Surprise Me (Page 67)

‘Is that your car?’ I say curiously as he locks it.

‘Michi’s. Actually, I’d better tell her I took it.’ He perches on the garden wall, sending a text. The sun has come out and when he’s finished texting he leans back, savouring the warmth, seeming utterly unhurried.

‘Don’t you have a job?’

‘I’ll go in later. It’s fine.’ He shrugs. ‘We normally work, like, noon to midnight?’

Midnight? I suddenly feel very ancient.

‘Right. Well, make sure you see your mum while you’re here. Is she around?’

‘Yeah, she’s making me spaghetti Bolognese.’ His face lights up and I can’t help smiling. He must have made Tilda’s day, coming home so soon. Either that, or they’re yelling at each other again.

‘D’you want to come for lunch?’ he adds politely. ‘I’m sure we’ve got some spare.’

‘No thanks.’ I try to smile. ‘I’ve got some stuff to … I’m … It’s all a bit …’ Without intending to, I sigh heavily and sit down next to him on the wall. ‘Do you ever feel like there’s a conspiracy?’

I’m not really expecting an answer, but Toby nods gravely. ‘There is a conspiracy. I’ve told you, Sylvie, it’s all a conspiracy.’

The sun’s getting hotter on our faces. He must be sweltering with his beard. I get out my sunglasses and reach for my lip balm, and as I unbutton the pink case, Toby nods at it, as though that proves everything. ‘Big Pharma, Sylvie. You see?’

I don’t respond. I’m gazing at the gold embossed P.S. I can’t believe Dan used my private nickname in texts to another woman. I can’t believe he referred to me as the ‘PS factor’. The ‘Princess Sylvie factor’. Just the idea of some other woman calling me that makes me cringe. It’s almost the worst betrayal.

Who is she? Who is she?

‘What would you do if you’d found a whole load of texts on a phone and you didn’t know who they were to?’ I say, staring up at the blue sky.

‘Get the number off Contacts,’ says Toby with a shrug.

‘A number doesn’t tell you anything,’ I object.

‘Google it, then. See if anything comes up.’

I turn to stare at him. Google it? I never even thought of googling it.

‘Mobile phone numbers aren’t on Google,’ I say warily.

‘Sometimes they are. Worth a try. Whose phone?’ he asks with interest, and my defences instantly rise.

‘Oh, just a girl at work,’ I say. ‘Her cousin,’ I add for good measure. ‘Half-cousin. It’s not a big deal.’

I could google the number. Suddenly I’m all jittery. I need to get to a computer, now.

‘Well, see you, Tobes,’ I say, getting to my feet. ‘Bring Michi over! We’d like to meet her.’

‘Sure. Bye, Sylvie.’

I hurry into the house, fumbling with my key in my haste. It seems to take forever for my computer to fire up, and I actually start saying, ‘Come on, come on,’ under my breath.

I type in the phone number from the text, and wait breathlessly for the results, although if I was hoping for an instant answer, I was an idiot. There’s a lot of garbage to wade through. Entries about car serial numbers and phone directory pages without any actual information. But on page five, I see something that makes me lean forward.

St Saviour’s School Rugby Club. Parent rep: Mary Smith-Sullivan.

It’s her. The same mobile number. The same first name. Oh God, she exists. Can I find out anything else about her? Does she have a job, maybe?

My heart beating wildly, I look up Mary Smith-Sullivan on LinkedIn. And there she is. Mary Smith-Sullivan, Partner, Avory Milton. Specialism: defamation, privacy and other media-related litigation. She looks to be in her early fifties, with close-cropped dark hair and a boxy jacket. Minimal make-up. She’s smiling, but not in a warm way, more in a businesslike ‘I have to smile for this photo’ way.

This is who Dan is sending endless texts to?

He can’t be having an affair with her. He can’t. I mean …

He can’t.

I stare at the page, trying and failing to make sense of it. Then at last, with a trembling hand, I reach for my phone and dial.

‘Avory Milton, how can I help you?’ a sing-song voice greets me.

‘I’d like to make an appointment with Ms Smith-Sullivan,’ I say in a rush. ‘Today. As soon as possible, please.’

Avory Milton is a medium-sized law firm, off Chancery Lane, with a reception area on the fourteenth floor. It has a big floor-to-ceiling window, showing off an impressive view over London, which made my legs nearly give way when I stepped out of the lift. People should not just put terrifying windows there like that.

But somehow I made it to the front desk and got my visitor’s pass. And now I’m in the seating area, firmly turned away from the view.

As I sit there, pretending to read a magazine, I look around carefully. I study the slate-grey sofas and the people in suits striding through and even the water dispenser … but there aren’t any clues. I have no idea what this place has to do with Dan. I am also unimpressed by their timekeeping. I’ve been sitting here for at least half an hour.

‘Mrs Tilda?’

My chest seizes up in apprehension as I see a woman approaching me. It’s her. She has the same close-cropped hair that she did on LinkedIn. She’s wearing a navy jacket and a blue striped shirt I recognize from Zara. Expensive shoes. A wedding ring.

‘I’m Mary Smith-Sullivan.’ She smiles professionally and holds out a manicured hand. ‘Apologies for keeping you. How d’you do?’

‘Oh, hi.’ My voice catches, and I can only produce a squawk. ‘Hi,’ I try again, scrambling to my feet. ‘Yes. Thank you. How do you do?’

My pseudonym is Mrs Tilda. Which is not ideal, but I was so flustered as I made the appointment that I wasn’t thinking straight. When the receptionist asked ‘And the name?’ I panicked and blurted out ‘Tilda’. Then I quickly amended, ‘Mrs Tilda. Er … Mrs Penelope Tilda.’

Penelope Tilda? What was I thinking? No one’s called Penelope Tilda. But I haven’t been challenged yet. Although, as we walk along a neutral, pale-carpeted corridor, Mary Smith-Sullivan shoots me the odd appraising look. I didn’t say why I wanted the appointment on the phone. I just kept saying it was ‘highly confidential’ and ‘highly urgent’, until the receptionist said, ‘Of course, Mrs Tilda. I’ve booked you in for two thirty p.m.’

Mary Smith-Sullivan ushers me into a fairly large office – with, thankfully, quite a small window – and I sit down on a blue upholstered chair. There’s a still, unbearable pause as she pours us both glasses of water.

‘So.’ At last she faces me properly and gives one of those professional smiles again. ‘Mrs Tilda. How can I help you?’

This is exactly what I predicted she’d say, and I have my line all ready to fling at her, just like a soap-opera heroine: I want to know why my husband’s been texting you, BITCH.

(OK, not ‘bitch’. Not in real life.)

‘Mrs Tilda?’ she prompts, pleasantly.

‘I want to know …’ I break off and swallow. Shit. I promised myself I was going to be calm and steely, but my voice is already wobbling.