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Authors: Eleanor Moran

Too Close For Comfort

BOOK: Too Close For Comfort
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For Kay, with love

July 10th – Sarah

It started out quiet. It can be that way in the middle of the day – it’s like I’m hidden in a big, concrete chest of drawers. The odd car
pulls in and out, people staring at me, wondering why I don’t climb out of this shiny piece of tat. None of their business. Sometimes I want to stick my tongue out like I’m six years
old. One day I did, some old fart in a suit peering through the window like he was my headmaster, but then I remembered the last thing I needed to do was to make myself memorable. I turned my face
into a smile, hoped he’d think he imagined it. It’s amazing what people will imagine when the truth is too weird to believe.

Thing is, that day I barely noticed. I was too distracted, staring at my phone, sending kisses, hoping he understood. I was nearly ready to become her. I just needed a bit
more time before I confirmed all the worst things he thought about me.

Suddenly it wasn’t quiet any more. Not inside my head, or outside of it either. When I first got out I was walking, but then I had no choice. I was running, my trainers
slipping everywhere, the ground slick and treacherous under my feet.

Then it happened. Then I was falling. My life didn’t flash before my eyes; nothing like that. Everything tapered down until all I was was a single word. I don’t
know if I shouted it or I just became it. SORRY.

CHAPTER ONE

Georgie was pregnant. Not just pregnant, hugely pregnant – if she were to get into the delivery room and find a second baby playing hide and seek in there I
wouldn’t have been remotely surprised. Just to add to her discomfort, it was one of those sticky London days where the sun glowers from behind the cloud cover, giving the city a mushroom-soup
kind of feel. She was flopped out on the red sofa in my office, pink and swollen feet released from her flat sandals, taking a long glug from a bottle of water. I watched her, tried to imagine how
it would feel when I – if I – ever had a whole extra person strapped in for the ride. She set the bottle down heavily on the coffee table.

‘I just don’t know what to say to her,’ she said, pushing a long, damp strand of dark hair away from her pretty face. ‘Sometimes I feel like she hates me for it. But I
had to do this. I had to believe that when . . .’ She paused, looked at me.

‘What is it this week?’

‘Oscar,’ she said, firmly. ‘. . . That when Oscar arrived she’d fall in love with him.’ Georgie had been trying out names week on week, talking to her
ever-growing bump and seeing if they stuck. ‘I decided Otto sounded like a German shot-putter,’ she explained. I shrugged, smiled. ‘Come on, I know you thought it too.’

Georgie was a favourite patient of mine, one of the handful I could imagine being friends with in real life. She’d decided she couldn’t wait any longer for her reluctant long-term
girlfriend to come round to the idea of having children, and had simply found a clinic and pushed on regardless.

‘Does Maggie have any opinions on Oscar versus Otto? You were going to try asking her directly, weren’t you? See how it felt if you didn’t walk on eggshells?’

Georgie paused, catching the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth in the way she did when she was hurting. She turned to look out of the window, buying herself time. My offices are on the
edge of Baker Street, looking out onto the steady, relentless stream of traffic that runs down the Marylebone Road. Beyond that is Regent’s Park, an oasis of green that I know I should make
time to escape into but somehow never do. I waited for Georgie to form a response. In the silence I heard a tiny, intrusive beep from my phone. I cursed myself for not switching it off, hoped it
wouldn’t take her out of the moment. She didn’t seem to hear it.

‘She said that he was my baby . . .’ Her voice had dropped low. ‘That was all she said.’

I felt a hot surge of protectiveness, then yoked it in, found the professional distance I need to give my clients the best support I can. I’d been seeing Georgie for six months now, had
grown to care about her. She was thirty-nine, a graphic designer with a thriving career and a happy relationship, who had known that for her it wasn’t enough. Now there was an imminent Oscar.
Or Otto. He’d even been Lucien on one particularly unfortunate week.

‘That must’ve been really hard for you to hear.’

Georgie nodded, tears springing to her eyes.

‘I felt like an idiot,’ she said, jagged.

I felt a pang of self-doubt. Had I pushed her too hard last session? I’m not one of those therapists who barely offer an opinion, constantly bowling the problem back to the distressed
client with an impassive:
‘What do you think you should do?’
I get down into the dirt with them, and last week I’d encouraged her to change her own
behaviour and see where it took the relationship. Another tiny, insistent beep. I pretended it didn’t exist, kept my focus on her.

‘I don’t think you were an idiot at all,’ I said. ‘You were brave – you didn’t want to keep existing in that passive-aggressive cold war. It’s just that
you didn’t get the answer you were hoping for.’

Georgie’s shoulders dropped, her body loosening.

‘Do you have kids?’

She’d clocked my left hand long ago. The small, twinkly engagement band. The lack of a wedding band to keep it company. I was thirty-eight, and, whilst I loved the fantasy that my dewy
skin would make her think I was ten years younger, she of course could guess we were roughly the same age.

‘We’ve had this conversation before. You know I can’t answer that.’

She looked at me, her face imploring. ‘I know why she’s angry. I did go behind her back. But if she’s willing to stay, surely she’s willing to give me a break?’ She
rubbed the taut drum of her tummy, a smile creeping across her face unbidden. ‘Give us a break?’

Yet another buzz from my phone: this time we both heard it. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I said, ‘let me just switch it off.’ I retrieved my handbag from under my desk.
Lysette
, it said, not twice, but five times. I stared at the screen, unease prickling and bursting inside of me. Why would my busy best friend be calling me with the
relentless determination of a stalker in the middle of a working day? I hoped it was a pocket dial, but a text told me it wasn’t. Call me, it said, stark and abrupt and entirely un-Lysette.
Georgie must’ve seen the anxiety flash across my face.

‘Do you need to deal with it?’ she asked.

We had ten minutes left. What difference could ten minutes make? I switched the phone off, guilt needling me as I did so, sat back down.

‘Don’t worry, this is your time. Let’s talk about how you can approach this coming week.’

Those ten minutes felt like forever. I walked Georgie through to the waiting room, saw her out, apologised to my next client for the fact I’d need a few minutes. Lysette picked up on the
first ring.

‘Lys?’ I said. ‘What is it?’

I heard it before I heard it, if you know what I mean. It was an intake of breath, a crackle of air, no words yet, but something in the ripe gap that was more frightening than a scream.

‘Can you . . .’ A hiccup, a sob. ‘Can you come . . .’

‘What’s happened?’

‘It’s Sarah,’ she said, overcome by sobs. I had to search my brain. Sarah, Sarah. She was another mum in the pretty rural village she lived in. I’d met her once, at my
god-daughter Saffron’s birthday party. ‘She’s . . . Mia, she’s dead.’

I put a hand out to steady myself. It sounded stupid, but the day I’d met her she’d seemed almost the most alive of all of us. She’d been much younger than the thirty-something
mums surrounding her, but it had been about something more potent than youth.

‘God. Oh God. Lysette. I’m so sorry. What happened?’

‘She fell. She fell from a car park.’ She gave in to the tears. ‘Just come, Mia. Please. If you can, just come.’

‘I’ll be there as soon as I can,’ I said, not insulting her by poking for details, making my voice sound stout and determined. I wanted my certainty to make her feel safe.

Nothing could make her feel safe. Soon nothing could make me feel safe either.

CHAPTER TWO

Roger Hutchins had the kind of curly nasal hair that looks like a handlebar moustache in training. Every time he angled his handsome, square-jawed face to one side – it
was his listening pose, I could tell he’d perfected it over many years – all I could see was the rich jungle that was threatening to destroy his whole carefully cultivated look. It had
only been a few weeks since my beloved ex-boss – no, mentor – had left, and we were still getting the measure of each other. I’d ambushed him early, before any of our patients
could waylay us. The morning sky was like a crisp blue sheet, framed by the impressive window of his newly inherited office.

‘Judith’s shoes will be hard ones to fill, and I don’t just mean the high heels.’ He emitted a small, self-deprecating chuckle that sounded like a dry bark. ‘I
admire mavericks,’ he said, in a voice which conveyed the absolute opposite. ‘The therapy world needs people who don’t run with the pack.’

He steepled long, almost girlish fingers under his chin, searching my face for some kind of reaction. His nails were brilliantly clean and square, like they’d been professionally
manicured. When I’d heard my new boss was called Roger I’d imagined he’d be in his fifties at least – you don’t meet many Rogers on a Club 18–30 holiday –
but he was forty-four, only six years older than me. He was frighteningly ambitious, an ex-Army psychiatrist with a worldwide reputation thanks to his pioneering work on PTSD. Perhaps that
explained his air of menace, the sense I got that he might court-martial me if I didn’t obey his sugar-coated directives.

‘The thing about Judith is, she’s got this incredible instinct with patients.’ I could hear the defensiveness in my voice and I tried to rein it in. ‘She really taught me
how to meet them exactly where they are, not where I think they ought to be.’

‘I’m glad that you’re such a fan of supervision. I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty and getting stuck into your cases. Collaboration’s the best part of
our work, don’t you think?’ The last thing I wanted was his muddy paws all over my files, telling me how I should be dealing with patients I’d been working with for months –
years, in some cases – on end.

‘Absolutely!’ I said, a little too brightly.

‘I imagine Judith was a big support to you on the Christopher Vine case. I’d love you to fill me in on how that unfolded. It’s a fascinating piece of experience you’ve
got there – being right at the heart of a police manhunt. You can divulge it all on Friday.’

I gave a tight smile, my heart quickening at the memory, even though it was two years past. Christopher Vine was a gangster, whose angry and vulnerable teenage daughter had been my patient. Her
welfare had become so paramount to me that I’d nearly torpedoed my whole career in my determination to save her from his dangerous control.

‘But that’s what I wanted to tell you – I’m afraid I can’t make our meeting on Friday. I have to take it as leave. A close friend’s had a traumatic
bereavement and I’ve promised to spend a couple of days with her. I’m leaving right after my last session.’ Roger didn’t reply. ‘I’ve rearranged my patients. A
mother at her daughter’s school threw herself off a car park roof.’

BOOK: Too Close For Comfort
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