Beth has always known there was something strange about her daughter, Hannah. The lack of emotion, the disturbing behavior, the apparent delight in hurting others...Sometimes Beth is scared of her and what she could be capable of.
Luke comes from the perfect family, with the perfect parents. But one day, he disappears without a trace, and his girlfriend, Clara, is desperate to discover what has happened to him.
A life built on lies
As Clara digs into the past, she realizes that no family is truly perfect, and uncovers a link between Luke's long-lost sister and a strange girl named Hannah. Now Luke's life is in danger because of the lies once told and the secrets once kept. Can Clara find him before it's too late?
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Camilla Way
At first I mistook the severed head for something else. It wasn’t until I was very close that I realized it was Lucy's. To begin with, I thought the splash of yellow against the white of my pillow was a discarded sock, a balled-up handkerchief perhaps. It was only when I drew nearer and saw the delicate crest of feathers, the tiny, silent beak, that I fully understood. And suddenly I understood so much more: everything in that moment became absolutely clear.
“Hannah?” I whispered. A floorboard creaked in the hall beyond my bedroom door. My scalp tightened. “Hannah”—a little louder now, yet with the same fearful tremor in my voice—“is that you?” No answer, but I felt her there, somewhere near; could feel her waiting, listening.
I didn’t want to touch my little bird’s head, could hardly bear to look at the thin brown line of congealed blood where it had been sliced clean from the body, or at the half-open, staring eyes. I wondered if she’d been alive or dead when it happened, and started to feel sick.
When I went to Hannah’s bedroom, she was standing by her window, looking down at the garden below. I said her name and she turned and regarded me, her beautiful dark eyes somber, just a trace of a smile on her lips. “Yes, Mummy?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
Clara woke to the sound of rain, a distant siren wailing somewhere along Old Street, and the low, steady thump of bass from her neighbor’s speakers. She knew instantly that Luke wasn’t home—not just absent from their bed but from the flat itself—and for a moment she lay staring into the darkness before reaching for her phone. Four twelve a.m. No missed calls, no text messages. Through the gaps of her curtains, she could see the falling rain caught in a streetlamp’s orange glare. From below her window on Hoxton Square came the sudden sharp peal of female laughter, followed by the clattering stumble of high heels.
Another hour passed before she finally gave up on sleep. Beyond their bedroom door, the first blue light had begun to seep into the flat’s dark corners, the furniture gradually taking shape around her, its colors and edges looming like ships out of the darkness. The square’s bars and clubs were silent now, the last stragglers long gone. Soon the sweep and trundle of the street cleaners’ truck would come to wash the night away; people would emerge from their buildings, heading for buses and trains; the day would begin.
Above her, the repetitive beat continued to pound, and sitting on the sofa wrapped in her duvet now, she stared down at her phone, her tired mind flicking through various explanations. They hadn’t had a chance to speak yesterday at work, and she’d left without asking him his plans. Later, she’d met a friend for drinks before going to bed early, assuming he’d be back before too long. Should she call him now? She hesitated. They’d moved in together only six months before, and she didn’t want to be that girlfriend—nagging and needy, issuing demands and curfews. It was not the way things worked between them. He was out having fun. No big deal. It had happened before, after all—a few drinks that had turned into a few more, then sleeping it off on someone’s sofa.
Yet it was strange, wasn’t it? To not even text—to just not come home at all?
It wasn’t until she was in the shower that she remembered the importance of the day’s date. Wednesday the twenty-sixth. Luke’s interview. The realization made her stand stock-still, the shampoo bottle poised in midair. Today was the big interview for his promotion at work. He’d been preparing for it for weeks; there was no way he would stay out all night before something so important. Quickly she turned the water off and, wrapping herself in a towel, went back to the living room to find her phone. Clicking on his number, she waited impatiently for the ringtone to kick in. And then she heard the buzzing vibration coming from beneath the sofa. Crouching, she saw it, lying on the dusty expanse of floor, forgotten and abandoned: Luke’s mobile. “Shit,” she said out loud, and as though surprised, the pounding music above her head ended abruptly.
After a moment’s thought she clicked open her e-mail, and sure enough, there it was, a message from Luke, sent last night at six twenty-three from his work address.
Hey darling, left my phone at home again. I’m going to stay and work on stuff for the interview, probably be here till eight, then coming home—want to have an early night for tomorrow. You’re out with Zoe, aren’t you?
See you when I do,
An hour later, as she made her way up Old Street, she told herself to get a grip. He’d changed his mind, that was all. Decided to go for a pint with his team, then ended up carrying the night on. He couldn’t let her know because he was phoneless—nothing else to it. She would see him soon enough at work, hungover and sheepish, full of apologies. So why was her stomach twisting and turning like this? Beneath the April sky, gray and damp like old chewing gum, she walked the ugly thoroughfare that was already gnarled with traffic, with the brutal hulking buildings of the roundabout ahead and the wide pavements filled with commuters pressing on and on, clutching coffee, earbuds in, staring down at phones or else inward looking, unseeing, as they moved as one toward the white-tiled station entrance, to be sucked in, then hurtled forward, and spit out again at the other end.
The magazine publisher where they both worked was in the center of Soho. Though they were on separate magazines—she a writer on a finance title, he heading the design desk of an architectural quarterly—it was where they’d met three years ago, shortly before they’d started going out.
It had been her first day at Brindle Press and, eager to make a good impression, she’d offered to make the first round of tea. Anxiously running through everyone’s names as she’d sloshed water onto tea bags and stirred in milk and sugar, she’d piled too many mugs on the tray before she’d hurried out of the kitchen. The mess when it slipped from her hands and came crashing to the floor had been spectacular: scattered shards of broken crockery, rivers of steaming brown liquid, her carefully chosen “first day” dress soaked through.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It was only then that she’d looked up and seen him, the tall, good-looking man standing in the doorway, watching her with amusement. “Oops,” he’d said, crouching down to help her.
“Christ, I’m an idiot,” she’d wailed.
He’d laughed. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, then added, “I’m Luke.”
That evening, when her new team had taken her out for welcome drinks, she had spotted him by the bar, her heart quickening as she met his gaze, his dark eyes holding her there, as though he’d reached out his hand and touched her.
Now, as she approached her desk, the phone rang, its tone signaling an internal line, and she snatched it up eagerly. “Luke?”
But it was his deputy, Lauren. “Clara? Where the fuck is he?”
She felt herself flush. “I don’t know.”
There was a short, surprised silence. “Right. What, you don’t . . . You haven’t seen him this morning?”
“He didn’t come home last night,” she admitted.
Lauren digested this. “Huh.” And then Clara heard her say loudly to whoever was listening nearby, “He didn’t come home last night!” A chorus of male laughter, of leering comments she couldn’t quite catch, though the tone was clear: Naughty Luke. They were joking, she knew, and their laughter was comforting, in a way, signifying their lack of concern. Still, she clutched the receiver tightly until Lauren came back on the line. “Well, not to worry. Fucker’s probably dead in a ditch somewhere,” she said cheerfully. “When you do speak to him, tell him Charlie’s raging—he’s missed the cover meeting now. Later, yeah?” And then she hung up.
Maybe she should go through his contacts list, ring around his friends. But what if he did arrive soon? He’d be mortified she’d made such a fuss. And surely he was bound to turn up sooner or later—people always did, after all.
Suddenly his best friend, Joe McKenzie’s, face flashed into Clara’s mind, and for the first time, her spirits lifted a little. Mac. He’d know what to do. She grabbed her mobile and hurried out into the corridor to call him, feeling immediately comforted when she heard his familiar Glaswegian accent.
“Clara? How’s it going?”
She pictured Mac’s pale, serious face, the small brown eyes that peered distractedly from beneath its mop of black hair.
“Have you seen Luke?” she asked.
“Hang on.” The White Stripes blared in the background while she waited impatiently, imagining him fighting his way through the chaos of his photographic studio before the noise was abruptly killed and Mac came back on the line. “Luke? No. Why? What’s— Haven’t you?”
Quickly she explained, her words spilling out in a rush: Luke’s forgotten mobile, his e-mail, his missed interview.
“Yeah,” Mac said when she’d finished. “That’s odd, right enough. He’d never miss that interview.” He thought for a moment. “I’ll call around everyone. Ask if they’ve seen him. He’s probably been on a bender and overslept—you know what he’s like.”
But his text half an hour later read, No one’s heard from him. I’ll keep trying though, I’m sure he’ll turn up.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. Despite his colleagues’ laughter, she didn’t really think he’d been with another woman. Even if he had, a one-night stand didn’t take this long, surely. She made herself face the real reason for her anxiety: Luke’s “stalker.”
Putting the word in inverted commas, treating it all as a bit of a joke, was something Luke had done ever since it had begun nearly a year ago. He’d even christened whoever it was “Barry”—a comical, harmless name to prove just how unthreatened he was by it all. “Barry strikes again!” he’d say after yet another vicious Facebook message, or silent phone call, or unwelcome “gift” through the post.
But then things had gotten weirder. First an envelope stuffed with photographs had been pushed through their mail slot. Each one was of Luke and showed him doing the most mundane things—queuing at a café, or walking to the tube, or getting into their car. Whoever had taken them had clearly been following him closely—with a wide-angled lens, Mac had said. It had made Clara’s skin crawl. The photos had been stuffed through their mail slot with arrogant nonchalance, as if to say, This is what I can do. Look how easy it is. But though she’d been desperate to call the police, Luke wouldn’t hear of it. It was as if he was determined to pretend it wasn’t happening, that it was merely an annoyance that would soon go away. And no matter how much she begged, he wouldn’t budge.
And then, three months ago, they’d come home late from a party to find the door to their flat forced open. Clara would never forget the creepy chill she’d felt as they silently walked around their home, knowing some stranger had recently been there—going through their things, touching their belongings. But the strange thing was, everything had been left in perfect order: nothing had been stolen; nothing, as far as she could tell, had been moved. Only a handwritten message on a page torn from Clara’s notepad had been sitting on the kitchen table: I’ll be seeing you, Luke.
At least Luke had been sufficiently rattled to let Clara report that to the police. Who didn’t even turn up until the next day and discovered precisely nothing—the neighbors hadn’t seen anything; no fingerprints had been found—and as nothing had been taken or damaged, within days the so-called “investigation” had quietly fizzled out.
Stranger still, after that, it was as if whoever it was had lost interest. For weeks now there’d been no new incidents, and Luke had been triumphant. “See?” he’d said. “Told you they’d get bored eventually!” But although Clara had tried hard to put it out of her mind, she hadn’t quite been able to forget the menace of that note—or the idea that the culprit was still out there somewhere, just biding his time.
And now Luke had disappeared. What if “Barry” had something to do with it? Even as she allowed the thought to form, she could hear Luke’s laugh, see his eyes roll. “Jesus, Clara, will you stop being so dramatic?” But as the morning progressed, her sense of foreboding grew and when lunchtime came, instead of going to her usual café, she found herself walking back toward the tube.
She reached Hoxton Square half an hour later, and when she caught sight of her squat yellow-bricked building on its farthest corner, she was struck suddenly by the overwhelming certainty that Luke would be there waiting for her, and she ran the final few hundred yards—past the restaurants and bars, the black railings and shadowy lawn of the central garden—and out of breath by the time she reached the front door, she impatiently unlocked it before sprinting up the communal stairs to her flat. But when she got there, it was empty.
She sank into a chair, the flat too silent and still around her. On the coffee table in front of her was a photo she’d had framed when they’d first moved in together, and she picked it up now. It was of the two of them on Hampstead Heath three summers before, heads squashed together as they grinned into the camera, a scorching day in June. That first summer, the days seemed to roll out before them hot and limitless, London theirs for the taking. She had fallen in love almost instantly, as effortlessly as breathing, certain she had never met anyone like him before, this handsome, exuberant man so full of energy and sweetness and easy charm, who (inexplicably, it seemed to her) appeared to find her just as irresistible. As she gazed down at the photo now, their happiness trapped and unreachable behind glass, she traced his face with her finger. “Where are you?” she whispered. “Where the bloody hell are you, Luke?”
At that moment she heard the front door slam two floors below and her heart lurched. She listened, her breath held, as the footsteps on the stairs grew louder. When they paused outside her door, she sprang to her feet and rushed to open it, but with a jolt of surprise found it was her upstairs neighbor, and not Luke, staring back at her.
She didn’t know the name of the woman who’d lived above them for the past six months. She could, Clara thought, be anything between mid-twenties and mid-thirties; it was impossible to tell. She was very thin with long, lank brown hair, behind which could occasionally be glimpsed a small, finely featured face covered in a thick, masklike layer of makeup. In all the time Clara and Luke had lived there, she’d never once replied to their greetings, merely shuffling past with downcast eyes whenever they met on the stairs. Every time either of them had gone up to ask her to turn her music down, which she played loudly night and day, she refused to answer the door, merely turning the volume up higher until they went away.
“Can I help y—,” Clara began, but the woman had already begun heading toward the stairs. Clara watched her go for a moment before her worry and stress got the better of her. “Excuse me!” she said loudly, and her neighbor froze, one foot poised on the first step, eyes averted. “It’s about the music. Could you give it a rest, do you think? It’s all night long, and sometimes most of the day too—can’t you turn it down once in a while?”
The woman didn’t reply at first, then finally, slowly turned her face toward Clara. Her eyes, rimmed thickly in black kohl, landed on her own for a moment before flitting away again, as she asked softly and with the faintest ghost of a smile, “Where’s Luke, Clara?”
Clara could only stare back at her, too surprised to respond. “I’m sorry?”
She’d had no idea the woman even knew their names. Perhaps she’d seen them written on their post, but it was the way she said it—so familiar, so knowing, and with such a strange smile on her lips. “What do you mean?” Clara asked, but the woman only turned and carried on up the stairs. “Excuse me! Why are you asking about Luke?” But there was still no reply. Clara stood staring after her. It was as if the world were conspiring in some surreal joke against her. The door to the upstairs flat opened and then closed again and at last Clara went back to her own flat. She stood in her narrow hallway, listening, until a few seconds later the familiar thud of bass began to thump against her ceiling once more.
It was past two. She should go back to work; her colleagues would be worried by now. But Clara didn’t move. Should she start phoning around hospitals? Perhaps she should Google their numbers—at least that way she would be doing something. She went to the small boxroom they used as an office and at a touch of the mouse pad, Luke’s laptop flickered into life, the browser opening immediately at Google Mail—and Luke’s personal e-mail account.
For a second she stared at the screen, her finger hovering, knowing that she shouldn’t pry. But then her gaze fell upon his list of folders. Below the usual “Inbox,” “Drafts,” and “Trash” was one labeled, simply, “Bitch.” She stared at in shock before clicking on it. And then her jaw dropped—there were at least five hundred messages, sent from several different accounts over the past year, sometimes as often as five times a day. She opened and read them one by one.
Did you see me today Luke? I saw you. Keep your eyes peeled.
I know you Luke, I know what you are, what you’ve done. You might have most people fooled, but you don’t fool me. Men like you never fool me.
How are your parents, Luke? How are Oliver and Rose? Do they know the truth about you—your family, your friends, your colleagues? How about that little girlfriend of yours, or is she too stupid to see? She looks really fucking stupid, but she’ll find out soon enough.
Women are nothing to you, are we Luke? We’re just here for your convenience, to fuck, to step over, to use, or to bully. We’re disposable. You think you’re untouchable, you think you’ve got away with it. Think again, Luke.
What will they say about you at your funeral, Luke? Say your goodbyes, it’s going to be soon.
The very last one had been sent only a few days before.
I’m coming for you Luke, I’ll be seeing you.
It had been a woman, all this time? And he’d known about it for months, had known but hadn’t told her—had never even mentioned the e-mails. Did he know who it was? It was clearly someone who knew him very well—knew his parents’ names, where Luke worked; knew his movements intimately. Was it the same person who had broken into their flat, sent the photographs, the letters? Perhaps it was a joke, she thought wildly. An elaborate prank dreamed up by one of his friends. But then, where was he? Where was Luke? I’m coming for you, Luke. I’ll be seeing you.
She was deep in thought when the sound of her intercom sliced through the silence, making her jump violently, her heart shooting to her mouth.
We waited such a long time for a baby. Years and years, actually. They couldn’t tell us why, the specialists. Couldn’t find a single reason why it didn’t happen for Doug and me. “Unexplained infertility” was the best they could come up with. You think it’s going to be so simple, starting a family, and then when it’s taken from you, the future you’d imagined snatched away, it feels like a death. All I ever wanted was to be a mum. When school friends went off to university or found themselves jobs down in London, I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be a career woman, didn’t need a big house and lots of money. I was content with our little cottage in the village I’d grown up in, Doug’s building business; I just wanted children, and Doug felt exactly the same way.
I used to see them when they came back to our village for holidays, those old classmates of mine. And I’d see how they looked at me, with my clothes from the market and my lack of ambition, see the flash of superiority or bewilderment in their eyes when they realized I didn’t want to be exactly like them. But I didn’t care. I knew that what I wanted would bring me all the happiness I’d need.
And then, year by year, woman by woman, things began to change. They began to change. As we all neared our thirties, baby after baby began to make its appearance on those weekend visits. Of course, I’d been trying for a good few years by then, had already had many, many months of disappointment to swallow, but nothing hit me quite as hard as seeing that endless parade of children of the girls I used to go to school with.
Because I could see it, in their faces, how it changed them. How overnight the nice clothes and interesting careers and successful husbands that had once defined them became suddenly second place to what they now had. It wasn’t the change in them physically, the milk-stained clothes or the tired faces; it wasn’t the harassed air of responsibility or the membership in a new club or even the obvious devotion they felt. It was something I saw in their eyes—a new awareness, I suppose—that most hurt me. It seemed to me as though they’d crossed into another dimension where life was fulfilling and meaningful on a level I could never understand. And the jealousy and despair I felt was devastating. Plenty of women, I knew, were happily child free, led perfectly satisfying lives without kids in them, but I wasn’t one of them. From as long as I could remember, having a family of my own was all I’d dreamed of.
So, when finally, finally, our miracle happened, it was the most amazing, most joyful thing imaginable. That moment when I held Hannah in my arms for the first time was one of pure elation. We loved her so much, Doug and I, right from the beginning. We had sacrificed so much, and waited such a long time for her, such a horribly long time.
I don’t remember exactly when the first niggling doubts began to stir. I couldn’t admit it to myself at first. I put it down to my tiredness, the shock and stress of new motherhood, or a hundred other different things rather than admit the truth. I didn’t let on to anyone how worried I was. How frightened. I told myself that she was healthy and she was beautiful and she was ours, and that’s all that mattered.
And yet, I knew. Somehow I knew even then that there was something not quite right about my daughter. An instinct, of the purest, truest kind, in the way animals sense trouble in their midst. Secretly I would compare her with other babies—at the clinic, or at Mother and Baby clubs, or at the supermarket. I would watch their expressions, their reactions, the ever-changing emotions in their little faces, and then I’d look into Hannah’s beautiful big brown eyes and I’d see nothing there. Intelligence, yes—I never feared for her intellect—but rarely emotion. I never felt anything from her. Though I lavished love upon her, it was as though it couldn’t reach her, slipping and sliding across the surface of her like water over oilskin.
At first, when I finally voiced my concerns to Doug, he’d cheerfully brush them aside. “She’s just chilled out, that’s all,” he’d say. “Let her be, love.” And I’d allow myself to be reassured, telling myself he was right, that Hannah was fine and my fears were all in my head. But when she was almost three years old, something happened that even Doug couldn’t ignore.
I was preparing breakfast in the kitchen while she sat on the floor, playing with a makeshift drum kit of pots and pans and spoons I’d got out to entertain her with. She was hitting one pan repeatedly over and over, the sound ricocheting inside my skull, but just as I was mentally kicking myself for giving them to her, the noise suddenly stopped. “Hannah want biscuit,” she announced.
“No, darling, not yet,” I said, smiling at her. “I’m making porridge. Lovely porridge! Be ready in a tick!”
She got up, said louder, “Hannah want biscuit now!”
“No, sweetheart,” I said more firmly. “Breakfast first, just wait.”
I crouched down to rummage in a low drawer for a bowl, and didn’t hear her come up behind me. When I turned, I felt a sudden searing pain in my eye and reeled backward in shock. It took a few moments to realize what had happened, to understand that she’d smashed the end of her metal spoon into my eye with a strength I’d never dreamed she had. And through my reeling horror I saw, just for a second, her reaction: the flash of satisfaction on her face before she turned away.
I had to take her with me to the hospital, Doug not being due back for several hours yet. I have no idea whether the nurse in A and E believed my story, or whether she saw through my flimsy excuses and assumed me perhaps to be a battered wife, just another victim of a drunken domestic row. If she did guess at my shame and fear, she never commented. And all the while, Hannah watched her dress my wounds, listened to the lies I told about walking into a door, with a silent lack of interest.
Later that evening when she was in bed, Doug and I stared at each other across the kitchen table. “She’s not even three yet,” he said, his face ashen. “She’s just a little girl. She didn’t know what she was doing. . . .”
“She knew,” I told him. “She knew exactly what she was doing. And afterward she barely raised an eyebrow, just went back to hitting those damn pots like nothing had happened.”
And after that, Hannah only got worse. All children hurt other kids; it happens all the time. In every playgroup across the country, you’ll find them hitting or biting or thumping one another. But they do it out of temper, or because the other child hurt them, or to get the toy they want. They don’t do it the way Hannah did—for the sheer, premeditated pleasure of it. I used to watch her like a hawk and I’d see her do it, see the expression in her eyes as she looked quickly around herself before inflicting a pinch or a slap. The reaction of pain was what motivated her. I knew it. I saw it.
We took her to the doctor’s, insisting on a referral to a child psychologist—the three of us trooping over to Peterborough to meet a man with an earnest smile and a gentle voice, in a red jumper, named Neil. But though he did his best with Hannah, inviting her to draw him pictures of her feelings, use dolls to act out stories, she refused point-blank. “No!” she said, pushing crayons and toys away. “Don’t want to.”
“Look,” Neil said, once the receptionist had taken Hannah out of the room. “She’s very young. Children act out sometimes. It’s entirely possible she didn’t realize how badly she would hurt you.” He paused, fixing me in his sympathetic gaze. “You also mentioned a lack of affection from her, a lack of . . . emotional response. Sometimes children model what they see from their parents. And sometimes it helps if the parent remembers that they are the adult, and the child is not there to fulfill their own emotional needs.”
He said all this very kindly, very sensitively, but my fury was instantaneous. “I cuddle that child all day long,” I hissed, ignoring Doug’s restraining hand on my arm. “I talk to her, play with her, kiss her, and love her, and I tell her how special she is every single minute. And I don’t expect my three-year-old to ‘fulfill my emotional needs.’ What kind of idiot do you think I am?” But the seed was set; the implication was clear. By hook or by crook it was my fault. And deep down, of course, I worried that Neil was right. That I was deficient somehow, that I had caused this, whatever “this” was. We left that psychologist’s office and we didn’t go back.
That day, the day she killed Lucy, I stood looking in at my five-year-old daughter from her bedroom door, and any last remaining hope I’d had—that I’d been wrong about her, that she’d grow out of it, that somewhere inside her was a normal, healthy little girl—vanished. I marched across the room and took her by the hand. “Come with me,” I said, and led her to my bedroom. Her expression, biddable, mildly interested, only made my fury stronger. I dragged her to the bed and she stood beside me, looking down at Lucy’s head on my pillow, and I saw—I know I saw—the flicker of enjoyment in her eyes. By the time she’d turned them back to me, they were entirely innocent once more. “Mummy?” she said.
“It was you,” I said, my voice tight with anger. “I know it was you.” I loved that bird. I had inherited her from an elderly neighbor I’d once been close to, and during those years of childlessness, Lucy had become the focus of all my attention, a pretty, defenseless little creature to take care of, who needed me. Hannah knew how much I loved her. She knew.
“No,” she answered, and tilted her head to one side as she continued to consider me. “No, Mummy. It wasn’t me.”
I left her standing by the bed and ran downstairs to the kitchen. And there was Lucy’s cage, its door swung open, the headless body lying on the floor beside it cold and stiff. I looked around the room, my eyes darting wildly about. How had she done it? What had she used? She had no access to the kitchen knives, of course. Suddenly a thought struck me and I ran back up the stairs to her bedroom. And there it was. The metal ruler from Doug’s toolbox, lying on her table. I’d heard her asking him for it the day before—for something she was making, she’d said. It lay there now, next to her craft things, and I stared down at it as nausea rose in me.
I hadn’t heard Hannah follow me from the kitchen until she slipped into the room and stood beside me. “Mummy?” she said.
My heart jumped. “What?”
Her eyes fell to my belly. “Is it all right?”
The slight lisp, that pretty, melodic voice of hers, so adorable—everybody commented on it. I bit back my revulsion. “What?” I asked. “Is what all right?”
She considered me. “The baby, Mummy. The little baby in your tummy. Is it all right? Or is it dead too?”
I put a hand to my belly as defensively as if she’d struck me there. Her gaze bored into me. “Why would the baby be dead?” I whispered. “Why would you say that?” There’s no way she could have known, of course, that she’d touched upon my greatest fear—that this new baby, our second miracle, would not survive, would not be born alive. It was the stress of my relationship with Hannah that caused this paranoia, I think. I almost felt as though I would deserve it, because I’d made such a mess of everything with her. My unborn baby would be taken from me, as penance.
As I gazed into her eyes, fear stroked the back of my neck. “Stay right here,” I said. “Stay here until I say.”
That night I described to Doug what had happened. “What are we going to do?” I asked him. “What the hell are we going to do?”
“We don’t know it was Hannah,” he said weakly.
“Well, who the hell was it, then?”
“Maybe . . . God, I don’t know! Maybe it was a fox, or one of the neighbors’ kids mucking about?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“We have foxes in the garden all the time,” he said. “Are you sure the back door was closed?”
“Well, no,” I admitted, “it was open. But . . .”
“We’ve had to tell Hannah before about leaving the cage door unfastened,” he added.
This was also true: she loved to feed Lucy, and though she knew she wasn’t allowed to open the door without me there, it was possible she had fiddled with the latch. “Okay, but what about what she said about the baby?” I demanded.
Doug rubbed his face tiredly. “She’s five years old, Beth. She doesn’t understand about death yet, does she? Maybe she’s feeling anxious about having a new sibling.”
I stared at him. “I can’t believe you’re saying this! I know it was Hannah. It was written all over her face!”
“Well, where were you?” he said, his voice rising too. “Where the hell were you when all this was going on? Why weren’t you watching her?”
“Don’t you dare make this my fault,” I shouted. “Don’t you dare do that!” On we argued, our worry and distress causing us to turn on each other, sniping and defensive.
“Mummy? Daddy?” Hannah appeared in the doorway, looking sleepy and adorable in her pink pajamas. She held her teddy in her hand. “Why are you shouting?”
Doug got to his feet. “Hello, little one,” he said, his voice suddenly jolly. “How’s my princess? Got a cuddle for your daddy?”
She nodded and edged closer, but then said in a small, sad voice, “Is it because of Lucy?”
Doug and I exchanged a look. He picked her up. “You know how it happened?”
She shook her head. “Mummy thinks I did it, but I never did! Mummy loves her birdie and so do I.” Tears welled, then spilled from her eyes. “I would never, ever hurt Lu-Lu bird.”
Doug held her close. “I know you wouldn’t, of course you wouldn’t. It was just somebody playing a nasty trick, that’s all. Or a fox. Maybe a naughty fox did it. Come on, little one, don’t cry, please don’t cry. Let’s get you back to bed.” I knew that he was fooling himself, too scared to admit the truth, but I’d never felt so lonely, so wretched, as I did at that moment. As they left the kitchen, I looked up and caught Hannah watching me over her father’s shoulder, her expression impassive now. We held each other’s gaze before they turned the corner and disappeared from view.
Reading Group Guide
THE LIES WE TOLD
BY CAMILLA WAY
1.The novel alternates primarily between Clara’s and Beth’s perspec-tives. Why do you think the author chose these two perspectives to focus on? How did the alternating points of view affect your reading of the book?
2. Rose and Oliver withhold information from their children on mul-tiple occasions out of self- preservation, but by doing so they directly endanger them. How do you think they reconciled keeping their se-crets while knowing what Hannah was capable of? Do you under-stand their decisions, and do you have any sympathy for them?
3.As Beth notes, mental illness can be a result of both biological and environmental factors. Do you think that either of these elements had a stronger impact on Hannah than the other? How does the nature- versus- nurture question relate to the other characters in the book as well?
4.How much do you think Luke’s actions and the secrets he kept from Clara were responsible for the events in the book? Do you think the abduction could’ve been avoided if he had been more open about his stalker?
5.Over the course of the novel, Clara learns more and more details about Luke that don’t line up with the person she knows him to be, and she is forced to question what will happen with their relationship if he’s ever found. Were you satisfied with her final decision?
6.How are themes of trust and belonging explored in the novel? What do they mean for Clara? For Hannah? Use specific examples from the book to illustrate your points.
7.A recurring element of the book is the public perception that the Lawsons are good, kind people, and the exploration of people not be-ing what they seem. How would you characterize Rose, Oliver, Tom, Luke, and Emily by the end of the novel?
8.Discuss the character of Mac. Why do you think the author chose to give a brief glimpse into his perspective? Were you surprised by his actions over the course of the book?
9.Do you think rehabilitation is possible for Hannah? Do you think it’s possible for her to make peace with what was done to her and her mother? Why or why not?