Authors: Kelly Harte
The right of Kelly Harte to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
First published in the United Kingdom in 2003 by Red Dress Ink.
This edition published in 2014 by Endeavour Press Ltd
A big thanks to Colin Larkin for unwittingly giving me the idea, even though he sussed me immediately when I tried a ‘Sarah Daly’ on him and thought writing the book was a mistake at the time. Joanna Harris for thinking it was a good idea and also for letting me use her name. Martin Harris for being pleased for me. Christian Harris, the ‘Dive Master’, for keeping in touch with his old mum so well as he sensibly avoids ‘real life’ with the lovely Pip in Thailand. Sue Lowings for being the best possible friend and a limitless source of help, advice and encouragement in the writing department. Judy Currie for her ancestors and for being around when I needed her. David Ashcroft for the web site he promises to create, and for looking after Fluffy so well. Sam Bell (who looks years younger than she really is) for keeping me on the straight and narrow so very nicely and for using words like ‘Yikes!’ Juliet Burton for all her time, patience and good-natured support. Also Tom, Dan and Carmen for never giving me a hard time, and finally to the other Tom, who’s only vice is, erm, plastic bags.
To my dear friend Sue Lowings, a very fine writer indeed.
I had no sense of the significance of that day while I was actually living it. That only came with hindsight. At the time I was too busy being depressed about my life, and my job situation wasn’t helping much. There were just fifteen of us left in the office by then. And things must have been bad because even the fact that Rob (thirty-one-year-old, good-looking company marketing director) was having extra-marital relations with Susan (his dumpy, forty-seven year-old PA) failed to raise as much as an eyebrow—let alone a smirk or a smutty comment.
If anyone could even be bothered to speak at all, the major topic of speculation was how long it would be before the company folded. A few of us thought we might struggle on till the end of the month, but Sid, the ever-gloomy and ludicrously youthful office technical genius, had put it around only that morning that we wouldn’t make it till the end of the day. Mostly we sat staring at our computers, though, pretending to look for new business leads while wishing we’d been wise enough to accept the voluntary redundancies that had been on offer a few weeks ago. Either that or we circulated not very funny/very rude e-mails to anyone we could think of. And when we got bored with that we let the devil do whatever else he does with idle hands, and in my case,
This involved a great deal of brooding about Dan, and Aisling Carter, and wondering what I could do to get my own back on the lying bastard and scheming slapper. I was still finding it hard to get my head round the fact that they were together, especially after all that Dan had said about her in the past.
On her looks: ‘All right if you like Barbie dolls, I suppose.’
On her voice: ‘Sounds like a Siamese cat on heat.’
On her name: ‘Sneaky.’ (Looks like
when it is written and sounds like
when it is spoken.)
On her character: ‘The biggest name-dropper in the whole of Leeds.’
We’d laughed about that a lot. It had been ‘Kate’ (Moss) this, and ‘Denise’ (van Outen) that, or ‘Jamie’ (Astin) the other. And, OK, so she might have come into contact with a few famous people in the course of her sickeningly glamorous work, but to hear her talk you’d think they were all her very close friends—friends that never quite found their way to her flat in Leeds...
The flat she’d moved into just beneath ours, a couple of months before I left Dan.
And had made it so obvious that she fancied Dan it had been almost funny at the time.
‘Can you do me a huge favour and help me move my sofa, please, Dan?’ Four times to my knowledge she tried that one on, and it wasn’t as if the sofa didn’t have castors!
‘Would you be an angel and show me how my central heating system works again, please, Dan?’ In the middle of summer.
‘Could you water my plants while I’m away,
, Dan?’ Jetting off here, there and everywhere with her highly paid PR job that everyone knew she’d only got because her godmother owned the company.
Jammy, devious cow.
And now Dan
on her, according to Libby, who lived in the flat upstairs from Dan and kept me informed about what was going on. Only I was beginning to wish that she didn’t, because talking to her, hearing how happy Dan was with Aisling, had made me a little bit crazy. I kept getting vengeful thoughts in my head, really wild and wicked ideas that would probably have come to nothing if I’d had something else to distract me just long enough for me to realise how mad those ideas really were. A new man, perhaps, or a job that involved actual
I’d been employed for Pisus UK for just over a year. It was a fast-growing e-business agency at the time I joined, and competition for staff had been hot. They’d offered to double my former salary and I’d naturally bitten their hand off. With nothing but admin experience before, I reached the dizzy heights of manager in charge of several extremely prestigious accounts within a month. It was all very exciting for a very short time, but like almost everything else remotely connected to the Internet things had since taken a serious dive. And as a part of our job was to build and maintain company websites we were right there in the thick of things.
I was luckier than most, in a way. While most of the company’s clients had slunk away like flies in winter, I’d managed to persuade a number of mine to hang on in there. I spoke to them all every day, and while being as honest as I possibly could I was also trying to be optimistic. Because, despite Sid’s latest dismal prediction, I was one of the end-of-the-month hopefuls.
But not hopeful enough to stop me looking for work elsewhere. Which is why I tapped out a quick e-mail to Cass, asking if she knew of any jobs going. It made me feel a bit guilty about my clients, but I was a lot more concerned about not having an income. I didn’t care what job I did, how lowly, how dull, just so long as it paid enough to cover my rent and my phone bill. Food and electricity I could probably manage without.
Writing the e-mail distracted me for about two minutes, but I was soon back in sombre brooding mode, thinking of Dan and wondering how it had all gone wrong with us. I even got out his dog-eared photo again, the one which I’d taken last New Year’s Eve in the kitchen. He’d been cooking for us, and the event was so rare I told him it needed recording for posterity. He looked hot and harassed in the picture, but still pretty gorgeous, with that dark hair that always seemed to need trimming, and a secret smile that said if the food didn’t work out then there was always the afters to look forward to.
We’d been together just over two years when I left. And looking back now, almost nine weeks on, I still couldn’t explain what had happened with us. It was as if one minute we were blissfully happy and the next we loathed one another. There must have been an in-between stage, I suppose, but that part was all an unhappy blur. I just remembered the good bits now and the insult stage. Or rather one particular whopping great insult.
‘If you’re not very careful,’ he’d told me stingingly the night before I packed my belongings and left the flat, ‘you’ll turn into your mother.’
Only those who know my mother could possibly understand how cruel that particular slur had been on my character, and he left me no option. But it still wasn’t supposed to have been the end. Dan was
to have called Cass to find out where I was. (She had my permission to tell him.) And if he didn’t want to do that, well, he knew where I worked. Some flowers would have been nice, with a note telling me how much he missed me. But most of all I wanted an apology for saying such a terrible thing.
Only nothing happened at all. Not a single word. And so who, after all that, could blame me for choosing to lick my wounds in a bit of luxury? For taking on an expensive flat that just happened to be well beyond my normal means? Cass did, of course, but then Cass has always taken the safe option. She was one of the sensible ones who had refused to be seduced by silly salaries from a boring but safe admin job with a firm of accountants.
Which was exactly what I was after now, as a matter of fact. So I checked the wording I’d used in my e-mail and sent it off quickly, and then, in an attempt to look busy, I decided to check my Hotmail account. Only my mother used that address—a hangover from a trip to India four years before, when she’d insisted on buying a PC so we could stay in touch (which really meant keeping an eye on me and what I was up to). For some reason it had remained her favourite form of communication, which made sense with my brother, who lived in Los Angeles now, but not with someone who’d ended up living only twenty miles from the family home.
And heaven help me if I missed a message.
There were two. The first was titled:
Not in a million years.
Nic Dick (how could her parents have done that to her?) wasn’t my friend and never had been. She was my mother’s friend’s daughter, who’d never forgiven me for getting off with her boyfriend at a party when we were seventeen. I hadn’t even fancied him much, but the cider affected my judgement. I’d drunk far too much, I’m afraid, and anyway he was the one who made the first move, not me...
She’d titled the second e-mail
That didn’t ring true at all. Especially the Born Again bit. Call me cynical, but I couldn’t help thinking she must have a motive for getting religious all of a sudden. She’d made my life hell during the final school year and I don’t believe that people can change
It was just as I was about to shut down, without answering my mother’s mail because I was so mad with her for telling the Dicks about my latest troubles, when I thought how nice it would be to be someone else for a while. Someone who wasn’t just about to lose her job. Who wasn’t living beyond her means. Whose mother didn’t humiliate her. Whose life was actually going somewhere. Whose former boyfriend wasn’t a lying hypocrite.
My finger hovered over the mouse, with the arrow directed at the
symbol, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could be. Someone else, I mean—and I could start with a brand-new Hotmail address. In whatever name that just happened to take my fancy.
The idea took hold of my imagination quickly, and within a couple of minutes one idea had just led to another...
I couldn’t have done what I ended up doing if Dan hadn’t been a writer. He works mostly for the music press, and has had a couple of books published about fairly obscure (fairly obscure to me, anyway) recording artists from the dim and distant past. The books were well-received by those in the know, and although they didn’t sell very well he had been recently commissioned to write something with more mass-market appeal. I’d learnt this from Libby along with everything else. She didn’t know what or who the book was about—Dan said it was all a bit hush-hush at the moment—but she did know that he’d had a pretty good advance and was taking time out from his usual work. So it must be important.
The point about him being that kind of writer is that he had a fairly public e-mail address. He liked getting feedback from readers and made a point of publishing the address for this very purpose. He got his fair share of ‘wacko mail’, as he called it, but enough constructive stuff, he insisted, to make it worthwhile.
And the main point of that point is that there was absolutely no reason he should guess that it was me writing to him.
To start with I came up with very silly and outlandish names: Poppy Pickles and Jacosta Whitherspoon, to name but two. Fortunately, silly and outlandish-sounding people (including Poppy and Jacosta) had got there already, so I ended up with a fairly straightforward name for my new account. Which is just as well or I might have looked like one of the wackos and my fiendish plan might never have got off the ground.
I eventually opted for Sarah Daly, which sounded so pleasant and normal that I felt immediately comfortable with it. It did require switching the first and last names around, but ‘[email protected]’ seemed to have just the right ring about it to me.
I spent ages composing Sarah’s first message to Dan. It had to sound authentic, interesting, and really worth replying to. Especially now that he was taking time out of his regular work. There was a very good chance that he was so immersed in his book—and Aisling—that he might not even bother to check his mail, but it was definitely worth a try.
Luckily I used to proofread his work before he filed it, so I already had a pretty good idea what I could write about. I might be a bit out of date, of course, but that needn’t matter. Magazines often ended up being read a long time after they went to press. So I plucked out the last one I could remember proofing and based my message on that.