Husbands secret, p.20
Husband's Secret, p.20Liane Moriarty
‘Special overnight service for VIPs, eh?’ said Samantha, who would no doubt be storing this information away for future reference.
‘It’s no trouble,’ said Cecilia.
She went to meet Rachel’s eyes and found it was impossible, even from a safe distance like this. She was such a nice woman. Would it be easier to justify if she wasn’t nice? She pretended to be distracted by Mahalia’s scarf slipping from her shoulders.
‘If it suits, that would be lovely,’ said Rachel. ‘I’m taking a pavlova to my daughter-in-law’s place for lunch on Easter Sunday, so one of those storage thingummies would come in handy.’
Cecilia was pretty sure that Rachel hadn’t ordered anything that would be suitable for transporting a pavlova. She’d find something and give it to her for free. It’s okay, John-Paul, I gave your murder victim’s mother some free Tupperware, so everything is all squared up.
‘I’ll see you both this afternoon!’ she cried, waving her keys so energetically that they flew from her hand.
‘Oops-a-daisy!’ called Samantha.
Liam won second prize in the Easter hat parade.
‘Look what happens when you sleep with one of the judges,’ whispered Lucy.
‘Mum, shhh!’ hissed Tess, glancing over her shoulder for scandalised eavesdroppers. Besides, she didn’t want to think about Liam in relation to Connor. That confused everything. Liam and Connor belonged in separate boxes, on separate shelves, far, far away from each other.
She watched her small son shuffle across the playground to accept his gold trophy cup filled with tiny Easter eggs. He turned to look for Tess and Lucy with a thrilled, self-conscious smile.
Tess couldn’t wait to tell Will about it when they saw him this afternoon.
Wait. They wouldn’t be seeing him.
Well. They would ring him. Tess would speak in that cheerful, cold voice women used when they spoke to their ex-husbands in front of their children. Her own mother had used it. ‘Liam has good news!’ she’d tell Will, and then she’d pass Liam the phone and say, ‘Tell your dad what happened today!’ He wouldn’t be Daddy any more. He’d be ‘your dad’. Tess knew the drill. Oh God, did she know the drill.
It was hopeless to try and save the marriage for Liam’s sake. How ridiculous she’d been. Deluded. Thinking that it was simply a matter of strategy. From now on Tess would behave with dignity. She’d act as if this was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, amicable separation that had been on the cards for years. Maybe it had been on the cards.
Because otherwise how could she have behaved the way she had last night? And how could Will have fallen in love with Felicity? There had to be problems in their marriage; problems that had been completely invisible to her, problems she still couldn’t name, but problems nonetheless.
What was the last thing she and Will had argued about? It would be useful right now to focus on the most negative aspects of her marriage. She forced her mind back. Their last argument was over Liam. The Marcus problem. ‘Maybe we should consider changing schools,’ Will had said after Liam had seemed particularly down about some incident in the schoolyard, and Tess had snapped, ‘That seems a bit dramatic!’ They’d had a heated disagreement while they were packing the dishwasher after dinner. Tess had slammed a few drawers. Will had made an ostentatious point of repacking the frying pan she’d just put in the dishwasher. She’d ended up saying something silly like, ‘So are you saying I don’t care about Liam as much as you do?’ and Will had yelled, ‘Don’t be an idiot!’
But they’d made up, just a few hours later. They’d both apologised and there had been no lingering bitterness. Will wasn’t a sulker. He was actually pretty good at negotiating a compromise. And he rarely lost his sense of humour or ability to laugh at himself. ‘Did you see the way I repacked your frypan?’ he said. ‘That was a masterstroke, eh? Put you in your place, didn’t it?’
For a moment Tess felt her strange inappropriate happiness teeter. It was as though she was balanced on a narrow crevice surrounded by chasms of grief. One wrong thought and down she’d tumble.
Do not think about Will. Think about Connor. Think about sex. Think wicked, earthy, primal thoughts. Think about the orgasm that ripped through your body last night, cleansing your mind.
She watched Liam walk back to his class. He stood next to the one child that Tess knew: Polly Fitzpatrick, Cecilia’s youngest daughter, who was shockingly beautiful, and seemed positively Amazonian next to spindly little Liam. Polly gave Liam a high-five, and Liam looked almost incandescent with happiness.
Dammit. Will had been right. Liam did need to change schools.
Tess’s eyes filled with tears, and she felt suddenly ashamed.
Why the shame, she wondered as she pulled a tissue from her bag and blew her nose.
Because her husband had fallen in love with someone else? Because she wasn’t lovable enough, or sexy enough, or something enough, to keep her child’s father satisfied?
Or was she actually ashamed about last night? Because she’d found a selfish way to make the pain disappear. Because right now she was longing to see Connor again, or more specifically, to sleep with him again, to have his tongue, his body, his hands obliterate the memory of Will and Felicity sitting on either side of her, telling her their horrible secret. She remembered the feel of the length of her spine being flattened against the floorboards in Connor’s hallway. He was fucking her, but really he was fucking them.
There was a burst of sweet feminine laughter from the row of pretty, chatty mothers sitting alongside Tess. Mothers who had proper married sex with their husbands in the marital bed. Mothers who were not thinking the word ‘fuck’ while they were watching their children’s Easter hat parade. Tess was ashamed because she wasn’t behaving as a selfless mother should.
Or perhaps she was ashamed because deep down she wasn’t that ashamed at all.
‘Thank you so much for joining us today, Mums and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas! That concludes our Easter hat parade!’ said the school principal into the microphone. She put her head on one side and waggled her fingers around an imaginary carrot stick like Bugs Bunny. ‘That’s all folks!’
‘What do you want to do this afternoon?’ asked Lucy, as everyone applauded and laughed.
‘There are a few things I need at the shops.’ Tess stood and stretched and looked down at her mother in her wheelchair. She could feel Connor’s eyes on her from the opposite side of the yard.
She’d always felt somehow wronged by her parents’ divorce. As a child, she’d wasted hours imagining how much better her life would have been if her parents had stayed together. She would have had a closer relationship with her father. Holidays would have been so much more fun! She wouldn’t have been so shy (how she managed to rationalise this, she didn’t know). Everything would have been just generally better. But the truth was her parents had a perfectly amicable divorce, and eventually became relatively friendly. Sure, it was awkward and strange visiting her father every second weekend. But really, what was the big deal? Marriages failed. Children survived. Tess had survived. The so-called ‘damage’ was all in her mind.
She waved at Connor.
New lingerie was what she needed. Extremely expensive lingerie that her husband would never see.
Cecilia left the Easter hat parade and drove straight to the gym. She got on the treadmill, put the incline and speed up as high as they could go and ran as if she was running for her life. She ran until her heart pounded, her chest heaved and her vision blurred from the sweat dripping into her mouth. She ran until there wasn’t room for a single thought in her head. It was a wonderful relief to not be thinking, and she felt like she could have run on for another hour, if it wasn’t for one of the gym instructors stopping abruptly and quite unnecessarily in front of Cecilia’s treadmill and saying, ‘You okay there? You don’t look too good to me.’
‘You’ve got to pace yourself, Mrs Fitzpatrick,’ he said, helping her off the treadmill. His name was Dane. He taught a weights class that was popular with the St Angela’s crowd. Cecilia often did it on a Friday morning before her weekly grocery shop. Dane’s skin was young and dewy. He looked about the same age as John-Paul had been when he killed Janie Crowley. ‘I reckon your blood pressure is sky-high right now,’ he said, his eyes bright and earnest. ‘If you want, I could help you work out a training programme that would –’
‘No thank you,’ panted Cecilia. ‘But thank you, I’m just, well, I’m just leaving actually.’ She walked away quickly on wobbly legs, still fighting for breath, sweat pooling in her bra, ignoring Dane’s entreaties to do a few stretches, to cool-down, to at least drink some water, Mrs Fitzpatrick, you’ve gotta rehydrate!
On the way home she decided that she couldn’t live another moment with this, it was impossible. John-Paul would have to confess. He’d turned her into a criminal. It was preposterous. While she was in the shower, she decided that confessing wouldn’t bring Janie back and Cecilia’s daughters would lose their father and what was the point of that? But their marriage was dead. She couldn’t live with him. So that was that.
While she was getting dressed she made her final decision. John-Paul would turn himself into the police after the Easter break, give Rachel Crowley the answers she deserved and the girls would just have to live with an incarcerated father.
As she blow-dried her hair, it was suddenly blindingly obvious to her that her beautiful daughters were all that mattered, were her only priority and that she still loved John-Paul, and she’d promised to be true to him in good times and bad, and life would go on as it always had. He had made a tragic mistake when he was seventeen. There was no need to do or say or change anything.
The phone was ringing when she turned off the hairdryer. It was John-Paul.
‘I just wanted to see how you are,’ he said gently. It was like he thought she was ill. Or, no, it was like she was suffering from a uniquely female psychological condition, something that was making her fragile and crazy.
‘Marvellous,’ she said. ‘I feel just marvellous. Thanks for asking.’
‘Happy Easter!’ said Trudy to Rachel as they packed up the office that afternoon. ‘Here, I got you a little something.’
‘Oh!’ said Rachel, touched and annoyed, because it hadn’t occurred to her to get a present for Trudy. There had never been any exchanging of gifts with the old school principal. They’d rarely exchanged pleasantries.
Trudy handed over a charming little basket filled with a variety of delicious-looking eggs. It looked like the sort of thing Rachel’s daughter-in-law would buy her: expensive, elegant and just right.
‘Thank you so much, Trudy, I didn’t –’ She waved her hand to indicate her absence of a gift.
‘No, no.’ Trudy waved back to indicate it wasn’t necessary. She’d stayed in her bunny suit for the entire day, and looked, Rachel thought, perfectly ridiculous. ‘I just want you to know how much I appreciate the work you do, Rachel. You carry this whole office, and you let me be . . . me.’ She lifted one of her rabbit ears out of her eyes and gave Rachel a level look. ‘I’ve had some secretaries who found my working approach somewhat unusual.’
I bet they did, thought Rachel.
‘You make it all about the children,’ said Rachel. ‘That’s who we’re here for.’
‘Well, you have a lovely Easter break,’ said Trudy. ‘Enjoy some time with that scrumptious grandson of yours.’
‘I will,’ said Rachel. ‘Are you . . . going away?’
Trudy didn’t have a husband or children or any interests that Rachel knew of outside the school. There were never any phone calls of a personal nature. It was hard to imagine how she’d be spending the Easter break.
‘Just faffing about,’ said Trudy. ‘I read a lot. Love a good whodunnit! I pride myself on guessing who the murderer is – oh!’
Her face turned bright pink with distress.
‘I quite like historical fiction myself,’ said Rachel quickly, avoiding her eye and pretending to be busily distracted with picking up her bag and coat and Easter basket.
‘Ah.’ Trudy couldn’t recover her equilibrium. Her eyes filled with tears.
The poor girl was only fifty, not that much older than what Janie would have been. Her kooky grey wispy hair made her look like an elderly toddler.
‘It’s fine, Trudy,’ said Rachel softly. ‘You didn’t upset me. It’s perfectly fine.’
‘Hi,’ Tess answered her phone. It was Connor. Her body responded instantly to his voice, like Pavlov’s salivating dog.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
‘I’m buying hot cross buns,’ said Tess. She’d picked up Liam from school and taken him to the shops for a treat. Unlike yesterday, he seemed quiet and moody after school and not interested in talking about his Easter hat win. She was also buying a whole list of things for her mother, who had suddenly realised the shops would be closed the next day, for one whole day, and had gone into a panic about the state of her pantry.
‘I love hot cross buns,’ said Connor.
‘Really? We’ve got so much in common.’
Tess laughed. She noticed Liam looking up at her curiously, and she turned slightly away from him, so that he couldn’t see her flushed face.
‘Anyway,’ said Connor. ‘I wasn’t calling for any particular reason. I just wanted to say that I thought last night was really . . . nice.’ He coughed. ‘That’s an understatement actually.’
Oh God, thought Tess. She pressed the palm of her hand to her burning cheek.
‘I know things are really complicated for you right now,’ continued Connor. ‘I don’t have any, ah, expectations, I promise you. I’m not going to make your life more complicated. But I just wanted you to know that I’d love to see you again. Any time.’
‘Mum?’ Liam pulled on the edge of her cardigan. ‘Is that Dad?’
Tess shook her head.
‘Who is it?’ demanded Liam. His eyes were big and worried.
Tess pulled the phone away from her ear and put a finger to her lip. ‘It’s a client.’ Liam lost interest immediately. He was used to conversations with clients.
Tess took a few steps away from the crowd of customers waiting to be served at the bakery.
‘It’s okay,’ said Connor. ‘Like I said, I really don’t have any –’
‘Are you free tonight?’ interrupted Tess.
‘I’ll come over once Liam is asleep.’ She put her lips close to the phone as if she was a secret agent. ‘I’ll bring hot cross buns.’
Rachel was walking towards her car when she saw her daughter’s murderer.
He was talking on his mobile phone, swinging his motorbike helmet held loosely in his fingertips. As she got closer, he suddenly tipped back his head to the sun as if he’d just received unexpectedly wonderful news. The afternoon light glinted off his sunglasses. He snapped the phone shut and slid it in his jacket pocket, smiling to himself.
Rachel thought again of the video and remembered the expression on his face when he turned on Janie. She could see it so clearly. The face of a monster: leering, malicious, cruel.
And now look at him. Connor Whitby was very alive and very happy and why wouldn’t he be, because he’d got away with it. If the police did nothing, as seemed likely, he would never pay for what he’d done.
As she got closer, Connor caught sight of Rachel and his smiled vanished instantly, as if a light had been snapped off.
‘This came by overnight courier for you,’ said Lucy when Tess was home unpacking the groceries. ‘Looks like it’s from your father. Fancy him managing to send something by courier.’
Intrigued, Tess sat down at the kitchen table with her mother and unwrapped the small bubble-wrapped package. Inside was a flat square box.
‘He hasn’t sent you jewellery, has he?’ asked her mother. She peered over to look.
‘It’s a compass,’ said Tess. It was a beautiful old-fashioned wooden compass. ‘It’s like something Captain Cook would have used.’
‘How peculiar,’ sniffed her mother.
As Tess lifted up the compass she saw a small handwritten yellow post-it note stuck to the bottom of the box.
Dear Tess, she read. This is probably a silly gift for a girl. I never did know the right thing to buy you. I was trying to think of something that would help when you’re feeling lost. I remember feeling lost. It was bloody awful. But I always had you. Hope you find your way, Love Dad.
Tess felt something rise within her chest.
‘I guess it’s quite pretty,’ said Lucy, taking the compass and turning it this way and that.
Tess imagined her father searching the shops for the right gift for his adult daughter; the expression of mild terror that would have crossed his leathery, lined face each time someone asked, ‘Can I help you?’ Most of the shop assistants would have thought him rude, a grumpy, gruff old man who refused to meet their eye.
‘Why did you and Dad split up?’ Tess used to ask her mother, and Lucy would say airily, a little glint in her eye, ‘Oh, darling, we were just two very different people.’ She meant: Your father was different. (When Tess asked her father the same question, he’d shrug and cough and say, ‘You’ll have to ask your mum about that one, love.’)
It occurred to Tess that her father probably suffered from social anxiety too.
Before their divorce, her mother had been driven to distraction by his lack of interest in socialising. ‘But we never go anywhere!’ she would say, full of frustration, when Tess’s father once again refused to attend some event.
‘Tess is a bit shy,’ her mother used to tell people in an audible whisper, her hand over her mouth. ‘Gets it from her father, I’m afraid.’ Tess had heard the cheerful disrespect in her mother’s voice, and had come to believe that any form of shyness was wrong, morally wrong, in fact. You should want to go to parties. You should want to be surrounded by people.
No wonder she felt so ashamed of her shyness, as if it were an embarrassing physical ailment that needed to be hidden at all costs.
She looked at her mother.
‘Why didn’t you just go on your own?’
‘What?’ Lucy looked up from the compass. ‘Go where?’
‘Nothing,’ said Tess. She held out her hand. ‘Give me back my compass. I love it.’
Cecilia parked her car in front of Rachel Crowley’s house and wondered again why she was doing this to herself. She could have dropped Rachel’s Tupperware order off at the school after Easter. The guests from Marla’s party weren’t promised delivery until after the break. It seemed she simultaneously wanted to seek Rachel out and avoid her at all costs.
Perhaps she wanted to see her because Rachel was the only person in the world with the right and the authority to speak out on Cecilia’s current dilemma. ‘Dilemma’ was too gentle a word. Too selfish a word. It implied that Cecilia’s feelings actually mattered.
She lifted the plastic bag of Tupperware from the passenger seat and opened the car door. Perhaps the real reason she was here was because she knew Rachel had every reason in the world to hate her, and she couldn’t bear the thought of anyone hating her. I’m a child, she thought as she knocked on the door. A middle-aged, perimenopausal child.
The door opened faster than Cecilia had expected. She was still preparing her face.
‘Oh,’ said Rachel, and her face dropped. ‘Cecilia.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Cecilia. So very, very sorry. ‘Are you expecting someone?’
‘Not really,’ said Rachel. She recovered herself. ‘How are you? My Tupperware! How exciting. Thank you so much. Would you like to come in? Where are your girls?’
‘They’re at my mother’s place,’ said Cecilia. ‘She felt bad because she missed their Easter hat parade today. So she’s giving them afternoon tea. Anyway.
Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on83 votes