Samantha M. Bailey's next thriller, Watch Out for Her, is inspired by the anxiety and fear of motherhood
Toronto thriller writer Samantha M. Bailey is writing her second book.
Watch Out For Her is about a young mother named Sarah who thinks she's found it all when she hires a young babysitter, Holly, for her six-year-old son. Her son adores Holly and Holly adores Sarah. But when Sarah's trust issues get in the way, the bonds begin to break. When she sees something she can't unsee, she uproots her family to start over. But it appears her past has followed her to this new life. Who is watching Sarah now? And what do they want?
"Like everyone who's a mom, I'm a worrier. I think, for new moms especially, you're terrified. You bring this baby home and now you have to keep it alive. It doesn't matter how tired, scared or hungry I am because now my life has completely changed," Bailey told The Next Chapter in an interview in 2020.
"As a writer, especially a writer of thrillers, my mind goes to the darkest of places. I think it's why I write what I write — so that I have a place to put all my fears and all my worries."
Watch Out For Her will be published on April 19, 2022.
Bailey is a journalist and editor in Toronto. Her first thriller, Woman on the Edge, was released in 2019.
You can read an excerpt from Watch Out For Her below.
I watch people.
With a voyeur's keen eyes, I peer out the window of our rental car as Daniel pulls up to our new house at 227 Lilac Lane. This is the house we'll be living in for the next six months until we find one we want to buy. I've seen only grainy pictures of the inside. The new consulting firm my husband will be working for as a business strategist found the home for us as an incentive to bring him on board. It makes this sudden move across the country easier. Easier but still hard.
At twilight, the detached two-story blends into the others on this quiet, serene street, like I hope we do. At the end of the block, there's a cul-de-sac, and a set of boxy townhouses across from a ravine. I shiver, not from the bitter mid-September chill, but because the woods feel too close. They remind me too much of everything we left behind in Vancouver.
My son, Jacob, and I exit the car, our running shoes squelching in the puddles from an overnight rain. The sound centres me in the present, far from Holly Monroe, our babysitter over the summer, and the reason I agreed to this unexpected move. Daniel is ahead of us, dragging a suitcase behind him. Every few seconds, he looks over his shoulder, smiling. I smile back, but inside I'm crying over everything I've hidden from him; everything he might be hiding from me.
Jacob stops in front of the three-bedroom, red-brick home looming before us. "It has eyes." His voice is flat, his body trembling through his thin coat. The wind is sharper in Toronto than North Vancouver, something else my son is forced to get used to. "The windows are the eyes, and the door is the mouth. It has no nose, though."
I pull him close. A six-year-old's imagination, but still, his words haunt me.
My son isn't aware of the real reason we've left Vancouver. All Jacob knows is that Daddy got an exciting new job as a business consultant in the city where he grew up, and Mommy supports Daddy. Neither my son nor my husband knows anything about the nights I hid in the thick cluster of trees outside our pool enclosure because it offered the perfect view of our babysitter's house.
I wanted to be her. Holly. I wanted to be her, until I stopped trusting her. Then I only wanted to protect what was mine.
I turn to my son as he slips his thumb into his mouth, a habit I thought he'd gotten over this summer. My heart constricts at how vividly the freckles dotting Jacob's nose stand out against his chalk-white skin. He looks terrible. We took the red-eye so he would sleep, but he was so upset about the move, about being uprooted so suddenly, that he cried for almost the entire flight. It's been said that you're only as happy as your unhappiest child. I have just one child, and he's shattered, so that's how I'm feeling, too. He's lost his home and left behind everyone he loves, except me and Daniel.
I wanted to be her, until I stopped trusting her. Then I only wanted to protect what was mine.
"Ready to see the house?" I ask, trying to sound upbeat.
Jacob pulls his wet thumb out of his mouth. The skin around the nail is ripped and chapped. "I want to go home."
Well, that's impossible, I think to myself, but I don't say it out loud. Three weeks ago, Daniel sold our beautiful cliffside home in Forest View overlooking the Capilano River to a private buyer from his exclusive golf club. It doesn't belong to us anymore. My husband has taken care of everything, for once, a far cry from the man who doesn't make his own lunches for work and who has left childrearing our son mostly to me. All I have to do now, in this new place, is be Jacob's mother. Like I should have been content with all along rather than yearning for my own sense of self.
A porch light flicks on when Daniel gets to the front door. Jacob and I follow up the three steep steps, and I peer through the decorative glass, our ghostly reflections staring back at me. Daniel rummages for the key in the lock box, inserts, and turns it. There's no click. The black oak door wasn't locked.
"Daniel?" I try to keep the tremor from my voice.
"Wow. The property manager forgot to lock it," he says.
I feel eyes on me and spin around. Under the dim yellow glow of a street lamp, a curtain twitches in the house across the street. A face appears, then disappears. I will not overreact. I refuse to give into the foreboding dread that's been pressing on my chest since the last time I saw Holly ten days ago.
I trail behind Daniel, pushing Jacob inside and locking the front door behind us. Before I can even look around the main floor, Jacob lets out a howl — a low, agonized wail that twists my insides. Daniel looks at me, shutting his eyes for a moment like he always does so he won't react and exacerbate one of Jacob's tantrums.
I take over as usual. "What's wrong?" I ask Jacob as I kneel on the hardwood so I'm at his eye-level.
"Mr. Blinkers! I can't live here without him!" He punches his fist over and over on his skinny thigh. I take his tiny hand and hold it between mine.
There's no pain greater than your child's pain. I've made so many mistakes that I can never undo. My sole focus now is making my son happy again. But I can't because we lost his favourite toy, Mr. Blinkers — the soft, grey stuffed bunny he slept with every night, all summer long. It disappeared while we were packing up the few items of clothing, toys, and electronics we brought with us. I blame myself. I probably threw it out by accident. It's my fault, like so many things that happened over the summer, like getting too close to our babysitter.
"Maybe we can find his brother at a store here, sweetheart."
Daniel drops our bags and the house keys hit the small ebony table at the door. The clang makes me jump. He crouches with me in front of Jacob. "Buddy, we'll get you a new bunny, and we'll take him to see the CN Tower. It even has a restaurant at the top that spins."
Daniel's trying too hard, and Jacob sees right through it.
"I want the bunny Holly gave me!" He leans into my shoulder and the tears come so fast and furious my coat is damp. I hug him fiercely and let him cry, my rainbow baby, my miracle after my miscarriage. Jacob is the only child I'll ever have.
Daniel locks eyes with me, his full of regret. Regret about what? How strained and distant our marriage has become? How invisible I've been to him for the last year? How friendly he and Holly seemed when they didn't know I was watching them? No, I won't go there right now. He's been trying to reassure me, trying to tell me everything was in my head.
Since the day he suggested moving across the country to fix everything, he's been making such an effort to be more attentive, to make me feel like I matter, like when we got married 15 years ago. I've chosen to believe him that nothing was going on between him and Holly. I've chosen to believe it, but do I actually?
I try to be rational. I do. Daniel is the man who massaged my feet every single night when I was pregnant with Jacob. Daniel cried with me when we lost our first baby, our daughter, at 15 weeks because her heart stopped beating inside me.
I can't lose anyone else.
Jacob keeps bringing up Holly, and every time, it puts my teeth on edge. Now, Daniel is the first to answer him. "Jacob, it's better we don't talk about Holly, okay? We need to move on."
There it is again: evidence of my husband trying. I run my hand over his thick brown hair, just starting to grey at the temples. Of course the grey suits him, while my hair, which I dyed platinum at the end of July, is now pulled back in a greasy ponytail but the dark roots are already showing.
"I want everything the way it used to b-b-be," Jacob stutters.
"Honey," I say. "Change is hard, but everything's going to be okay. It will be even better than before."
There's no pain greater than your child's pain. I've made so many mistakes that I can never undo. My sole focus now is making my son happy again.
My voice cracks. It was so hard to say goodbye to my mom, my brother, Nathan, sister-in-law Pam, and nieces Sienna and Lily. Before this, I'd never left Vancouver for more than a couple of weeks. Now the mere idea of ever returning fills me with dread. I lost all control this summer. I saw things I should never have seen. And no one can ever know.
I stroke Jacob's cheek before stepping out of the foyer toward the first doorway. There are two more doorways ahead, a creepy fairy tale house of endless doors. The darkness immediately overwhelms me. Our old house boasted a large open-concept design with long windows through which the morning light shone bright and happy. From our pool deck, we were mere steps from the forest of stately Douglas Firs overlooking the Capilano River that swirled just beyond our backyard. Here the main floor is all dark molding and narrow windows. Eerie shadows spill onto the dusty, sable-coloured hardwood.
I blow out a heavy breath and snuggle Jacob, whose teeth are chattering. "We should turn on the heat."
"Sure. Jacob, come with me. We'll find the thermostat. I forgot how much colder it is in Toronto. Even in September." My husband's skin is grey. He looks as exhausted as I am. I feel another sharp pang of guilt, but I try to focus on Daniel, who seems happy to be back in Toronto, where he was raised, beginning a new consulting career after two decades as a COO in Vancouver, handcuffed to his desk.
I hold the black banister all the way up the curved staircase, leading to a spacious landing covered in brown hickory flooring. The master bedroom is large, with expensive, sombre oak dressers and headboard. I itch to snoop in the nooks and crannies to discover who lived here before us and what skeletons they might have hidden in this house. Old habits die hard.
I close the door and glance in the full-length mirror on the back. My cheeks are hollow, and the circles under my eyes are a deep purple. I don't care. Here I can go back to being Sarah Goldman: just a mother and wife, no longer a photographer and a woman who was obsessed with her 22-year-old babysitter.
My fatigue is debilitating. I've never slept well, but the frenzied rush to leave Vancouver has drained me.
With Daniel and Jacob downstairs working on the heat and hopefully bringing in the few boxes in the trunk, I lie back on the king-sized bed, bare of sheets or a duvet. This maudlin house isn't to my taste, but at least it's furnished. I'm glad to see a smoke detector on the ceiling, but the tiny light in the middle isn't on. I should check the batteries. At only five foot one, I need to grab the black chaise next to the window that overlooks the street.
I drag it under the smoke detector, releasing dust motes into the air. I stand on it, sighing, because my fingers can't possibly reach high enough to take it down. But I can at least see it clearly now.
It's not a light in the middle, not a light at all. But there's something round in the centre of the smoke detector.
It's a camera.
The house has eyes.
Someone is watching me.
Adapted from Watch Out for Her by Samantha M. Bailey ©2022. Published by Simon & Schuster Canada.