Lucy Atkins shares an extract from The Other Child.
When Tess is sent to photograph Greg, a high-profile paediatric heart surgeon, she sees something troubled in his face, and feels instantly drawn to him. Their relationship quickly deepens, but then Tess, single mother to nine-year-old Joe, falls pregnant, and Greg is offered the job of a lifetime back in his hometown of Boston. Before she knows it, Tess is married, and relocating to the States. But life in an affluent American suburb proves anything but straightforward.
Unsettling things keep happening in the large rented house. Joe is distressed, the next-door neighbours are in crisis, and Tess is sure that someone is watching her. Greg’s work is all-consuming and, as the baby’s birth looms, he grows more and more unreachable. Something is very wrong, Tess knows it, and then she makes a jaw-dropping discovery…
When she told Greg she was pregnant, he was bending down to pull on a sock, and it was as if someone had pressed a pause button. She watched the smooth strips of muscle across his back quiver as he lowered his foot, then turned to face her. His dark hair, still wet from the shower, was swept back from his forehead, giving his face a looming severity.
She held up the test stick.
‘Jesus. How is this possible?’ he said. ‘You’re on the pill.’
‘You’re the doctor, you tell me.’ She tried to laugh, but it didn’t quite work. She was expecting shock, but not this – not accusation. Suddenly she felt as if she were teetering above a dark space, knowing she must fall, but not knowing how far.
Greg sat down, heavily, on the bed next to her, staring straight ahead. ‘Wow,’ he said, in an odd, flat voice. ‘Tess. I mean . . . Shit.’
‘I didn’t plan this,’ she said. ‘I have no idea how this has happened.’
He took her hand then, as if realizing how unfair he was being. ‘God, no – I know. I know, but. . . Jesus, Tess. What do you want to do?’
She pulled her hand away. ‘What do you mean, what do I want to do?’
‘Well, it’s early, right? We have options.’
‘Are you talking about abortion?’
‘Termination is one choice.’
She felt the anger rise inside her and got off the bed, standing in her pyjamas, staring down at him. ‘How could that be your first thought?’
‘But we were both very clear,’ he said. ‘We weren’t going to have a baby.’
‘I didn’t plan this, Greg!’
‘No, I know you didn’t.’
‘Then . . .’
He looked at his watch suddenly. ‘Fuck, Tess – if I don’t go now, I’m going to miss the train.’ He stood up, facing her, reaching out his hand, his voice rising. It was not his fault. She had chosen a very bad moment to tell him. Fifty miles away, in London, sick children were waiting for him.
He could not miss the London train that morning, even for this.
He yanked on a shirt. ‘Listen – we’ll talk about this later. I love you. I’m sorry – this is shock, that’s all; you must be in shock too . . . This is not . . . we didn’t . . . Look I’ll call you later, when I’m done – OK? I love you.’ He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth, looking into her eyes for a second, before pulling away. His fingers moved swiftly down the buttons of his shirt. ‘We’ll figure this out,’ he said, almost to himself. ‘We’ll talk tonight.’
Lucy Atkins is an award-winning feature journalist and author, as well as a Sunday Times book critic. She has written for many newspapers, including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Telegraph, as well as magazines such as Psychologies, Red, Woman and Home and Grazia. She lives in Oxford.