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       The Sound, p.1

           Sarah Alderson
 
The Sound


  Also by Sarah Alderson:

  HUNTING LILA

  LOSING LILA

  FATED

  And, available as eBook originals:

  TORMENTING LILA

  LILA SHORTCUTS

  First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

  A CBS COMPANY

  Copyright © 2013 Sarah Alderson

  www.sarahalderson.com

  This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.

  No reproduction without permission.

  All rights reserved.

  The right of Sarah Alderson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

  1st Floor

  222 Gray’s Inn Road

  London WC1X 8HB

  www.simonandschuster.co.uk

  Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

  Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

  A CIP catalogue copy for this book is available from the British Library.

  Pb ISBN: 978-1-47111-573-8

  Ebk ISBN: 978-1-47111-574-5

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

  For all you fabulous book bloggers out there, who read and review and generally inspire people to pick up books.

  Contents

  Prologue

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  19

  20

  21

  22

  23

  24

  25

  26

  27

  28

  29

  30

  31

  32

  33

  34

  35

  36

  37

  38

  39

  40

  41

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  I’m running, running blind. Into the dark. Into the woods. Ricocheting off branches, tripping over tangled tree roots, gripping my arm as I stumble on, sobbing. Are those his footsteps coming after me or is it the wind? A bird? An animal?

  I come to a flying halt and crouch down in the dirt, trying to listen. Is he following me? But my breathing is so loud and laboured it’s all I can hear. That and the wild drumming of blood in my ears. My heart is no longer a caged bird but a dozen bats trying to burst free. I close my eyes and try to sink down into the dark.

  My fingers burrow through sandy soil, damp leaves. I want to claw my way deep into the earth, roll beneath the leaves and bury myself. I want to sob and scream and melt and turn to smoke and vanish. When I open my eyes the world spins, recedes then rushes back in.

  ‘Ren!’

  His voice yells my name. Over and over. Filling my head with the sound of it and tearing apart the night.

  I need to stand up. I need to run. But I’m frozen. My back is slammed against a tree. My lungs are beginning to close down. I try to suck in a breath but it gets stuck and all of a sudden the sky looms darker and larger overhead, the stars fuzzing out of focus and dissolving into the blanket sky.

  A crunch.

  I shrink back as far as I can, feeling the bark of the tree scratch a bloody trail across my shoulder. I bite my lip, choking off the scream that is fighting to burst out.

  He is out there, holding his breath as I hold mine. Ears pricked, eyes scouring the darkness. I can sense him there waiting, just a few feet away, his head tilted as he listens, and I can no longer balance my weight on the balls of my feet. My knees are going to give, my arms are shaking.

  Tears are slipping noiselessly down my cheeks as my eyes dart left and right strafing the darkness. I can’t see anything. It’s pitch black out here. In the distance the roar of the ocean seems to be calling to me, whispering my name, urging me to make a run towards it.

  A twig snaps to my right.

  I haul myself to standing in that same second and then I am running, ignoring the shooting pain in my arm and the sting of branches slashing at my face. All I can hear now is a roaring in my ears.

  And behind me, coming closer, his breath, his footsteps and the heat of him rising like a mist. My feet hit something soft. I’m on the beach. The trees have given way to sand dunes. The ocean sounds wild and close. If I can only make it there . . . because where else is there to run to? And then suddenly my foot hits something sharp, a rock buried in the sand, and I’m flying, falling fast, and I land hard, my ankle twisting, and I let out a yell that I try to smother with my other hand. I roll onto my back, kicking at invisible hands. I try to draw my legs up to my body, to curl into a ball, but my ankle explodes in pain and I can’t move it. And I whimper, not because of the pain but because fear floods my tongue and it’s as foul as earth and it’s fear which is closing up my throat as surely as his hands sliding around my neck and squeezing.

  I want my mum. And I sob her name out loud into the darkness, and over the sound of the ocean roaring I hear his breathing, loud and heavy and excited, coming close.

  But the thought of my mum is enough to push back the fear and let the rage in. And I’ve never felt such rage before. It almost cancels out the fear, roaring inside me now as deep as the ocean.

  I start scrabbling desperately for something – anything – to use as a weapon.

  My hand sinks into the dune, trying to find the object I tripped on, and my fingers close around a rock, heavy with jagged, sharp edges. I draw it into my lap and sit there clutching it as the tears stream down my cheeks.

  My breathing is coming in little gasps now. I’m struggling to force air down into my lungs – they’re on fire from the inside, smoke-filled and layered with ash. My fingers are starting to tingle. My lips are going numb.

  And then he appears, a dark shape against the sky, and the rock slides out of my hand and falls with a muted thud to the sand. I open my mouth to scream but I can’t because my throat has squeezed shut and there’s no air left in my lungs.

  And the last thing I see, before the darkness drowns me completely, is him.

  1

  I’ve never held a baby so when he hands me this squalling red thing I just stare at it.

  ‘Can you take Braiden?’ he says.

  The baby has a name. This doesn’t make holding it any less terrifying. But I reach out and say ‘sure’ and next thing I know I’m holding a baby. And mother of all surprises, the baby – Braiden – stops crying. He not only stops crying, he reaches for my hair with fat little fists, tugs on a loose strand and gurgles happily at me.

  I am holding a baby. I grin. The whole way here on the plane I have been preparing for this moment. The moment where my summer plan of nannying falls apart like a stage set collapsing as the people I’m nannying for discover that my only experience of children is having been one once (and technically, legally, I suppose, still being one).

  But now I’m holding the baby and it’s not screaming and I haven’t dropped it on its head yet and I’m thinking as I bounce him up and down that maybe, just maybe, I can get away with it so they don’t throw me out and send me back to England on the next flight.

  ‘See, he loves you,’ the dad says. ‘I’ll be back in just one second.
’ And he disappears.

  I stare after him in a state of mild panic. It’s one thing to hold a baby and another thing entirely to be left holding the baby.

  ‘OK, OK, Braiden,’ I start to say in a sing-song voice that I’ve never in my life used before. ‘I can do this, I can do this.’ I drop my voice back to its normal range. The baby’s face is now scrunching up and going bright red and he’s looking kind of startled. Probably, I think, because his dad has just handed him to a complete stranger and walked off.

  ‘He’s doing a number two.’

  I turn around. ‘Hey,’ I say to the little girl with red hair who’s just appeared in the doorway. ‘You must be . . .’

  ‘Brodie,’ she finishes, then points at her brother. ‘He’s doing a number two.’

  I glance back at Braiden who is now fist-pumping wildly and thrashing his legs against my stomach. ‘Oh,’ I say, as the stench hits my nostrils.

  Nice. I think of how I am going to describe this moment later to Megan. Pooed on by a baby within minutes of arriving. She’d tell me with a wryly arched eyebrow that one way or another I always get shat on.

  ‘You need a diaper,’ Brodie informs me, crossing her hands over her chest and squinting up at me.

  ‘You want to show me where they are?’ I ask, thinking that maybe I can also get her to show me how to change it. Because I don’t have a clue. I should have YouTubed all these things before I left but for one reason or another I didn’t.

  Brodie leads me into a bedroom – belonging to her parents, I assume, because there’s a double bed on top of which are a couple of half-unpacked suitcases, a laptop case, a newspaper and a stack of folders.

  Brodie reaches a freckled arm into a changing bag on the floor and pulls out a stash of diapers, a tub of something that looks alarmingly medical and some baby wipes. She puts them on the bed and stares at me expectantly.

  I clear space, pushing the laptop far, far out of the way and wondering silently if the bed is the right place to do this. The duvet cover is white. It feels like I’m testing fate.

  I lay the baby down carefully on top of a plastic mat thing which Brodie has helpfully laid out for me. Braiden blows a bubble out of the side of his mouth. It’s kind of cute. And then I catch another waft and my eyes water. I do a quick study of his outfit, locate the handily placed poppers and peel it back. There is poo. There is a lot of poo, oozing like mud out of the sides of his nappy (let’s not call it a diaper) and who knew poo could ever be that consistency? Or that colour? I’m stunned. Too stunned to move.

  ‘Do you even know what you’re doing?’ Brodie asks, her eyes narrowing at me in a disturbing display of suspicion coming from a four-year-old.

  I weigh my answer. ‘No,’ I finally say, glancing quickly at the open door. ‘But if you help me out on this one I will do my very best to make it up to you.’

  She studies me like a lawyer and then bounces over to me, grinning. ‘Deal.’

  She unsticks the nappy and opens it and we both stagger backwards.

  ‘You’re cleaning the poop though,’ she says, handing me the wipes.

  I wipe and smear and then I wipe some more. Babies’ thighs have all sorts of crevices, I discover. And the instinct I had over not doing this on a white duvet turns out to have been correct, so I end up trying to wipe up the smears on that too.

  When I’m done, Brodie hands me a clean nappy and shows me how to do it up. I reseal the poppers on the Babygro feeling more proud of myself than when I passed my driving test.

  ‘Oh my goodness.’

  I spin around. There’s a woman in the doorway and I am guessing from the red hair that she is the mother of the pooing baby and the precocious four-year-old, and therefore my new boss.

  ‘Did Mike leave you to change Braiden’s diaper?’ she says. ‘I am so sorry. And I’m sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you when you arrived. I just had to run to the store. We only just got here ourselves.’

  ‘That’s fine,’ I say. ‘Don’t worry. Brodie here helped me out.’ I wink at Brodie and she grins back at me.

  ‘It’s Ren, isn’t it?’ she asks, putting her handbag down on the bed and shaking my hand. ‘It’s so lovely to meet you. I’m Carrie Tripp.’

  ‘Hi,’ I say, shaking her hand. ‘Nice to meet you too.’

  ‘Did my husband at least show you to your room?’ she asks.

  I shake my head.

  ‘Mike!’ Mrs Tripp yells at the top of her voice. She turns back to the bed and picks up Braiden. Mr Tripp walks into the room at that point.

  ‘Hey, honey,’ he says, seeing his wife. ‘You met Ren, then? I was just taking a quick call.’

  Carrie raises an eyebrow. He gives her an innocent look as if to say, what? And then his wife shakes her head and laughs and I think to myself that I’m going to like these people. I’m going to like being part of their family for the summer. Even if poo-filled nappies are the trade-off.

  ‘Brodie, can you show Ren to her room, please?’ Carrie says.

  ‘Sure,’ Brodie says and she slips her hand into mine.

  2

  The house is amazing. Or, if I’m going to start being American about it, it’s totally awesome. It’s like something from that old TV show Dawson’s Creek. Crossed with Anne of Green Gables. It’s wooden and painted dove-grey and it has this beautiful white veranda running around it. They call it a deck. And to complete the whole olde-worlde effect it also has shutters, painted an egg-white colour.

  Right now, at this second, I could be at home in south London, trying to figure out a way to get through the summer without seeing either Will or Bex. But the fates, and my mother, intervened and bam, I’m not in the delightful suburb of Bromley staring at my Facebook friend list and deleting slash untagging photographs while waiting for my A level results to blast through the letterbox like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

  No. I’m in Nantucket. Thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts. Nantucket island. The faraway land. Home of Moby Dick. Or at least some of the whalers who chased him all over the Atlantic. Now home to a lot of wealthy Americans who summer here and who require nannies to do their dirty diaper work for them.

  I didn’t need much persuading. I would have taken a job herding yaks in Outer Mongolia if it would have got me out of London for the summer but this seemed too good to be true and now, even taking into account the nappy episode, I’m still reeling from just how good and how true the situation is.

  My bedroom is gorgeous. I have a double bed, layered with quilts. There’s an antique writing desk topped with a three-way mirror, a chest of drawers and a little armchair beside the picture window. Brodie leads me to it and climbs on the arm. ‘Those are salt flats,’ she says, pointing at the marshy low land that stretches almost as far as the eye can see. ‘And that,’ she says, still pointing, ‘is the Sound.’

  ‘The what?’ I ask.

  ‘The ocean,’ Brodie says, still pointing. I squint at the thin strip of blue that I can see glimmering invitingly just beyond the flats. ‘It’s called the Sound,’ Brodie repeats, and then turning to me she adds solemnly, ‘People die there all the time.’

  I blink. ‘O-kay,’ I say slowly. ‘Good to know.’ I am assuming she means that maybe people have drowned in that stretch of water or boats have been shipwrecked and I make a mental note to neither step foot in the water nor onto a boat while I’m here. (And also to Google shark attacks, though I’m fairly certain that this far north it’s too cold for sharks.) Brodie, done with showing me the view, jumps off the chair. I turn back to admire the room and let out a long and happy sigh.

  I want to live here forever. That is how it feels at this moment in time. I want this to be my house. I even wouldn’t mind having Brodie for a little sister.

  ‘Ren.’

  I turn. Mr Tripp is standing in the door. ‘We’re heading out to the club for lunch, you’re welcome to join us.’ He sees my suitcase, still unpacked, standing by the bed. ‘Unless you want some time to settle in?’
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  I glance around the room. I would like time to unpack my books and my clothes, listen to some music and maybe send a few emails to my mum and Megan, but I think it might be rude to turn him down so, ‘Yeah, OK,’ I say, ‘that sounds good.’

  ‘Great,’ Mr Tripp says and then heads for the stairs.

  I follow after him and climb beside Brodie into the back seat of their enormous, space-age style car. Carrie straps Braiden into his car seat beside me.

  ‘Do you have your licence?’ she asks me.

  For a moment I think she’s asking me if I have some kind of childcare licence and then I realise she’s talking about driving. ‘Um, yes,’ I answer. I only just got it, after failing the first time (for not using my mirrors – Megan laughed at the irony) and I’m still wrangling with my mum over use of the car so I haven’t driven a whole lot. But, on the upside, I did learn on the streets of south London and there can be no finer training ground.

  ‘Great, we’ll get you insured on this car so you can drive the kids around.’

  She slams the car door and I stare after her. This vehicle makes the car I learnt on in England look like a dinky toy. There’s a whole dashboard of blinking lights. It’s the equivalent of being asked to fly a plane. To complicate things further, when we get going I realise that we’re driving on the right side of the road – that is to say – the wrong side. I sink back in my seat and think about whether I should come clean with them that letting me behind the wheel of their car, carrying their children as precious cargo, might not be the wisest decision on their part.

  I don’t recall driving being a prerequisite for the job but there wasn’t really a job description at all. My mum’s friend from university lives in Boston and knew someone who needed a nanny for the summer. A flurry of emails and a brief introduction later, the flight was booked and now I’m standing here realising that never once were qualifications mentioned.

  ‘So, Ren,’ Carrie says, leaning back to look over her shoulder as Mike backs out the driveway. ‘Is this your first visit to the US?’ she asks.

  ‘Yes,’ I say.

  ‘How are you liking it so far?’ she asks. Her voice is clipped – her eyes are penetratingly blue and I remember as she fires questions at me like machine gun fire (What am I studying? What are my grades? Do I have a boyfriend? – nix to that one) that she’s a lawyer. Buried in the information about flights, arrival times and the children’s ages was this little morsel of information. I think she’s an entertainment lawyer – which sounds like a total oxymoron to me. And he – I glance at Mr Tripp who is busy driving – is something to do with newspapers.

 
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