive seen you in Melville Heights. Coming out of Jack and Rebecca Mullens place. Yes! she said. Jacks my brother. Wow. I had no idea! Not that I know Jack all that well. Ive only spoken to him a handful of times. Hes great, isnt he? she said. She often did this subconsciously, pre-empted the Jack-love. He seems like a great guy, yes. But the way his eyes searched hers told her that he was more interested in talking about her than her perfect brother. Are you here with friends? Yes. Well, sort of. Im here with my boss and her wife and some other randoms. Joey paused. Who are you here with? Ah, well, rather bizarrely Im here with the band. He gestured behind them with his head. Im a teacher, he said, over at the Melville Academy Joey nodded, disingenuously, as though she had absolutely no idea who he was. and a couple of the teachers are in the band and they asked me along. So here I am. Not where youd normally find me on a Friday night. But it seemed churlish to say no just because Im old and Id rather be at home watching Narcos. They both turned then as two women walked into the corridor and they held themselves tight against the wall to make room for them to pass. Toms hand pressed briefly against Joeys leg and she thought, I knew this was going to happen. They turned to each other and smiled. Well, said Joey. It was nice to at the exact same moment that Tom said, Are you going to watch the band? She paused to manage her response. There was intent there in those innocuous words. There was an invitation. An invitation she should ignore. My friend says they sound like donkeys being murdered with chainsaws. Tom laughed. Oh dear, he said conspiratorially. I did have my suspicions. He smiled. Well, unlike me, youre free to leave. But if you do stay, come and say hello after and Ill introduce you to the band. She smiled and nodded. Im Tom, by the way. He offered her his hand. Hi Tom. Im J She stopped, for a split second. Josephine. Josephine, he said. What a beautiful name. Joey thought, I knew youd like it. Thank you, she said. Lovely talking to you, he said. Joey took her seat next to Sam and pretended to be listening to their conversation while keeping half an eye on the toilets. When Tom reappeared, he caught her eye and smiled. She pulled her phone from her bag and she replied to Alfies text. Watching a band in town with Dawn and some friends. Be home in a couple of hours. 13 Freddies mother was knitting something. He had never seen her kitting before. What is it? Its a blanket, she said. For the lady in the blue house. The pregnant lady. Shes having a girl in May. Freddie could see now that the design on a computer printout on the table in front of his mother involved ducklings and bunny rabbits. Why would you knit something for someone you barely know? Because She pulled at the cream yarn and grimaced. I have no idea. Just because. His mum was always trying new things. It was part of her psyche. If it wasnt growing vegetables it was tai chi and if it wasnt tai chi it was learning to play the piano. She said she had a low boredom threshold. She said it was because she was never in one place long enough to get a job and that she hadnt been put on this earth to be a housewife and needed a focus. Shed been running a lot lately, two or three hours a day, but clearly that was no longer enough to keep her mind in one place. So, now it was knitting. She would have made a special trip today to a special shop to buy everything she needed. She would have watched a tutorial on YouTube. She would have made a project of it. He stared at the top of her head, the high shine of her light brown hair, combed through with an expensive oil and something approaching anger every morning in the mirror in her bedroom. She spent an hour at that mirror every day. She fussed her skin with giant pads of cotton wool and lotions and potions that cost fifty pounds a vial. She blended colours on to her eyelids that were the same colour as her skin so you couldnt see they were there. She wanted to look natural, she said, casting subtle aspersions against women who preferred to look fake. She took pride in her tiny frame, dressed it in tiny clothes, often from childrens clothes shops. Her appearance was extraordinarily important to her; her image was her obsession. But even Freddie could see she had no idea what she was doing. She wore the wrong sorts of heels with the wrong sorts of jeans and then she would get chatting to a woman somewhere the school gates, the martial arts centre, the wool shop and Freddie would see it; hed see her carefully applied veneer start to crackle and peel, watch his mothers eyes roaming over the woman in question, over her shoes, her skin, her fingernails, forensically taking in every iota of her sartorial presentation. And then the wrong heels would be replaced by trendy trainers. The red nails with short unpolished nails. The neat padded gilet with a loose-fitting parka. But theyd be the wrong trendy trainers. His mother would still be all wrong. And then theyd move to a new town and a new set of rules would apply according to the type of area and his mother would have to start trying to fit in all over again. Not that she ever did. His mum, like him, had no friends. It was as if they could tell, he thought, they could tell she wasnt ever going to be one of them. She was always going to be trying, never just being. Freddie sighed. Whens Dad back? Any time, I suppose. Depends how soon he can politely get away. Freddie couldnt get his head round the idea of his dad in the Weavers Arms watching a rock band. It was too bizarre to process. His dad was just so well, boring. At ten oclock he yawned and got to his feet. You off to bed, darling? his mum said absent-mindedly, her thin hands still worrying at the knitting needles, the blanket still no more than a thin strip of cream wool. Yes. I am. He looked at her for a moment. Are you all right? he asked. Is everything OK? Yes, she said brightly. Of course! He wanted to say something else but he couldnt find the words. He wanted to ask if she was happy. If she and Dad were OK. If they were always going to stay married. If she was glad shed married Dad. If she was glad shed had Freddie. If the noises he sometimes heard from their room at night were anything to be worried about. Instead he dropped a kiss on to the top of her head. Being able to drop kisses on to the top of his mums head was one of the best things about his recent growth spurt, finally over five foot three at which height hed feared he might stick, and now approaching five foot seven. He would never be as tall as his dad, but at least he was taller than his mum. Through his bedroom window he watched the good people of Lower Melville comporting themselves on a Friday night. The trendy Thai restaurant was heaving as was the trendy pizza place. He watched people going in and out of the bar at the Melville. He trained his binoculars on to the bathroom window of Besss flat and saw nothing; then he moved on to Jennas road where all was quiet and still. He was about to draw the curtain and go back to his desk when he saw the headlights of a car bulging over the top of Melville Heights. As the lights reached the crown of the escarpment the car stopped and Freddie watched as first his father and then Red Boots stepped out of a taxi. At first, he thought he must be mistaken. Why on earth would his father be in a taxi with Red Boots? Then as he watched he saw Red Boots push her face into his fathers back and his father turn and put his arms around her shoulders and Red Boots looked like she was trying to kiss his father and then his father was pulling back and she was pushing forward and it was a strange dance that they were performing until finally his father put his arms around her waist and walked her firmly to the front door of the blue house. Freddie opened his window a crack to let some sound in and just about heard the words sorry, pub, few too many, no problem and sleep tight. Then he saw his father stand, for a moment or even longer, on the street outside the blue house, his hands in the pockets of his coat, his eyes on Red Bootss front door, before turning slowly and heading back towards his house. 14 18 February What was going on last night? Freddie asked his dad the next morning. His dad grimaced at him. He was wearing his dressing gown and he smelled odd, that sugary-yeasty smell of middle-aged man pickled in clammy bedsheets. What? Freddie pulled a croissant from a packet on the counter. You and that woman. His dad stopped buttering his toast for a second, then continued. Oh. Josephine, he said, through a pretty theatrical yawn that was fooling no one, least of all Freddie. She was at the same gig as me last night. Turns out she lives two doors down. He yawned loudly again. She was a bit the worse for wear so I got her home in a taxi. Oh, Dad. Youre such a thoroughly good guy, not just saving schools but now rescuing damsels in distress too! Freddie couldnt help himself sometimes. His dad was just so fucking perfect. Or at least that was the overriding narrative. Amazing Tom Fitzwilliam. Isnt he handsome? Isnt he clever? Isnt he charming? Isnt he tall? Hasnt he got an enormously huge dick? Well, no one had ever actually said that, but he did. Freddie had seen it. His mum subscribed to this narrative too. She looked amazed and grateful every time Dad walked in through the door at the end of the day, took his hand when they were out in public to show the world that he was hers. So in the absence of any peripheral checks and measures in the form of siblings, Freddie kind of felt it was his duty to keep his dad in his place, to remind him that he was not the be-all and the end-all. His dad took it in good grace. He did seem to like Freddie. But possibly that was because he didnt realise quite how deep the rivers of Freddies antipathy sometimes ran. His dad ignored Freddies sarcasm and flicked the switch on the coffee filter. Soon the kitchen was dark with the smell of warm coffee. His dad stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing gown and stared through the French windows towards the end of the garden. The hair on the back of his head was matted and flat where hed slept on it. Whats she like? Who? The damsel. The one you rescued from being raped in an illegal minicab? There was a prolonged silence and Freddie wasnt sure if his dad had heard him or not. But then he turned slowly and leaned against the counter. Shes nice. Nice? Yes. Perfectly nice. I didnt really talk to her. We were watching the band. And then it became apparent that she was horribly drunk so I got us a taxi. She slept most of the way back. She looked like she wanted you to kiss her. What? When you got out the cab. She looked like she was trying to kiss you on the mouth. His dad grimaced. Er, no. I sincerely doubt that. Freddie offered him a sardonic lift of his eyebrow and said no more. He knew what hed seen. Yet another tragic woman succumbing to the inordinate charms of his father. Yet another woman allowing herself to be dazzled by the glittering illusion of a gold coin at the bottom of a well. Nicola walked in damp-haired, scrubbed-faced, shower-fresh after her early-morning run. What do you sincerely doubt? she asked. Nothing, said his dad, sending Freddie a warning glance across the kitchen. His mum got really jealous sometimes. How was your run? It was superb, she said, pulling a mug off a shelf and pouring herself a coffee from the filter. Its beautiful out. We should do something. Freddie would have much preferred to do nothing at the weekend. The idea of doing something, with its undertones of brisk walks and silent art galleries and awkward lunches in smart restaurants, filled him with sick dread. Ive got loads of homework, he said. I need to stay at home today. His mum pulled a sad pouty face. Maybe you and I should do something? She gripped his dads arm and looked up at him hopefully. Pub lunch? His father patted her hand and smiled down at her. Yes, he said. A pub lunch sounds just the ticket. Freddie saw pure joy bloom across his mums face and then he thought of the taxi pulling up last night, of Red Boots grabbing his father and the stern look on his face as he bundled her towards her front door. He thought of all the other times, the other women and girls whod looked at his dad just a little too fondly or held his arm for a little too long. He thought of the smell of old beer coming off him this morning, the sour smell of secrets and lies. He nodded just once towards his father, knowingly, and saw him flinch. 15 20 February Jenna pulled the zip round her suitcase and hoisted it on to its feet. It weighed a ton: make-up brushes and hairbrushes and palettes of petrol-hued shadows and bottles of fixers and primers and toners. Barely any clothes really. Just make-up. Year eleven were going on a four-night trip to Seville. The coach to the airport was due outside the Academy at 5.45 a.m. It was now just after five and the sky was still lit with night stars and the pearlescent sheen of the moon. Jenna peered into her mothers bedroom and caught the outline of her sleeping body and the whisper of her night-time breath. She would not wake her. Her mother was like a child much easier to manage when she was sleeping. She tucked a packet of Nature Valley cereal bars into her rucksack, double checked inside the front pocket for the solid edges of her passport, took it out, double-checked that it was hers, slid it back in, smeared on some lip balm and silently left the house. Bess stood on the corner with a battered metal suitcase at her feet, her hands tucked inside the sleeves of her blue Melville Academy hoodie, her bare legs glowing blue white in the early dawn. She yawned widely as Jenna approached. Morning, said Jenna. Bess groaned and lifted her case. It had no wheels and she had to carry it with both hands. It banged up against her shins as she walked. International travel sucks, she said. We havent even got on the coach yet. Yeah. Exactly. Would you rather be going to school today? Yes, said Bess. Actually. I really would. Jenna smiled wryly. She knew that Bess would be the one at the back of the coach waving at lorry drivers in a few minutes. Outside school, the coach rumbled and the pavement filled slowly with sleep-glazed teenagers. Bess kicked her in the shin and said, Oh God. Look! When she turned she saw Mr Fitzwilliam striding towards them, a rucksack slung over his shoulder. He was wearing a dark hooded jacket and jeans. Buenos d?as, everyone, he called. Se?or Delgados wife has gone into early labour and Im the only other fluent Spanish speaker in the school so Ive been dragged from my lovely warm cosy bed to accompany you all to Seville youll no doubt be delighted to hear. Jenna felt Besss bony elbow between her ribs and slapped her away. She felt Besss hot breath in her ear. Oh. My Fucking. God. Jenna sighed. Oh my fucking God, Bess repeated. Im going to die. I swear. Im dying right now. Literally. Im dead. Shush, said Jenna. Hes only over there. Dont care. Just I just Please dont make a twat of yourself, said Jenna. Promise me. Bess looked at her aghast. God, Jen what do you take me for? Jenna turned towards the village, the soft glow of the street lights just visible from where they stood. She thought of her mother, folded warm within her duvet. She imagined her awaking and remembering that Jenna had gone. She pictured her rising from her warm bed and forgetting to eat breakfast in her compulsion to check the house for signs of them, the unknown, unwieldy gang who made it their lives work to stalk, harass and torment her, who came into her home nightly to displace her ornaments, untwist her lightbulbs, drill small holes into her walls and scratch tiny hieroglyphics into her work surfaces. She would then retire to her computer to log all the nightly modifications before signing in to one of the many chat rooms she frequented with other victims of so-called gang-stalking to give credibility to each others madness. Jenna had not left her mother alone since she got properly ill, not for longer than the occasional sleepover. Her dad had persuaded her to go on the trip; hed paid for it and said hed check in on her mum daily, that she must go and enjoy herself and not look back. Jenna strongly suspected that her dad would not check in on her every day; it was a ninety-minute round trip from his house in Weston-super-Mare where he ran a very busy ironmongery virtually single-handedly as well as looking after Jennas little brother, Ethan. But now as she stowed her suitcase in the belly of the coach and took her seat next to Bess, it was far too late to worry about it all. The coach pulled away and Melville faded to a tiny blurred point on the horizon and Jenna allowed herself a moment of excitement at the prospect of five days of sanity. Then she turned to share a smile with Bess and saw her staring dementedly at the back of Mr Fitzwilliams head. 16 When Freddie awoke that Monday morning he could tell immediately that something was different. Hed heard the phone ringing late last night, heard cupboards being opened and closed, voices when there werent normally voices. Daddy had to go to Spain, said his mum, running water into the spout of the kettle. School trip. The Spanish teachers wife went into early labour last night. Shes only thirty weeks along very scary. Why him? he said. Surely hes too important to go on school trips. Daddy was the only other teacher at the school who can speak Spanish. Dad cant speak Spanish, he muttered incredulously. Well, he can speak enough to get by. Freddie grunted. This was exactly the sort of thing his dad loved. Spending quality time with his students. Getting to know them. He thrived on the intimacy. He would have jumped at this opportunity. Whens he coming back? Friday. He nodded but felt quietly anxious. Freddie didnt like changes in routine; he didnt like it when unscheduled things happened. He didnt like the way little holes opened up in the weft of his existence and let other, unexpected things in. He walked the slow way to school so that he could pass by Whackadoo just as it opened its doors. He bought himself a bottle of mineral water and sat on a bench across the street to watch for Red Boots. Or Joey. Or Josephine. Or whatever the hell she was really called. He sat his phone on his lap, the video button just under his thumb and he waited. At eight fifty-five the 218 bus pulled up and the doors hissed open. There she was. He pressed the record button and filmed her as she half ran towards the play centre. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was frowning into her phone. She forced it into her rucksack as she approached the doors, pressed the bell and then stood with her hand in her pockets until a large woman with very short hair and lots of keys hanging from her belt came to let her in. Freddie replayed the video and zoomed in on to Joeys face. She looked puffy and blotchy. She looked like shed been crying. He wondered if it had something to do with Friday night, if it had something to do with his father. 17 Hi, Mum! Joey pulled a cloth from her coat pocket and used it to clear away the winter dust that had collected on her mothers gravestone. The flowers shed left on the second day of the year were still there as well as another small posy; 50p-a-bunch daffodils from Asda that her dad would have brought. Joey hadnt realised that her dad visited so frequently. Her dad was not one for grand gestures or shows of emotion. Hed maintained a cool detachment in the days and months after Mum had died. Theyd been talking about splitting up for a year or so before the accident. Neither of them had been happy. But on the day of the accident theyd been in a good place. Theyd been up to see Jack and Rebeccas house renovations. Afterwards Jack had taken them for lunch at the Melville. Theyd had wine; Mum and Dad had shared a sticky toffee pudding. It had been a good day. Jack had said he thought maybe they wouldnt split up after all. And then later that day Mum had been halfway to the shops at the bottom of the road to buy a lottery ticket when a ninety-year-old man called Roger Davies mounted the kerb in his Ford Fiesta and pinned her to a letter box. Shed died ten days later. Dad didnt talk about it much. Jack had tried to set him up with a grief therapist. Hed gone to one appointment and never returned. Hed cleared Mums stuff out within a week of her death, rearranged things over the hollows so youd never know it had been there. And, to the absolute horror of both Joey and Jack, he already had a girlfriend. Her name was Sue and Jack was convinced that she had been in the picture long before their mothers death. The day their father had told them about Sue had been one of the worst that she could remember and neither she nor Jack had seen their father since. But here, with these cheap but carefully placed daffodils, was proof that he hadnt moved on entirely. Joey tried to picture her father here. She tried to imagine what he did, if he talked to her, how long he stayed. She wondered if he cried. She hoped that he did. So. Lots has happened since I last saw you. Ive got a job. Its a bit of a classic Joey job. As in, you know, crap. But at least Im earning some money. Alfies still at the bar in town but hes trying to get some more work as a painter and decorator. So, were kind of getting there. But She paused and looked briefly over her shoulder, as though someone she knew might be hanging around in a cemetery on a Monday afternoon. Ive done something really bad. Like, really, really, really bad. Worse than anything Ive done before and I know Ive done a lot of bad things. Im not even sure I can tell you what it was because youll disown me. Actually, Im not going to tell you, because even thinking about it makes me want to throw up. She sighed and looked down at her fingernails, pulled at a loose tag of skin. I really thought that I was growing up at last, Mum. I really thought that getting married and moving back to Bristol was going to be the start of the big new grown-up me. But if anything, Im regressing. Because thats the problem, isnt it, thats what Im starting to realise. Im still me, Mum, wherever I go in the world, Im still just me. Joey the fuck-up. Joey the pain. And I wish you were here because I know that was always enough for you. And Im not sure its enough for anyone else. Anyway. She pulled herself to standing. Im sorry to come here and just be all me me me. Nothing new there though, I suppose. I love you, Mum. I love you so much. Ill come again soon and hopefully by then Ill have sorted out my life. Bye, Mum. Sleep tight. Joey turned at the sound of Alfie bursting into the bedroom. Ive got a painting job! Huh? Just now. Like, literally! The woman two doors down. She saw me in my overalls and she asked if I was a decorator and I said yes and she said can you decorate my living room and my kitchen. What woman two doors down? Here. He felt in the pockets of his overall and pulled out a card. Nicola Fitzwilliam, he read. She lives there. He pointed. In the yellow house. The very sound of the word Fitzwilliam on Alfies tongue made her shiver. Did you go in? No. We just chatted on the street. And literally, she just literally asked you to paint her house? Just like that? Yeah! It was so cool! Im going over later to cost the job for her. Youre going to her house? Yeah! Gonna jump in the shower and head over. Wanna come with? All the blood in Joeys body rushed to her head. She pictured Toms face when he saw her standing in his hallway. For a moment she found it hard to breathe properly. No. He looked at her curiously. You OK? I thought youd be really happy. She cupped her hand over her temple. Sorry. Im just a bit headachy. Long day. Kids. You know. She wanted to jump to her feet, to throw herself at big, handsome Alfie and hug him and tell him she was proud and delighted. But fear kept her anchored to the spot. She glanced at him and said, I am really happy, Alf. I really am. Its brilliant. This seemed to satisfy him and he beamed at her. Im getting there at last, he said. Finally getting there. Before too long well have a place of our own. And then His smile faded and he didnt finish the sentence. She knew exactly what hed been about to say. She watched him peeling off his clothes, leaving them snaking across the floorboards in his wake. She let her eyes linger on his buttocks for a brief moment before he disappeared into the en suite. Such remarkable buttocks. Why would a woman with access to such a pair of buttocks ever wish to place their hands upon any other? Why would a woman married to the nicest man in Bristol want to waste even a moment thinking about Tom Fitzwilliam? What was the matter with her? Shouldnt the memory of the look of utter dismay on Tom Fitzwilliams face as he pulled her hands away from his body outside the Weavers Arms have been enough to kill off her fixation? Shouldnt the thought of him struggling to find the words to express his shock and displeasure Christ, God, no! I mean, no! Youre gorgeous! Youre really gorgeous! But youre married! Im married. And I would never. I would just never. God! have stopped her in her tracks? Technically speaking, Joey had assaulted him. If hed wanted to report her to the police, he would have been completely within his rights. But thered been a moment, when her hand had first gone between his legs: his whole body had lurched towards hers; hed tipped his head back at the feel of her fingers going to the back of his neck, hed groaned and for a short moment his lips had met hers. That had happened. As drunk as shed been, as pumped full of adrenaline and hormones and lust, she knew that had definitely happened. And it was that, that single, gossamer-thin element of time, that stopped her from wanting to kill herself out of pure humiliation. She heard the shower start running, the shower door open and then close. She looked at Alfies clothes on the floor: the paint-splattered overalls, the ripped T-shirt, the old boxers, the small rumpled socks. In the corner of the mirror she could just make out the blurred pinkness of Alfies naked body in the shower. Her gut ached with guilt and self-hatred. You sure you dont want to come with me? he asked a moment later, towel-drying his hair. Keep me company? He was feeling shy, Joey realised, self-conscious about going into a posh ladys house on his own to discuss business. Im not your mum, Alfie, she said, somewhat harshly. You dont need me to hold your hand. She winced when she saw the flash of hurt pass across his face. Yeah, he said, rallying. Fair enough. He pulled on clean jeans and a button-down shirt. Then he rifled around the shelves beside the bed looking for a notepad. Joey found him a pencil while he tied his shoelaces. She tucked it into the top pocket of his shirt and she straightened his collar. You look very nice, she said. Dont undersell yourself. Remember: this is Melville Heights. People expect to pay through the nose for things. So if you quote anything less than through the nose shell definitely go for it. He checked his phone for the photos hed taken of his mums kitchen and the ones of her neighbours home office that he was currently working on. I should get a better camera, he said. These look shit. They look fine, Joey said. They show what a good job you can do and thats all that matters. She waited a moment after he left the room and then went to the landing where she watched through the window as he walked towards the Fitzwilliams house. Toms car was parked outside. He must be at home. She felt a wave of nausea rising through her at the thought of Tom and Alfie coming face-to-face. And then she jumped away from the window as she saw down below, in the undergrowth across the road, a pair of eyes. She approached the window again. Yes, there was someone down there. Crouched down and staring at the front door of Toms house. It was a woman, hard to make out her age in the dark. Blondish hair. Small build. Joey saw her take a mobile phone from her bag and take pictures with it. Jack! she called over the banister. Jack! Are you there? Her brother appeared in the hallway a floor down. He had a mouth full of food and frowned at her. What? he mumbled though his dinner. Look outside. Quickly. Across the street. Look behind the red car. He frowned again, opened the front door and then looked back at her. Just look! she said. Theres someone there! Crouching! He sighed and disappeared through the front door. Joey watched from the landing window. At the sound of his footsteps the woman in the undergrowth started slightly and hid herself further behind the red car. Joey knocked on the glass. The woman looked up and for a moment their eyes met. She was in her forties, Joey could see now, and pretty in the way of a fading film star. Joey recognised her from somewhere; she had definitely seen her before. Theres nothing there, her brother called up the stairs. She heard the front door close again and then she saw the small blonde woman run. Shes gone, she said, walking down the stairs towards Jack. She ran away when she heard you. She sat herself on the bottom step and cupped her face in her hands. She looked up at Jack. She was a blonde woman, she said. Middle-aged. She was watching Alfie. Taking pictures of Tom Fitzwilliams house. Jack yawned and sat down next to her. Ah, yeah. I think I know the one you mean. She lives in the village. Shes a bit odd. Ive seen her down there, staring at people, making notes in a book, tiny little marks. Mental health issues, Id say. I wonder what shes doing up here then, Joey said. I wonder what she wants with Tom Fitzwilliam. Ah, said Jack, getting to his feet and stretching his body. Everyone wants a bit of Tom Fitzwilliam. She looked up at him, wide-eyed. What does that mean? Nothing much. Just, hes one of those guys, isnt he? Women want him. Men want to be him. He said this in the style of an American voiceover. Do you want to be him? she asked. No, said Jack. Not really. But I can see why he might send some more, you know, vulnerable people a bit over the edge. Hes very charismatic. Very attractive. And he has this charm about him. Dashing, almost. As if he could save you from yourself. He walked backwards away from her, towards the kitchen door. Going to finish my dinner, he said. Fancy joining me? Im OK, she said. Im going to head upstairs. Sure? She nodded and smiled and sat on the step for a moment longer while her brothers words echoed in her head. Vulnerable people. She thought of the woman in the undergrowth. Then she thought of her own pathetic infatuation and it occurred to her that maybe they were not so different after all. RECORDED INTERVIEW Date: 25/03/2017 Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW Conducted by: Officers from Somerset and Avon Police POLICE: Your full name please, for the recording. DP: Dawn Michelle Pettifer. POLICE: Thank you. And your full address. DP: 21 Bath Place, Bristol BS11. POLICE: Thank you. And can you tell me what you told our officer earlier today. DP: Yes. But can I first say that I think Joey Mullen is an incredible human being. Im massively fond of her. She works really hard and shes great with the kids, and yeah. Just an awesome person. POLICE: Thank you, Ms Pettifer. DP: Its just and maybe its nothing, you know, completely a red herring, but a couple of weeks ago I went out for a beer with Joey after work and she told me she was obsessed with Tom Fitzwilliam. She said her obsession was driving her insane. POLICE: She used that word? Insane? DP: Yes. She did. She said that her obsession was killing her. POLICE: Great. Thank you. And yesterday? At work? How did Joey seem? DP: Edgy. POLICE: Edgy? DP: Yes. Edgy. Not herself. When she left I was worried about her. POLICE: And why were you worried about her? DP: I dont know. She looked scared. She looked agitated. POLICE: In your opinion, Ms Pettifer, did Joey Mullens demeanour on Friday evening seem agitated enough for her to be capable of an act of gruesome violence? DP: Well, you know, anyone can be capable of anything, cant they, under the right circumstances. You read about it all the time. So yeah, maybe she was. 18 20 February The hotel in Seville was a shithole. Jenna had known not to expect much for ?330 a head for the whole trip, but seriously five of them had been squashed into a room meant for three, with two camp beds stuck in the corner so there was no room even to walk around the room and theyd had to put their suitcases on the balcony. The bathroom was minging. The bed sheets had rips in them and smelled like theyd been boil-washed in old dishwater. Bess had even found a rolled-up panty liner tucked into the U-bend behind the toilet. I wanna go home, she said now, her small body curled around a pillow. I wanna go where I have like a floor with a carpet, and a nice comfortable bed, and a lovely big bathroom with no stains and no used panty liners. You know She sat up straight. I bet if we showed Mr Fitzwilliam our room hed get un upgrade for us. I bet he would. There was a knock at the door then and Lottie opened it up to a load of lads all peering over each other to get a look into the girls room. They were the alpha girls in year eleven, Jenna knew that much. She, Bess, Lottie, Tiana and Ruby. They werent like a clique or anything, just five girls who all got along and who were all quite good-looking. God, your room sucks, said one of the lads. I know, right! said Bess. Whats yours like? Ours is cool. Weve got, like, a sitting area. Yeah, its a suite. Oh my God! Bess turned to each girl in turn, her mouth hanging ajar. Theyve got a fucking suite! Thats it. She jumped to her feet. Im going to tell Mr Fitzwilliam. She looked at Jenna. Come with? Jenna nodded. She put her trainers back on and followed Bess down the dingy corridor towards the rooms at the end where the teachers were staying. Mr Fitzwilliam opened the door to his room looking as crisp and fresh as he had at five thirty that morning. Ladies, he said, what can I do for you? Its our room, sir, said Bess. Its really bad. Im not sure we can stay in it, Im not gonna lie. She had her fists at her mouth and was talking in a voice about 20 per cent higher than her usual pitch. Mr Fitzwilliam moved his balance from one foot to the other, folded his arms across his waist and looked down at Bess. Whats wrong with it? Its got, like, two extra beds in it. Really rubbish camp beds. And theres five of us and were all squashed in and theres nowhere to put our suitcases. Theyre on the balcony, sir. Mr Fitzwilliam nodded. To Jennas surprise he appeared to be taking her concerns seriously. And Connor Mates just told us that theyve got a suite. With, like, seating and stuff. And its not fair, sir. I mean, we all paid the same, didnt we? He let his arms drop to his sides and he said, OK, then, lets have a look at this room. Lead the way. Bess threw Jenna a triumphant look. Jenna shrugged. The other girls all sat up straight when they saw Mr Fitzwilliam at the door. Well, ladies, he said, after scanning the room with his eyes for a moment, I have to agree. This is clearly unacceptable. Leave it with me, Im going to talk to reception, see what we can sort out for you. I will be right back. He smiled and touched his temple with his fingers, in a kind of military salute. After hed gone all five girls looked at each other in a kind of shocked silence before bursting into embarrassed laughter. Oh my God, said Lottie. Hes so cool. I know, right, agreed Tiana. If that had been, like, any other teacher theyd have just told us to quit whining. Yeah, right? said Lottie. You can all fuck off, said Bess. Hes mine. Ew, said Ruby, but hes really old. Hes not old, Bess replied. Hes mature. Like wine. Like cheese. I love him. I actually love him. Jenna nodded. She actually does, she said. Half an hour later she and Bess had a room of their own. It was a large suite with a big double bed, a sofa, a view over the park opposite and two sinks in the bathroom. The management had also sent up a bowl of fruit by way of apology. They sat now, cross-legged on the sofa, eating bloomy Spanish grapes as though they were chocolate truffles and laughing at their good fortune. Cheers, said Bess, knocking her complimentary plastic bottle of water against Jennas. To Mr Fitzwilliam. A god amongst men. They had half an hour in their rooms before they were to meet up in the lobby to head out for what Mr Phipp had described as a sandwich and some culture. The itinerary that Jenna had remembered to slip into her rucksack that morning said they were going to the Plaza de Espa?a where they would be perusing food stalls and ordering and paying for their own lunches from vendors in Spanish, before having a wander round and looking at some bridges. The weather was nice; not like Spain in the summer, when Jenna had been to Spain before, but way better than Bristol where it had been five degrees and raining yesterday. She pulled her make-up bags out of her suitcase and arranged them on the side of her sink in the en suite. She looked tired and grey in the tile-framed mirror. What do you reckon his wifes like? Bess called from the bedroom. Jenna rolled her eyes. Oh, you know, shes probably really fit and hot and young. Yeah, said Bess. Yeah. I bet she is. With really huge breasts. And theyre probably having sex like all the time, she continued, applying an extra layer of mascara. Like porn stars. Oh God, Jen. Stop it. She paused to examine her refreshed visage, before pulling a tube of plumping lip gloss from her case and applying it. Im only joking, she said. Ive seen his wife. Shes not all that. Bess appeared in the reflection in the mirror. Is she young? Yeah. Youngish. Younger than him. Always wearing running gear and a baseball cap. Hm, Bess replied, sounds like every middle-aged woman in Melville. Jennas phone popped. She glanced at it. A text message from her mum. Did you move the recycling bin this morning? Its facing the wrong way!! She closed her eyes. She had not touched the recycling bin this morning. It was pitch black when she left the house, she hadnt even seen the recycling bin. Yes, she typed back, I did move it. Why? There was a cat stuck behind it. What cat??? Christ, now even the local cats were in on it. I dont know. Just a black one. Stop worrying about it. Did you see that weird mark in the butter? It looked like a swastika. Look. Jennas shoulders dropped. A second later her phone popped again. There was a photo of the butter. In the top of the butter was the mark shed left there last night with a knife when shed buttered a crumpet. It looked nothing like a swastika. I had a crumpet last night. That was me. Good, her mum replied. Then: Remind me when youre coming home again? Friday afternoon. And remind me where you are? Im in Seville. Thats nice. I love you. I love you too mum. She switched off her phone and stared at its dead screen for a moment. Then there was a knock at the door and Bess went to open it and there was Mr Fitzwilliam, wolfish and fresh in a navy hoodie and chinos. Are we happy, ladies? he said, taking in the room quickly with his eyes. Oh yes, said Bess. Thank you so much, Mr Fitzwilliam. We are, like, so so grateful. And you are totally the best. He smiled down at her. Well, thats very nice of you to say, Bess. But I was just doing what needed to be done. And Im very pleased with the outcome. I will see you both in the lobby in He looked at his wrist, at an old-fashioned steel-faced watch with a red and yellow striped canvas strap. Six and a half minutes! See you, Mr Fitzwilliam! said Bess, closing the door behind him, then collapsing against it with her hands to her mouth and saying, Oh my God, he knows my name. Mr Fitzwilliam knows my name. He knows everyones name, Bess. Yeah, I know but he said it! But Jenna wasnt really engaged with her friend because something was playing on her mind. Something to do with Mr Fitzwilliams watch. The watch with the yellow and red strap. Because shed seen it before, somewhere else, when she was young. And then it came to her: the Lake District. When she was ten. When Ethan was six. When her mum was sane and her parents were together. And theyd stayed at a beautiful B and B with four-poster beds and the owner had had six basset hounds who all trundled together around the grounds. It was thirty degrees. One of the hottest days of the year. Theyd been on a sightseeing coach trip and had stopped for ice creams at the side of a lake when a woman had appeared from nowhere, screaming. Shed been wearing a vest top and linen shorts, bright pink flip flops. You, shed been shouting. You! Then a man had appeared from somewhere behind them, a tall, commanding man. He was part of their tour group, with a younger wife and a small son. Hed approached the screaming woman and hed put his hands against her bare arms and shed screamed You! You! How could you! And the man had talked to her softly and sternly and then hed walked her firmly away from the staring hordes. And he was wearing that watch. Shed noticed it because it matched his striped shirt. And it was him. Mr Fitzwilliam was the man that her mum kept saying he was. Theyd never found out why the woman was screaming at him. They never worked out what had happened next. It had just remained as a kind of pale stain on their holiday, a tiny, unsettling sentence without a full stop. Remember that man, they would say for days and weeks afterwards. And the woman screaming at him? Hitting him? Remember? I wonder what that was all about And for so long Jenna had assumed that her mums belief that her new head teacher was the man by the lake was simply part of her mums madness. Her mum was always seeing people she was convinced shed seen before. Sometimes theyd be taller and shed say they were wearing lifts in their shoes, or blonder and shed say theyd dyed their hair, or younger and shed say theyd had a facelift. They didnt have to much resemble the person she was convinced they were. There was no rhyme or reason to her delusion. But this time her mum was right. They had seen Tom Fitzwilliam before. Hed been the man by the lake, the man the woman was shouting at. Jenna felt a shiver of unease run down her spine. 19 Freddie was sitting at the top of the stairs. The doorbell had just rung and hed heard a mans voice he didnt recognise. He pitched backwards when he saw who it was. For a moment his heart began to race. It was the big guy with the red hair and the tattoos: Red Bootss husband. What on earth was he doing here? Had he somehow discovered that Freddie had been secretly filming his wife? But as he listened he could hear that the big guy was being friendly. There was laughter. His mother said, Come in, come in. Can I get you a cup of tea? And the big guy said, No, thank you, Im fine. He was wearing nice shoes which he spent an inordinate amount of time wiping back and forth across their tatty doormat, like a tradesman. Freddie tiptoed to the next landing and listened to their voices coming from the kitchen. He caught the gist of the conversation. The big guy was going to be decorating their living rooms and the kitchen. Just normal colours, he heard his mother say. Off-whites probably. Any wallpapering? Oh no. No. I dont think so. I like plain walls. Freddie went back to his room and waited till he heard the front door opening and closing, his mother saying, Thank you so much! Well be in touch! before coming downstairs and saying, What was he doing here? I saw him when I was coming back from my run, his mother said. He was in paint-spattered overalls and I just thought, well, we seem to have a decorator on our doorstep and Id been thinking about finding one because this house She looked around it despairingly. Well, you know, its not exactly to our taste, is it? Freddie quite liked this house. It had dark blue walls and bits of mahogany panelling, strips of dark floral wallpaper here and there. It was scruffy but it had a bit of character, unlike most of the houses theyd lived in over the years. I dont want my room doing, he said. I like my room. Yes, well, we cant agree to anything until Ive had a quote back from him. And obviously Ill have to speak to your father. Freddie sat down on the settle in the hallway. What was he like? Who? The painter? Dont you even know his name? I didnt ask! Hold on She pulled a card from the console table. Here. Alfie Butter. Ha! What a funny name! She put the card back on the console. He was very nice. But young. You know? Not much upstairs. She glanced at him then as if shed just remembered something important. Are you hungry? she said. What would you like? What is there? It was a trick question. She wouldnt have been shopping. She only shopped when Dad was home. Dad was her first priority from the moment she woke up to the moment she went to bed. Gosh. Not much. Theres pasta? Or some nice bread. I could do you eggs on toast? Eggs on toast was his dads favourite dinner. He nodded. There was no point holding out for anything better. After tea, which he ate on his own while his mum had a shower and got changed, he went back to his room. Hed taken the long route home from school today, past St Mildreds, the private girls school three roads down, to check out Romola Brook, the new girl everyone at his school was talking about. Hed got some shots of her chatting with a guy from their sixth form. Hed gone in really close, got her pulling her hair from her face, touching her lips every now and then with her fingertips, her eyes staring at the pavement. Then hed followed her home. She lived in a tiny modern house in a new-build mews just outside the city. It had a Buddha out front and a longhaired chihuahua waiting for her in the front window. Hed photographed her letting herself in and bending down to greet the tiny dog. Now he loaded the photos and the film footage on to his PC and started to edit them. He pressed save to secure the changes hed made to the photos and then he went to his security log, as he did every evening, to make sure that nothing had been compromised. His heartbeat staccatoed for a second. There had been five invalid login attempts. Breathlessly, he clicked on Quick Access to see if files had been opened and then sat back heavily against the back of his chair, all the air leaving his lungs in one bolt. JT1.jpg. JT2.jpg. JT3.jpg. JTandBR1.jpg. JTandBR2.jpg. JT4.jpg. These were his early photos of Jenna Tripp and Bess Ridley. He hadnt looked at them in ages. He had not opened these files. Someone else had. And Freddie had no idea who it was. 20 Bess and Jenna laughed together as they tried to keep their footing on the cobbled streets in the stupid heeled boots theyd both packed for the trip. Theyd bought them in Primark, the week before, especially for Seville. The itinerary had specifically stated that footwear should be comfortable and practical. They had paid no heed. They were heading for dinner in the old town. The night was moon-bright and balmy and the group were in high spirits, loud, shouting over each other, laughing too hard, just about staying the right side of out of control. In the restaurant they were split up over four huge tables in a private room at the back. Each table was assigned a teacher. Jenna felt Besss boot connect with her shin when Mr Fitzwilliam came and sat down with them. Well, he said, lucky group B. Looks like youre stuck with me. Huge menus with laminated pages were passed around. Mr Fitzwilliam handed one to Jenna with a smile. Well, I dont know about you lot, he said, but I am starving. Didnt you have something nice at lunch, sir? said a boy called Ollie. I did, thank you, Ollie. I had some excellent alb?ndigas. Can anyone tell me what alb?ndigas are? Meatballs! someone shouted across the table. Yes. Exactly. I had meatballs. And if I recall rightly, Thomas here, he patted Thomas shoulder, had a delicious-looking bocadillo de tortilla. Anyone know what that is? A crisp sandwich! No, he replied. Not crisps. Thats a different sort of tortilla. Anyone else? Omelette sandwich? suggested Jenna. Yes. An omelette sandwich. Does anyone know what goes into a Spanish omelette? Hands went up. Eggs! said someone. Potatoes! said someone else. Jenna saw Bess staring across at Mr Fitzwilliam meaningfully. Then she looked around and saw that nearly everyone was staring at Mr Fitzwilliam meaningfully, hoping to be noticed, to be singled out for praise. They were all frantically trying to impress him, boys and girls, first by getting the answers to his questions right and then, when the conversation shifted, by trying to make him laugh. Which he did, frequently and with genuine pleasure. She looked at him, trying to see what Bess saw. She could tell that he must once have been quite handsome. And he did have a nice smile. But to her he was still just an old man. There was an area on the top of his head where his scalp glowed white. His hands were gnarly. And he had old man teeth: that nameless shade of putty. Mr Fitzwilliam turned and caught her gaze and she inhaled sharply as she saw something pass across his face. She couldnt pinpoint it or give it words. Words werent her strong point. She used an online thesaurus a lot at home to find the right words when she was doing her homework. But it was something primal and wrong. She lowered her gaze and felt her cheeks flush. Hed seen her curiosity and it had meant something to him. Hed reacted to it. She felt trapped somehow, complicit in something strange and unsavoury. And then the word came to her, the elusive word shed been chasing through her thoughts. The look that Mr Fitzwilliam had given. It had been predatory. Bedtime was 11 p.m. Lights out was eleven thirty. It was eleven twenty and the teachers would be coming round any minute to make sure everyone was tucked up in bed. But Bess was still not back from hanging out in Lottie, Ruby and Tianas room a floor above. Jenna had come back to their room early to do her skincare routine in peace. She sent Bess a WhatsApp message. WTF are you?? Youre gonna get a warning???? She stared at the sent message for a while, waiting and waiting for the two blue ticks to appear. But they didnt. The time turned from eleven twenty to eleven twenty-five. She sent another message. But still it went unread. Then she went to the door of their room and peered up and down the corridor. She could see Miss Mangan with her head round the door of Kat and Mias room, telling them to turn off their phones. Im going to stand here until I see them going off, girls. Ive got all night. Im not going anywhere. There were two more rooms to check on this corridor before Miss Mangan got to theirs. She sent a message to Lottie. Tell Bess to GTF down here now. Miss Mangans like 2 minutes away! The message immediately showed as read and a reply arrived a second later. Shes not here. She left like 20 minutes ago! She went back to the door and glanced up and down the corridor again. Miss Mangan was one door down. And then she saw Bess coming in the other direction. She was with Mr Fitzwilliam. Something deep inside Jenna clenched up hard. As they neared, Mr Fitzwilliam looked at Jenna, a smile buried beneath a faux-stern fa?ade. Jenna. I am returning your roommate. Found hiding underneath a bed in one of the boys rooms. I am not going to make a record of it because it is the first night and were all a bit over-excited. But seriously, the rules are there for a reason, Bess. Theyre not there to stop you having fun. Theyre there to protect you. What might have happened if youd had to find your own way back to your room in the middle of the night? Along these dark corridors? Who knows who you might have bumped into? Huh? Im really sorry, Mr Fitzwilliam, said Bess, her head bowed. He looked at Jenna, fresh-faced and scrubbed, her hair tied back, teeth brushed ready for bed. Keep an eye on her, he said gently. I can tell youre a sensible girl. Jenna nodded briskly. I dont want to have to be making any terrible phone calls to anyones parents. OK? Both girls nodded. And there followed a strange moment, brief but loaded. The two girls, one still in her party clothes, her hair awry and her heeled boots clutched in her hand, the other in pyjamas and ready for bed, and there, stationed between them, a tall, broad-shouldered man who was neither their father nor their friend. In the background of the vignette lurked the double bed spread with the ephemera of teenage girls: a red bra hooked over the bedpost, a crumpled, lipstick-stained tissue on the bedside table. The room held the sugary smell of the Superdrug beauty aisle, the medicinal tang of Clearasil. The scene seemed like a portrait, captured in minute detail with tiny touches of a tiny brush, before suddenly vaporising into nothing as Mr Fitzwilliam straightened and smiled and said, Well, goodnight, ladies. Get straight into bed. And Ill see you both for breakfast at eight thirty sharp. Bess dashed in and they closed the door behind him. But when Jenna put her eye to the spy hole in the door, she saw him there, just outside their room, his hands in his pockets, his gaze on hers. 21 21 February Rebecca was home when Joey got back from work on Tuesday evening. She was in the living room, a laptop on the table in front of her, her ears plugged with buds. Joey stood for a moment just at the door and took in the scene. She rarely saw Rebecca in the house. When she was home she was almost always locked away in her office on the first floor. Where had she come from, this woman? Where once there had been the nebulous, thrilling concept of the person her brother might one day end up with, there was now Rebecca. She didnt quite seem to fit the bill. It felt somehow as though shed wandered into the wrong room at an audition and been given a part in the wrong play. Not that her brother appeared to have noticed. For him it could have been no other way. But Joey felt cheated out of another outcome, another sister-in-law, a cool girl who liked a drink and a club and the occasional lost weekend. Or someone maternal and cuddly who might have plugged the hole in her life left by her mother. Joey had been invited to her hen night. Rebecca and a couple of friends had spent a day at the Thermae Spa in Bath and then had dinner at a posh hotel. Shed passed. Not worth leaving Ibiza for. But maybe she should have made the effort. Maybe theyd have bonded over some foie gras and things wouldnt feel so awkward between them now. Hi, she said loudly. Rebecca didnt hear her. Hi! she said again. This time Rebecca turned. Oh, she said, pulling out an earbud. Hi. Youre home early. Yes. I had a hospital appointment, so I came straight back. Oh, she said. Everything OK? Yes. Just a routine check-up. They took some bloods. She showed Joey the bloom of a dark bruise beneath a small plaster on her inside arm. But its all good. Good, said Joey. Thats good. How many weeks left now? Twelve. Ish. Wow, she said, in the absence of any more meaningful response. There followed a short silence. Joey could see Rebeccas fingers playing with the earbud shed removed upon Joeys entrance. She saw her gaze return to the screen of her laptop. Can I get you a cup of tea? she said. No. Rebecca shook her head apologetically. Thank you. You sure? Im sure, she replied, the earbud now held halfway to her ear. Thank you. Joey was about to leave the room, but turned suddenly towards Rebecca. I was just wondering, she said, how did you decide? That you wanted to have a baby? Rebecca let the earbud fall again and blinked at Joey. Im asking, she continued, because Alfie wants us to have a baby. Oh! Rebecca put a hand to her collarbone. Thats Well, its great. Of course its totally great. I love Alfie so much and I want to make him happy and Im going to be twenty-seven this year so its not as if Im too young or anything. And imagine how cute our babies would be? But I just I dont think Im cut out for it. Im not mother material, you know. When I see women with kids its like looking at people from another tribe, you know? I just think, Im not like you. And if I feel like that now, then Im scared that maybe Ill always feel like that, and then what? Well, have you told Alfie? No. I mean, how could I tell the man I just married that Im not sure I want to have his baby? For what its worth, Joey, Im not a baby person either. She put her hand to her stomach and looked down, then up at Joey. I never wanted kids. I still dont want kids. But Joey started. Jack wanted a baby. I want Jack to be happy. So. She smiled sadly and rubbed her stomach. Youll love it when it comes, said Joey, slightly desperately. Ha! And if I said to you, have a baby with Alfie, youll love it when it comes, what would you say? Id say She paused. Fair point, she said. Do you think youll still be living here, said Rebecca, when the baby comes? I dont know, she replied. Do you want me to still be here? There was a brief silence. Joey thought for a moment that Rebecca was trying to find a way to ask her to move out. But then she lowered her eyes to her bump and said, Yes. I think that Jack and I I think were really going to need you. 22 Jenna sent her mum a text that morning. When was it that we went to the Lake District? A moment later a reply came. Summer holidays, about five years ago. You were ten. Why? Nothing. Just couldnt remember. Did you water the cactus by the back path? Its not rained and theyre damp? No. And it has rained. The day before yesterday. Remember? They feel damper than they should. They feel freshly watered. Why would someone water our cacti? Exactly! I know! Its so crazy! These people! What will they think of next! Who are you texting? said Bess. Mum. Ah, Bess said, nodding with gentle understanding. She OK? Freaking out about someone watering the cactus. Bess shrugged and sighed. Your poor mum, she said. Bess was the only person apart from Dad and Ethan who knew the truth about Jennas mum. Being Bess she had no idea what to say or do about it. But that was fine. At least Jenna could be open with her without fear of judgement or consequence. She opened up Chrome on her phone and typed in Lake District 2011 Tom Fitzwilliam. All that came up was article after article about Mr Fitzwilliams illustrious career: the schools hed been parachuted into, the changes hed wrought, the miracles hed delivered. There were numerous photos of him outside numerous school gates looking masterful and imposing. But there was nothing related to him being in the Lake District five and a half years earlier. Aah! said Bess, leaning over and peering at the screen of Jennas phone. Is the old Mr Fitzwilliam magic starting to rub off on you too by any chance? Jenna pulled her phone away from Besss gaze. Fuck off, she said, appalled. No! I just remembered something about him. He was on a coach trip with me once, when I was small. And something happened. And I was just wondering about it. Thats all. Yeah, right. Bess stroked her chin sceptically. Right. Christ, Bess. I do not fancy Mr Fitzwilliam, all right? I think Mr Fitzwilliam is fucking gross. Hmmmm. And what was going on last night with you, anyway? What were you doing in the lads room? I wasnt in the lads room, Bess replied with a superior tilt of her chin. What? Well, I mean, I was in the lads room to start with and Mr Fitzwilliam did find me hiding under the bed but then we just sort of chatted for a while. Jenna sat up straight and stared at her friend incredulously. Chatted for a while? Yeah. Just like on a sofa, on the landing. I dont understand. What were you doing chatting on a sofa on the landing? I dunno. He started asking me about how I was enjoying my first time out of the country and then we walked past this sofa and we both just sort of sat down. And chatted. What were you chatting about? Just stuff. All the countries hes been to, countries he thought Id enjoy. He told me about his gap year and going inter-railing with his mates we should totally do that by the way and I dont know, just things like that. How long were you chatting for? On the landing? Ten minutes or so. And then he was like, Oh shit, look at the time, we need to get you back to your room before Miss Mangan finds you out of your room. But why didnt you tell me last night? Bess shrugged. You didnt ask. You were all just like Im going to sleep now and huffy. I was not huffy. Yeah you were. I so wasnt! I was just tired. Been up since bloody five in the morning. Jenna glanced at her friend. Dont you think its a bit strange? she said. Him doing that? Doing what? Talking to me? Whys that strange? I dunno. Hes, like, fifty; youre fifteen. It was bedtime. He should have just brought you straight back. Its fucking weird. Are you a bit jealous by any chance, Jenna Tripp? Fuck off! Jenna picked up a cushion and shoved it at Bess. Bess laughed and bashed it back towards her. Then there was the terrible sound of a smartphone hitting a tiled floor and they both stiffened and looked at each other before peering over the edge of the bed. Jenna leaned down to pick up her phone and held it to the light to check for damage. Bollocks, she said, bollocks. There was a chip in the corner of the screen. She fingered the chip gently. Shed only had the phone a few weeks. Bess looked at her and said, Im sorry. Then Jenna thought of tiny Bess sitting on sofa on a landing with Mr Fitzwilliam chatting about his childhood holidays and she felt a terrible stab of concern. Her beautiful, hopeless, vulnerable friend. Thats OK, she said, pulling Bess towards her for a hug, smelling the familiar tang of her scalp through her soft blond hair. Its only a phone. That night after dinner Jenna made sure she stayed close to Bess. Lottie, Ruby and Tiana came to their room and they mucked around on Snapchat and made prank calls to the boys and laughed like they might die of it until 11.15 p.m. when the other three dutifully made their way back to their bedroom on the floor above. Jenna could hear Miss Mangan coming down the corridor, the clicks and whispers of her visits to other rooms. She changed into her pyjamas and brushed her teeth, removed her make-up and squeezed a spot. As Bess slipped into the bathroom after her she heard a gentle rap at the door. She pulled it open expecting to see the pinched, anxious face of Miss Mangan. Instead she was confronted with the looming presence of Mr Fitzwilliam. She folded her arms across her chest, aware of the fact that she was braless under her vest top. Oh. Good evening, Jenna. Just thought Id better check in on Bess. I didnt find her hiding under any beds on the boys floor so Im just making sure shes with you? She is, she replied. Shes in the bathroom. Mr Fitzwilliam looked at the bathroom door and then back at Jenna. Are you sure? Yes. Totally. Shes getting ready for bed. Shes been in here all night with me. Bess! Jenna jumped slightly at the sound of Mr Fitzwilliam calling over her shoulder. Hm? came a muffled reply. Mr Fitzwilliam smiled down at Jenna as though he had been somehow vindicated. Good, he said. Thats very good. And then he was gone, the door clicking shut behind him just as Bess emerged from the bathroom, her toothbrush clenched between her teeth and a towel wrapped around her body. Washat Mishter Fitshwillum? she asked through her toothbrush, her eyes wide. Yeah. Checking up on you. Hes gone now. Bess pouted and went back in the bathroom to spit out her toothpaste and returned a moment later, smiling. See, she said. Isnt he just the sweetest, loveliest man in the world. Isnt he, like, everything? 23 22 February Since Monday night Freddie had stopped absorbing information properly. His mind roiled and cycled constantly with theories about his hacker to the point where hed been told off by Mrs Johnson in Latin for doing the wrong exercise when the right exercise was clearly written on the whiteboard. Freddie did not like being wrong and he certainly did not like being publicly trounced for being wrong and he carried the small humiliation around with him for the rest of the day along with the gnawing mystery of the hacker, so that by the time the bell went at the end of triple science on Wednesday afternoon he was ready to hit something. But then he thought of Romola Brook and her sparkling eyes and he thought: I would like to see her; it would make me feel better. So he turned left towards St Mildreds and he loitered on the other side of the street for a few moments waiting to see her emerge. There was no smarmy sixth-former hanging around her this time; she was alone, staring at her phone, oblivious to the boy across the road watching her with thirsty eyes. Mum, he heard her say into her phone as she crossed at the zebra, Im going to be a bit late. I have to go to Rymans to get some folders. Can you give me the money? When I get back? Or put it in my account. OK then, see you in about half an hour. He picked up his pace to follow her towards the high street. He watched her put earbuds in her ears and select something on her phone to listen to. She stopped for a moment outside Forever 21 and eyed a suede skirt and vest top in the window. He pictured her in it. The cinnamon of the suede would set off her chestnut hair perfectly, he thought, and suddenly he found himself mired in a fantasy scenario in which he entered Forever 21 and bought the suede skirt for Romola Brook and passed it to her on the street with some kind of suave commentary about her hair and her eyes and in this weird fantasy scenario he saw her smile at him and say, Wow, thank you, I love it. Shed stopped looking in the window of Forever 21 and was now heading towards Rymans. Her hair was thick and cut blunt at the ends. Some of it was tied back and the rest was left down and it swung side to side as she walked. She had thin legs, almost too thin, slightly string-like, and her gait was rather odd, as though she had a stone in one of her shoes, but this only added to her appeal, made her less perfect, less out of his reach. Freddie was about to take out his phone and get some shots of her stringy legs but then she stopped for a moment, just before turning into Rymans. Her body stiffened and stilled like a forest animal sensing it is being followed. Freddie turned away briefly and when he turned back Romola had gone into the stationery shop. He crossed the road and watched from the other side of the street. Something strange was happening to him. Hed done this a hundred times: watched people, followed them about, photographed them. But hed never felt nervous before, never worried about being caught. But something about having his private computer files hacked into had made him feel vulnerable and foolish. Someone had seen the unique mechanics of his own personal world, the world where he was the boss, and he didnt like the way it made him feel. It made him feel as though he was doing something wrong, as though he himself was in some way wrong. Freddie did not like feeling wrong. Freddie was never wrong. He felt a simmering of something deep inside him. He pictured himself walking into Rymans and deliberately pushing himself up against Romola Brook, wordlessly pressing her into the filing display; he imagined the sweet sugar of her shocked breath against his cheek, the slight tremor in her skinny legs. He wanted to do it; he wanted to do it really badly. It would purge the voice of the Latin teacher in his head; the thought of someone somewhere, a stranger or maybe even someone he knew, leafing through his files and photos, not understanding what they were, shaking their head in condemnation. Instead he waited for her to leave and he got a full-frontal shot of her face. When he got home he locked his bedroom door, drew the curtains, photoshopped Romolas head on to the body of a naked woman, blew it up to full screen on his laptop and pulled down his trousers. He stared at the image, his hand upon himself, and then he saw something in the eyes of the disembodied head, something that took his breath away. He saw a human being looking at him. He saw a skinny girl in a new town and a new school. A girl who loved a stupid tiny dog and wanted things from Forever 21 that she couldnt afford. A girl who went into Rymans for folders oblivious to the strange boy loitering outside. He pulled his trousers back up and shut down the image, feeling the shockwaves of something new and extraordinary ricochet around his head. 24 24 February Tom Fitzwilliam was back. Joey had heard a scooter zipping up the hill, looked from the top-floor window and seen a Deliveroo driver pulling off his helmet and reaching for the zip-up bag from the back of his moped. Shed watched as hed taken the bag to the Fitzwilliams house and then seen Tom appear in a soft grey jumper and jeans, take the delivery from the driver, hand him a tip and close the door again. Her heart raced and she felt a terrible blend of sickness and excitement. All week shed felt it like a lump in her gut, the thought of seeing him again. The lump had grown bigger and bigger as the week had gone on. On Wednesday shed passed his wife in the village. Joey had stared at her as she passed as though she were someone from a dream become real. The wife had seen her staring but not reacted, just mustered a small smile and carried on her way. Tom hadnt told her about what had happened at the Weavers Arms, it was clear. But still the lump was there, the hard knot of horror and anxiety. His car had remained in the same parking space all week and eventually Joey had come to the conclusion that he must be away somewhere, on business. And now he was home, just two doors away from her. She wanted to escape, not to be here. She texted Alfie: Where are you? Just got to work. Can you bunk off? No can do. Short-staffed. Can I come and sit at the bar? Sure thing babe. She threw on a black off-the-shoulder jumper and some huge gold hoop earrings, put on some red lipstick and her red suede boots and walked to the bus stop, her heart hammering under her ribs. As she sat waiting for the bus she gazed up at the painted houses. She saw the mottled kaleidoscopic glow of the stained-glass window in her brothers house and two doors down she saw the muted gold glow of lights shining in Toms house. At the top of Toms house, a figure moved across the window. She caught the glint of something in the figures hand. For a moment she thought it might be Tom but as the figure came closer to the glass she saw it was someone much smaller, either the wife or the son. Her breath caught. And then she heard a voice coming from behind her, a womans voice, saying, I see you. I see you up there! Joey jumped and turned. Behind her was a small woman, fine-boned and pretty, early forties or so. Joey turned back to the window and saw the figure at the top of Toms house slowly extend their middle finger and leave it there for a moment before walking away from the window again. Did you see him? the woman said, sidling up towards Joey. Up there? Joey nodded. There was something alarming about the woman, a dark intensity in her eyes, her body language. She was not a person to engage with in the dark. Hes always up there, said the woman. Always taking photos and staring through his binoculars. Hes just a child, you know, a teenager. Hes working for his father. Joey nodded again, politely, not wanting to add any fuel to this womans conviction that she was up for a conversation. Do you know his father? the woman said. The head teacher? No, she said. Not really. He brought you home in a taxi last week though? What? I saw you, last Friday night. He brought you home and took you to your front door. Suddenly it hit her. This was the woman; the woman hiding in the trees the other night. Hes been having me followed, the woman continued. Hes been getting his son to photograph me. And my daughter. The woman put a thin hand to her throat and sighed. Hes the main one. There are at least a dozen of them. But hes the main one. The first one. Its because of what we saw. Me and my family. Years ago. We saw a woman attack him and he tried to brush it off, tried to say she was just mad. But you know the saying: no smoke without fire. Why would a woman just randomly attack someone in the middle of the Lake District if they hadnt done anything wrong? Hm? Joey peered desperately up the road, praying silently for the bus to appear and rescue her from this unsettling encounter. Everyone thinks hes some kind of god. It makes me sick. If people knew, if people knew what he was really like, him and that son of his. The figure in the window of the yellow house had gone now and the strange woman began to back away. Just dont get involved. Keep away from him. Or youll end up like me tortured. Completely tortured. 25 Mum? Jenna had heard the front door click. Yes! Jenna came halfway down the stairs and peered into the hallway. Mum, whereve you been? That boy is up there again. In his window. And he gave me the finger. I dont blame him, Mum. Hes probably sick of you staring up there all the time. Jenna had been home for two hours and already she was aching nostalgically for the big sunny suite in Seville, the late-night dinners in noisy restaurants, the thrilling conveyor-belt toaster in the breakfast hall, the freedom from being constantly told that she was being watched and played with and persecuted. She was there too. At the bus stop. The woman Tom Fitzwilliam brought home in a taxi last week. I talked to her. She claims not to know anything about him. But I think she was lying. Oh God, Mum, tell me you havent been talking to strangers about all this. Please tell me you havent. This was a new development. Another step down the road to insanity. Well, I wouldnt call her a stranger. Shes a local. Locals talk to each other. And what did she say? This local woman? Her mum shrugged. Not much. And then her bus came. Oh God. Jenna sat heavily on the stairs and pulled her hair from her face. Mum. Youve got to stop going out and doing all this stuff. Youre becoming as bad as these people you claim are stalking you. Just suppose, just suppose for one minute that youre wrong; that Mr Fitzwilliam is not a bad man, that his son is not taking photos of you, that all of this is in your head how do you think theyre feeling? Knowing youre out there, creeping about, talking to their neighbours. Youll be making them feel as bad as theyre making you feel. Doesnt that seem wrong to you? Her mum rolled her eyes. When are you going to wake up, Jenna? Wake up and see the truth? I know it makes no sense. But its true and its happening. Every minute of every day. And Im not alone. Its happening to hundreds of people. Three that I know of just in the Bristol area. All being stalked. All being followed and persecuted. Its a terrible, terrible scourge, Jenna, but no one wants to talk about it. And men like Tom Fitzwilliam get to swan about in their big shiny cars without a care in the world with everyone thinking the sun shines out of their bloody backsides. Jenna inhaled slowly. She thought of Bess sitting on the landing with their head teacher in the middle of the night, the inappropriate, slightly loaded visits to their room, the red and yellow watch strap. Tell me again, Mum, she said, about the Lake District. Tell me again what actually happened. Her mum sat a few stairs below Jenna and held her daughters socked toes in her hand, massaging them absent-mindedly. Well, it was our third day, boiling hot, thirty-two degrees or something crazy, too hot for walking or cycling. So we booked ourselves into an air-conditioned coach tour of the Lakes. And there was a family on the tour. Him she gestured broadly in the direction of Melville Heights and his wife and boy. And Id noticed them because I thought he seemed a bit high and mighty, you know? As if being on a coach tour was somehow beneath him. And I noticed that the wife and the boy seemed sort of in awe of him, as though he was all that mattered in the world. Every time we got off the coach they would wait for him to lead the way. I just felt, I dont know, that there was something off with them. And then the first stop after lunch it was Buttermere, I think he was just getting back on the coach and this woman appeared from nowhere. A dark-haired woman, about fifty or so. She was wearing a black vest and gold chains and she was quite attractive, quite stylish, but her face was distorted with rage and she kind of threw herself at him, threw him up against the side of the coach and was shouting in his face: You fucking bastard, look at you! Just look at you! How can you live with yourself? How can you live with yourself? And she kept saying something about viva. Do you remember? Viva, this, viva that. I cant really remember. I just remember her thumping his chest over and over again with her fists. And then another coach went by and blocked our view and by the time the coach was gone, she was gone too and he was straightening himself up and looking really humiliated. He was trying to act like nothing had happened. When we got back on the coach I passed him and I said, Everything OK? And he looked at me as though a human being had never spoken to him before and he nodded, like this she nodded abruptly and the look he gave me. She shuddered. It cut through me like a knife. And that was that. That was the moment. The moment that changed everything. I saw him and he saw me, and for whatever reason he decided to start all this; he decided to make me his victim. He was on our trip. He came to Seville, Jenna said, knowing even as she said it that it was the wrong thing to say. Tom Fitzwilliam? Yes. The Spanish teacher couldnt come because his wife went into early labour. So Mr Fitzwilliam came instead. Her mum stopped massaging Jennas toes and stared up at her. Was he staying at your hotel? Yes. And her mother dropped her foot and placed her hand to her chest he was there, with you, all week? Uh-huh. God. Her mother cast her gaze to the floor as though she might find the correct response down there. She looked up again. Are you OK? Of course Im OK. Hes just a man. And did he did he say anything about me? About us? About the Lakes? Of course he didnt! Mum! I will grant you that he is the same man from the Lake District, youre right about that. He was there, on the coach trip, something strange happened, we have no idea what it was, and it had nothing to do with us, and now he lives over the road from us and its all just a coincidence. Thats all it is. Her mum shook her head. No, she said. It absolutely is not a coincidence. And the fact that you cant see it when its so incredibly clear scares me, Jenna. Promise me youll stay away from him. Please. Jenna sighed and got to her feet. Im going to unpack, she said. Stay away from him, her mother called after her, or Im taking you out of that school. 26 They ate pizzas in front of the TV. Dad was back in his usual spot next to Mum on the sofa, Freddie once again relegated to the armchair. He saw his mum turn her head a couple of degrees every now and then, almost as if she was checking that Dad was still there. There was a charge in the room, as though everyone was nursing a secret too big to be entirely contained. Freddie stole a glance at his dad. When was it going to come? When was he going to take him aside and quietly inform him that he was the one whod logged into Freddies secret account and seen his photos and that he knew exactly what hed been doing and what he intended to do about it? Good week? his dad asked him in a way that could have been loaded with hidden meaning (Has your week been unfavourably affected by the fact that I hacked into your files and discovered your reams of schoolgirl photos?) or nothing more than a casual enquiry after his week. Not bad, Freddie replied. Pretty boring. How was Spain? Well, thank you for asking. His dad gave him one of his dry smiles and a cocked eyebrow. It was superb. Wonderful children, wonderful staff, lots of learning, lots of fun. Unforgettable, I think it wouldnt be stretching things too far to say. Freddies mum threw his dad a look. Hows the baby? The bab? Oh, the baby? Doing very well apparently. Theyre still in the special care unit. But it seems that theyre out of the woods. Is it a boy or a girl? Its a girl, I believe. But please do not ask me her name or how much she weighs because I have absolutely no idea. His dad smiled and squeezed Mums knee. The gesture felt like an odd afterthought and for a moment Freddie felt that neither he nor his mother quite believed in the existence of this premature baby. For a moment the already charged air filled with small particles of yet another substance, a kind of nervous scepticism. For over a year, since their arrival in Melville, things had stayed on an even keel. For over a year there had been no week-long silences, no strange noises from his parents room, no feeling that something was happening within their marriage that he was not privy to but that might tear a hole through his very existence. Melville had been a good move; things had been good in Melville. After dinner he went back to his room. For a while he flicked through the photos of Romola Brook on his computer screen. He noticed things about her and collected them in the drawers of his mind like mementoes. The strand of her hair nearest her face that was two tones lighter than the rest. Her huge feet, surprisingly endearing. The odd earrings: a gold stud in her left ear, a diamond in the right. The streak of old black varnish on a bitten thumbnail. Something scribbled on the back of her hand that he couldnt read even when he zoomed in to the nth degree. In the photo of her leaning down to greet her tiny dog in her hallway, he zoomed in on her hand cupping the dogs chin, her nose held close to dogs snout, the tenderness of the moment. He zoomed in even closer to the background, trying to get a sense of her home, of how she lived, of who she might conceivably be. And then, before he could ask himself what the hell he thought he was doing, he opened a browser, went on to the Forever 21 website and ordered the cinnamon suede skirt. RECORDED INTERVIEW Date: 25/03/2017 Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW Conducted by: Officers from Somerset and Avon Police POLICE: So, Ms Mullen. Moving on. We have spoken to your employer, a Miss Dawn Pettifer? JM: Yes? POLICE: She came here of her own volition this morning, to tell us that she recalls a recent conversation with you where you apparently told her that your obsession with Tom Fitzwilliam was driving you insane. Is that correct? JM: No. No, thats not true. POLICE: So, Miss Pettifer was lying? JM: No, not lying, exactly. I may have said I had a crush on him. I may have said I was preoccupied with him. But I never said I was insane. POLICE: She claims you were agitated when you left work last night. JM: Well, yes, I probably was. I was about to meet a married man in a hotel room. I was nervous as hell. POLICE: OK. Moving on. We wanted to talk to you about this object. For the sake of our records, we are referring to item number 4501. A red suede tassel. Do you recognise this tassel, Ms Mullen? JM: Well, yes, sort of. I mean, it looks like the tassels on my boots. And one fell off. POLICE: It fell off? When exactly? JM: God. I dont know. It was just there. And then it wasnt. Could have been any time. POLICE: Well, this was found, Ms Mullen, at the scene of the crime, very close to the victims body. Do you have a possible explanation for this? JM: No. I mean, definitely not. It cant be from my boot in that case. Because I wasnt there. So it must be from someone elses boot. POLICE: Well, weve searched the victims house very thoroughly looking for items that this tassel might have dropped from, and there is absolutely nothing even vaguely similar. So, can you explain this being there, Ms Mullen, at the blood-soaked scene of a heinous crime? JM: No! Of course I cant. Its just well, its crazy. I mean, someone must have put it there. POLICE: You think so? Like who, for example? JM: Well, I dont know. I dont know who would put it there. But it wasnt me. II 27 7 March Joey thought she would be safe down in the village in the middle of the day. Shed thought Tom Fitzwilliam would be at school. But there he was, striding towards her in a dark suit and leather shoes, his bag slung diagonally across his chest. If she moved now he wouldnt see her. But she couldnt move. She felt the blood rush from her heart to her neck and then to her face and for a moment her breath came fast and hard enough to make her dizzy. She was outside the dry cleaners. She could go into the dry cleaners. But she had nothing to drop off and nothing to collect and the shop was empty and the man who worked in the dry cleaners was standing there looking bored. As she mulled this over she realised it was too late. Tom had seen her. She watched his face switch from blank unawareness to uncomfortable awareness in the space of a split second. She tried to do things with her own features to make the situation better, but failed, utterly. And then something extraordinary happened: Tom Fitzwilliam smiled. Josephine! he said, reminding Joey of her pathetic drunken attempts at sophistication. How are you? It was said with the emphasis on the you, which suggested genuine interest in her well-being, not on the are, which would have suggested concern or sympathy: How are you after the last time I saw you when you grabbed my groin outside a pub and I had to take you home shit-faced in a taxi? Oh, hi, she replied, managing to sound vaguely breezy. Im good, thank you. Im good. And Im God. I am so sorry. He had a hand up before shed even got to the second syllable of the word. Please, he said. Weve all been there. Well, I dont suppose you have. Weve all been there, he repeated with a gentle smile. Well, anyway, thank you so much for getting me home. I would have thanked you before, but I felt too embarrassed. Ive actually considered leaving the country. He laughed. Oh no, please dont do that! You only just got back. He remembered some of their conversation then. She smiled. And it looks like youll have to stay in the country for at least a couple of weeks as your husband is about to start decorating our house, I believe? Oh, yes. He is. Next week, I think? So Ive been told. My wifes project. But your house? She gave him a humorous dont-patronise-your-wife look. He gave her a you-got-me look and said, Yes. My house. Well, my rented house. My actual house is in Kent. But we dont get to live there. Because of your career? Yes, because of my career. The conversation paused for a moment and Joey gazed at the pavement, waiting for Tom to tell her that he was on his way, in a hurry, better get on. Instead he said, You know, I really enjoyed spending time with you at the gig. I dont often have the chance to get to know my neighbours. We should do something again? Maybe you and your husband could come over for a meal one night? And your brother and his wife? Yes, yes, that would be lovely. She nodded, slightly too hard. Maybe once Alfies finished decorating. Yes! he replied, apparently delighted. Yes. Like a small housewarming. Ill talk to Nicola. See what she thinks. Shes not much of a cook but She gave him another warning look. You can cook though, right? He winced, caught out again. No. Im not much of a cook either. Sorry, he continued. Im a bit of a muppet. Child of the seventies, still think radio alarm clocks are kind of amazing. Must try harder. Joey smiled. Well, she said, I guess Ill see you around. Yes, he said, returning her smile. Id like that. And again, she said, about the night at the pub. I am so sorry. He put his hands into his trouser pockets and rocked back lightly on his heels. He appraised her, sensitively. Please do not apologise. You cannot begin to imagine how flattered I was. You cannot begin to imagine how much He smiled regretfully. Well. You just dont need to apologise. Take care, Josephine, and see you soon, I hope. Yes, she said. See you soon. She stood for a moment after he went. The lump of anxiety shed been carrying around inside her had dissolved, turned into something warm and golden. Tom Fitzwilliam was flattered that shed practically sexually assaulted him. Tom Fitzwilliam had enjoyed the time hed spent with her. Tom Fitzwilliam liked her and wanted to get to know her better. She turned and caught the eye of the man behind the desk in the dry cleaners. He looked startled to have been caught staring at her. She waved at him and he waved back, slowly, dazedly, delightedly. 28 8 March Jenna was having lunch the following day when she saw Miss Farooqi approaching her across the classroom. Jenna, she said, when youre done, Mr Fitzwilliam would like to see you in his office. As Miss Farooqi swept back through the classroom to the door there was a moment of weighted silence followed by a zoo-like cacophony of noises. Bess threw her a look, a mixture of awe and horror. Oh my God, she whispered. Jenna finished her Weight Watchers chocolate bar, disposed of the wrapper and the rest of her packed lunch in a bin and slowly made her way down the corridor towards the suite of rooms where Mr Fitzwilliam, his two deputies and their secretary worked. It smelled different down here, away from the gravy tang of the dining hall and the pungent traces of unwashed PE kits. Down here it smelled of fresh flowers and dry paper. She peered round the door into Miss Farooqis office. She was peeling the film off a pre-prepared salad. You can go straight in, she said, sliding the packaging off a plastic fork. Hes waiting for you. Jenna nodded and turned the corner to the end office. Here was Mr Fitzwilliams perch: twice the width of the other offices, looking directly over the front entrance and the car park, long plate-glass windows the full width of the back wall. Mr Fitzwilliam sat not at his desk in the centre of the room, but at a small table to the left around which were clustered four squashy, dark red chairs. There was a heathery lambswool jumper over the back of his chair and his hair looked all messed up and staticky as though he had just that minute pulled it off. Jenna, he said pleasantly, so sorry to drag you away from your lunch break. I wont keep you long, I promise. Here take a seat. He pulled one of the squashy red chairs away from the table and she sat down. How are you today? He said this in that fly-buzzy, mindless way that adults sometimes did when they talked to children. Not looking for real answers. Just saying words. Good, she said. Then she cleared her throat. Nothing to be nervous about, he said, leaning towards her marginally and ramping up his eye contact. Just a well. Something thats playing on my mind a bit. And I wanted to run it by you. Before I take things any further. Jennas heart rate doubled. You live in the village, dont you? Just by the hotel? She nodded. With your mum? She nodded again. Mr Fitzwilliam sighed and steepled his fingers. He looked down and then up at Jenna and she felt a shiver go across the full surface of her skin. She saw it there, in his steady gaze, a hint of something as cold and dazzling as sunbeams ricocheting off ice. Her eyes fell to the red and yellow canvas strap of his watch. And your brother lives with your dad? Down by the coast? Yes. She tried to raise her eyes to meet his but felt them being dragged downwards by her discomfort. She stared at her fingernails in her lap, at the pale salmon polish shed painted on them two nights ago. She heard Mr Fitzwilliam draw in his breath and felt him lean a little closer towards her. My wife seems to think that your mother is stalking us. She stole a glance at him and saw the beginnings of a wry smile. Oh, she said. Right. Now, it could be that my wife is mad. She has been known to be a little eccentric. But generally speaking she does not make things up. So I thought, possibly misguidedly, that I might just run it by you, see if you had any insight? Any background? What did she say? she asked, quietly. Your wife? She said He paused, allowing the enormity of what he was about to say a moment to coalesce. That she has seen your mum outside our house taking photos and that your mother often follows her around the village. And once ran a few feet behind her while she was out jogging. While wearing her slippers. Its all a bit He paused again. Unsettling. Jenna hooked her hands into the sleeves of her jumper and then unhooked them again. She had no idea how to react. Is there anything going on at home, Jenna? Anything that it might be helpful for us to know about? Anything that might be impeding your learning? She shook her head. She did not want to be taken to live with her father. She did not want to go to a new school. She wanted to stay here until shed done her GCSEs. She had only two terms left. She needed everything to stay on an even keel until then. She just she began. She thinks she knows you. Thats all. Im sure she hasnt been following you about on purpose. Just, you know, trying to work out if youre who she thinks you are. The sound of excitable girls screams rose from behind the school like distant ghouls. Mr Fitzwilliam narrowed his eyes at Jenna and then readjusted his sitting position, his hand clasped to his tie. Right, he said, well, that might make sense. Any idea where she thinks she knows us from? She shrugged. A holiday, I think. Oh, he said. Any idea whereabouts? She shrugged again. Dont really know, she said. It was a few years back. And does she often recognise people? When youre out? Not really, she said. No. Because Mr Fitzwilliam adjusted his seating position yet again so that he was bent at the middle, his face not much more than a foot from hers interesting fact, but thinking you recognise people a lot can sometimes be a symptom of some mental health issues. Schizophrenia, for example? Jenna nodded. She could smell something sweet on his breath, something sugary and malty. I dont think shes got that, she said. He pulled away and smiled. Jenna allowed herself a deep breath. No. He pushed his tie back into place. No. I dont suppose she has. But could it be something else? Maybe? Because most people if they thought they recognised someone from a holiday would probably say something? Not he expelled a hunk of wry laughter follow them about? I dont really know what to say, said Jenna. He sighed. Well, maybe you could have a word with your mum when you get home? Tell her to come and have a chat, next time she sees me, or my wife? Say hello. Maybe we can work out where we know each other from? Yes? He smiled warmly. His laser-beam eyes turned soft. Yes. Jenna nodded eagerly, sensing the end of the conversation. Good. And remember, you have good friends here. Not just me and the staff, but your peers Bess, for example. People who really care about you. So never feel like you cant talk about things. Because you totally can. OK? OK. She nodded again and began to rise from the squashy chair. She felt the touch of Mr Fitzwilliams hand against her sleeve and something rushed through her, sluice-like, ice cold but red hot both at the same time. She pulled her arm away and covered the spot with her own hand. Thank you, she said. Bye. Goodbye, Jenna. Stay in touch. Bess ran to catch up with her at the end of school. For a moment Jenna was tempted to cold shoulder her but she knew that would be pointless. Bess didnt have the neural pathways to intuit things like cold shoulders. So, she said, falling into step with her as they neared the gates. What the hell? Tell? Nothing, she replied. It was nothing. It cant have been nothing, she said. No one gets called into the head teachers office in the middle of lunchtime for nothing. So? Urgh. Jenna capitulated. His wife told him shed seen my mum following them about. He was just asking me about it, thats all. Oh. Bess inhaled sharply and fell a step behind her before quickly catching up again. You told him, didnt you? said Jenna, stopping and turning to face her friend. I could tell he knew something. You told him about my mum. No! I didnt. I swear! He just he asked me if I knew what your mum looked like. That was all. Was this when you were chatting on a hotel landing in the middle of the night? Bess nodded, nervously. But it wasnt anything like what youre thinking! He just said, What does Jennas mum look like, and I told him and he nodded and that was that. But didnt you want to know why he was asking? I mean it couldnt just have been that. Like, no context, nothing. He must have asked something ese. Bess shrugged. He asked if she was all right. He asked if you were all right. I said Jenna inhaled. I said your mum had some issues but that it wasnt my place to talk to him about them and that if he wanted to know about them he should talk to you. She tipped her chin up stubbornly. So Fucking hell, Bess. Fuck! What? It was nothing! I didnt say anything! I swear. You said enough though, didnt you? Enough to have him asking questions. Enough for him to get other people involved. And now everythings going to get completely fucked up! God, Jen, its already fucked up! I dont see how it could get any worse! You know everyone in the village is starting to talk about your mum? My mum said when we were in Seville your mum was out on the high street all the time, talking to people, being really weird. Maybe its a good thing if Mr Fitzwilliam wants to help. Maybe you should let him. 29 The cinnamon suede skirt had arrived on Monday. Whats this, love? his mum had asked, handing him the package distractedly. Forever 21. Isnt that girls clothes? Its a thing, hed said, taking the parcel from her. Costume. For a project. I could have ordered that for you, shed said. No reason for you to be paying for school things out of your own money. I know. But you werent here and I needed it. Shed turned to locate her handbag, pulled out her purse. Here, shed said, fingering a twenty. How much was it? He hadnt wanted her to pay for it. Hed wanted it to come from him. Just cheap, hed said, four pounds. Something like that. Dont worry about it. No, shed said, moving her fingers to the coin section. No. I insist. Here. Shed handed him two two-pound coins. Hed taken them. Thanks, Mum. In his room hed unwrapped the package. The skirt had looked disappointingly cheap in the crinkly plastic bag but once hed pulled it out and refolded it and wrapped it in some silver tissue hed found in the Christmas bag under the stairs it looked fine. He took it to school on Wednesday in his rucksack, folded inside a manila envelope. Attached to the package was a note saying, From an admirer. Each time he reached into the rucksack he felt the contours of the thing like a whispered secret in his ear. He left school urgently at 4 p.m., whistled down the corridors and bolted through the front door, eyes straight ahead. He walked unnaturally fast towards town, casting his gaze over his shoulder every now and then, checking for the flash of royal-blue blazer. By the time he reached Romolas house he was breathless and sweating. He heard the high-pitched yap of the chihuahua as he approached the front door. He pushed the package swiftly through the letterbox, not waiting to see if anyone was home. He passed Romola on her way home a few moments later. Her hair was in two complicated-looking plaits that were woven into her scalp. He saw her eyes pass over the badge on his blazer before resting once again on the pavement beneath her huge feet. She didnt look at him. Didnt notice him. She passed by in a wash of odd sadness and gut-gnawing beauty. Freddie felt his head spin and for a moment he forgot how to walk. After a few steps he stopped and turned. He saw Romola from behind, watched her strange gait, her plaits, her glory, walking out of view. He overheard a conversation between his mum and dad the next morning. They were in the kitchen. From outside he could hear drawers sliding and banging, cutlery jangling, plates from the dishwasher being stacked one on top of the other, the low rumble of BBC news in the background. I spoke to the girl yesterday, he heard his father say. The daughter. Oh yes. Told her what you said. Freddie heard the plate-stacking come to a sudden halt, then his mothers voice. Yes? She says that apparently her mum thinks she knows us. That they met us on holiday a few years back. Oh. He heard a cupboard door open and then bang shut. And did they? Silence again. She didnt seem to know. She was vague. Had no idea even where this holiday might have been. Well, its not like theres a lot to choose from. Its not as if weve even really been on holiday the last few years. Apart from the Lakes that time and a few nights at your mums. And I certainly dont recognise her. Freddie drew in his breath. He hated thinking about the holiday in the Lake District. It had been the worst, worst, worst time. His dad hated holidays and had made it clear from the outset that he didnt want to be there and resented them both for persuading him to go. Hed been grumpy all week, which had made Mum even more subservient and desperate to please him and theyd both walked on eggshells constantly and it had been hot, so, so hot. The steaming B and B with the sealed-up windows, Freddies mattress on the floor at the foot of his parents bed, like a baby, even though he was nine years old, and his mum shushing him every time he opened his mouth to complain about something. And then thered been that day when they went on a coach. And that woman had come over and hit Dad. Really hit him, hard. Her face had been contorted and spit had spun from her lips as she shouted. Freddie had never before seen a person so angry, so black and red with rage. Then the woman had said swear words that wouldnt rattle Freddie now but had shocked him at the time, the sound of each word cutting into him like a knife. Shed been shouting at his dad: How can you live with yourself, she kept saying, how can you live with yourself? His dad had taken the woman by the arms, quite roughly, and moved her like a sack of rocks to a spot across the street. Freddie had watched as they gesticulated silently at each other, their words swallowed up by passing cars. Then thirty seconds later his dad had stalked back across the street and hustled him and his mum back on to the coach. Get on! hed hissed in Freddies ear, his hand tight round Freddies arm. Just get on. And everyone had been standing and staring, and Freddie had felt his face burn hot. When they got back on the coach Freddie peered through the window to the spot across the street where the woman had been standing with Dad. She was still there, encircled now in the arms of another woman, a younger woman, similar in appearance. The younger woman looked up at the coach and caught Freddies gaze. Inside that gaze he saw pure, distilled hatred. He looked away and buried his face in his mothers shoulder. When he looked back again, both the women were gone. Neither of his parents would talk about it afterwards. Just a loony, they said. Thought Dad was someone else. Mistaken identity. Just forget about it. There are some very strange people in this world. But the rest of the holiday was even worse after that. His mum stopped being subservient and was instead brittle and silent. His parents barely spoke a word to each other until it was time to come home. And then all they talked about was road directions. It was at least a week or two until things felt normal again. Anyway, he heard his dad continue, I said were here to help. I still suspect mental health issues. Its one thing to think you recognise someone. Its another to hide in the undergrowth taking photos. Freddie nodded to himself. Of course. They were talking about the weird woman across the way. The one who watched him when he was watching her. The one hed given the finger to. Jenna Tripps mum. Was it possible, he pondered, that theyd met them on holiday? Had they been at the B and B? Had they been there that day? Had they seen what had happened? Did they know the truth? A blurred figure appeared the other side of the stained-glass panes of the front door, followed by a polite thrum of the doorbell. Freddie opened it. It was him, the big guy with the tattoos, Joeys husband. He was wearing paint-splattered overalls and huge brown boots. He peered down at Freddie and said, Morning, mate, before wiping his feet at least ten times on the mat. How are you doing? Good, said Freddie, closing the door behind him. Glad to hear it, he said. Your mum about? Freddie pointed in the direction of the kitchen. He watched the big man head down the hallway, knock gently on the kitchen door, push it open and say, Morning Mrs Fitzwilliam, Mr Fitzwilliam, and then he heard his mum say, Please, Alfie, I keep telling you, call me Nicola. Cup of tea? The door closed behind him and Freddie stood alone. He grasped the banister for a moment. There was crazy stuff swirling about his consciousness, disconnected things randomly hurtling towards each other: the strange woman in the village and the angry woman in the Lake District; Red Boots and his dad; his dad and his photos; his photos and Romola; his mum and the big man in the kitchen come to paint their walls for no particular reason because wouldnt they be gone from here soon anyway? Wasnt that how their lives worked? The moment Freddie found a reason to want to stay somewhere his dad breezed in and told him it was time to move on. He rested his forehead against the cool wood of the banister and kicked his foot hard against the skirting board. He wanted he didnt know what he wanted. His giant brain was not helping him now. His ridiculous IQ was not showing up on a white steed to navigate him through this maze of weirdness. He just wanted to touch Romolas hair. That was it. He wanted to touch her hair and make her smile. 30 9 March Jenna saw Mr Fitzwilliam at his usual post the next morning, standing sentry at the school gates, greeting each student by name, throwing out hail-fellow-well-met greetings as though they were dog treats. She noticed how the children loved them, lapped them up. She could see why he was so lauded, why they called him the Superhead. He clearly knew how to run a school, knew what to feed it, how to nourish it, when to slap the back of its hand and when to pat its head. He had the aura of humorous capability and effortless control that children liked in an adult. But still. That didnt mean she had to like him too. He shouldnt have touched her arm like that in his office. It was unprofessional. A bit like talking to fifteen-year-old girls on hotel landings in the middle of the night. And he shouldnt have approached her directly about her mother. She was sure there were other paths he should have taken, protocols he should have followed. Jenna could see the shadow of a white T-shirt beneath his thin blue shirt. She didnt like the idea of it, of Mr Fitzwilliam in a white T-shirt. It was sort of gross. She passed him with pursed lips and a hard, awkward grind to her stride. Good morning, Miss Tripp, he said. Morning, sir, she said without making eye contact. But even without looking at him she could tell he was smiling down at her. She could sense his hands in his trouser pockets, the subtle rut of his hips, a twinkle in his eye. Was it in fact mildly inappropriate for him to call her Miss Tripp? She strode towards the front doors and marched up to the lockers. Bess was already there. Shed left without her this morning; Jenna had seen her halfway up the road out of the village. Shed written a text saying, Wait up bitch, but deleted it. Then shed watched Bess run to catch up with Lottie and Tiana and shed felt a stab of sickening sadness in her guts. Now that she was face-to-face with Bess she didnt know what to say. Sorry I didnt wait for you, Bess said, nibbling on a fingernail. Just felt a bit weird after yesterday. Jenna ached to say, Me too, and draw the line and make things good. But she couldnt do it. The words were too deeply buried under piles of other stuff for her to quite reach them. Whatever, she said instead. She unlocked her locker and started to fold her coat into it. She wanted Bess to say something, but she didnt. She just locked her locker and took her books and turned away. Jenna watched her walk down the corridor, tears aching against the back of her throat. Bess didnt eat her lunch in the classroom that day and she wasnt waiting for Jenna to walk home together at the end of the day either. Instead Jenna walked home alone, listening to a Sam Smith channel on Spotify. As she passed Caff? Nero on the other side of the main road she spotted Besss creamy blond head, tipped back with laughter, surrounded by the heads of Tiana and Lottie and Ruby. Jenna turned the volume right up and walked faster. As she walked she became aware of someone behind her, matching her pace. She turned and saw a boy wearing a black blazer from one of the posh schools across town. She recognised him, vaguely; he was familiar. As her eye caught his he picked up his pace and stood alongside her. Youre Jenna Tripp? said the boy. He was odd-looking; around the same height as her, a pinched face, too much very straight hair growing downwards from his crown like a spillage, a slight air of dark superiority. She suddenly realised that it was Mr Fitzwilliams son. She pulled out her earbuds and nodded. Freddie Fitzwilliam, said the boy, holding out his hand for her to shake. My father is the head at your school. She stared at him, not sure how to respond. And I live just over there. He pointed towards Melville Heights, a stripe of dark colour in the distance. Near you. He paused and took a deep breath. Can I ask you something? I dont know, she said. It depends. Its about the Lake District. She stopped walking and turned to him. What about it? Is that where your mum recognises my dad from? What? I overheard my dad telling my mum that the reason your mum keeps following him is that she remembers him from a holiday. And weve only been on one holiday. And that was the Lake District. Was it that? Were you there? Jenna shrugged. Dont know, she said. Cant remember. Why does it matter? The boy called Freddie stared intently at a spot on her shoulder, stepped from one foot to the other and back again. He put a delicate hand to the side of his face and made a strange noise. He looked as though he was about to say something and then he suddenly brought his gaze from her shoulder to her face and said, It doesnt. Really. Forget I said anything. And dont tell my dad. She shook her head slightly. Promise. Yes, she said. Yes. Whatever. She wanted this boy gone; she wanted this encounter to end. He looked once more from her shoulder to her face and then back again before picking up his pace and darting ahead of her. She stood in place watching him until his outline was a smudge in the distance and then she carried on home. Her mum was at the computer when she got back. She was on one of her chat rooms, one of the many places on the internet where she could go to have her craziness validated. Gang-stalking. Jenna had googled it the first time her mother had triumphantly lifted her head from her laptop, eyes blazing and said, Its real! Its happening to thousands of people all over the world! Im being gang-stalked! It belonged to the same school of delusion-based psychiatric disorders as Morgellons and alien abductions. Her mother genuinely believed that she was being persecuted by a huge network of strangers, and that Mr Fitzwilliam was the puppet master. She believed that strangers came into their home while they slept and rearranged things and stole things and damaged things, just to mess with their heads. Her mother believed that her persecutors saw it as a kind of perverse hobby, a huge, boundless real-life game that ate into their own time and finances. She believed that she was being persecuted for her many political protests as a young person. She believed that Mr Fitzwilliam was not a head teacher but a powerful man with connections to the government who was being sent into schools and communities to manage the gang-stalking from the inside. Look, said her mother, resting her e-cigarette on the table next to her and turning the screen of her computer to face Jenna. Look whats happening. Just across the border in Mold. Theres a woman, same age as me, same political history as me. Mr Fitzwilliam was the head at her local school before he came to Melville and it happened to her too. It started from the minute he arrived, she says. Scratches on her car. Chips in her kitchen surfaces. Light bulbs loosened. Bits of broken glass in the bath. And she says she was in the Lake District too. Jenna stopped unzipping her rucksack and stared at her mother. What? When we were there? No. Her mother returned her gaze to the screen, picked up her e-cigarette and inhaled deeply. No. When she was a child, I think. But still. Jenna rolled her eyes and pulled her homework books out of her bag. She knew that Mr Fitzwilliam had been the head at a school in Wales before hed been brought into Melville Academy. That much was probably true, but the rest of it She went into the kitchen and made herself a low-calorie hot chocolate with a sprinkle of miniature marshmallows. She took her homework and the hot chocolate up to her room and arranged herself cross-legged on her bed. Is he there? she heard her mother call up the stairs. Jenna didnt even need to peer from her window to verify that the innocuous bespectacled man who sat at his computer every evening in the house behind theirs would be there, because he always was. No, she called down. Cant see him. She pulled out her phone, desperate to text Bess or Facetime her, desperate to tell her about her freaky encounter with Mr Fitzwilliams son on the way home from school. She opened WhatsApp and held her finger over the video call button. But then she put the phone down again. Bess was probably still in Caff? Nero with their friends. Instead she opened up her laptop and typed Tom Fitzwilliam Mold into her browser. The school in Mold had brought him in in January 2014. Hed turned it from a school in special measures to an outstanding school within two years and left for his new role in Melville at the end of the winter term in 2016. Before Mold hed been in Tower Hamlets. Before Tower Hamlets hed been in Manchester. And before Manchester, back in the year 2001, the year Jenna had been born, hed been promoted to deputy head of a school in Burton upon Trent where hed taught since he was twenty-eight. Mr Fitzwilliam was squeaky clean. His reputation was unblemished. Everywhere he went he brought nothing but light and harmony. Happy children and sunshine. But the woman in the Lake District didnt like Mr Fitzwilliam, Jennas mad mum didnt like Mr Fitzwilliam and now, for no particular reason, Jenna herself did not like Mr Fitzwilliam. Was the woman in the Lake District also mad, perhaps? And in that case, was she, Jenna, perhaps mad too? She thought back to her encounter with Freddie Fitzwilliam and her curiosity began to bloom. What had he wanted to say to her? And might it have shed some light on the strange things shed been thinking and feeling? She closed her laptop and picked up her phone again. She checked Snapchat to see what Bess was up to but she hadnt posted. She felt a terrible hollowness open up inside her, a sense that she was all alone, that she had in fact always been all alone, that the corners of her life were folding in and folding in and that there was nothing she could do about it. 31 Freddie caught his breath at the top of the escarpment before straightening and continuing to his front door. He had not meant to approach Jenna Tripp like that. He hadnt even been expecting to see her. He did sometimes see her on the walk home, but she was usually with Bess or some other girls. It took him by surprise to see her walking alone. It had seemed preordained in some way, so soon after the question of the Lake District had raised its ugly head again. He thought, as he followed behind Jenna Tripp, that it must mean something, her being there, alone, right then. Hed thought it must be destiny. Hed thought a lot of strange and entirely fatuous things (how could someone as clever as him be thinking about destiny, for goodness sake?) when shed turned suddenly and clamped her eyes on his and hed had to wing it, horribly, with panic blowing and building inside him at the realisation that he was much closer to her than hed thought he was, oppressively close, and that the only way to make it seem better than it was, was to make it look as though he was deliberately catching up with her to start up a conversation. Once hed started the conversation hed felt a terrible awareness growing and boiling inside him, from the pit of his gut upwards, that not only was he having a weird conversation with a stranger but that the stranger was a teenage girl and that it was, in fact, quite possibly the first time hed had a conversation with a teenage girl since becoming a teenager himself. And Jenna Tripp, now he was here, standing right next to her, was even prettier than she looked from a distance and her lips were very full and soft and her breasts made a shape in the fabric of her blazer that was both innocuous and awe-inspiring. He found that he could look neither at her face, because he wanted to touch her mouth, or away from her face, because then there were breasts, so had chosen instead a neutral corner where her shoulder met the wall of the shop behind her and fixed his gaze there. And then hed realised that he was mad to be having this conversation with her, that she would tell his dad and that his dad would then know hed overheard their conversation, and that anyway, he didnt really know what it was he was trying to uncover, that he shouldnt have approached her before properly formulating a line of enquiry. The whole thing had been shambolic and embarrassing and humiliating and that was why hed needed to stop for a moment before he could face the normality of walking through his front door. Instead, though, he was confronted by a stepladder and paint-spattered dust sheets flung up the stairs and the smell of wet paint and the entirely abnormal sound of his mum laughing in the kitchen. He followed the sound and came upon his mother leaning up against the kitchen counter, her hands wrapped around a mug of tea and Alfie the painter sitting across from her at the kitchen table in his overalls, huge long legs crossed at the knee, fingertips tapping the sides of another mug, halfway through a story that was clearly the funniest thing his mum had ever heard. Good evening, my friend, said Alfie the painter. Afternoon, Freddie replied with a satisfying spritz of pedantry. Hello, darling. His mum turned briefly and hit him with a smile the likes of which he had not known she was capable of producing. Alfies telling me stories about being a groundskeeper at a dreadful-sounding holiday resort in Ibiza! You wouldnt believe the things they get up to on these all-inclusive holidays! Alfie threw Freddie a look of what could only be described as awkward regret. Freddie suspected that he had not meant his stories to elicit such amusement but that now they were hed decided to go with the flow. Anyway, said Alfie, giving the mug one last ripple of his big, paint-stained fingernails and lowering his gigantic foot to the floor. I had better get back to it. Ive got one more coat to do on the skirting boards before I go. Thanks for the tea, Nicola. Freddie stared at him. He tried to work him out, ferret out some dark intention, some element of shade or wrongness. But there was none to be found. He was as he appeared. A large, harmless man of small ambition and mediocre intellect. But something about him had caused his mother to postpone her afternoon run, to drink tea in the kitchen, to laugh, really properly to laugh, to glow, even. Freddie added this to the growing conundrum of his entire existence and went to his bedroom. Freddie had completely abandoned The Melville Papers. He no longer logged anything that he saw from his bedroom window, not even Jenna Tripp and Bess Ridley in their PE kits. The comings and goings of Lower Melville were of no interest whatsoever to him any more. The truth was that all of Freddies time these days was taken up in pursuit of Romola Brook. Or not so much in pursuit of, but in paying homage to. Appreciating. Adoring. Studying. Learning about. Hed started a new log. It was called The Romola Papers. He followed her home most nights now, if she happened to leave school at the same time as him. Last night shed gone home via Tesco Metro where shed picked up a packet of custard creams and some dog food. Hed added this fact to his log. Just in case he ever wanted to buy her biscuits. Tonight she hadnt been there. Hed waited for ten minutes until the school caretaker had come and locked the gates and then hed given up. But that was OK because he could still find her on the internet. He placed his camomile tea on his desk, removed his tie and clicked his way on to a conversation that Romola was having on Instagram with someone called LouisaMeyrickJones. It was pretty boring. To do with a teacher whod been unfair during lunch break and how so and so had been in tears and then so and so joined in and there was lots of talk about how maybe they should report the unfairness and so on and so forth and Freddie was about to switch screens and find something else to do for a while when someone else popped up and said something about the spring ball. He read on. It was a joint event with Freddies school, just over a fortnight away. A few weeks ago, he would barely have noticed the reference. But now he saw it as the portal to something extraordinary. Mum! he called down the stairs. Are we doing anything on the twenty-fourth of March? Its a Friday? He waited a moment for his mother to reply. I dont think so, she replied. Why? Theres a party I want to go to. A type of ball. At my school. Can I go? Of course you can, darling! How lovely! The tickets are really expensive, he called down. Twenty-five pounds. Am I still allowed to go? Yes. His mothers face appeared at the bottom of the staircase. Absolutely. I think its great that you want to go. Well have to get you a tux! How handsome youll look! Just imagine it! 32 10 March Joey ignored the insistent beeping of the car horn, at first. Either it was someone hooting at her from a white van in which case she had no interest in looking up and having to deal with some moron and his mate with their tongues hanging out. Or it was someone hooting at someone else entirely and then shed look like a sad loser whod been secretly hoping it was two morons in a white van. But then she heard a male voice calling out Josephine! and she turned to see Tom Fitzwilliam leaning from the passenger window of his car and signalling for her to approach. Can I give you a lift? Im heading into town. He pulled his car into a space alongside her and she looked at him, then up towards the city. Shed been on her way to the bus stop. Er, yes. Thank you. If youre sure? Of course Im sure! Jump in. She slid in next to him and reached for the seat belt. This is very kind of you, she said. Not at all. I see you at the bus stop a lot but Im usually heading the wrong way for you. He turned to her and smiled and Joey thought: I am in a car with Tom Fitzwilliam. I am in Tom Fitzwilliams car. Here I am. I am here. It is happening. Right now. She clicked her seat belt into place and returned his smile. Well, thank you, she said. And then, Where are you off to? Not going into school today? No, he said, peering into his wing mirror ready to pull back into the morning traffic. Today I have a big meeting at the town hall with the LEA. Id love to tell you all about it, but then Id have to kill you. He smiled again and there was something wicked in it, something that made her feel like maybe he actually would. So, youre still at the soft play centre? he said, eyeing the logo on her polo shirt. Unfortunately, yes, she said. Although it is growing on me. Nice people. People are everything, he said. Thats one thing Ive learned. If youre with the right people then youre generally in the right place. Unless its a prison. She laughed. And then immediately hated herself for the sound of her laughter, so harsh and fake. No, he said. Even if its a prison. Seriously! Or at least, if you are in prison because youve done a bad thing and not because of a terrible miscarriage of justice. She ran her hands down the leather sides of her seat. How many times had she stared into the passenger side of Toms car when it was parked outside her house, imagining herself sitting right here? And now it was actually happening and Joeys head could barely process anything. She pulled herself straight and shook her head slightly. So, youre not still planning on leaving the country, then? he asked with a small smile. No. She shook her head. No. Im over that. Good, he said, thats good. The traffic out of Melville was heavy and there was a chance, without the expediency of bus lanes, that she might arrive late to work. She did not care. She breathed in the smell of Tom Fitzwilliams car: worn leather and showered man. She stared at his hands where they gripped the steering wheel. Such good hands. She could not look at them without imagining them on her face, inside her clothes, pulling at her. She felt her need for him bubbling up inside her, so fast and so red hot that she was convinced he must be able to tell what she was thinking. As they approached the turning to the Academy she watched the sea of grey blazers pouring from all directions. It was incredible, she thought, that the mild-mannered man sitting next to her was responsible for each and every one of these half-formed people every single day. What about you? she asked. Do you think youll stay in Melville for much longer? Well, weve only been here a year, he said. Id like to see through two years minimum. Thats when you know that all the huge changes you made when you arrived have rooted themselves. Its like snagging, you know. You want to be around just to tidy up all the bits you missed when you were doing the big job. Have you ever failed? she asked. He glanced at her quickly before returning his gaze to the windscreen. Failed? Yes. At one of your schools? Have you ever been brought in to fix a school you couldnt fix? He smiled. No, he said, or at least, not yet. What would you do? If you couldnt fix it? I dont know. Ive genuinely never thought about it. They fell silent for a moment. The traffic barely moved, and Tom pointed over Joeys shoulder. Oh, look, he said, theres the bus you would have been on if I hadnt picked you up. They watched its wide rear-end pass them by in a wreath of grey fumes. Sorry, he said. Youd have been there earlier if Id left you. I forgive you, she said. He turned and smiled. Good, he said. Good. So, she said a moment later. How long have you and Nicola been together? Oh, he said, God. Im not sure. Twenty years, I guess. Something like that. And is your son is he yours? Or both of yours? He laughed. Youre very full of blunt questions. Sorry. Its just Nicola looks so young to be his mum. I thought maybe she was a second wife? No. Very much a first wife. Joey nodded, running some vague arithmetic through her head. If Nicola was the age she looked roughly the same age as Jack and Rebecca, then she and Tom must have got together when she was No. She must be older than she looked. Where did you meet? We met, as unromantic as it sounds, on a bus in Burton-on-Trent. She came up to me and told me that Id been a teacher at her school. She was a schoolgirl? Tom laughed. No! Not then. She was nineteen, twenty, something like that. She remembered me, but I didnt remember her. I didnt actually teach her. She was in a lower set. Well, phew, thank goodness for that because that would have been a bit cringey. Would it? Why? She shrugged. I dont know. Teachers. Students. Its all a bit murky, isnt it? He turned to her and for a moment she thought he was going to shout at her, tell her she was wrong. But then his face softened and he smiled and said, I suppose it could be. But in this case, it was murk free, I promise. Joey smiled tightly and changed the subject. So, does your son go to your school? To the Academy? No. No. Most definitely not. Not, of course, that theres anything wrong with my school. Clearly my school is brilliant! But its easier, when you move around a lot, to go private, otherwise youre farting about with catchment areas and waiting lists and criteria. Private you just show up with your chequebook and your childs last report card and youre away. Jack tells me your sons a genius? Yes. He is a bit. Very high IQ. Brilliant at languages and technology. Regional chess champion a couple of times. And hes already done three GCSEs and hes only in year ten. So yes. Very bright. But hes a funny little guy. Is he? Yeah. He is a bit. I think hes just starting to notice girls as well. Which should be interesting. Not sure his basic skill set really extends to charming the ladies. But well see, I suppose. Tom looked at her. His eyes, she noticed for the very first time, were, like her own, green. Only 3 per cent of the population of the world has green eyes. Her mother had always told her that in an effort to make her feel special. Jacks eyes were blue. Blue was very common, apparently. Her mother had been aware of how inferior she felt to her brilliant brother and was always keen to give Joey a little boost where she could. Youve got green eyes, she found herself saying. Have I? he said. Yes! She laughed. Surely you know what colour your eyes are? Not really, he said. I think I thought they were a kind of murky blue. Ive never really thought about it. Joey narrowed her eyes at him. Was he being disingenuous? Well, theyre green. Officially. And I should know because mine are green too. He turned briefly to look. Yes, he said. So they are. You have very beautiful eyes. If thats an OK thing to say? It depends on the context, she replied. And is this the right context to tell you that you have beautiful eyes? I dont know, she said. I think so. Phew, he said. Thats a relief. Theyd arrived in the city now. The early morning streets of Bristol thronged with people heading to work. An awkward silence descended. You know, said Tom, peering at the traffic stretching towards the next junction, it would probably be quicker for you to walk from here. Yes, Joey agreed quickly. Yes. It probably would be. Next time the lights go red, you can jump out. Yes. OK. She unclipped her seat belt. A sensor began to ping. She waited for Tom to slow the car to standing and then she said, Thank you for the lift, and he said, You are most welcome, and she searched his face for something, some other meaning, some sense that he didnt want her to go, that he was fighting a terrible urge to pull her back, to grab her, to push his mouth on to her mouth and make the cars behind hoot their horns with frustration at being kept waiting. She searched for a full five seconds until Tom looked ahead and then back at her and said, Quick, theyre changing to green again. She got out of the car and dashed to the pavement. The lights changed, and she watched Toms car pull slowly forwards and away from her. She shivered a nauseating combination of embarrassment and lust then turned and headed to work. RECORDED INTERVIEW Date: 25/03/2017 Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW Conducted by: Officers from Somerset and Avon Police POLICE: How long would you say your infatuation with Mr Fitzwilliam has been growing? JM: I wouldnt call it an infatuation. Just a mutual attraction. POLICE: Well, in that case, how long would you say it has been since you discovered your mutual attraction? JM: I really dont know. I suppose since the first time I saw him. POLICE: Which was? JM: Early this year? January? POLICE: And this mutual attraction how did it manifest itself? JM: I dont know what you mean? POLICE: I mean, were there clandestine meetings? Lingering looks? JM: There were looks, I suppose. I dont know if they were lingering. POLICE: For the purpose of the recording I am showing Ms Mullen a series of photographs. Numbers 2866 to 2872. Could you describe these photographs to me, if you would? JM: Theyre photographs of me. POLICE: And what are you doing in these photographs? JM: Im looking at Tom Fitzwilliams house. POLICE: And can you tell me where these photographs were taken? JM: They were taken on the path around the back of the houses. POLICE: So you are familiar with the back exits to the houses on Melville Heights? JM: Yes. Yes I am. POLICE: And these, Ms Mullen for the sake of the recording, I am showing Ms Mullen another set of photographs, these numbered 2873 to 2877 could you describe these photographs, please? JM: Theyre photos of Tom Fitzwilliams house. POLICE: Or, more specifically, of the inside of Tom Fitzwilliams house? JM: Yes. It looks like it. POLICE: These are photographs we took off your phone just now, Ms Mullen. Could you explain what photographs of the interior of Mr Fitzwilliams house were doing on your phone? JM: Yes. I can totally explain it. My husband did a decorating job for them. I said Id take some pictures for him, so he could show them to other clients. POLICE: And this one, in particular. Could you describe this photograph, for the recording? JM: Yes. Its a photograph of the conservatory thing at the back of Toms house. POLICE: Clearly showing, I think youll agree, a broken window. JM: What? POLICE: I am showing Ms Mullen a detail on photograph number 2876. Could you describe what you are looking at? JM: Its one of the windows. Next to the back door. Its tied together with string. POLICE: Thank you, Ms Mullen. JM: But I didnt even notice it. I didnt even know POLICE: Thank you, Ms Mullen. That will do for now. 33 10 March Mum! Jenna peered behind her mums bedroom door. She wasnt there. She went to her own room and knelt on her bed so that she could look down into the back garden. Before shed started using e-cigarettes, her mum had spent hours out in the garden, smoking. Her smoking table was still there: the sad chair by the sad table, the sad ashtray full of damp, mulchy old butts. Now she rarely went out there. It was a slight improvement, but not much. There was no sign of her mum in the garden so Jenna pulled her trainers back on and then her hoodie, and headed out into the early evening gloom towards the bus stop outside the Melville. This was her mums favourite vantage point for watching Tom Fitzwilliam and his family. Her mother was not there. She crossed the road and went to the bottom of the escarpment, peering up the road to check that her mother wasnt hiding in the undergrowth near his house again, and as she stood there, her hands knitted together, unsure what to do, she became aware of a brilliant blue light ricocheting off windows and cars. She followed the source of the light to a silently approaching police car. The car slowed as it made its way down the high street and then pulled up opposite Jenna, right next to the Melville. Two policemen exited the car, adjusted their uniforms, one said something into a walkie-talkie and then they entered the hotel. Jenna felt her heart contract and then thump. She crossed back towards the hotel and peered through the window into the bar. There she saw exactly what she had expected to see. Her mother sitting at a table by the bar being spoken to by one police officer while on the other side of the bar a worried-looking couple and the manager talked to the other police officer. Fuck, she said, under her breath. Fuck. She pulled in her breath and walked into the bar. Ah! she heard her mother say. Heres my daughter. Shell tell you. Shell tell you everything. Jen. Come over here. The bar fell silent; all eyes were on her and her mother. Whats going on? she asked the police officer. Could you confirm your name? And your relationship to Mrs Tripp? Im Jenna Tripp. Im her daughter. And how old are you, Jenna? Im fifteen. Nearly sixteen. The police officer turned to the bar manager and said, Is this OK? Shes under age. The manager nodded and the police officer said, Im PC Drax and weve been asked to come and talk to your mother about some alleged threatening remarks made to some other patrons. Apparently she was refusing to leave. Her mum tutted and rolled her eyes. They were not threatening remarks, officer. For Gods sake. We were having a conversation! Jenna turned to look at the couple sitting across the room who could barely make eye contact with her. She had no idea who they were. Thats the thing, her mother continued. No one will talk about this stuff. No one will admit that its happening. We sit in our little cotton-wool cocoons pretending that the world is all soft and safe and lovely because we cant face the truth. Theyre all in it. Him up there she pointed towards Melville Heights half the village, probably. And this isnt just about me. Im not that stupid as to think that Im the only one who gets all this all this shit. Its happening on a global level. And there are other people like him she pointed upwards again powerful people. All over the world. And if we dont talk about it, it will keep on happening. And I heard these nice people just now, while I was standing outside, I heard them talking about him and saying what a great job hes doing and all I said was you dont know the half of it, but nobody wants to hear it, nobody wants to bloody hear it. Her mother kept talking and Jenna stared at her and thought, This has suddenly become something much bigger than me. Is there anyone you can call? PC Drax asked her. An adult? Jenna looked at her phone clutched inside her hand and thought that she should phone her dad. Then she thought that if Dad came hed make her go back and stay with him. And if she went to stay with him then she would end up living with him and she didnt want to live with him because her life was here. And then she thought of Bess, who had once again not waited for her this morning or after school this evening, and she looked at her mother who was very close to as far as she could go in life without some serious help from the outside world, and she wondered if the life she had here was worth as much as shed always thought it was. My dad lives in Weston-super-Mare, she said. I could call him? Yes, said the police officer, maybe you could. She typed in her dads number and watched the couple across the way talking to the other PC. They were shaking their heads and saying, No, no, its fine. And you know, her mother was saying, in actual fact it should have been me calling the police. To report an assault. This gentleman she pointed at the manager was really quite physical with me. The manager rolled his eyes. I barely touched her, he said. Literally, just put my hand on her elbow trying to encourage her to leave. But she refused. Her fathers phone rang and rang and rang. Jenna pressed end call and looked at PC Drax. No reply, she said, a whisper of relief in her tone. Where do you live? Just around the corner. Literally one minute away. Do you think you could get your mum to come home with you? Now? Theres no charges to be brought here. I think its best if we can just end this nice and quietly. What do you think? Yes, Jenna said brightly. Yes. I can get her home. Mum? She went to her mums side and touched her shoulder. Her mother clasped her hand over hers. My daughter knows what Ive been through. She can tell you. She can tell you everything. Maybe then someone will listen. Mum, were going home now. Jenna gently pulled her mum to her feet and started to lead her towards the door. Ive written to the chief superintendent three times in the last six months. Ive written to my councillor and my MP. Nobody wants to know. I get fobbed off with these meaningless stock replies. Maybe now, maybe someone will actually listen. And you two! Her mother turned suddenly as they neared the front door and pointed at the embarrassed-looking couple. Im sorry I had to approach you both so heavy-handedly. I can see that wasnt ideal. But as long as decent people like you keep believing what youre told about people like him, nothing will ever change. Come on, Mum. Jenna kept her moving. The police officer held open the door and finally her mum was out of the hotel bar, on the pavement. People stopped and watched. Traffic slowed as it passed. The two police officers escorted Jenna and her mum back to their house and stayed for half an hour, asking Jenna lots of questions, the answers to which she knew would be going straight to social services. No, she said, her mother had never approached strangers before as far as she was aware. Most of the time, she said, her mother sat at her computer. Most of the time she said her mother was perfectly normal. And, well, yes, maybe she had noticed a slight increase in her mothers paranoia over the past week or so. Her mother had always been up and down, yes, possibly she had a slightly bipolar aspect, but no, it had never caused any problems for her, no. Life was fine. Her mum was fine. On the whole, yes, it was all good. Her phone rang about two minutes after the police finally left. Jen, love, its Dad. Is everything OK? Im really sorry I missed your call; I was in my tai chi class. Jenna let a moment of silence fall as she wondered, briefly, if now was the time finally to offload her fucked-up life on to someone else. But then she sighed, and made herself smile and said, Everythings fine, Dad. Honestly. I just wondered if I was going to see you over the Easter holidays. Thats all. 34 Freddie scooted on his office chair from the window to his bedroom door. Dad! he called down the stairs. Dad! That woman! Jennas mum! She just got arrested! His fathers voice rose up the staircase. What on earth are you talking about? That woman! The stalker woman! Mrs Tripp or whatever. She just got taken out of the Melville by two uniformed policemen. He heard his father slowly taking the stairs and his face appeared between the banisters. Are you sure? I am entirely sure. She was talking to two people outside, and I could tell she was getting agitated and I could see they were trying to get away from her and then she followed them into the bar. Ten, fifteen minutes later there were blue lights and the cops got out and then the daughter turned up and five minutes later the daughter and the mum were being escorted off the premises. Into a car? No, said Freddie, mentally downgrading the excitement factor. No. I think they walked them home. God, said Dad. Thats not good. Why dont you go down there? To the bar? Freddie suggested. Ask what happened? Youre all pally-pally with them in there, arent you? Well, yes, said Dad. I guess I could. I suppose so. He narrowed his eyes at Freddie. Want to come with? I can get you a Coke and a bowl of scratchings? Freddie nodded. In one way he didnt want to go anywhere at all. It was warm in here. It was dark and cold out there. But he never went anywhere on his own with his dad. Normally his dad wouldnt even be here now. Normally hed still be at school. Often he didnt get home till gone ten oclock but hed been home early tonight because hed been at a meeting at the LEA all day. Hed appeared while Freddie was eating his supper, full of bonhomie and joy, ruffled his hair, called him his fine boy, made them both Nutella on toast for afters, exclaimed about the smartness of the newly painted hallway, poured himself a generous glass of red wine, put his arm around Mum and just been generally jolly and like the sort of dad you wished got home from work at six oclock every night. And now he was offering Freddie Coke and scratchings and a chance to find out first-hand what on earth was going on with Jenna and her mum. He grabbed his shoes from where hed thrown them and pulled them on. Freddie loved the Melville. They came here sometimes for Sunday lunch. Once theyd brought Grandma here for afternoon tea in the little lounge area behind the reception desk. Theyd been given tiny cakes with gems and rose petals and fluffed-up cream fillings. Theyd had a teapot each with an antique strainer and a bowl of sugar lumps. The fire had been lit and thered been low-level jazzy stuff playing in the background and Freddie had thought that somehow hed jumped straight into a really nice dream. His dad held the door to the bar open and suddenly there was the flutter and excitement of grown-ups discoursing, the dense smell of beer and scented candles, the theatre of muted wall lights and towering vases of tropical flowers. His dad went straight to the bar and ordered Freddie a Coke and himself a pint of something local and spumy. Saw some blue lights here earlier, his dad said to the very young man tending the bar. Hope there hasnt been any trouble? The boy he didnt look much older than Freddie said, Not really. Just a woman. With some issues. She was giving that couple over there a hard time. We asked her to leave. She wouldnt. He shrugged, flipped the beer tap upwards and let the last few drops hit the frothy head. God, said Dad. And you had to call the police? She just refused to go. It was creating a disturbance. Rob tried to ask her nicely. Made her even madder. You know. And a bowl of scratchings please, his dad asked, pulling out his wallet. The boy nodded and put the beer and the Coke on the bar top. And what was she shouting about, this woman? I dunno. It was all this weird stuff about powerful people and being controlled. You know. She was telling them that they shouldnt believe things they read in the papers, conspiracy theories, all that. Just, you know, like, mad stuff. Probably unkind to use the word mad, you know, Luke, his dad chastised gently, being Saint Tom Fitzwilliam, as usual. Shall we say, maybe, troubled? As he said this, the male half of the couple from the other side of the bar approached Freddies dad and said, Mr Fitzwilliam. Im Ralph Gross. Our son Felix is at your school, in year eight. Thats my wife, Emma. Emma raised a polite hand and then lowered it back on to the stem of a large glass of wine. I just wanted to say how happy we are with what youve done at the school this last year. Wed been so close to moving away from the area. Wed even made an offer on a place in Wells. But since you came Felix has been so happy at school, and doing so well. And Im sorry, but that woman, the one they just took away, the things she was saying about you were just nuts. Really. What things was she saying? Oh, just nonsense, really. That you were controlling her and had been sent to undermine the whole town, blah blah blah. Ridiculous. I just wanted you to know. In case you hear things via Chinese whispers. No one will pay any attention. Youve got nothing to worry about. Everyone in the area knows youre brilliant. Well, thank you so much, said Freddies dad. I really appreciate your reassurance. I know Felix and hes a great boy. Im glad you didnt have to move him away. The man shook Dads hand and went back to his wife, who was smiling really creepily at Dad and had that look in her eyes that women always seemed to have when they were around him. Freddie grimaced and followed his dad to a table in the corner by the door. They toasted each other and crunched on scratchings and Freddie thought, Well, this is nice, but kind of strange, and they chatted for a while about how Freddie was getting on at school and the spring ball he wanted to go to, and his dad attempted some light teasing about girls which Freddie managed to brush off quite suavely with a practised Im not ready for girls yet even though it appeared currently no longer to be the case. And as this conversation meandered along it occurred to Freddie that his dad might be building up to asking him about the photos on his hard drive and he sat straight and bolstered himself, ready with some bullshit nonsense about school projects and the study of psychological disorders like maybe, voyeurism but the question never came and soon they were talking about days gone by, remembering old places theyd lived in and strange people theyd known and his dad was being so loose-limbed and genial, so focused on him and their conversation that Freddie found himself asking, Dad, did you ever find out what was going on with that angry woman in the Lake District? His father suddenly tightened up. What angry woman? Remember? That woman who came up to you when we were on that day trip and started hitting you? He rolled his eyes. Oh. God. Her. God, yes, I remember her. I dont know. It was all so odd. Wasnt it? And you know, when you took her across the street, when you were talking to her. I always wondered what she was saying to you? And what you were saying to her? Christ. I dont know. Probably just telling her she was being inappropriate, that she was upsetting my wife and my child. Calming her down, I suppose. It was horrible, Freddie said softly. That day. It was scary. And it was horrible. Was it? asked his dad. Yes. Ill never forget it. And now this woman, Jennas mum, she hates you too. Ah, well, I think there is a difference between Mrs Tripp and the lady in the Lakes. The lady by the lake thought I was someone else; it was a case of mistaken identity. Jennas mum well, shes clearly got some kind of psychological disorder. Freddie nodded, agreeing with the distinction, but still uncertain about one thing. Do they know each other, do you think? he asked. Who? Jennas mum and the lady at the lake? Yes. Because Freddie paused, selecting his words carefully. I heard you and Mum talking. Saying that Jennas mum remembers you from that holiday. You heard us? When? The other morning. In the kitchen. His dad sighed. Well, you werent supposed to hear that, but I dont suppose it matters as Jennas mum was not on holiday with us and her thinking she was is just part of her disorder. Poor soul. Will Jenna be put into care? His dad sucked in his breath. God. I really hope not. But its possible, I suppose. If her mum ends up being sectioned. If her dad cant take her. But hopefully it wont come to that. Hopefully I can make sure it doesnt. Freddie nodded sagely. His dad, the superhero.
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  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The
  • The Universe in a Nutshell /     (by Stephen Hawking, 2001) -   The Universe in a Nutshell /
  • A Christmas Carol /    (by Charles Dickens, 1997) -    A Christmas Carol /
  • Live and Let Die /     (by Ian Fleming, 2010) -   Live and Let Die /
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