The Date: An unputdownable psychological thriller with a breathtaking twist

The Date

An unputdownable psychological thriller with a breathtaking twist

Louise Jensen

Also by Louise Jensen

Contents


It doesn’t matter how old we get, how big we grow, we all need a mum, don’t we?’

This book is for mine. With love.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar,

‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!

How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

But what shall we do for a ring?’

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood
a Piggy-wig stood

With a ring at the end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined
on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

EDWARD LEAR

SUNDAY

1

Something isn’t right.

I know that as soon as I wake from a thick, muddy sleep. I know that even before I am aware of the throbbing at my temples. It’s not the stab of disappointment I get every morning when I realise I’m not in bed with Matt, that I’m no longer living,
or welcome, in my own home. It’s something else. My head is pounding, thoughts cloudy, and the whole room feels as though it’s spinning.

Something is wrong.

There’s a sour smell in the room. A smell I can’t quite identify and, at first, I wonder if there’s someone in bed with me. I’ve a horrible sense of being watched, and not in the loving way Matt used to, when I’d open my eyes
and see him propped on one elbow, gazing at me as though I was the only girl in the world. This feels creepy. Goosebumps spring up on my arms. I should never have let Chrissy and Jules persuade me to go on a date. I’m not ready, and besides, I’m still clutching onto a kernel of hope that my marriage isn’t over. It was only last year Matt and I decided to try for a baby. My imagined future wrapped
itself around me like a blanket, cosy and warm. That was before he ripped my dreams away with one sharp yank, leaving me hollow and icy, icy cold.

My friends had rallied round, as good ones do, and a few weeks ago we sat drinking wine as they persuaded me to create a profile on a dating app.

‘I’m married!’ I protested.

‘Separated,’ Chrissy said, and she made it sound so final,
although neither Matt nor I had mentioned divorce. ‘It would be good for you. You never go out. You don’t have to take it seriously.’ She flashed a grin. ‘It’s just a bit of fun. The odd dinner or drink. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.’

‘Like set up a profile?’ I pulled a face as Jules read aloud from the home page of
Inside, Out
. ‘We don’t post photos until we’ve got to
know the person. “We’re all beautiful on the inside”.’ She mimed sticking two fingers down her throat, but then she’s off men too, separated like me. Chrissy is divorced. God knows why I take relationship advice from them. We are all a disaster.

‘God, that’s even worse,’ I said. ‘What if they’ve two heads or something?’

‘When was the last time you saw someone with two heads?’ Chrissy
laughed. ‘Besides, I thought you weren’t interested.’

‘I’m not,’ I said, and I hadn’t been, but I couldn’t help scrolling through the app. ‘What’s ISO love – answers JBY?’ It was like reading a menu in a foreign country.

‘In search of love. Just be yourself.’ Chrissy ripped open a bag of Doritos as she read over my shoulder. ‘Everyone uses acronyms. Avoid LIPB.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Living in parents’ basement. He’d probably keep you chained in the cellar!’ Chrissy popped off the lid from the jar of salsa.

‘We might never see you again. Can I have your Michael Kors tote?’ Jules asked. ‘It’s wasted on you anyway.’ That much was true. I had feigned excitement during my first Christmas with Matt as I tugged open the bow, pulled at metallic wrapping paper as stiff
as my smile, revealing the handbag that probably cost as much as my monthly food bill. I kissed him hard, indulging in the pretence, all the while wondering whether I should share with him why I was so uncomfortable receiving gifts. Of all the secrets I could reveal about myself, it was far from the worst.

‘I can’t go on a date,’ I protested. But what I really meant was, I won’t.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Chrissy asked, and before I could offer a list she spoke again. ‘You might meet someone BABWAHC.’

‘What’s that mean?’ I loaded a tortilla with chunks of tomato and peppers.

‘Buffed and bronze with a huge…’

‘You’re making these up!’ Laughing, I topped up our glasses and we spent the next couple of hours glued to our phones, sharing that
Andy, 32, liked to meet a variety of new and interesting people: ‘can’t keep it in his pants’, Chrissy said; and Lewis, 35, didn’t want to define himself by his job: ‘unemployed’, Jules declared.

Later, I had hesitated a fraction of a second too long over a profile of a guy who loved home-cooked roasts, dogs and fishing. ‘Boring,’ said Chrissy, but I thought he sounded normal. Safe, I suppose.
I was finding the thought of meeting a stranger utterly terrifying.

‘He seems…’ I hesitated ‘… kind.’ And that was all it had taken for Jules to snatch the phone and send the reply she’d known I never would, giving concrete shape to my nascent singleton status at the age of 28.

Now I really wish she hadn’t. The duvet compacts as I clutch it tightly, hands balled into fists, keeping
as motionless as I can. As quiet as I can, pretending I am still asleep, listening for the sound of movement. Of breathing. But all I can hear is the birdsong outside my window and it sounds so loud. How much did I drink last night? I’ve never had a headache like this before. I was supposed to be driving; I had thought that if I stuck to lemonade I would be calm and in control. Fleetingly, I wonder
where I left my car. Is it still outside Prism? It’s all a bit of a blur. I’d chosen Prism, thinking a town-centre bar was about as public as you could get, although it’s not quite my scene. I much prefer a country pub, but I hadn’t wanted to allude to romance. I swallow hard. My throat is raw, and when I press my neck lightly with my fingers it feels bruised.

Despite the softness of the
ancient mattress that sags beneath my weight, my shoulder is sore, and I gently touch it, feeling the skin torn and sticky beneath my fingertips. My lashes are clumped together with last night’s mascara and I have to prise my eyelids open. The sun is pushing through the crack in the curtains, and the spare bedroom I have been lodging in at Chrissy’s house since Matt and I separated is full of a
soft amber glow.

Pain slices through my skull as I sit up. I raise my hand gingerly to the side of my head. A lump. Did I fall over last night? It’s likely. I’ve always been clumsy, and I never did master the art of walking in heels. Prodding the wound as gently as I can, nausea crashes over me in sickening waves and I have the sensation of falling. Quickly lowering my hands to steady myself,
I see it.

The blood.

Holding my palms in front of my face, I study them as though I’ve never seen them before, slowly turning them over. They are coated red, dried blood encrusted around my fingernails. It must have come from the cut on my head. No wonder I feel so ill. My gaze travels towards my wrists and I am alarmed to notice a smattering of small, circular angry bruises. I trail
the fingertips of my left hand over my right forearm. There are four bruises, for four fingers? They are bigger than my fingertips, and as I turn my arm over I find a larger thumbprint and I know I have been restrained. Fear sweeps through me as my eyes dart around the room, reassuring myself I am alone. Why is there a blank space where my memories should be?

I yank back the covers, swinging
my legs out of bed as though I can escape. But I’ve moved too fast. It feels as though the mattress is rocking. I close my eyes and wait for the queasiness – almost masked by the jackhammer in my head – to pass, and when it does, I slowly scan the room, searching my scant possessions for anything out of the ordinary. My clothes are scattered. Bra dangling from the wardrobe door handle as though
it has been tossed there, tights balled up under the chair which is heaped with laundry I’ve yet to put away. The room is a mess, but that’s not unusual. There’s no sign of anyone else and, as I look at the pillow next to me, there is no tell-tale indent indicating someone has slept here. I run my hand over the sheet next to me. It’s cool.

I fumble around on my bedside table, where – no
matter how drunk I am – I always toss my mobile, and there’s the usual array of loose change and tissues,
Marie Claire
magazine,
The Ladybird Book of Dating
Chrissy bought me – which should have made me laugh but some pages made me cry – but no phone. Where’s my bag? I can’t see it on the chair. Gingerly I stand but, even with my tortoise movements, the room tilts and sways under my feet and I
stumble forward, landing heavily on my knees. Tears spring to my eyes as I rest back on my ankles, rubbing my kneecaps. The skin is pink and grazed.

Stretching out my hands I gather the clothes I wore last night. My thick winter coat is filthy and damp – at least that accounts for the smell. The bottle green strapless dress is torn along the seam. My cream scarf splattered with mud; the
matching gloves appear to be missing, along with my black shoes with the pointy heels and silver bows. As I unravel my tights I see they are laddered and torn, and I am crying now. Heaving sobs I can’t contain.

What has happened to me? Why can’t I remember anything? The question circles my mind but, even as I ask myself, I think the worst. Have I been raped? By the man I met online? But
I really don’t feel as though I’ve had sex, consensual or otherwise, and I’d know, wouldn’t I?

Wouldn’t I?

The question slams into me. Bile rises, stinging the back of my throat, a deluge of saliva streaming into my mouth. I only just make it to the bathroom before I splatter the toilet bowl with vomit. Every tiny movement hurts my head, my stomach muscles cramping until at last
I think the worst is over. Sitting back on my heels I unravel a handful of toilet roll and wipe my mouth.

I am shaking all over. Trembling so violently my teeth clatter together. Bare feet freezing against the bathroom tiles; legs boneless as I heft myself upright. I feel weighted with a sense of dread and I stand stock still, for a moment, trying to recall last night, but beyond the flashing
coloured lights and the boom of the bass there’s nothing. My head lolls, too heavy for my neck, and I’m so woozy I need to lie down again, but there’s a horrible taste in my mouth and the urge to clean my teeth drives me towards the sink. As I reach for my toothbrush I pause, momentarily wondering if I am about to spoil evidence. Evidence of what? The question is cold and sharp, and I shove
it away, but the caustic voice inside my head won’t shut up. I’m barely holding it together. As though I can wash away my morbid thoughts I twist on the tap and hold my quivering hands underneath the cool water, watching it flow clear, at first, then turning crimson as the caked blood begins to soften, spinning like a tornado before it gurgles down the plughole. There is something else under my fingernails.
Dirt? Blood? Instinctively I grab the nailbrush and scrub at my nails until they are pink, but I still feel dirty. Clean. I long to feel clean. As I shake the excess water from my hands my gaze is drawn upwards to the mirror.

The sight of my reflection triggers an overwhelming onslaught of fear and confusion, my breath sticking in my throat, until I force it out as one long scream. I tell
myself I must be asleep. This has to be a nightmare. It
has
to be.

But it isn’t.

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