Husbands secret, p.10
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       Husband's Secret, p.10

           Liane Moriarty
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  ‘That’s okay. I’ll catch a cab.’ Rachel roused herself. Her head did feel fuzzy. She didn’t want Mac to drive her home. Mac, who had stayed in his study throughout the Tupperware party, was a man’s man and had got on great with Ed, but he was always so painfully shy in one-on-one conversations with women. It would be excruciating being alone in the car with him.

  ‘You live down near the Wycombe Road tennis courts, don’t you, Rachel?’ said Cecilia. ‘I’ll drive you home. You’re right on my way.’

  Moments later, they’d waved Marla off and Rachel was in the passenger seat of Cecilia’s white Ford Territory with the giant Tupperware logo along the side. The car was very comfortable, quiet and clean and nice smelling. Cecilia drove just as she did everything: capably and briskly, and Rachel put her head back against the headrest and waited for Cecilia’s reliable, soothing stream of conversation about raffles, carnivals, newsletters and everything else pertaining to St Angela’s.

  Instead, there was silence. Rachel glanced over at Cecilia’s profile. She was chewing on her bottom lip, and squinting, as if at some thought that was giving her pain.

  Marriage problems? Something to do with the kids? Rachel remembered all the time she used to devote to problems about sex, misbehaving children and misunderstood comments, broken appliances and money.

  It wasn’t that she now knew those problems didn’t matter. Not at all. She longed for them to matter. She longed for the tricky tussle of life as a mother and a wife. How wonderful to be Cecilia Fitzpatrick driving home to her daughters after hosting a successful Tupperware party, worrying over whatever was quite rightfully worrying her.

  In the end it was Rachel who broke the silence. ‘I had fun tonight,’ she said. ‘You did a great job. No wonder you’re so successful at it.’

  Cecilia gave a small shrug. ‘Thank you. I love it.’ She smiled. ‘My sister makes fun of me over it.’

  ‘Jealous,’ said Rachel.

  Cecilia shrugged and yawned. She seemed like a different person from the performer at Marla’s house and the woman who zoomed around St Angela’s.

  ‘I’d love to see your pantry,’ mused Rachel. ‘I bet everything is all labelled and in the perfect container. Mine looks like a disaster zone.’

  ‘I am proud of my pantry,’ Cecilia smiled. ‘John-Paul says it’s like a filing cabinet of food. I make a big song and dance if the poor girls put something back in the wrong spot.’

  ‘How are your girls?’ asked Rachel.

  ‘Wonderful,’ said Cecilia, although Rachel saw a shadow of a frown. ‘Growing up fast. Giving me cheek.’

  ‘Your eldest daughter,’ said Rachel. ‘Isabel. I saw her the other day in assembly. She reminds me a little of my daughter. Of Janie.’

  Cecilia didn’t respond.

  Why did I tell her that? thought Rachel. I must be drunker than I realise. No woman wanted to hear that her daughter looked like a girl who’d been strangled.

  But then Cecilia said, with her eyes on the road ahead, ‘I have just one memory of your daughter.’

  chapter eleven

  ‘I have just one memory of your daughter.’

  Was it the right thing to do? What if she made Rachel cry? She’d just won the Heat ’n’ Eat Everyday Set and she seemed so happy about it.

  Cecilia never been comfortable around Rachel. She felt trivial, because surely the whole world was trivial to a woman who had lost a child in such circumstances. She always wanted to somehow convey to Rachel that she knew she was trivial. Years ago she’d seen something on a TV talk show about how grieving parents appreciated hearing people tell them memories of their children. There would be no more new memories, so it was a gift to share one with them. Ever since then, whenever Cecilia saw Rachel, she thought of her memory of Janie, paltry though it was, and wondered how she could share it with her. But there was never an opportunity. You couldn’t bring it up in the school office in between conversations about the uniform shop and the netball timetable.

  Now was the perfect time. The only time. And Rachel was the one who had brought up Janie.

  ‘Of course, I didn’t actually know her at all,’ said Cecilia. ‘She was four years ahead of me. But I do have this memory.’ She faltered.

  ‘Go on.’ Rachel straightened in her seat. ‘I love to hear memories of Janie.’

  ‘Well it’s just something really small,’ said Cecilia. Now she was terrified she wouldn’t deliver enough. She wondered if she should embellish. ‘I was in Year 2. Janie was in Year 6. I knew her name because she was house captain of Red.’

  ‘Ah, yes,’ Rachel smiled. ‘We dyed everything red. One of Ed’s work shirts accidentally got dyed red. Funny how you forget all that stuff.’

  ‘So it was the school carnival, and do you remember how we used to do marching? Each house had to march around the oval. I’m always telling Connor Whitby that we should bring back the marching. He just laughs at me.’

  Cecilia glanced over and saw that Rachel’s smile had withered a little. She ploughed on. Was it too upsetting? Not that interesting?

  ‘I was the sort of child who took the marching very seriously. And I desperately wanted Red to win, but I tripped over, and because I fell, all these other children crashed into the back of me. Sister Ursula was screaming like a banshee, and that was the end of it for Red. I was sobbing my heart out, I thought it was the absolute end of the world, and Janie Crowley, your Janie, came over and helped me up, and brushed off the back of my uniform, and she said very quietly in my ear, “It doesn’t matter. It’s only stupid marching.”’

  Rachel didn’t say anything.

  ‘That’s it,’ said Cecilia humbly. ‘It wasn’t much, but I just always –’

  ‘Thank you, darling,’ said Rachel, and Cecilia was reminded of an adult thanking a child for a homemade bookmark made out of cardboard and glitter. Rachel lifted a hand, as if she was about to wave at someone, and then she let it brush gently against Cecilia’s shoulder, before dropping it in her lap. ‘That’s just so Janie. “Only stupid marching.” You know what? I think I remember it. All the children tumbling to the ground. Marla and I giggling our heads off.’

  She paused. Cecilia’s stomach tensed. Was she about to burst into tears?

  ‘Gosh, you know, I am a tiny bit drunk,’ said Rachel. ‘I actually thought about driving myself home. Imagine if I’d killed someone.’

  ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t have,’ said Cecilia.

  ‘I really did have fun tonight,’ said Rachel. Her head was turned, so that she was addressing the car window. She gently knocked her forehead against the window. It seemed like something a much younger woman would do after they’d had too much to drink. ‘I should make the effort to go out more often.’

  ‘Oh, well!’ said Cecilia. This was her thing. She could fix that! ‘You must come to Polly’s birthday party the weekend after Easter! Saturday afternoon at two. It’s a pirate party.’

  ‘That’s very nice of you, but I’m sure Polly doesn’t need me crashing her party,’ said Rachel.

  ‘You must come! You’ll know lots of people. John-Paul’s mother. My mum. Lucy O’Leary is coming with Tess and her little boy, Liam.’ Cecilia was suddenly desperate for her to come. ‘You could bring your grandson! Bring Jacob! The girls would love to have a toddler there.’

  Rachel’s face lit up. ‘I did say I’d look after Jacob while Rob and Lauren are seeing real estate agents about renting out their house while they’re in New York. Oh, this is me, just ahead.’

  Cecilia stopped the car in front of a red-brick bungalow. It seemed like every light in the house had been left on.

  ‘Thanks so much for the lift.’ Rachel climbed out of the car with the same careful sideways slide of the hips as Cecilia’s mother. There was a certain age, Cecilia had noticed, before people stooped or trembled where they didn’t seem to trust their bodies as they once had. ‘I’ll send an invitation to you at the school!’ Cecilia leaned across the seat to call out the window, wondering if
she should be offering to walk Rachel to the door. Her own mother would be insulted if she did. John-Paul’s mother would be insulted if she didn’t.

  ‘Lovely,’ said Rachel, and she walked off briskly, as if she’d read Cecilia’s thoughts and wanted to prove she wasn’t elderly just yet, thanks very much.

  Cecilia turned the car around in the cul-de-sac, and by the time she came back, Rachel was already inside, the front door pulled firmly shut.

  Cecilia looked for her silhouette through the windows but didn’t see anything. She tried to imagine what Rachel was doing now and what she was feeling, alone in a house with the ghosts of her daughter and her husband.

  Well. She had a slightly breathless feeling as if she’d just driven home a minor celebrity. And she’d talked to her about Janie! It had gone pretty well, she thought. She’d given Rachel a memory, just like the magazine article said she should. She felt a mild sense of social achievement, and of satisfaction in finally ticking off a long procrastinated task, and then she felt ashamed for feeling pride, or any sort of pleasure, in connection to Rachel’s tragedy.

  She stopped at a traffic light and remembered the angry truck driver from that afternoon, and with that thought her own life came flooding back into her mind. While she’d been driving Rachel home, she’d temporarily forgotten everything: the strange things Polly and Esther had said about John-Paul today in the car, her decision to open his letter tonight.

  Did she still feel justified?

  Everything had seemed so ordinary after speech therapy. There had been no more peculiar revelations from her daughters, and Isabel had seemed especially cheerful after her haircut. It was a short pixie cut, and from the way Isabel was holding herself, it was clear that she thought it made her look very sophisticated, when it actually made her look younger and sweeter.

  There had been a postcard for the girls from John-Paul in the letterbox. He had a running joke with his daughters where he sent them the silliest postcards he could find. Today’s postcard featured one of those dogs with folds of wrinkly skin, wearing a tiara and beads, and Cecilia thought it was stupid but true to form, the girls all fell about laughing and put it on the fridge.

  ‘Oh, come on now,’ she said mildly as a car suddenly pulled into the lane in front of her. She lifted her hand to toot the horn and then didn’t bother.

  Note how I didn’t scream and yell like a mad person, she thought for the benefit of that afternoon’s psychotic truck driver, just in case he happened to have stopped by to read her mind. It was a cab in front of her. He was doing that weird cabbie thing of testing the brakes every few seconds.

  Great. He was heading the same direction as her. The cab jerked its way down her street, and without warning suddenly stopped at the kerb outside Cecilia’s house.

  The lights in the cab went on. The passenger was sitting in the front seat. One of the Kingston boys, thought Cecilia. The Kingstons lived across the road and had three sons in their twenties still living at home, using their expensive private educations to do never-ending degrees and get drunk in city bars. ‘If a Kingston boy ever goes near one of our girls,’ John-Paul always said, ‘I’ll be ready with the shotgun.’

  She pulled into her driveway, pressed the button on the remote for the garage and looked in her rear-vision mirror. The cabbie had popped the boot. A broad-shouldered man in a suit was pulling out his luggage.

  It wasn’t a Kingston boy.

  It was John-Paul. He always looked so unfamiliar when she saw him unexpectedly like this in his work clothes, as if she was still twenty-three and he’d gone and got all grown-up and grey-haired without her.

  John-Paul was home three days early.

  She was filled with equal parts pleasure and exasperation.

  She’d lost her chance. She couldn’t open the letter now. She turned off the ignition, pulled on the handbrake, undid her seatbelt, opened the car door and ran down the driveway to meet him.

  chapter twelve

  ‘Hello?’ said Tess warily, looking at her watch, as she picked up her mother’s home phone.

  It was nine o’clock at night. Surely it couldn’t be another telemarketer.

  ‘It’s me.’

  It was Felicity. Tess’s stomach cramped. Felicity had been calling all day on her mobile, leaving voicemail messages and texts that Tess left unheard and unread. It felt strange, ignoring Felicity, as if she was forcing herself to do something unnatural.

  ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’

  ‘Nothing has happened,’ said Felicity. ‘We still haven’t slept together.’

  ‘For God’s sake,’ said Tess, and then to her surprise, she laughed. It wasn’t even a bitter laugh. It was a genuine laugh. This was ridiculous. ‘What’s the hold-up?’

  But then she caught sight of herself in the mirror above her mother’s dining room table and saw her smile fade, like someone catching on to a cruel trick.

  ‘All we can think about is you,’ said Felicity. ‘And Liam. The Bedstuff website crashed – anyway, I won’t talk to you about work. I’m at my apartment. Will is at home. He looks like a wreck.’

  ‘You’re pathetic.’ Tess turned away from her reflection in the mirror. ‘You’re both so pathetic.’

  ‘I know,’ said Felicity. Her voice was so low, Tess had to press the phone hard against her ear to hear her. ‘I’m a bitch. I’m that woman we hate.’

  ‘Speak up!’ said Tess irritably.

  ‘I said I’m a bitch!’ repeated Felicity.

  ‘Don’t expect any argument from me.’

  ‘I don’t,’ said Felicity. ‘Of course I don’t.’

  There was silence.

  ‘You want me to be all right with it,’ said Tess. She knew them so well. ‘Don’t you? You want me to make everything all right.’

  That was her job. That was her role in their three-way relationship. Will and Felicity were the ones who ranted and raved, who let the clients upset them, who got their feelings hurt by strangers, who thumped the steering wheel and shouted ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was Tess’s job to soothe them, to jolly them along, to do the whole glass is half-full, it will all work out, you’ll feel better in the morning thing. How could they possibly have an affair without her there to help? They needed Tess there to say, ‘It’s not your fault!’

  ‘I don’t expect that,’ said Felicity. ‘I don’t expect anything from you. Are you all right? Is Liam all right?’

  ‘We’re fine,’ said Tess. She felt an overwhelming tiredness, and with it came an almost dreamy sense of detachment. These huge swoops of emotion were exhausting. She pulled out one of the dining room table chairs and sat down. ‘Liam is starting at St Angela’s tomorrow.’ Watch me getting on with my life.

  ‘Tomorrow? What’s the rush?’

  ‘There’s an Easter egg hunt.’

  ‘Ah,’ said Felicity. ‘Chocolate. Liam’s kryptonite. He’s not being taught by any of the psychotic nuns who taught us, is he?’

  Tess thought: Don’t you CHAT with me, as if everything is normal! But for some reason she went on talking anyway. She was too tired and it was too ingrained in her psyche. She’d chatted to Felicity every day of her life. She was her best friend. She was her only friend.

  ‘The nuns are all dead,’ she said. ‘But the PE teacher is Connor Whitby. Remember him?’

  ‘Connor Whitby,’ repeated Felicity. ‘He was that sad, sinister guy you were going out with before we came to Melbourne. But I thought he was an accountant.’

  ‘He retrained. He wasn’t sinister, was he?’ said Tess. Hadn’t he been perfectly nice? He was the boyfriend who had loved her hands. She remembered that suddenly. How strange. She’d been thinking about him last night, and now he’d reappeared in her life.

  ‘He was sinister,’ said Felicity definitely. ‘He was really old, too.’

  ‘He was ten years older than me.’

  ‘Anyway, I remember there was something creepy about him. I bet he’s even creepier now. There’s something unsavoury a
bout PE teachers, with their tracksuits and whistles and clipboards.’

  Tess’s hand tightened around the phone. Felicity’s smugness. She always thought she knew everything, that she was the superior judge of character, that she was more sophisticated and edgy than Tess.

  ‘So I guess you weren’t in love with Connor Whitby then?’ she said, brittle and bitchy. ‘Will is the first one to take your fancy?’

  ‘Tess –’

  ‘Don’t bother,’ she cut her off. Another wave of rage and hurt swelled in her throat. She swallowed. How could this possibly be? She loved them both. She loved them both so much. ‘Is there anything else?’

  ‘I don’t suppose I could say goodnight to Liam, could I?’ said Felicity in a small, meek voice that didn’t suit her.

  ‘No,’ said Tess. ‘Anyway, he’s asleep.’ He wasn’t asleep. She’d walked by his bedroom (her father’s old study) just a moment ago and seen him lying in bed playing on his Nintendo DS.

  ‘Please tell him I said hello,’ said Felicity tremulously, as if she was doing her courageous best in difficult circumstances beyond her control.

  Liam adored Felicity. He had a certain dry little chuckle reserved especially for her.

  The rage erupted.

  ‘Sure, I’ll tell him you said hello,’ Tess spat into the phone. ‘And at the same time why don’t I tell him that you’re trying to break up his family? Why don’t I mention that?’

  ‘Oh God, Tess, I’m so –’ said Felicity.

  ‘Don’t say you’re sorry. Don’t you dare say you’re sorry one more time. You chose this. You let this happen. You did this. You did this to me. You did this to Liam.’ She was weeping uncontrollably now, like a child, rocking back and forth.

  ‘Where are you, Tess?’ It was her mother calling from the other end of the house.

  Tess sat up immediately and wiped frantically at her wet face with the back of her hand. She didn’t want Lucy to see her crying like this. It was unbearable seeing her own pain reflected in her mother’s face.

  She stood. ‘I have to go.’

  ‘I –’

  ‘I don’t care if you sleep with Will or not,’ interrupted Tess. ‘Actually, I think you should sleep with him. Get it out of your system. But I will not have Liam growing up with divorced parents. You were there when Mum and Dad split up. You know what it was like for me. That’s why I can’t believe –’

  There was a searing pain at the centre of her chest. She pressed her palm to it. Felicity was silent.

  ‘You’re not going to live happily ever after with him,’ she said. ‘You know that, don’t you? Because I’m prepared to wait this out. I will wait for you to finish with him.’ She took a deep, shaky breath. ‘Have your revolting little affair and then give my husband back.’

  7 October 1977: Three teenagers were killed when East German police clashed with protesters demanding ‘Down with the Wall!’ Lucy O’Leary, pregnant with her first child, saw the story on the news and cried and cried. Her twin sister, Mary, who was also pregnant with her first child, rang her the next day and asked if the news was making her cry too. They talked for a while about tragedies happening around the world and then moved on to the far more interesting topic of their babies.

  ‘I think we’re having boys,’ said Mary. ‘And they’ll be best friends.’

  ‘More likely they’ll want to kill each other,’ said Lucy.

  chapter thirteen

  Rachel sat in a steaming hot bath, clinging to the sides while her head spun. It was a stupid idea to have a bath when she was tipsy from the Tupperware party. She’d probably slip when she got out and break her hip.

  Perhaps that was a good strategy. Rob and Lauren would cancel New York and stay in Sydney to take care of her. Look at Lucy O’Leary. Her daughter had come from Melbourne to look after her the moment she’d heard about her breaking her ankle. She’d even pulled her son out of his school in Melbourne, which seemed a bit over the top now that she thought about it.

  Recalling the O’Learys made Rachel think of Connor Whitby and the expression on his face when he saw Tess. Rachel wondered if she should warn Lucy. ‘Just a heads-up. Connor Whitby might be a murderer.’

  Or he might not be. He might just be a perfectly nice PE teacher.

  Some days, when Rachel saw him with the children on the oval, in the sunshine, his whistle around his neck, eating a red apple, she would think: There is no way on heaven and earth that nice man could have hurt Janie. And then on other bitter, grey days, when she caught sight of him walking alone, his face impassive, his shoulders broad enough to kill, she thought: You know what happened to my daughter.

  She rested her head against the back of the bath, closed her eyes and remembered the first time she’d heard of his existence. Sergeant Bellach had told her that the last person to see Janie alive was a boy called Connor Whitby from the local public school, and Rachel had thought: But that can’t be, I’ve never heard of him. She knew all of Janie’s friends and their mothers.

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