I am extremely lucky to be the stop today for Jacqueline Ward’s Perfect Ten blog tour, and will be sharing the first chapter of this page turner with you. Thanks to Anne Cater from #RandomThingsTours for letting me participate!
Caroline Atkinson is a beautiful woman, has a rock solid career and she is very intelligent. But she is a ruin now. Her ex husband, Jack ruined everything. Their marriage is over. Her kids are taken away from her. Her reputation is damaged with Jack’s accusations. Depressed, lonely and self-pitying, she uses the only thing she has, money and keeps buying things off internet and stocking them up in her house.
One day she receives a delivery that’s meant to be sent to her husband: a luggage. Inside this she will discover a diary, which her husband Jack kept for years. In this diary Jack has rated all the women he’s been with! Caroline is a PERFECT TEN, but she is no where near thanking Jack for the score. Holding the proof of all the women he’s slept with will shake the dust off her, and will transform her depression into a crazy rage. She will take risks, upset people, do things she’s never done before. Where will this road to journey take Caroline to?
Read Perfect Ten to find out…
Here is the link to Amazon page, if you want to purchase the book or request the sample to your kindle.
And I am now leaving you with an excerpt of the first chapter, so you can get a feel of the book. Happy reading!
Perfect Ten – Chapter One
I couldn’t believe it when the delivery man rolled up to the door. As soon as I saw him standing there on our overgrown front pathway with your luggage, I knew that I would have my day after all.
‘Mrs Atkinson?’ I nodded. It wasn’t a lie. I’m still Mrs Atkinson. Even after a year. I never changed my name. For the sake of the kids, of course. He fumbled for his signature machine and I counted the cases. Four large, matching Samsonites. My heart hurt as I realised that they were the luggage we took on our honeymoon. I signed – just a squiggle – never give your own signature in case there are damages. I learned that in the research lab at the university where I work. Yes, even after everything, I still have a chat at the coffee machine. I still have colleagues. You didn’t destroy my life after all. Almost, but not quite. I pulled the cases into the hallway as the driver walked away and I was just about to shut the front door when he hurried back.
‘Oh, there’s this one as well, Mrs Atkinson.’
I smiled. I liked the sound of it. It’d been a while. Then, as I looked down at his offering, I positively beamed. He handed me your black leather overnight bag and I already knew what was inside. I could feel the edges through the soft skin, the corners. The hairs on my arms stood up and my mouth went dry.
‘Thank you. Thank you so much.’
I shut the door and stared at the cases. It was obvious what had happened. You hadn’t changed the labels. When you left for Toronto a year ago you turned over the little pieces of paper so that our address was hidden. So that you could obliterate me. I can almost hear you saying it. Blank slate. But things have a funny way of turning back around, and you’ll never forget me. I’ll always be somewhere in the background. You were back and waiting for your lost luggage. And it was in my hallway. I wanted to open it there and then, to smell your clothes and your cologne. To recapture the essence of you that’s been gone so long from my life. But I didn’t because, just in time, I remembered what a bastard you are. Instead, I grabbed my coat and bag and hurried off to work. It had been exactly a year and I figured that another eight hours wouldn’t matter. All day my mind alternated between fear and anticipation. What if someone found out that I’d pretended you still lived in the house we’d shared for eleven years? That I had accepted your things, knowing that you didn’t live there? It would be like before. My hands shook as I poured my mid-morning coffee and checked my phone for missed calls. They never came. So I rationalised. The delivery man would have a record of the address. Sooner or later you would know what had happened and get the cases collected. That moment, in my tiny office in the depths of the university, my life changed. I made a plan. After all the years of manipulation and lies at your hands, I took control. It was a long time coming, I
knew. All the sadness and suffering, the uncertainty, everything that had rained down on me and caused me problems, all this would be resolved for me today. At two o’clock, when I couldn’t wait a moment longer, I called the delivery company.
‘This is Caroline Atkinson. Twenty-five Willow Avenue. There was a delivery today.’
The call-centre worker wasn’t interested. She took the details. She wasn’t suspicious at all. I didn’t need to explain, but I did anyway – for the recording. Just in case. I didn’t want any comebacks this time. ‘I was so busy on my way to work that I didn’t look properly. Not until the man had driven off. But the delivery was meant for my ex-husband and he doesn’t live with me. Yes. There are four cases.’ I could sense her pity in the silence. Poor divorcee, not knowing her arse from her elbow, dithering around in the morning, dull eyes from crying over her lost love. Yet nothing could be further from
the truth. I’m crying for my children.
Two things. One: you’re a cheating bastard. Two: I’m well rid of you. But how could she know that? How could anyone? Because you muted everything that was bad about you. You were the one who ruined our marriage, yet you made me look as though I was howling at the moon. Like I was paranoid, jealous, almost infantile in my accusations. Because I could never prove it. You made it look like I was mad. Worse, you made it look like I had no remorse for the things you lied about me doing. No conscience. And I suffered in unspeakable ways. I almost lost my job. You, with your Ph.D. in Environmental Science and your carefree, travel-the-world attitude; you told them that I was imagining it all. Your solicitor was good. Very good. Turning my profession around,
my lifelong passion for psychology, until it was reduced to mere overthinking. Using my Ph.D. study into designing a psychopath test to suggest that I was a psychopath. It was never actually articulated, of course, simply alluded to. That I knew too much.Worst of all, you took the children. You were clever. You knew you would never get custody because you were lying, so you manipulated the situation and you manipulated me. You thought it would break me and it almost did. But not quite.
All the while you smirked your way through life, shrugging and hinting that none of it was your fault. None of my complaining and ringing your hotel to make sure you were there, none of my checking your flights and calling work colleagues to understand your diary. None of it was your fault. As the call-centre operative gave me a number to ring to get your bags collected and helpfully read out your destination address to me – thank you very much for that – I remembered that karma is rarely instant, no matter what John Lennon thought. No. It usually takes years for what goes around comes around and this is it.This is it.
My hand’s still shaking when I replace the receiver. Now, even though the delivery driver made a mistake and I signed, everyone will know that I did the right thing and got the cases picked up. Those four huge cases with all your belongings. I didn’t try to keep them or even open them. I just left them in the hallway where I’m picturing them now. Even my insides are shaking with anticipation. I watch the clock all day as I click, click, click away at the websites I’m collecting papers from. I’m lucky to have this job after what happened and I don’t want to fuck it up. But as the day goes on I slip into the realisation
that there, at home, in my hallway, is the key to everything that has nagged away at me for years. Even before you left. All the pain, all the sadness; the answer is waiting for me in that leather holdall. No one would notice if I slipped away early. I sometimes wonder
if anyone would notice if I didn’t turn up at all. But I have my research deadlines. My job allows me to maintain the aura of respectability that I almost lost. That’s what pisses you off, though.
My success. I’ve always excelled at my job, despite everything. It’s an umbilical cord to keeping my lifestyle outside work, which, to be honest, wasn’t that good recently, until today. But now I realise why. Everything was leading up to now, when I would finally have my answers. I’d been in limbo. By four o’clock I can’t bear it any longer. I see my reflection in the monitor, my pupils large, yet to all intents and purposes I look normal. Inside I’m anything but. My stomach is churning, a kind of turmoil that precedes a major discovery. When you know there’s something big on the other side, but you don’t know exactly what it is.
So I drive home and my fingers tap on the steering wheel at the traffic lights as I imagine you getting the call from the delivery people. I can pre-empt your reaction because I know you. Anger, because you wanted to come back here and start again. And straight
away I’m somehow involved. Feigned worry that I will have your address, because you always do your best to keep up the pretence that I’m a psychopath. But the cases will arrive and you will breathe a sigh of relief until you know I’ve got your holdall. You’ll ring the delivery company and demand that they pick it up. I’ll tell them that I never had it and it must have got lost, like your other luggage. Why did you check it in the hold, anyway? Then I remember you like to carry just a novel and a trendy messenger bag on – image is everything to you, isn’t it? You might even phone the police, but this time it’s you who can’t prove anything. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Turning it over in my mind. Everyone, even the police, work on the most likely explanation. Like when you painted yourself as a picture of glowing innocence and me as the screaming harpy? So, in the end, who did everyone believe? The calm, collected, secretly serial-cheating fucker or the manic, on her last nerve, desperately-in-love wife?
Horrible, isn’t it, Jack? Knowing someone is lying but unable to prove it because there’s other perfectly reasonable explanation for what’s happened? Of course, if it had been a clean divorce and you’d admitted what you had done there would be no need for all this unpleasantness now. If we could have shared the care of our children. If I could have retained at least a fraction of the life we built together I could have let it go. As I turn the key in the front door, the delivery van pulls up behind my car. I push the oversized leather holdall behind the lounge door and stand by the huge suitcases. I exhale as I see it’s not the same guy, it’s an older, greyer version of him in the same brown uniform. I smile.
‘Here they are. Sorry. Sorry. I was in a rush this morning and I didn’t read the labels.’
He smiles back and scans the hallway, which is piled high with a year’s worth of takeaway menus, then the cases.
‘Wouldn’t have mattered. Labels are blank. Driver must have turned one over instead of looking at the docket.’
He tuts and shows it to me. I can see the spider shadows of the black ink I used to write our address on those cases for our honeymoon, almost invisible on the other side. Turned inwards.
‘Thank you, I did ring as soon as I realised what must have happened. These belong to my ex-husband and …’
He’s nodding diplomatically. No one wants you to mention a divorce. He reverently removes the cases and, apologetic, asks me to sign again. I replicate the scribble that means nothing and go inside. My hands are itching. I’m half blind with giddiness and retribution and the knowledge that, in about half an hour, you’ll know exactly what I’ll be doing. For the first time since you closed that door behind you, our minds will be back in sync.
You know me, Jack. You know what I’m like. You know that I can’t wait for anything. I must open things immediately, ripping off the wrappers and devouring instructions – with surgical gloves that I keep under the sink for unblocking the drains, of course, because you can’t be too careful. You’ll know that the first thing I do when the delivery van has left is to break the lock on the leather holdall and pull out your papers. The visas and the photograph of you and the kids. The business cards with a thick rubber band around them – you’re still old school – and the Manila file that holds the record of your life. I flick through, even though I’ve seen it all before: birth certificate, our marriage certificate and our decree absolute. You’re the petitioner, of course. Family arrangement
documents. Various embassy documents and the address of your cheating fucking solicitor. You like to keep them all together when you travel, I remember that only too well. A whole year, you’ve been away, and nothing’s changed. You still bundle everything together and lock it away. I reach deeper into the bag and pull out a black leather briefcase. I’ve seen it lots of times, even touched it once or twice. But I’ve never actually been alone with it. You made sure of that. I don’t know what’s in here, but I know it’s something you didn’t want me to see. Something important that you carry everywhere with you. Something that disappeared when I needed to prove what a piece of shit you were. I linger a little, reading the section of our divorce papers where you turned on me. After everything you did, you crucified me.
The petitioner feels that the respondent has imagined or manufactured a set of baseless
accusations and has persecuted the petitioner unreasonably. The petitioner would like to
stress that there is no basis to the claim of adultery and that a divorce be granted on the
grounds of unreasonable behaviour. No basis? We’ll see if there’s no basis. I’m waiting, checking the clock for the twenty-five minutes until your cases are delivered to you. I imagine your face when you realise that I have your precious possessions. I hope you panic and ring the delivery company, trying to explain how important it is that I don’t get my hands on whatever is in this briefcase. Finally, time’s up and I find a sharp knife amidst the five-plus days of dirty pots and wipe it on a filthy tea towel. Things haven’t been going well lately and I have a sudden insight into the fucking disaster area our beautiful home has turned into. I glimpse the piles of clothes and newspapers, and all the unopened boxes I bought during vodka nights alone in front of the shopping channel and from Amazon Prime. It’s a mess. A crowded, built-up mess. No one comes here except Fiona Mast because you stole my friends, so why should I give a screw about the state of it? I should, I know, because I want my children back. You made them think I was mad and you took them from me. It’s spiralled from there, the way hopelessness does. But I knew you had a secret, something you didn’t want me or anyone else to know about, and suddenly there is a spark of hope. Is it a dodgy business deal,something that will discredit you? Is it porn? Have you stolen something – apart from my children?
Whatever it is, it’s a way to show you for what you really are and it’s about time. I hack away at the lock, like you hacked at my heart, and it takes me a while to prise it away from the thick casing. Good. You’ll know I’m doing this because you know me. You’ll know that I’ll lift out the two journals, both with locks. You’ll know that I select the older one – you probably started a new one when you left and I want to know the whole story, from the beginning. You’ll know that I open it and read it and you’ll know exactly how my expression changes when the awful realisation of what this is hits.