I am really pleased to be the latest stop on the tour for the new book from Sarah Simpson, Who I Am. Described as ‘gripping, unputdownable and packed with twists and turns’, it was published by Aria on November 6th. I have an extract to share with you today.
Andi met Camilla at university. Instantly best friends, they shared everything together. Until their long-planned graduation celebration ends in tragedy…
Years later, Andi is living a seemingly perfect life on the rugged Cornish Coast with her loving husband, happy children and dream home. Yet Andi is haunted by a secret she thought only she knew.
Someone out there is bringing Andi’s deepest fears to life. And she knows there’s no escaping the past that has come back to haunt her…
You trusted me with your secrets, you told me everything, you thought I was your best friend… but you have no idea WHO I AM.
Edinburgh, December 1999
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, steps to my proposed life. I pause, poised at the top, absorbing the moment. Breathing deeply through my nose, drowning in pure grandeur.
Finally, I have arrived. Do you see me now? Do you?
Six ridged Corinthian columns stand to attention beside me to mark the occasion. Listen to me, will you. These columns are swathed in Christmas foliage, supporting the ancient Greek style roof. So this is how they live, not bad, not bad at all. And no longer do I peer in through the window from outside, in the cold, I’m as good as inside, where I belong. Such stunning decadence, I hear myself think – impressed I am, a mere footstep separating us. Gathering my poise, clutching it tight, I sashay through the reflective entrance. Appreciating the expression of upmost respect from the suited and booted doormen. I feel so good, no not good, more – worthy, so right, so me.
Smarting feet in frivolously high sandals, guide each wincing tread. So imperative to gain the extra inches to grace my dress, a bargain from TK Maxx, last year’s – yes, but stinking of affluence. Filthy dirty expense, only what I should have had, if I hadn’t been born to two losers. I mean, other than my bank balance, what do these people hold over me? Nothing I can’t learn. Pinning back my shoulders, I shimmer through a reception dressed in golds, reds and bronzes – towards the hum of people. A slight flutter in my belly. An adrenaline high, mind. Control. Focus. Belong.
These people don’t hang out like they do down at The Malt Shovel, there’s no sticky floor to wince over, a dripping counter of spilled pints. Not here, only highly polished wood flooring, leading to the crowds decorating the bar. Halting in the doorway, I take another deep breath, savouring the moment. Devouring with every sense. My eyes darting between perimeters, hungrily feasting on unadulterated glitz. A circular bar graces the centre of the room and from it, rise enormous pillars, Graeco-Roman stilts to the summit, entwined in lavish wreaths and twinkling lights. Exactly as their website promised, but better. The ceiling is a glass dome, where a mass of crystal droplets hang loose with no shame. I’ve been here before in my dreams, so many times, I’ve tasted this air of expensive perfumes and pungent cocktails before.
So this is Christmas.
So removed from the dark versions I’ve endured year on year, Mam and Dad passing out in front of the obligatory soaps, following something resembling lunch. Not that this was unusual, they passed out most days, reeking of alcohol. But Christmas was special, the drinking began much earlier in the morning. The meal, even worse than usual, more dry and unpalatable, the hum of a microwave, plastic dressed roast dinner. Ping, it’s Christmas! When I was younger, there were gifts too, colouring pads with used crayons, second hand books, drawn on, with crucial pages ripped out. Pages stuck together with God knows what. Snot probably or worse. All stolen from our local doctor’s reception, I’m sure of it. Bubble bath more analogous with washing up liquid. I hadn’t used to mind then. Without the context of how it could be any better, why would I? It was ignorantly normal.
We all survived pretty much the same on our street. Even the standard street brawls were not spared at Christmas. With the dead skin grey and nicotine yellow stained net curtain twitching, we couldn’t so much as pick our nose without someone having an opinion. Dad used to say, it was their lifeblood, to gossip, to bicker, to mock and accuse. But then, Mam was as bad, in fact she usually started it. Now look at me. I’ve worked damn hard to get to this, watched my step, filtered my tongue, swallowed a dictionary, consumed a thesaurus. Learned so much. I can be who I want to be, no one need ever believe any different. No one knows me here; I am who I choose to be. Who should I be?
I unfreeze as I spot them over the opposite side of the room, hugging a circular table between them and there she is, Andi, on cue, waving, beckoning me to their table. What a perfect coincidence. I look away. I’ve picked well, it was worth my while eavesdropping on her phone call yesterday in the student union. Look at her, positively oozing class. So tangible I can touch it from here, sniff her out a mile off. She also happens to be lovely, how lucky am I? And it would seem she likes me and why not, I’m a nice person. Perhaps she feels sorry for me, but that doesn’t matter, I would too, if I was her, or would I? Yesterday, finally, I managed to bag some time with her, followed her as she made her way through the campus to the student union café. I could tell it’s in her nature, being kind. Nice. The word Samaritan scribed across her forehead.
I’d scuffled in behind her all flustered, running hands through my hair and with pink cheeks from my harried rubbing. ‘Hi,’ I said, ‘sorry, this is a bit of an odd one, but could you possibly call my mobile for me, if I give you my number, I mean?’ She opened her mouth to reply, I dropped the handle of my heavy suitcase, lumped my laden rucksack off my shoulder, sighing. ‘Thing is, I’m hoping and praying it’s in one of my bags, that I haven’t left it behind on the blinking bus.’ She looked perplexed but not in a bad way, the gap between her lips wondering. I glanced over at the other students, embarrassed. ‘I don’t fancy emptying my dirty laundry in here, if you see what I mean.’ I stretched my lips to indicate my dilemma. ‘So, as long as I hear it ring, it’s good, I know it’s there somewhere, then I needn’t empty out my stuff looking for it.’ I grin at her, ‘Is that okay? Do you mind?’
She threw me a warm smile. ‘Got you,’ she said. ‘Sure, no problem at all, what’s your number?’
That was it, as easy as that. I had her number. Of course, I texted her to thank her later in the evening, I didn’t want to appear rude. Then, I explained my situation, why I probably seemed – a tad troubled. What with my landlord letting me down, then the fact that I may be forced to drop out of my course, what with no accommodation. I was so upset and befuddled, I mislaid my mobile, et cetera. To be fair, it wasn’t far from the truth. I am kind of homeless and was kicked out from my last digs. Couldn’t keep up with my share of the rent, so they insisted on finding an alternative lodger. The university couldn’t help either, or wouldn’t, something about my track record not helping my case. But the fact is, I’ve spent my allowance reserved for rental, which means I’m heading back to the dump, to Mam and Dad’s, it’s not a home. I wasn’t frivolous with the rent money either, the new wardrobe, the matching accessories, the odd initiating drink, were all essential for my new life. I tend to view this recent expenditure more as investment. Either way, I’m homeless, but then – I always have been.
My eyes roam back towards the table where Andi is now standing, waving more vigorously in case I didn’t notice her the first time, which of course, I didn’t. It’s that thing – when you see someone out of context, you don’t recognise people, do you. The girls she’s sitting with, follow her line of eye to me, they need to like me too, they could make or break my plans. I sense her friend’s opinions are important to her. People like Andi, need to be liked. We both do, we all do, don’t we? Just for different reasons, different gains. Like my clothes, people for me are investments, a passport to my future. Here we go, shaking off my self-reliant cloak, I give a little wave then begin to meander through the crowds surrounding the arched bar. Adding a flinch or two, as oblivious bar huggers bump in to me.
Look at you, Camilla Stewart, you’re going to be just fine.
With thanks to Vicky Joss for organising the blog tour. Take a look at the other great bloggers who have been participating: