Hello! Today for my stop on Black & White and Lucy Lawrie’s blog tour for The Last Day I Saw Her, I’ve got the first four pages of the book for you to dip your toes into the story.
Lonely single mum Janey stumbles into an art workshop, she can’t believe her eyes when her left hand mysteriously scribbles a picture of two little girls and a strange message from someone called ‘Hattie’: Janey’s childhood best friend. But they lost touch after Hattie’s family suddenly moved away in mysterious circumstances.
Her instincts tell her she needs to finally know what happened, life’s complicated enough – but things are set to get more complicated… It’s a tale of friendship, and facing up to the past. It’s full of surprising turns that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Well, that’s enough from me. Let’s dive straight in, shall we?
I can’t even remember what I was thinking about, walking along that corridor to the classroom in those last few moments before everything changed. Pip’s meltdown over his supermarket-brand fish fingers, perhaps. Or the fact that he needed a new coat, now that the weather had turned. Did I have an inkling of what was coming – a tingling in the skin, or an adrenaline swoop in the stomach? Surely there must have been some part of me that knew.
Room 12 was the last on the right, brightly lit after the gloom of the corridor, with paintings and collages crowding the walls, and a stretch of windows overlooking a rainswept playground. Twisty wire creations hung low from the ceiling, casting filigree shadows on the surface of the large square table that stood in the middle of the room.
Four people were sitting around it already.
‘Oooh, hello!’ said the woman nearest me, who looked vaguely familiar with her rounded cheeks and long front teeth. ‘Are you new? Sit down.’
She motioned to the stool beside her.
I edged my way round, past a lifesize papier mache goat and a row of newly painted Punch and Judy-style puppets, gazing from a shelf.
The woman shot me an appraising look. ‘You’re very smart.’
I was wearing my one still-presentable work suit – grey with a faint pinstripe through it. I’d thought, since it was a course on ‘How to Write A Killer CV and Ace that Interview’, I might as well look the part.
This woman, however, was dressed in pink hotpants and a running vest. Odd choice.
‘I’m Jody,’ she said. ‘This is my husband, Tom.’ She gestured to a short man in jeans and a Megadeth T-shirt. ‘We can’t wait to get started. Last week’s session was mindblowing.’
Gosh, she was keen. Maybe she was putting a brave face on it – how unfortunate that both she and her husband should be looking for work at the same time.
Suddenly, I placed her. ‘I – I think I know you. You go to the Jungle Jive class, don’t you – the one in St Matthew’s church hall on a Friday morning?’
‘I take Vichard to it, yes,’ she said, as though I’d accused her of attending for her own pleasure. ‘Do you have a child?’
I failed to answer for a moment, caught up wondering why anyone would name their son Richard if they couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘R’
‘Oh – oh, yes I do. Pip. He’s two and a half. And I’m Janey,’ I added.
She nodded, narrowing her eyes, as though she wasn’t quite ready to accept my status as a Jungle Jive member.
‘I’ve only been a couple of times…’
‘You’ll vecognise Molly too, then,’ she said, pointing across the table to a small woman with dark curly hair, sitting next to a smug-looking man. They seemed to be fiddling with bits of green card and a box of pipecleaners.
‘Oh, yes, I do. Her wee boy plays the violin, doesn’t he?’
But surely they shouldn’t be playing with the art supplies – that wouldn’t help them write killer CVs.
And why were we in the art room anyway? The corridor I’d just walked along had been lined with empty, normal classrooms. I glanced behind me at the Punch and Judy dolls, their heavy heads lolling on bendy necks.
‘Don’t you have a partner?’ Jody asked, her face twisted into an expression somewhere between pity and bewilderment.
My heart sank. She’d pegged me as a lonely, tragic single mother– was it the pinstripes? Did they look desperate? Or was it just my face?
‘Who will you practice the techniques with?’ she persisted. Oh God, the interview techniques. Eye contact and firm handshakes, and how to command a room. ‘Oh. I didn’t know you were supposed to bring a partner. I assumed the tutor would pair us up.’
Jody snorted. ‘Oh, you’re a hoot!’
I felt like a schoolgirl, shrinking against the wall bars in the gym because nobody had chosen me. I should have probably left right then – the idea of me with a proper job was farcical anyway. But Murray would know I’d bottled it if I arrived home two hours early, and would raise a knowing eyebrow at my pathetic little bid for independence.
‘Suit yourself. Anyway, it looks like Steve’s late.Again.’ She hopped off her stool. ‘Come on, Tom. Let’s get started.’
She shot him a challenging look, as though she was about to start firing questions at him: ‘When’s the last time you led a team to a successful outcome?’ or some such horror.
‘Maybe we should wait,’ said Tom.
‘No. We can at least start the greasing-up process.’
She slipped off her shoes and walked over to the other side of the room where, I now noticed, there was a large plastic sheet laid out on the floor. Tom squatted down at her feet with a resigned sigh, and unscrewed a jar of Vaseline. ‘Do it properly,’ said Jody, ‘or the plaster could tear my skin off.’
I whipped round to look at the other couple. Molly was twisting green pipecleaner-and-card leaves into the man’s hair, her tongue protruding in concentration.
I jumped down from the stool, my sensible court shoes clacking loudly on the floor.
‘I’ve got the wrong class,’ I announced to nobody in particular. ‘Oops. I’ll just go now.’
Nice one, Janey. All dressed up in your pinstripes and you can’t even book an evening class.
‘This is “The Art of Love”,’ said Jody. ‘An art workshop,’ she went on, slowly. ‘For couples. Every Tuesday.’ She flicked a glance down to my feet and up again. ‘Bring your own bottle.’
I wanted to slap her, standing there with her nice dull Megadeth husband and her air of entitlement. But I nodded politely. ‘See you, then…’
‘Stay,’ said a voice.
I turned. A man stood before me, his forehead beaded with rain, or sweat, unstrapping a wide across-the-shoulder bag. I wondered for a moment if I’d met him before. Short dark hair, mussed up into a peak in the middle. Boyish around the mouth, but lined around the eyes. Glasses with square black frames. No, he must just have one of those faces.
My legs felt heavy, suddenly, aching to sit down again. ‘I’m Steve. You’re welcome to stay. This is my class.’ He had a trace of a Northern accent –from Leeds, or Sheffield perhaps, exotic here in New Town Edinburgh. He was taking off his jacket now – a cracked, brown leather jacket –which rattled as he threw it over a stool.