Husbands secret, p.19
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       Husband's Secret, p.19

           Liane Moriarty
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  followed by tears and betrayal and long, exhausting stories of she said, she texted, she posted and I said, I texted, I posted.

  One of the mothers discreetly passed around a basket of Belgian chocolate balls, and there were moans of drunken, sensual pleasure.

  I’m a murderer’s wife, thought Cecilia while Belgian chocolate melted in her mouth. I’m an accessory to murder, she thought, as she set up play dates and pick-ups and Tupperware parties, as she scheduled and organised and set things in action. I’m Cecilia Fitzpatrick and my husband is a murderer and look at me, talking and chatting and laughing and hugging my kids. You’d never know.

  This was how it could be done. This was how you lived with a secret. You just did it. You pretended everything was fine. You ignored the deep, cramp-like pain in your stomach. You somehow anesthetised yourself, so that nothing felt that bad, but nothing felt that good either. Yesterday she’d thrown up in the gutter and cried in the pantry, but this morning she’d got up at six am and made two lasagnes to go into the freezer ready for Easter Sunday, and ironed a basket of clothes and sent three emails enquiring about tennis lessons for Polly, and answered fourteen emails about various school matters, and put in her Tupperware order from the party the other night, and got a load of laundry on the line, all before the girls and John-Paul were out of bed. She was back on her skates, twirling expertly about the slippery surface of her life.

  ‘Give me strength. What is that woman wearing?’ said someone as the school principal appeared in the centre of the yard. Trudy was wearing long rabbit ears and a fluffy tail pinned to her bottom. She looked like a motherly playboy bunny.

  Trudy hopped to the microphone in the middle of the yard, with her hands curled up in front of her like paws. The mothers rocked with fond laughter. The kids on the balconies cheered.

  ‘Ladies and jellybeans, girls and boys!’ One of Trudy’s rabbit ears slipped down over her face and she brushed it away. ‘Welcome to the St Angela’s Easter Hat Parade!’

  ‘I love her to death,’ said Mahalia, who was sitting on Cecilia’s right, ‘but it really is hard to believe she runs a school.’

  ‘Trudy doesn’t run the school,’ said Laura Marks, who was sitting on her other side. ‘Rachel Crowley runs the school. Together with the lovely lady on your left.’

  Laura leaned in front of Mahalia and waggled her fingers at Cecilia.

  ‘Now, now, you know that’s not true,’ Cecilia smiled roguishly. She felt like a demented parody of herself. Surely she was overdoing it? Everything she did felt exaggerated and clown-like, but nobody seemed to notice.

  The music began, pounding out through the state-of-the-art sound system that Cecilia’s highly successful art show raffle had paid for last year.

  The conversation rippled around her.

  ‘Who chose the playlist? It’s quite good.’

  ‘I know. Makes me feel like dancing.’

  ‘Yes, but is anybody listening to the lyrics? Do you know what this song is about?’

  ‘Best not to.’

  ‘My kids know them all anyway.’

  The K-P class was first to file out, led by their teacher, the rather beautiful busty brunette, Miss Parker, who had made the best use of her natural assets by dressing up in a fairy princess dress that was two sizes too small for her, and was dancing along to the music in a manner perhaps not quite befitting a kindergarten teacher. The tiny kindergarteners followed her, grinning proudly and self-consciously, carefully balancing the familiar Easter hat creations on their heads.

  The mothers congratulated one another on their children’s hats.

  ‘Ooh, Sandra, creative!’

  ‘Found it on the internet. Took me ten minutes.’

  ‘Sure it did.’

  ‘Seriously, I swear!’

  ‘Does Miss Parker realise this is an Easter hat parade, not a nightclub?’

  ‘Do fairy princesses normally show that much cleavage?’

  ‘And by the way, does a tiara really count as an Easter hat?’

  ‘I think she’s trying to get Mr Whitby’s attention, poor girl. He’s not even looking.’

  Cecilia adored events just like these. An Easter hat parade summed up everything she loved about her life. The sweetness and simplicity of it all. The sense of community. But today the parade seemed pointless, the children snotty-nosed, the mothers bitchy. She stifled a yawn and smelled sesame oil on her fingers. It was the scent of her life now. Another yawn overtook her. She and John-Paul had been up late making the girls’ Easter hats in strained silence.

  Polly’s class made their appearance, led by the adorable Mrs Jeffers, who had gone to a tremendous lot of trouble to dress as a gigantic shiny pink foil-wrapped Easter egg.

  Polly was right behind her teacher, strutting along like a supermodel, wearing her Easter hat tilted rakishly over one eye. John-Paul had made her a bird’s nest out of sticks from the garden and filled it with Easter eggs. A fluffy yellow toy chick emerged from one of the eggs as if it were hatching.

  ‘My Lord, Cecilia, you’re an absolute freak.’ Erica Edgecliff, who was sitting in the row in front of Cecilia, turned around. ‘Polly’s hat looks amazing.’

  ‘John-Paul made it.’ Cecilia waved at Polly.

  ‘Seriously? That man is a catch,’ said Erica.

  ‘He’s a catch all right,’ agreed Cecilia, hearing a weird lilt in her voice. She sensed Mahalia turning to look at her.

  Erica said, ‘You know me. Forgot all about the Easter hat parade until this morning at breakfast, then I stuck an old egg carton on Emily’s head and said, “That’ll have to do, kid.”’ Erica took pride in her haphazard approach to mothering. ‘There she is! Em! Whoo hoo!’ Erica half-stood, waving frantically, and then subsided. ‘Did you see that death stare she sent me? She knows it’s the worst hat in the parade. Someone give me another one of those chocolate balls before I shoot myself.’

  ‘Are you feeling okay, Cecilia?’ Mahalia leaned closer, so that Cecilia could smell the familiar musky scent of her perfume.

  Cecilia glanced over at Mahalia and looked quickly away.

  Oh no, don’t you dare be nice to me, Mahalia, with your smooth skin and the whites of your eyes so pearly white. Cecilia had noticed tiny splotches of red in the whites of her eyes this morning. Wasn’t that what happened when someone tried to strangle you? The capillaries in your eyes burst? How did she know that? She shuddered.

  ‘You’re shivering!’ said Mahalia. ‘That breeze is icy.’

  ‘I’m fine,’ said Cecilia. The longing to confide in someone, anyone, felt like a raging thirst. She cleared her throat. ‘Might be coming down with a cold.’

  ‘Here, put this around you.’ Mahalia pulled the scarf from around her neck and settled it over Cecilia’s shoulders. It was a beautiful scarf, and Mahalia’s beautiful scent drifted all around her.

  ‘No, no,’ said Cecilia ineffectually.

  She knew exactly what Mahalia would say if she told her. It’s very simple, Cecilia, tell your husband he has twenty-four hours to confess or you’re going to the police yourself. Yes, you love your husband and, yes, your children will suffer as a result, but none of that is the point. It’s very simple. Mahalia was very fond of the word ‘simple’.

  ‘Horseradish and garlic,’ said Mahalia. ‘Simple.’

  ‘What? Oh yes. For my cold. Absolutely. I’ve got some at home.’

  Cecilia caught sight of Tess O’Leary sitting on the other side of the quadrangle, with her mother’s wheelchair parked at the end of the row of chairs. Cecilia reminded herself that she must thank Tess for everything she’d done yesterday, and apologise for not even offering to call a taxi. The poor girl must have walked all the way back up the hill to her mother’s house. Also, she’d promised to make a lasagne for Lucy! Maybe she wasn’t skating as expertly as she’d thought. She was making lots of tiny mistakes that would eventually cause everything to fall apart.

  Was it only Tuesday that Cecilia had been driving Polly to bal
let and longing for some huge wave of emotion to sweep her off her feet? The Cecilia of two days ago had been a fool. She’d wanted the wave of clean, beautiful emotion you felt when you saw a heart-swelling movie scene with a magnificent soundtrack. She hadn’t wanted anything that would actually hurt.

  ‘Oops, oops, it’s going to go!’ said Erica. A boy from the other Year 1 class was wearing an actual birdcage on his head. The little boy, Luke Lehaney (Mary Lehaney’s son; Mary often overstepped the mark; she’d once made the mistake of running against Cecilia for the role of P&C president), was walking along like the Leaning Tower of Pisa with his whole body tipped to one side in a desperate attempt to keep the birdcage upright. Suddenly, inevitably, it slipped from his head, crashing to the ground and causing Bonnie Emmerson to trip and lose her own hat. Bonnie’s face crumpled, while Luke stared in bewildered horror at his mangled birdcage.

  I want my mother too, thought Cecilia as she watched Luke and Bonnie’s mothers rush to retrieve their children. I want my mother to comfort me, to tell me that everything is going to be okay and that there’s no need to cry.

  Normally her mother would be at the Easter hat parade, snapping blurry, headless photos of the girls with her disposable camera, but this year she’d gone to Sam’s parade at the exclusive preschool. There was going to be champagne for the grown-ups. ‘Isn’t that the silliest thing you’ve ever heard,’ she said to Cecilia. ‘Champagne at an Easter hat parade! That’s where Bridget’s fees are going.’ Cecilia’s mother loved champagne. She’d be having the time of her life hobnobbing with a better class of grandmas than you got at St Angela’s. She’d always made a point of pretending not to be interested in money, because she was, in fact, very interested in it.

  What would her mother say if she told her about John-Paul? Cecilia had noticed that as her mother got older, whenever she heard anything distressing, or just too complicated, there was a disturbing moment where her face became dull and slack, like a stroke victim, as if her mind had momentarily closed down from the shock.

  ‘John-Paul committed a crime,’ Cecilia would begin.

  ‘Oh, darling, I’m sure he didn’t,’ her mother would interrupt.

  What would Cecilia’s dad say? He had high blood pressure. It might actually kill him. She imagined the flash of terror that would cross his soft, wrinkled face, before he recovered himself, frowning ferociously while he tried to slot the information into the right box in his mind. ‘What does John-Paul think?’ he’d probably say, automatically, because the older her parents got, the more they seemed to rely on John-Paul’s opinion.

  Her parents couldn’t cope without John-Paul in their lives, and they would never cope with the knowledge of what he’d done, or the shame in the community.

  You had to weigh up the greater good. Life wasn’t black and white. Confessing wouldn’t bring back Janie. It would achieve nothing. It would hurt Cecilia’s daughters. It would hurt Cecilia’s parents. It would hurt John-Paul for a mistake (she hurried over that soft little word ‘mistake’, knowing that it wasn’t right, that there had to be a bigger word for what John-Paul had done) he’d made when he was seventeen years old.

  ‘There’s Esther!’ Cecilia was startled by Mahalia nudging her. She’d forgotten where she was. Cecilia looked up in time to see Esther nod coolly at her as she walked by, her hat stuck right on the back of her head, the sleeves of her jumper pulled right down to cover her hands like mittens. She was wearing an old straw hat of Cecilia’s with fake flowers and tiny chocolate eggs stuck all over it. Not Cecilia’s best effort, but it didn’t matter because Esther thought Easter hat parades were a waste of her valuable time. ‘What does the Easter hat parade actually teach us?’ she’d said to Cecilia that morning in the car.

  ‘Nothing about the Berlin Wall,’ Isabel had said smartly.

  Cecilia had pretended not to notice that Isabel was wearing her mascara this morning. She’d done a good job of it. Only one tiny blue-black smudge just below her perfect eyebrow.

  She looked up to the Year 6 balcony and saw Isabel and her friends dancing to the music.

  If a nice young boy murdered Isabel, and got away with it, and if that boy felt very remorseful, and turned out to be a fine, upstanding member of the community, a good father and a good son-in-law, Cecilia would still want him jailed. Executed. She’d want to kill him with her own bare hands.

  The world tipped.

  She heard Mahalia say from a very long way away, ‘Cecilia?’

  chapter thirty-four

  Tess shifted in her seat and felt a pleasurable ache in her groin. Just how superficial are you? What happened to your supposedly broken heart? So, what, it takes you THREE DAYS to get over a marriage break-up? Here she was sitting at the St Angela’s Easter hat parade thinking about sex with one of the three parade judges, who was right now on the other side of the schoolyard wearing a giant pink baby’s bonnet tied under his chin and doing the chicken dance with a group of Year 6 boys.

  ‘Isn’t this lovely!’ said her mother beside her. ‘This is just lovely. I wish –’

  She stopped, and Tess turned to study her.

  ‘You wish what?’

  Lucy looked guilty. ‘I was just wishing that the circumstances were happier – that you and Will had decided to move to Sydney and that Liam was at St Angela’s and I could always come to his Easter hat parades. Sorry.’

  ‘You don’t need to be sorry,’ said Tess. ‘I wish that too.’

  Did she wish that?

  She turned her gaze back to Connor. The Year 6 boys were now laughing with such crazy abandon at something Connor had just said that Tess suspected fart jokes must be involved.

  ‘How was last night?’ said Lucy. ‘I forgot to ask. Actually, I didn’t even hear you come in.’

  ‘It was nice,’ said Tess. ‘Nice to catch up.’ She had a sudden image of Connor flipping her over and saying in her ear, ‘I seem to remember this used to work quite well for us.’

  Even before, when he was a young boring accountant with a nerdy hairstyle, before he got the killer body and the motorbike, he’d been good in bed. Tess had been too young to appreciate it. She’d thought all sex was as good as that. She shifted again in her seat. She was probably about to get a bout of cystitis. That would teach her. The last time she’d had sex three times in a row, and not so coincidentally, the last time she’d got cystitis, was when she and Will had first started dating.

  Thinking about Will and their early days together should hurt, but it didn’t, not right now at least. She felt light-headed with wicked, delicious sexual satisfaction and . . . what else? Vengeance, that was it. Vengeance is mine, sayeth Tess. Will and Felicity thought she was up here in Sydney nursing a broken heart, when in fact she was having excellent sex with her ex-boyfriend. Sex with an ex. It left married sex for dead. So there, Will.

  ‘Tess, my darling?’ said her mother.


  Her mother lowered her voice. ‘Did something happen last night between you and Connor?’

  ‘Of course not,’ said Tess.

  ‘I couldn’t possibly,’ she’d said to Connor that third time, and he’d said, ‘I bet you could,’ and she’d murmured, ‘I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t,’ over and over, until it was established that she could.

  ‘Tess O’Leary!’ said her mother, just as a Year 1 boy’s birdcage hat slipped from his head. Tess met her mother’s eyes and laughed.

  ‘Oh, darling.’ Lucy grabbed hold of her arm. ‘Good on you. The man is an absolute spunk.’

  chapter thirty-five

  ‘Connor Whitby is in a very good mood today,’ said Samantha Green. ‘I wonder if that means he’s finally got himself a woman?’

  Samantha Green, whose eldest child was in Year 6, did part-time bookkeeping work at the school. She charged by the hour, and Rachel suspected that St Angela’s would still pay for the time Samantha was spending outside the office next to Rachel watching the Easter hat parade. That was the problem with havin
g one of the mums work for the school. Rachel couldn’t very well say, ‘Will you be billing us for this, Samantha?’ When she was only there for three hours, it really didn’t seem necessary for her to stop work to watch the parade. It wasn’t like her daughter was taking part. Of course Rachel didn’t have a child taking part either, and she’d stopped work to watch. Rachel sighed. She was feeling itchy and bitchy.

  Rachel looked at Connor sitting at the judges’ table wearing his pink baby’s bonnet. There was something perverted about a grown man dressed up as a baby. He was making some of the older boys laugh. She thought of his malevolent face on that video. The murderous way he’d looked at Janie. Yes, it had been murderous. The police should arrange for a psychologist to look at the tape. Or some expert in face-reading. There were experts in everything these days.

  ‘I know the kids love him,’ said Samantha, who liked to wring a topic dry before she moved on to the next one. ‘And he’s always perfectly nice to us parents, but I always sensed something not quite right about that Connor Whitby. You know what I mean? Ooh! Look at Cecilia Fitzpatrick’s little girl! She’s just beautiful, isn’t she? I wonder where she gets it from. Anyway, my friend Janet Tyler went out with Connor a few times after her divorce and she said Connor was like a depressed person pretending not to be depressed. He dumped Janet in the end.’

  ‘Hmmm,’ said Rachel.

  ‘My mother remembers his mother,’ said Samantha. ‘She was an alcoholic. Neglected the kids. Father ran off when Connor was a baby. Gosh, who’s that with the birdcage on his head? The poor kid is going to lose it in a moment.’

  Rachel could vaguely remember Trish Whitby turning up at church sometimes. The children were grubby. Trish scolded them too loudly during the service and people turned to stare.

  ‘I mean, a childhood like that has to have an impact on your personality, doesn’t it? Connor’s, I mean.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Rachel so adamantly that Samantha looked a bit taken aback.

  ‘But he’s in a good mood today,’ said Samantha, getting herself back on track. ‘I saw him in the car park earlier and I asked him how he was and he said, “Top of the world!” Now that sounds to me like a man in love. Or at least a man who got lucky last night. I must tell Janet. Well, I probably shouldn’t tell poor Janet. I think she quite liked him, even if he was strange. Oops! There goes the birdcage. Saw that coming.’

  Top of the world.

  Tomorrow was the anniversary of Janie’s death and Connor Whitby was feeling on top of the world.

  chapter thirty-six

  Cecilia decided to leave the parade early. She needed to be moving. When she sat still, she thought, and thinking was dangerous. Polly and Esther had both seen that she was there, and there was only the judging to follow, and Cecilia’s daughters weren’t going to win, because she’d told the judges last week (a thousand years ago) to make sure they didn’t. People got resentful if the Fitzpatrick girls won too many accolades; they suspected favouritism, making them even less likely to volunteer their time to the school.

  She wouldn’t run again for P&C president after this year. The thought struck her with absolute certainty as she bent down to pick up her bag from next to her chair. It was a relief to know one thing for sure about her future. No matter what happened next, even if nothing happened, she would not run again. It simply wasn’t possible. She was no longer Cecilia Fitzpatrick. She’d ceased to exist the moment she’d read that letter.

  ‘I’m going,’ she said to Mahalia.

  ‘Yes, go home and rest,’ said Mahalia. ‘I thought you were about to faint away for a moment there. Keep the scarf. It looks lovely on you.’

  As she walked through the quadrangle Cecilia saw Rachel Crowley watching the parade with Samantha Green on the balcony outside the school office. They were looking the other way. If she was quick about it, she’d get by without them seeing her.

  ‘Cecilia!’ cried Samantha.

  ‘Hi!’ cried Cecilia and let loose a string of violent profanities in her head. She walked towards them with her keys held prominently in her hand, so that they’d know she was in a rush, and stood as far away from them as could be considered polite.

  ‘Just the person I wanted to see!’ called Samantha, leaning over the balcony. ‘I thought you said I’d get that Tupperware order before Easter? It’s just that we’re having a picnic on Sunday, assuming this lovely weather holds! And so I thought –’

  ‘Of course,’ interrupted Cecilia. She stepped closer to them. Was this where she would normally stand? She’d completely forgotten about the deliveries she’d intended to do yesterday. ‘I’m so sorry. This week has been . . . tricky. I’ll come by this afternoon after I pick up the girls.’

  ‘Wonderful,’ said Samantha. ‘I mean you just got me so excited about that picnic set, I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Have you ever been to one of Cecilia’s Tupperware parties, Rachel? The woman could sell ice to Eskimos!’

  ‘I actually went to one of Cecilia’s parties the night before last,’ said Rachel. She smiled at Cecilia. ‘I had no idea how much Tupperware was missing from my life!’

  ‘Actually, Rachel, I can drop your order off at the same time if you like,’ said Cecilia.

  ‘Really?’ said Rachel. ‘I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Don’t you have to order it in?’

  ‘I keep extra stock of everything,’ said Cecilia. ‘Just in case.’ Why was she
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