Melissa walked through the forest, nerves fluttering in her belly. The smell of the damp leaves beneath her wellies and the sound of the branches whispering above brought back a rush of memories, some good, some bad. In the distance, she caught sight of the glimmer of a glass window that signified she was close now to the house she’d once called home.
She paused, putting a hand on a nearby tree to steady herself as she took in deep breaths. Ryan had told her this would help: coming back to the scene of one of the worst times in her life.
But she wasn’t so sure. She had to give it a try though, didn’t she?
It had been over two years since she’d found Patrick on their kitchen floor, blood pooling around him.
Since then, she’d done her best to pull the shattered pieces of her family’s life together. She’d moved away from Forest Grove to the Welsh coast not long after Patrick was arrested. Maybe in a less claustrophobic insular village than Forest Grove, she may have stayed for the sake of stability.
But when she really thought about it, so much bad stuff had happened in Forest Grove: the death of her beautiful boy, Josh, and her mother too. Then all the awful drama with Patrick. Not to mention the prying eyes of the villagers watching all the horrors unfold.
No, she needed to get away from it all and the kids needed that too. When she’d delicately suggested the idea to the kids a few weeks after Patrick’s arrest, she could see instantly on their faces it was the right thing to do.
It had taken a while to adjust but the kids were now doing well. Grace was now thirteen, a little more confident than before, still strange and wonderful with it. With Ryan’s daughter Maddie’s help, she’d even set up a YouTube channel where she reported on the weird and wonderful goings on in the local areas. It already had thousands of subscribers and had made her a minor celebrity of sorts at her new school!
Lewis, now nearly eighteen, was studying to be a PE teacher at a local college, dividing his time between his studies and being an assistant manager of a local youth football team. Melissa was so proud to see him throw all he had into his passion. She was also proud of how he managed to control his angry outbursts – well, when his sisters weren’t taking up the main bathroom in their small cottage, anyway!
And Lilly, dear Lilly. She had been through so much. Watching her have to testify at her own father’s trial had been one of the worst things for Melissa. But Lilly had been so strong. There were days when that strength would seep out of her though and Melissa was always there when it did, every step of the way, even letting her sleep in her bed some times when she was really struggling.
Lately though, Lilly was talking of moving out. She was working in a local wedding gown shop, helping happy brides-to-be find their perfect dresses. Melissa sometimes thought Lilly did it to surround herself in happiness, and push away the dark memories. Her manager was close to retirement and had talked to Lilly about taking over the shop. Lilly was so young still and yet Melissa knew she'd be the ideal manager for the shop.
Lilly had met someone too, a gorgeous local farmer who always brought fresh eggs and milk with him whenever he came to pick Lilly up. Melissa thought he’d been pressurising Lilly to move out when Lilly broached the subject with her mum. But Lilly convinced her she was the one who’d come up with the idea. ‘He’s nothing like Dad, Mum. He doesn’t steam roll me into things like Dad used to do with you.’ Melissa had smiled. Lilly did have a point!
So yes, the kids seemed happy now. It was all she could ask for really, after the trauma they’d lived through.
And yet why could Melissa hardly sleep at night? Why, when she did, were her dreams haunted by the smell of blood, by the screams of her children?
That was why she needed to come back to Forest Grove. She’d fled too quickly, Ryan said. She needed to face the place down one last time.
She felt a warm hand slip into hers and looked up to see Ryan standing beside her. He was living in Wales now with Melissa, his daughter Maddie coming to visit every now and again from her nearby university where she was studying journalism. He was there to hold Melissa when she woke from her nightmares. And now he was here for this too.
She took a few steps forward and paused as she saw the vast window that had once looked into their kitchen. If she stood on tiptoes, she could see through to where Patrick had lain, bleeding from the wound Lilly had inflicted. In his last letter to her, Patrick said he too had nightmares of that day. She didn’t want his letters. She rarely wrote back, save update letters for each child’s birthday with photos. He was their dad after all. Still, Patrick continued to write to her each month, usually all about him, no change there.
He told her his nightmares were dominated by guilt and that sometimes, it wasn’t him on that kitchen floor but one of the kids, mainly Lilly.
Sometimes, it was Melissa.
The truth was, they had all bled that day and were still bleeding too so it may as well have been.
Melissa closed her eyes, losing herself in the smells and sounds of the forest. She breathed it all in, feeling her eyes brim with tears. It would always be with her, what happened that day and Forest Grove itself. She needed to accept that.
When she opened her eyes, Ryan was watching her with that same concerned look he got when she woke from her nightmares.
‘I want to see where Mum’s oak tree once was,’ she said. One last thing before she'd leave Forest Grove forever.
As they approached, they noticed a crane in the distance, a young couple watching. The man was tall, handsome with neat strawberry-blond hair and sparkling green eyes. The woman was dark-skinned with a swanlike neck and short black hair, wearing a long olive cotton dress over expensive-looking brown boots, chunky wooden bracelets tangled around her slim brown arms.
‘Looks like they’re getting ready to build a house,’ Ryan said.
Melissa frowned. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Of course, by selling the land she knew it would end up being used for anything. But she'd hoped it might be turned into a forest museum or a play park.
But a house, in the middle of the woods?
As she thought that, the woman turned towards her, narrowing her eyes as she watched Melissa. Melissa felt the hairs on her arm stand on end. There was something about the look in the woman’s eyes, a haughtiness that made Melissa feel uncomfortable.
She’ll fit right in then, Melissa thought to herself.
And that was enough for Melissa. There would be new residents for Forest Grove, new ‘victims’ of its community… new menaces too. But the key was, Melissa was no longer part of that.
She gave the woman one last look.
She was welcome to the land. Time to move on.
‘Come on, let’s go home,’ she said, taking Ryan’s hand and walking away without a backwards glance.
If you want to read more about the mysterious couple who are building the house on Melissa’s old land, order my latest novel, Circle of Doubt, using the button below.