Home > Tell Me No Lies

Tell Me No Lies
Author: Lisa Hall


 

CHAPTER ONE


I heave a box from the back of the van, taking care not to stretch too far. It’s not heavy, and I shift it in my arms as I turn and look up at the house. A fresh start, that’s what it is. It’s not just a house, it’s a chance for Mark and I to put straight everything that has gone wrong this year, to give Henry a happy family home instead of the war-torn existence full of accusations and blame that he’s had to put up with this year. This imposing, statuesque Victorian townhouse is going to make us feel like a family again, with its large rooms set over three floors, a garden with enough room for Henry to run around in and impressive trees that line the street outside. It’s a step up too, from our cramped two-bedroom flat in Crouch End, to this beautiful house in Blackheath, that’s almost so big I don’t know how we’ll ever fill it. And Blackheath isn’t that far from Crouch End, not really. A movement to one side catches the corner of my eye and I turn slightly to see Mark walking towards me, holding out his arms.

‘Here, give me that.’ Dark eyes twinkle at me, in the way that captured my heart six years ago, and I swallow hard. Twinkly eyes or not, forgiveness is not quite that simple.

‘I’m fine. It’s not heavy. And I’m not made of china.’ I shift the box again in my arms, but he insists and tugs it gently away from me.

‘You’re carrying precious cargo there.’ Mark smiles down at me and I manage to muster up a small smile back. Surreptitiously, I run my hand over the small swelling of my stomach, still almost invisible to anyone else. Mark strides towards the house, and after one last look at its imposing front, I follow after him.

He heads straight for the huge, airy conservatory at the back of the house, a stunning addition that lets vast amounts of light into what would otherwise be a gloomy, shadow-filled, Victorian kitchen. He adds the box to a pile that has already been off-loaded and turns to me.

‘Nearly there, Steph. Only a few more boxes to go and we’re done. You can start unpacking if you want, make it look like home a bit before Henry gets here.’ I give a small nod, and Mark pulls me towards him.

‘Honestly, Steph, it’s a fresh start. We can say goodbye to all that’s happened and try to start again. Or we can carry on dwelling on it all and let things really disintegrate. We can do this, Steph, I know we can.’ Hearing the slight sense of desperation in his voice, I lean into him and feel his chin rubbing against my hair as he rests his head on mine. Pulling away I look up at him, trying to see the man I married, instead of the man who broke my heart.

‘I know, fresh start. I’m trying, Mark, really I am. It’s just a bit overwhelming, that’s all. Everything’s changed, everything that I thought was solid has turned out to be ... liquid. I’m just finding my foundations again. Give me a bit of time.’

‘I’m sorry, Steph. You know that, I’ve never been more sorry. We can get over this; it’ll be hard but we can do it.’ He tugs me back into his arms and I rest there for a moment, squashing the queasiness in my stomach, and trying to ignore the stench of decay that still surrounds our relationship.

Two hours later, the removal lorry is finally unloaded and I’ve managed to find mugs and the kettle. Henry’s bed has been made up, and I feel like maybe this wasn’t the worst idea we’ve ever had. Maybe we have done the right thing, getting away from everything that went wrong, trying to start again somewh ere new where there are no memories. Surveying the mass of boxes in Henry’s room I take a deep breath – I just need to get over the anxiety that hangs over me in the wake of all things new, and remind myself that this is for the best. I’m just smoothing the bed covers on Henry’s bed when the doorbell rings. Hoping it’s my parents bringing my little boy home, I run lightly down the stairs. I can hear Mark in the conservatory, swearing under his breath, obviously attempting to put a piece of furniture together or unpack something that is clearly getting the better of him. Swinging the door open, my ‘Hello’ dies on my lips as I realise it isn’t who I am expecting. Instead of my mother standing on the doorstep, there is a tall, redheaded man in a Christmas jumper, despite the fact that it’s not even the middle of November yet. There is a vaguely familiar air about him, as if I think I have met him somewhere before, but nothing comes clearly to mind. This isn’t unusual; my memory for faces isn’t the best even when I’m not pregnant.

‘Hello?’ I lean on the doorframe, aware that I must look a sight. My T-shirt is crumpled and filthy from cleaning Henry’s room before setting up the bed, my hair a tangled bird’s nest. The man on the doorstep smiles, showing off a perfect set of gleaming white teeth, and holds up a bottle of red wine.

‘Sorry, I know I’m probably intruding hugely, but I just wanted to introduce myself. I live next door – I’m Laurence. Laurence Cole.’ He holds out a hand and I shake it without thinking, before glancing down at my dusty palms and wiping them surreptitiously on my jeans.

‘Hello, Laurence Cole. You’re not intruding as such … It’s nice to meet you, but perhaps now isn’t a very good time.’ I glance behind me, where swear words are pouring from the kitchen.

‘Steph, is that the chap from next door? I told him to pop over; show him in.’ Mark’s voice floats out from the kitchen and my heart sinks a little. I’m really not feeling up to visitors; the house is a tip and I look a fright. But I rustle up a smile, taking the wine bottle from Laurence and showing him into the kitchen where Mark has just about given up on putting a cabinet together. As a television producer it’s safe to say DIY isn’t his forte. Getting to his feet, Mark wipes his hands over his jeans and holds one out for Laurence to shake.

‘Sorry about that.’ Mark swats his dark hair out of his eyes and turns to me. ‘Laurence, this is Steph, my wife. She’s a journalist too.’

‘Hardly a journalist, Mark.’ I look down at the floor, before raising my eyes to meet Laurence’s. ‘I don’t really think interviewing minor celebrities for trashy magazines is journalism.’

‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Laurence smiles at me. ‘I wouldn’t mind interviewing a few celebs. I’m at the far more boring end of the scale, I’m afraid – I’m a financial journalist. I bring you all the doom and gloom from the financial quarter.’

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