I grabbed a tea towel and pulled the steaming roast lamb from the oven.
"Dinner's ready," I called.
My partner Warren and five kids from a previous relationship gathered around the table.
"Is Neil joining us?" I asked my daughter Jody, 20.
She was too embarrassed to meet my eyes.
"I'll check," she mumbled, heading outside.
But when she came back, she shook her head.
"Sorry, he's not feeling well, we have to go," she said, grabbing her handbag.
I hated that he always did this. Jody had been dating Neil for a few years.
They'd gotten engaged and were living together with their young son, Andy*, 18 months.
I'd known Neil and his mum Margaret from before Jody was born.
We'd lived next door to them for a little while.
Margaret had invited me round for a cuppa one afternoon, but her house was filthy and it had made me incredibly uncomfortable.I never went back after that.
We moved away but returned years later, when Jody was a teenager.
I was excited when she told me about her new boyfriend, but when she revealed it was Neil Archer, I cringed.
Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
His mum mightn't have kept a tidy house, that didn't mean she'd raised a bad son.
Before long, Jody moved out to live with Neil. She was only 16, but there was no stopping her.
I wasn't exactly thrilled, it felt like Neil was trying to pull her away from us.
Whenever I invited them round for dinner, he'd stay in the car, refusing to come in.
"Why does he do that?" I asked Jody.
"He thinks you're trying to break us up," she replied.
She never stayed long before saying she had to leave.
I hated how much control Neil had over her.
Then one night, he finally came inside.
It seemed like things could be looking up.
I watched him shovel beef and peas into his mouth, then suddenly he piped up.
"Ya know, if Jody ever leaves me, I'll kill 'er," he blurted, interrupting our conversation.
I nearly dropped my fork.
Jody laughed it off but I certainly didn't find it funny.
Every part of me wanted to drag him outside and tell him to never come back, but I kept quiet.
What he'd said had made my skin crawl, but I told myself it was an empty threat.
He loved Jody and adored Andy.
Then one day, Jody came over to stay the night. She needed some space from Neil.
I sat her down on the couch with a cuppa.
"I want to leave him, Mum," she confessed. "I don't love him anymore."
I pulled her into a hug, hiding my relief.
"Come home, love," I said.
She promised she'd start gathering her things so she and Andy could move in with us.
A few weeks later I got a text from Jody.
'I've left Neil and gone to stay with friends. Be in contact soon,' it read.
My stomach lurched.
There was no way Jody had sent this message.
She religiously wrote love you at the end of her texts and she'd been planning to move in with us, not friends.
I showed it to Jody's older sister, Tania.
"She didn't write that," she agreed.
Tania tried calling her, but it went straight to voicemail.
We considered calling Neil but then a chilling thought crossed my mind.
Did he do something?
We reported Jody as missing, telling police this was completely out of character for her.
She'd never just leave town, especially without Andy.
Tania said she'd been at a barbecue with Jody two days earlier.
Like always, Neil had refused to come in.
Jody had got fed up with him sulking in the car and Tania saw them argue before they took off.
That was the last time anyone had seen her.
A harrowing feeling of dread formed in the pit of my stomach.
I was certain Neil had done something to Jody but prayed I was wrong.
A few days later, he finally called me.
"Have you seen Jody?" I begged him.
"Nah, she just left. I wasn't worried about her until I heard she was reported missing," he said, saying he had no idea where she was.
He was eerily calm.
I didn't understand how, when no-one knew where Jody was!
We put up flyers and police sent out search parties, scouring the local river.
By now, news crews had gathered in town and it seemed Neil and Margaret finally understood the gravity of the situation, crying in front of the cameras.
"Please come home, Jody," Margaret wept.
My heart softened slightly. Maybe they really didn't know where she was?
A month after Jody went missing, I woke to a knock on the front door.
"Jody?" I cried, rushing to open it.
It was Tania, her partner Michael, my daughter Sarah and her partner, Sam.
"They've found Jody," Tania stuttered.
"Where is she?" I begged.
"She was in the ground," Tania choked before bursting into tears.
Neil had been arrested for Jody's murder.
He'd confessed to killing her to his brother, who had then called police.
I collapsed and started weeping, unable to believe this was real.
It was all over the news by morning.
In a haze of grief, I met with detectives.
They said that after the barbecue Jody and Neil had gotten into a fight.
They'd gone to their house, where Neil had strangled Jody to death using the grey cord of his hoodie.
Then he buried her in the yard of his parents' house.
He'd killed her because he didn't want her to break up his family.
Neil's dad hadn't been there but unbelievably, Margaret had gone out and bought bags of cement with money she'd stolen from Jody's bank account.
They used them to conceal Jody's body.
Margaret had also been the one who had sent the text message from Jody's phone to me.
I felt sick imagining Jody laying out there, lifeless and alone, and thinking of the crocodile tears Margaret and Neil had shed for the cameras.
It was all a performance. They'd known exactly where my baby was.
Neil Anthony Archer, 31, pleaded guilty to murdering Jody and was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years in jail – longer than the average sentence.
Margaret Archer was convicted of assisting Neil in murder and sentenced to six and a half years.
No time would ever be enough for what they did to my precious girl and leaving Andy without his mother.
He came to live with us and luckily, is too young to fully understand what happened to his mum.
But I constantly remind him about Jody, telling stories about the wonderful woman she was and how much she loved him.
Her little boy is what keeps me going. I'll do whatever it takes to keep him safe.
- PuzzlesThe Australian Women's Weekly February Issue Online Entry
Prizes To LoveToday 12:00am