We're delighted to present an extract from What Happened To Us? - the new book from best-selling author Faith Hogan, author of The Place We Call Home and The Girl I Used To Know.
After ten years together, Carrie Nolan is devastated when she's dumped by Kevin Mulvey without even a backwards glance! But on reflection, she has sacrificed her own long-term happiness by pandering to his excessive ego in their successful Dublin restaurant (and out of it) - but not anymore! While Kevin is 'living the dream' with his beautiful new Brazilian girlfriend, Carrie seeks solace from a circle of mismatched strangers who need her as much as she needs them...
Carrie quickly pulled the restaurant door, but it was stuck. The cleaner must have let the lock slip in his haste to get away from her. To be fair, she'd probably scared the wits out of him, with her tear-filled eyes and spluttering sobs and now the man – it was definitely a man – was moving towards her. He was dressed in black and he certainly didn’t look like the type to be hanging about dark alleys, but then, who knew what he was up to? This was a dead-end alleyway; it led nowhere but to the back doors of businesses. Anyone lurking about down here was either up to no good or making plans to get up to no good.
Anxious and panic-stricken, she turned towards the door, pulled at it furiously, but there was no budging it. Fear tore up through her, threatening to overtake her, she fought the urge to scream, where had the bloody key gone? Carrie began to thump loudly on the door. She wasn’t thinking rationally now – she was hardly breathing, never mind thinking. Her logical self was so consumed in just going through the motions these last few days, it meant that she was unusually jittery. It felt as though her natural equilibrium had tilted over, so shadows made her jump, loud noises tripped her up and anything out of the ordinary caused her stomach to turn to a knotty fist. She tried not to picture the stranger advancing at her back in the sleeting rain, with the city a soundless far-off cry.
Carrie filled with fear. Unreasonable as it might be, she just expected the worst on this black night. 'Don’t come near me, I’ll scream,’ she said the words softly, but inside they were already shattering through her brain.
He stopped at the bins, lingered for a moment and she realised, he was looking for something. He turned and, for a moment, their eyes locked, and she could see, he was weary. That realisation didn’t exactly foster any sense of civic duty, rather the terror that had filled her up turned to a frantic dread. She banged on the metal door, louder now so it echoed out above the sleet. She closed her eyes, fully expecting the worst. They wouldn’t hear her inside. The kitchen was loud and busy and its walls held captive the sound from outside. Kevin was preparing mains for a full house; he wouldn’t notice her rattling against the outer door. She laughed, a nervous wretched sound, he didn’t notice her when she was standing in front of him these days, not now Valentina was on the scene, it was ludicrous. Madness to think he might come to her rescue now.
It was useless. She turned, accepting her fate. He probably carried a knife; you never knew, after all…
Oh, God, the most terrible thought, all those serial killers, they looked normal, average, even maybe attractive, it was how they lured their victims in. This was the kind of man, tall, handsome, brooding, he could be…
She opened her eyes to see him, just a little distance from her, he was bending down, fiddling on the step near her feet by the pot the staff used for collecting used cigarette ends. He turned abruptly. Something glinted in his hands. She could see the light of it cast up before him, too dull to gleam, but there all the same. She felt weak, but she would not close her eyes again. He stood before her now, taller than her, broader, solemn. In that moment, she thought his face and body were so close, she could smell him. It was a wafting sense of soap, but she felt light-headed and weak with fear and knew she must have imagined it. Then the oddest thing, his eyes, dark and almost shaded in the half-light, creased just a little at the sides. He was smiling at her, holding something before him and smiling. She pulled her eyes from his and looked down. It was a key. He was holding a key; he must have pulled it from beside the pot.
‘Here,’ his voice was hoarse and heavy, maybe darker than his eyes, but they danced with an emotion she could not name. He handed her the key and stepped back from her, their eyes still locked.
Then, she turned quickly, thrust the key in the lock and pushed the heavy door. Suddenly, she was in the hot kitchen, wafting aromas of beef and fish and pork filling her nostrils. Everyone working busily at their stations. They didn’t notice her, standing there, wet, scared and miserable.
Then she realised, she’d never said thank you. She’d never thanked the man. Perhaps she should offer him something, food or at least a cup of tea? She stood for a moment, dripping on the non-slip tiles that Kevin was so obsessed with keeping dry. She watched him now, he moved about the kitchen with the kind of deftness and speed that only shaved past others, while all the time checking over shoulders and seeing to his own tasks. He was immune to the people around him. He worked the restaurant like an intricate dance routine, chopping, slicing, stirring, spinning, weaving, smelling and tasting. It was so unlike Carrie’s role and she realised that a moment ago her reaction outside the door had been classic Kevin. Kevin expected nothing from people, he begrudged paying a decent wage to his employees and he assumed that most people he met would take rather than give.
Carrie drew her breath in sharply. She would not become like him now, not just because she was broken-hearted or anxious or… Well, whatever she was – she was holding onto the basic human decency that separated the happy from the empty.
She had to say thanks. Without the key, she would still be there, locked out and forced to walk around the front, in through the crowded restaurant looking a mess. She opened the door quickly, the rush of cold air an instant souvenir of what she’d just escaped. She looked up and down the laneway, stepped outside for just a moment and scanned every crevice along the route. It was snowing now, silent and empty, the only sound a whimpering dog that nosed out from beneath the huge wheelie bin opposite.
‘Aw,’ she heard the sound escape from where it had lodged at the back of her throat. Carrie dashed across the alley, grabbed the little dog, pulling him out from his abysmal sheltering spot. He nuzzled her neck; they were as wet and miserable as each other, but he was friendless and vulnerable. When she rested her chin on his head, he was soft and silken-haired despite the dirt.
She stood for a moment looking about her in the hollow darkness. ‘Hello, is there anyone there?’ She called out to see if the man might step forward again to claim this little dog.
There was no sign of anyone in the alley now, only Carrie standing in the shaft of light and wafting steam at the wedged door. She searched the darkened corners with eyes that stung from salty pathetic tears, but deep down, she knew, he was gone.
What Happened To Us? by Faith Hogan (published by Head Of Zeus) is out now.