First chapter of While I was gone.

Thanks to those who have already bought or borrowed my novel on Amazon. For those who still haven’t decided whether to invest £2.59, hopefully this will be enough to make you decide (go on, you know you want to!

While I was gone

Chapter one

Kayla Marshall woke in the unfamiliar bed to the sound of screams, which she soon realised were her own. She remembered this wasn’t the trailer in Vancouver. It was the family home in Manchester, England where she had spent the first six years of her life. This was the room which she had shared with her twin sister Maria, but it was different now. Instead of two beds there was only one and the pink wallpaper had been replaced with black wallpaper featuring gold stars and moons. The walk in wardrobe was still there, the chest of drawers was new. She didn’t have much to put in either. Her adopted parents had kept her moving around Canada, so she had never accumulated many belongings. It only meant more to pack. The door opened and her father entered the room.

‘It’s okay honey,’ he tried to sound reassuring as he wrapped his arms around her protectively. ‘You’re home now.’

Kayla felt torn, she had dreamt about this room, this house and this family, her family. It wasn’t a dream. That didn’t make it any better though. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine she was back with the couple who had been her parents for 15 years. That didn’t make her any happier either. She wished she could be somewhere else or anyone else but herself as she fell back into a restless sleep.

Robert watched his daughter clearly looking torn and upset as she fell back to sleep. It had been fifteen years and yet she still seemed familiar to him. He could almost imagine he was watching Maria and not Kayla. She hadn’t shown much emotion when he had told her Maria was dead now. Kayla hadn’t even asked him how. Maybe discovering that her parents weren’t her real parents and that her real mum and sister had both died while she was gone was too much for her. He felt guilty as he was reminded of how caring Maria had been, always thinking of others and wanting to make sure everyone was happy. He had one daughter back at least. He knew he should be happy about that, but despite being right in front of him, at that moment Kayla may as well be in Canada for how distant she seemed to be.

When Kayla woke again it was light, but her dad was sleeping in the small armchair next to her bed. Kayla realised he had stayed there all night and immediately felt responsible. Her dad’s already grey hair seemed to be a shade greyer than usual. Kayla decided she would have to make more of an effort. It wasn’t the fault of her birth family that she had been taken and sold to a childless couple all those years ago.

‘It’s not like I didn’t want to come back,’ she thought to herself, ‘I was 6 years old and there was nothing I could do.’

Kayla knew there was nothing her real parents could have done either, at least nothing more than what they already did, trying to find her. She guessed it must have been even harder on both her parents to be police officers, but still be unable to find her. Kayla wished she could feel something other than guilt. In all the time this had been happening Kayla, or Michaela as her adopted parents had named her had experienced a rather normal and happy enough childhood with a few exceptions. She had still had some memories of her first six years of having a different family, but was almost able to convince herself that family was a dream or her overactive imagination. Now she was here with them she had to face up to the reality of everything that had happened and she didn’t know where to start.

‘There’s no handbook for this situation,’ she told herself as her eyes fell to the bookcase filled with every genre of book she could think of, all because she had mentioned to her dad that she enjoyed reading. She wouldn’t have mentioned it if she had known he would rush out the next day and buy half the stock of the local bookshop.

Her dad opened his eyes. ‘Good morning. I thought we could go into town today, your brother has a surprise for you.’

‘Okay,’ Kayla tried to sound enthusiastic.

‘It’s nothing bad, you’ll like it.’

 

‘Hey Dominic,’ Kayla hugged her older brother. ‘Peace of mind dogs?’ she asked as she pulled away, seeing the sign hanging above the building which Dominic had been waiting outside.

‘I read an article about specially trained dogs and I thought you might like one,’ Dominic tried to explain as he ran his hand through his short dark hair.

‘Specially trained to do what? Handstands?’ Kayla questioned.

‘They’re mental health dogs,’ her father tried to elaborate.

‘I don’t have a mental health issue,’ Kayla replied.

‘Of course not honey but…’

‘Dad,’ Dominic interrupted him, ‘I’ve got this, go get a coffee or something and we’ll meet you outside Starbucks in an hour, OK?’

Their father opened his mouth to protest and then changed his mind. ‘Fine, one hour,’ he agreed, forcing a smile to mask his disappointment as he left them.

‘Kayla,’ her brother began, ‘I know you don’t have mental health issues. I just think you might feel happier with a companion that doesn’t constantly crowd you, try to tell you how you should be feeling, or what you should be thinking all the time. To my knowledge, there’s no centre I know of that train dogs to look after people who were taken from their families fifteen years ago and are now trying to come to terms with being back. This was the closest thing I could find,’ he finished as he extended his arm towards the building.

‘Thank you,’ Kayla said.

‘That’s okay, this place wasn’t that hard to find out about and I guess they fast tracked things a little bit and offered us a huge discount because your story was in The Sun and

The Mirror last week “the kidnapped girl who came back” you’re famous sis.’

Kayla pulled a sour face, ‘I hate that nickname, I hope it doesn’t catch on. I didn’t mean that anyway. It’s just that everyone is refusing to talk about what happened to me. Well they’re talking, but just…’

‘Not to you?’

‘Exactly.’

‘They’re just trying to protect you.’

‘I wish they wouldn’t try so hard, it’s exhausting.’

‘That’s where the dog comes in, you’ll feel a bit safer and I’m hoping Dad will see that and back off a bit,’ Dominic explained. ‘Let’s just go inside, meet the dog that the therapist picked out for you and then the rest is up to you, no pressure.’

‘Okay,’ Kayla agreed.

Once inside the building, they were taken into a room where a middle aged man sat waiting for them at a wooden desk which looked small in comparison to the rest of the large, but mostly unfurnished room. Kayla paid very little attention to him as he explained the role of a mental health dog. She only had eyes for the black Labrador who stood patiently by the side of the desk. Kayla nodded and smiled from time to time but her mind was already made up before the man had finished talking.

‘I’ll take him,’ Kayla announced.

‘You can take some time to…,’ the man began to offer.

‘I don’t need time,’ she said as she knelt down in front of the dog and patted his fur.

‘Alright then,’ Dominic agreed as he took out his wallet and paid the man.

‘Huge discount?’ Kayla thought doubtfully as she watched her brother hand over a large wad of notes. She was still getting to grips with English money, but she guessed it was around three hundred pounds.

‘I’ll pay you back,’ Kayla said when they were outside.

‘What?’ Dominic asked.

‘For the dog, I’ll get a job and I’ll pay you back.’

‘You’re my sister and I just bought you a present. I mean I did miss your last fifteen birthdays so let’s just call it square?’

‘We’re going to be good friends Shadow,’ Kayla told the dog.

‘Shadow?’ Dominic questioned her choice of name.

‘Well he’s meant to go everywhere with me, like my shadow right? Maybe that name will give Dad the hint that he doesn’t need to be my shadow anymore.’

‘You could just ask him to give you some space.’

‘I can’t though can I?’ Kayla looked pained, ‘I’ve been gone fifteen years and Dad wants me to just become part of the family overnight. Michelle just seems to hate me for some reason. My mum and twin sister died while I was gone. I haven’t even had time to grieve for either of them and now I have a new step mum and the people I thought were my parents are facing jail for buying me, which just makes me feel I’m a sack of potatoes or something.

Yet Dad doesn’t understand why I’m not happy and if I tell him to back off he’ll be upset.’ When Kayla finally stopped to catch her breath, she realised she was close to tears. Shadow sensed her distress and looked up at her with his big brown eyes. He seemed to understand how she was feeling.

‘I think it’s just hard for everyone to understand and they all have they own ideas about what you’ve been through, but nobody is asking you what you think. In some ways they’ve all made up their mind about what you must be thinking or feeling.’ Dominic put his hand on her shoulder before they continued walking again. ‘It will get easier, I promise and you’ve always got me and Shadow.’

 

Dominic met up with his wife Trisha for Lunch at a local coffee shop.

‘Spill,’ Trisha ordered as she recognised the troubled look on her husband’s face, ‘didn’t she like the dog?’

‘She loves the dog,’ Dominic told her, ‘she wanted to get a job and pay me back.’

‘And this bothers you?’

‘She’s not ready and that’s not what is bothering me, she’s my sister but maybe I shouldn’t be getting too close. She’s been through enough I don’t want her to be upset if…’

‘We agree that you wouldn’t talk like that,’ Trisha ordered, ‘you need to be positive and you’ve got your sister back after all this time. You can’t tell me that doesn’t make you happy.’

‘Of course it does, but I told her that I would always be there for her, I didn’t mean to, it just came out. I wanted to make her feel better, but how’s that going to help if it turns out to be a lie?’

‘Dominic I love you but you’re an idiot,’ Trisha told him.

‘Thanks.’

‘You have one more reason to fight now, if me and the rest of your family weren’t enough you have Kayla and she needs you, because otherwise your dad and sister are going to push her away.’ Dominic looked down at the floor. ‘What?’ Trisha asked, sensing that there was something else.

‘I kind of hoped you wouldn’t mind if I went round there tonight. It’s important.’

 

 

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