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A place to call home, p.1
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       A Place to Call Home, p.1

           Carole Matthews
 
A Place to Call Home


  Also by Carole Matthews

  Let’s Meet on Platform 8

  A Whiff of Scandal

  More to Life than This

  For Better, For Worse

  A Minor Indiscretion

  A Compromising Position

  The Sweetest Taboo

  With or Without You

  You Drive Me Crazy

  The Only Way is Up

  Wrapped up in You

  Summer Daydreams

  With Love at Christmas

  A Cottage by the Sea

  Calling Mrs Christmas

  Copyright

  Published by Sphere

  978-1-4055-2750-7

  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © Carole Matthews 2014

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  SPHERE

  Little, Brown Book Group

  100 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DY

  www.littlebrown.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  A Place to Call Home

  Table of Contents

  Also by Carole Matthews

  COPYRIGHT

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  Chapter Thirty-nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-one

  Chapter Forty-two

  Chapter Forty-three

  Chapter Forty-four

  Chapter Forty-five

  Chapter Forty-six

  Chapter Forty-seven

  Chapter Forty-eight

  Chapter Forty-nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-one

  Chapter Fifty-two

  Chapter Fifty-three

  Chapter Fifty-four

  Chapter Fifty-five

  Chapter Fifty-six

  Chapter Fifty-seven

  Chapter Fifty-eight

  Chapter Fifty-nine

  Chapter Sixty

  Chapter Sixty-one

  Chapter Sixty-two

  Chapter Sixty-three

  Chapter Sixty-four

  Chapter Sixty-five

  Chapter Sixty-six

  Chapter Sixty-seven

  Chapter Sixty-eight

  Chapter Sixty-nine

  Chapter Seventy

  Chapter Seventy-one

  Chapter Seventy-two

  Chapter Seventy-three

  Chapter Seventy-four

  Chapter Seventy-five

  Chapter Seventy-six

  Chapter Seventy-seven

  Chapter Seventy-eight

  Chapter Seventy-nine

  Chapter Eighty

  Chapter Eighty-one

  Chapter Eighty-two

  Chapter Eighty-three

  Chapter Eighty-four

  Chapter Eighty-five

  Chapter Eighty-six

  Chapter Eighty-seven

  Chapter Eighty-eight

  Chapter Eighty-nine

  Chapter Ninety

  Acknowledgements

  Dedication

  To Ayesha and Sabina

  Hello!

  Just a note to say thanks for choosing to spend some time with me and my novel, A Place to Call Home. I hope you’ll fall in love with the characters as I did when I was writing it.

  This is a very special book for me and although all of my books are like babies to me and I shouldn’t really have a favourite, it’s definitely up there on the list of the ones I’m most proud of. During the writing process I found myself crying a bit, laughing a lot and really rooting for Ayesha, Sabina, Hayden, Crystal and Joy as they struggle to overcome their difficulties and make new beginnings in their lives.

  To me, it’s an uplifting story about what it takes to create a home and a family. Sometimes, particularly these days, families don’t fall within the bounds of the ‘conventional’ arrangement but that doesn’t make them any less of a family. Sometimes you have to take what’s on offer and have the courage to work with it.

  I hope you enjoy it.

  Love, Carole xx

  Chapter One

  I stare anxiously at the clock. It’s nearly two in the morning and my eyes are gritty from lack of sleep. In the bed next to me Suresh snores heavily, and I’m grateful that the sleeping tablet I slipped into his drink a few hours earlier still seems to be working well.

  Even so, when I go to get out of the bed, I take care to lift the duvet cautiously and lower my feet quietly to the floor. I tiptoe across the room to collect my clothes from the chair in the corner. It’s a bright night, the moonlight filling the room and illuminating me more than I would like.

  For a moment I stand with my shalwar kameez gripped in my arms, watching the sleeping form of my husband of ten years. My heart’s pounding in my chest and there’s a sick feeling in my stomach, but I know that I have to do this. Whatever happens, I can no longer stay. It will be the last time I will ever be in this bedroom, in this house, with this man.

  As soundlessly as possible, I make my way to the bathroom along the hall. Suresh’s mother and father sleep at the back of the house, in the biggest room, which overlooks the garden. Thankfully, Sabina’s room is at the other end of the hall to them. In the dead of the night, the only sound I can hear is my own nervous breathing.

  I change my clothes in the bathroom, stripping off my nightdress and putting on the same shalwar kameez that I wore yesterday. I fold my nightdress carefully. That will come with me too. And my toothbrush. I’d like to freshen my mouth, but I don’t dare risk running the tap. The walls are as thin as paper and I cannot risk doing anything that might wake anyone but Sabina.

  The face that stares back at me in the mirror is thin and tired. This woman looks afraid. Afraid but determined.

  Along the landing and I ease the handle on the door into Sabina’s room. My child’s pink nightlight fills the small space with a warm glow and I go straight to her bed, crouching down beside it.

  I stroke my daughter’s silky hair which is long and dark like my own. Sabina’s hair, however, is tangled with sleep whereas my own hangs down my back in a heavy plait.

  ‘Sabina,’ I whisp
er in her ear. ‘Sabina, my daughter.’

  The child opens her eyes and gazes at me. The trust I see there is heartbreaking. For so long I’ve failed her, but not any more.

  ‘Mummy is taking you on an adventure,’ I murmur. ‘We must be quiet though. As quiet as little mice. Can you do that for me?’

  With sleep-filled eyes, she nods at me and I help to lift her out of bed. I put my finger to my lips. It’s a needless gesture. Sabina doesn’t speak. Not ever.

  Quickly, quietly, I change her from her nightwear into her shalwar kameez. It’s spring, but the nights are still cold, so while Sabina tiredly buckles her shoes, I get her coat from the wardrobe. My heart is in my mouth for fear of the door squeaking, but thankfully it’s silent. I’ve done my best to furnish this room nicely. She has a pretty duvet cover, curtains and a lampshade that looks like a ballerina’s skirt. But it’s not enough, is it? The important things are love, affection, joy, and in this I’ve been so lacking.

  Sabina, all buttoned up, sways sleepily on her feet, and I sit her down for a brief moment. Under her bed, tucked far into the corner, I have a bag already prepared for this event. It’s taken me weeks to get to this point. Months even. We have a holdall that I bought cheaply from the market. It’s very small, so that I could hide it adequately, and is filled with only enough clothes to last us until tomorrow. After that, I don’t know what we’ll do.

  ‘We must go,’ I say. My finger goes to my lips. ‘Remember, very quiet.’

  I take Sabina’s tiny, warm hand in mine and I hope the contact comforts her as much as it comforts me. Leading her out of the room, we inch along the landing. Still I can hear Suresh’s snores, and that calms me a little.

  I don’t know what my husband does for work, but I do know that it’s not good. Sometimes he brings home men to our house and they laugh together until the small hours. Sometimes he doesn’t come home at night at all. I never know which it will be, so I’ve had to wait a long time for this, the perfect moment.

  On the stairs, I count our way down. The seventh stair creaks and I’m worried that it will sound out in the dead of the night, so I make sure that we step over it watchfully. Sabina is very slight for her eight years and, though I too am small, I lift her over it with ease. Her face is solemn, concerned. She trembles in my arms and I hold her tightly.

  We make our way along the hall and to the front door. Lifting my coat from the peg, I slip it on and then pull my scarf over my hair. What will I do now if Suresh suddenly appears on the landing? Will I still be brave enough to bolt for our freedom? Or will I return meekly to his side despite vowing that I would never do so? If he sees us he’ll know, instantly, that we are fleeing. Fleeing from him, from his fists. When he attacks me, as he surely will, can I fight him off? Or will he decide that, this time, he must kill me once and for all? The thought makes me shake. What then would happen to my darling Sabina?

  Looking down at my daughter’s anxious face, I know that I have to do this. If not for me, then for her. I have to be a good role model. I have to be the best mother that I can possibly be so that my child will grow into a strong, happy and independent woman. All of the things that I’m not.

  Staring at the holdall in my hand, I realise that I’m leaving with the same material possessions I arrived with from Sri Lanka all those years ago, to be, for the very first time, with my new husband. How full of hope I was then! I should reach deep inside myself and try to find that feeling again now.

  I ease open the lock on the front door, the lock that I secretly sprayed with oil last week so that it wouldn’t make a noise and give us away.

  ‘Ready?’ I whisper to Sabina.

  She nods and we both step out into the darkness.

  Chapter Two

  I stand with Sabina by my side and stare back at the house. It’s featureless, identical to the dozen or more that are the same in our terrace. There’s nothing to make it a home. No name, no pretty flowers in the garden. It’s as cold and blank as the people who live in it.

  I take Sabina’s hand and we hurry away from the house. ‘We must walk quickly,’ I say to her. ‘Can you manage that?’

  She nods her acquiescence.

  Normally I wouldn’t use the underpasses in the city, especially not after dark, as they’re a haven for muggers and drug addicts. But, as I haven’t been allowed out at night for many years, there’s a strange giddiness in having the freedom to put myself and my daughter at risk. The Redways are the quickest and straightest route to the Coachway and our escape, and I don’t want to risk getting lost.

  We don’t live in a very nice area in Milton Keynes. Our house is right in the heart of the city, on an estate that has seen much better days. However, I’m grateful for that now as it isn’t a long walk – about an hour, I’m thinking – to the Coachway and our ticket out of here. The train station is far away, at the other side of the city, and I’d have needed to call a taxi, which I couldn’t risk. Too many of Suresh’s friends drive cabs and he’d instantly hear of my departure. It’s better to rely on my own devices.

  ‘Are you all right, my child?’ I ask Sabina. I can see my breath in the night air, a little puff of steam.

  She nods again, but nothing more.

  I’d give anything to hear her complain. If only she would whine about us walking too fast, or it being too cold, or demand to know about our destination. If only.

  For months, I’ve stolen money from my husband’s wallet as often as I was able. Just a little, as much as I could manage without him noticing – £5 here, £10 there. I kept it in an old Quality Street tin at the back of my wardrobe, underneath a pile of towels that we don’t often use. Now I have £800 and my way out of here. It’s in the bottom of my holdall, rolled and secured with elastic bands, £100 in each precious one.

  We make our way in the darkness. Due to council cutbacks the streetlights are switched off, and it takes longer than I anticipated as I’m uncertain of the way. Sabina and I take a wrong turn and we walk for nearly quarter of an hour before I realise from the signposts that we’re heading in the opposite direction to where we want to be. So we have to retrace our steps. Then, as I’m beginning to despair and the sky is beginning to lighten, I see the building of the Coachway ahead of us in the distance. I can hear the gentle thrum of traffic from the M1 behind it and it sounds like music to my ears.

  ‘Not long now, Sabina,’ I urge. ‘We’re nearly there.’

  The building is modern, recently built, and the lights shine out harshly in the dissipating darkness. Hand in hand, we cross the final road to reach it – two conspicuous figures standing out in the emptiness of the night. I hope that Suresh hasn’t woken and found us gone. I pray that he doesn’t think to come looking for us in his car when we are so, so close to escape. My hand tightens on Sabina’s fingers and, picking up our pace, we walk faster.

  The first coach to London isn’t until half-past four and we have a little while to kill until then as, I’m relieved to say, we have made good time. With trembling fingers and my back to the waiting room, I slip some money from one of the rolls in my bag and buy our tickets from the machine, feeding in the crisp notes that I have stolen from my husband. At this hour, there are very few people here. A man in uniform carrying a clipboard lets his gaze fall on me as we pass. When I feel it linger, we go to sit in the corner furthest away from him, where a big plant in a pot obscures his view. The café is shuttered for the night and I’ve nothing to give my child but a carton of juice that’s in the holdall.

 
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