Home > The New Wife

The New Wife
Author: Sue Watson

 

Prologue

 

 

I’ll never forget the way she looked – the sun behind her like a halo, the fitted, ivory satin gown, long, glossy blonde hair coiled and twisted down her back.

It was spring, fresh and warm for May, but we knew the weather would be perfect, because the sun always seemed to shine on Sam and Lauren. My son was marrying his childhood sweetheart, the daughter I’d never had. I think I was almost as happy as the bride and groom. In a moment both families had dreamed of, our children exchanged vows and gold rings, bringing us all together. And as a single parent, I wasn’t just gaining a daughter, I was becoming family with people I loved – Lauren’s parents, my best friends. Like all fairy stories, there’d been dragons to slay along the way, but on that warm afternoon, the smiles said it all. Their fairy tale had finally reached its happy ending.

Later, we jostled for position, our phone cameras on, clicking away, outside the church. The froth of spring blossom filling the air with the sweetest perfume. I remember the details so clearly; Sam awkward in a suit, the tiny freshwater pearls dotting Lauren’s veil, the way they looked at each other, like a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough. But, most of all, I remember the sound of her laughter. Lauren laughed such a lot, perfect white teeth, sparkly eyes, the elegant, inelegant way she hoisted up her bustier, causing her tiara to wobble, making her giggle – she could never be serious for long. Then my pride, as Sam walked into shot, as always, her safety net, reaching to help her steady the fairy princess headwear. Just seconds of chaos, but I’ll always treasure the photo on my phone, the tiara echoing the gossamer veil, with a whisper of freshwater pearls lopsided, the two of them looking into each other’s eyes, laughing, their happiness caught in a web of sunshine.

But just three months later, Lauren was dead.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

I’ll never forget the night he called to tell me. It was exactly 2.17 a.m. I know this because, as I later told the police, I was woken by the shrill ring of my mobile and remember the dancing neon digits on the alarm clock by my bed. I just knew something had happened, and like most mothers, my first thought was my son, who might have been grown up and married but was still my baby. And why was he calling me in the middle of the night? His name flashing on my phone at an ungodly hour set my brain on high alert, while my physical self tried to catch up. Even as I held the phone to my ear, my head was too jumbled with alarm and fear to hear what he was saying at first.

‘Mum, Mum?’

I remember opening my mouth to respond, but nothing came out.

‘It’s Lauren,’ he said, and I heard the voice of the little boy he used to be.

And when he’d told me, I refused to believe it and had to ask him to repeat it.

‘She’s dead, Mum, Lauren’s dead.’

Afterwards I kicked myself for making him say it twice, what kind of mother does that? But then I’ve kicked myself so many times since then, and I’m bruised all over. So many things I missed, so much was happening around me that I took at face value. I trusted everyone – when, really, I should have trusted no one.

That night, everything changed – a big, red line was drawn right through all our lives, and everything from then on was cut into two halves. There was before Lauren, and after Lauren.

For Sam, it seemed impossible to comprehend, not just because she was his love, his wife, his future, but because he’d never really known a life without Lauren in it. I remember walking Sam to nursery school on that first day, the leaves crisp like cornflakes, clouds swollen and dark with the threat of rain. I’d both welcomed and dreaded my only child’s first day at nursery, the beginning of the long goodbye. I was sad and happy and nervous for both of us.

As a mum of one, I was only too aware that first days would also be lasts, each watershed moment more precious as it loomed on the horizon, then quickly disappeared. So I devoured the first times, ate them up like hot toasted teacakes on a winter afternoon. The memories of Sam’s childhood are still Instagram-perfect curated collections of glossy photos in my head. And that first morning is especially clear, because I’ve looked back often, and thought about how much it shaped both our lives. I remember it like yesterday, me and Sam walking hand in hand, he in his new Paddington wellingtons, kicking leaves, hurling himself into the slightest puddle. It was a half-mile from home, which must have seemed a long walk for a little three-year-old, but he was so excited, driven by adrenalin, he didn’t complain once.

When we got to the nursery, the clouds seemed to suddenly burst, and the heavens opened. We dashed inside, where it was warm and dry, and the daubed paintings on the bright nursery walls seemed to welcome us into the next chapter of our lives.

In all the chaos of abandoned outdoor clothes and wellies, we eventually found Sam’s designated coat peg, which, to his delight, was a bright green frog, with SAM written above. I didn’t see Lauren at first, but I heard her. She was commanding attention with Hammer Horror-style screaming and clinging to her mum’s knees, as the poor woman desperately tried to extricate herself. She was clearly dressed for work, in a skirt suit, tight pencil skirt, her thick blonde hair cut in a sharp, mid-length bob. I remember looking down at my jeans and fleece, wishing I’d dressed up a little, even if my outfit was far more sticky-finger friendly.

I tried not to stare as the nursery nurse attempted to coax the little girl from her mother’s legs with the promise of ‘a story about a very hungry caterpillar’, as the mum made for the door. Not surprisingly, the last thing the child wanted was to be presented with the concept of a big green hairy insect with an enormous appetite while dealing with the threat of her mother’s departure.

I stood with Sam, both onlookers in this drama, and now I can’t help but wonder, was this a portent for the future? Back then, we didn’t know them as Lauren and her mum, Helen, and had no idea how much these people would impact our lives.

I remember feeling really bad for poor Helen in her suit and heels, desperately trying to make her escape as a screaming, mucus-dripping toddler clung like a limpet to her stockinged legs. This full-scale drama went on for several minutes, with nursery staff approaching Lauren cautiously, as though she were a wild beast, no one prepared to put their head in the lion’s mouth, even the experts. But as this continued, I was suddenly aware of Sam’s hand slipping from mine, breaking away from me, and doing the unthinkable – slowly walking towards the ear-piercing meltdown. I called him back, but in all the racket he either didn’t hear me or chose not to, but he did stop and survey the situation, before putting his hands on his ears and yelling: ‘Stop making that noise!’

To everyone’s amazement, Lauren suddenly stopped screaming and turned to see the upstart that had dared to shout at her. We all stood in wide-eyed surprise.

‘Sam, that’s rude,’ I murmured into the silence, fearing judgement from the other adults.

‘She’s being too noisy, Mummy,’ he responded crossly, as Lauren now peered out from behind her mum’s knees. I was fully expecting her to set off again any minute, but then Sam uncovered his ears and said, ‘Will you play with me?’

After a moment’s silence, she nodded slowly and released the stranglehold on her mother, who smiled gratefully at me, then Sam, and flew from the building.

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