The Neighbours is a story filled with a tangled web of twists and turns. It’s a gripping novel which will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat until the very end…
Abby has never been able to forgive herself.
After a night of irresponsible fun, her brother died in a car accident that was her fault and she pushed away the man she loved.
Nate has never been able to forgive himself.
After discovering the wreckage, he wasn’t able to save the man trapped inside, only a woman who he later fell in love with.
Soon there will be even more to forgive
Years on and happily married, Abby and Nate have pushed their guilt out of sight in their picture-perfect home. But when Abby’s first love and his wife move in across the road, memories and secrets long buried begin to surface.
THEN: JULY 18, 1992
The faint voice floated toward me. Gliding smooth as a paper airplane from somewhere in the midst of the fog swirling through my brain. Orange lights flashed in a steady rhythm and—
I wondered if I’d uttered the words, but I hadn’t moved my lips. Hadn’t moved at all. Couldn’t. It hurt too much. Everything hurt too much.
Moments passed, and I tried to string together the few wispy fragments my mind allowed me to cling to. My arms, chest and legs were pressed against something hard and uncomfortable—the ground, not my soft bed—but the reason why I found myself in that position escaped me entirely. And I was too exhausted to care.
A breeze softly brushed across my cheek. The pavement beneath me felt warm, and despite the distinct taste of rust invading my mouth, I could smell freshly cut grass. Hadn’t I been—
“Help me, Abby.”
The voice was too low to be mine. A man’s then—it had to be. Why wouldn’t he let me sleep? My eyes felt heavy and impossible to open, so I let my thoughts start pulling me away, ever so slowly, to the deliciously inviting state of unconsciousness.
Rest would have to wait. Against my better judgment I raised my head, each millimeter expending energy I didn’t think I had and causing pain to shoot through every part of my body like a thousand burning hot pins. I tried, but my legs and lower back stubbornly refused to budge even the tiniest amount, as if I’d been nailed to the ground.
I forced my eyes open.
And I saw him.
“Tom.” My own voice this time, barely a whisper. “Tom.” A little stronger, louder.
My brother lay a few meters away in what had been my blue Ford Capri, but which was now an upturned carcass of broken glass and mangled steel. The flashing of the hazard lights illuminated Tom’s bloody face and body every few seconds, a perverse freak show. He hung upside down. Unlike me, he was still in the car, somewhere between the front and back seats, his arms and legs bent at impossible angles. Eyes wide and glazed. Staring at me. Desperate. Begging.
“Abby,” he said once more, and I watched as he attempted to lift his arms, tried to reach for me. “I can’t get out.” Tears rolled up his forehead, mixing with a steady stream of blood from the deep gash above his eye that looked like a second mouth. “I can’t get out.”
“Tom,” I said again, before my eyes closed despite my efforts to keep them open. Fighting the beckoning darkness felt like a struggle I’d never win.
The light from the wreck somehow became brighter, warmer, too. Somewhere in my brain it occurred to me it wasn’t the sun—couldn’t be the sun—it was still so dark. Wasn’t it? My mind started drifting away.
But then the pungent smell of smoke and petrol filled the air.
I wanted to move. I needed to get to him. But I couldn’t.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, my eyes open again, staring into his. “Tom. I’m so sorry.”
The last thing I heard were the screams, Tom’s and mine, as the car burst into flames.
WHEN THE U-HAUL van arrived next door, I did what most sensible human beings would do: I ignored it. Once I’d made sure it was just the new neighbors moving in, not some crazy person stealing lingering Christmas decorations, I cranked up the fire, flopped back down on the sofa and buried my nose in my copy of I Am Ozzy, marveling at how the guy had lasted so long.
As far as I was concerned, moving in February, undeniably the coldest month of the year, was a ridiculous notion. And I wanted nothing to do with it.
The house was my peaceful kingdom that blustery Saturday morning. Abby had gone to pick up Sarah from a sleepover, and they’d planned on a Mum and Daughter shopping spree in town. Bad weather and potential conflict be damned.
I think Abby had her eye on the winter jacket sales, and knew Sarah wanted a pair of Steve Madden combat boots. I could tell from my daughter’s look she’d been impressed when I said I knew who Steve Madden was. In reality, I’d only heard about him when I’d finally got around to streaming The Wolf of Wall Street, belly-laughing as Jonah Hill struggled to pronounce the designer’s name whilst high on a bucket of quaaludes. Abby hadn’t been impressed by the film, not even by Margot Robbie in that scene. Well, never mind Margot’s perfect breasts. Apparently Abby didn’t like Steve Madden’s boots either.
“They’re awful,” she’d whispered last night as we lay in bed. Then she must have remembered Sarah was out because she said, more loudly, “Grunge, punk or whatever the hell gone bad. I hate combat boots.”
I lowered the stack of papers I’d promised myself I’d look over as soon as I got home but had barely made a start on. “I hope you didn’t tell Sarah.”
Abby pulled a face. “God, no, ’course not. I said they were great, and I might get a pair, too. Figured reverse psychology would stop her from wanting them.”
“Nope. She gave me one of her looks.”
I laughed. “I think they’re pretty cool.” When Abby raised an eyebrow I added, “The boots, not the looks. And it’s her money. She saved up for them. Let her do what she wants.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” She wrinkled her nose.
“I’d wear them if they didn’t make me look like a middle-aged has-been.”
Abby smiled, rolled on top of me and kissed my neck. Her hair tickled my face and smelled of something vanilla and cherryish. She always smelled nice, even when she’d been on one of her insane, million-mile runs.
“You’re not a has-been, Nate,” she whispered.
I wrapped an arm around her, slid my other hand underneath her T-shirt, ran my fingers up and down the soft skin of her back. “And what about the middle-aged part?” I said before nibbling on her neck.
She raised her head and looked at me with one eyebrow arched, and a sly smile playing on her lips. “Let’s see…”
As her mouth traveled down my chest, I shoved the papers off the bed, letting them slide to the floor in a heap. Reviewing Mr. Rav Ramjug’s superior programming skills could wait. Frankly it had been a while since Abby and I last got busy. People say it’s normal for a couple’s sex life to disappear for a while after having a kid. What they don’t tell you is the vanishing act repeats once said kid hits teenage years because she a) doesn’t go to bed at seven and sleep like a dead man until dawn, and b) has the hearing of a greater wax moth.
I groaned as Abby kissed my stomach. Despite us having the house to ourselves and the entire night ahead of us, we ended up in a frantic quickie, with Abby collapsing onto my chest afterward, the two of us breathing heavily.
“I think we both needed that,” she said, before sliding off me and getting up. I never had the chance to moan about my wife wanting to spoon endlessly after sex. Three minutes in and she was about as cuddly as a piece of Lego.
I propped myself up on one elbow and watched her get dressed. I did that sometimes—watch Abby—and mostly she was unaware of it. When she was baking and I pretended to be engrossed in a book or—another favorite—when she was going over the monthly bills, hair scrunched up in a messy ponytail, brow furrowed at the latest phone statement, lips moving silently as she checked the numbers.
I liked to look at her, I mean properly look at her. Study her as if she was a Miró at The Tate I could stand in front of and ponder, cocking my head to one side, pompously tapping my lips with one finger, wondering what the artiste meant to express with the masterfully applied strokes and splashes of paint. Not that I had a bloody clue about art. I could barely tell a Picasso from a stick man even if the latter tapped me on the shoulder and kicked me in the nuts.
So I silently perused Abby’s long, slim legs with the scars she hated so much but were a huge part of her, the arch of her back, her elegant, swan-like neck. A classic masterpiece.
“What?” Her voice pulled me out of my trance. She’d turned around, and I’d missed it. Busted.
“Nothing,” I answered with what I hoped was a charming grin, and shook my head slightly. “Just looking at you.”
As she smiled her blue eyes sparkled, and her long blond hair settled in that sexy, tousled bed-head look, the one that screamed, “Oh, yeah, I got some.” I let my gaze linger as she went to the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
I lay back in bed and thought about my wife the way you do in a fuzzy postcoital state. Abby could give Jennifer Aniston a run for her money anytime. At forty-four she looked at least six years younger. It put me, with my slight paunch that I swore every January (the last one being no exception) I’d get rid of, to absolute shame. I wasn’t overly proud of the thinning spot on the top of my head either. But what can you do? I was almost halfway between my forty-sixth and forty-seventh birthday. Jesus, forty-seven—it had sneaked up on me like my slight paunch. I stretched, sighed and soon felt myself drift off to sleep, only stirring slightly when Abby climbed into bed a while later.
Back in my warm living room, I reluctantly dragged myself out of the memory, cleared my throat and concentrated on Ozzy’s extravagant tales. They kept me entertained for a further ten minutes, before, mug of fresh coffee in hand, I meandered to the window, fully intent on spying on who was moving in next door.
I sipped my drink and watched three jacket-, hat-and glove-clad figures slowly lugging boxes from the van to the house. Not professional movers, I decided. Not brisk enough. Difficult to tell for sure from the angle, but they looked like a standard family. Woman, bloke and, from what I could see, a gangly-legged teenage boy, hunched over, moving slowly, his body language screaming “get me out of here.” I couldn’t blame him. Like I said, moving at this time of year was a ridiculous notion.
I picked up my phone from the coffee table and sent Abby a text.
Neighbors moving in. Look normal. How’s the shopping? Should we re-mortgage the house?
A few seconds later my phone buzzed.
HAHA. Haven’t left Camilla’s yet! Are you helping them? You’d make a good impression.
Shit. I hadn’t thought this through. Why did I send a message in the first place? Now I’d be a dickhead if I didn’t do my share of carrying. I walked back to the window.
The teenager stood at the back of the van, gesticulating to someone inside the vehicle, his arms flying around. He appeared to cross them over his chest, and, although I could only see the back of his black-and-yellow hat, which made his head look like a giant and slightly angry bee, I’d have bet money he’d stuck out his chin, too. The woman walked over and put a hand on the teen’s shoulder before waving her arms around, too, pointing to the house, the inside of the van and back to the house again, shaking her head.
I sighed loudly and made my way into the hall, where I pulled out my coat, boots and hat. I looked at the photograph of Tom, my wife’s brother, whom I’d almost met before he died, and gave him a nod. “You think I’m a crazy bugger going out there. Don’t you?”
He stared back at me with his forever boyish grin and early ’90s boy band haircut, which made him look like he’d stuck a fluffy palm tree on top of his head.
“Yeah, exactly,” I said, then opened the front door. The cold air whipped around my face, and the gravel scrunched beneath my feet, protesting each of my heavy steps. “Jesus, my balls will turn to ice cubes,” I muttered as I pulled my hat past my ears and trudged to the van.
“…telling you. There’s no way we can lift it, Liam,” I heard the woman say to the person in the van when I got within earshot. “It’s not happening. It isn’t.”
Her voice was soft yet determined. It reminded me of Abby, and what Sarah and I secretly called the tone. My daughter and I knew there wasn’t an inch of wriggle room left when Abby used the tone. Capitulation was the only option. Capitulation or certain death—probably. We’d never dared find out.
I looked in the back of the van and saw the guy—Liam, apparently—put down the side of a green sofa. As he straightened his back he caught sight of me and smiled.
“Hey,” he said, tilting his head. “Can I help you?”
I smiled back and shrugged. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
The woman and Beanie Boy turned around. I guessed him to be around the same age as Sarah. The woman smiled; he didn’t. No surprise there. There’s nothing quite like the downer of amputated teenage happiness.
“I’m Nate.” I pointed to our house. “From next door. Thought you might need a hand.”
The woman’s smile broadened, showing off immaculate teeth. Brown curls stuck out from underneath her fire engine-red bobble hat. She stood around the same height as Abby but looked as if she weighed a few kilos more. It suited her—it was hard not to notice just how well.
“Thanks,” she said and held out her hand to shake mine. “I’m Nancy. Nancy Jefferson.” She pointed to the guy in the van, surrounded by boxes neatly marked Garage, Bedroom, Living Room—FRAGILE and so on. “That’s my husband, Liam, and this is our son, Zachary.”
“Zac,” the teenager said, rolling his eyes around in his head so hard they started to look a lot like marbles. “I’m Zac.” He shook my hand, too, and now that they’d stopped their dizzy spin, I noticed he had his father’s intense eyes.
Liam jumped down from the van and gave me a hard clap on the shoulder. “Cheers,” he said. “Appreciate it. The removal company got delayed, so we decided to bring a few things ourselves. A couple of people helped us on the other end but now, well…” He whistled. “You’re a lifesaver.” He smiled again, revealing teeth as white as his wife’s.
I figured these people were either dentists or had a great family discount. Either way, Liam’s jaw was what my mother would have called “strong,” and his cheekbones probably had their own exclusive page in Esquire. When he discarded his winter jacket, and although he wore a fleece, I could tell he was no stranger to the weight bench.
“Happy to help,” I said. Then I did that male-pride thing—sucked in my gut, straightened my back, all the while wishing I’d been a tad more diligent with my sit-ups in recent months. “Let’s start with that sofa.”
Liam and I made a couple of trips from the van to the front door, where Zac and Nancy took over dispatching boxes to the appropriate rooms.
“So where did you move from?” I asked Liam as we carried a TV the size of a small country up the driveway. The bloody thing felt as solid as a slab of gold and probably cost more. “You don’t sound local.”
“Lancashire. Preston area.” He navigated us toward the front steps. Christ, he didn’t even seem to be sweating while I could already feel my shirt sucking mine up like a sponge.
“Really?” I straightened the TV slightly so we could get it through the door without scratching it. “My grandparents lived in Longton.”
“Yeah? You grew up there?”
“No. We went north almost every summer, though.” We put the television down in the living room, my back screaming a silent thank god. “But my wife grew up near Preston. She moved here after we met.”
“Seriously? What’s her name?”
“Abigail—Abby—Morris.” He shrugged so I added, “Sanders before we married.”
Liam looked at me for a few seconds, then blinked. I thought I saw a flicker of something pass over his face, but it disappeared all too quickly, so I figured I’d imagined it.
I laughed. “Don’t tell me you know her?”
“No.” He turned and headed for the front door. “The name doesn’t ring any bells.”
In hindsight I should have stopped him. Questioned the look. At least asked what it meant. If I had, then perhaps none of what was to come would have happened.
And maybe, just maybe, I’d still be with my wife.