Husbands secret, p.18
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       Husband's Secret, p.18

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  time that Angela lost interest in me. And then I decided to do my degree in physical education.’

  ‘But I still don’t get it. There’s a single dad at Liam’s school in Melbourne and the women swarm all over him. It’s embarrassing to watch.’

  ‘Well,’ said Connor, ‘I never said they didn’t swarm.’

  ‘So you’ve just been playing the field all these years?’ said Tess.

  ‘Sort of,’ said Connor. He went to speak and then stopped.

  ‘What?’

  ‘No. Nothing.’

  ‘Go on.’

  ‘I was just going to admit something.’

  ‘Something juicy?’ guessed Tess. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve become very open-minded ever since my husband suggested I live in the same house as him and his lover.’

  Connor gave her a sympathetic smile. ‘Not that juicy. I was going to say that I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last year. I’ve been – how do people put it – “working through” some stuff.’

  ‘Oh,’ said Tess, carefully.

  ‘You’ve got that careful look on your face,’ said Connor. ‘I’m not crazy. I just had a few issues I needed to . . . cover off.’

  ‘Serious issues?’ asked Tess, not sure if she really wanted to know. This was meant to be an interlude from all the serious stuff, a crazy little escapade. She was letting off steam. (She was aware of herself already trying to define it, to package it in a way that made it acceptable. Perhaps the self-loathing was about to hit.)

  ‘When we were going out,’ said Connor, ‘did I ever tell you that I was the last person to see Janie Crowley alive? Rachel Crowley’s daughter?’

  ‘I know who she is,’ said Tess. ‘I’m pretty sure you never told me that.’

  ‘Actually, I know I wouldn’t have told you,’ said Connor. ‘Because I never talked about it. Hardly anyone knew. Except for the police. And Janie’s mother. I sometimes think that Rachel Crowley thinks I did it. She looks at me in this intense way.’

  Tess felt a chill. He murdered Janie Crowley, and now he was about to murder Tess, and then everyone would know that she’d used her husband’s romantic predicament as an excuse to jump into bed with an ex-boyfriend.

  ‘And did you?’ she asked.

  Connor’s head jerked back as if she’d slapped him. ‘Tess! No! Of course not!’

  ‘Sorry.’ Tess relaxed back against her pillow. Of course he didn’t.

  ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you would think –’

  ‘Sorry, sorry. So was Janie a friend? Girlfriend?’

  ‘I wanted her to be my girlfriend,’ said Connor. ‘I was pretty hung up on her. She’d come over to my place after school and we’d make out on my bed, and then I’d get all serious and angry and say, “Okay, this means you’re my girlfriend right?” I was desperate for commitment. I wanted everything signed and sealed. My first girlfriend. Only she’d hum and ha, and, was all, “Well, I don’t know, I’m still deciding.” I was losing my mind over it all, but then, on the morning of the day she died, she told me that she’d decided. I’d got the job, so to speak. I was stoked. Thought I’d won the lottery.’

  ‘Connor,’ said Tess. ‘I’m so sorry.’

  ‘She came over that afternoon, and we ate fish and chips in my room, and kissed for about thirty hours or so, and then I saw her off at the railway station, and next morning I heard on the radio that a girl had been found strangled at Wattle Valley Park.’

  ‘My God,’ said Tess uselessly. She felt out of her depth, similar to the way she’d felt when she and her mother were sitting across the desk from Rachel Crowley the other day, filling in Liam’s enrolment forms, and she kept thinking to herself, Her daughter was murdered. She couldn’t link Connor’s experience to anything even remotely similar in her own life, and so she didn’t seem able to converse with him in any normal way.

  Finally she said, ‘I can’t believe you never told me any of this when we were together.’

  Although, really, why should he have? They’d only gone out together for six months. Even married couples didn’t share everything. She had never told Will about her self-diagnosis of social anxiety. The very thought of telling him made her toes curl with embarrassment.

  ‘I lived with Antonia for years before I finally told her,’ said Connor. ‘She was offended. We seemed to talk more about how offended she was than what actually happened. I think that’s probably why we broke up in the end. My failure to share.’

  ‘I guess girls like to know stuff,’ said Tess.

  ‘There was one part of the story I never told Antonia,’ said Connor. ‘I never told anyone until I told – this therapist woman. My shrink.’

  He stopped.

  ‘You don’t have to tell me,’ said Tess nobly.

  ‘Okay, let’s talk about something else,’ said Connor.

  Tess swatted at him.

  ‘My mother lied for me,’ said Connor.

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘You never had the pleasure of meeting my mother, did you? She died before we met.’

  Another memory of her time with Connor floated to the surface. She’d asked him about his parents and he said, ‘My father left when I was a baby. My mother died when I was twenty-one. My mother was a drunk. That’s all I have to say about her.’ ‘Mother issues,’ said Felicity when Tess repeated this conversation. ‘Run a mile.’

  ‘My mother and her boyfriend told the police that I was home with them from five o’clock that night. I wasn’t. I was home alone. They were out getting drunk somewhere. I never asked them to lie for me. My mother just did it. Automatically. And she loved it. Lying to the police. When the police left, she winked at me as she held the front door for them. Winked! As if she and I were in cahoots. It made me feel as if I had done it. But what could I do? I couldn’t tell them that Mum had just lied for me, because that would make it look as if she thought I had something to hide.’

  ‘But you’re not saying she actually thought you did it,’ said Tess.

  ‘After the police left she held up a finger like this and said, “Connor, baby, I don’t want to know,” as if she was in a movie, and I said, “Mum, I didn’t do it,” and she just said, “Pour me a wine, darl.” After that, whenever she got nasty drunk, she’d say, “You owe me, you ungrateful little bastard.” It gave me a permanent sense of guilt. Almost as if I had done it.’ He shuddered. ‘Anyway. I grew up. Mum died. I never talked about Janie. I never even let myself think about her. And then my sister died, and I got Ben, and straight after my teaching degree I got offered the job at St Angela’s. I didn’t even know that Janie’s mother was working there until my second day of work.’

  ‘That must be strange.’

  ‘We don’t run into each other that often. I did try to talk to her about Janie in the very beginning, but she made it clear she wasn’t interested in being chatty. So. I started telling you all this because you asked why I was single. My very expensive therapist thinks I’ve been subconsciously sabotaging relationships because I don’t think I deserve to be happy, because of my guilt over what I didn’t actually do to Janie.’ He smiled shamefacedly at Tess. ‘So there you go. I’m extremely damaged. Not your run-of-the-mill accountant turned PE teacher.’

  Tess took his hand in hers and laced her fingers through his. She looked at their interlocked hands, struck by the fact that she was holding another man’s hand, even though just moments before she’d been doing things that most people would have considered far more intimate.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

  ‘Why are you sorry?’

  ‘I’m sorry about Janie. And your sister dying.’ She paused. ‘And I’m really sorry I broke up with you like I did.’

  Connor made the sign of the cross over her head. ‘I absolve you of your sins, my child. Or whatever it is they say. It’s been a while since my last confession.’

  ‘Mine too,’ said Tess. ‘I think you were meant to give me penance before you absolved me.’

  ‘Ooh
, I can think of penance, baby.’

  Tess giggled. She unlaced her fingers. ‘I should go.’

  ‘I’ve scared you off with all my “issues”,’ said Connor.

  ‘No you haven’t. I just don’t want my mother getting worried. She’ll wait up for me and she won’t expect me to be this late.’ She remembered suddenly why they were meant to be getting together. ‘Hey, we never talked about your nephew. You wanted to ask me some career advice or something?’

  Connor smiled. ‘Ben’s already got a job. I just wanted an excuse to see you.’

  ‘Really?’ Tess felt a flare of happiness. Was there anything better than to be wanted? Was that all anyone really needed?

  ‘Yep.’

  They looked at each other.

  ‘Connor –’ she began.

  ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I don’t have any expectations. I know exactly what this is.’

  ‘What is it?’ asked Tess with interest.

  He paused. ‘I’m not sure. I’ll check with my therapist and let you know.’

  Tess snorted.

  ‘I really should go,’ she said again.

  But it was another half-hour before she finally put her clothes back on.

  chapter thirty-two

  Cecilia went into the ensuite bathroom where John-Paul was brushing his teeth. She picked up her toothbrush, squeezed toothpaste on it and began to brush, her eyes not meeting his in the mirror.

  She stopped brushing.

  ‘Your mother knows,’ she said.

  John-Paul bent down to the basin and spat. ‘What do you mean?’ he straightened, patted his mouth with the handtowel and shoved it back on the handrail in such a slapdash way that you’d think he was deliberately trying to avoid keeping it straight.

  ‘She knows,’ said Cecilia again.

  He spun around. ‘You told her?’

  ‘No, I –’

  ‘Why would you do that?’ The colour had drained from his face. He didn’t seem angry so much as utterly stunned.

  ‘John-Paul, I didn’t tell her. I mentioned Rachel was coming to Polly’s party and she asked how you felt about that. I could just tell.’

  John-Paul’s shoulders relaxed. ‘You must have imagined it.’

  He sounded so certain. Whenever they had an argument about a point of fact, he was always so utterly confident that he had it right and she had it wrong. He never even entertained the possibility that he might be mistaken. It drove her bananas. She struggled with an almost irresistible urge to slap him across the face.

  This was the problem. All his flaws seemed more significant now. It was one thing for a gentle, law-abiding husband and father to have failings: a certain inflexibility that manifested itself just when it was most inconvenient, those occasional (also inconvenient) black moods, the frustrating implacability during arguments, the untidiness, the constant losing of his possessions. They all seemed innocuous enough, common even; but now that these faults belonged to a murderer, they seemed to matter so much more, to define him. His good qualities now seemed irrelevant and probably fraudulent: a cover identity. How could she ever look at him again in the same way? How could she still love him? She didn’t know him. She’d been in love with an optical illusion. The blue eyes that had looked at her with tenderness and passion and laughter were the same eyes that Janie had seen in those terrifying few moments before she died. Those lovely strong hands that had cupped the soft, fragile heads of Cecilia’s baby daughters were the same hands that he held around Janie’s neck.

  ‘Your mother knows,’ she told him. ‘She recognised her rosary beads in the newspaper pictures. She basically told me that a mother would do anything for her children, and that I should do the same for my children and pretend it never happened. It was creepy. Your mother is creepy.’

  It felt like crossing a line to say that. John-Paul did not take criticism of his mother kindly. Cecilia normally tried to respect that, even while it annoyed her.

  John-Paul sank down on the side of the bath, knocking the handtowel off the rail with his knees in the process. ‘You really think she knows?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Cecilia. ‘So there you go. Mummy’s golden boy really can get away with murder.’

  John-Paul blinked, and Cecilia almost considered apologising, before she remembered that this wasn’t an ordinary disagreement about packing the dishwasher. The rules had changed. She could be just as narky as she pleased.

  She picked up her toothbrush again and began to clean her teeth with harsh, mechanical movements. Her dentist had told her just last week that she was brushing too hard, wearing away the enamel. ‘Hold your toothbrush with your fingertips, like the bow of a violin,’ he’d said, demonstrating. Should she get another electric toothbrush, she’d wondered, and he’d said he wasn’t a believer, except for the old and arthritic, but Cecilia had said she liked the nice clean feeling it gave her, and oh, it had all genuinely mattered, she had been completely involved in that conversation, a conversation about the maintenance of her teeth, back then, back in last week.

  She rinsed and spat and put the toothbrush away and picked up the towel that John-Paul had knocked onto the floor and put it back on the railing

  She glanced at John-Paul. He flinched.

  ‘The way you look at me now,’ he said. ‘It’s . . .’ He stopped and took a shaky breath.

  ‘What do you expect?’ asked Cecilia, astounded.

  ‘I’m so sorry,’ said John-Paul. ‘I’m so sorry for putting you through this. For making you part of it. I’m such an idiot for writing that letter. But I’m still me, Cecilia. I promise you. Please don’t think I’m some evil monster. I was seventeen, Cecilia. I made one terrible, terrible mistake.’

  ‘Which you never paid for,’ said Cecilia.

  ‘I know I didn’t.’ He met her eyes unflinchingly. ‘I know that.’

  They stood in silence for a few moments.

  ‘Shit!’ Cecilia slammed her hand to her head. ‘Fuck it.’

  ‘What is it?’ John-Paul reeled back. She never swore. All these years there had been a Tupperware container of bad language sitting off to the side in her head and now she’d opened it and all those crisp, crunchy words were lovely and fresh, ready to be used.

  ‘Easter hats,’ she said. ‘Polly and Esther need fucking Easter hats for tomorrow morning.’

  6 April 1984

  Janie very nearly changed her mind when she looked out the window of the train and saw John-Paul waiting for her on the platform. He was reading a book, his long legs stuck out in front of him, and when he saw the train pulling in he stood up and stuck the book in his back pocket and with a sudden, almost furtive movement he smoothed down his hair with the palm of his hand. He was gorgeous.

  She got up from her seat, holding the pole for balance, and slung her bag over her shoulder.

  It was funny, the way he’d smoothed down his hair; it was an insecure gesture for a boy like John-Paul. You’d almost think that he was nervous about seeing Janie, that he was worried about impressing her.

  ‘Next stop Asquith, then all stations to Berowra.’

  The train clattered to a stop.

  So this was it. She was going to tell him that she couldn’t see him any more. She could have stood him up, just left him waiting for her, but she wasn’t that type of girl. She could have telephoned him, but that didn’t seem right either. And besides, they’d never called each other. Both of them had mothers who liked to lurk about when they were on the phone.

  (If only she could have emailed or texted him, that would have solved everything, but mobile phones and the internet were still in the future.)

  She’d been thinking that this would be unpleasant and that maybe John-Paul’s pride would be hurt, and that he might say something vengeful like, ‘I never liked you that much anyway’, but until she saw him smoothing down his hair, it hadn’t occurred to her that she might be about to hurt him. She felt sick at the thought.

  She got off the train and John-Paul lifted
a hand and smiled. Janie waved back, and as she walked down the railway platform towards him, it came to her with a tiny, bitter shock of self-revelation that it wasn’t that she liked Connor more than John-Paul, it was that she liked John-Paul far too much. It was a strain being with someone so good-looking and smart and funny and nice. She was dazzled by John-Paul. Connor was dazzled by her. And it was more fun doing the dazzling. Girls were meant to do the dazzling.

  John-Paul’s interest felt like a trick. A practical joke. Because surely he knew that she wasn’t good enough for him. She kept waiting for a gaggle of teenage girls to appear, laughing and jeering and pointing, ‘You didn’t really think he’d be interested in you!’ That’s why she hadn’t even told any of her friends about his existence. They knew about Connor, of course, but not John-Paul Fitzpatrick. They wouldn’t believe that someone like John-Paul would be interested in her, and she didn’t really believe it either.

  She thought of Connor’s big goofy smile on the bus when she told him he was now officially her boyfriend. He was her friend. Losing her virginity to Connor would be sweet and funny and tender. She couldn’t possibly take her clothes off in front of John-Paul. The very thought made her heart stop. Besides, he deserved a girl with a body that matched his. He might laugh if he saw her strange skinny white body. He might notice that her arms were disproportionately long for her body. He might sneer or snort at her concave chest.

  ‘Hi,’ she said to him.

  ‘Hi,’ he said, and she caught her breath, because as their eyes met she got that feeling again, that sensation of there being something huge between them, something she couldn’t quite define, something her twenty-year-old self might have called ‘passion’ and her thirty-year-old self might have more cynically called ‘chemistry’. A tiny speck of her, a tiny speck of the woman she could have become, thought, Come on, Janie, you’re being a coward. You like him more than Connor. Choose him. This could be big. This could be huge. This could be love.

  But her heart was hammering so hard it was horrible, scary and painful, she could barely breathe. There was a painful crushing sensation in the centre of her chest, as if someone was trying to flatten her. She just wanted to feel normal again.

  ‘I need to talk to you about something,’ she said, and she made her voice cold and hard, sealing her fate like an envelope.

  thursday

  chapter thirty-three

  ‘Cecilia! Did you get my messages? I’ve been trying to call!’

  ‘Cecilia, you were right about those raffle tickets.’

  ‘Cecilia! You weren’t at pilates yesterday!’

  ‘Cecilia! My sister-in-law wants to book a party with you.’

  ‘Cecilia, is there any chance you could take Harriette just for an hour after ballet next week?’

  ‘Cecilia!’

  ‘Cecilia!’

  ‘Cecilia!’

  It was the Easter hat parade and the St Angela’s mothers were out in force, dressed up in honour of Easter and the first truly autumnal day of the new season. Soft pretty scarves looped necks, skinny jeans encased skinny and not so skinny thighs, spike-heeled boots tapped across the playground. It had been a humid summer and the crispness of the breeze and the anticipation of a four-day chocolate-filled weekend had put everyone in good moods. The mothers, sitting in a big double-rowed circle of blue fold-up chairs around the quadrangle, were frisky and high-spirited.

  The older children, who weren’t taking part in the Easter hat parade, had been brought outside to watch and they hung over the balconies with dangling, nonchalant arms and mature, tolerant expressions to indicate that of course they were now far too old for this sort of thing, but weren’t the little ones cute.

  Cecilia looked for Isabel on the Year 6 balcony and saw her standing in between her best friends Marie and Laura. The three girls had their arms slung around each other, indicating that their tumultuous three-way relationship was currently at a high point, where nobody was being ganged up on by the other two and their love for each other was pure and intense. It was lucky that there was no school for the next four days because their intense times were inevitably
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