The Lying Game Page 2

Of course, I nearly add, but I don’t. Freya has never taken a bottle, in spite of a lot of trying on my part, and Owen’s. The one night I went out for a party she screamed solidly from 7.30 p.m. to 11.58 when I burst through the doors of the flat to snatch her out of Owen’s limp, exhausted arms.

There’s another silence. Freya leans her head back, watching me with a small frown, and then gives a quiet belch and returns to the serious business of getting fed. I can see thoughts flitting across Owen’s face … that he’ll miss us … that he’ll have the bed all to himself … lie-ins …

‘I could get on with decorating the nursery,’ he says at last. I nod, although this is the continuation of a long discussion between the two of us – Owen would like the bedroom, and me, back to himself and thinks that Freya will be going into her own room at six months. I … don’t. Which is partly why I’ve not found the time to clear the guest room of all our clutter and repaint it in baby-friendly colours.

‘Sure,’ I say.

‘Well, go for it, I reckon,’ Owen says at last. He turns away and begins sorting through his ties. ‘Do you want the car?’ he asks over his shoulder.

‘No, it’s fine. I’ll take the train. Kate will pick me up from the station.’

‘Are you sure? You won’t want to be lugging all Freya’s stuff on the train, will you? Is this straight?’

‘What?’ For a minute I’m not sure what he’s on about, and then I realise – the tie. ‘Oh, yes, it’s straight. No, honestly, I’m happy to take the train. It’ll be easier, I can feed Freya if she wakes up. I’ll just put all her stuff in the bottom of the pram.’ He doesn’t respond, and I realise he’s already running through the day ahead, ticking things off a mental check list just as I used to do a few months ago – only it feels like a different life. ‘OK, well, look, I might leave today if that’s all right with you.’

‘Today?’ He scoops his change off the chest of drawers and puts it in his pocket, and then comes over to kiss me goodbye on the top of my head. ‘What’s the hurry?’

‘No hurry,’ I lie. I feel my cheeks flush. I hate lying. It used to be fun – until I didn’t have a choice. I don’t think about it much now, perhaps because I’ve been doing it for so long, but it’s always there, in the background, like a tooth that always aches, and suddenly twinges with pain.

Most of all, though, I hate lying to Owen. Somehow I always managed to keep him out of the web, and now he’s being drawn in. I think of Kate’s text, sitting there on my phone, and it feels as if poison is leaching out of it, into the room – threatening to spoil everything.

‘It’s just Kate’s between projects, so it’s a good time for her and … well, I’ll be back at work in a few months so it feels like now’s as good a time as any.’

‘OK,’ he says, bemused but not suspicious. ‘Well, I guess I’d better give you a proper goodbye kiss then.’

He kisses me, properly, deeply, making me remember why I love him, why I hate deceiving him. Then he pulls away and kisses Freya. She swivels her eyes sideways to regard him dubiously, pausing in her feed for a moment, and then she resumes sucking with the single-minded determination that I love about her.

‘Love you too, little vampire,’ Owen says affectionately. Then, to me, ‘How long is the journey?’

‘Four hours maybe? Depends how the connections go.’

‘OK, well, have a great time, and text me when you get there. How long do you think you’ll stay?’

‘A few days?’ I hazard. ‘I’ll be back before the weekend.’ Another lie. I don’t know. I have no idea. As long as Kate needs me. ‘I’ll see when I get there.’

‘OK,’ he says again. ‘Love you.’

‘I love you too.’ And at last, that’s something I can tell the truth about.

I CAN REMEMBER to the day, almost to the hour and minute, the first time I met Kate. It was September. I was catching the train to Salten, an early one, so that I would arrive at the school in time for lunch.

‘Excuse me!’ I called nervously up the station platform, my voice reedy with anxiety. The girl ahead of me turned round. She was very tall and extremely beautiful, with a long, slightly haughty face like a Modigliani painting. Her waist-length black hair had been bleached gold at the tips, fading into the black, and her jeans were ripped across the thighs.


‘Excuse me, is this the train for Salten?’ I panted.

She looked me up and down, and I could feel her appraising me, taking in my Salten House uniform, the navy-blue skirt, stiff with newness, and the pristine blazer I had taken off its hanger for the first time that morning.

‘I don’t know,’ she said at last, turning to a girl behind her. ‘Kate, is this the Salten train?’

‘Don’t be a dick, Thee,’ the girl said. Her husky voice sounded too old for her – I didn’t think she could be more than sixteen or seventeen. She had light brown hair cut very short, framing her face, and when she smiled at me, the nutmeg freckles across her nose crinkled. ‘Yes, this is the Salten train. Make sure you get into the right half though, it divides at Hampton’s Lee.’

Then they turned, and were halfway up the platform before it occurred to me, I hadn’t asked which was the right half.

I looked up at the announcement board.

Use front seven carriages for stations to Salten, read the display, but what did ‘front’ mean? Front as in the closest to the ticket barrier, or front as in the direction of travel when the train left the station?

There were no officials around to ask, but the clock above my head showed only moments to spare, and in the end I got onto the farther end, where the two other girls had headed for, and dragged my heavy case after me into the carriage.

It was a compartment, just six seats, and all were empty. Almost as soon as I had slammed the door the guard’s whistle sounded, and, with a horrible feeling that I might be in the wrong part of the train completely, I sat down, the scratchy wool of the train seat harsh against my legs.

With a clank and a screech of metal on metal, the train drew out of the dark cavern of the station, the sun flooding the compartment with a suddenness that blinded me. I put my head back on the seat, closing my eyes against the glare, and as we picked up speed I found myself imagining what would happen if I didn’t turn up in Salten, where the housemistress would be awaiting me. What if I were swept off to Brighton or Canterbury, or somewhere else entirely? Or worse – what if I ended up split down the middle when the train divided, living two lives, each diverging from the other all the time, growing further and further apart from the me I should have become.

‘Hello,’ said a voice, and my eyes snapped open. ‘I see you made the train.’

It was the tall girl from the platform, the one the other had called Thee. She was standing in the doorway to my compartment, leaning against the wooden frame, twirling an unlit cigarette between her fingers.

‘Yes,’ I said, a little resentful that she and her friend had not waited to explain which end to get. ‘At least, I hope so. This is the right end for Salten, isn’t it?’

‘It is,’ the girl said laconically. She looked me up and down again, tapped her unlit cigarette against the door frame, and then said, with an air of someone about to confer a favour, ‘Look, don’t think I’m being a bitch, but I just wanted to let you know, people don’t wear their uniforms on the train.’


‘They change into them at Hampton’s Lee. It’s … I don’t know. It’s just a thing. I thought I’d tell you. Only first years and new girls wear them for the whole journey. It kind of makes you stand out.’

‘So … you’re at Salten House too?’

‘Yup. For my sins.’

‘Thea got expelled,’ a voice said from behind her, and I saw that the other girl, the short-haired one, was standing in the corridor, balancing two cups of tea. ‘From three other schools. Salten’s her last-chance saloon. Nowhere else would take her.’

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