What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (7 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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‘I haven’t heard from you so I just wanted to check that you’re okay?’ she says. I tell her I am and then she tells me that Trish asked her for my mobile number. ‘I didn’t want to give it to her without asking you first.’

‘Why does she want it?’

‘She said that she was with Pam and Francis and that they bumped into you in the cafe over the road from the hall. She’s concerned they pressured you into coming to the meeting.’

‘They didn’t. Not really.’ I think about that evening: the embarrassment, the anxiety, the running away. ‘Please tell her I’m fine.’

‘Will do.’ She reads me some times and dates of upcoming group meetings. ‘Do you think you’ll come along?’

‘You know, Sharon, I don’t think I will, but thank you for the therapists’ names you gave me. I am beginning one-to-one therapy.’
With my ex-husband’s mistress.

‘That’s good news,’ she says.

‘It is,’ I agree. ‘It really is.’

‘Oh, and I have your scarf here,’ she says. ‘You dropped it when you left.’

‘Did I?’

‘It’s a blue one, cashmere.’

‘That sounds like mine, right enough. I haven’t missed it yet but I would quite like it back.’

‘I could post it to you?’

‘Thank you.’

‘Let me know how the therapy goes, won’t you?’ she says.

I tell her I will. I’m dying to get there; Tuesday can’t come quickly enough. Every time my mobile rings I think it’s the uber-bitch ringing to cancel. She’s realised who I am and I won’t get the chance to confront her after all. Tom will tell his solicitor (a colleague of his) and within twenty-four hours I’ll have received a letter quoting some law and threatening me with a court order.

But that doesn’t happen. Tuesday comes and I walk the mile back to my old house. Edinburgh is known as the windy city, and not for nothing. A brisk breeze is whipping up from the Firth of Forth and that gives me the excuse I need to pull my coat in close to my body and keep my head down. The weight gain and the change in hairstyle and colour must surely help and I wear clothes I never wore when I lived here.

I need to be on the lookout to avoid being spotted by a neighbour. Most of them will be at work, but there’s Mrs Patterson, who lives next door and takes a stroll after lunch in the large, grassy, tree-lined square that the houses surround. The dog-walkers congregate there in the morning, and later on when the children come out of school there might be a game of football.

Tom is almost never home at this time of day. He’ll be ensconced in his office in the New Town, a plush, luxurious suite of rooms where junior members of staff run around after him. Tuesday is bin collection day, and I know a couple of the workers by name, but I don’t see any sign of the truck. Ben is in Stirling with a friend and Chloe is at work. I’ve never met Alex so it won’t matter if I bump into him.

When I reach the square I walk on the opposite side of the road to Maybanks, my head down. I even change the length of my stride in case my walking style gives me away. Concentrating on not being noticed preoccupies me, but still I feel an almost overwhelming urge to turn round and retreat with my tail between my legs.

I don’t, though. I let the battle wage inside me and just keep on walking, reminding myself that this is what I want. To face her. To play along. To confront her. And then to leave, knowing that I’ve pushed back, regained some ground, shown strength of character.

I can’t wait to see my house. I haven’t been back to the street since I left almost a year ago. I knew that if I came back it would make me sad, so I avoided it. I met the neighbours who were my friends in cafes up town rather than returning to the street and being confronted with the home I could no longer have.

My throat feels like barbed wire. I swallow and wince, and when I catch sight of Maybanks I feel a pull inside my chest. The first thing I’m reminded of is how special the house is. It’s a large, stand-alone Victorian villa. Unlike many of the houses in this neighbourhood, Maybanks isn’t symmetrical. On the right of the house there’s a square turret that we used as a tiny library and reading room, and on the left is an old-fashioned conservatory that sits, one floor up, on top of the kitchen. I filled the room with cacti, over a hundred of them. Occasionally I bought them from the garden centre but mostly they were cuttings from friends. Every afternoon the room is flooded with sunlight and the cacti flourish, flower, grow beyond the scope of their pots. I loved spending time pottering in there, Molly and me, rearranging and attending to the cacti.

The second thing I notice is that the box hedge has been trimmed to within an inch of its life. I can see this from the end of the street, a good twenty yards away. In fact, as I draw closer I notice that this radical pruning goes for most of the plants in the garden. Someone has run amok with the clippers. It makes me fear for how much Maybanks has been changed inside, as I expect Leila has cut me and my influence out of the house too.

The middle section of the road is cobbled, many of the stones rubbed almost flat by weather and cars. As I cross the street I remember frequently catching my heel in the gaps between the cobbles. One night in particular, when Tom and I had been out to dinner, I broke a heel getting out of the taxi and walking to the kerb. We’d had a tricky year: my dad had had an operation for a slipped disc and was laid up for a few months and Ben was doing his Highers. Tom was tired of coming home and finding me still at Dad’s, even although his tea was always ready for him to warm up, and he was convinced that Ben wasn’t working hard enough. Tom was distant with me – as ever assuming that I took any side but his, when in fact I saw us as a family who stuck together. That evening we’d been to a charity dinner and had fun dancing and mixing with friends. I felt sexy and confident in a blue silk dress and strappy sandals. Tom wore his dinner suit with a blue tie and cummerbund to match my dress. At times throughout the evening I watched him, pleased to see that he was happy at last, and I told myself that if every now and then he was moody and bad-tempered then it wasn’t the end of the world. Marriage is a lifelong commitment and nobody ever told me it would be easy.

He kissed me under the streetlamp and carried me up to bed. We were laughing when we got to the top of the stairs and when we made love I felt as if we were closer than we had been in years. I remember being convinced that this was the beginning of the good times. We’d reached the end of the down curve in the cycle of up-and-down that happens to everyone, and we were now on the climb. That’s what I naively thought.

A week later he told me he was leaving me. He’d been having an affair for more than six months. I was no longer the woman he was in love with. She gave him the sort of intimacy that he needed. What made it worse was that he held my hand as he told me, breaking the news as sensitively as he could, telling me he would always be fond of me, acknowledging my skills as homemaker and mother. He didn’t want to hurt me and he knew that ultimately I would thank him for leaving. ‘You know what a selfish git I can be,’ he said. ‘Honestly Ellen, I’m sure most people feel you’re far too good for me.’

‘But I love you!’ I cried out. ‘Tom! Please!’

I begged. I pleaded. I think I even threatened suicide.

Memories.

Bitter, painful memories.

I go through the front gate and to the left of the house where the extension is grafted onto the side. Once Tom’s office, it’s now Leila’s space, this made clear by a polished brass sign that says ‘Leila Henrikson MA, UKCP accredited psychotherapist’. The magnolia tree that shelters against the grey stone wall has been carelessly hacked, the branches ragged and stunted.

He who hesitates is lost, I say to myself, and so I don’t hesitate; I ring the bell and wait. But my heart is banging against my ribcage and I know at once that I have to turn and run. I have to run and keep running because this is fate-tempting insanity and I’m bound to end up the loser.

As I turn away, I hear the door open.

‘Mary?’

I freeze.

‘Mary McNeil?’

I focus on the end of the driveway, willing my legs to move, but they won’t. I try to lift my feet but I’m rooted to the spot. I hear her come down the step behind me. Her hand touches my shoulder. ‘Won’t you come inside?’

I slowly swivel my head and upper body towards her. ‘Miss Henrikson?’ I say, her name poison on my tongue.

‘Call me Leila.’

‘Leila.’ I stare at her. I am face to face with the woman who wrecked my life. She has a small forehead. Her eyes are high and almond-shaped; her cheekbones prominent. Her hair is long and sleek with a few deliberate curls and has the rich, black sheen that only comes with regular visits to a salon. She smiles. She has the look of a woman who is comfortable in her skin.

I don’t smile. I wait. I’m waiting for her to recognise me. Waiting not breathing. My mouth is dry; my pulse is racing. I expect her to frown, draw back, point at me – ‘Have we met?’ Her frown will deepen. ‘Ellen? You’re Ellen.’ She will look shocked and then slightly panicked. She’ll demand that I leave.

‘I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,’ she says.

My legs collapse at the knees and I almost fall but at least I can move my feet now so I lean up against the brickwork and stare down at the ground.

‘Please don’t be anxious, Mary.’ Her hand is on my back. ‘I know that coming for therapy is a huge step and I promise that you’ll leave feeling much better than you do now.’

I turn my face towards her again. She flicks her hair back over her shoulder, tilting her head as if she’s in a TV ad, and I feel a welcome surge of hate against this woman who is inviting me into my own home. She thinks she belongs in Maybanks. She thinks
I’m
the visitor.

I stand up straight. ‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I’m not sure what came over me.’

‘Never apologise, Mary,’ she says. ‘You have nothing to apologise for.’

I smile. Genuinely. Because I have the feeling she might regret that statement.

‘Let’s go inside.’ She opens the door wide.

I nod. And then I follow her into my house.

3. Leila

I’m not worried about David. But my intuition tells me that I should be. There was something different about him today – a determination that I don’t remember seeing before. Normally he wants my reassurance, a maternal interest that realigns him, reminding him that he is loved and cherished.

And I do love him. But I have Alex to consider, so I can’t take a trip down memory lane and face up to what we did back then because it would ruin my here and now. I’m a mother; I need to focus on the present and the future. David should see that. And he will. Although I asked him not to contact me again, I don’t expect him to take any notice of my request and so, if necessary, I’ll meet with him again before he leaves Edinburgh. He can tell me about his therapy and I’ll listen. We’ll come to an understanding and then all will be well for another year or more.

I park the car and instantly spot the cat loitering on the flagstones trying to sniff out the remains of his kill. Katarina has cleared the dead bird away and all that’s left is a faint bloodstain. I dump my handbag in the porch and go into the kitchen to fill a bucket with cold water. ‘What are you doing?’ Alex says. He’s still wearing his boxers and T-shirt and has an open can of Diet Coke in his hand.

‘Taking action,’ I say.

Alex trails behind me as I go back outside. When the water hits the cat, he squeals and jumps three feet up into the air, a cartoon cat, all four legs splayed. He meows and wails like a creature possessed, then he scarpers to the bottom of the garden, knocking over a wooden chair on the way. ‘Scaredy-cat!’ I shout and can’t help but smile.

‘Fuck, Mum!’ Alex is behind me. ‘What did the cat ever do to you?’

‘Go to the garden hut and get the chainsaw,’ I tell him, rolling up my sleeves.

‘What?’ His eyes are wild. ‘Are you going to kill it?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not going to follow him over the wall, am I?’ I pull a few of the creamy flowers off the magnolia tree and drop them into the empty bucket. ‘I’m going to saw the higher branches off this tree.’

‘Don’t you think you should ask Tom first?’ Alex says, grinning. I can see that this excites him; he’s wired for a good time.

‘Just get the chainsaw.’

‘Bad-ass!’ He runs off down the garden and is back in a few moments with the saw. I take it from him, steady my feet on the ground and pull the cord. At first the motor struggles to get going, fires and dies almost at once. On the fifth try it catches. I rev it a couple of times and then hold the machine above my head height to start cutting at the branches.

‘Woo-hoo!’ Alex shouts, leaping up and down and clapping like a nine-year-old.

I manage to saw into four branches before my arms are aching and I have to stop. ‘Let me do it!’ Alex shouts. He’s unsteady on his feet and when I hand him the chainsaw he lurches to one side, laughing. An alarm bell sounds in my head. I watch him lift up the saw, carrying it like a gun, brandishing it in the air as if he’s playing a game, and I know that I’m right to be worried.

‘Okay, give it back to me.’ My voice is stern. I’m sure he’s exhibiting signs of drug use: overexcited, loud, problems balancing – I’ve seen my son like this before. I hold out my hand and he retreats away from me.

‘I can do it!’ He sidesteps me and I grab his arm. ‘Just fuckin’ leave me, woman!’ He turns the chainsaw in my direction, half-pretending, half-not.

I slap him hard across the face and it shocks him into dropping the chainsaw onto the grass. ‘Bitch!’ he shrieks.

I shake his shoulders and his head snaps up. ‘You little shit!’ I say, my voice low. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been up to. You’ve been taking drugs again, I know you have, so there’s no point denying it and I am warning you—’ I stop. The menacing tone I’m using is familiar to my ears but it shouldn’t be coming out of my mouth.

Breathe, Leila. Breathe.

I remind myself that this isn’t me. This isn’t the person I am. This isn’t the sort of parent I am.

I take another breath and then I release him.

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
11.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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