Title: The Secrets We Keep
Author: Stephanie Butland
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Genres: General Fiction
A tragic accident, a broken heart, and a marriage drowning in secrets…
Mike always walks the dog in the evening while Elizabeth relaxes in
the bathtub–but one night he doesn’t come back. Mike has drowned
while saving a teenage girl named Kate, his dog standing on the bank
barking frantically as the police pull his body from the water.
But despite her husband being lauded as a hero, Elizabeth can’t wrap
her mind around the fact that Mike is gone–and Kate won’t
reveal the details of what really happened that night.
Elizabeth finds herself facing the unfathomable possibility that she
may not have known her husband at all. Does she really want to
know the truth? Or will the weight of Mike’s secrets pull her under?
An Excerpt from The Secrets We Keep
Blake and Andy hadn’t talked about what they would do when they left Elizabeth with her mother-in-law, eight hours after the emergency call from another late-night dog walker reported a young woman, soaked and unconscious, on the bank of Butler’s Pond and whipped their world into chaos. They’d obeyed Patricia’s stoical instructions-“You know there’s nothing you can do for us, so just let us be for a bit”-and gone, leaving the two women side by side on the sofa. Elizabeth was no longer sobbing but making a strange, sad hum of a keening, as though her body had already forgotten how to breathe without also making a cry. Patricia stared straight ahead, eyes glassy, something throbbing in the jut of her jaw.
Even though there’s been no discussion, it feels as though there is only one option for the two men. At the gate, Blake says, “Shall we go and have a look?” A question that’s not really a question, and they walk the short mile to Butler’s Pond in silence as Throckton starts to wake around them.
Andy pulls out his phone. Dials, waits, wonders whether the sound of his wife, sleep-soft and stretching, will be something he can bear. “It’s me,” he says when she answers, then, after a pause, “Not really. Michael died. Michael drowned.” His voice is flat and tight: locked down, for now, until it’s safe to start thinking about what’s happened. It’s too soon to glance at the death of his best friend since childhood for more than a second. Blake matches Andy’s steps and listens as he answers Lucy’s questions: “I’m with Blake… It looks like an accident… No, I’ll go to work… I don’t really know, to be honest… OK. Will do.” He ends the call and says, “She says I have to make sure I have something to eat before I go to work. She says to say she’s thinking of you.” Blake nods. Andy redials. He is surprised that his hands are steady. “Me again. I meant to say I love you.” He is not the only one, as the news makes its way around Throckton this morning, who will tell someone he loves them. Who will think, There, but for the grace of God, go any of us.
It’s still dark, so the floodlit place where Michael drowned and Kate Micklethwaite was saved seems more strange than sad. Kate is in the hospital, vomiting water from her lungs and guts, shivering and unable to speak or focus or do anything but submit to needles and lines and wires, something she will have no memory of. Michael, his body identified by Blake earlier, is already in the morgue, where a pathologist will later confirm what Elizabeth has already been told, that he drowned. Alive when he went into the water, dead when he came out. As simple as that.
So Blake and Andy stand and watch as the grass, the mud, the water are photographed and scrutinized. Although Butler’s Pond is generally accepted as a beauty spot, a place for Sunday strolls and dog walking and picnics, this corner of it isn’t the prettiest. It’s one of those places where rubbish blows to and breeds. The duty officer, recognizing the watchers, offers to lift the tape, but Blake waves him away. They are close enough.
“Unbelievable,” Andy says after a while.
“You should never underestimate the water,” Blake says.
“He was a bloody idiot to go in there,” Andy mutters. They both think of the time six months earlier when Michael, one of the first on the scene of a house fire, had walked into the building and emerged with a mother and baby. Everyone had raged at him-firefighters, senior officers, Elizabeth, Patricia-but he had remained steadfast: someone had to save those people and the fire trucks were six minutes away, which Michael knew was long enough for a toddler to die of smoke inhalation. So he’d gone in.
Blake had been working with Michael that day. He remembered how they had both raised their faces to the wind, asked each other if they smelled smoke, just before the call came in. They both knew the drill: get the neighbors out, keep people away, and wait for the fire department. Never, ever go into anywhere full of smoke unless you are absolutely sure you can get out again. But Michael had gone in, and then there was nothing to do but wait, and hope. The hope had run out just a second before the first fire engine had pulled up. Turning toward the firefighters, he had told them what had happened; turning back, he had seen Michael running up the path, blackened and hacking, propelling a young woman who was herself screaming, every line of her body a prayer as she held forward a child who was silent and still in her arms.
And then the controlled chaos began, the hoses and the water and the aching, burning smoke.
It had been months until Michael had admitted to Andy-it was late, and drunken, and deniable-that there was a moment when he thought he was going to die, and he’d been terrified, and life had never been quite the same since, but he couldn’t say exactly why. Andy had put him in a taxi home and they’d never spoken about it again. Now, he wishes that he’d asked more questions.
“I don’t think he will have felt anything,” Blake says, a catch in his voice.
Andy doesn’t know whether he’s being asked for a medical opinion or a word of comfort, but he agrees with a nod. And then they turn and walk back to the village, avoiding the eyes of the first curious runners and dog walkers as the light starts to make some real headway into the sky. They make a strange pair-or at least they would, were the overall impression that they gave not one of two men walking home after being up all night, united by something outside themselves. Blake is tall and broad, straight and strong. Only close inspection would show that his uniform is not as crisp as it was when he put it on before walking to work sixteen hours ago. His cap hides his receding hairline and so he looks younger than his forty-seven years when he’s wearing it. The shadow of the peak hides the shadows under, and in, his eyes. Next to him, Andy seems slight and short, although there’s only four inches’ height difference, but the doctor is walking with his head down, letting his tiredness show, wearing mismatched clothes, his pale skin made paler by his thick eyebrows and dark brown hair.
He’d gotten dressed in a hurry in the dark, fumbling for quietness and struggling to make the words he’d just heard make sense. “I’m asking you as their friend,” Blake had said, “but your medical eye might help. I don’t want an on-call doctor if I can have someone she knows here. Just in case. Come and see what you think.”
Lucy had sat up in bed and switched on the light as he was searching the bottom of the wardrobe for his shoes. “So the boys sleep, for once, and now you’re the one who is waking me up,” she’d said, and he’d told her, more simply and quickly than he would have liked to, his own shock speaking, what had happened. Michael, their best man, godfather to their twins, here one minute, dead in the dark water the next. Lucy’s eyes, rounding as she listened. Her pushing him away-“go, go to Elizabeth, see what you can do, tell her”-and then she’d hesitated, because, well, tell her what? Andy had kissed the top of her head and gone, sat for a moment longer than he needed to on the top stair, fastening his laces, finding what he needed for what would come next, realizing he was just going to have to do it anyway.
“I have to go back to the station,” Blake says when they reach the market square. “You?”
“I don’t know.” There’s time for Andy to go home, take a shower, watch cartoons with the boys, and tell Lucy he’s all right: there’s time to touch them, all three of them, just the simplest stroke of hair or brush of hand that might help. But he’s not sure he trusts himself. “I think I’ll go have half an hour at the office before I start.” The bed in the consulting room will be too narrow to be properly comfortable; the staff shower will run out of hot water before he has finished washing. Better, safer, for now.
“I’ll look in on Elizabeth later,” Blake says. “I can take Pepper out when I walk Hope.”
“I’ll call on my way home,” Andy says. And, even though they see each other often, they shake hands as they part.
About the Author
Stephanie lives in Northumberland, England, and talks and trains in thinking skills all over Europe, most recently in Kazakhstan. She has written two books on her experience with cancer, and she is an active blogger and fundraiser. The Secrets We Keep is her first novel.
Photo by Alan Butland
Connect with Stephanie Butland
Website – http://stephaniebutland.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/under_blue_sky
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephanie-Butland-Author/282828548412029
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5276201.Stephanie_Butland
“An emotionally wrenching read that delivers
an engaging story…” –Library Journal
“An immensely powerful, and ultimately
uplifting, debut novel” – Katie Fforde
“[The Secrets We Keep] is a moving exploration of
grief and love and the darker depths that lie beneath
the surface of a seemingly idyllic marriage”
– Tamar Cohen, author of The Mistress’s Revenge