Today's Reading

PAST

My office is small, perfect and minimalist. It's decorated in calming shades of gray, with just two chairs; a cocoon-style gray one for my clients and a pale leather one for me. There's a small table placed to the right of my chair for my notepad, and on the wall, a line of hooks to hang coats, and that's it. My relaxation treatment room is through a door on the left. The walls there are the palest of pinks and there are no windows, just two ornate lamps that cast a golden glow over the massage table.

Through the slatted blind shading the window of my office, I can see anyone who comes to the door. I'm waiting for my new client to arrive, hoping she'll be punctual. If she's late—well, that will be a black mark against her.

She arrives two minutes late, which I can forgive. She runs up the steps, looking around her anxiously as she rings on the bell, her shoulders hunched up around her ears, worried that someone might recognize her. Which is unnecessary, because there is no plaque on the wall advertising my services.

I let her in, tell her to make herself comfortable. She sits down in the chair, places her handbag at her feet. She's dressed in a navy skirt and white blouse, her hair tied back in a neat ponytail, as if she's come for a job interview. She's right to treat it as such. I don't take just anyone. The fit has to be right.

I ask her if she's warm enough. I like to have the window open, but spring hasn't quite shifted into summer yet and I've had to put the heating on. I gaze out of the window, giving her time to settle, my attention caught by an airplane trailing through the sky. There's a polite cough, and I turn my attention back to my client.

I angle my body toward her and, in full therapist mode, ask the standard questions. The first meeting, in some ways, is the most boring.

"This doesn't feel right,'" 'she says, when I'm only halfway through.

I look up from my pad, where I've been taking notes.

"I want you to know, and remember, that anything you say in this room is confidential," I tell her.

She nods. "It's just I feel incredibly guilty. What could I have to feel unhappy about? I have everything I want."

I jot the words "happiness" and "guilt" on my pad, then lean forward and stare directly into her eyes.

"Do you know what Henry David Thoreau believed? 'Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder."

She smiles, relaxes. I knew she'd like that one.


CHAPTER ONE

The sound of excited voices draws me away from the box of books I'm unpacking. It has been so quiet all day that it's hard to believe I'm actually in London. Back in Harlestone, there would have been familiar external noises; birds, the occasional car or tractor, sometimes a horse going past. Here, in The Circle, everything is silent. Even with the windows open there's been only the occasional sound. It isn't what I was expecting, which I guess is a good thing.

From the upstairs window in Leo's study, I look down to the road outside. A woman with a white-blond pixie cut, wearing shorts and a vest top, is hugging another woman, tall, slim, with coppery red hair. I know the smaller woman is our neighbor, I saw her late last night outside number 5, pulling suitcases from the back of a car with a man. The other woman I haven't seen before. But she looks as if she belongs here, with her perfectly fitting navy jeans and crisp white T-shirt hugging the contours of her toned upper body. I should move away, because if they look up at the house, they might see me standing here. But my need for company is too strong, so I stay where I am.

"I was going to call in on the way back from my run, I promise!" the small woman is saying.

The tall woman shakes her head, but there's a smile in her voice. "Not good enough, Eve. I was expecting you yesterday."

Eve—so that's her name—laughs. "It was ten in the evening by the time we arrived, way too late to disturb you. When did you get back?"

"Saturday, in time for the children going back to school today."
...

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