Extract: All Her Fault by Andrea Mara
Marissa Irvine arrives at 14 Tudor Grove, expecting to pick up her young son Milo from his first playdate with a boy at his new school. But the woman who answers the door isn’t a mother she recognises. She isn’t the nanny. She doesn’t have Milo. And so begins every parent’s worst nightmare.
As news of the disappearance filters through the quiet Dublin suburb and an unexpected suspect is named, whispers start to spread about the women most closely connected to the shocking event. Because only one of them may have taken Milo – but they could all be blamed…
Read on for the first two chapters of All Her Fault by Andrea Mara!
All Her Fault
The house looked like any other house and the door looked like any other door. Normal. A bit generic. Not what Marissa was expecting. She pressed the bell and stood back. What had she been expecting? Something a little grander, perhaps. Jenny had looked so groomed at the school social, and Marissa realized she’d built up an image that didn’t quite tally with this very ordinary-looking house and its very ordinary-looking door.
As she waited, her mind ran over everything they had planned for the weekend. She’d have to pop into the office at some point – the audit was only weeks away, and she needed to go over the Fenelon file again. Then there was her tennis match, book club – and dammit, she still hadn’t finished the book.
Footsteps. And a shadow through the glass panel as Jenny approached and opened the door. Only it wasn’t Jenny. The woman was short with a mass of unruly brown curls, and a tea towel in her hand. The nanny perhaps? Though she didn’t look much like the nannies and au pairs Marissa saw when she dropped Milo to school each morning.
‘Hi, I’m Marissa, I’m here to pick up my son, Milo?’ she said to the woman.
‘Ah, you must have the wrong house, there’s nobody called Milo here.’
‘Oh!’ Marissa said, fishing her phone from her handbag. ‘I’m so sorry, let me just check…’ She clicked into the message from Jenny and read aloud.
‘14 Tudor Grove…’ She looked up at the woman. ‘Sorry, what number is this?’
‘This is fourteen, but there’s no Milo here. It’s just me.’
Marissa shook her head, looking down again at the text, as though it might have somehow changed in the intervening seconds. She held it up to the woman.
‘I’m not going mad, am I, this does say 14 Tudor Grove?’
The woman nodded. ‘Someone must have given you the wrong address. Sure, give them a ring and see?’
She started to close the door, and that’s when the first pang of unease hit. It felt like it did last weekend when she couldn’t find Milo in the playground – he was there somewhere, of course he was, but she couldn’t relax until she had eyes on him. And seconds later, she did. But she had no eyes on him now. Now, he was in Jenny’s house and the woman who was not Jenny was closing the door.
‘Wait! Sorry, do you mind if I stay here while I ring, in case there’s been some mix-up?’
The woman’s kind brown eyes suggested she had no idea what kind of mix-up Marissa meant, but she kept the door open. Marissa hit the Call button on Jenny’s text and waited for the ringtone. There was none. Just an automated message.
The number you have called is not recognized.
Unease slipped into mild panic.
‘It’s not working,’ Marissa said to the woman, her voice hoarse.
‘Come in,’ the woman said, pulling the door wide. ‘We’ll figure it out. Some kind of glitch with the phone company, no doubt.’
She chattered on as Marissa followed her through to her kitchen, still trying to phone Jenny. But the message was the same each time.
The number you have called is not recognized.
‘Now, this person you’re trying to phone – who is she?’
‘Jenny. A mum from the school. My son Milo is on a playdate with her son Jacob. This is the address she sent me for pick-up.’
The words came in short, breathless bursts.
She showed the woman Jenny’s message.
The address is 14 Tudor Grove – if I’m not home from work when you get there, my nanny Carrie will be there with the boys.
The woman tilted her head, looking puzzled.
‘It doesn’t make sense,’ Marissa continued. ‘If this is her address, why is she not here?’ Her breath got shorter, faster. ‘Why is Milo not here?’
‘And you’ve never been to her house before?’
‘No, no – Milo just started school this year, and this is his first playdate with Jacob.’ She swallowed, gulped at the air and tried to slow her breathing. ‘I met Jenny at the school social, and she was lovely – I don’t understand what’s going on. How would she get her own address wrong?’
‘Do you have numbers for other parents in the class, could you call one of them to get the right address?’
Of course. That’s what she needed to do. Sarah Rayburn would definitely have a number for Jenny – Sarah knew everyone. There would be a simple explanation. Marissa pulled up Sarah’s number and dialled. Sarah picked up, sounding surprised.
‘Marissa, how are you?’ she said, in a voice that meant, Why are you calling me at half five on a Friday?
‘Sarah, do you have a number for Jenny Kennedy? Milo is on a playdate with Jacob, but somehow Jenny sent me the wrong address and now I’ve no idea where to get him!’ Marissa laughed, but it came out sounding hysterical.
‘Marissa, there must be some mistake. Did you get your dates mixed up?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Milo can’t be on a playdate with Jacob – Jacob is here in our house.’
That’s when Marissa’s limbs went loose. As the phone dropped from her hand, she sagged against the wall and stared at the woman.
‘I don’t know where my son is,’ she whispered, and slipped to the stranger’s floor.
Esther was her name – the woman who owned the house that wasn’t Jenny’s – Marissa half heard her say it when she picked the phone off the floor and took over speaking to Sarah.
‘I’m here with your friend, she’s had a bit of a turn.’ Esther was talking into the phone as she hunkered beside Marissa. ‘Now – Sarah, is it? Would you have the right number for this woman Jenny?’
She went over to the table and, with the phone clutched between her shoulder and her ear, she wrote something on the back of an envelope.
‘Lovely. We’ll give her a call. So Jenny’s little boy is in your house? You’re sure of that? Of course, I understand. Yes, we’ll let you know. Bye now. Bye.’
Esther looked over at Marissa as she disconnected the call.
‘Will I do it for you – phone your friend?’
Marissa nodded again. Only Jenny wasn’t her friend, was she? They’d met once, that night at the school social. They hit it off when they realized they were wearing the same dress – we either avoid each other all night or have a laugh and take selfies, Marissa had said to Jenny, a shy woman from Cork who seemed good fun beneath the quiet exterior. So when Jenny had texted to invite Milo on a playdate, Marissa didn’t think twice – they’d met, for God’s sake, it wasn’t like sending your child off with a stranger. Was it? Jesus Christ, was it?
There was something in Esther’s expression as she waited, phone to her ear, eyes fixed on Marissa. Then her face changed.
‘Hello, Jenny? You don’t know me but I’m here with your friend Marissa. From your son’s school? Yes. She thought her son was in your house today, there seems to be some confusion. I’m going to put you on speaker now.’ She set the phone on the kitchen table.
‘Hiya, sorry, I’m away with work – I’m in France,’ said the voice on the phone. ‘I didn’t have any playdates organized in our house today – Jacob is at Sarah Rayburn’s?’
‘But you texted me about it?’ Marissa said. ‘You sent me a message to arrange it?’
‘No, I didn’t send any message… I’m not sure what happened there – isn’t there another Jacob in the class, could that be it?’
Esther raised her eyebrows at Marissa – could that be what happened?
Of course! Jacob… Wilcox? That must be it. God, she was such an idiot, causing all this fuss. She started to get up, then paused. That only made sense if the other mother was also called Jenny. And it still didn’t explain why she gave the wrong address.
Marissa stood and picked the phone off the table.
‘Jenny, could you send the number for Jacob Wilcox’s mother?’
When the contact pinged through seconds later, Esther and Marissa looked at it, saying nothing. The mother’s name wasn’t Jenny – of course it wasn’t. But there could be some explanation, something that would make sense when they spoke to her.
Esther pressed Call and put the phone on speaker again.
After what seemed like for ever, the call was answered.
‘Hello? Sorry, let me pop outside,’ came the tinny voice, ‘it’s hard to hear in the bar – hello?’
Esther looked at Marissa and opened her mouth to speak.
‘Hi, this is a friend of Marissa Irvine’s – her son Milo is in your son Jacob’s class, and we were wondering if Milo is in your house today?’
‘No, Jacob’s with my mother-in-law. Sorry, I’m at a work do, it’s hard to hear. What made you think he was in our house?’
‘Just a bit of confusion, thanks for your time,’ Esther said, and disconnected. She looked at Marissa. ‘What about Milo’s dad – maybe he picked him up from school and forgot to tell you?’
Peter. That could be it. Premature relief flooded through Marissa as she dialled her husband’s number.
‘I know, I know, pizza night!’ he said when he answered. ‘I just have one final set of documents to send out, then I’ll head home. Did Milo-Mouse enjoy his playdate?’
‘Peter, is he not with you?’
‘Milo? No, I’m still at work – did something happen? Why isn’t he with you?’
‘He was on a playdate and when I came to pick him up, he wasn’t there, but it was the wrong house, the mum gave me the wrong address,’ she said, all in one panicked breath.
‘Can you ring her,’ he said, ‘get the address?’
‘I did, but it wasn’t her.’ She knew she was making no sense. ‘The person who arranged the playdate signed off “Jenny”, but it wasn’t the Jenny I know. And the number is out of service.’
‘But surely you called the mother to confirm the playdate?’
‘No, we arranged everything by text.’ Oh God, she should have called. Why hadn’t she called?
‘OK, I’m leaving the office – we need to call the police, can you do that? And then start phoning every parent from the class. I’ll meet you at home.’
She hung up and dialled 999.
In the end, Esther drove Marissa home, so that she could focus on making calls. Marissa wasn’t sure she could have driven the car anyway. Her hands shook as she dialled each number, getting the same answer every time – no, he’s not here, can I help in some way, it’s probably a mix-up. Worried voices tinged with relief – thank God it’s not my child beneath every keep us posted goodbye. As Esther pulled into the driveway, Marissa jumped out, suddenly certain Milo would be there – sitting in the doorway, somehow having made his way home from school on his own. She called his name, again and again, checking around both sides of the house, wondering if he could scale the side gate and get through to the back garden. Inside the house, she ran through to the back door, hands fumbling as she unlocked it, then out to the garden, still calling his name. Nothing. Nobody.
Esther had followed her in and was standing in the kitchen.
‘There’s a police car outside, and two gardaí getting out of it. They’ll sort it out now, don’t worry. Sit down there,’ she said, patting a stool at the breakfast bar. Marissa didn’t sit. She took her phone from her pocket and dialled the next number, but it was one she’d already called. She was losing track and running out of names. Were there parents she didn’t have in her phone? Would Ana know? Wait, could this have something to do with Ana, maybe she wasn’t away after all?
The doorbell rang though the front door was open – Marissa could see the two officers on the step and beckoned them in.
‘I need to phone Ana – my au pair,’ she said, before either one of them had the chance to speak. ‘She’s gone away for the weekend and took today off, but maybe I mixed up the weekends – maybe she collected Milo…’
She hit Ana’s number and waited as it rang, pressing the phone to her ear so hard it hurt. No answer. She tried again. Still nothing.
‘Mrs Irvine,’ one of the gardaí said, a fair-haired woman in her thirties who looked stern but not unkind. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant McConville and this is Detective Garda Breen.’ She nodded towards her colleague; a tall, thin man with a slightly bored expression. ‘Can you tell us what happened?’
And she did, while Esther made tea, and the guard called Breen took notes. She paused every few minutes to try Ana again, but it rang out each time. She tried the number in the text from ‘Jenny’, then passed it to the gardaí to take a look.
‘It’s out of service, but I don’t know what that means.’
The gardaí didn’t look at one another but Marissa sensed an unspoken exchange. Whatever way you thought about it, an out-of-service number was not a good thing.
‘How old is your son, Mrs Irvine?’
‘He’s only four,’ Marissa replied, her voice breaking, as she tried Ana’s number again.
The sound of a key in the door made her jump up and run to the hall. Peter walked in, but alone – no Milo trotting behind him. Little by little, the straws were slipping from her grasp.
‘Peter, where is he?’ she said, burying her head in his chest. His arms circled her, his face in her hair.
‘It’ll be OK, I promise, we’ll find him. Are the guards in the kitchen?’
She nodded and led him through to meet McConville and Breen, and Esther too, explaining that she was the real occupant of 14 Tudor Grove.
Breen, who with his light blond hair and high colour looked like he was just out of training college, was in the corner on his phone. Looking for the owner of the ‘Jenny’ number maybe? Marissa tried to hear but his voice was little more than a murmur.
‘Could Ana know something?’ Peter asked.
‘I can’t get her on the phone. She’s meant to be in Galway with her boyfriend, and for whatever reason she’s not answering.’
They stared at each other, lost for words.
McConville cleared her throat, her wide, grey eyes still serious, but sympathetic too.
‘I wonder if you could give me a recent photo of Milo?’
That’s when reality hit Marissa like a millstone to the chest. It wasn’t just a mix-up. Her son was officially missing.
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