| Not read Chapter 1 yet? The beginning is a very good place to start.
Kate is a single mum, though she’s not too keen on having that pointed out by others. She’s certainly done the whole parenting thing all by herself, but the label ‘single parent’ has a stigma attached. If this is the first thing people find out about Kate, they pigeonhole her – either as a victim or, worse, as someone who has made ‘poor life choices’. They usually consider her ‘brave’, but they also tend to pity her and keep their distance, as though there’s something they might catch from her if they get too close.
So Kate prefers to shy away from even mentioning that she’s a parent, until people get to know her better. It’s not as though she’s pushing a buggy round everywhere these days, after all. Her two boys are both at university, and thriving, it seems.
She chose this life, by and large. She always wanted children, and after a lengthy process in which every little aspect of her life was scrutinised by strangers, she was allowed to adopt her beautiful twin boys when they were just over a year old. She loves them dearly, and has been a very good mother to them over the years.
Kate’s oldest friends are former colleagues from when she worked in the city as a journalist. She gave that up when she adopted Jamie and Calum, and switched to working freelance from somewhere with a slower pace of life. Most of her friends, now, though, are other mums whose children were at school with hers. She’s always found it a little hard to relate to their very conventional lives: the husbands, the large suburban houses, the people-carriers. But occasionally she’s a little envious of the fact that they have someone to go home to – especially now that she’s all on her own.
On a Thursday morning once a month, or thereabouts, Kate meets a few of her close friends in town to catch up with the latest news over a cup of good coffee and, most importantly, a slice of cake. There was a frost on the ground when Kate set off from her house, but there is no sign of it now as she locks her bike to the lamp post outside the bookshop.
She’s early, but loves to browse – and almost inevitably ends up buying a book when she does. She allows herself this indulgence on the pretext of supporting a local bookshop that is struggling to survive in the age of internet shopping. Besides, if no one bought books here, her favourite coffee shop might have to close. The latest novel by a beloved author catches her eye, and she takes it over to the counter to buy it before heading to the back of the shop, where she sits down at one of the little tables and starts to read.
The author’s familiar style quickly draws her in, and she finds herself immersed in the story. The fantastic world weaves itself into her imagination; she delights in the interplay between the human characters and their animal guides, the whole rich mythology of it. Such a contrast with her own humdrum life and the banalities she writes about for her newspaper and magazine columns …
‘Katie!’ Her friend, Jude, startles her from her reverie. Kate bookmarks her place before giving Jude a hug. There are a few close friends who get to call her Katie. Jude, a fairly successful local artist, is one of them. Generally, though, she prefers to go by Kate, the name she uses professionally, as she feels it lends her an air of seriousness.
They order coffee and cake – a lovely carrot cake today – and are soon joined by two more friends. The group settle into animated conversation about everything that’s been going on in their lives over the past month. Once they’ve talked about their jobs, their families, their children, their husbands, they get on with setting the world to rights. If the four of them were in charge, the world would be a much better place!
Jude notices the time; she needs to get home because she is expecting someone round later. That’s the cue for the friends to get on with their separate days. Outside on the street, hugs are exchanged, and Kate goes to unlock her bike as the others amble towards the town centre.
Pushing away from the kerb and leaning heavily on her pedals, Kate sets off up the steep hill. Luckily there aren’t many cars about at this time of day; in any case, she doesn’t have far to go before she’s able to get away from the road. She turns left onto a quiet little path, which runs round the hill and then down towards the station on the other side, where it rejoins the road out of town, running alongside it.
As she cycles across the railway line, she passes a young woman standing on the bridge. She seems upset about something, but it’s not Kate’s business to interfere. She cycles on. The path diverges from the road, and she’s almost at the birch trees that have recently been planted when a bird – a crow? – swoops down right in front of her, causing her to wobble and come to an ungainly stop on the grass.
Jolted out of her apathy, she thinks again of the woman on the bridge, who must be about the same age as Jamie and Calum. If either of them were in any kind of trouble while they were at university, she’d like to think they’d have someone to turn to for support. She turns her bike around, and cycles the short distance back to the railway. She’ll be the person this woman needs right now, if she’ll let her. If she needs someone to talk to, she can even come home for some lunch if she wants. It’s not that far to her house from here.
As she approaches the bridge, though, she’s slightly relieved that there’s no one there. What was she going to say anyway? But then she notices the shoulder bag leaning up against the parapet. Oh no! She can’t have! Hesitantly Kate walks towards the bag, her heart pounding, her stomach practically in her throat, and looks over the edge to the railway track below.