Oh God, there’s nothing like your mother’s sympathetic voice to make you want to burst into tears.

“Well,” I say, in a slightly uncertain voice. “Things have been better. I’m just. . in a bit of a difficult situation at the moment. But it’ll be all right in the end.” I give a small shrug and look away.

“Because. .” She lowers her voice even more. “Your father isn’t as old-fashioned as he seems. And I know that if it were a case of us looking after a. . a little one, while you pursued your career. .”


“Mum, don’t worry!” I exclaim sharply. “I’m not pregnant!”

“I never said you were,” she says, and flushes a little. “I just wanted to offer you our support.”

My parents watch too many soap operas, that’s their trouble. In fact, they were probably hoping I was pregnant. By my wicked married lover whom they could then murder and bury under the patio.

And what’s this “offer you our support” business, anyway? My mum would never have said that before she started watching Ricki Lake.

“Well, come on,” she says. “Let’s sit you down with a nice cup of tea.”

And so I follow her into the kitchen, and we all sit down with a cup of tea. And I have to say, it is very nice. Hot strong tea and a chocolate bourbon biscuit. Perfect. I close my eyes and take a few sips, and then open them again, to see both my parents gazing at me with naked curiosity all over their faces. Immediately my mother changes her expression to a smile, and my father gives a little cough — but I can tell, they are gagging to know what’s wrong.

“So,” I say cautiously, and both their heads jerk up. “You’re both well, are you?”

“Oh yes,” says my mother. “Yes, we’re fine.”

There’s another silence.

“Becky?” says my father gravely, and both Mum and I swivel to face him. “Are you in some kind of trouble we should know about? Only tell us if you want to,” he adds hastily. “And I want you to know — we’re there for you.”

That’s another bloody Ricki Lake — ism, too. My parents should really get out more.

“Are you all right, darling?” says Mum gently — and she sounds so kind and understanding that, in spite of myself, I find myself putting down my cup with a bit of a clatter and saying “To tell you the truth, I am in a spot of bother. I didn’t want to worry you, so I haven’t said anything before now. .” I can feel tears gathering in my eyes.

“What is it?” says Mum in a panicky voice. “You’re on drugs, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not on drugs!” I exclaim. “I’m just. . It’s just that I. . I’m. .” I take a deep gulp of tea. This is even harder than I thought it would be. Come on, Rebecca, just say it.

I close my eyes and clench my hand tightly around my mug.

“The truth is. .” I say slowly.

“Yes?” says Mum.

“The truth is. .” I open my eyes. “I’m being stalked. By a man called. . called Derek Smeath.”

There’s silence apart from a long hiss as my father sucks in breath.

“I knew it!” says my mother in a sharp, brittle voice. “I knew it! I knew there was something wrong!”

“We all knew there was something wrong!” says my father, and rests his elbows heavily on the table. “How long has this been going on, Becky?”

“Oh, ahm. . months now,” I say, staring into my tea. “It’s just. . pestering, really. It’s not serious or anything. But I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

“And who is this Derek Smeath?” says Dad. “Do we know him?”

“I don’t think so. I came across him. . I came across him through work.”

“Of course you did!” says Mum. “A young, pretty girl like you, with a high-profile career. . I knew this was going to happen!”

“Is he another journalist?” says Dad, and I shake my head.

“He works for Endwich Bank. He does things like. . like phone up and pretend he’s in charge of my bank account. He’s really convincing.”

There’s silence while my parents digest this and I eat another chocolate bourbon.

“Well,” says Mum at last. “I think we’ll have to phone the police.”

“No!” I exclaim, spluttering crumbs all over the table. “I don’t want the police! He’s never threatened me or anything. In fact, he’s not really a stalker at all. He’s just a pain. I thought if I disappeared for a while. .”

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