If You Knew My Sister by Michelle Adams is a debut novel of psychological suspense where a woman returns to her family's home to learn the truth and escape her sister's influence (available October 3, 2017).
If you knew my sister, you’d run too…
First, there was the Robert Kneel incident.
Then what happened to Margot Wolfe.
And now she’s found me again.
Dr. Irini Harringford was given away by her parents just before her fourth birthday. Although she has spent her whole life trying to convince herself she doesn't need them, deep down Irini longs to understand why she was abandoned, while her parents kept her older sister, Elle.
So when Elle gets in touch with news that their mother has died, Irini reluctantly agrees to return to the family home. But she is ill at ease. She and Elle are not close. Irini knows only too well what Elle is capable of. Inexplicably drawn to her enigmatic sister, yet terrified of the sway she holds, Irini tries to protect herself even as she is sucked back into her family's toxic web of secrets…and soon realizes that the past is more complicated than she imagined, and that her very future rests upon discovering the truth about why she was really given away.
The buzzing of my telephone is like the scuttling of a cockroach underneath the bed. No real danger, yet still I am terrified. The same fear that a knock on the door just before bedtime brings, always bad news, or a murderer there to live out a fantasy. I look back and see Antonio sleeping by my side, naked save for a white sheet draped over his hip like an unfastened toga. His breath glides in and out, comfortable, at peace. I know the dreams that come to him are good, because he smacks his lips and his muscles twitch like a contented baby. I glance at the red numbers glowing on the alarm clock: 2.02 a.m., a warning sign.
I reach for the phone, my movements slow, and glance at the screen. Unknown number. I press the green button to answer the call and hear the bright, cheerful voice. But it’s a lie, designed to fool or blind. ‘Hi, it’s me. Hello?’ It waits for an answer. ‘Can you hear me?’
I pull the sheet higher, protecting myself as a chill spreads across my skin. I cover my breasts, the left of which hangs just a bit lower than the right. The beauty of fifteen degrees of scoliosis. It is Elle’s voice I hear, the one I knew it would be. The last remaining connection to a past I have tried to forget. Yet still, even after six years of absence she has managed to scramble up the walls of the chasm I have gouged between us, wriggle her way back in like a worm through mud and find me.
I reach up, turn on the lamp, illuminating the darkest monster-filled corners of the room. When I raise the phone to my ear I can still hear her breathing, creeping out of the shadows, waiting for me to speak.
I roll away from Antonio, wince as my hip throbs with the movement. ‘What do you want?’ I ask, trying to sound confident. I have learnt not to be polite, not to engage. It helps not to encourage her.
‘To talk to you, so don’t you dare hang up. Why are you whispering?’ I hear her giggle, like we are friends, like this is just a normal conversation between silly teenage girls. But it isn’t. We both know it. I should hang up despite her threat, but I can’t. It’s already too late for that.
‘It’s the middle of the night.’ I can hear the quiver in my voice. I’m shivering. I swallow hard.
There’s a rustle as she checks the clock. Where is she now? What does she want this time? ‘Actually, it’s the early hours of the morning, but whatever.’
‘What do you want?’ I ask again, aware that she is picking at my skin, creeping under the layers.
Elle is my sister. My only sister from a previous life from which I have kept few memories. The memories I do have are blurry, as if I am looking back through a window drenched in heavy rain. I’m not even sure if they represent reality any more. Twenty-nine years is a long time for them to morph, transform into something else.
My second life, the one I am stuck in now, began when I was three years old. It was a bright spring day; the frosts of winter had melted and the animals in the nearby woods were venturing from their dens for the first time. I was wrapped in a thick woollen coat, so many layers of clothes that my joints were immobile. The woman who had given birth to me pulled red woollen mittens on to my hands without saying a word. What a three-year-old remembers.
She carried me along a dry, muddy path intersected by grass until we arrived at a waiting car up ahead. I was a late developer, and parts of me, like my hip (a poorly formed socket held together by loose, stringy tendons), hadn’t really developed at all. I hadn’t managed the whole walking thing. I didn’t put up a fight when she pushed me into the back seat and strapped me in. At least I don’t think I did. Maybe I don’t really remember anything, and this is all just a trick of the mind, to make me feel that I have a past. A life where I had parents. A past with somebody other than Elle.
Sometimes I think I can remember my mother’s face: like mine, only older, redder, wrinkles like a spider’s web weaving around her lips. Other times I’m not so sure. But I’m sure that she didn’t offer any last-minute advice to be a good girl, no quick kiss on the cheek to tide me over. I would have remembered that, wouldn’t I? She slammed the car door, stepped back, and my aunt and uncle drove me away from her like it was the most normal thing in the world. And even then I knew something was over. I had been given away, cast out, dumped.
‘Are you listening to me, Irini? I told you I want to talk to you.’ Her sharp voice comes through quick as a blade, wrenching me back to the present.
‘What about?’ I whisper, knowing that it has already begun again. I can feel her on me, slithering back into place.
I listen as she draws in a breath, trying to calm herself. ‘How long is it since we spoke?’
I edge further away from Antonio. I don’t want to wake him up. ‘Elle, it’s two in the morning. I have work tomorrow. I don’t have time for this now.’ It’s a pathetic attempt, but I have to try. One last effort to keep her away.
‘Liar,’ she spits. And I know that’s it, I’ve done it. I have made her angry. I throw the covers off, swing my feet out of the bed and brush my fringe from my eyes. My pulse is racing as I grip the phone to my ear. ‘It’s Sunday tomorrow. You don’t have work.’
‘Please, just tell me what you want.’
‘It’s Mum.’ The word jars me when she uses it so casually. Drops it like a friend might use a nickname. It feels alien, makes me feel exposed. Mum, she says. As if I know her. As if somehow she belongs to me.
‘What about her?’ I whisper.
Moments pass before I breathe. She’s gone, I think. I’ve lost her again. I cover my mouth with a sweaty palm. Elle waits for a response, but when I offer nothing she eventually asks, ‘Well, are you going to come to the funeral?’
It’s a reasonable question, but one for which I have no answer. Because to me, mother is nothing more than an idea, a childish hope. A dream. But my nagging curiosity spurs me on. There are things I need to know.
‘I guess,’ I stutter.
‘Don’t force yourself. It’s not like they’d miss you if you didn’t.’
I wish that didn’t hurt, but the knowledge that my presence would not be missed is a painful reminder of reality even after all these years. ‘So why ask me to come?’ I say, aware that my mask of confidence is slipping.
‘Because I need you there.’ She speaks as if she is surprised I don’t already understand, as if she doesn’t know that I dodge her phone calls, or that I’ve changed my number twenty-three times, and moved house, just to stop her from finding me. Six years I have kept the distance, my best run yet. But she weakens me, and to be needed by her makes me limp. Pliable. ‘And you still owe me, Irini. Or have you forgotten the things I’ve done for you?’
She’s right. I do owe her. How could I have forgotten? Our parents might have given me away, but Elle never accepted it. She has spent her life clawing her way back to me, her presence littering my past like debris after a storm. ‘No, I haven’t forgotten,’ I admit, as I turn and take a look at Antonio still fast asleep. I squeeze my eyes shut, as if I can make it all go away. I’m not here. You can’t see me. Childish. A tear sneaks out as I clench the sheet tight in my fist. I want to ask her how she got my number this time. Somebody must have it. Maybe Aunt Jemima, the only mother figure I have ever known. If she was still taking my calls I could contact her to ask. Let her know what I think of this latest familial betrayal.
‘Call me tomorrow if you are coming,’ Elle says. ‘I hope you can. Don’t make me come to London to find you myself.’ She hangs up the phone before I have a chance to answer.
Copyright © 2017 Michelle Adams.
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Michelle Adams is a British writer living abroad in Cyprus. She is a part-time scientist and has published several science fiction novels under a pseudonym, including a YA dystopian series. If You Knew My Sister (published as My Sister in the UK) is her first psychological thriller.