Extract: Now You See Her by Heidi Perks
Now You See Her is the new psychological suspense novel by Heidi Perks. Perfect for fans of Then She Was Gone, The Couple Next Door and I Let You Go, the book explores what happens when you are responsible for making your best friend’s worst nightmare come true.
Charlotte is looking after her best friend’s daughter the day she disappears. She thought the little girl was playing with her own children. She swears she only took her eyes off them for a second. Now, Charlotte must do the unthinkable: tell her best friend Harriet that her only child is missing. The child she was meant to be watching.
Devastated, Harriet can no longer bear to see Charlotte. No one could expect her to trust her friend again. Only now she needs to. Because two weeks later Harriet and Charlotte are both being questioned separately by the police. And secrets are about to surface.
Read on for an extract from Now You See Her by Heidi Perks…
Now You See Her
‘My name is Charlotte Reynolds.’ I lean forward as I speak into the tape recorder, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it just feels imperative that I at least get my name across clearly. Reaching out for the glass in front of me I grip it between my fingertips, pushing it slowly in anticlockwise circles, watching the water inside it ripple into tiny ridges. I don’t even realise I’m holding my breath until I let it out in a large puff.
The clock on the otherwise bare white wall flashes 21:16 in bright red lights. My children will be in bed by now. Tom said he will stay the night and sleep in the spare room. ‘Don’t worry,’ he told me when I called him earlier. ‘I won’t go anywhere until you’re home.’ This isn’t what I’m worrying about but I don’t say as much.
Home feels so far away from this airless whitewashed room with its three chairs and desk and the tape recorder balanced on one end of it, and I wonder how long I will be here. How long can they keep me before they decide what comes next? Ever since the fete I have dreaded leaving my children. I’d do anything to be tucking them into their beds right now so I can breathe in their familiar smells, read them that one more story they always beg for.
‘They’re not holding you there, are they?’ Tom had asked me on the phone.
‘No, they just want to ask me a few questions.’ I brushed off the fact I was in a police station as if it were nothing. I didn’t tell Tom that the detective had asked if I wanted someone to be with me, that I’d refused and had assured her as breezily as I could that I didn’t need anyone as I’d happily tell her what I knew.
My fingers begin to tingle and I pull them away from the glass and hold them under the table, squeezing them tightly, willing the blood to rush back in.
‘So, Charlotte,’ the detective starts in a slow drawl. She has asked me if she can use my first name but hasn’t offered me the privilege in return. I know her name is Suzanne because she said as much into the tape, but I expect she knows I won’t call her that. Not when she introduced herself as Detective Inspector Rawlings. It’s a small point but it reinforces who is in control.
My breath sticks tightly in my throat as I wait for her to ask me what I was doing there tonight. In many ways the truth would be the easy option. I wonder if I tell her she’d let me leave now so I can go home to my children.
The detective is interrupted by a knock on the door and she looks up as a police officer pokes her head into the room. ‘DCI Hayes is on his way from Dorset,’ the officer says. ‘ETA three hours.’
Rawlings nods her thanks and the door closes again. Hayes is the Senior Investigating Officer in what has become the Alice Hodder case. He has become a constant fixture in my life over the last two weeks and I wonder if this means I will be kept here until he arrives because I assume he will want to speak to me. The thought that I could be cooped inside this room for another three hours makes the walls close in deeper. I don’t remember ever feeling claustrophobic but right now the sense of being trapped makes me feel light-headed and my eyes flicker as they try to adjust again.
‘Are you OK?’ DI Rawlings asks. Her words sound rough. They give the impression it would annoy her if I weren’t. She has dyed blonde hair scraped back into a tight bun, which shows the black of her roots. She looks young, no more than thirty, and has plastered too much bright red lipstick on to her very full lips.
I hold a hand against my mouth and hope the feeling of nausea will pass. I nod and reach for the glass of water to take a sip. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Thank you, I’ll be OK. I just feel a little sick.’
DI Rawlings purses her red lips and sits back in her chair. She’s in no rush. She may want it to appear that the evening’s events have disturbed her plans but her pregnant pauses betray she has nothing better to do.
‘So,’ she starts again and asks her first question but it isn’t the one I’m expecting. ‘Let’s begin by you telling me what happened thirteen days ago,’ she says instead. ‘The day of the fete.’
At dead on ten o’clock on Saturday morning the doorbell rang and I knew it would be Harriet because she was never a minute late. I emerged from the bathroom, still in my pyjamas, as the bell rang a second time. Flicking back the curtains to be sure it was them, I saw Harriet hovering on the doorstep, her arm tightly gripped around her daughter’s shoulder. Her head hung low as she spoke to Alice. The little girl beside her nodded as she turned and nestled her head into her mother’s waist.
My own children’s screams erupted from downstairs. The two girls’ voices battled to be heard over one another. Evie was now drowning out Molly with a constant, piercing whine and, as I ran down the stairs, I could just make out Molly crying at her younger sister to shut up.
‘Will you both stop shouting,’ I yelled as I reached the bottom. My eldest, Jack, sat obliviously in the playroom, earphones on, zoned into a game on the iPad that I wished Tom had never bought him. How I sometimes envied Jack’s ability to shut himself into his own world. I picked Evie off the floor, wiping a hand across her damp face and rubbing at the Marmite smeared upwards from both corners of her mouth. ‘You look like the Joker.’
Evie stared back at me. At three she was still suffering from the terrible twos. She had at least thankfully stopped bawling and was now kicking one foot against the other. ‘Come on, let’s play nicely for Alice’s sake,’ I said as I opened the door.
‘Hi Harriet, how are you doing?’ I crouched down next to Alice and smiled at the little girl who continued to bury her head into her mum’s skirt. ‘Are you looking forward to the school fete today, Alice?’
I didn’t expect an answer, but I ploughed on regardless. Besides, once Molly took her under her wing, Alice would happily follow her around like a puppy. In turn my six-year-old would have an air of smug superiority because finally a younger child was looking up to her.
‘Thank you again for today,’ Harriet said as I straightened up.
I leaned forward and kissed her cheek. ‘It’s a pleasure. You know it is. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve begged you to let me have Alice for you,’ I grinned.
Harriet’s right hand played with the seam of her skirt, balling it up then pressing it down flat, and for a moment I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I expected her to be apprehensive, I’d even thought she might have cancelled.
‘But with four of them, are you sure—’ she started.
‘Harriet,’ I cut her off. ‘I’m more than happy to take Alice to the fete. Please don’t worry about it.’
Harriet nodded. ‘I’ve already put sun cream on her.’
‘Oh. That’s good.’ That meant I now had to find sun cream for my own. Did I have any?
‘Well, it’s so hot and I don’t want her burning…’ she drifted off, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
‘You are looking forward to your course today, aren’t you?’ I asked. ‘Only you don’t look like you are. You should be, it’s exactly what you need.’
Harriet shrugged and looked at me blankly. ‘It’s bookkeeping,’ she said.
‘I know, but it’s what you want to do. It’s great that you’re planning your future.’
I meant it, even though I’d originally turned my nose up at the fact it was bookkeeping. I’d tried to convince Harriet to do a gardening course instead because she would make a brilliant gardener. I could picture her running around town with her own little van and told her I’d even design a website for her. Harriet had looked as if she was mulling the idea over but eventually said that gardening didn’t pay as much.
‘You could do my garden for me,’ I’d said. ‘I need someone to come and give me some new ideas. I would—’ I stopped abruptly because I’d been about to say I’d pay her more than the going rate but I knew my good intentions weren’t always taken in the right way when it came to money.
‘How about teaching?’ I’d said instead. ‘You know how wonderful you’d be. Just look at the way you were with Jack when I first met you.’
‘I’d have to train to be a teacher and that won’t get me a job this September,’ she’d replied and averted her gaze. I knew her well enough to know when to stop.
‘Then bookkeeping it is,’ I’d said, smiling, ‘and you’ll be great at that too.’ Even if it wasn’t what I’d do, at least Harriet was thinking about a time past September when Alice started school and she could concentrate on something for herself. I had another two long years until Evie started and I could get back some semblance of a career instead of two days a week working for the twenty-something upstart who’d once reported to me.
‘Oh, I haven’t packed a picnic or anything,’ Harriet said suddenly.
‘I’m not bothering with picnics.’ I brushed a hand through the air. ‘We can get something there. The PTA invest more in food stalls than anything else,’ I joked.
‘Right.’ Harriet nodded her head but didn’t smile, after a moment adding, ‘Let me get you some money.’
‘No,’ I said firmly, hopefully not too sharply. ‘No need, let me do it.’
‘But it’s not a problem.’
‘I know it isn’t,’ I smiled. ‘But please, let me do this, Harriet. The girls are excited Alice is joining us and we’re going to have a great day. Please don’t worry about her,’ I said again, holding my hand out towards Alice, though she didn’t take it.
Harriet bent down and pulled her daughter in for a hug and I watched the little girl melt into her mother’s chest. I took a step back feeling like I should give them some space. There was such a tight bond between Harriet and her daughter that felt so much more raw than anything I had with my children, but I also knew what a big deal today was for her. Because, despite Alice being four, Harriet had never left her daughter with anyone before today.
I’d been thrilled when I’d first left Evie overnight with my friend Audrey, and she’d been barely two months old. I’d had to coax Tom into coming to the pub with me and even though we were home by nine-thirty and I had crashed out on the sofa half an hour later it was worth it for a night of undisturbed sleep.
‘I love you,’ Harriet whispered into Alice’s hair. ‘I love you so much. Be a good girl, won’t you? And stay safe.’ She lingered in the hug, her arms pressing tighter around her daughter. When she pulled back she took hold of Alice’s face in her hands and gently pressed her lips against her daughter’s nose.
I waited awkwardly on the step for Harriet to eventually pull herself up. ‘Do you want to go and play with Molly in her bedroom before we go to the fete?’ I asked Alice, then turned to Harriet. ‘Do you still want me to drop her back at your house at five?’
Harriet nodded. ‘Yes, thank you,’ she said, making no move to leave.
‘Please stop thanking me,’ I smiled. ‘I’m your best friend, it’s what I’m here for.’ Besides, I wanted to have Alice for her; Harriet had been there for me enough times over the last two years. ‘You know you can trust me,’ I added.
But then maybe we were a little more on edge than usual since a boy had been taken from the park last October. He was nine – the same age as Jack had been at the time – and it happened only the other side of Dorset. Close enough for us all to feel the threat, and still no one had any idea why he’d been taken or what had happened to him.
I reached out and took hold of my friend’s arm. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll take good care of her.’ And eventually Harriet stepped off my doorstep and I took Alice’s hand and brought her into the hallway.
‘You’ve got my number if you need me,’ Harriet said.
‘I’ll call if there’s a problem. But there won’t be,’ I added.
‘Brian’s fishing; he has his phone with him but he rarely answers it.’
‘OK, well I’ll get hold of you if need be,’ I said. I didn’t have Brian’s number anyway; there was no reason for me to. I wanted Harriet to hurry up and go. I was conscious I was still in my pyjamas and could see Ray from the house opposite staring as he mowed his front lawn in painfully slow stripes. ‘Harriet, you’ll be late,’ I said, deciding I needed to be firm with her now or I’d find her dithering on my doorstep for the rest of the day.
When Harriet eventually left I closed the door and took a deep breath. There was a time when I would have called out to Tom that Ray was watching me and we would laugh about it. It was at the oddest times that it struck me I had no one to share those moments with since we’d separated.
‘Ray caught me wearing my pyjamas,’ I said, grinning at Jack as he emerged from the playroom.
My son stared at me. ‘Can you get me a juice?’
I sighed. ‘No, Jack. You’re ten. You can get your own juice and can you say hello to Alice, please?’
Jack looked at Alice as if he had never seen her before. ‘Hello Alice,’ he said before disappearing into the kitchen.
‘Well that’s as good as it gets, I’m afraid.’ I smiled at Alice who had already taken Molly’s hand and was being led up the stairs. ‘Everyone, I’m going to have a shower and then we’ll get ready for the fete,’ I called out, but my words were met with silence.
When I reached the bedroom my mobile was ringing and Tom’s number flashed up on the screen. ‘We agreed seven p.m.,’ I said when I’d answered the phone.
‘What?’ he shouted over the noise of traffic.
I sighed and muttered under my breath for him to put the damn car roof up. I spoke louder. ‘I said seven p.m. I assume you’ve forgotten what time you were coming to sit with the kids tonight?’ Even though I’d only told him yesterday.
‘Actually I just wanted to check you definitely still need me.’
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. ‘Yes, Tom, I’m still planning to go out.’ I didn’t ask him often; I didn’t go out enough to have to. In the two years since we’d separated I had gradually realised I didn’t need to show him I was still having fun, and most of the time I wasn’t anyway. Now I was comfortable enough in my single life to only go out when I wanted to. Though, if I were being honest, I didn’t really fancy drinks with the neighbours tonight but I wasn’t going to give Tom the satisfaction of letting me down at the last minute.
‘It’s just something’s come up with work. I don’t have to go but it would look better if I’m there.’
I rubbed my hand over my eyes and silently screamed. I knew what my night would be like: awkward conversation over too much wine with neighbours who I had little in common with. Yet I felt I should go. Not only had I promised them, but I’d let them down the last time they had a drinks party and probably the time before that.
‘You told me you were free,’ I said flatly.
‘I know, and I’ll still come over if you really need me. It’s just that—’
‘Oh, Tom,’ I sighed.
‘I’m not backing out if you still want me. I was just checking you definitely want to go, that’s all. You never usually want to.’
‘Yes, I want to go,’ I snapped, hating that he still knew me so well. I wouldn’t get this hassle if I used a babysitter but I knew the kids loved having him over.
‘OK, OK, I’ll be there,’ he said. ‘Seven o’clock.’
‘Thank you. And come on your own,’ I said, before I could help myself. I knew he would never bring his new girlfriend; he hadn’t even introduced her to the children yet.
‘Charlotte,’ he said. ‘You know you don’t have to say that.’
‘I’m just checking,’ I said sharply before putting the phone down and feeling irritatingly guilty. I didn’t have to say that because, despite the way he still annoyed me, I couldn’t fault Tom’s parenting. And we muddled through surprisingly well.
As I turned on the shower I tried not to think about why I was rattled by his latest relationship news. It wasn’t as if I wanted him back. Fifteen years of marriage hadn’t ended on a whim; by then we had gradually grown too far apart. Maybe I just didn’t like change, I thought, stepping into the shower. Maybe I had got too comfortable with the easy flow of my life.
The ten-minute drive to the school took us through our village of Chiddenford towards the outskirts where the small village green and quaint little shops made way for expansive areas of countryside. St Mary’s School grounds rivalled those of some private schools. On the opposite side of the road to the school sat its impressive field, which
backed on to parkland.
It was here that I first met Harriet, five years ago, when she was working as a teaching assistant. I’d always thought she’d end up sending Alice to the school, but the drive from their house was a nightmare. It was a shame because it would have helped Alice’s confidence having Molly two years above.
It must have been well past midday by the time we finally arrived at the fete, joining the long snake of cars as they approached the corner of the field that had been cordoned off as a makeshift car park.
Underneath the brightly coloured bunting strung across the entrance, Gail Turner was waving cars through as if she ran the school rather than just the PTA. When she saw me she gestured at me to wind down my window, her white teeth flashing brightly in the sun. ‘Hello, lovely, how lucky are we with the weather?’ she called through my open window. ‘I feel like I’ve been personally blessed.’
‘Very lucky, Gail,’ I said. ‘Can I park anywhere?’ Four-by-fours and people carriers like mine were already squeezing into tight spaces they’d be unlikely to get out of easily. ‘Why’s it so busy?’
‘My marketing probably,’ she beamed. ‘I tried to speak to as many parents as possible to make sure they were coming.’
‘So where can I park?’ I asked her, flashing my own patient smile back.
‘Hold on, my lovely, let me see if I can find you a VIP space.’ She turned away from the window and I rolled my eyes at Jack who sat beside me. When Gail turned back she pointed at a spot at the far end. ‘Go over there,’ she smiled. ‘No one will block you in.’
‘Thanks, Gail,’ I said as I slowly pulled away. Being friends with her had some advantages.
It was the hottest day on record for May, the DJ on the radio had said that morning. As I climbed out of the car, the pink sundress I’d plucked from the wardrobe was already starting to cut into the skin under my arms and I regretted not wearing flip-flops. Lifting my hair up I tied it into a ponytail and rifled through my bag for my sunglasses, rubbing at a scratch on one of the lenses before putting them on, promising myself I’d look for the case when I got home. ‘Hundred-and-fifty-pound Oakley sunglasses should not be shoved to the bottom of your bag,’ Audrey had once sighed, and I agreed with her but still I had no idea where the case was.
‘Mummy? I need the toilet,’ Evie cried as soon as we made it into the field.
‘Oh, Evie, you have to be kidding,’ I muttered, grabbing my dress out of her hands. ‘And please don’t tug on my clothes, darling.’ I pulled the top of my dress back up and looked down to see if she’d revealed my bra. ‘I’ve asked you not to do that.’
‘But I need to go. I can go on my own.’
‘No, Evie, you really can’t,’ I sighed. ‘You are only three years old.’
‘I can go with Jack.’
I turned back to Jack who was dawdling behind me, his head still stuck in his iPad, brow furrowed in deep concentration as he fought dragons. Jack was ten now and had accomplished major skills in flicking and tapping and swiping anything that posed a threat. I knew I should make him spend less time on gadgets. I’d even been told it wasn’t conducive to the much-needed improvement of his social skills but despite all that I also knew my son was happiest when he was in his own private world.
He looked so much like Tom, with his thick, dark hair and the way his eyes scrunched up when he was trying hard. I smiled at him, even though he remained completely oblivious, and when I turned back to Evie I realised I’d lost sight of the other two. ‘Where are Molly and Alice? They were both right here. Evie?’ I cried. ‘Where have Molly and Alice gone?’
Evie pointed a chubby finger towards the cake stall. ‘Over there.’
I let out a breath as I saw them idly staring at the sugar-topped fairy cakes that had been delivered in hundreds by the mums. My daughter had a hand grasped tightly around Alice’s arm and was talking at her and pointing out cakes as if she were about to reach out and pinch one.
‘Girls! Stay with me,’ I called. Streams of people wove in and out of the stalls and Molly and Alice were momentarily lost behind a family – a large father with a T-shirt that read ‘Los Pollos Chicken’, and his equally large wife stuffing a doughnut into her mouth. I edged towards the cake stall, peering between the legs of the kids trawling behind the couple.
‘Molly! Come back here, now.’ The two girls finally appeared. Meanwhile, Evie was bouncing from one foot to the other and tugging on my dress again.
‘When can we get candyfloss?’ Molly asked. ‘I’m starved.’
‘And I really, really need the toilet now, Mummy,’ Evie shouted, stamping a little pink shoe into the grass. ‘Urrrgh, I’ve got mud all over my feet,’ she cried, shaking her foot and kicking me in the leg.
‘It’s a bit of soil, and I did tell you those shoes weren’t the most practical footwear for a field,’ I said, wiping the dirt from her foot and my shin. ‘And try and watch what you’re doing, Evie. You hurt Mummy.’
‘I’m dirty,’ Evie screamed, falling into a pile on the ground. ‘I need the toilet.’ I looked around me, praying no one was watching. A couple of mums glanced in my direction but turned away again quickly. I could feel the heat spreading rapidly to my cheeks as I decided whether to walk away and leave her writhing on the ground or pick her up and give in just to save face.
‘Oh Evie,’ I sighed. ‘We’ll go behind that tree.’ I waved my hand towards the side of the field.
Evie’s eyes lit up.
‘But do it subtly. Try not to draw attention to us,’ I said as I pulled her over to the tree. ‘And then we can go and get candyfloss,’ I called to the others behind me. ‘And we can find the bouncy castles too – would everyone like that?’ I asked, but if they answered I didn’t hear them above the noise of the crowd.
Despite the start of a niggling headache, I ordered myself a coffee from the candyfloss stall. It felt inappropriate to get a glass of Pimm’s when I had four children to watch and coffee was almost the next best thing. I looked around and waved at friends I spotted in the distance. Audrey tottered across the field, wearing ridiculously high-heeled sandals. Her hair was piled high on her head, a shawl draped over her shoulders, and a long satin skirt swished behind her as she walked. Audrey was completely not dressed for either the weather or a school fete but she didn’t care. She waved back at me, grinning and gesturing at all the children huddled beside me with a look of mock horror. I shrugged as if I couldn’t care less that I was on my own with so many children to look after.
I saw Karen and smiled to myself as she stood outside the beer tent waving her arms dramatically, no doubt desperate to get the attention of her husband who’d most likely tried to hide but would never get away with it for long.
‘So the bouncy castles next?’ I asked, when each of the kids were happily picking at the sticky pink floss. We began walking towards the furthest side of the field where I could make out the tip of an inflatable slide. ‘Look how big that one is.’
‘I want to go on that one instead.’ Molly’s eyes widened as she pointed to a huge inflatable that stretched back to the very edge of the field. It was bright green with inflatable palm trees swaying on the top and the words ‘Jungle Run’ plastered down the side. Molly ran over to look inside its mesh windows, and for once Jack was close at her heels.
‘It’s awesome,’ she cried. ‘Come and have a look, Alice.’ Obligingly, Alice ambled over behind her and peered through the window. My heart went out to Alice, as it often did, seemingly happy to go along with whatever the others decided, but sometimes I wished she would speak up and say what she wanted to do. I rarely knew if she was happy or simply didn’t have the confidence to say otherwise.
‘Can we go on, Mum?’ Jack asked.
‘Yes, of course you can.’ It was the kind of thing I would have loved as a child, and would have revelled in dragging my sister through.
Alice pulled back and looked up at me.
‘You don’t have to go on it if you don’t want to,’ I said.
‘Of course you want to, don’t you, Alice?’ Molly piped up.
‘Molly, she can make up her own mind.’ I pulled out my purse to count out change. ‘Would you rather stay with me?’ I said to Alice.
‘I’m not going,’ Evie interrupted. ‘I’m going on the slide.’
‘Would you like to go on the slide with Evie?’
‘No, I’ll go with Molly,’ she said quietly, and I realised those were the first words she’d said to me all day.
‘Right, well stick together all of you. And Jack, watch out for the girls, won’t you?’ I called to him, though I doubted he heard me. He was already halfway up the side of the Jungle Run.
I passed the money to a mum I didn’t recognise and, when I looked back, they were already out of sight.
‘Come on, Mummy.’ Evie tugged at my dress again.
‘Five minutes, Evie,’ I said. ‘They’ve got five minutes on this and then we’ll go on the slide.’ I needed to sit down in the shade. My head was starting to thump and the coffee wasn’t making it any better. ‘Let’s go and watch that magic show being set up and then I promise you can go on it.’
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