Chapter no 25

Then She Was Gone

The next morning Laurel awakes late and full of unsettling dreams. It takes her a moment to place her surroundings; they’ve conflated themselves with something she dreamed about. But a second later she remembers that she is in Floyd’s bed, that it is Wednesday, that it is nearly nine, and that she really, really wants to go home.

She showers and dresses and finds Floyd and Poppy at the breakfast table, reading the papers together.

“Good morning,” says Floyd. “I didn’t wake you. You looked so peaceful.” “Thank you. I must have needed it. Morning, Poppy.”

“Morning, Laurel!”

She’s back in a classic Poppy outfit: pink cords and a black polo neck, hair clipped back at both sides.

“Let me get you some breakfast,” says Floyd, rising to his feet.

“You know, actually, I’m going to head home, I think, and let you two get on with your day. I need to catch up with myself before I head over to Hanna’s.”

Floyd sees her off from his door with a long kiss and a plan for her to come back that evening. “I’ll make you something delicious,” he says. “Do you like veal?”

“I do like veal.”

“Great,” he says, “I’ll see you later.”

Laurel feels curiously relieved as she slides into her car and starts the engine. She’d thought that Floyd might try to guilt trip her into staying longer and was pleased when he didn’t. Now she feels a sense of escape. The discovery that Poppy’s mum used to teach Ellie maths, Hanna’s comment about Ellie finding Noelle Donnelly creepy and weird, and her conversation last night with Sara-Jade have all left her feeling shaky and full of holes. She needs to get home and

breathe in her own space. And she needs to do something else, something she hasn’t done for a very, very long time.





Laurel makes herself a mug of tea and takes it into the spare room. She sits on the edge of the bed and reaches down to pull a cardboard box toward her. Ellie’s box. She remembers filling it in the old house. She’d been numb and drained and taken too long over it, a full day, touching and caressing, holding and smelling. She’d read Ellie’s diaries. They were sporadic things that leaped about over the years, making it hard to work out what she was writing about half the time as she rarely dated the entries. Some of it Laurel had skipped over and she’d thrown one notebook bodily away from herself at a reference to giving Theo a hand-job.

There’d been nothing in those diaries then, nothing to indicate a secret life, a secret friend, unhappiness of any sort. She hadn’t looked at them since.

But she pulls some out now, flipping through them to find the entries written in the months before she disappeared. They were messy records. Doodles and cartoons, homework and revision notes here and there, dates and numbers and lists of things to buy on a trip to Oxford Street:

Nice moisturiser

New trainers (not black or white) Books: AtonementLovely Bones Trainer socks




Birthday card for dad

There were lipstick kisses and smudges of ink and glittery stickers. And, scattered in between, loose records of her days. And in those days and weeks before she ran away there were only two things going on in Ellie’s world. Theo and revision. Theo and revision. Theo and revision.

Laurel peers closely at an entry from what seems to be January. Ellie is bemoaning her result in a maths test. A B+. She’d wanted an A. Theo had got an

A. Laurel sighs. Ellie had constantly aligned herself with Theo, as though he was the only benchmark that mattered.

“Asked Mum for a tutor,” she wrote. “Fingers crossed she says yes. I am sooooo

shit at maths . . .”

And there, a few entries later: “Tutor came! She’s a bit weird but a great teacher! A* here I come!”

Laurel turns the pages faster and faster. She’s looking for something but she doesn’t quite know what, something to tie all the loose fragments of her dreams together with the reality of the last few days’ revelations.

Tutor today. I got 97% in the paper she set me. She gave me a set of lip balms. So sweet!

Tutor 5 p.m. She brought me a scented pen. She’s so sweet!

Tutor 5 p.m. She said I’m the best student she’s ever had! But of course!

Tutor 5 p.m. Bit weird today, asking me strange questions about what I want in life. Think she’s having a midlife crisis!

Tutor 5 p.m. 100%!! I literally just got 100%!!! Tutor says I am a genius. She is 100% right!

Tutor 5 p.m. Think I’m over this now. She really freaks me out sometimes. She’s so intense. And she smells. Am going to ask Mum to cancel her. I can do this by myself. Don’t need bunny boilers in my life.

There’s no more mention of the tutor after this entry.

Ellie simply slots back into her life. She sees Theo. She studies. She looks forward to the summer. Nothing more.

But Laurel’s fingertip stays poised against the last entry, against the words “bunny boiler.” What does that mean? Her understanding of the term is a woman who stalks and torments a man who has discarded her, unable to deal with the rejection. Clearly that is not the definition that Ellie was alluding to here. So if not that, then what? Had Noelle been overly fixated on Ellie? Obsessed with her, maybe? Maybe even physically attracted to her? Had she tried to touch Ellie inappropriately? Or maybe she was jealous of her, of her youth and beauty and unquestionable intelligence? Maybe she belittled her and made her feel bad? And if any of these scenarios was the case, what did this mean?

She squeezes her eyes tightly shut and her hands into fists. There’s something in there, but she can’t get to it. And what could it possibly be anyway?

The darkness lifts after a moment and life returns to its normal proportions.

She slowly puts Ellie’s books back into their box and slides it under the bed.



“Tell me more about Noelle,” she says to Floyd that night over dinner.

She sees a muscle in his cheek twitch and there is a missed beat before he says, “Oh, God, must I?”

“Sorry. I know she’s not your favorite person. But I’m curious.” She rests her cutlery on her plate and picks up her wineglass. “I looked at Ellie’s old diaries today. I wanted to see what she wrote about Noelle. And she called her . . . I hope you won’t be offended, but she called her a ‘bunny boiler.’ ”

“Ha, no. That about sums it up. She was a very needy woman. Very intense.” “How did you meet her?”

“Urgh.” He swallows a mouthful of wine and puts down his glass. “Well, yeah.

I don’t come out of this too well. But she was a fan.” “A fan? You have fans?”

“Well, maybe it would be fairer to call them fervent readers. Maths groupies.




That kind of thing.”

“Well I never,” says Laurel, sitting back in her chair and appraising Floyd teasingly. “I did not realize that I was facing such stiff competition.”

“Oh, don’t worry, those days are well and truly over. I had my moment in the sun with one book. My ‘pay the bills book,’ as I call it. Maths for dummies you could say, except we weren’t that honest about it. I got to be a bit playful with that book and it got me a little fan club of slightly peculiar, maths-obsessed women. Wasn’t my style at all. I soon went back to the big heavyweight tomes that no one with romantic yearnings would touch with a barge pole.”

“So, Noelle, she was one of your groupies?”

“Yeah. I suppose so. And I’d just split up with Sara’s mother and I was lonely and she was a bit crazy and a bit determined and I let her have her way with me and then spent the next few years repenting at leisure. She was like a leech. I couldn’t get shot of her. And then she got pregnant.”

“By you?”

He sighs and casts his gaze over her shoulder. He doesn’t answer her question. “I didn’t even really find her that attractive. I was just . . . I was just trying to be nice, I suppose.”

Laurel laughs drily. She has never done anything “just to be nice” in her life. But she knows the type. Paul is the same, will go against all his basest instincts and feelings to make someone else feel good for five minutes.

“And then you were stuck with her?”

“Yeah. I was indeed.” He runs his fingertips around the bowl of his wineglass and looks uncharacteristically pensive.

“Who ended it? Eventually?”

“That was me. And that was where the bunny-boiler bit came into it. She wasn’t prepared to let me go without a fight. There were some bad nights. Really bad nights. And then one day she just said she’d had enough, dumped Poppy on my doorstep, and disappeared off the face of the earth.” He shrugs. “Sad, really,” he says. “Really sad. Sad woman. Sad story. You know.”

The mood of the evening has become somber and slightly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry,” says Laurel. “I didn’t mean to make you feel sad. I just . . . it’s an

odd little connection, that’s all. Between you and me. And Ellie. I just wanted to understand it a bit more.”

He nods. “I get that,” he says. “I totally get it. And of course it’s Poppy I feel bad for, being abandoned like that. No child wants to feel that they weren’t wanted, even if they don’t care much for the abandoner. But”—he brightens slightly—“now Poppy has you. And you are quite a tonic. For us all. Cheers.” He tilts his glass toward hers and their glasses meet and so do their gazes.

She returns her focus to the meat on her plate, to the pink-gray flesh of the slayed baby calf. She cuts into it and a rivulet of wine-colored juices run across the plate.

She finds she has lost her appetite, but she doesn’t know why.



You'll Also Like