Today's Reading

It wasn't just the fancy rug that took some getting used to. The cottage we were renting was also a reflection of what we found ourselves newly able to afford. The weekly rate had seemed eye-watering to me when Dan first proposed the idea, an insult to my natural inclination to be economical and unflashy, but Dan had insisted that we needed to be here.

"You can't do the final push on this book in the flat," he'd said with an irritating air of authority, honed for years on the subjects of writing and the creative process, but recently applied more frequently to our domestic life. "It's too claustrophobic. We'll be on top of each other."

He was right, and I knew it, but I loved writing in our cozy one-bed flat with its views of the little row of shops opposite, and the smells from the bakery wafting across the street every morning. And I felt superstitious. I'd written all my books so far in that flat. What if a change of routine affected my writing? What if it signaled that I had gotten above myself? Everyone knows that tall poppies are the first to be decapitated.

But even as those anxieties raised a swarm of butterflies in my stomach, I knew I had to take Dan's wishes carefully into consideration because he worked full-time for me now, and it made the issue of who had the power in our household a delicate one. I tried to think of how to frame my objections to renting the cottage in a way that wouldn't upset him, but I got tongue-tied. Words flow for me when I'm writing, but they can stick in my throat like a hairball when I have to speak up for myself.

Dan softened his tone to deliver the winning line: "We can easily afford it, I've looked at the numbers, and imagine being in the countryside...by the ocean, too. It'll be so good for us." I was susceptible to emotional blackmail, and to the potential for romance. Writing is a lonely job, as I've said. I also had to trust him on the money, because he managed my finances for me. Trying to grapple with taxes and columns of numbers plunged me into panic.

I agreed to rent the place and watched him click "Book Now," but as he did, I had the strange feeling that life had somehow just shifted a little bit beyond my control.

There's something else I should mention, in the spirit of full disclosure.

On paper, ours was a nice, mutually beneficial, privileged arrangement where I would write a thriller each year and continue to rake in the money, and Dan would provide all the support I needed, but there was a large and rather revolting fly stuck in the ointment, its legs twitching occasionally.

The fly was this: Being my assistant wasn't the life Dan had dreamed of. He'd wanted to be a bestselling author, too.


I.

On the night Teddy disappears, you wait until midnight before trying to leave the house. You're eager to get going because dawn will break in just a few hours and it's only until then that the spirits will be out, moving among real people, making mischief, playing tricks.

You know what happens on the summer solstice because you researched it in the library. You are a very able nine-year-old. "Exceptionally bright," your teacher wrote in your report. "Reading and writing to a level well beyond her age."

Your bedroom door creaks and the noise cuts right through you. You count to ten and nothing happens, so you think you're safe, and you step out onto the landing, but Teddy's door opens when you're right outside it.

"What are you doing?" he says.

You shush him, hustle him into his bedroom, helping him back into bed, nestling his blankie by his head the way he likes it.

"Go back to sleep," you whisper. You stroke his hair. He puts his thumb into his mouth and sucks. His eyelids droop. You force yourself to stay there until you're sure he's gone back to sleep. 

You've just crept over to his bedroom door when he says, "Lucy, I want you."

Your fingers clench. You very badly want to go out into the woods. You've been planning this for weeks. You turn around. He looks sweet, lying there.'

"Do you think you can be really quiet?" you say.

"Teddy can be quiet." He refers to himself in the third person more often than not. Later, someone will say it's as if he always knew he wouldn't be with us for long.

"Don't take him with you," Eliza says in your head. Your imaginary friend always has an opinion.

"He'll cry if I don't," you reply silently, "and wake up Mum and
Dad."

"Then you can't go."

That's not an option you want to consider. You hold out your hand
and Teddy's eyes brighten.

"Do you want to come on an adventure?" you ask him.
...

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