Husbands secret, p.15
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       Husband's Secret, p.15

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  a word. She turned her attention back to Tess. ‘Did Liam go off to his classroom okay?’

  ‘Miss Applebee took him under her wing,’ said Tess.

  ‘That’s good,’ said Rachel. ‘He’ll be fine. Trudy takes special care of the new children. I’d better go start my day. Get out of these ridiculous-looking clodhoppers. Bye girls.’

  ‘Have a great –’ Cecilia’s voice came out husky and she cleared her throat. ‘Have a great day, Rachel.’

  ‘You too.’

  Rachel headed off towards the school.

  ‘Well,’ said Tess.

  ‘Oh dear,’ said Cecilia. She pressed her fingertips to her mouth. ‘I think I’m going –’ She looked around her agitatedly, as if she was searching for something. ‘Shit.’

  And suddenly she was crouched in the gutter being violently sick.

  Oh God, thought Tess as the awful retching sounds went on and on. She did not want to see Cecilia Fitzpatrick being sick in a gutter. Was it a hangover from the previous night? Food poisoning? Should she crouch down beside her and hold back her hair like girlfriends did for each other in nightclub toilets after too many tequilas? Like she and Felicity had once done for each other? Or should she gently rub Cecilia’s back in a circular motion like she did for Liam when he was sick? Should she at least make some soothing, sympathetic sounds as she stood here watching, to show she cared? Rather than just standing here, wincing and looking the other way? But she barely knew the woman.

  When she was pregnant with Liam, Tess had suffered from chronic all-day-long morning sickness. She’d thrown up in numerous public places, and her only wish had been to be left alone. Perhaps she should slip quietly away? But she couldn’t just abandon the poor woman. She looked around her desperately for another school mum, one of those capable sorts who would know what to do. Cecilia would have dozens of friends at the school, but the street was suddenly deserted and quiet.

  Then she was struck by a wonderful inspiration: tissues. The thought of being able to offer Cecilia something both useful and appropriate filled her with something ridiculously akin to joy. She rustled through her handbag and found a small unopened packet of tissues and a bottle of water.

  ‘You’re like a boy scout,’ Will had said to her early on in their relationship when she’d pulled a small flashlight from her bag after he’d dropped his car keys on a dark street on their way home from a movie. ‘If we got stuck on a desert island we could be self-sufficient thanks to Tess’s handbag,’ Felicity had said, because, of course, Felicity had been there too, that night, she remembered now. When had Felicity ever not been there?

  ‘My goodness me,’ said Cecilia. She straightened up, plonked herself on the kerb and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. ‘How embarrassing.’

  ‘Here.’ Tess handed over the tissues. ‘Are you all right? Was it something you maybe . . . ate?’ Cecilia’s hands, Tess noticed, were trembling badly and her face was pasty white.

  ‘I don’t know.’ Cecilia blew her nose and looked up at Tess. There were purplish crescents under her streaming eyes and tiny flecks of mascara on her eyelids. She looked dreadful. ‘I’m so sorry about this. You must go. You’ve probably got a million things to do.’

  ‘I don’t actually have a thing to do,’ said Tess. ‘Not a thing in the world.’ She undid the bottle cap. ‘Sip of water?’

  ‘Thank you.’ Cecilia took the water bottle and drank. She went to stand up and staggered. Tess grabbed her arm just before she fell.

  ‘Sorry, so sorry.’ Cecilia was almost sobbing.

  ‘It’s fine.’ Tess held her up. ‘It’s perfectly fine. I think I should drive you home.’

  ‘Oh, no, no, that’s so sweet of you, but I’m really fine.’

  ‘No you’re not,’ said Tess. ‘I’ll drive you home. You can hop into bed and I’ll drop your daughter’s shoes back off at the school.’

  ‘I can’t believe I nearly forgot Polly’s damned shoes again,’ said Cecilia. She looked utterly appalled at herself, as if she’d put Polly’s life at risk.

  ‘Come on,’ said Tess. She took Cecilia’s keys from her unresisting hand, pointed the key at the Tupperware car and pressed the unlock button. She was filled with an unusual sense of capability and purpose.

  ‘Thank you for this.’ Cecilia leaned heavily on Tess’s arm as she helped her into the passenger side of her car.

  ‘It’s no problem at all,’ said Tess in a brisk, no-nonsense voice entirely unlike her own, closing the door and heading around to the driver’s side.

  How kind and civic of you! Felicity spoke up in her head. Next thing you’ll be joining the P&C!

  Fuck off Felicity, thought Tess, and she turned Cecilia’s keys in the ignition with a deft flick of the wrist.

  chapter twenty-two

  What was wrong with Cecilia this morning? She was certainly not herself, mused Rachel as she walked into St Angela’s, feeling peculiar and self-conscious about her bouncy flat-footed walk in her sneakers instead of her normal heels. She could feel moisture in her armpits and along her hairline, but actually, walking instead of driving to work had left her feeling quite invigorated. Before she’d left the house this morning she’d momentarily considered calling a taxi because she felt so exhausted after last night. She’d been up for hours after Rodney Bellach had left, mentally replaying that video of Janie and Connor in her head, over and over. Each time she remembered Connor’s face it became more malevolent in her memory. Rodney was just being cautious, not wanting her to get her hopes up. He was old now, and a bit soft around the edges. Once a snappy, smart young police officer saw the video he (or she!) would instantly see the implications and take decisive action.

  What would she do if she ran into Connor Whitby at school today? Confront him? Make the accusation? The thought made her feel dizzy. Her emotions would surely soar like mountains: grief, fury, hatred.

  She took a deep breath. No, no, she would not confront him. She wanted this done properly, and she didn’t want to forewarn him or say something that might cost her a guilty verdict. Imagine if he got off on a legal technicality because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She felt an unexpected sense of not quite happiness, but something. Hope? Satisfaction? Yes, it was satisfaction, because she was doing something for Janie. That was it. It had been so long since she’d been able to do something, anything, for her daughter: to go into her bedroom on a cold night and place an extra blanket over those bony shoulders (Janie felt the cold), to make her one of her favourite cheese and pickle sandwiches (with heaps of butter – Rachel was always secretly trying to fatten her up), to carefully handwash her good clothes, to give her a ten dollar note for no reason at all. For years she’d felt this desire to do something again for Janie, to still be her mother, to look after her again in some small way, and now at last she could. I’m getting him, darling. Not much longer now.

  Her mobile phone rang in her handbag and she fumbled for it, anxious to catch the caller before the silly thing stopped ringing and went to voicemail. It must be Rodney! Who else would call at this time of the morning? With news already? But surely it was too soon, it couldn’t possibly be him.

  ‘Hello?’

  She’d seen the name, just before she answered. Rob, not Rodney. The ‘Ro’ had given her a moment of hope.

  ‘Mum? Everything all right?’

  She tried not to feel aggrieved with Rob for not being Rodney.

  ‘Everything is fine, love. Just on my way in to work. What’s up?’

  Rob launched into a long story, as Rachel kept walking towards the school office. She went by one of the Year 1 classrooms and heard bubbles of children’s laughter floating out the door. As she glanced in, she saw her boss, Trudy Applebee, streak across the classroom with one arm lifted in the air, like a superhero, while the Year 1 teacher put her hand over her eyes and giggled helplessly. Was that a disco strobe light flashing white lights around the room? Tess O’Leary’s little boy certainly wouldn’t be bored on his firs
t day of school, that was for sure. As for that report Trudy was meant to be working on for the Department of Education . . . Rachel sighed, she’d give her until ten am and then she’d drag her back to her desk.

  ‘So is that okay then?’ said Rob. ‘You’ll come to Lauren’s parents on Sunday?’

  ‘What’s that?’ said Rachel. She walked into her office and put her handbag on her desk.

  ‘I thought maybe you could bring a pavlova. If you like.’

  ‘Bring a pavlova where? When?’ She couldn’t process what Rob was going on about.

  She heard Rob take a deep breath.

  ‘On Easter Sunday. For lunch. With Lauren’s family. I know we said we’d come to you for lunch, but it’s just impossible to fit everything in. We’ve been so busy with all the arrangements for New York. So then we thought if you came over to their place, we could see both families at once.’

  Lauren’s family. Lauren’s mother had always just been to the ballet or the opera or the theatre the night before, and whatever it was would have been simply extraordinary or exquisite. Lauren’s father was a retired barrister who would exchange a few courteous pleasantries with Rachel, before abruptly turning away with a politely baffled expression on his face, as if he couldn’t quite place who she was. There was always a stranger at the table, someone beautiful and exotic-looking, who would dominate the conversation with endless talk of their recent fascinating trip to India or Iran, and everybody except for Rachel (and Jacob) would find them enthralling. There appeared to be an endless supply of these colourful guests, because Rachel had never met the same one twice. It was like they were hired as guest speakers for the occasion.

  ‘Fine,’ said Rachel resignedly. She would take Jacob off and play with him in the garden. Anything was bearable if she had Jacob. ‘That’s fine. I’ll bring the pavlova.’

  Rob loved her pavlovas. Bless him. He never seemed to notice that Rachel’s wonky-looking pavlovas were a somewhat lowbrow addition to the table.

  ‘By the way, Lauren wanted to know if you wanted her to pick up any more of those biscuit things, whatever they were, that we brought over the other night.’

  ‘That’s nice of her, but actually they were a little sweet for me,’ said Rachel.

  ‘She also said to ask if you had fun at the Tupperware party last night.’

  Lauren must have noticed Marla’s invitation on the fridge when she picked up Jacob on Monday. Show-off. Look how interested I am in my mother-in-law’s elderly little life!

  ‘It was perfectly fine,’ said Rachel. Would she tell him about the video? Would it upset him? Please him? He had a right to know. She sometimes felt uneasily aware of how little notice she’d taken of Rob’s grief, how she’d just wanted him to stay out of her way, to go to bed, to watch TV, to let her cry in private.

  ‘Bit boring eh, Mum?’

  ‘It was fine. Actually, when I got home –’

  ‘Hey! I got Jacob’s passport photo done before work yesterday. Wait till you see it. So cute.’

  Janie had never had a passport. Yet Jacob, at just two years old, had a passport that allowed him to leave the country at barely a moment’s notice.

  ‘I can’t wait to see it,’ said Rachel. She would not tell Rob about the video. He was far too busy with his own important, jetsetting life to worry about an investigation into his sister’s murder.

  There was a pause. Rob wasn’t stupid.

  ‘We haven’t forgotten about Friday,’ he said. ‘I know this time of year is always hard for you. Actually, speaking of Friday.’

  He seemed to be waiting for her to say something. Was this in fact the whole point of the phone call?

  ‘Yes,’ she said impatiently. ‘What about Friday?’

  ‘Lauren tried to talk to you about it the other night. It’s her idea. Well, it’s not. It’s not at all. It’s my idea. It’s just something she said that made me think it might . . . so, anyway, I know you always go the park. To that park. I know you normally go on your own. But I wondered if maybe I could come too. With Lauren and Jacob if that’s all right.’

  ‘I don’t need –’

  ‘I know you don’t need us there,’ interrupted Rob. He sounded unusually terse. ‘But I’d like to be there this time. For Janie. To show her that –’

  Rachel heard his voice crack.

  He cleared his throat, and spoke again, with a deeper voice.

  ‘And then afterwards, there’s that nice café near the station. Lauren said it’s open on Good Friday. We could have breakfast afterwards.’ He coughed and said hastily, ‘Or just coffee at least.’

  Rachel imagined Lauren standing in the park, looking solemn and stylish. She’d wear a cream trench coat, pulled in tight at the waist, and her hair would be in a shiny, low ponytail that didn’t swing too jauntily, and her lipstick would be a neutral colour, not too bright, and she’d say and do all the right things at all the right times, and somehow turn ‘marking the anniversary of your husband’s sister’s murder’ into another perfectly managed event on her social calendar.

  ‘I think I’d really prefer –’ she began, but then she thought of the way Rob’s voice had cracked. It was all orchestrated by Lauren, of course, but maybe it was something that Rob needed. Maybe he needed it more than Rachel needed to be alone.

  ‘All right,’ she said. ‘That’s fine with me. I normally get there very early, around six am, but Jacob is up at the crack of dawn these days, isn’t he?’

  ‘Yes! He is! So. We’ll be there. Thank you. It means –’

  ‘I’ve actually got a really full plate today, so if you don’t mind . . .’ They’d taken up the phone for long enough. Rodney had probably been trying to call and couldn’t get through.

  ‘Bye Mum,’ said Rob sadly.

  chapter twenty-three

  Cecilia’s home was beautiful, welcoming and filled with light from big windows that looked out on a perfectly tended backyard and swimming pool. The walls were hung with sweet, funny family photos and framed children’s drawings. Everything was shining and tidy, but not in an overly formal, forbidding way. The sofas looked comfy and squishy; there were bookshelves crammed with books and interesting-looking knick-knacks. There was evidence of Cecilia’s daughters everywhere: sports equipment, a cello, a pair of ballet slippers, but everything was in its absolutely correct place. It was like the house was up for sale and it was being marketed by the real estate agent as the ‘ideal family home’.

  ‘I love your house,’ said Tess as Cecilia led her through to the kitchen.

  ‘Thank you, it’s – oh!’ Cecilia stopped abruptly at the kitchen door. ‘I do apologise for this mess!’

  Walking in behind her, Tess said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ There was a handful of breakfast bowls on an island bench, a half-drunk glass of apple juice sitting on top of the microwave, a solitary carton of Sultana Bran and a small pile of books on the kitchen table. Everything else was in perfect shining order.

  Tess watched in bemusement as Cecilia whirled around the kitchen. Within seconds she’d stowed the dishes in the dishwasher, put the cereal away in a giant pantry and was polishing the kitchen sink with a paper towel.

  ‘We ran unusually late this morning,’ explained Cecilia as she scrubbed at the sink as if her life depended on it. ‘Normally I can’t leave the house unless everything is perfect. I know I’m ridiculous. My sister says I have that disorder. What is it? Obsessive compulsive. That’s it. OCD.’

  Tess thought her sister might have a point.

  ‘You should rest,’ she said.

  ‘Have a seat. Would you like a cup of tea? Coffee?’ said Cecilia frantically. ‘I have muffins, biscuits –’ She stopped, pressed her hand to her forehead and briefly closed her eyes. ‘Goodness. That is, ah, what was I saying?’

  ‘I think I should make you a cup of tea.’

  ‘I might actually need to –’ Cecilia pulled out a chair, and then stopped, transfixed by the sight of her shoes.

  ‘My shoes don’t
match,’ she said, awestruck.

  ‘No one would have noticed,’ said Tess.

  Cecilia sat down and rested her elbows on the table. She gave Tess a rueful, almost shy smile. ‘I have a reputation at St Angela’s for being the opposite of this.’

  ‘Oh, well,’ said Tess. She filled a very shiny kettle with water and noticed that she’d left a few droplets on Cecilia’s perfect sink. ‘Your secret is safe with me.’

  Worried that she’d implied that Cecilia’s behaviour was somehow shameful, she quickly changed the subject. ‘Is one of your daughters doing an assignment on the Berlin Wall?’ She nodded at the pile of books on the table.

  ‘My daughter Esther is learning about it for her own interest,’ said Cecilia. ‘She gets crazily interested in these different topics. We all end up becoming experts. It can be a bit draining. Anyway.’ She took a deep breath and suddenly turned in her chair to face Tess as if they were at a dinner party and Cecilia had decided it was time to focus on her instead of the guest on her other side. ‘Have you been to Berlin, Tess?’

  The pitch of her voice was not quite right. Was she about to be sick again? Could Cecilia be on drugs? Mentally ill?

  ‘No, actually.’ Tess opened Cecilia’s pantry door to find teabags and her eyes widened at the array of labelled Tupperware containers of all shapes and sizes. It was like a magazine ad. ‘I’ve been to Europe a few times but my cousin, Felicity –’ She stopped. She’d been about to say that her cousin Felicity wasn’t interested in Germany and so therefore she’d never been, and she was struck for the first time by what an odd thing that was to say. As if her own feelings about seeing Germany were of no consequence. (What were her own feelings about Germany?) She saw a tray set out with rows of teabags. ‘Gosh. You’ve got everything. Which tea would you like?’

  ‘Oh, Earl Grey, just black, no sugar. Really, please let me!’ Cecilia went to stand up.

  ‘Sit, sit,’ said Tess, almost bossily, as if she’d known Cecilia forever. If Cecilia was behaving unlike herself, so was Tess. Cecilia sat back down.

  A thought occurred to Tess. ‘Will Polly need her sports shoes straightaway? Should I rush back to the school with them?’

  Cecilia started. ‘I forgot about Polly’s sport again! I completely forgot.’

  Tess smiled at how appalled Cecilia looked. It was like she was forgetting things for the first time in her whole life.

  Cecilia said slowly, ‘They don’t go up to the oval until ten.’

  ‘In that case I’ll have a cup of tea with you,’ said Tess. She helped herself to an unopened packet of expensive-looking chocolate biscuits from Cecilia’s extraordinary pantry, somewhat thrilled by her temerity. Oh, this was living life on the edge, all right. ‘And a biscuit?’

  chapter twenty-four

  Cecilia watched Tess lift her cup of tea to her mouth (she’d used the wrong mugs – Cecilia never used those mugs for guests) and smile at her over the rim, unaware of the terrible monologue running silently through Cecilia’s head.

  Want to know what I found out last night, Tess? My husband murdered Janie Crowley. I know! Wow, hey. Yep, Rachel Crowley’s daughter, that’s right, the nice white-haired lady with the sad eyes, the one who walked past us this morning and looked me right in the eyes and smiled. So! I’m in a bit of a pickle to be honest, Tess, as my mother would say. A real pickle.

  What would Tess say if Cecilia actually spoke those words out loud? Cecilia had thought Tess was one of those mysterious, self-assured types who didn’t need to fill silent gaps with conversation, but it occurred to her now that perhaps she was shy. There was something brave about the way she met Cecilia’s eyes and sat with careful, straight-backed posture, as if she was a child behaving well at someone else’s house.

  She was really being very nice to Cecilia, driving her home after that humiliating incident in the gutter. Was Cecilia going to throw up every time she saw Rachel Crowley from now on? Because that could be complicated.

  Tess tilted her head at the Berlin Wall books. ‘I always like reading about the escape attempts.’

  ‘Me too,’ said Cecilia. ‘The successful ones, that is.’ She opened one of the books to the section of photos in the middle. ‘See this family?’ She pointed at a black and white photo of a young man and woman and their four small, scruffy children.

  ‘This man hijacked a train. Cannonball Harry they called him. He drove the train at full speed through the barriers. The conductor was saying, “Are you crazy, comrade?” They all had to get down under the seats so they wouldn’t get shot. Can you imagine? Not being him, being her. The mother. I keep thinking about it. Four children lying on the floor of a train. Bullets flying over their heads. She made up a fairy story to keep them distracted. She said she’d never made up a story for them before. Actually, I never make up stories for my children either. I’m not creative. I bet you make up stories for your children, don’t you?’

  Tess chewed at her thumbnail. ‘Sometimes, I guess.’

  I’m talking too much, thought Cecilia, and then she realised she’d said ‘your children’ when Tess only had the one child, and she wondered if she should correct herself, but what if Tess desperately wanted more children but couldn’t have them for some reason?

  Tess turned the book around to face her and looked at the photo. ‘I guess it shows what you’ll do for freedom. We just take it for granted.’

  ‘But I think if I’d been his wife, I would have said no,’ said Cecilia. She sounded too agitated, as if she really was faced with this choice. She made a conscious effort to calm her voice. ‘I don’t think I would have been brave enough. I would have said, “It’s not worth it. Who cares if we’re stuck behind
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