Husbands secret, p.17
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       Husband's Secret, p.17

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  in Melbourne.

  ‘He gets it from his father,’ sighed Tess. ‘The good hand-eye coordination.’ She took a big mouthful of the bad wine. Will would never take her anywhere like this. He knew all the best bars in Melbourne: tiny, stylish, soft-lit bars where he’d sit across the table from her and they’d talk. The conversation never faltered. They still made each other laugh. They went out every couple of months. Just the two of them. Saw a show or had dinner. Wasn’t that what you were meant to do? To invest in your marriage with nice, regular ‘date nights’? (She couldn’t stand that phrase.)

  Felicity took care of Liam when they went out. They always had a drink with her when they got home, and told her about their night. Sometimes, if it was too late, she stayed the night and they all had breakfast together in the morning.

  Yes, Felicity had been an integral part of date night.

  Did she lie in the spare bedroom wishing she was in Tess’s place? Had Tess’s behaviour been unwittingly, yet unspeakably, cruel to Felicity?

  ‘What’s that?’ Connor leaned forward, squinting at her.

  ‘He gets it –’

  ‘Booya!’ There was an explosion of noise around one of the poker machines.

  ‘You bitch, you total bitch!’ One of the pretty young girls (‘skanky’ Felicity would have described her) slapped her friend’s back while a torrent of coins cascaded from the machine.

  ‘Booya, booya, booya!’ A broad-chested young man pummelling his chest like a gorilla lurched sideways against Tess.

  ‘Watch it, mate,’ said Connor.

  ‘Man, I’m so sorry! We just won –’ The boy turned around and his face lit up. ‘Mr Whitby! Hey guys, this is my primary school PE teacher! He was like the best PE teacher ever.’ He stuck out his hand and Connor stood and shook it, shooting a rueful look at Tess.

  ‘How the hell are you, Mr Whitby?’ The boy shoved his hands in his jeans pockets and shook his head as he looked at Connor, seemingly overcome with a sort of paternal emotion.

  ‘I’m good, Daniel,’ said Connor. ‘How are you?’

  The boy was suddenly struck by an astonishing thought. ‘You know what? I’m going to buy you a drink, Mr Whitby. It would be my fucking pleasure. Seriously. Excuse my language. I may be intoxicated. What are you drinking, Mr Whitby?’

  ‘You know what, Daniel, that would have been great, but we were actually just leaving.’

  Connor held out his hand to Tess and she automatically picked up her bag, got to her feet and took it, as naturally as if they’d been in a relationship for years.

  ‘Is this Mrs Whitby?’ The boy looked Tess up and down, entranced. He turned to Connor and gave him a big sly wink and a thumbs-up gesture. He turned to Tess. ‘Mrs Whitby. Your husband is a legend. An absolute legend. He taught me, like, long jump, and hockey, and cricket, and, and, like every sport in the fucking universe, and you know, I look athletic, I know, and I am, but it might surprise you to learn that I’m not that coordinated, but Mr Whitby, he –’

  ‘Gotto go, mate.’ Connor clapped the boy on the shoulder. ‘It was good seeing you.’

  ‘Oh, likewise, man. Likewise.’

  Connor led Tess out of the bar and into the wonderfully quiet night air.

  ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I was just losing my mind in there. I think I’m going deaf. And then, a drunk ex-student offering to buy me drinks . . . Jeez. So, it looks like I’m still holding your hand.’

  ‘It looks like you are.’

  What are you doing, Tess O’Leary? But she didn’t let go. If Will could fall in love with Felicity, if Felicity could fall in love with Will, she could spend a few moments holding hands with an ex-boyfriend. Why not?

  ‘I remember that I always loved your hands,’ said Connor. He cleared this throat. ‘I guess that’s bordering on inappropriate.’

  ‘Oh well,’ said Tess.

  He moved his thumb so gently across her knuckle it was almost imperceptible.

  She had forgotten this: the way your senses exploded and your pulse raced, as if you were properly awake after a long sleep. She had forgotten the thrill, the desire, the melting sensation. It just wasn’t possible after ten years of marriage. Everyone knew that. It was part of the deal. She’d accepted the deal. It had never been a problem. She hadn’t even known she’d missed it. If she ever thought about it, it felt childish, silly – ‘sparks flying’ – whatever, who cares, she had a child to care for, a business to run. But, my God, she’d forgotten the power of it. How nothing else felt important. This was what Will had been experiencing with Felicity while Tess was busy with mundane married life.

  Connor increased the pressure of his thumb just fractionally, and Tess felt a shot of desire.

  Maybe the only reason Tess had never cheated on Will was because she’d never had the opportunity. Actually, she’d never cheated on any of her boyfriends. Her sexual history was unimpeachable. She’d never had a one-night stand with an inappropriate boy, never drunkenly kissed someone else’s boyfriend, never woken up with a single regret. She’d always done the right thing. Why? For what? Who cared?

  Tess kept her eyes on Connor’s thumb and watched hypnotised and astonished, as it ever so gently grazed her knuckle.

  June 1987, Berlin: The US president Ronald Reagan spoke in West Berlin and said, ‘General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation. Come here to this gate! Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

  In June 1987, Sydney: Andrew and Lucy O’Leary spoke quietly across their kitchen table, while their ten-year-old daughter slept upstairs. ‘It’s not that I can’t forgive you,’ said Andrew. ‘It’s that I don’t care. I don’t even care.’

  ‘I only did it to make you look at me,’ said Lucy. But Andrew’s eyes were already looking past her, at the door.

  chapter twenty-nine

  ‘How come we’re not having lamb?’ asked Polly. ‘We always have a lamb roast when Daddy comes home.’ She poked her fork discontentedly at the piece of overcooked fish on her plate.

  ‘Why did you cook fish for dinner?’ said Isabel to Cecilia. ‘Dad hates fish.’

  ‘I don’t hate fish,’ said John-Paul.

  ‘You do so,’ said Esther.

  ‘Well, okay, it’s not my favourite,’ said John-Paul. ‘But this is actually very nice.’

  ‘Um, it’s not actually very nice.’ Polly put down her fork and sighed.

  ‘Polly Fitzpatrick, where are your manners?’ said John-Paul. ‘Your mother went to all the trouble of cooking this –’

  ‘Don’t,’ Cecilia held up her hand.

  There was silence around the table for a moment as everyone waited for her to say something else. She put down her fork and had a large mouthful of her wine.

  ‘I thought you gave up wine for Lent,’ said Isabel.

  ‘Changed my mind,’ said Cecilia.

  ‘You can’t just change your mind!’ Polly was scandalised.

  ‘Did everybody have a good day today?’ asked John-Paul.

  ‘This house smells of sesame oil,’ said Esther, sniffing.

  ‘Yeah, I thought we were having sesame chicken,’ said Isabel.

  ‘Fish is brain food,’ said John-Paul. ‘It makes us smart.’

  ‘So why aren’t Eskimos like the smartest people in the world?’ said Esther.

  ‘Maybe they are,’ said John-Paul.

  ‘This fish tastes really bad,’ said Polly.

  ‘Has an Eskimo ever won the Nobel Prize?’ asked Esther.

  ‘It does taste a bit funny, Mum,’ said Isabel.

  Cecilia stood up and began clearing their full plates away. Her daughters looked stunned. ‘You can all have toast.’

  ‘It’s fine!’ protested John-Paul, holding on to the edge of his plate with his fingertips. ‘I was quite enjoying it.’

  Cecilia pulled his plate away. ‘No, you weren’t.’ She avoided his eyes. She hadn’t made eye contac
t with him since he got home. If she behaved normally, if she let life just continue on, wasn’t she condoning it? Accepting it? Betraying Rachel Crowley’s daughter?

  Except wasn’t that exactly what she’d already decided to do? To do nothing? So what difference did it make if she was cold towards John-Paul? Did she really think that made a difference?

  Don’t worry, Rachel, I’m being so mean to your daughter’s murderer. No lamb roast for him! No sirree!

  Her glass was empty again. Gosh. That went down fast. She took the bottle of wine from the fridge and refilled it to the very brim.

  Tess and Connor lay on their backs, breathing raggedly.

  ‘Well,’ said Connor finally.

  ‘Well indeed,’ said Tess.

  ‘We seem to be in the hallway,’ said Connor.

  ‘We do seem to be.’

  ‘I was trying to get us to the living room at least,’ said Connor.

  ‘It seems like a very nice hallway,’ said Tess. ‘Not that I can see all that much.’

  They were in Connor’s dark apartment, lying on the hallway floor. She could feel a thin rug beneath her back, and possibly floorboards. The apartment smelled pleasantly of garlic and laundry powder.

  She’d followed him home in her mother’s car. He’d kissed her at the security door to the building, then he’d kissed her again in the stairwell, and for quite a long time at the front door, and then once he’d got the key in the door, they were suddenly doing that crazy tear-each-other’s-clothes-off, banging-into-walls thing that you never do once you’re in a long-term relationship, because it seems too theatrical, and not really worth the bother anyway, especially if there’s something good on TV.

  ‘I’d better get a condom,’ Connor had said in her ear at a crucial point in the proceedings, and Tess had said, ‘I’m on the pill. You seem disease-free, so, just, please, oh, God, please, just go right ahead.’

  ‘Rightio,’ he’d said and done just that.

  Now Tess readjusted her clothes and waited to feel ashamed. She was a married woman. She was not in love with this man. The only reason she was here was because her husband had fallen in love with someone else. Just a few days earlier this scenario would have been laughable, inconceivable. She should be filled with self-loathing. She should feel seedy and slutty and sinful, but actually what she felt right now was . . . cheerful. Really cheerful. Almost absurdly cheerful, in fact. She thought of Will and Felicity and their sad, earnest faces just before she threw cold coffee at them. She recalled that Felicity had been wearing a new white silk blouse. That coffee stain would never come out.

  Her eyes adjusted, but Connor was still just a shadowy silhouette lying next to her. She could feel the warmth of his body all along her right side. He was bigger, stronger and in much better shape than Will. She thought of Will’s short, stocky, hairy body – so familiar and dear, the body of a family member, although always sexy to her. She had thought Will was the last bullet point in her sexual history. She had thought she wouldn’t sleep with anyone else for the rest of her life. She remembered the morning after she and Will had got engaged, when that thought had first occurred to her. The glorious sense of relief. No more new, unfamiliar bodies. No more awkward conversations about contraception. Just Will. He was all she needed, all she wanted.

  And now here she was lying in an ex-boyfriend’s hallway.

  ‘Life sure can surprise you,’ her grandmother used to say, mostly about quite unsurprising developments such as a bad cold, the price of bananas and so on.

  ‘Why did we break up?’ she asked Connor.

  ‘You and Felicity decided to move to Melbourne,’ said Connor. ‘And you never asked if I wanted to come too. So I thought, Right. Looks like I just got dumped.’

  Tess winced. ‘Was I horrible? It sounds like I was horrible.’

  ‘You broke my heart,’ said Connor pitifully.

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Possibly,’ said Connor. ‘Either you did, or this other girl I dated for a while around the same time called Teresa. I always get the two of you mixed up.’

  Tess pushed her elbow into his side.

  ‘You were a good memory,’ said Connor in a more serious voice. ‘I was happy to see you again the other day.’

  ‘Me too,’ said Tess. ‘I was happy to see you.’

  ‘Liar. You looked horrified.’

  ‘I was surprised.’ She changed the subject. ‘Do you still have a waterbed?’

  ‘Sadly, the waterbed didn’t make it into the new millennium,’ said Connor. ‘I think it made Teresa seasick.’

  ‘Stop talking about Teresa,’ said Tess.

  ‘All right. Do you want to move somewhere more comfortable?’

  ‘I’m okay.’

  They lay in companionable silence for a few moments, and then Tess said, ‘Um. What are you doing?’

  ‘Just seeing if I still know my way around the place.’

  ‘That’s a bit, I don’t know, rude? Sexist? Oh. Oh, well.’

  ‘Do you like that, Teresa? Wait, what was your name again?’

  ‘Stop talking please.’

  chapter thirty

  Cecilia sat on the couch next to Esther watching YouTube videos of the cold, clear November night in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. She was becoming obsessed with the Wall herself. After John-Paul’s mother had left, she’d stayed sitting at the kitchen table reading one of Esther’s books until it was time to pick the girls up from school. There were so many things she should have been doing – Tupperware deliveries, preparations for Easter Sunday, the pirate party – but reading about the Wall was a good way of pretending she wasn’t thinking about what she was really thinking about.

  Esther was drinking warm milk. Cecilia was drinking her third – or fourth? – glass of sauvignon blanc. John-Paul was listening to Polly do her reading. Isabel sat at the computer in the family room downloading music onto her iPod. Their home was a cosy lamplit bubble of domesticity. Cecilia sniffed. The scent of sesame oil seemed to have pervaded the whole house now.

  ‘Look, Mum,’ Esther elbowed her.

  ‘I’m watching,’ said Cecilia.

  Cecilia’s memories of the news footage she’d seen back in 1989 were rowdier than this. She remembered crowds of people dancing on top of the Wall, fists punching the air. Wasn’t David Hasselhoff singing at some point? But there was a strange, eerie quietness to the clips Esther had found. The people walking out from East Berlin seemed quietly stunned, exhilarated but calm, filing out in such an orderly fashion. (They were Germans after all. Cecilia’s sort of people.) Men and women with eighties hairstyles drank champagne straight from the bottle, tipping their heads back and smiling at the cameras. They hooted and hugged and wept, they tooted the horns of their cars, but they all seemed so well behaved, so very nice about it. Even the people slamming sledge-hammers against the wall seemed to do so with controlled jubilation, not vicious fury. Cecilia watched a woman of about her own age dance in circles with a bearded man in a leather jacket.

  ‘Why are you crying, Mum?’ asked Esther.

  ‘Because they’re so happy,’ said Cecilia.

  Because they endured this unacceptable thing. Because that woman probably thought, like so many people had, that the Wall would eventually come down, but not in her lifetime, that she would never see this day, and yet she had, and now she was dancing.

  ‘It’s weird how you always cry about happy things,’ said Esther.

  ‘I know,’ said Cecilia.

  Happy endings always made her cry. It was the relief.

  ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ John-Paul stood up from the dining-room table, while Polly put away her book. He looked at Cecilia anxiously. All evening she’d been aware of his timid, solicitous glances. It was driving her crazy.

  ‘No,’ said Cecilia sharply, avoiding his eyes. She felt the perplexed gaze of her daughters. ‘I do not want a cup of tea.’

  chapter thirty-one

  ‘I remember Felicity,’ said Con
nor. ‘She was funny. Quick-witted. A bit scary.’

  They’d moved to Connor’s bed. It was an ordinary queen-sized mattress with plain white Egyptian cotton sheets. (She’d forgotten that: how he loved good sheets, like in a hotel.) Connor had heated up some leftover pasta he’d made the night before and they were eating it in bed.

  ‘We could be civilised and sit at the table,’ Connor had offered. ‘I could make a salad. Put out placemats.’

  ‘Let’s just stay here,’ Tess had said. ‘I might remember to feel awkward about this.’

  ‘Good point,’ Connor had said.

  The pasta was delicious. Tess ate hungrily. She felt that ravenous sensation she used to feel when Liam was a baby and she’d been up all night breastfeeding.

  Except instead of a night innocently suckling her son, she’d just had two very boisterous, highly satisfying sexual encounters with a man who was not her husband. She should have lost her appetite, not got it back.

  ‘So she and your husband are having an affair,’ said Connor.

  ‘No,’ said Tess. ‘They just fell in love. It’s all very pure and romantic.’

  ‘That’s horrible.’

  ‘I know,’ said Tess. ‘I only found out on Monday, and here I am –’ She waved her fork around the room, and at herself and her own state of undress (she was wearing nothing but a T-shirt of Connor’s which he’d taken from a drawer and handed her, without comment, before he went off to make the pasta; it smelled very clean.).

  ‘Eating pasta,’ finished Connor.

  ‘Eating excellent pasta,’ agreed Tess.

  ‘Wasn’t Felicity quite a . . .’ Connor searched for the right word. ‘How can I put this without sounding . . . Wasn’t she quite a sturdy girl?’

  ‘She was morbidly obese,’ said Tess. ‘It is relevant because this year she lost forty kilos and became extremely beautiful.’

  ‘Ah,’ said Connor. He paused. ‘So what do you think is going to happen?’

  ‘I have no idea,’ said Tess. ‘Last week I thought my marriage was good. As good as a marriage can be. And then they made this announcement. I was in shock. I’m still in shock. But then again, look at me, within three days. Actually two days, I’m with an ex-boyfriend . . . eating pasta.’

  ‘Things just happen sometimes,’ said Connor. ‘Don’t worry about it.’

  Tess finished the pasta and ran her finger around the bowl. ‘Why are you single? You can cook, you can do other things,’ she gestured vaguely at the bed, ‘very well.’

  ‘I’ve been pining for you all these years.’ He was straight-faced.

  ‘No you haven’t,’ said Tess. She frowned. ‘That is, you haven’t, have you?’

  Connor took her empty bowl and placed it inside his own bowl. He put them both on the bedside table. Then he lay back against his pillow.

  ‘I did actually pine for you for a while,’ he admitted.

  Tess’s cheerful feeling began to slip. ‘I’m sorry, I had no idea –’

  ‘Tess,’ interrupted Connor. ‘Relax. It was a long time ago, and we didn’t even go out for that long. It was the age difference. I was a boring accountant and you were young and ready for adventures. But I did sometimes wonder what could have been.’

  Tess had never wondered. Not even once. She’d barely thought of Connor.

  ‘So you never married?’ she asked.

  ‘I lived with a woman for a number of years. A lawyer. We were both on track for partnership, and marriage I guess. But then my sister died and everything changed. I was looking after Ben. I lost interest in accounting around the same
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