"OMG… It’s phenomenal… I couldn't put it down – I read it in a single day!... An unmissable read!" 5 starsMoMo Book Diary
Your sister is gone, but she left a diary. Now someone knows your secrets…
Lauren has spent years running away from her home town, her childhood and the memories of her stepsister and best friend, Hannah.
Until Lauren’s father begs her to return home for the tenth anniversary of Hannah’s death. It should be a quick visit, just so Lauren can pay her respects, but Hitchin is a small town and it’s not long before she’ll have to see the friends she abandoned: the beautiful, confident young girls who once meant everything to her.
Just when Lauren thinks she might be getting closure, she finds Hannah’s old diary. A diary full of secrets. The terrible things Lauren did, the lies she’s told, the reason she ran away. And she receives a message:
"I don’t know why you’re back, but I know why you left."
But no-one else has seen the diary, and Hannah’s dead, isn’t she?
A compelling and suspenseful psychological thriller about the secrets we share with the people we think we can trust. Perfect for fans of The Sister, The Girl on the Train and We Were Liars.
What readers are saying about The Diary:
"Incredible… from the very first page I knew I was going to love it. I was gripped immediately… I couldn't stop reading… You're on an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. Heart-breaking, stressful, dark, twisty and so secretive. Brilliant book." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"I loved this so much and couldn’t put it down!... This book was Gossip Girl, Riverdale, Pretty Little Liars and a dash of Cruel Intentions all packed into one." Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
" Incredible… one of my favourite reads. Yes, I will be reading this one again, and again… I could almost feel the words piercing through my heart, and hitting me right in the feels… I wanted to read more!!... You have set the bar high, now hurry up and bring out your next book!! " Little Old Ginger Me, 5 stars
Release date: November 26, 2018
Print pages: 286
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Nothing could make me go back. I read the text from my dad again, for the fifth or sixth time.
It’s next week. You should come, Lauren. For me.
He knows I could never go back. He doesn’t know why, not the whole story, but he knows how I felt, how I feel. How that place made me feel. He always visits me, driving the five or so hours down to Cornwall, leaving at the crack of dawn to miss the traffic. My dad, short like me, forever dressed in the same black trousers and the polo shirts he has in a variety of dark colours. Tactfully shifting piles of paper and discarded clothes to make space for himself on the battered sofa. My dad, harmless, kind, naïve.
Hi Dad, I start my reply. Work is super busy right now. I…
A lame excuse, even for me. I delete the text, take a breath.
Hi Dad. It’s not a great time right now. I’m not sure if…
Delete. Breathe. I start and delete what feels like a hundred variations of the same text. Nothing I could say would be good enough. I have no choice. Those two little words, two words he’s never used before. For me. He’s never tried to guilt-trip me into visiting before. He must need me.
I look at the clock. It’s almost time to leave the office. I blow out a breath, then quickly type out a response.
Okay, Dad. I’ll be there.
Kate gets home a few hours after me. It’s almost eight o’clock. She’s tired; I can see bags forming underneath her eyes. She slips her coat from her shoulders; I catch it and hang it up behind the door.
‘Hungry?’ I say. She nods gratefully and collapses onto the sofa. I usually like to eat at the table, but I can tell she isn’t in the mood, so I let it go. I dish up a bowl of pasta, all I could manage to rustle up. My mind has been whirring since that text to Dad, the decision I’d made to go back to Hitchin after so many years away.
‘How was your day?’ I ask as I hand Kate her bowl. She smiles gratefully.
‘Not bad,’ she says, loading her fork. ‘Busy. Crazy. But we’re getting there.’ She shovels another forkful into her mouth. Melted cheese drips down her chin. I laugh.
‘You’re so messy.’ I hand her a napkin, then settle down next to her on the sofa. She dabs her chin.
‘This is good,’ she says, pointing at her bowl with her fork. ‘How was your day?’
I sigh. How do I put this? I think about the best way to phrase what I have to say.
‘You’re doing it again,’ Kate says, breaking into my thoughts. I meet her eyes and she nods towards my hands. The fingers of my right hand are rubbing my left wrist, running up and down an old scar. A reminder of my past, of what I did.
I tuck my hands into my sleeves. ‘Sorry,’ I say.
Kate shakes her head. She’s about to tell me not to apologise, but I speak first, not wanting to get into this again.
‘I have to go up to my dad’s for a bit.’
She blinks at me, chewing quickly to get rid of her mouthful before speaking. ‘Why?’ she asks finally. It’s a valid question – I haven’t been back in years, not once since I moved down here when I was nineteen.
Kate doesn’t know everything about my past. She knows about Hannah, and how she died. She knows I was bullied, but not all of it, not how bad it got. She doesn’t know about Seth.
‘It’s ten years since…’ I trail off. Kate sets down her bowl, wipes her mouth on the napkin. She takes my hand.
‘I’m so sorry, Lauren,’ she says quietly. ‘I should have realised.’ I shake my head, but she continues. ‘How long will you be gone?’
There’s no question of her coming with me. I realise then that I’d like her to – she’s strong, level-headed, and independent of that place, of my past. Her soft Cornish accent would stand out like a sore thumb, but also as a reminder of my life now, as it is.
But we both know she can’t come. Kate is a police officer, currently entangled in a complicated investigation. Which explains her exhaustion.
‘A few days?’ I say, unsure. Today is Thursday; I can put in for last-minute leave tomorrow. I’m due some holiday anyway. ‘I’ll leave on Monday,’ I decide. ‘Probably be back by Friday.’
Kate nods. ‘You know I’d come…?’
‘I know.’ I squeeze her hand. ‘It’s okay.’
‘I have Saturday off,’ she says, brightening. ‘All being well. We should do something, just the two of us.’
‘That sounds great,’ I say sincerely. I kiss her soft cheek. She yawns theatrically, and I laugh. ‘Go to bed. I’ll do the dishes.’
Kate smiles sleepily. ‘You’re the best.’ She gets to her feet, and stretches her arms over her head. ‘I’m going to have a quick shower first.’
She starts making her way towards the stairs. ‘What time are you getting up?’ I ask. She stops, makes a face.
‘Five,’ she says. I groan inwardly. I know her alarm will wake me up, and I’ll have trouble getting back to sleep. My alarm doesn’t go off until seven. ‘Night,’ she adds, still yawning.
‘Night,’ I say, flashing her a smile. Poor Kate.
Kate is desperate to work her way up through the ranks. Although she studied policing at Cornwall College, meaning she was already qualified, she didn’t want to go into the police service at a higher level. She believed that more experienced officers would be unhappy, and wouldn’t respect her.
‘Not only am I a woman,’ she told me one evening. We’d been together a few weeks by that point, still getting to know each other. ‘But I’m young, and I’m a lesbian.’ She let out a laugh that came out harsher than I think she intended. ‘Any special treatment would definitely be frowned upon.’
She had a point. She started as a special constable while she was still studying, then became a PC a few months after she graduated. She’d been in her position for six months when we met on a night out in Plymouth. I was in my final year at university.
‘I did a psychology module,’ she said, slurring. Kate never could hold her drink. ‘Apparently, stuffy old men used to think they could tell who was a criminal by the size and shape of their heads!’ She burst out laughing, and I couldn’t help but join in. Kate had – has, when she isn’t exhausted – this energy, this love of life that’s infectious.
We went home together that night, and, as they say, the rest is history. Well, not quite. It took some persuading on Kate’s part for us to actually start dating. But we’ve been together almost three years now, living together for one. If we didn’t live together, I’d never see her during busy periods like this.
As I wash the dishes, placing them carefully on the drying rack, I think about what I have to do between now and Monday. I’ll need to put on a load of washing, probably tomorrow, and pack my bag. I’ll need to get petrol. I wonder if I can book in to get my nails done at such short notice. The gel is starting to lift in places; it’s almost three weeks since I last had them done.
I feel something rub against my legs, and almost leap out of my skin. A soft meow comes from the floor, and Kiana steps out from beneath my shadow.
‘You scared the shit out of me,’ I whisper, drying my hands on a tea towel and picking her up. The orange in her fur catches the light coming from underneath the cabinets. I scratch behind her ears as she purrs loudly.
‘Kate’s going to look after you for a few days,’ I say. She nudges against my cheek, knocking my glasses askew. I let out a laugh. I got Kiana a couple of years ago for some company, from the local cat sanctuary. She’s around six years old, but still a tiny ball of fluff. We don’t know what happened to her before she was taken to the sanctuary, but we do know that she’s happiest when surrounded by her humans.
I set her down on the floor and turn back to the sink. Not much left to do. Kiana begins to clean herself as I finish off. I attack the worktops next, spraying antibacterial and wiping with a cloth. There’s not much I love more than having a clean house, even if Kate’s innate untidiness doesn’t make it easy.
I check my phone; it’s just past nine o’clock. I know I won’t sleep for hours yet; beneath the surface of calm domestic bliss, my mind is on a loop of constant anxiety.
I can’t hear the shower any more; Kate must be in bed already. I flick the kettle on and make myself a cup of tea, then sit down on the sofa and switch the TV on. I open Netflix and start an episode of Stranger Things. Kate and I rarely watch TV together, simply because I’d never finish a series if I had to wait for her. She can catch up while I’m away.
I set a reminder on my phone to put the washing on before I leave for work in the morning, and settle down to watch the episode. Kiana jumps up and sits next to me, continuing to wash noisily. I raise an eyebrow at her, and turn the volume up. As I watch, I run my fingers lightly across the scar on my wrist, remembering.
The night Hannah died, my entire world imploded. I turned inwards, removing myself from everything, everyone. A part of me died with her, and I’ve never been able to bring it back to life. Without Hannah’s presence, I’ve become more anxious, less sure of myself, of my place in the world. I needed her to guide me, the way only an older sister can do.
‘One plus one equals two.’ It was her favourite saying, always accompanied by us linking our pinky fingers together, breathing in the words as they gathered in the air between us. We were inextricably linked, soul sisters.
After Hannah died, I had no choice: I had to leave.
‘I’ll be back on Friday,’ I say a few days later, shoving an overnight bag into the boot of my car. Kate rolls her eyes at me. She’s on a later shift today, so she’s standing in the doorway in her pyjamas. The morning air is chilly. I zip my leather jacket up, pull my hair out from underneath it.
‘I know,’ she says, reaching out to tug on one of my long auburn curls. She’s smiling. ‘You’ve told me a hundred times!’ I laugh. I have told her several times, I realise.
As I shut the boot, Kiana sidles up, curling her orange and black tail around Kate’s legs. I squat down and hold my hand out to her. Kiana burbles at me as I scratch her head. ‘Be good,’ I say. She nudges my hand in response, lifting her tail in the air, as if offended that I would even consider the alternative. ‘I’ll be back—’
‘On Friday!’ Kate says, throwing up her hands in mock frustration. I stand up and pull her into a hug.
‘Pipe down, you,’ I say into her hair. She smells of coconut.
‘I’ll miss you,’ she whispers. Kiana meows. We break apart to look down at her. ‘We’ll miss you,’ Kate amends, laughing, then pulls me back into her arms.
‘You can leave whenever you want,’ she says, her voice sombre. ‘You have a home here.’
Tears threaten to well up. I pull away and look into her eyes before kissing her gently. ‘I know,’ I whisper. For a moment, Kate looks as if she’s going to speak again, but she clears her throat and kisses me on the cheek.
‘Now go!’ She releases me and bends down to pick up Kiana. ‘Before you hit traffic. You know how awful it can be getting up to London.’ She sticks her tongue out at me. She knows full well that I’m not going to London but to Hertfordshire, thirty or so miles north of the capital. But my protestations always fall on deaf ears. Anything further north than Bristol is London as far as Cornwall is concerned.
Time to go. I get into the car, load up the map on my phone. Kate holds up one of Kiana’s paws in a wave. I smile and wave back. She kisses the top of Kiana’s head, dark hair falling out of its messy bun, framing her bare face. I stare at them, trying to capture the moment for ever, like a picture I can take out and step into whenever I want. I have a feeling I’m going to need such reassurances this week.
I enter my dad’s address into the map – the same house, the house where it all happened. How he’s managed to stay there after everything is beyond me. I haven’t been back since the day I packed up my old Corsa and fled to university. I suppress a shudder, mute the irritating satnav voice and open Audible, preferring to listen to an audiobook until I get past the roads I know by heart. With a final wave, I pull out of the drive and head for the A30.
I’ve always loved driving these Cornish roads. Not the smaller ones, those B roads that are barely big enough for one car, but the dual carriageways, with breathtaking scenery stretching out in every direction. Cornwall truly is a beautiful place.
Hannah used to dream of living by the sea. We’ll have a cottage, she said, just you and me. We’ll fall asleep to the sound of waves, wake up to seagulls crying and bright, long days and lazy evenings.
She didn’t want much, not really. A dog, a beach, a home. A sister. To this day, I still dream of her footprints in the sand, washed away by the incoming tide. She’s always walking ahead of me, her long blonde hair blowing in the breeze, full of salt and sunlight. The sun is in front of her; her shadow stretches back to meet me, merging with mine. She lifts her arms above her head, bangles jingling on her wrists, and when she turns to face me, I wake up.
The journey across the country is a relatively easy one, once I get past the traffic on the M4. I only have to stop twice, to empty my bladder and refill on coffee. I text Kate from one of the service stations; she responds with a selfie. I can see Kiana in the background, sitting on the kitchen countertop – something she’s not allowed to do when I’m at home. Kate spoils her. I smile to myself and get back on the road. The M25 seems to behave itself, and soon enough – too soon – I’m approaching the turn-off for Hitchin.
Hitchin is one of those strange towns that reminds me of Cornwall – or rather, Cornwall reminds me of Hitchin. Bigger than most Cornish towns worth mentioning, it has a population of around 33,000, many of those daily commuters into London. Being on the King’s Cross line allows you to get into the capital within thirty minutes. Despite the relatively large population, everyone knows everyone, as the saying goes. Your business is their business. You can’t grab a coffee or buy a newspaper without bumping into someone you know, or someone who’s related to someone you know. Rosie’s sister’s father’s brother will stop you in the town square and groan about sky-rocketing house prices or the mess left behind by pub-goers on a Saturday night. There’s no anonymity in Hitchin, no privacy. As I learnt to my detriment.
In those last few years before I left for university, I was completely wrapped up in my own life, oblivious to the outside world. The economy was crashing down around our ears, but we had no idea that a decade later, we’d struggle to get onto the property ladder, that our wages wouldn’t be enough to live on. My world view was narrow, focused only on myself and the fresh start I was determined to achieve.
I got one, after a fashion. Plymouth is far enough away from Hitchin for people to forget about me – about it – for the most part at least. Out of sight, out of mind. I took myself off social media, refusing to even have an account until I graduated. It was easier back then to remove your online presence, withdraw from society. Now, I’m glued to my phone, relying on it for the simplest of things.
Deciding to study psychology surprised my dad. To me, it seemed like both an odd choice and the only one I could have possibly gone for. Back then, I had a burning desire to understand. I had to know why. I never found out, not really. You won’t find the answer to your sister’s suicide in a textbook.
I come off at the junction, narrowly missing a Golf full of teenage boys that swerves in front of me, laughter and drum-and-bass blaring from the wide-open windows. I light a cigarette while we wait for the lights to change, me in my quiet car, my audiobook finished. I’d unmuted the satnav on the M4; the voice springs to life now to tell me to take the first exit, then falls silent again. The Golf sits in front of me, bouncing slightly under the weight of boisterous teens, kicking out toxic fumes from its rumbling exhaust. I’ve never been more glad to be twenty-five, I think, staring at my freshly painted nails. Black, like my mood, like the cloud that hangs over this town.
The lights change. We both turn left. The Golf swerves into the outside lane and goes roaring down the dual carriageway, its exhaust spitting more black gunk into the air. I hold back, sticking to fifty, less eager to make my entrance into Hitchin than the lads, who are probably late back from lunch. I left at eight this morning; the clock reads 12.54. Not bad. Too fast.
As I come up to a roundabout, the satnav bleats at me to take the fourth exit. I silence it, memory taking over. I take the third exit, avoiding the main road through the town centre, sticking to the edges. It’s an easy route, past the pub and the school, on the road leading back out of Hitchin. I haven’t been back to my dad’s house for the best part of six years, but I still remember it. Despite my best efforts, Hitchin is carved into my mind, if not my heart. Something else is carved there.
As I pull up opposite the house, a cold shudder takes over my body. The fingers of my right hand find my scar again. It hasn’t changed much, the house. Not from the outside, anyway. Dad sent me pictures of the new kitchen he had fitted a couple of years ago, paid for with the money left to him on the death of some distant relative who had died intestate. I secretly wish he’d knock it all down and start again. Or move away, like I have. But he never would. Mum’s ashes are scattered in the bushes at the end of the garden, and he wouldn’t leave her behind. He wants to be scattered there too.
I don’t know where Hannah is – her mum took her ashes after the funeral, before she left and never came back.
The front door opens as I sling my bag over my shoulder. I press the button on the fob to lock the car and hurry across the road.
‘Lauren.’ My dad looks the same as he did the last time I saw him. The same as he has ever since I can remember. The distance means he can’t get down to see me as often as either of us would like, and since I never come up here, it’s always down to him to make the effort. I feel a pang of guilt as I step into his arms.
‘Hi, Dad,’ I say, breathing in his scent. Some unbranded aftershave, coffee. ‘You all right?’
‘Yeah, you?’ Our usual greeting – never a sincere response. That will come later.
‘Fine. The journey wasn’t too bad.’
‘You made good time.’ He looks down at his watch as we step inside. ‘No Kate?’ I realise I didn’t mention that I’d be coming alone.
I shake my head. ‘She’s in the middle of a huge investigation,’ I say. I close the front door behind me, letting my bag drop onto the bottom step to my right. I glance up the stairs. ‘Where’s Dash?’ Dash is a little collie my father rescued a few years back. Dad loves period dramas; since he learned that one of Queen Victoria’s dogs was called Dash, he’d held onto the name until he got another dog after my childhood pet, Shadow, died when I was eight.
‘Asleep in here, as usual.’ I follow him into the living room and find Dash curled up on his bed, next to my dad’s favourite armchair. He lifts his head, sniffs the air, then curls back up. I’ve only met him a couple of times – Dad doesn’t always bring him down, since Dash often gets carsick – but we usually get on well.
‘He’s like a cat,’ I remark, thinking of Kiana. Dad laughs.
‘He’s certainly not a dog. Dash! Look who’s here! Who’s this?’ He adopts that tone reserved only for animals and small children. Dash looks at us out of one eye, unimpressed by my arrival. Dad huffs in pretend annoyance. ‘Well, I’m happy you’re here.’
Finally. The unspoken word hangs in the air. I smile, rub my wrist. Dad catches me, frowns.
‘The place looks great,’ I say quickly. It does. The living room is long, with only one large window, looking out onto the back garden. We moved in when I was about three years old, from a small flat a few streets away. The room was painted a horrid dark green that Mum apparently took to, despite how gloomy it made the room feel. Dad finally painted over it last year, opting for an inoffensive cream. ‘You could do with some more colour in here, though.’
Almost all of my dad’s creativity is poured into his novels, so his interior design is seriously lacking. Although the cream is a definite step up, the only source of colour in the room is the dark red cushions placed on the sofa, a Christmas gift from me.
Dad makes a sound in the back of his throat. He doesn’t much care for things. I, on the other hand, collect them. Ornaments, cushions, fairy lights, throws. My back garden is full of tea-light holders, my living room decorated to look like a catalogue page, one that promotes the benefits of ‘hygge’. Kate’s untidiness only slightly spoils the effect.
‘Cup of tea?’ Dad asks.
‘Oh, yes please.’
‘Still two sugars?’
I smile sheepishly. ‘Yes.’
He tuts, then wanders into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Alone, I glance around the living room again. Along the far wall stand floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. Some bear my dad’s name; I’d recognise the front covers a mile off. I’ve read them all; proofread some of the early ones before I ran off to Plymouth. Positioned in front of the books are photo frames. I wince as they come into focus.
There I am, aged about seven or eight, with a gap-toothed smile and a wonky fringe. Mum is in the background, shielding her eyes from the sun, turned slightly away from the camera. I squint at her, see the long shadow spreading out from her feet, almost touching my head. Next, another one of me, this time in my secondary school uniform, the jumper too big, too red. My hair is in a simple low ponytail – Mum was never any good at hair – and I’m smiling widely, oblivious to what will come to pass in the next few years, starting with my mum’s death the following spring.
Seeing my old uniform reminds me of my final year at school, before Hannah died. I remember how it hurt to see my friends turn away from me, whisper behind my back. Words thrown at me in the hallway, scribbled on pieces of paper and shoved into my bag. The photo of me circulated around the school, finding its way onto everyone’s phones and computers. I remember avoiding the eyes of my peers, fearful that they’d seen it, seen me in that way.
After the photo came out, education was the last thing on my mind, but when Hannah died, I gave up completely. For the next year, I did some work for my dad, which largely consisted of making him coffee and proofreading the latest draft of his novel, but for the most part, I spent my days in my room, my eyes red from crying, my mind exhausted from sleepless nights. The darkness took over – the grief at what Hannah had done, and the pain, the blinding, all-consuming pain that held me in its grip.
Slowly, life caught up with me, and I realised that my only hope was to leave this town for good. I applied to take my GCSEs and A level. . .
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