Excerpt from The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Perfect Girl

by Gilly Macmillan

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan X
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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Print Excerpt

SUNDAY NIGHT
The Concert

ZOE

Before the concert begins, I stand inside the entrance to the church and look down the nave. Shadows lurk in the ceiling vaults even though the light outside hasn't dimmed yet, and behind me the large wooden doors have been pulled shut.

In front of me, the last few members of the audience have just settled into their places. Almost every seat is filled. The sound of their talk is a medium-pitched rumble.

I shudder. In the heavy heat of the afternoon, when I was sweaty and tired after rehearsing, I forgot that it could be cold in the church even when the air was oven hot outside, so I chose a little black dress to wear this evening, with skinny straps, and now I'm feeling the chill. My arms are covered in goose bumps.

The doors to the church have been closed, sealing out the heat, because we don't want outside noise to disturb us. This suburb of Bristol isn't known for its rowdy inhabitants, but people have paid good money for their tickets.

And it's not just that. The thing is that this concert is my first performance since I left the Unit, and my first performance as part of my Second Chance Life.

As my mum said, only about a hundred times today, "This performance must be as perfect as it's possible to be."

I glance at Lucas, who's standing beside me. Only a millimeter or two of air separates us.

He's wearing black trousers that my mum put a crease in this afternoon, and a black shirt. He looks good. His dark brown hair is just about tamed into neatness, but not quite, and I think that if he was bothered to, he could make those girls who are still lame enough to read vampire romance stories wilt.

I look good too, or I will when the goose bumps subside. I'm small-boned, I have pale, clear skin, and my hair is long and very blond but thin: cobweb-caught-in-sunlight hair, which looks amazing against my black dress. In the right light my hair can look white, and this gives me a look of innocence.

"Like a baby deer, fragile, delicate" was how the prosecutor described me, which I thought was quite nice, though it still hurts me to remember that she added "but don't be fooled."

I flex my fingers and lace them together to make sure the gloves I'm wearing are fitting extra snugly, the way I like them, and then I put my arms to my sides and shake them, to get my hands moving. I want my fingers to be warm and flexible. I want them pulsating with blood.

Beside me, Lucas shakes his hands too, slowly, and one at a time. Pianists catch hand shaking from each other like other people catch yawns.

At the far end of the nave, in front of the altar, the grand piano stands on a low platform, its hammer and string intestines reflected on the underside of the propped-up shiny black lid. It's waiting for us. Lucas is staring at it, completely focused, as if it represents a vertical glacier that he has to ascend with his bare hands.

We have different approaches to nerves. He becomes as still as possible, he starts to breathe through his nose, slowly, and he won't respond to anybody.

In contrast, I fidget, and my mind can't rest because it has to run through the things I have to do, in the order I have to do them in, before I begin to perform. It's not until I play the first note that the concentration I need, and the music itself, will wrap around me, pure and white like a shroud, and everything else will disappear.

Until that point, I'm sick with nerves, just like Lucas is.

Beside the piano, a lady has been introducing the concert, and now she gestures toward us, and then sort of scrapes and bows her way off the stage.

It's time for us to go on.

I pull my gloves off quickly, and drop them onto a table beside me where the coffee and catechism leaflets are, and Lucas and I walk together down the aisle as if we're play-acting a wedding. As we do, the heads of the audience turn to look at us, each row triggering the next.

From The Perfect Girlby Gilly Macmillan. Copyright © 2016 by Gilly Macmillan. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

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