Everyone has secrets. Even those who seem to be perfect…
On a rainy October evening, Cecilia Wilborg – loving wife, devoted mother, tennis club regular – is waiting for her kids to finish their swimming lesson. It’s been a long day. She can almost taste the crisp, cold glass of Chablis she’ll pour for herself once the girls are tucked up in bed.
But what Cecilia doesn’t know, is that this is the last time life will feel normal. Tonight she’ll be asked to drop a little boy home, a simple favour that will threaten to expose her deepest, darkest secret…
Tuesday is a crap day in my world. Especially now that Marialuz has decided to leave us halfway through her contract and I’m stuck with no au pair. It’s like you can’t win with those people. I don’t particularly enjoy having a stranger in the house but I most certainly don’t enjoy having to do all the work myself either. It just isn’t possible. Especially on Tuesdays, when the girls both have after-school activities in opposite parts of town. Nicoline dances ballet at five, and Hermine swims at six. Because Nicoline finishes as six thirty p.m. I then have to drive into town to collect her, and bring her back to the pool, where we sit on ugly plastic chairs watching small children bob around in the water until seven fifteen. Nicoline whines for the full half hour we’re there, unless I let her watch YouTube makeup tutorials on my phone and buy her candy, which I do. Obviously.
Tonight I’m in a particularly stressed-out, irritable mood, as things didn’t exactly go to plan at work. I bend over backwards for my clients, sometimes literally, and still they complain. Angela Salomonsen had the nerve to email me today, saying that the violet raw-silk cushions I commissioned handmade in Lyon look dove-gray in the particular light of her conservatory, and could I call her immediately so we could discuss this situation. These are the kinds of things I have to deal with as interior stylist in a wealthy town full of spoilt, bored wives. Sometimes I think it is a miracle that I work at all, considering I have two small children and my husband is always traveling and I have no au pair. It’s not really like I have to, but I quite like what I do, and being me is very expensive. Also, in my circles, it’s definitely looked upon as a bit lazy to stay at home. Unless you have a cupcake business from the kitchen counter and blog about it, which I don’t, as I hate cupcakes and blogs.
It’s raining hard outside, and as I watch volleys of rain slam against the floor-to-ceiling windows beyond the pool, it occurs to me that I don’t remember the last day it didn’t rain. I suppose October is like that in many places, but I think I’m one of those people who is particularly sensitive to dreary skies and wet wind – I am a Taurus, and I prefer my surroundings to be beautiful at all times.
A little boy catches my eye as the children line up at the one-meter diving board. I’m not sure why. He’s significantly smaller than the other children and his skin is a deep olive-brown and smooth. He’s bouncing up and down on his heels, rubbing his arms, but his face is completely void of the goofy expressions of the other children waiting their turn. He looks frightened. I look around at the other parents who are waiting in the steamy, overheated room for someone who might be the boy’s parents – I don’t remember seeing him here before.
There’s chubby Sara’s fat mother who I always try not to have to talk to – I’ve heard from several people that she’s really needy and the last thing I need is some cling-on mummy friend. There’s Emrik’s father – a good-looking guy I went to school with back in the day who is now a police officer, and who I occasionally glance up at before quickly looking away. I can feel his eyes on me now but wait ten seconds longer than I want to before meeting his eyes. I give him a very faint smile and he immediately returns it, like a grateful puppy. I’m a good girl these days, though it doesn’t come easily to me; there was a time when I would have felt giddy with excitement at this little game, perhaps easing the top button of my blouse open, running my tongue slowly along the backs of my teeth. I scan the few remaining people for the little boy’s parents, now pointedly ignoring Emrik’s dad’s wanting gaze.
There are the grandparents of Hermine’s best friend from school, Amalie, sitting closely together and sharing biscuits from an old, faded, red cake tin. There is also a slim, ginger woman sitting close to the door, a heat flush creeping across her freckled white chest. She, too, is watching the boy intently, and I suppose she must be the mother, though it faintly surprises me that she must have had the child with someone pretty ethnic; the kid is so dark the father must be even darker, and she doesn’t immediately strike me as someone with such exotic tastes.
There’s nobody else here; I imagine the other parents are out in the parking lot, preferring their own rain-battered cocoons and a newspaper to listening to kids’ screeching voices cutting through the clammy, hot air.
Finally, Hermine’s class finishes after two rather underwhelming attempts at diving, and she walks over to where Nicoline and I are sitting.
‘Did you see that?’ She beams, exposing the wide, fleshy gash in her mouth from six simultaneously missing teeth.
‘Fabulous,’ I say, standing up, gathering our things together and nudging Nicoline, who is watching a ten-year-old in America apply a thick layer of foundation before expertly contouring her elfin face. ‘Hurry up in the changing rooms. We’ll wait in the foyer.’
Hermine does not hurry up in the changing rooms, and Nicoline and I wait impatiently in the brick-clad foyer, staring out at columns of rain moving back and forth across the parking lot like dancers in a ballroom. I keep checking my watch and it’s already past 7.30 when Hermine appears, freshly blow-dried and with a lick of pink lip gloss in spite of the fact that she’s about to step into a torrent.
I can practically feel the thin, cool stem of the wine glass in my hand and am slightly hysterical at the thought of having to deal with the girls for much longer today. They begin to argue over something as we walk out the door, and over the sounds of their high-pitched
squabbling and the crash of the rain, I don’t pick out the other sound until I’ve taken several steps outside. I briefly turn around, and there is the receptionist, an older, tired-looking woman with tight gray curls and a sweater that reads ‘Happy Halloween’. She’s shouting my name into the downpour, motioning for me to come back inside, and it’s so typical – one of the girls must have left something behind.
‘Cecilia, right?’ she asks as I step back inside, already drenched. I notice the little boy again, the one who’d caught my eye at the pool. He’s sitting on a bench, staring at the floor, his hair dripping onto the brown tiles.
‘I… I was wondering if you could possibly take this little boy home? Nobody has come for him.’
‘What do you mean, nobody’s come for him?’
Thank you, Alex Dahl and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Alex Dahl is a half-American, half-Norwegian author. Born in Oslo, she wrote The Boy at the Door while living in Sandefjord.