Published: 14th August 2014
It was the day when everything stopped, and something started that was quite different, that couldn't be controlled or shaped or ended.
At quarter past two on a hot afternoon in August, Anna's beautiful, headstrong older sister, Rose, disappears.
Twenty years later, and Anna still doesn't know whether Rose is alive or dead. In her early thirties now, she sees her life unfolding - with sensible, serious Martin and a grown-up, steady job - and finds herself wondering if this is really what she wants.
Unable to take control of her life while the mystery of her sister's disappearance remains unsolved, Anna begins to search for the truth: what did happen to Rose that summer's day?
Prologue sneak peek:
It was the day when everything stopped, and something started that was quite different, that couldn’t be controlled or shaped or ended. From then on, a ringing telephone could terrify; a knock on the front door could numb the house into petrification.
Prompted at first by her parents, then by the police, and ever after by her own search for overlooked significance, Anna went over and over the events of the morning, the lunch time, and her parting from Rose. She replayed and replayed until she couldn’t tell if she was really remem-bering what happened. Maybe she was only recalling memories.
For Anna it had started as an uneventful weekday in the summer holidays, a Wednesday. Mum and Dad were at work, and the girls spent most of the morning in Rose’s room, Rose sketching with the radio on, Anna sprawled on the bed, reading. Early haze cleared to unbroken sunshine; after a sandwich lunch, Rose fetched the garden lounger from the garage and put it under the pear tree, then sat sideways to paint her toenails before settling with a book.
Bored with being at home, Anna decided to go the shops.
‘See you later,’ she called from the back door, and Rose, already engrossed, replied without looking up. What were her exact words? Anna couldn’t remember, though in the days to come she strained to hear, squeezing her eyes tight shut to open her ears to the echo of what she’d missed. Rose had said nothing, she was sure, about going out, or meeting anyone. She looked as if she intended to stay all afternoon in the quiet of the garden, reading and sleeping in the tree’s dappled shade.
Asked what time this was, Anna thought it must have been about a quarter past two, because the radio was still on in Rose’s bedroom and she’d heard the two-o’clock pips as she went upstairs. Some two hours later she returned, letting herself in with her own key. She had felt no more than mild surprise to find the house empty, the garden deserted. Sometimes, still, she dreamed of returning to that day and making it so ordinary that it would merge into dozens of similar featureless days. Rose would be in the garden, or if not she would soon come home, preoccupied, a little i mpatient at being questioned. But there.
No sign of a break-in; the police asked her closely about that. No sign of anyone having visited. Nothing any different from how it usually was. The blue garden lounger was there under the tree, with an empty glass tipped over on the grass. Anna poured a cold drink, took Rose’s purple varnish and painted her own toenails, although it was for-bidden by Mum, who said that Anna was too young, so she’d have to keep her feet hidden in socks and shoes. Soon after five, Mum returned from work and asked where Rose was; six o’clock came, and seven, and now Dad was home as
well. At eight-thirty, Mum phoned Rose’s friend Christina. No, Chrissie hadn’t seen Rose that day, and had no idea where she might have gone. They’d spoken on the phone last night, when Chrissie got home from her holiday, and were to meet tomorrow, A-Level results day. They planned to be at school to open their envelopes together, compare results and go into town to celebrate or c ommiserate.
Anna didn’t see why Mum was getting so worked up; it wasn’t particularly late. Dad reassured them both that everything was fine, that Rose would be back any moment now. She’d met someone she knew, or she and Jamie had got back together and were making up for lost time. Or, likeliest of all, Dad said, she was anxious about her A-Level results.
‘Remember the state she got into about her O-Levels?’ ‘GCSEs, Dad,’ Anna corrected.
‘You know she’s set her heart on getting three As,’ said her father. ‘Let’s hope to God she gets them. It’s the waiting, it’s got to her. She’s met someone from school, gone home with them.’
‘She’d have phoned,’ Mum said flatly; it was her reply to all his suggestions. ‘She wouldn’t stay out without telling us.’
‘She’s eighteen now, love, old enough to take care of her-self. We’re not going through this every time she goes out for the evening. She’ll turn up, right as rain.’ Dad kept saying that, as if saying it over and over could make it so.
Sent up to bed, Anna stood for a while with her elbows on the windowsill, looking out at the garden. Dusk was falling now; the shrubs were heavy with leaf, and it had begun to rain – light, refreshing rain that Anna could hear through the open window as a faint hissing, and smell as wetness on dry earth. It was almost the middle of the school
holidays. At first, the six weeks had stretched out with no end in sight, but already the nights were creeping in earlier. It didn’t seem fair that midsummer, the longest day, was back in June, before the holidays had even started. After what Dad called ‘the year’s turning’, the days immediately began to shorten towards autumn and September, and the return to school.
In bed Anna propped herself up, reading Forever, her library book, anticipating drama, and the earful Rose would get when she turned up. Eventually she turned off her light. It was a way of hastening Rose’s return; when she woke up it would be morning, Rose would be asleep in her room, and no one would remember why they’d been so worried.
But she woke instead to Mum’s voice from the downstairs hall. ‘It’s Sandra Taverner, Rose’s mother. I’m sorry to bother you so late, but we’re a bit worried about where Rose is. She’s not with Jamie? No, no. Yes, I know, but I thought perhaps...’
And it was still dark; not morning, but a few minutes before midnight. Anna sidled to the top of the stairs. Her mother stood for a moment still holding the phone, then replaced it and went back into the sitting room. Surely Rose would come in at the stroke of midnight, or risk being turned into someone else or frozen into a statue. Anna waited, her eyes on the front door, confident. The hands of her watch aligned themselves at twelve, and the minute hand moved barely perceptibly into the frightening orbit of next day. It was tomorrow now, and Rose hadn’t been here since yesterday, and that made it immensely more serious.
She crept halfway down the stairs.
‘I’m going to phone the police,’ her mother was saying.
‘Don’t you think we should—’
‘No! No! I can’t wait any longer!’ And now Mum’s voice rose in a wail; she ran to the telephone table in the hall, both hands clamped to her mouth. Seeing Anna, she stopped dead. Dad followed, put an arm round her shoulders and led her back into the sitting room. He hadn’t seen Anna huddled on the stair, shivering in her pyjamas.
She heard him say soothing words, and Mum’s quiet sobs. When he came back to the phone there was a long moment of breathing as he reached for the receiver, h esitated, then picked it up. He was going to dial 999, Anna supposed, and although this was exciting she wanted to yell at him No, don’t, because to make that phone call was to stop pretending everything was normal, and to move into a new phase.
‘I want to report a missing teenager,’ Dad said. ‘Yes, yes.
About the Author:
Linda Newbery began by writing teenage fiction, but has now written for all ages, with books ranging from a picture book, POSY, to her first novel for adults, QUARTER PAST TWO ON A WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. She is a winner of the Costa Children's Book Prize, for her young adult novel SET IN STONE, and has twice been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, as well as for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and for numerous regional awards. She has served as a judge for the Whitbread award and for the Guardian Prize.
Linda is a frequent visitor to schools, libraries and festivals, and has tutored several times for the Arvon Foundation. She lives in a small village in north Oxfordshire with her husband and two cats. She loves yoga, reading, gardening, walking and swimming, and is currently trying her hand at stone-carving.
For more information, visit Linda's website: www.lindanewbery.co.uk
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