Authors: Kate Hewitt
The powerfully gripping new book from
bestselling author Kate Hewitt.
Josh and Ben are nine years old and best friends, until a single, careless act in the school playground destroys the lives of both families – and wrenches their small Manhattan school apart.
As both mothers Maddie and Joanna try to find out what really happened between the boys, they discover the truth is far more complicated and painful than either of them could have ever realised… with lasting repercussions for both families.
And when tragedy strikes again in the most unexpected of ways, the lives of these two women will be changed once more, and this time forever.
When He Fell
explores the issues of parental responsibility and guilt, and whether there are some acts that human nature just cannot forgive…
When He Fell
After spending three years as a diehard New Yorker and four years in a remote village in the Lake District, Kate now lives in the glorious Cotswolds with her husband, five children, and Golden Retriever.
She writes women’s fiction as well as contemporary romance for Mills & Boon Modern, and whatever the genre she enjoys delivering a compelling and intensely emotional story. Find out more about her books at
, and follow her blog at www.acumbrianlife.blogspot.co.uk.
To those who have found hope amidst tragedy, and strength in suffering. You know who you are, and you have been an incredible encouragement to me in the difficult times I’ve faced.
My phone rings on a Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of a meeting. Not an important meeting, nothing crucial or critical or even remotely urgent. Just a boring meeting to go over new HR procedures for the pharmaceutical company I hate working for. But one of Alwin Pharmaceuticals’ policies is no phones in meetings, and so I reach into my bag and switch it to silent without so much as glancing at the screen. My boss, Elena Drummond, gives me a pointed look and an over-loud throat clearing before she continues.
It’s only later, when I’m back in my cubicle in a fluorescent-lit office on the fourteenth floor of a nondescript building in midtown, that I happen to glance at it, and then only because it falls out of my bag when I toss it onto my desk.
Missed Call. Ben’s School.
I put the ID in as Ben’s school rather than its full title, The Burgdorf Institute for Committed Learning, because I joke to people, even as I mean it semi-seriously, that it sounds like a mental institution. Sometimes I wonder if it is. I certainly don’t fit in with the two kinds of mothers whose children attend Burgdorf. First there are the hippy-dippy types like my friend Juliet; her husband is a board member and hedge fund manager. They could afford to send their three girls to one of Manhattan’s best private schools but they chose Burgdorf because they are committed to its ‘principles of learning as exploration’ as well as Burgdorf’s motto, ‘Educating The Individual As Well As The Citizen’. Whatever that means.
The other kind of mother at Burgdorf is the pinched and bitterly disappointed woman whose child hasn’t been able to get in anywhere else.
And then there is me. And Ben. But we’ve always been misfits, skirting the periphery of other people’s lives. I’m not sure I know how to do or be anything else.
Now I reach for my phone and press a button to return the call, sending up a silent entreaty to whoever cares that Ben isn’t in trouble. Again.
He is, as the headmistress of Burgdorf has rather acerbically put it, a lively boy. Lively is Burgdorf’s non-pejorative word for ill-behaved. Ben isn’t a
boy; he’s just loud and rambunctious and restless. He doesn’t always respect boundaries or rules or personal space. He’s been in trouble—although Burgdorf never talks about children being in
they just need to be redirected or channeled, as if they are water—for a variety of infractions: talking when the teacher is talking, throwing his pencil across the room, getting up when he is meant to be sitting down, pushing in the playground. Nothing major, but barely a day goes by without me receiving the pale blue form that his teacher, Mrs. Rollins, fills out detailing his latest sin. The note is headed in curly script:
We Just Want You To Know.
For the last year I’ve been skirting around the topic of ADHD with Burgdorf’s counselor; no one at the school seems to like labels. And while I don’t want to slap a label onto my son, a definite diagnosis, with its accompanying potential solution, even if that comes in the form of prescribed medication, holds some appeal. I work for a pharmaceutical company, after all. I can see how a little Ritalin might improve a situation.
“Burgdorf Institute,” Tanya, the receptionist, answers cheerfully. She is twenty-two and interning in the office while she completes her Masters degree in Pedagogical Studies.
“Tanya, it’s Maddie Reese. I’m calling about my son Ben—”
.” Tanya’s cheerful voice turns hushed, tragic. I still, feeling as if my insides have frozen solid. That is not the tone someone uses when your son has thrown one too many spitballs.
“Has something happened?” I ask, which is a ridiculous question because of course something has. It is just a matter of what. Of how bad.
“Oh Maddie, I’m so, so sorry—”
God in heaven
. The words come into my head more like a prayer than an expletive. My throat is dry, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth, and my frozen insides are starting to turn liquid. “Tanya. What is it? What’s happened?”
“I…” Tanya breaks off, and then says, “Let me put you through to Mrs. James.”
Ruth James, the Headmistress of Burgdorf. I sink into my chair, raking a hand through my hair, my fingernails snagging on my scalp. It feels like forever before Mrs. James comes to the phone, but in reality is twenty-two seconds. I watch the seconds tick by on the clock by my computer, each one matching the painful thud of my heart.
“Maddie.” Mrs. James’s voice is low and honeyed, sounding both warm and authoritative. It is a tone that she always uses, a tone that secretly annoys me because it seems so fake. I’ve joked to Juliet that Mrs. James must practice speaking like that when she’s at home, maybe into a microphone; it is such an actor’s voice. Juliet might smile a little when I say stuff like that, but she never jokes back. She is intensely loyal to Burgdorf and its staff. I’ve also joked to her that she’s drunk the progressive education Kool Aid, but she won’t even smile at that.
“I’m afraid,” Mrs. James says, her voice dropping an octave and becoming more of a hushed whisper, “that Ben has had an accident.” I don’t reply; my tongue is still sticking to the roof of my mouth and my mind is both numb and spinning. “He’s in the Emergency Room at Mount Sinai Roosevelt,” Mrs. James continues. “He was rushed there right away—”
. Rushed is not a good word right now. Somehow I manage to unstick my tongue and speak, although when my voice comes out it sounds strange, almost garbled. “What…what happened?”
Mrs. James hesitates, and I clutch the phone more tightly to my ear, so my fingers ache.
“He had a fall,” Mrs. James finally says, and her tone is careful, as if she is choosing each word with precision. “He hit his head. We did call you,” she adds, with the faintest hint of accusation in her voice.
“I was in a meeting,” I say, an apology, and then a wave of both fury and shame crashes over me. Why on earth am I justifying myself? “How bad—I mean, is he…is he all right?”
“He was knocked unconscious from the fall. The playground supervisor called 911 right away, and an ambulance was there within minutes.” She sounds as if she is reciting facts from a sheet, a checklist of what to do in an emergency, of how Burgdorf correctly handled the situation. “But if you want to go to the ER now—”
If I want to?
Does she think there was a choice in this matter? That I might say I’ll pop by later, after I’ve plowed through some paperwork, when he is up and at it again?
“Of course I’m going to go,” I snarl, the anger that surges through me surprising me. I feel so many things in this moment: shock, fear, despair, and yes, still faint, frail hope. But anger trumps them all, and I don’t even understand why.
I walk out of Alwin Pharmaceuticals without telling anyone; I feel like every second that slips by was hurtling me towards the edge of a cliff, and I do not want to look down and see what yawns below me. I am caught in a riptide of events; words and phrases float through my mind like sticks being carried by that unstoppable current.
He had a fall. He was rushed to ER. He was knocked unconscious when he fell.
I take a cab to Mount Sinai Roosevelt on Fifty-Eighth and Tenth Avenue, the edge of Manhattan, the Hudson River visible through the concrete alleyways if you crane your neck. In through the double doors to the massive, soaring lobby, my heart racing as I gaze around wildly for the entrance to Emergency.
“It’s around the corner,” the guard at the front desk tells me, his voice bored, his face a mask of indifference.
The people at the triage desk in the ER seem just as relentlessly indifferent. “Benjamin Reese?” They scan computer screens, taking forever, before glancing back up at me with blank stares. Perhaps I should find comfort in their lack of concern; surely it can’t be serious if they don’t know? If they don’t care?
“Please take a seat, Miss…?”
“Ms. Reese. I’m his mother.” My voice rings out, cracking on the last word, and still no sympathy. They must see scenes like this a hundred, a thousand times over; they are immune, inoculated against grief by the sheer number of times they witness it.
“Please take a seat,” the woman repeats in a monotone, and without any other options, I do as I am told.
Five minutes later a nurse comes through the double doors of the ER ward and calls my name. I rise from my seat like a puppet being yanked on a string and walk towards her on stiff, marionette’s legs.
“You are Benjamin Reese’s mother?”
“Please come this way.” I follow her through the double doors; they swing heavily behind me, making me feel as if I’d been entombed in the ER. She leads me to a small waiting room with green vinyl seats and a fake potted plant on a little fake wood table and I stop on the threshold, not wanting to go in. Not a little room, the little room where in the sappy movies the camera pans back from behind the glass, and you watch the doctor give the parents the terrible news, see them silently break down. Not
“If you’d like to wait here, the doctor will be in to see you shortly.”
It is that room. And I am in it.
I pace the room; it is tiny, and it only takes three steps to cross it. I press my hand flat against the wall and then push off, as if I am swimming. I feel as if I am swimming, or wading through thick, cloying mud; it’s becoming hard to breathe. My mind skitters towards possibilities and then darts away again, fast. I can’t bear to think about any of them even for a second. I wish I could call someone, but there is no one. My life isn’t like that. It never has been.