What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (4 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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I find mixing bowls and weighing scales, a measuring jug and wooden spoons, and then all the ingredients to make a steak pie for tea and some date slices for snacking on. Ben is always hungry and Chloe’s bound to pop in at some point. I’ll give her some baking to take home with her.

I’ve made the steak pie and am weighing out the oats for the date slices when my mobile rings. It’s her – the uber-bitch, as Ben calls her. I recognise the number – Maybanks’ second phone line. The one I called last night. The one that is a dedicated phone line into Tom’s study.

‘Hello, am I speaking to Mary?’

‘Yes.’

‘My name is Leila Henrikson.’ Her tone is confident, bordering on strident. ‘You called me last night with a view to beginning therapy?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why don’t we meet for a first appointment and see whether I’m able to help you?’

I drop the baking tray on the floor and the metallic clang makes me jump. I let go of the phone too and have to scrabble around on the floor to retrieve it.

‘Mary? Are you still there?’

My cheeks are a flame of embarrassment. ‘Yes … sorry.’

‘So let’s see …’ I hear the turning of pages. ‘When are you free?’

‘I’m a teacher,’ I say, holding the phone tightly with both hands. ‘I’ve broken up for the summer.’

‘I have a vacancy at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. How does that suit you?’

‘That suits me fine,’ I say.

‘Great.’ She proceeds to give me directions to Maybanks, the house I spent hours, days, weeks, months, years turning into a home. The home I lived in for twenty-eight what I thought were happy years for all of us. The home I could locate with my internal, automatic pilot even if I was blindfolded and dumped on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

I end the call and stand perfectly still. She doesn’t know who I am! I say this out loud, my tone disbelieving. I laugh into the empty room, amazed that this is possible. I have thought about her for hours at a time, wondering what she’s like, hating her, wishing her ill. I have imagined her being struck down by cancer or hit by a car. In my saner, quieter moments, when I don’t wish her dead but I do wish her to be forced out of her loved-up bubble, I have contemplated waiting until Tom is at work, then turning up at the door to give her a piece of my mind. This would be reasonable for a woman in my position, expected even, but I’ve never done it, not because I’m spineless, but because I’m not one for confrontations. I’ve always believed it better not to act in anger but to manage situations, subtly steer the ship a few degrees to the left or the right. I’d spent twenty-eight years managing Tom’s moods, after all, so I had the practice.

And now I feel as if the universe is giving me a nudge. What should I do? Keep the appointment? Begin therapy? Bide my time until either I’m found out or I choose to reveal myself?

I accept that it’s just about feasible she would be unfamiliar with my maiden name and my voice, but will she recognise me in person? She might, but then again she might not, because even if she’s seen photographs of me, I’ve changed a lot over this last year – I’ve had my hair cut shorter and coloured several shades darker, the grey strands dyed a deep chestnut. I’ve comfort-eaten my way up two dress sizes, weight settling everywhere, including my face, altering its contours and profile.

The house I now live in is a mile away from Maybanks but in city terms, a mile is a fair distance. I live in a different neighbourhood, on a separate bus route, served by an alternative row of local shops. I have never so much as glimpsed Tom on the street or in his car and I only know what Leila looks like because Ben has shown me a photograph of her online – her profile on LinkedIn. She looks professional, poised, accomplished. To protect my sanity, I’ve tried to extract myself from thoughts of them as a couple, and when the divorce settlement comes through, I’ve been planning to relocate to south of the city, closer to my work.

And if I turn up at her –
my
– door and she doesn’t recognise me in person, doesn’t twig that I’m Tom’s wife, then am I brave enough to deceive her? To talk about what’s happened to me, to lay the blame firmly at the other woman’s door. As a therapist, she’ll surely have to be empathetic. And when I have her on side, I’ll tell her that she is the other woman, the home-wrecker, the husband-stealer. See how she squares
that
with her professional integrity. If nothing else it will unsettle her and that will be a small victory to me, and the very thought of managing such a coup makes me smile. Leila Henrikson and me, face to face. The mind does more than boggle – it seethes, schemes, sets fire to the imagination.

I am still sitting on the sofa mulling over the possibilities when the front door opens. ‘It’s only me!’ Chloe calls out, appearing seconds later. ‘How’s it going?’ She kisses me on the cheek. ‘Is my lazy brother up yet?’

‘Not yet, no.’ I stand up, and hug her tight. ‘Where’s Molly?’

‘Playing with her wee friend Cara from school. I’ve just dropped her off. And Jack’s off to Aberdeen to work for a couple of days.’

‘You want a cuppa?’ She nods, and goes over to make it herself. ‘And look.’ I hold up the steak pie I’ve just made. ‘This is for tea tonight. Plenty for you and Molly and Granddad.’

‘Great, Mum.’ She fills the kettle at the sink, settles it on the base and plugs it in. ‘What’s this?’ She points at the black marker-pen numbers I’ve written on the sockets.

‘The landlord. He numbered them for some reason. I’m not sure why.’ The lie is out of my mouth in a flash. I don’t usually lie to Chloe but I’m not ready to talk about my OCD. I feel ashamed and frustrated enough as it is. I don’t want it all out in the open because then it becomes doubly real, a topic for family discussion, Chloe and Ben, sotto voce in the hallway while I make tea, ‘How has she been this week? Does she seem okay to you? Do you think she’s getting better?’

They’ve had enough to worry about over the past year and I’m not going to add to their burden, which is why I’ve been trying to sort myself out by going to the group meetings. For now it’s my secret, and I’d like it to stay that way but Chloe is a nurse and the clock is ticking. At any minute she could notice how anxious and obsessive I’ve become and she will insist on helping me – kindly, considerately, but without any let-up.

‘You know the patient I was telling you about the other day? The one with the hernia?’ Chloe says. ‘Well, she happened to be talking about her marriage break-up and it got me thinking about you and Dad.’ She hands me a mug of tea. ‘And don’t take this the wrong way, Mum, but I think that sometimes you let people take advantage of you.’

‘Biscuit?’ I hold the tin out towards her.

‘No thanks.’ She gives a brief shake of her head. ‘Mum, I want to talk to you. Properly. Seriously.’

My hands begin to shake. I put the biscuit tin and my mug down on the coffee table and sit myself on the sofa.

‘Have you signed the divorce papers yet?’ she says, sitting opposite me.

‘No.’ I frown at her. ‘Everything takes ages, you know how it is with lawyers.’

‘I think you should negotiate a better deal.’

‘I’m fine with what’s being drawn up.’ That isn’t entirely true and she picks up on it at once.

‘You’re not, Mum,’ she states baldly. ‘And I think that’s because you’ve allowed Dad to have everything his own way.’

So this is where we’re headed. I’ve tried very hard not to get my children involved in the nuts and bolts of my marriage break-up. Tom was often an absent father but he was a good dad (mostly) when he was around and I haven’t wanted them taking sides. ‘Well … I don’t think I did.’

‘I’ve had an idea,’ she says quickly.

‘Chloe …’ I make a weary face.

‘Just hear me out.’ She pauses, her expression intent, and I nod my agreement for her to continue. ‘Why don’t you talk to Granddad? Jack and Molly and I will have our own place soon – we’ve almost saved our deposit – and Granddad will be on his own and he’s not going to like that. He thrives on company. You know he does. You could afford to stay in Maybanks if you lived together. You could sell his place and set up a granddad flat at the side of the house where Dad had his study.’

‘But Granddad loves his house! And I’m only on a teacher’s salary, remember, so—’ I stop and think for a moment. ‘What do you mean Dad
had
his study?’

‘You should be getting maintenance from Dad. He earns a fortune! Why aren’t you asking for more money?’

The penny drops. I was picturing Leila using Tom’s phone but I hadn’t for one moment thought that Tom would have completely given up his study. ‘Does she practise her therapy from Dad’s study?’

‘Mum—’

‘Chloe?’

She nods, reluctant to upset me. ‘They had the decorators in.’ She sighs. ‘It’s no longer the gloomy old den it once was. It’s all prettified and smart.’

‘He loved his study!’ I reel back. ‘When I think of the evenings I spent in there with him, discussing cases, helping him organise his files, acting as judge and jury.’

‘I know. You were such a help to him. And remember at weekends? I played with my dolls on the armchair and Ben ran a train track under the desk.’ She sighs. ‘Happy times.’ Her expression is wistful and it makes my heart contract. ‘Dad’s changed, Mum. He’s changed a lot. He’s using my old bedroom as a study now.’

That explains why he didn’t hear my voice on the answermachine. It was no longer his domain. Luckily for me, otherwise I would have been rumbled immediately. ‘He must really love her,’ I say, as if it’s only just dawning on me, the crack in my voice there for us both to hear.

‘I know how this must hurt, Mum,’ Chloe says.

‘It’s nothing, Chloe. I’m fine.’ I suddenly remember that I haven’t unplugged the kettle and I jump to my feet as if stung. ‘I think I’ll get started on Ben’s breakfast. He’ll be awake in a minute. You know he’s always starving!’ I make an attempt at a laugh and fuss about the work surfaces, touching this and that, before pulling the plug from the socket.

‘Are you worried about the electricity?’

I glance over my shoulder and see Chloe watching me. ‘No. Why would I be?’

‘Well, if the landlord is marking the sockets it might be because there’s something wrong with them. Do you want me or Jack to have a word with him?’

‘No! I’m perfectly capable of talking to the landlord myself.’ I hold up a hand. ‘Not that I don’t appreciate your concern.’ She’s watching me, her arms folded. The kitchen is small and I feel hemmed in. ‘Maybe I’ll start Ben’s breakfast later.’ I go to sit down again but she’s blocking my way. ‘What is going on with you?’ I say.

‘For fuck’s sake, Mum! I wish you would at least try!’

‘What on earth?’ I step away from her, shocked; Chloe rarely swears.


You
should be in Maybanks, not
them
. You haven’t fought hard enough!’

‘I couldn’t … It’s … it’s … been a lot to come to terms with.’

‘Okay! So it’s been tough! But it happened, and now you need to take some power back from Dad. He’s bullying you. He’s bullying you into accepting less than you’re entitled to.’ She paces around in front of me. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I love Dad, but the way he’s been behaving lately makes me ashamed.’ Her tone is loaded with emotion. ‘Why should you be the one to leave Maybanks when it was Dad who was in the wrong? Why, Mum? Why you not him?’

‘You know I thought the house was going to be sold.’

‘Exactly. But it wasn’t, was it? He moved her in. And now a whole year has gone by but there’s still time for you to get a fairer deal.’ She takes a breath. ‘You’re perfectly entitled to ask for a change in the agreement.’ She stares around the room and then back at me. ‘I hate seeing you living here. It’s practically a slum.’

‘Chloe.’ I smile, hoping that she’s running out of steam at last. ‘It’s not that bad.’

‘There’s damp in the bathroom. The shower barely works.’

‘That’s better n—’

‘The awful smell! And now the electricity’s playing up!’

I turn away from her fierce expression and close my eyes. I don’t want to think about any of this. I don’t want to think about this house and I don’t want to think about the moment when I heard that Tom had moved Leila into Maybanks. At that point I was still imagining that we might get back together but then it became patently obvious that he’d moved on, spectacularly so. Whenever I think about it now, it feels like a dark, dank void and if I walk too close I’ll be sucked back into all the misery and pain. I can trace the onset of my anxiety back to that point. I started losing sleep, crying without warning; and then the obsessive checking began.

‘Mum?’

I sigh. ‘Chloe …’

‘I know you, and I know Dad,’ she says with conviction. ‘And it’s plain to see you’re getting a raw deal.’ She starts pacing again, picking up letters and magazines and putting them down. ‘You did everything in that house and now they’re living there benefiting from all your hard work. It was stupid of you to leave. You should have dug in your heels.’

‘Okay, I hear you, Chloe.’ I throw out my arms in surrender. ‘I hear you,’ I repeat.’

‘Good.’ She folds her arms, nodding. ‘I’m glad I’ve got through to you.’

‘But why are you bringing this up now?’ I say puzzled.

‘Because time’s running out. Ben and I were there on Sunday and …’ She rubs her forehead. ‘It was …’

‘For Dad’s birthday?’

She nods. ‘And I just … I just thought that …’ Her eyes fill with tears. ‘Soon it’s going to be too late. The house will be theirs and our whole childhood will be spoiled.’

‘Chloe, your childhood can’t be spoiled.’

I hug her and try to persuade her otherwise, but she’s having none of it and when she leaves I have no option but to admit to myself that she’s right. I have been too passive. I should never have given up Maybanks but Tom’s infidelity was like a punch to the stomach. I thought he was happy with our marriage. I thought that, despite our differences, he loved me and valued the life we had built together. When he announced he was in love with another woman I buckled under the betrayal. For the first few months I was constantly on the back foot, my broken heart unable to cope with the conveyer belt of solicitor’s letters, arrangements to be made, documents to be signed, assets to be divided. Tom’s solicitor was like a bull terrier, constantly biting at my heels, and the only way I could stop the biting was to agree to give Tom what he wanted.

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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