Today I’m thrilled to be hosting a stop on the lovely C.L. Taylor’s THE MISSING Blog Tour and letting you get a read of the first chapter of her latest thriller.
Firstly, here’s the blurb: “When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire Wilkinson, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinson’s are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface. Claire is sure of two things – that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with is disappearance. A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it? Sometimes those closest to us are the ones with the most to hide …”
Wednesday 5th August 2015
What do you wear when you peer into the barrel of a camera and plead for someone, anyone, to please, please tell you where your child is? A blouse? A jumper? Armour?
Today is the day of the second television appeal. It’s been six months since my son disappeared. Six months? How can it be that long? The counsellor I started seeing four weeks after he was taken from us told me the pain would lessen, that I would never feel his loss as keenly as I did that first day.
It takes me the best part of an hour before I can look at myself in the bedroom mirror without crying. My hair, cut in a short elfin style last week, doesn’t suit my wide, angular face and my eyes look dark and deep-set beneath the new fringe. The blouse I’d deemed sensible and presentable last night suddenly looks thin and cheap, the knee-length pencil skirt too tight on my hips. I select a pair of navy trousers and a soft grey jumper instead. Smart, but not too smart, serious but not sombre.
Mark is not in the bedroom with me. He got up at 5.37 a.m. and slipped silently out of the room without acknowledging my soft grunt as I peered at the time on the alarm clock. When we went to bed last night we lay in silence side by side, not touching, too tense to talk. It took a long time for sleep to come.
I didn’t say anything when Mark got up. He’s always been an early riser and enjoys a solitary hour or so, pottering around the house, before everyone else wakes up.
Our house was always so noisy in the morning, with Billy and Jake fighting over who got to use the bathroom first and then turning up their stereos full volume when they returned to their rooms to get changed. I’d pound on their bedroom doors and shout at them to turn the music down. Mark’s never been very good with noise. He spends hours each week driving from city to city as part of his job as a pharmaceutical sales rep but always in silence – no music, audiobooks or radio for him.
‘Mark?’ It’s 7.30 a.m. when I pad into the kitchen, taking care to step over the cracked tile by the fridge so I don’t snag my pop socks. Three years ago Billy opened the fridge and a bottle of wine fell out, cracking the tiles that Mark had only finished laying the day before. I told him it was my fault.
The kettle is still warm but there’s no sign of my husband. I poke my head around the living-room door but he’s not there either. I return to the kitchen, and open the back door that leads to the driveway at the side of the house. The garage door is open. The rrr-rrr-rrr splutter of the lawnmower being started drifts towards me.
‘Mark?’ I slip my feet into a pair of Jake’s size ten trainers that have been abandoned next to the mat and slip-slide across the driveway towards the garage. It’s August and the sun is already high in the sky, the park on the other side of the street is a riot of colour and our lawn is damp with dew. ‘You’re not planning on cutting the grass now, surel—’
I stop short at the garage door. My tall, fair-haired husband is bent over the lawnmower in his best navy suit, a greasy black oil stain just above the knee of his left trouser leg.
‘Mark! What the hell are you doing?’
He doesn’t look up.
‘Servicing the lawnmower.’ He gives the starting cord another yank and the machine growls in protest.
‘I haven’t used it for a month. It’ll rust up if it’s not serviced.’
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
‘But Mark, it’s Billy’s appeal.’
‘I know what day it is.’ This time he does look up. His cheeks are flushed and there’s a sheen of sweat that stretches from his thick, unkempt eyebrows all the way up to his receding hairline. He passes a hand over his brow, then wipes it on his trouser leg, rubbing sweat into the greasy oil stain. I want to scream at him that he’s ruined his best suit and he can’t go to Billy’s appeal like that, but today isn’t the day for an argument, so I take a deep breath instead.
‘It’s seven-thirty,’ I say. ‘We need to get going in half an hour. DS Forbes said he’d meet us at eight-thirty to go through a few things.’
Mark rubs a clenched fist against his lower back as he straightens up. ‘Is Jake ready?’
‘I don’t think so. His door was shut as I came downstairs and I couldn’t hear voices.’
Jake shares his bedroom with his girlfriend Kira. They started dating at school when they were sixteen and they’ve been together three years now, sharing a room in our house for the last eighteen months. Jake begged me to let her stay. Her mum’s drinking had got worse and she’d started lashing out at Kira, physically and verbally. He told me that if I didn’t let her live with us she’d have to move up to Edinburgh to live with her grandfather and they’d never get to see each other.
‘Well, if Jake can’t be bothered to get up, then let’s go without him,’ Mark says. ‘I haven’t got the energy to deal with him. Not today.’
It was Billy who used to disappoint Mark. Billy with his ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude about school and his belief that life owed him fame and fortune. Jake was always Mark’s golden boy in comparison. He worked hard at school, gained six A- to C-grade GCSEs and passed his electrician course at college with flying colours. These days it’s phone calls about Jake’s poor attendance at work that we’re dealing with, not Billy’s.
I haven’t got the energy to deal with Jake either but I can’t just shrug my shoulders like Mark. We need to present a united front to the media. We all need to be there, sitting side by side behind the desk. A strong family, in appearance if nothing else.
‘I’m going back to the house. I’ll get your other suit out of the wardrobe,’ I say but Mark has already turned his attention to the lawnmower.
I shuffle back to the path, Jake’s oversized shoes leaving a trail in the gravel, and reach for the handle of the back door.
I hear the scream the second I push it open.
THE MISSING is out now. You can buy it from Waterstones here, or Amazon here
To find out more about C.L. Taylor hop over to her website here and follow her on Twitter @callytaylor
And don’t forget to check out all the other great stops along THE MISSING Blog Tour: