Or they’ll tell it for you…
Rachel’s childhood is a mess of fragmented memories, and her adult life is no less chaotic.
Her mother and daughter were her only concrete links to the past and now they are slipping through her fingers. Fuelled by the fear of losing them both, she delves into her mother’s past, fast becoming entangled in her own tragic history.
With eerie friend requests filling Rachel’s phone and shocking flashbacks filling her mind, she is plagued by her mother’s past, and soon realises that her entire life might just be a lie.
Will she ever discover the truth?
From the bestselling author of HER LAST LIE comes a chilling new thriller you won’t want to miss! It will have you questioning your own relationships and doubting if everyone in your life is who they say they are.
Perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train and He Said / She Said.
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KEEP READING TO SEE AN EXCERPT!
The soft sofa felt as though it might swallow me. Suffocate me in its bright yellow fabric. I wasn’t keen on yellow, unless worn by a daffodil or buttercup. It tended to reflect off my normally healthy-looking skin, giving me an unflattering jaundiced complexion that clashed with my blood-red hair.
It was hot in the TV studio, but it was too late to remove my hoodie. The clock said almost eleven, and Emmy – the nation’s favourite morning presenter – had flicked me the nod. She was about to introduce me.
But I was crumbling, anxiety flooding through my veins. I had an excuse. Lawrence had left me.
A cameraman slid his heavy camera across the studio floor towards me. It seemed threatening somehow – a metal monster. I rolled my tongue over my dry lips, my throat closing up. Was I going to cope? I reached for the glass of sparkling water beside me, and gulped it back. I was about to talk about childhood memories to millions of people sitting in front of their TV sets at home. How was I going to do that, when I couldn’t shake Lawrence’s departure last night from my head?
Emmy finished telling the viewers about Stephen King’s latest novel – another nod in my direction. She had a pile of hardbacks on the table in front of her: Stephen King, Paula Hawkins, and Felix T Clarke. If she’d asked for my opinion I would have told her I love them all. That I adored Inspector Bronte, Felix T Clarke’s character who had come to life in over ten novels.
I scanned the studio, trying to stop my knee from jumping, still amazed Emmy had swung it for me to be here.
‘You’re perfect, Rachel,’ the producer had said when I met her. ‘The public will love your casual style, and your pixie cut is appealing – you’ve got a bit of a post-Hermione Emma Watson thing going on.’
Five years ago, Lawrence loved my look, which, come to think of it, hadn’t changed since then. Perhaps that’s why he left. But then he’d once loved that I was a casual kind of gal, who lived in jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies. They say opposites attract, so when did I start to repel him? When did I pass my sell-by date in Lawrence’s eyes? When was the first time he suggested I wore heels, or that I might look good in a figure-hugging dress?
‘I want Grace in my life, Rach,’ he’d said last night about our four-year-old daughter, folding his arms across his toned chest. He didn’t have to say but not you – the words were in his eyes.
I admit I over-reacted, fired abuse at him, hoping to inflict pain. ‘I’ll move away. You won’t see Grace, if I have anything to do with it.’
He said I was over-reacting – that I should calm down. ‘I’ll get my solicitor onto it right away,’ he’d gone on, far too calm. ‘We’ll sort something out to suit us both. This can work. We can stay friends.’ And then he’d disappeared through the front door without a backward glance.
I confess to getting pretty angry with some inanimate objects after a couple – five – glasses of wine. But the truth was I’d been thinking for a while that our relationship wasn’t right. He worked long hours. I barely saw him. I’d wondered more than once if we were only together for Grace’s sake. But it still hurt. The memories of when things seemed perfect kept prodding my mind. And his timing was awful. How could he leave when he knew what I was going through with Mum? Or was that partly why he left?
‘We are lucky to have brilliant psychotherapist Rachel Hogan, who once worked for the prestigious Bell and Brooks Clinic in Kensington, in the studio with us today,’ Emmy was saying, bringing me out of my reverie. She didn’t mention that I now ran a private practice in a summerhouse at the foot of the long, narrow garden of my rented end-terrace in Finsbury Park.
The camera was on me, and my heart hammered in my chest. You can do this, Rachel. You can do this. The point was, if I did this right, they might ask me back for a regular slot – that’s what Emmy had said – so I needed to throw a metaphoric bucket of cold water over my feelings, and get on with it.
Emmy had been one of my clients for about a year. Looking at her now – her pale ginger hair spiralling over her shoulders, her sparkly green eyes, the sprinkle of freckles on her nose, her beaming smile – you would never have guessed the torment she’d been through. The persona she’d created for TV never gave that away. Although for a time, the medication had helped pull it off.
‘Hi, guys,’ I said, waving at the camera, trying not to imagine the number of people watching. ‘I’m here to talk about childhood memories. We’ve all got them, but how real are they? And what about those we’ve repressed, ones that lurk in the dark corners of our minds? In our subconscious.’
My confidence grew as I spoke – it was a subject I knew well.
Emmy chipped in. ‘I remember my second birthday party. My parents bought me a toy monkey with a huge red bow. And when I was three I had a little pushchair for my dolls, and I would take them for walks round the garden.’
I was wrong-footed. She’d lost her mum when she was a child, and now, in front of millions, I was about to extinguish her recollections.
‘Sadly, it’s unlikely they are real memories,’ I said, running my finger over my dry lips, as I looked her way.
‘Oh,’ she said, raising a brow, and giving a strange little laugh. ‘So, you’re saying I don’t remember my second birthday party?’ She’d lost her smile.
‘Well, it is possible, but rare to recall things from before the age of three or four. In fact, few memories are stored before the age of six. You may have kept the monkey and pushchair for years.’
‘I did, yes, Vanessa the monkey was my favourite toy until I was about twelve.’ Her smile was back – always so professional. ‘And before you ask, I’ve no idea why I chose that name.’
‘Maybe you’ve seen photographs of you pushing the pushchair?’
‘Oh yes, tons. My mum took mountains of pictures of me when I was little.’
There was a slight dip in her voice that only I would pick up on. I felt awful. I knew I’d hurt her, and wanted her to look my way so I could mouth that I was sorry, but she didn’t catch my eye.
Once the camera was back on me, I said, ‘I had a toy rabbit called Mr Snookum as a child.’ I smiled. ‘I still have him stashed away in my loft. My mother told me she gave him to me on my fifth birthday, and I’m sure I remember her handing him over and telling me to always take care of him.’ My voice quavered, and a lump rose in my throat. My poor mum. My poor, poor mum. I swallowed, and took a breath. ‘But I can’t be sure the memory is real. Vivid recollections of my childhood start much later, particularly her painting on the beach at Southwold.’ I gave a little cough to ward off my stupid emotions. ‘She’s an artist.’ Why am I sharing this with the nation?
My slot seemed to go on for ages, as I continued to discuss childhood amnesia, and the different methods of retrieving infant memories. I did my best to put on a front, hoping I was making a good impression.
Then it was the phone-in. The bit I’d dreaded most.
A woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder came on the line, and I went through breathing and muscle relaxing exercises with her, and suggested meditation and yoga. ‘Spending time with nature can be beneficial too,’ I concluded.
Next, a man suffering with agoraphobia called in.
‘Do you think it’s something in my childhood that I can’t recall, causing me to stay in my apartment day in, day out?’ He sounded defeated, on the verge of tears.
What a ridiculous position I was in. How was I meant to answer someone I knew nothing about?
‘Could be,’ I said. ‘Call your doctor as soon as possible. They can advise you.’ Pathetic!
‘We have John Burton on the line, Rachel,’ Emmy said, once the agoraphobic man had hung up. She pressed her finger to her ear, as though listening through her earpiece.
‘Hello, John,’ I said. ‘How can I help?’
‘Polly put the kettle on,’ he sang. ‘Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.’
‘Do you remember that nursery rhyme from your childhood, John?’ I said, feeling uneasy, and glancing over at Emmy.
There was a pause, before he said, ‘Yes.’
Emmy furrowed her brow, and shrugged. Surely they would cut him off. Blame a poor connection.
‘What age do you think you were when you heard it?’ I asked, trying to sound professional.
‘Suki take it off again, Suki take it off again, Suki take it off again, they’ve all gone away.’
The hairs on my arms rose, despite the heat of the studio.
‘I’m crying out,’ he said. ‘But they won’t listen. And now you must pay, Rachel.’ The line went dead, and within moments we went to a commercial break.
‘Oh my God,’ Emmy said as soon as we were off the air, jumping up and dashing over. She plonked down next to me, and put her arm around my shoulder. ‘Why the hell did they keep him on the line so long?’
I didn’t reply; instead, I dashed off set, barely looking at the concerned faces following me through the door. I rushed through the labyrinth of corridors, desperately seeking an exit, my heart thumping. Eventually I spotted the automatic doors that led to the car park, and raced through them, freezing air hitting me like a smack. I stood for some moments, my eyes darting around the area, trying to catch my breath.
I drove home, relieved Emmy was still on the air and couldn’t call me. I needed time to process what had happened, before discussing it. I collected Grace from Angela, keeping the conversation with my next-door neighbour brief so she didn’t see how anxious I was. ‘You knocked them dead, sweetie,’ she said in her throaty middle-class way, as I dashed down her path, holding Grace’s hand.
‘Thanks,’ I called back, certain she couldn’t have seen the live show.
Inside my house, with the bolts pulled across the door and the deadlock on, my heartbeat slowed to a normal rate. Grace settled herself in the lounge, building with Lego, and I padded into the kitchen to make tea, the song ‘Polly put the Kettle on’ worming its way into my head on repeat, driving up my anxiety.
I rummaged in the freezer for fish fingers for Grace’s lunch. As I closed the freezer door, I noticed a photo of Lawrence and me on holiday a couple of years ago, pinned amongst the magnetic letters. I couldn’t tear my eyes away, and touched Lawrence’s face with my outstretched fingertip. We were happy once. Weren’t we?
I jumped at the sound of my daughter’s voice, dropping the box of fish fingers to the floor with a thud. I fell to my knees.
‘Are you OK, Mummy?’ Grace said, running over and crouching beside me, as I shoved broken fish fingers back into the box with shaking hands. She craned her neck to see my face, touching my cheek softly, and I realised tears were filling my eyes.
‘Don’t cry,’ she said.
‘I’m not crying, lovely. I’ve got something in my eye.’
What the hell was the matter with me? Was it Lawrence taking off, or the stupid call? I took a deep breath, trying to escape the silly nursery rhyme in my head. It’s just some weirdo. A troll. Nothing personal.
I rose and slipped the battered box onto the worktop, and lifted Grace up into my arms, burying my nose into her dark curls. She smelt of strawberry shampoo. ‘So did you have a lovely time with Angela?’ I said, as the kettle boiled.
The phone blasted on my bedside table. It was 7 a.m. Only one person would ring so early – someone who got up at five.
‘Emmy,’ I said as I answered the call, my voice croaky.
‘I’m so sorry about the odd phone call yesterday, Rachel,’ she said. If she’d been angry about my comments on air about her childhood, she’d let it go.
‘It wasn’t your fault. And I’m sorry too … for rushing off like that.’
‘No worries. You dealt with it all amazingly while you were on air. After the break we had that cute contestant from The Bake Offon, and carried on as though nothing had happened. There’s been a few tweets about it, but nothing major.’
‘Live TV, especially phone-ins, can be a nightmare.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Are you sure you’re OK?’
‘I’m fine, honestly,’ I said, pulling myself up to a sitting position, and propping myself against the headboard.
‘I still can’t believe they let him stay on the line for so long.’ Her TV persona was confident, loud and bubbly, yet the real Emmy – the one on the other end of the line, was softly spoken. ‘The guys handling the phone lines said he sounded upbeat and friendly when he called in. Had a great question to ask you.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said, raking my fingers through my hair. Despite ‘Polly put the Kettle on’ playing in my head during the night, I felt sure I was over the call. Lawrence had left. My mum was ill. I wasn’t about to let some creepy caller add another layer of worry to my life. ‘It was just some fool with nothing better to do,’ I said, sounding strong. ‘I’m sure the call wasn’t aimed at me personally.’
‘I’m not so sure, Rach,’ she said. Words I didn’t want to hear. The phone line went quiet for a few moments, and I imagined her twirling a curl of her hair around her finger, forming the words she sometimes struggled to get out. A trauma twelve months ago had triggered a childhood stammer, although she could mainly control it now and rarely stuttered on air. ‘The thing is …’
‘What is it, Emmy?’ I leaned forward on the bed, and threw back my quilt, suddenly hot. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing’s happened exactly,’ she went on. ‘And to be honest, I’ve been deliberating over whether to tell you – but then I feel you should know. Just in case.’
‘Just in case what?’ The hairs on my arms rose.
‘The thing is, a man came to the studio looking for you earlier this morning.’
‘Was it the man who called in?’ Is that fear in my voice?
‘No. Well, I don’t think so. I don’t know who he was, but he was quite normal, nothing like the bloke on the phone. He was waiting outside when I arrived. He’d been there a while, as he was soaked through.’
‘It’s raining?’ I glanced at the window. Part of me didn’t want to hear what she had to say. Let’s talk about the weather instead.
‘It’s dried up now. Rach, are you taking this in? Did you hear what I said?’
I nodded, as though she could see me, before rising and pacing the room. ‘Of course. Yes.’
‘He didn’t tell me his name, despite me asking several times.’ Another pause. ‘Just that he was desperate to talk to you. I hope I’ve done the right thing in telling you. I thought you should know.’
Just in case.
‘Yes, yes thanks, Emmy. You did the right thing.’
‘He looked nice. Normal,’ she said. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, Rachel. Listen, I must go, I’m back on the air in five. Talk soon. And please don’t worry.’ She ended the call before I could answer.
It’s nothing, I told myself, continuing to pace the bedroom. I’d been on TV. Things like this happen all the time. But my neck tingled, and a chill ran through my body. Had it been the same man who called in to the studio?
And if it was, why was he looking for me?
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