The Good Samaritan (Page 43)

When I saw Johnny speaking to the psychiatric nurse shortly before collecting me, she knew I’d been lying about my ‘estranged’ family. Now I’d have to start lying to him, too.

‘So you stabbed yourself doing some DIY to the cottage,’ he began sternly as he drove my car. ‘Since when have you done home improvements?’

‘I thought I’d give it a go. Maybe not the best idea, eh?’ I gave a forced laugh.

‘At eight o’clock in the evening, you tried to repair some floorboards with a knife. On your own.’ He was trying to pick holes in my story.

‘It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and I know I should’ve left it for Dad to do. You haven’t told him about this, have you?’

‘If I had, he’d be here right now with me. I don’t like keeping secrets from him or Mum.’

‘I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.’

‘Yeah, you are.’ He hesitated before he spoke again, like he was choosing his words carefully. ‘Tell me you didn’t do this on purpose. And that despite all the crap that’s happened to you, you’re strong enough to keep fighting. Don’t let what happened to Charlotte define you or swallow you up. You’re better than that.’

‘Of course I didn’t,’ I replied. When he failed to reply, I knew he didn’t believe me.

We spent the rest of the journey in an awkward silence, my hand pressed on the padding over my sutures.

At this point, I knew I should have called it quits. I’d got what I wanted, in that I’d scared the hell out of Laura Morris. And she’d been lucky to escape before I’d finished what I’d planned, even leaving me for dead. So, it would have been the time to approach her boss at End of the Line, tell them my story and play them my recordings. Then I could vanish from Laura’s life, knowing she wouldn’t be harming anyone else who called in need of a sympathetic ear.

But a week or so recuperating at home gave me time to dwell on what had happened. Yes, I’d quite obviously terrified her, but now it wasn’t enough just to take her job away from her. People like Laura are slaves to their compulsions. They do what they want to and they don’t give a damn about who gets hurt. I’d bet my life’s savings the Helpline Heroine would be back trawling Internet message boards searching for more potential victims within days of being sacked.

Taking her down had brought out something unexpected in me, some joyous, vindictive feeling. I needed to find another way to get at her.

I opened the Facebook app on my phone. Laura had taken away the person I loved the most, and she needed to know how that felt. I vowed to get to her in another way.

And now I was back at work and in a routine again, I had the means at my disposal to begin.

CHAPTER THREE

LAURA

I examined my reflection in all three mirrors in the unattended changing rooms.

Standing there in my bra and knickers, I turned to my left and was pleased to see how flat my stomach had become. I rubbed my fingers up and down it, and tried to pinch excess weight from my sides but there was very little left. The stress diet had been much more effective than the amphetamines in my slimming tablets.

One after the other, I slipped on each of the five dresses I’d picked from the shop’s rails, and was over the moon that I could now comfortably fit into a size eight. I removed the pliers from my pocket, snapped the security label from the one I favoured and wrapped the dress in a bag, then placed it in my handbag. I handed the unwanted ones to the clueless shop assistant who’d now appeared, thanked her and left.

I walked along the second floor of the shopping centre, down an escalator, across the ground floor and then back up the stairs, before returning down the escalator again. All the time, I kept checking the reflection in the shop windows and glass doors to ensure no one was following me. Reassured I was alone, I began to relax and made my way back to the car. I’d waited twenty minutes in Abington Street for a place to park, because being in an open space was wiser than a multistorey car park where it’s easy to hide between vehicles. I would never allow Steven to corner me in an enclosed space again.

Whenever I visited the town centre, I kept an eye out for Olly. Sometimes he’d hung around outside the office in the hope he’d catch me; other times I’d go and find him in his regular haunts near the bus station. But since he’d discharged himself from hospital, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him, and I began to fear the worst.

I forced myself to think about something happier, and smiled for a moment as I drove, pleased with my new outfit. The dress was going to say everything I needed it to. It was sensible but not too mumsy, and revealed just enough of my legs and toned arms to convince me that Tony would notice the effort I’d made for a meeting with Effie’s head of year.

Since my ‘attack’, Tony had shown more interest in my well-being than for as long as I could remember. He’d been seeing me as I wanted him to see me – a vulnerable woman who still needed the security he’d given me when we first met as teenagers. If only I’d thought about falsifying an attack a couple of years earlier, maybe I’d have no gap to bridge at all. Still, what was done was done, and although he hadn’t returned to our bedroom yet, it would only be a matter of time.

For the first couple of weeks, he’d arranged for the girls to stay with his parents so they weren’t scared by my injuries. Then he’d spent time alone with them to give me space to heal, mentally and physically.

However, I was surprised he hadn’t mentioned us going together to the school. The email reminder they’d sent had arrived in my account – the first time they’d contacted me. But Tony had said nothing about it. Maybe he didn’t want to put any undue pressure on me after what I’d been through.

Alice was an easy child to look after, obedient and eager to please. However, Effie was, by all accounts, proving to be a handful at school. Again, I only found out through emailed summaries of meetings Tony had attended with her teachers, none of which I’d been invited to.

Tony had insisted she be transferred to St Giles Upper School for reasons never fully explained to me. At the time, I’d been preoccupied with my cancer treatment, so I left it to his best judgement. However, her grades had slipped dramatically over the last few months. She’d dropped from solid As to Cs and Ds, and apparently her attitude had deteriorated, too. She’d grown more argumentative and moodier with teachers. She was no longer participating in after-school activities like hockey or drama, and she’d become distant from the friends she’d made.

That surprised me the most, as she’d always been such a popular girl in her last school. Ever since she was little, I was forever telling her ‘no’ when she asked to invite her friends around for tea. Then I did the same with Alice. Children brought with them sticky fingers on walls, head lice, snot, scabs on legs, repetition, neediness, smells, noise, relentless never-ending questions, chaos, stomach bugs, clutter, broken ornaments and unflushed toilets. So, I encouraged the girls to spend time at their friends’ houses instead.

Either my attack had affected Effie more than I thought, or something else was wrong and neither Tony nor her teachers could get to the bottom of the problem. I was being kept on the sidelines of my own daughter’s life. It was frustrating, to say the least. I knew Tony was doing what he thought best by shielding me, but she needed her mother right now. My presence at that meeting would show Tony I was strong enough to co-parent again. Maybe then he might fall back in love with me.