Remember Me at Willoughby Close (Return to Willoughby Close #4) by Kate Hewitt

Chapter One





“This place stinks.”

Laura Neale kept the smile on her face with cheery determination as she turned to face her fourteen-year-old daughter. Maggie had yanked the earbuds from her ears as an expression of her discontent and now stood scowling in the centre of their new home, her smartphone clenched in one hand.

Carefully Laura closed the door on number three, Willoughby Close. The moving van had just left, the place was full of boxes, and their almost ten-year-old golden retriever, Perry, was making small whimpers of agitation. He didn’t like change. Neither, apparently, did her daughter. Yet here they were, and Laura was determined to make it work. Make it good.

“What about it stinks?” she asked lightly as she gave Perry a comforting stroke. The grief counsellor had told her to reflect emotions back to her children, and make sure they understood she was actively listening to them. The concept, which sounded so helpful in theory, tended to fill Maggie with rage, but Laura persevered because she didn’t know what else to do. Surely it would start working at some point.

“Everything,” Maggie stormed, case in point. “What doesn’t stink about it?” She flung her arms out to encompass the open-plan living area, which Laura thought was rather nice, if a bit small: a galley kitchen of granite and chrome in the corner, French windows overlooking a little terrace and garden—now covered in a glittering January frost—and a living area with a woodburning stove that promised to be cosy when lit, their two sofas framing it.

“Maggie, I know it’s different,” Laura said, pitching her tone somewhere between bracing and sympathetic. “And it’s smaller than our house back in Woodbridge, certainty.” She gave a commiserating smile, which made Maggie fume all the more. “We’ll get used to it,” she said as something of a last resort, and Maggie threw her arms up in the air before stomping off, except there was nowhere really to stomp off to. She stood by the cooker, her back pointedly to her mother.

Laura didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh at this pointless show of defiance. She decided to do neither as she turned to her other child, eleven-year-old Sam, with as much optimism as she could muster. “What do you think, Sam?” she asked, injecting a slightly manic note of cheer into her voice that she found herself often adopting, to make up for Maggie’s mood.

Sam didn’t even glance up from the screen of his iPad, where he was constructing some kind of trap for cows on Minecraft. “Um…it’s okay.” He’d walked into the house without looking at anything, and had been sat on the sofa, amidst a mountain of boxes, ever since.

“High praise, indeed.” Laura bent down to fondle Perry’s ears. “It’s all right, Per,” she murmured. “This is your new home.”

“Even the dog doesn’t like this place,” Maggie proclaimed in a tone of ringing contempt. This time Laura couldn’t hold the sigh in.

“He’ll get used to it, Maggie.”

“Well, I won’t,” her daughter declared, and then, for want of anywhere else to go, flounced upstairs.

Laura decided to enjoy the moment’s peace rather than worry too much about her daughter’s theatrics. There was, she knew, no point in reminding Maggie that they’d all agreed to this move two months ago, when Granny and Grandad had suggested they move closer to their house in Burford, and life in Woodbridge had started to feel so bleak, none of them able to clamber out from under the cloud of grief they’d been living with for just over a year.

“We miss Tim so much,” Pamela had told Laura, the threat of tears thickening her voice. “Having his children close by would be such a comfort.” No mention of what a comfort it would be to have their daughter-in-law close by as well, but Laura chose not to mind. Her in-laws were grieving. Tim had been their only child. And in any case, her relationship with them had always been slightly prickly.

When Laura had suggested the move to Maggie and Sam, they’d looked surprised, and then thoughtful. A new start might have been what they all needed, and her children were aware enough to know it.

“We could see Granny and Grandad more?” Sam had asked eagerly, because her in-laws tended to spoil them with presents, sweets and unlimited screen time. The other grandparent option was slightly less appealing—Laura’s father lived in a semi-squalid caravan in Cornwall and was an indifferent host at best, and her mother had died before they’d been born, when Laura was only in her twenties. She still missed her, missed having her wisdom as well as her humour. Her dad, unfortunately, offered little of either.