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Read the FIRST LIE

Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay is set to be one of the BIGGEST debuts of 2020. 

 

It’s been selected by both the BBC and the Daily Mail as one of the hottest MUST-READs of the year and we’re delighted to share with you THE FIRST LIE.

 

THE FIRST LIE

 

Chapter One

 

‘And that’s how I won her heart,’ he said, smiling. He leant

back in his chair, lifting his hands behind his head, expanding

his chest. He was always so smug.

He looked at me, and then at the idiot sitting beside me,

and then turned back again to me. He was waiting for us

to respond. He wanted to see the smiles stretch across our faces,

to feel our admiration, our awe.

I hated him. I hated him in an all-encompassing, burning,

biblical way. I hated that he repeated this story every time I

came to dinner, every Friday evening. It didn’t matter who

I brought with me. It didn’t matter which degenerate I was

dating at the time.

He always told them this story.

Because this story, you see, was his ultimate trophy. For a

man like Charles – successful, wealthy, charming – a beautiful,

bright, sparkling woman like Marnie was the final

medal in his collection. And because he was fuelled by the

respect and admiration of others, and perhaps because he

received neither from me, he wrenched them instead from

his other guests.

What I wanted to say in response, and what I never said,

was that Marnie’s heart was never his to win. A heart, if

we’re being honest, which I finally am, can never be won.

It can only be given, only received. You cannot persuade,

entice, change, still, steal, steel, take a heart. And you certainly

cannot win a heart.

‘Cream?’ Marnie asked.

She was standing beside the dining table holding a white

ceramic jug. Her hair was pinned neatly at the top of her

neck, loose curls around her cheeks, and her necklace was

twisted, the clasp beside the pendant, hanging together

against her breastbone.

I shook my head. ‘No, thanks,’ I said.

‘Not you,’ she replied, and she smiled. ‘I know not you.’

 

 

I want to tell you something now, before we begin. Marnie

Gregory is the most impressive, inspiring, astonishing woman

I know. She has been my best friend for more than eighteen

years – our relationship is legally an adult; able to drink,

marry, gamble – ever since we met at secondary school.

It was our first day and we were queuing in a long, thin

corridor, a line of eleven-year-olds worming their way

towards a table at the other end of the hall. There were

groups huddled at intervals, like mice in a snake, bulging

from the orderly, single-file line.

I was anxious, aware that I knew no one, psychologically

preparing myself for being alone and lonely for the best part

of a decade. I stared at those groups and tried to convince

myself that I didn’t want to be part of one anyway.

I stepped forwards too fast, too far, and stood on the

heel of the girl in front. She spun around. I panicked; I was

sure that I was about to be humiliated, shouted at, belittled

in front of my peers. But that fear dissipated the moment I

saw her. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but Marnie Gregory

is like the sun. I thought it then; I often think it now. Her

skin is shockingly fair, a porcelain cream tempered only

occasionally – after exercise, for example, or when she is

overwhelmingly content – by rosy pink cheeks. Her hair is

a deep auburn, twisted into spirals of red and gold, and her

eyes are a pale, near-white blue.

‘Sorry,’ I said, stepping back and looking down at my shiny new shoes.

‘My name’s Marnie,’ she said. ‘What’s yours?’

That first encounter is symbolic of our entire relationship.

Marnie has an openness, a tone that invites warmth and

love. She is unassumingly confident, unafraid and unaware

of any presumptions you might bring to the conversation.

Whereas I am intensely aware. I am afraid of any potential

animosity and am always waiting for what I know will

come eventually. I am always waiting to be ridiculed. Then,

I feared judgement for the pimples across my forehead, my

mousy hair, my too-big uniform. Now, my tone of voice,

the way it shakes, my clothing – comfortable and rarely

flattering – my hair, my trainers, my chewed fingernails.

She is light where I am dark.

I knew it then. Now you’ll know it too.

‘Name?’ barked the blue-bloused teacher standing behind a desk at the front of the line.

‘Marnie Gregory,’ she said, so firm and self-assured.

‘E . . . F . . . G . . . Gregory. Marnie. You’re in that classroom

there, the one with the C on the door. And you,’ she

continued. ‘Who are you?’

‘Jane,’ I replied.

The teacher looked up from the sheet of paper in front of her and rolled her eyes.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Sorry. It’s Baxter. Jane Baxter.’

She consulted her list. ‘With her. Over there. Door with the C.’

Some might argue that it was a friendship of convenience

and that I would have accepted any offer of kindness, of

affection, of love. And maybe that’s true. In which case, I

might counter that we were destined to be together, that our

friendship was inked in the stars, because further down our

path she’d need me too.

That sounds like nonsense, I know. It probably is. But

sometimes I could swear to it.

 

 

‘Yes, please,’ said Stanley. ‘I’ll have some cream.’

Stanley was two years my junior and a lawyer with a

number of degrees. He had white-blond hair that flopped

over his eyes and he grinned constantly, often for no discernible

reason. He could speak to women, unlike most of

his peers: the result, I guess, of a childhood surrounded by

sisters. But he was fundamentally dull.

Unsurprisingly, Charles seemed to be enjoying his company.

Which made me dislike Stanley even more.

Marnie passed the jug across the table, pressing her

blouse to her stomach. She didn’t want the fabric – silk, I

think – to skate the top of the fruit bowl.

‘Anything else?’ she asked, looking at Stanley, and then at

me, and then to Charles. He was wearing a blue and white

striped shirt and he’d undone the top buttons so that a triangle

of dark hairs sprouted from between the fringes of

the fabric. Her eyes hovered there for a moment. He shook

his head and his tie – undone and loose around his neck

– slipped further to the left.

‘Perfect,’ Marnie said, sitting down and picking up her

dessert spoon.

The conversation was – as always – dominated by

Charles. Stanley could keep up, interjecting successes of

his own wherever possible, but I was bored and I think

that Marnie was too. We were both leaning back in our

chairs, sipping the last of our wine, and absorbed instead

in the imagined conversations playing out within our

own minds.

At half past ten, Marnie stood, as she always did at half

past ten, and said, ‘Right.’

‘Right,’ I repeated. I stood, too.

She lifted our four bowls from the table and stacked

them in the curve of her left arm. A small bead of pink

juice from a raspberry still sitting in one of the dishes bled

into the white of her shirt. I picked up the now-empty fruit

bowl – she’d made it herself at a pottery class a few years

earlier – and the jug of cream and followed her into the

kitchen at the back of the flat.

This flat – their flat – was testament to their relationship.

Charles had paid the hefty deposit, as Charles paid for most

things, but at Marnie’s insistence. She had known instantly

that the flat was meant for them, and it won’t surprise you

to know that persuasion has always come very naturally

to Marnie.

When they moved in it was little more than a hovel:

small, dark, filthy, damp, spread over two floors and desperately

unloved. But Marnie has always been a visionary;

she sees things where others cannot. She finds hope in the

darkest of places – laughably, in me – and trusts herself

to deliver something exceptional. I have always envied

that self-confidence. It comes, for Marnie, from a place of

stubbornness. She has no fear of failure, not because she

has never failed, but because failure has only ever been a

detour, a small diversion, on a journey that has ultimately

led to success.

She worked tirelessly – evenings, weekends, using all of

her annual leave – to build something beautiful. With her

small hands, she tore wallpaper, sanded doors, painted cupboards,

smoothed carpet, laid floorboards, sewed blinds:

everything. Until these rooms emitted the same warmth

that she does; a quiet confidence, a recognisable yet indefinable

sense of home.

Marnie loaded the bowls into the dishwasher, leaving a

space between each.

‘They clean better this way,’ she said.

‘I know,’ I replied, because she said the same thing every

week, because I made the same noise – a tiny grunt – every

week, because it seemed such a waste of water to me.

‘Things are going well with Charles,’ she said.

A prickle climbed my spine, pulling me straight, forcing

air into my lungs.

We had only talked about their relationship once before

then and it had been a conversation fraught with the long,

twisted history of a very old friendship. Ever since, we had

spoken only in practical terms: their plans for the weekend;

the house they might someday buy far beyond the outer

limits of London; his mother, riddled with cancer, living

in Scotland and dying a very slow, painful, lonely death.

We had not, for example, discussed the fact that they

had been together for three years and that several months

earlier I had found unexpectedly – and I know I shouldn’t

have been looking – a diamond engagement ring hidden in

the depths of Charles’s bedside table. Nor had we discussed

the fact that, even without that ring, they were careering

towards a permanent commitment that would bind them

eternally, in a way that – even after almost twenty years –

Marnie and I had never been bound.

We had not discussed the fact that I hated him.

‘Yes,’ I replied, because I was afraid that a full sentence,

perhaps even a two-syllable word, would send our friendship

hurtling into chaos.

‘Don’t you think?’ she said. ‘Don’t you think that things

are looking good for us?’

I nodded and poured the remaining cream from the jug

back into its plastic supermarket container.

‘You think we’re right for each other, don’t you?’

she asked.

I opened the fridge door and hid behind it, slowly – very

slowly – returning the cream to the top shelf.

‘Jane?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘I do.’

That was the first lie I told Marnie.

I wonder now – most days, in fact – if I hadn’t told

that first lie, would I have told the others? I like to tell

myself that the first lie was the least significant of them

all. But that, ironically, is a lie. If I had been honest that

Friday evening, everything might have been – would have

been – different.

I want you to know this now. I thought I was doing the

right thing. Old friendships are like knotted rope, worn in

some parts and thick and bulbous in others. I feared that

this thread of our love was too thin, too frayed, to bear

the weight of my truth. Because surely the truth – that I

had never hated anyone the way I hated him – would have

destroyed our friendship.

If I had been honest – if I had sacrificed our love for

theirs – then Charles would almost certainly still be alive.

 

 

SEVEN LIES publishes on 16th April and it’s available to pre-order now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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