When Olivia Berrington gets the call to tell her that her best friend from college has been killed in a car crash in New York, her life is turned upside down. Her relationship with Sally was an exhilarating roller coaster, until a shocking betrayal drove them apart. But if Sally really had turned her back, why is her little girl named after Olivia?
As questions mount about the fatal accident, Olivia is forced to go back and unravel their tangled history. But as Sally’s secrets start to spill out, Olivia’s left asking herself if the past is best kept buried.
Eleanor Moran is the author of three previous novels: Stick or Twist, Mr Almost Right and Breakfast in Bed, which is currently being developed for television. Eleanor also works as a television drama executive and her TV credits includeRome, MI5, Spooks, Being Human and a biopic of Enid Blyton, Enid, starring Helena Bonham Carter. Eleanor grew up in North London, where she still lives.
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Eleanor Moran’s Website: http://www.eleanormoran.co.uk/
The last time I saw you you were wearing a grown up black dress, the kind of thing we could never afford in college. We’d have had the high street version, wouldn’t we? Kidding ourselves it looked like the designer original. You’re a mother of two now, a wife, a million miles from your student incarnation. I shook when I spotted you across the party, the hurt flooding back. Why did we go from best friends – no, more than that, almost sisters – to enemies? I thought about the savage split obsessively for years, way more than I thought about some romantic break ups. When we talked, you nervously swilling back your glass of champagne, I knew how deeply you felt it too. A part of me wishes we could’ve told each other the truth, hugged it out, but it was too public. We would’ve cried, at least I would’ve done, mascara giving me panda eyes. I do miss you still, I hope you know that.
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“I know. I’m saving you from yourself.
He’s towering over me, ruddy and damp from the gym, smelling not of sweat or of aftershave, but of a smell pecu- liar to him. He’s gingery-blond, with a boyish lankiness that suits the irrepressibility of his personality. He’s bendy and springy and unstoppable, constantly in motion, and yes, before you ask, I’m more than a little bit in love with him. I always have been, ever since he walked into my high school politics class, his timing impeccable: my parents were in the middle of their gruesome separation and I was ripe for distraction.
James was an army brat, the youngest of three boys, and the family had recently been transported to Northwood, the boring north London suburb we lived in, which was domi- nated by the naval base. A life spent being uprooted from place after place could go two ways. For James, rather than making him shy and mistrustful, it had given him the cast iron cer- tainty that he could walk into any situation and charm his way to the very heart of it. It wasn’t oiliness or manipulation, it was pure self-belief combined with an innate knowledge that he was attractive.
It was that age and stage where boys and girls first peek over the barricades and try out being “friends”—a funny old version of friendship in which you can snog furiously at a party one night and go back to being mates the very next day. Or at least other people could do that. James and I had one such night at school, an hour spent kissing in the boys’ cloakroom during the first-year Christmas prom—it was brief and clumsy and awkward, and yet I did nothing but daydream about it for months, staring wistfully through my clumsily applied eye makeup and playing “Wuthering Heights” on a loop, while he remained utterly oblivious.
I hoped with every fiber of my being that he’d come back to me, that I’d be able to prove myself the second time around, but he’d already moved on, climbed back aboard the roman- tic merry-go-round and recast me as his long-lost sister. That’s not strictly true, there was one more time but now— now is not the time to think about it. Sally whispers across my consciousness but I push her away. Perhaps it’s the ferocity with which I suppress her that makes her continue to surge up, like those schlocky horror films where the hero tries more and more elaborate methods to destroy the invincible slasher.
James leans across me, digging the wooden spoon into the pan and taking a greedy mouthful.
“Perfect,” he says, grabbing a bottle of wine from the fridge and plunking down plates on the table.
“It needs another ten minutes,” I protest. “Yeah but you’ve got a date.”
It’s yet another soul-destroying Internet date born out of necessity—I’m thirty-five, and most of my contemporaries are coupled up, though not necessarily happily. Even so, I don’t think many of those discontented partners are looking to roll the dice again, and even if they were, I never envisioned being someone’s difficult second album. I want to be the answer to a question they’ve never been able to phrase, for me to feel the same way about them, rather than a compromise born out of a disappointment.
It’s not like I haven’t tried the compromise route. My last proper boyfriend was a perfectly nice man called Marco whom I met at a Christmas party a few months after my sister Jules had got married. I was secretly, silently panicking, and I managed to convince myself that I’d alighted on my one true love, rather than admitting that it was the romantic equivalent of a game of pin the tail on the donkey, the two of us flailing around in the dark, desperate to believe we’d somehow found the sweet spot.
We moved in together far too quickly, and immediately started arguing about the kind of piffling, trifling things, like whether the pepper should live on the table or in the “condiment cupboard,” that made it clear that when we had to make decisions about things that really mattered, we wouldn’t survive.
As I wept fat, salty tears of disappointment on James’s shoulder he came up with the brilliant suggestion we should live together and here we are, eighteen months on. He’s an employment lawyer—unlike me, he easily earns enough to live alone—but I think that he values having someone to come home to just as much as I do.
By now he’s shoveling the curry into his mouth like he’s rescuing a very, very small casualty who is trapped under the rice.
“Let me have a look at him then.” “Who?”
I know perfectly well who. “I’ll get your laptop.”
As he goes off to find it, I try not to brood about the unfairness of the fact that he doesn’t have to submit him- self to this kind of indignity. Women just seem to appear in his life, like fruit flies around a mango, and, while he’s not exactly a bastard, he’s not exactly not. Take last month’s victim (Anita? Angela . . . something beginning with an A). I met her shaking the last of my granola into a bowl. When I futilely rattled the empty box she fashioned her mouth into a theatrical “oh!” and promised to replace it. She was as good as her word, leaving a replacement on my bed the very next day with a sweet, flowery postcard saying how much she was looking forward to getting to know me better. No time: before I’d got so much as halfway through it James had finished with her, spooked by the seven individually wrapped presents she’d lovingly bestowed for his birthday.
“How did she take it?” I asked, knowing from even those brief fragments of contact how gutted she’d be. “It was like shooting a fawn,” he said, shoving his gym bag into a back- pack, and I thanked my lucky stars for how it had played out between us.
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