Thirteen years ago Amy Crane ran away from everyone and everything she knew, ending up in an unfamiliar city with no obvious past and no idea of her future. Now, though, that past has just arrived on her doorstep, in the shape of an old music cassette that Amy hasn't seen since she was at university. Digging out her long-neglected Walkman, Amy listens to the lyrics that soundtracked her student days. As long-buried memories are wrenched from the places in her mind where she's kept them safely locked away for over a decade, Amy is suddenly tired of hiding. It's time to confront everything about her life. Time to find all the friends she left behind in England, when her heart got broken and the life she was building for herself got completely shattered. Time to make sense of all the feelings she's been bottling up for all this time. And most of all, it's time to discover why Jack has sent her tape back to her now, after all these years... With her mantra, New life, New job, New home, playing on a continuous loop in her head, Amy gears herself up with yet another a bucket-sized cup of coffee, as she goes forth to lay the ghost of first love to rest...
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Recent research has shown that the kind of male face a woman finds attractive can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle. For instance, if she is ovulating she is drawn to men with rugged, masculine features. Whereas if she is menstruating she is more prone to be attracted to a man with a heavy pair of scissors shoved in his forehead …
Ho bloody ho. I sit on my hands so I can’t punch the computer screen. Hilarious, these Internet jokes. Or they might be if not so close to the truth. I quite often imagine Daniel cowering in a corner, whimpering while I take a blunt instrument to him. Or the way he might look if I wiped away that supercilious expression by treading on it. Especially on Day 19. Day 19 of my menstrual cycle is when I am at my most malevolent and think my darkest thoughts. Then I write vitriolic letters in my head and fantasise about wreaking revenge on everyone who has ever done me wrong. It is when I smash crockery, forget things, scream, shout and eat four KitKats without drawing breath. It is Day 19 today and already I am …
‘Am I going to Dad’s tonight?’
Stanley appeared in the doorway in his school shirt and boxers. His hair, as usual, stood up in tufts. He yawned and wrinkled his freckled nose. ‘Do you know where my tie is?’
I gripped the edge of the keyboard. ‘No, I do not know where your tie is. It is wherever you left it, the same as it is every morning when you ask me, and yes, you are going to your father’s. We’ve been talking about it for five days. Since the last time you went, in fact. Which was last Sunday. When your father said he would pick you up this Friday, which is today, and you could stay the night with him and he would take you to the football match. You know you are going to your bloody father’s …’ I clapped a hand to my mouth and bit it.
Stanley’s face, which had lit up at the thought of 22 blokes kicking a bag of air, clouded again. ‘I hope She isn’t there.’
‘She will be,’ I said grimly, suffused with shame at swearing and giving my son’s future therapist even more material to work with. ‘She lives there.’
She is Emily, Daniel’s new girlfriend, who is totally welcome to him because I wouldn’t have him back if his was the last paunch on earth. She has set up home with him which I don’t care about at all. I do think, however, it smacks of indecent haste as far as Stanley, who has to visit them, is concerned. Them and their laminate floors and low black coffee tables and single lilies in tall glass tubes (I didn’t press Stanley for these details – he gave them up quite readily under cross-examination).
Stanley wrinkled his nose even more. ‘I can’t find my trousers either.’
‘Boiler!’ I got up from my desk in our tiny spare bedroom and stomped to the door in two paces. ‘They were muddy, remember? I washed them. I told you they were on the boiler to dry. I knew you weren’t listening … And why weren’t you dressed ages ago? I’ve got to get this lot finished today,’ I shrieked, jabbing a finger at the pile of paper teetering on the top of the ancient filing cabinet. ‘And how can I do that with you constantly interrupting me?’
‘All right. Take a chill-pill.’ Stanley sighed and plodded across the landing. He knows when it is that time of the month.
‘Keep it on,’ he called from the safety of the stairs while I kicked the waste bin. ‘Will you make me some toast?’
One, two, three, four, five. Breathe in and out. Adopt sing-song voice to disguise the fact I want to throttle him. ‘Yes darling,’ I trilled through gritted teeth. ‘I will make you toast even though you are 11 and a half and quite old enough to make it yourself. Even if I am right in the middle of a paragraph.’
‘You were doing emails.’
‘Work ones. When I was 11 …’
‘You got up at dawn to scrub all the floors, made breakfast for the whole family, did all the washing and walked through fire and flood 20 miles to school …’ Stanley poked his head back round the door and grinned.
I glared. ‘Just get ready!’