LOCK YOUR DOORS
Caitlin has been having an affair for nearly a year when the country enters lock down. Suddenly, seeing her lover, Daniel, without alerting her husband becomes almost impossible. When she does manage to sneak to his home, she finds him lying in a pool of his own blood, dead.
Ali is a just-about-functioning alcoholic, recently let go, and feeling rather lonely. Each day she goes to her local shop to buy her permitted two bottles of wine, leaving food parcels for neighbours on her way home. While keeping an eye on what they are up to, of course.
Caitlin can’t tell a soul about what she has discovered for risk of losing her family. Little does she know that Ali has noticed her coming and going, and that she will be drawing her own conclusions.
As Caitlin delves into the life of the man who said he loved her, she finds that maybe she didn’t really know him at all. But if she wants to avoid suspicion, she needs to keep digging until they find Daniel’s killer. Because the doors may be locked, but everyone’s secrets are starting to leak out . . .
Stay Home is a timely story of dark secrets – affairs, addictions, habits and horrors – which are bought to the surface by these unprecedented times we find ourselves in. It explores the dark parts of people’s lives, while at the same time leading us on a breath-takingly twisty race to find a killer.
- Publishing in ebook, audiobook and paperback on 31st December 2020.
It hadn’t been supposed to happen as it did. But a push grew into a shove, and then without quite meaning it to, the shove became, well, something else.
And for an instant, just for a moment, the earth seemed to halt on its axis.
With the bright sunlight dappling the floor and dust motes playing in the space between them, everything shrank to just those two people staring at each other with, what might it be? Confusion? Certainly. Horror? Maybe.
Whatever it was, it seemed that neither could pull away from the gaze of the other, and somehow the moment of silence grew and swirled to feel almost as if God was in the room alongside them both.
Then one crashed to the ground gasping and groaning until, with one last thrash and tremble, it was all over. The other crouched to stare, unsure at that moment quite what had just happened.
A surprised tear began to slide from the still-open eye, hovering just above the floor.
A finger caught it before it had a chance to fall, and a tongue slicked across the finger, faintly tasting salt.
There was a slight creak to the knee and a step or two back, with a solemn look at the consequences of bad behaviour.
It was the closest a person could ever be to another, and yet the most distant.
It was the worst thing anyone could do in the world. And there would be no coming back from it.
Footsteps to the door, and a final look over the shoulder.
No, perhaps it wasn’t the worst thing one could do, no, not at all. A smile devoid of remorse crept across the killer’s face.
‘Leave it, else I’ll tell Mum about you dis—’
I really hope she’s not actually going to tell me.
‘You’re fat and you’re ugly,’ her brother cuts her off. ‘And you know it.’
That won’t irritate Ellie in the slightest, even though Harry sounds more tetchy than usual. Whatever she is, she’s definitely not ugly. And she’s still at the age when nothing she eats hurts her model-trim dancer’s figure.When it’s all angular hip bones, and short shorts are not yet the enemy. I expect she is now lifting one slender leg honed from hours and hours of street-dance classes high into the air to prove it to her brother.
I don’t have the energy for this, and I don’t think their hearts are in it either.
The edge of heat that thrums their words when they’re on the verge of really going for it isn’t there.
Ellie hasn’t quite given up yet though, although by her standards it’s a weak counter-attack. ‘You MIA bum-wipe.’
‘Oi! Stop it, both of you . . . idiots,’ I interrupt, as I open the door and stick my head into the den. I always try not to swear as it seems so coarse and unimaginative, but sometimes I only just manage to catch it before it slips out anyway.
Not swearing seems rather harder these days. I think we’re all fraying a bit around the edges, aren’t we?
At fifteen, they are at that age when bad language feels creative and daring, but James and I have decided not to comment too much about this as we work hard at not stifling them. So, although I can’t help cringing sometimes at what they say, I look on it more as a recreational activity temporarily enjoyed by my children, more intended to spice up their day than make real waves.
To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that they aren’t being more vocal right now.
‘Mum,’ says Ellie in the voice she always uses to dob her brother in, ‘he—’
‘Hey!’ I stop her there.
Ellie looks quite shocked. I usually listen patiently to whatever she and Harry have to say. But I just can’t handle them today.
‘I’m not interested in what’s going on, and Dad’s on a Zoom and so he doesn’t need a fuss making. You need to tone it down,’ I add, trying to make my voice more reasonable.
My eyes flick to Harry’s brand-new dayglostripped trainers. His feet must be huge now, I realise. At this age, my children appear to change and grow almost daily. Looking harder at Harry, who seems intent on the game on the telly screen and has his laptop open beside him, I think how he looks like a curious mix of the child he was and the man he will become, always dressed in oversized clothes that look the same to me but which will have a logo or a zip that only he can see, and with as many forms of technology as possible close to hand.
I have zero idea as to whether James is actually Zooming. He’d not been beside me in bed when I woke and this meant I didn’t get the usual morning run-through of his itinerary (although I’d be betting it’s the same as yesterday, and the day before that). I’d drifted off again and haven’t yet got as far as going down to where he works.
Instead, when I finally roused, I’d flopped down in front of my own laptop upstairs, still in my pyjamas, fiddling about with an idea for promoting my knits-importing business that I named ‘Caitlin Calling’ when I set it up a couple of years ago before realising how egocentric that made me sound. James and the kids had joked at the time that I should get over myself, but the name stuck. I never can work out if I’m a serious businesswoman or not. Sometimes, most definitely; then others, not so much. Put it another way, it’s probably a good thing that James is more diligent in funding the family than me.
Still, before I knew it, I’d spent an hour tapping away in the boxroom upstairs which has been my office since we moved into this house.
The twins silently mime rude actions, Harry angling his vaguely in the direction of that rather odd room near the front door that we’ve never really known what to do with it, where James has set up his office.
I’m not immediately sure of the best way of censuring them and so I act as if it’s perfectly acceptable.
In theory I try to be a good parent, and I know this means setting boundaries. But my urge to be the approachable, always-chilled mum, the sort of mother that all their friends wish they had, very often feels overwhelming and gets the better of me. I yearn to be the type of mother rarely shocked, or rattled, or concerned about loud music or whether games and films are age-appropriate, and who makes sure there’s always enviable mountains of food and drink. The mother I promised myself I’d be, back when James and I first met.
This last intention has taken a bit of a dive in recent weeks though, I admit, with everyone so bonkers in the shopping aisles.
Anyway, what’s the point of me making a fuss, really? It would be like shouting down a well to stop Harry and Ellie squabbling and pushing the limits, and once the twins are older and out in the real world, I expect they’ll tone it all down.
Everyone else learns to do this once they’re out in the workplace, and so why shouldn’t they?
Rather than herd immunity, I think it’s like herd behaviour, the way teens behave. And I feel they should be cut a bit of slack now that every day is the same and normal routines have been shot to smithereens. I mean, who’d want to be cooped up at home twenty-four seven at fifteen? As far as I can see, school has a major advantage of wearing them out a bit. And in giving them an education, of course.
But, like everyone else, Ellie and Harry are confined to barracks, where they spend a significant portion of their time bickering over nothing in a horrifyingly repetitive order. By the second week of listening to them, in what has come to feel the background hum of the house’s fabric, I can tell what time of day it is by the tone of what I hear coming from the den. It might be potty-mouthed and designed to shock at times, but very little of it is serious, I’m pretty sure.
I love Harry and Ellie to the point I’d happily take a bullet for either, but this doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling a bit bored of motherhood and rule-making at the moment. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m enjoying this home-schooling malarkey a whole lot less than the twins, even though I know I should be taking an interest. And so should they. But it’s not a GCSE year, and there’s talk of postponed exams anyway. The Easter holidays are soon, and so I guess we’ll review it all next term.
When I’d said to James a couple of days ago that we should maybe be pushing them harder, he told me to give the kids a break, and that I should imagine what it was like being a fifteen-year-old in the midst of lockdown when, as he put it, they should be out larking about alongside their friends, ‘getting with’ all the wrong people and drinking alcohol purloined from the remnants of our final Waitrose delivery that squeaked in before normal life had to stop. So that is what I’m doing, giving them a break.
I hate it when James deliberately uses teen-speak such as ‘getting with’. Worse, as he’d said it, he’d even made quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
At that precise moment I’d seen James as a classic trying- too-hard man increasingly worried about any signs of a paunch (there aren’t any), receding hairline (his is actually enviable) and where his life is going (chugging along very nicely, thank you). It was a fleeting moment though. Maybe it’s true that I can’t remember the last time he surprised me over anything – that’s hardly the crime of the century, and there are so many other things about him I adore. I don’t kid myself that he doesn’t find me irritating at times too. Some days he can be quite short with me, and occasionally when I make a joke it seems as if his smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. But I’m sure he loves me, like I love him.
He has got wonderful eyes, nobody could deny him that. I still remember the first glimpse I had of him. It was at a party when we were at university. He was taking on a shots-drinking challenge and, entranced, I watched his throat swallow as he looked back at me through his lashes, the bob of his Adam’s apple making my stomach flip and dive as I decided Yes! Love at first sight is real. He’s so good looking! Who is he? I must meet him. So, I did and, as they say, the rest is history.
But although James can be firm at times, I don’t think he’s ever done anything to make me change my mind much from my first impression of him. And I wouldn’t want a total push-over to be my partner as, well, who’d want that? We’re still having regular sex, which is more than a lot of my long-term-married friends are these days. I try not to feel too smug.
I guess I have the grumps these days largely due to having to spend too much time at home.
Home is supposed to be a place of comfort and love. And it is. But it’s also a place where I quite often can’t help feeling invisible to my family, other than when somebody wants something. I try, most days, to look around our lovely home and garden, and at my handsome husband and coltish twins, and I tell myself firmly that I have everything a right-minded person would want.
I do, I know I do.
It’s just that somehow I can’t quite shake off the feeling that when I was the age of Ellie and Harry I’d expected more out of my life once my thirties were trotting over the hill, although I’m at a loss to say what that ‘more’ really was.
With each demand from one of my loved ones for a drink or something to eat, a little more of the gloss of my life feels scuffed.
There are precious few times when anyone says to me ‘Caitlin, sit down and let me do it’.
With each day that passes I feel there’s a little less of Caitlin left for any of us, me or them.
I wish I could find a way to help them all understand this, but I don’t seem able to.
With Harry and Ellie now, I settle instead for an overtly dramatic sigh, with my eyebrows pointedly raised, as if to tell them I’ve heard and seen it all before.
‘Butt-hole,’ I think Ellie mouths at Harry, who responds by looking at his sister through narrowed dark eyes as he flips an even ruder gesture back to her.
Loudly I sigh again and cast my eyes around the rest of the room. I’m not sure when I had last properly entered it, but now that I notice the depressing state of it, I realise it must have been a while ago.
The den looks wrecked. It had once been our dining room, but since the arrival a couple of years back of our lavish kitchen extension with its huge skylight and the ridiculously expensive table – twelve, it seats, with ease! – and the benches and Perspex chairs I’ve placed around in a pretty much failed attempt at encouraging family time, it has been all-change for this space.
Our redundant dining room has given way now to what I lovingly imagined would be a teen hangout. A place where they’d loll around with their friends, and I’d be invited in to share confidences over Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, laughing together and sneaking in the odd bottle of illicit lager without their dad knowing.
The picture before me of what the den has spiralled into, is not how I thought it was going to be. And how I hate the phrase ‘the den’ now, as I suspect does everyone else in our house. When I’d christened the room, I truly believed ‘the den’ brought to life a cool but deliciously arch US-TV-show-of-the-1980s vibe, whereby James and I could smile knowingly at each other in a private-joke kind of way whenever either of the children uttered ‘the den’. That has never happened.
But filthy or not, this room is where Harry and Ellie pass the bulk of their daylight hours. I banned them from spending all day in their bedrooms after my friend Shona drunkenly insisted, with far too much graphic detail, quite what it is that teenagers will do for hours given the opportunity of endless ‘me time’.
Even through the Zoom gallery thumbnail, as Shona chugged from her glass of expensive wine, I could see that she had that annoying know-it-all look on her face that I remembered from university. I hadn’t liked it then, and it certainly hasn’t improved with the passing of the years. But her words must have stayed with me nonetheless, as I’ve at least been strict about them getting up before the school day would start, and spending their time downstairs.
Behind the twins, the plush cushions from the Habitat cobalt velvet sofas look as if they have always lived on the floor. Used cups and plates and pizza boxes litter the room, and there’s just stuff everywhere. And a pervasive smell too, a malodourous mix of fetid unwashed teen boy, and Ellie’s too-strong eau de parfum.
Actually, that’s my perfume, I realise. She’s obviously found where I had hidden it.
The only pristine areas I can see are the two desks I installed for Harry and Ellie’s home-schooling sessions.
With their matching chairs tidily tucked under and a faint bloom of dust on their surface, these two desks remain as virginal as the day I had them set up against the wall.
My son looks to be busy playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on the large telly. I think he varies this with Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto (I’d be hard pressed to name his favourite version of GTA), and goodness knows what else. I get the feeling that he’s quite secretive about some of the stuff he’s into that he thinks I might not like. I remember not wanting my parents to know everything I was up to at his age, and so I’m cool with that.
I exaggerate slightly – there has been a tiny bit of me that gets suspicious at times over the detail Harry can click into occasionally when he is provoked into talking with me about games or what else he is doing on his battered laptop.
When I get him to pull his head away from his various screens or his phone, that is. I can remember acting similarly when I was younger, in order to distract my parents from all the other, more illicit stuff I was trying to hide. But I don’t honestly believe that my Harry has the guile to really get up to anything properly no good. The little boy he was still peeps back at me now and again, and he was such a sweet little thing. Even now the very sight of him can make me melt with the physical sensation of love, just as I did back then.
Ellie meanwhile has her laptop propped open on her belly as she flops on the floor, a huge and half-eaten bowl of popcorn beside her, and I can see that she’s paused an old episode of Say Yes to the Dress. I suppose watching something fluffy and hopeful on weddings is verging on an act of deliberate provocation right now on Ellie’s part, especially as she knows my views on both reality telly and shows that keep our fires of feminist debate raging.
It seems that sexual stereotyping is clearly alive and well in London’s E8, I sigh to myself, with Harry and his make-believe violence and techy online stuff, and Ellie getting ready to fall in love with the idea of being married in a long white gown. Hello, the 1970s are on the Trimphone and they want their attitudes back.
It’s obvious that schoolwork is definitely not on the agenda.
I know I should push them harder to keep up to the timetable the school has emailed us, but I don’t really see how I can do this with any likely chance of success, especially while trying to run my own business and keep on top of all the things I have to do.
Home-schooling is fine, I guess, if your kids are of primary school age, or swotty. But mine only ever do the bare minimum, even when school is running, and it’s already caused too many arguments since this all began. I daresay Harry and Ellie can make up any lost ground later, even if we do have to bring in some private tutors. I’ve too many other things to think about.
‘Look, just keep it down, guys,’ I say, and then I could kick myself as the once-hip-but-no-longer-thus ‘guys’ slipped out unintentionally, and I know it will have them rolling their eyes with amusement at my expense.
I shut the door swiftly so that I don’t have to see.
We have some fairly new rules in the house. These came about after I had a meltdown on the second day we couldn’t go out, when the kids were being iffy about loading the dishwasher.
Ellie suggested at this point that it would be a good idea if, as a family, we put together a plan of the new way of doing things, and I agreed this was a good idea.
The result was that we had a family meeting sitting around the kitchen table, at the opposite end of the table to where I’ve set out my 18,000-piece Ravensburger ‘Evening Walk in Paris’ jigsaw – yup, 18,000 pieces! £146.08 with nearly £20 delivery on Amazon, about which James had joked that the pandemic was more likely to kill me than I was to finish the puzzle.
The upshot of this four-way pow-wow was that we agreed the following: no arguing; and in the wake of not being able to have our cleaner the usual three mornings a week, everyone should clear up after themselves and pull their weight in terms of general housework; and everyone should do their own clothes washing. Oh, and we would all respect each other and our opinions.
I’m probably the best out of the four of us in sticking to these rules, but that’s only because I can’t bear the clean lines of our minimalist kitchen and equally Spartan day room area not looking tidy, or the dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, or crumbs on the kitchen work surfaces, and so I keep those areas going, much to the relief of everyone else.
However, I am sneakily proud that I have forced myself not to pick up the dirty crockery abandoned in other rooms, or sort out anyone’s discarded clothes. It means that each day I have to kick James’s rumpled tees and sweats from the day before under our bed so that I can’t see them, but he seems fine with that, and now that I have given myself a stern talk- ing to, I am too.
But, in fair disclosure, the house slowly sliding towards bedlam with sticky floors and dust bunnies running rife does rankle with me, as it means the others are – as my granny would have said – swinging the lead.
I’d rather cut my tongue out than comment though, purely because to give in to this impulse means that I’d lose all moral high ground by having fallen at the ‘no arguing’ hurdle.
Moral high ground is important, I always think.
Naturally neither Harry or Ellie have put the washing machine on once. It sits white and serene in our utility room, a foreign territory to the twins.
Their clothes live on the floor, like their father’s (well, Harry’s probably don’t as I think he wears the same outfit every single day, and in fact he probably sleeps in it too), interspersed with Ellie simply ordering new stuff online to keep up her normal three changes of outfit a day. I suspect she is using my PayPal account, thinking I won’t notice. Actually, I’d better check on that.
There is one thing though that makes all of this tedious nonsense worthwhile as we muddle through lockdown.
I have a secret. A thrilling secret.
A thrilling secret.
As if on cue, my telephone vibrates silently in the hip pocket of my pyjamas.
My belly gives a little fizz, and I see a flush of goose bumps rise on my arm as I turn around and walk to the pantry to read my WhatsApp in private.
As I stand looking at the stacks of tins, I know what I need to get me through the next few days, and it’s not to be found anywhere in this house.
I have a fleeting sensation of his breath on my neck.
Disappointingly, the text is from James, who wants me to know that he could do with a coffee. Physically, he is no more than forty feet away from me, but at this moment it feels an ocean, which saddens me.
It’s a momentary sensation though, over-ridden by one much more selfish. I try to push the thought away, but I can’t. After I reach for the cafetière, the kettle heating on the Aga, I go into the utility room, where there’s still a faint whiff of the perfume that Ellie sprayed so lavishly on herself. Opening the hidden door to one of the cupboards, I dig out and pull on my running kit, chucking my pyjamas into the washing machine.
I have tried so hard not to give in to this impulse that I’ve surprised myself.
I declared it was over – and very much meant every word I said. At the moment I said it.
There were tears (mine mainly) followed by a serious talk during which we agreed that during the coming lockdown it was only right and sensible that I should concentrate on my family.
But I’m buckling.
I’m not sure why right now, but all I can say is that it feels as if I have a pulse deep and insistent within me demanding that I still it.
Perhaps if James had got up to make his own coffee, I’d have felt stronger today. But he didn’t, and I don’t.
I am ashamed of myself, of course. But not ashamed enough.
‘Be there in fifteen,’ I type.
We always message, and never phone.
My message isn’t to James.
I pause in readiness for the reply, but there’s no answering vibrate back.
It’s usually immediate, and I feel a flash of unease. Surely I’ve not been forgotten.
Then I smile at myself. I know what he and I have together, and it’s something rare and earthy, and he’s not going to be forgetting about it, that’s for certain.
While I tap a foot impatiently as the kettle takes its time, I check the highlights in my hair under the spotlights – not too bad yet, which is a relief, and it looks as if that new shampoo I’m trying is making it admirably shiny. I stuff it into a scrunchie, before applying a slick of my favourite nude lip gloss and a squirt or two of the scent he gave me.
It seems prudent of me to keep everything to do with my secret separate from the rest of my life. Consequently, the utility room and the privacy it affords me has proved a godsend for this, what with all of us now at home.
As finally the kettle makes that noise it does before it starts to whistle, I tip my head to one side, pleased to see in the mirror that even with my fortieth birthday not far away now, my neck and shoulders, and the rest of me actually, are still enviably tight and slim. I’m trim but definitely not scraggy – I’d hate to be somebody without curves in the right places.
I’ve thought before that if I were a man, I’d think I look good, even perhaps as much as a decade younger. I don’t see anything in the mirror today to disabuse me of these notions.
I don’t much like the fact that my appearance is a bit too important to me, but I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise.
And then I wrench the toggle a bit tighter than it needs to be on my running shoes, as if I mean business, which I suppose I do.
Before I return to the kitchen to make James’s coffee, I give myself a final once-over.
I breathe in as I look sideways at my reflection in the mirror, standing on my toes and then plucking at the waist-band of my running tights, ignoring the glint of my wedding ring. I could never remove my wedding ring; I made a promise all those years ago to James that it would be a symbol of our marriage, a marriage I am very much committed to still.
But that doesn’t stop me taking a last peek at the curve of my buttocks nestling snug in their Lululemon extra-firm Lycra.
They look inviting.
Then, as I’m not feeling proud of what I’m about to do, I open a packet of biscuits and arrange a few on a plate for my husband, and I nip into the garden and snip off a few early blooms which I stick in one of the jam jars I bought online for just this sort of off-the-cuff moment.
As I position this pretty tray with James’s elevenses on his desk, and he lifts his blue eyes away from his Zoom to smile at me in thanks, I grin back.
It’s a genuine grin on my part as this sort of look from my husband can always brighten my day.
And of course the thought of what I’m about to do not too far away would make anybody with a pulse grin stupidly too.
‘Just leaving,’ I type a minute later.