What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (6 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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And then I say, ‘I was thinking about Mal just now.’

David nods. ‘I saw him, you know.’

‘You did?’ I’m surprised. ‘When?’

‘A few months ago.’

‘In Benidorm?’

He nods again. ‘He’s doing okay. So is Cathy. They asked me to send you their love.’

I give a short laugh. ‘It’s a bit late for that.’ I incline my head, unforgiving. ‘We needed their love back then, not now.’

‘People make mistakes. Parents make mistakes, don’t they? Isn’t that what happens?’ He laughs. ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

‘They don’t have to.’

‘You would know.’ He raises his eyebrows at me. ‘You’re a parent and you’re a therapist. Perfect combination, no?’

‘David.’ I glance down into my teacup, then back at my brother. ‘About what you said to me on the phone.’

‘Yes.’ He pushes his plate aside and leans forward. ‘Let’s talk about what I said.’

We lock eyes. Seconds tick by. We neither blink nor breathe and then I say, ‘You know why you can’t stay with me.’

‘Because you can’t trust me?’

‘Because I need to keep things simple for Alex.’ I take a breath. ‘I wasn’t just thinking about Mal when I drove here – I thought about Gareth too, briefly, and—’ David goes to speak and I hold up my hand to stop him. He is always in a rush to take charge and I can’t allow that. ‘Wait, please. Listen to me.’ He sits back, his expression half-pleading, half-guarded. I wait. I hold eye contact with him, not speaking until his expression relaxes back to neutral. ‘Life is shit for lots of people, David. Life is sad and tiresome and unlucky but we’re not those people. We have what we’ve always had.’ I clasp his hand across the table. ‘Each other.’ I smile, let my words sink in before adding, ‘But that doesn’t mean I can always give you what you want.’

‘You don’t have to. Not any more.’ His answering smile is almost a smirk. ‘I’ve been to a therapist.’

‘You have?’ I let go of his hand. ‘You’ve always said that didn’t appeal to you.’

‘I changed my mind.’ He watches my face. ‘Why aren’t you pleased? I thought you’d be pleased. You should be pleased!’

‘Of course.’ I look down at the table while I compose myself. ‘I’m surprised, that’s all.’

‘She’s helping me to be real and truthful.’

‘She? Does she practise in Edinburgh?’ I keep my tone light. ‘Do I know her?’

‘No.’

‘Will you tell me her name?’

‘Why? So you can discuss me behind my back?’ His eyes challenge mine. ‘Your pathetic, fucked-up brother who had the breakdown.’

I start back, appalled. ‘How could you even think that of me?’ I shake my head, then place my hand on my chest. ‘I have your best interests at heart, David. You know I do.’

‘That isn’t enough any more, Leila.’ He drums his fingers on the table. ‘I’m changing. I’m seeing things differently. And I want to keep seeing things differently.’ He nods, convincing himself. ‘I want that more than anything. I want to peel back all the layers until I get to the truth.’

‘Okay.’ My pulse is racing. ‘I understand that. But please … slow down. We worked hard to escape Gareth and you need to be very careful if you choose to revisit that time.’

He shakes his head, emphatic. ‘I want to face my demons.’

‘Easier said—’

‘I know! I know! But …’ His eyes glow as if there is a fire within. ‘Fuck, Leila! We did stuff back then—’

‘Don’t.’ I hold my hand up for the second time. ‘So we did things that don’t square well with the people we’ve become but …’ I shrug, then say quietly, ‘Really, David, so what?’

‘So what?’ He laughs. ‘So everything!’

‘I don’t agree.’

‘Because you’re afraid to agree.’ He slaps his right hand on the table as he says this. ‘You’re afraid, Leila. Just admit it!’

‘That’s not true. I’m not afraid. I’ve grown to accept myself despite everything I’ve done and everything that’s happened to me.’

‘To us.’

‘To us,’ I acknowledge.

‘And you’d deny me the same?’

‘I’m not denying you anything. I’m trying to help you to see that you could open up a whole Pandora’s box of grief.’ I exhale a long breath. ‘And I’m also saying that I’m not coming on the journey with you.’

He tugs at his beard while he thinks about this, hard enough to pull his lower lip into a pout. ‘What have you told Tom about your childhood?’ he says.

‘Nothing much.’

‘He doesn’t ask?’

‘No.’

‘But Tom must be special enough for you to confide in, surely? You’ve never moved in with a man before.’

‘I’ve lived with three men,’ I say.

‘But that was different, they moved in with you. And then when you’d had enough, they were gone pretty quickly.’ He laughs, deliberately trying to keep it light. ‘What’s Tom got that they didn’t?’

‘It’s not just about him.’ I shrug. ‘It’s also about timing and the fact that I’m not getting any younger. And, as an added bonus, he has the perfect house where I’m able to base my practice.’

‘And Alex? What does he know about his mother’s past?’

‘Nothing.’

‘And his father?’

‘I’ve told you already, David.’ Gareth’s face looms up before me and I shiver. ‘As far as Alex is concerned his father left when he was young.’

‘You think it’s fair to keep his paternity a secret from him?’

‘Under the circumstances? Most definitely.’ I lean across the table, my voice low. ‘If you want to revisit our childhood then that’s up to you, but as I’ve just made clear, you have to leave me out of it.’

‘How can I?’ He throws his arms out. ‘What happened to me happened to you!’

‘Do not stalk me, David.’ I stand up. ‘Not like before.’

‘Geez!’ He laughs. ‘Call a spade a shovel why don’t you.’

‘I mean it.’

‘Leeds wasn’t stalking.’ He stands up too. ‘That was a brother trying to spend time with his sister.’

‘Well, I forbid you to do it again.’

‘You forbid it?’

‘Yes, I forbid it.’ The air between us grows thick and unyielding. I gather my bag and jacket into my arms. ‘You have to respect my space.’

‘I can do whatever the fuck I want.’ His tone is dismissive. ‘You’re not my keeper.’

I glance over his right shoulder to where the exit door is being held open by the doorman. ‘How long are you going to be in Edinburgh?’

‘Another few weeks.’

‘Please don’t contact me again.’ I walk towards the exit and don’t look back.

3. Ellen

‘So what have you got to tell me?’ my dad says.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Chloe told me she was round at yours this morning.’

‘The sockets?’ I blush, wondering whether he can see right through me to the anxiety I have about the house going on fire, my mind tormenting me with images: flames licking around the light switches, settling into sofas and chairs, roaring along the hallway, flashing light and heat towards me, making hot, grey ash out of everything in its path.

‘Sockets? What sockets? I’m talking about the house!’

‘The house?’

‘Earth to Ellen.’ He waves his hand in front of my startled eyes. ‘
This
house.’ He points down at the floor. ‘My house, belongs to you, not to me. We can sell up and get you back into Maybanks if that’s what you want.’

‘Dad!’ I wave his words aside, relieved he hasn’t guessed my secret shame. ‘Don’t be daft!’

‘Grannie, Grannie, Grannie!’ Molly rushes into the room and stops in front of me, grinning and pulling at the corners of her mouth with her fingers. ‘Look!’

‘Where’s your tooth?’ I pretend to be shocked.

‘It fell out.’ She hops around on one foot, propelling her arms to balance herself. ‘The fairy will bring me a pound!’

‘Come wash your hands, Molly!’ Chloe calls from the bathroom. ‘Grannie has tea ready.’

Molly grabs my hand and swings round, my arm being pulled this way and that as she swivels and sways.

‘Molly!’ Chloe calls again.

‘I’ll be back in a minute, Grannie,’ Mollie says, her upturned face golden as if she’s been touched by sunshine. ‘For my mashed potatoes.’ She skips off. ‘Coming, Mummy!’

‘I don’t mind moving, you know,’ my dad says. ‘It’s worth thinking about, Ellen.’

‘You love this house, Dad.’

‘Aye, but I love you more, and—’ he lowers his voice ‘—I’d be happy to stuff it to that bastard of a husband of yours.’

I smile. ‘Now there’s reason enough.’

‘Think about it, Ellen,’ he says, giving me one of his significant looks. ‘You can’t change the wind but you can adjust the sails.’

A couple of years ago when my mum died, Dad needed to be closer to family so Tom and I bought the house for him to live in. It’s only a short distance to the centre of Edinburgh and is perfect for him; the shops are outside his front door and there’s plenty going on for the over-seventies. Chloe, Jack and Molly have been living with him for almost three years now as it’s walking distance to Jack’s work, and my dad loves the company. Officially speaking, his house is part of the marriage assets and my solicitor advised me that because of this I’m entitled to less than half the value of Maybanks. The idea of teaming up with my dad and selling his property to keep Maybanks had never occurred to me before Chloe raised it, and despite my dad also bringing it up now, I still don’t give it much thought.

We all sit down to tea and have a happy hour of laughing and eating. At the end of the meal, as we’re leaving the table, my dad farts and we all shout at him at once. ‘Dad!’ ‘Granddad!’ ‘Grandpops!’

‘It’s a poor backside that never rejoices!’ he says. Molly clutches her hands over her mouth and giggles.

I gather up the plates and Chloe takes them from me. ‘Let me do that, Mum,’ she says. ‘I know Ben’s itching to get home.’

I look across at Ben, who’s already on his feet. ‘Not meaning to rush you, Mum, but I need to get back.’ He holds out his hand. ‘You got the car keys?’

‘You want to drive?’ I say, trying not to let him see how much my heart sinks.

‘Definitely. I could do with the practice.’

We say our goodbyes and go outside. I reluctantly give him the keys and he climbs in at the driver’s side, grinning. ‘Can’t wait to pass my test.’

‘Have you booked it yet?’ I fasten my seatbelt and wave to Molly, who is standing at the living room window blowing kisses.

‘I was waiting for Dad to give me the money. He said he’d give it to me for my birthday but you know what he’s like; he might not follow it through.’

‘If he doesn’t then I’m sure I can find at least half for you.’ I look over my shoulder and into the street behind us. I can already feel the onset of anxiety cramping my neck muscles. It’s not that Ben’s a bad driver but my OCD kicks in with any activity that is potentially dangerous, especially when it’s out of my control. ‘You’re okay this side.’ He pulls out into the road and slowly changes up the gears. ‘Talking of birthdays,’ I say, distracting myself with conversation. ‘Chloe said you were both round at Dad’s on Sunday.’

‘We were, but we didn’t have that good a time.’

I inhale a quick breath and say loudly, ‘You’re too close to the kerb!’

‘We ended up leaving early.’ He corrects the steering. ‘The uber-bitch was doing her hostess-with-the-mostess thing and then—’

‘Remember to look in the mirror before you signal.’

‘—Dad went into one of his moods.’

‘Why?’ I ask, briefly closing my eyes against the traffic.

‘He thinks everyone should constantly be doing something worthwhile. It’s a crime to watch TV or be in bed after seven in the morning.’

‘But he must have been pleased with your exam results?’

‘He was, to be fair. He wasn’t getting at me. They were both having a go at her son Alex.’

Ben has mentioned this before – the fact that her son falls short of expectations. ‘He gets it in the neck a lot?’

‘All the time. Although it’s not so much Dad who’s on his case as Leila. She treats him like he’s about twelve.’

‘Be careful at this junction,’ I say. ‘Right turns aren’t easy here.’ He waits his turn, then manoeuvres carefully around the oncoming traffic. ‘What do you think of Alex?’ I ask.

‘He’s okay. But we don’t really have anything in common. He’s into stuff I’m not into.’

‘Like what?’ I use a tissue to wipe the sweat from my forehead.

He hesitates before saying, ‘He does a lot of drugs.’

‘Crikey! Your dad won’t like that.’

‘They haven’t sussed it. They’re always nagging him but they don’t really know how he spends his time. They’re too busy getting loved up with each other.’

I flinch.

He glances across at me. ‘Sorry, Mum.’

‘It’s okay.’

It isn’t okay. The thought of Tom making love to another woman still hurts – but not as much as it did. It’s a short, sharp pain that wears off in an hour or so. I don’t take it into my bed and into my sleep the way I used to.

What makes me feel better, though, is the thought of them arguing. It won’t take long for the gloss to wear off their relationship if her son is causing problems. I know Tom – he has very little patience with teenagers. We had two motivated, intelligent, hardworking children and still he regularly found fault with them. Chloe’s pregnancy at eighteen – a contraceptive failure – made him furious, especially when she wouldn’t agree to a quick abortion. He refused to speak to her for weeks, despite the fact that she’d been going out with Jack for a year. They were clearly committed to each other and they still are.

I go to bed at eleven thirty but I’m up again within the hour. My nightly ritual is exhausting. Every night it’s the same. I wake up fearful and jittery, my heart pounding and a feeling of dread washing through me. My main fear is of the house going on fire but I also check that the taps are properly off and the front door is locked. I even go into Ben’s room, creeping around with a torch like a burglar. Fortunately Ben is a deep sleeper and so he doesn’t see his mother in her nightie on her hands and knees, double- and triple-checking sockets. When I’ve checked once, I check again and then a third time. It allows me to go back to bed calmer, still concerned, but calm enough to fall asleep.

Next day Sharon, the police liaison officer, calls to find out how I’m doing. As soon as I hear her voice I picture myself running out of the meeting and across the road, closely followed by Francis. And I remember promising myself that I’d never put myself through group meetings again.

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
5.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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