We’re delighted to give you an exclusive sneak peak of Five Hundred Miles From You which isn’t officially out until 28th May!
It should have started with ominous dark crows; great murmurations and flutterings; bad omens taking to the sky; great storm clouds rolling in; clocks striking thirteen.
In fact, it started with an extremely undignified argument with an old lady over a bar of chocolate.
‘But you have a bar of Dairy Milk right there in your hand!’
Mrs Marks looked up at her, heavy and glowering, from the cracked brown leather sofa. ‘I do not!’
‘Behind your back!’
Like a tiny child, Mrs Marks refused to remove her hand, just shook her head mutinously. Lissa Westcott put down the medical equipment she’d been packing away and strode back into the centre of the room, exasperated.
‘You thought I’d gone! You thought I was leaving the room and you were making a grab for a hidden Dairy Milk!’
Mrs Marks fixed her with beady eyes. ‘What the bleedin’ hell are you then, the chocolate police?’
‘No. Yes!’ said Lissa rather desperately. She held out her hand.
Mrs Marks finally handed the chocolate over. It was, in fact, a bar of Bournville.
‘Ha!’ said Mrs Marks. Lissa looked at her.
Old Mrs Marks lived on the fourteenth floor of a South London tower block where the lifts were often broken. Her foot was gradually giving in to diabetes, and Lissa was trying her absolute hardest to save it. She glanced out from the dingy, fussy room with its dusty fake flowers everywhere, towards the beautiful views over the river to the north: the great towers of the City were glinting in the light, bright and beautiful, clean and full of money, like a vast array of glittering palaces, completely out of reach, less than two miles away.
‘We’ve just been talking about your diet for twenty minutes!’ she said to the poor woman, who was practically a shut-in, with only her daughter to visit her. Watching EastEnders with family bars of choccie was one of the few pleasures she had left, but it wasn’t doing her any good.
‘I don’t want to have to be coming up here one day and finding you in a coma,’ said Lissa as severely as she dared. Mrs Marks just laughed at her.
‘Oh, don’t you worry about me, duck. Whatever will be will be.’
‘That’s not how health care works!’ said Lissa, glancing at her watch. She was due in Peckham in twenty minutes. Driving in London was an absolute fool’s errand but she didn’t have any choice; she couldn’t carry drugs on the tube.
Lissa was an NPL: a nurse practitioner liaison. She followed up on hospital discharges who had trouble attending outpatients departments in the hope that they wouldn’t become readmissions. Or, she said in her more cynical moments, she did half of what community nurses used to when they still had the budget, and half of what GPs used to do when they could still be arsed to leave the office. Originally trained as an A&E nurse, she loved her job – which involved rather fewer drunks spewing up on her than casualty did – particularly the bits of it when she got chocolate.
Her hopes, though, in Mrs Marks’s case, were not at their highest.
‘You’re not exactly a sylph yourself,’ said Mrs Marks.
‘You sound like my mum,’ complained Lissa, who had inherited her curvy frame from her mother, to said parent’s alternately vocal or silent disappointment.
‘You take it then,’ said Mrs Marks grudgingly.
Lissa made a face. ‘I hate dark chocolate,’ she said. But she took it anyway. ‘Please,’ she said again. ‘Please. I’d hate them to admit you again.
Next time you might lose your foot. Seriously.
In response, Mrs Marks sighed and indicated the entire old brown three-piece suite. Lissa put her hands down the back of the cushions and found chocolate bars behind every single one.
‘I’m donating them to a food bank,’ she said. ‘Do you want me to buy them off you?’
Mrs Marks waved her away.
‘No,’ she said. ‘But if I do end up back in that place again, I’ll blame you.’
‘Deal,’ said Lissa.
It was chilly for early March as Lissa left the tall building, but the sun was shining behind a faint cloud of smog, and she could sense spring coming, somewhere on the horizon. She prayed, as she always did, that nobody would have seen the medical personnel sticker on her car and attempted to break into it in case she’d left any drugs in there. She also contemplated the new Korean barbecue place she was due to meet some friends in later. It looked good on Instagram, but this wasn’t necessarily a good thing – sometimes quite the opposite if it was just full of people photographing cold food.
She noticed boys loitering in the stairwell, which was nothing unusual. It was hard to tell with some teenage boys whether they should be at school or not; they were so big these days. The best thing to do was keep her head down, hide her ringletty hair in a tight braid or a scarf and just keep moving past them. She remained profoundly glad of the unflattering green trousers she wore as part of her uniform that rendered her practically invisible.
These boys, however, weren’t interested in her; they were arguing with one another. Just the normal teenage beefs, showing off, puffing out their chests with peacocks; a mix of races, tiny little wispy beards and moustaches, lanky legs and elbows too pointy, a strong smell of Lynx Africa and massive trainers the size of boats. It was slightly endearing in its way, watching them try to pretend they knew how to be men. But intimidating too, and she was about to give them a wide berth when she realised she recognised one of them. The fact made her wince. It was one of Ezra’s cousins. Ezra, beautiful Ezra, whose graceful body and lovely face made him irresistible whenever he messaged her. Unfortunately, Ezra was well aware of this, which was why he felt obliged to spread himself pretty thinly all around South London. Every time he ghosted her, Lissa swore blind she’d never fall for it again. She was not much better at keeping that promise than she was about not eating Mrs Marks’s leftover chocolate.
But she’d met Kai – by accident; Ezra had never introduced her to the rest of his family – down Brixton Market one morning when they were grabbing breakfast supplies. He was a bright, mouthy fifteen-year-old and should, Lissa thought with a sigh, really be in school. She wouldn’t mention that.
‘Kai!’ She raised her hand.
Just as she did so, he turned to face her, his open mouth already starting to grin as he recognised her, and then, out of the blue on a chilly spring day, there was a sudden horrifying tear of an engine braking, a screech of brakes, a sudden glint in the sky as something was thrown, crashed down, and an intake of breath, and a sickening roar.