Author: Adele Parks
Year of Publication: 2019
Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Location (see my
Excerpt (click here to see information about the book and the other stops on the TLC excerpt tour).
Monday, 19 February
While the girls are cleaning their teeth, I start to stack the dishwasher. It’s too full to take the breakfast pots—I should have put it on last night. There’s nothing I can do about this now, so I finish making up their packed lunches and then have a quick glance at my phone.
I’m expecting an email from my area manager about the results of some interviews we held last week. I work in a high-street fashion retailer that everyone knows. There’s one in every town.
Our branch needs another sales assistant, and as assistant manager, I was asked to sit in on the interviews. Dozens of people applied; we interviewed six. I have a favourite and I’m crossing my fingers she’ll be selected. Unfortunately, I don’t get to make the final decision.
I skim through the endless offers to invest in counterintuitive home-protection units or pills that promise me thicker and fuller hair or a thicker and fuller penis, and look for my boss’s name. Suddenly, I spot another name—ABIGAIL CURTIZ—and I’m stopped in my tracks. It jumps right out at me. Abigail Curtiz.
My first thought is that it is most likely to be a clever way of spreading a virus; the name is a coincidence, one just plucked out of the air by whoever it is who is mindless enough and yet clever enough to go to the effort of sending spam emails to infect other people’s gadgets.
But Curtiz with a z? I hesitate before opening it, as it’s probably just trouble. However, the email is entitled It’s Been Too Long, which sounds real enough, feasible. It has been a long time. I can’t resist. I open it. My heart thumping.
Normally, I skim read everything. I have three kids and a job, my default setting is hurried, but this email I read carefully. “No!” I gasp out loud.
“Bad news?” asks Ben with concern. He’s moving around the kitchen, looking for something. His phone, probably. He’s always mislaying that and his car keys.
“No, it’s not.” Not exactly. “I’ve just got an email from an old friend of mine. She’s getting divorced.”
“That’s sad. Who?”
“Abigail Curtiz. Abi.” Her name seems strange on my lips. I used to say it so often, with such pleasure. And then I stopped doing so. Stopped talking to her, stopped thinking about her. I had to.
Ben looks quizzical. He’s one of those good husbands who tries to keep up when I talk about my friends, but he doesn’t recall me mentioning an Abigail. That’s not a surprise. I never have.
“We were at uni together,” I explain carefully.
“Oh, really?” He reaches for the plate of now-cold toast in the middle of the kitchen table and snatches up a piece. He takes a bite, and while still chewing, he kisses me on the forehead. “Right. Well, you can tell me about her later. Yeah?” He’s almost out of the door. He calls up the stairs, “Liam, if you want a lift to the bus stop, you need to be downstairs five minutes ago.”
I smile, amused at his half-hearted effort at sounding like a ruthless disciplinarian, hell-bent on timekeeping. He blows the facade completely when he comes back into the kitchen and asks, “Liam has had breakfast, right? I don’t like him going out on an empty stomach. I’ll wait if needs be.”
We listen for the slow clap of footsteps on the stairs and Liam lumbers into the kitchen right on cue. He grew taller than me four years ago, when he was just thirteen, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he now towers above me, but it absolutely is. Every time I see him, I’m freshly startled by the mass of him. He’s broad, makes an effort to go to the gym and bulk out. He’s bigger than most boys his age.
I wonder where my little boy went. Is he still buried somewhere within? Liam is taller than Ben now, too. Imogen, who is eight, and Lily, just six, are still wisps. They still scamper, hop and float. When either of them jumps onto my knee, I barely register it. I have to stretch up now, to steal a hug from Liam.
I also have to judge when doing so is appropriate and acceptable. I try to get it right because it’s too painful to see him dodge my affection, which he sometimes does. He’s outgrown me. I must respect his boundaries and his privacy; I’m ever mindful of it but I can’t help but miss the little boy I could smother with kisses whenever the desire struck me. Now I wait for Liam’s rare but generous hugs, mostly contenting myself with high fives.
Today he looks tired. I imagine he stayed up later than sensible last night, watching YouTube videos or playing games. When he’s docile, he’s often more open to care and attention. I take advantage, ruffle his hair. Even peck him on the cheek. He picks up two slices of toast from the plate I’m proffering. Shoving one into his mouth, almost in its entirety, unconcerned that it’s cold. He takes a moment to slather the second slice with jam. He’s always had a sweet tooth.
“Thanks, Mum, you’re the best.”
I don’t spoil the moment by telling him not to speak with his mouth full; there really are only so many times you can remind someone of this.