‘It’s looking lovely in here.’
Alex sat on the sofa in Chloe’s living room drinking a cup of tea. The last time she had been over to the house had been about six weeks earlier, when Chloe had still been in the process of moving in. Chloe hadn’t had many material possessions, so moving from Alex’s house into her own rented home had been fairly straightforward and hassle-free. The emotional impact of moving was something both women knew might prove a little trickier to manage. Chloe hadn’t lived alone since the attack earlier that year and she was still having nightmares from her ordeal, but she had known she couldn’t rely on Alex forever.
Alex glanced at the windowsill, where a framed photograph of Chloe and her boyfriend Scott stood. The photo had been taken sometime during the summer; Chloe was wearing a strappy dress and Scott was looking at her as though she was the only person in the world. No one had ever looked at Alex in that way, or if they had, it had happened too long ago for her to be able to recall.
‘How long before he moves in, then?’ she asked with a smile.
Chloe rolled her eyes. ‘Bit soon for that. I don’t think he could cope with some of my bad habits. You can warn him if the time ever comes.’
‘Must be nice to have your own space back.’
Alex smiled. She knew what Chloe meant. The young detective constable had worked and lived with her for the previous eight months, but Alex took no offence at her appreciating her own space back. Chloe was twenty-seven; she needed her independence. Alex had thought she would feel the same, yet Chloe’s moving out had only served to highlight an emptiness that she feared she would never be able to fill alone.
‘Handy for work, too.’
Chloe was living now only five minutes from the police station, an easy walk into work. The terraced house overlooked the river and stood in an area far more built up than the flat in which she had previously lived before moving in with Alex. It seemed she had made the decision to surround herself with life, and placing herself near the safety of the station seemed no coincidence either.
‘Yeah, I have wondered about that, though. Bit too easy, maybe.’
Alex finished her tea and stood. ‘You’re still welcome to come over whenever you want, you know that, don’t you? I’m already missing your veggie lasagne.’
‘Charming,’ Chloe said, taking the empty mug from her. ‘You just miss me for my cooking.’
‘I’ll bring some food parcels to the station for you.’
Alex left Chloe’s house and drove home to her own. It was already dark, the nights now drawing in early, and only the string of headlights that ran along the A470 gave away the fact that it was still rush hour and not the depths of night-time. Less than fifteen minutes later, she pulled up outside her house and cut the engine. She lived in the imposing semi that had once been her marital home, and it seemed bigger now she lived there alone once again. In the first couple of months on her own, she had lost count of the number of times she’d felt this way upon returning to the place: not wanting to go inside; dreading the long hours that stretched between night and morning, dragging her along amid their quietness.
She took her bag from the passenger seat beside her and got out of the car, slinging it over her shoulder. Chloe had had the right idea, she thought. Leaving everything behind and starting again seemed an increasingly appealing option. She wondered whether she might be able to do the same. Would she be brave enough? She didn’t need all this space to herself, and besides, there were too many ghosts in this place. Even from the pavement she could almost feel them waiting there, watching her. If she left, would they follow?
Pushing her bag further onto her shoulder, she fumbled with her keys as she tried to find the one for the front door. Before making her way up the steps, she could already feel something was wrong. An unsettling sense of unease fell over her and she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had invaded her private space. The feeling was quickly justified. Streaked across the front door, in lurid red letters that had run in bloody tears like something from a horror film, was the word ‘WHORE’, spray-painted in angry capitals that seemed to scream at her.
She stopped on the path, halted by the assault on her home. She turned to look behind her, as though the person responsible might still be there, then hurried back down the steps and looked up and down the street. She knew doing so was pointless – whoever had done this was now long gone – but the wave of unease that had swelled in her chest at the sight of the graffiti made her feel in that moment that she was no longer alone, that someone might still be there, waiting to witness her reaction. The irony of her thoughts struck her: hadn’t she just been lamenting her recent isolation?
She returned to the house and went inside. She turned on the hallway light before closing the front door and double-checking the lock was firmly fixed in place behind her. She hadn’t wanted to be alone, yet the thought of someone else being inside the house with her now filled her with an unsettling doubt.
Be careful what you wish for, she thought.