Husbands secret, p.21
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       Husband's Secret, p.21

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  That’s neither here nor there! I won’t come in, I’ll just –’

  ‘You sure? I’ve just put the kettle on.’

  Cecilia felt too weak to argue. She would do whatever Rachel wanted. Her legs could barely hold her up, they were trembling so badly. If Rachel shouted ‘Confess!’ she would confess. She almost longed for that.

  She walked across the threshold with her heart in her mouth, as if she was in physical danger. The house was very similar to Cecilia’s home, like so many of the homes on the North Shore.

  ‘Come into the kitchen,’ said Rachel. ‘I’ve got the heater on in there. It’s getting chilly in the afternoon.’

  ‘We had that linoleum!’ said Cecilia when she followed her into the kitchen.

  ‘I’m sure it was the height of fashion all those years ago,’ said Rachel as she put teabags into cups. ‘I’m not one of those renovating types, as you can see. Just can’t get myself interested in tiles and carpets, paint colours and splash-backs. Here you go. Milk? Sugar? Help yourself.’

  ‘This is Janie, right?’ asked Cecilia. ‘And Rob?’ She’d stopped in front of the refrigerator. It was a relief to say Janie’s name. Her presence was so gigantic in Cecilia’s head. It felt like if she didn’t say her name it would suddenly burst out of her mouth in the middle of a sentence.

  The photo on Rachel’s fridge was casually held with a magnet advertising Pete the 24 Hour Plumber. It was a small, faded, off-centre colour photo of Janie and her younger brother holding cans of Coke and standing in front of a barbecue. They’d both turned around with blank, slack-mouthed expressions, as if the photographer had surprised them. It wasn’t a particularly good photo but somehow its very casualness made it seem all the more impossible that Janie was dead.

  ‘Yes, that’s Janie,’ said Rachel. ‘That photo was up on the fridge when she died and I’ve never taken it down. Silly, really. I’ve got much better ones of her. Have a seat. I’ve got these biscuits called macarons. Not macaroons, oh, no, if that’s what you’re thinking. Macarons. You probably know all about them. I’m not very sophisticated.’ Cecilia saw that she took pride in not being sophisticated. ‘Have one! They’re really very good.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Cecilia. She sat down and took a macaron. It tasted like nothing, like dust. She sipped her tea too fast and burned her tongue.

  ‘Thank you for dropping off the Tupperware,’ said Rachel. ‘I’m looking forward to using it. The thing is that tomorrow is the anniversary of Janie’s death. Twenty-eight years.’

  It took Cecilia a moment to comprehend what Rachel had said. She couldn’t work out the link between the Tupperware and the anniversary.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ said Cecilia. She noticed with almost scientific interest that her hand was visibly trembling, and she carefully placed her teacup back in its saucer.

  ‘No, I’m sorry,’ said Rachel. ‘I don’t know why I told you that. I’ve just been thinking about her a lot today. Even more than usual. I sometimes wonder how often I would have thought about her if she’d lived. I don’t think about poor Rob that often. I don’t worry about him. You’d think after losing one child that I’d be worried about something happening to my other child. But I’m not particularly worried. Isn’t that awful? I do worry about something happening to my grandson. To Jacob.’

  ‘I think that’s natural,’ said Cecilia, and suddenly she was overcome by her own breathtaking audacity. To be sitting here in this kitchen, delivering platitudes along with Tupperware.

  ‘I do love my son,’ murmured Rachel into her mug. She shot Cecilia a shame-faced look over the rim. ‘I’d hate you to think I didn’t care for him.’

  ‘Of course I don’t think that!’ Cecilia saw to her horror that Rachel had a triangle of blue macaron right in the centre of her bottom lip. It was horribly undignified and made Rachel seem suddenly elderly, almost like a dementia patient.

  ‘I just feel like he belongs to Lauren now. What’s that old saying? “A son is a son until he takes him a wife, a daughter is a daughter for all of her life.”’

  ‘I’ve . . . heard that. I don’t know if it’s true.’

  Cecilia was in agony. She couldn’t tell Rachel about the crumb on her lip. Not when she was talking about Janie.

  Rachel lifted her teacup for another sip, and Cecilia tensed. Surely it would be gone now. Rachel lowered the cup. The crumb had moved off-centre and was even more obvious. She had to say something.

  ‘I really don’t know why I’m rambling on like this,’ said Rachel. ‘You’re probably thinking I’ve lost the plot! I’m not myself, you see. When I came home from your Tupperware party the other night I found something.’

  She licked her lips and the blue crumb vanished. Cecilia sagged with relief.

  ‘Found something?’ she repeated. She took a big mouthful of her tea. The faster she drank, the faster she could leave. It was very hot. The water must have been boiling when Rachel poured. Cecilia’s mother made the tea too hot as well.

  ‘Something that proves who killed Janie,’ said Rachel. ‘It’s evidence. New evidence. I’ve given it to the police – Oh! Oh, dear, Cecilia, are you okay? Quickly! Come and run your hand under the tap.’

  chapter forty-one

  Tess tightened her arms around Connor’s waist as his bike swooped and dipped around corners. The streetlights and shopfronts were blurry streaks of coloured light in her peripheral vision. The wind roared in her ears. Each time they took off at a set of traffic lights her stomach lurched thrillingly, the way it did when she was in a plane taking off from the runway.

  ‘Don’t worry, I’m a safe, boring, middle-aged bike rider,’ Connor had told her as he’d adjusted her helmet for her. ‘I stay under the speed limit. Especially when I’ve got precious cargo.’ Then he’d dropped his head and gently banged his helmet against hers. Tess had felt touched and cherished and also idiotic. She was too old, surely, for helmet-clinking and flirty little remarks like that. She was too married.

  But perhaps not.

  She tried to remember what she’d been doing the previous Thursday night, back home in Melbourne, back when she was still Will’s wife and Felicity’s cousin. She’d made apple muffins, she remembered. Liam liked them for his morning tea at school. And then she and Will had watched TV with their laptops on their knees. She’d caught up with some invoicing. He’d been working on the Cough Stop campaign. They’d read their books and gone to bed. Wait. No. Yes. Yes, they definitely did. They’d had sex. Quick and comforting and perfectly nice: like a muffin; nothing like sex in the hallway of Connor’s apartment of course. But that was marriage. Marriage was a warm apple muffin.

  He must have been thinking about Felicity when they made love.

  The thought was as brutal as a slap.

  He’d been especially tender when they made love that night, she remembered. She felt particularly cherished. When in fact, he wasn’t cherishing her, he was pitying her. Perhaps he was even wondering if this was their last time together as husband and wife.

  The hurt spread instantaneously throughout her body. She squeezed her legs tighter around Connor’s body and leaned forwards as if she could press herself into him. When they got to the next set of lights, Connor put back his hand and caressed her thigh, giving her an instant jolt of sexual pleasure. It occurred to her that the pain she was feeling over Will and Felicity was intensifying every sensation, so that what felt good, like the swoop of the bike and Connor’s hand on her thigh, felt even better. Last Thursday night she was leading a soft, muffled, pain-free little life. This Thursday night felt like adolescence: exquisitely painful and sharply beautiful.

  But no matter how badly it hurt, she didn’t want to be home in Melbourne, baking and watching television and doing invoices. She wanted to be right here, soaring along on this bike, her heart thumping, letting her know she was alive.

  It was after nine pm and Cecilia and John-Paul were in the backyard, sitting in the cabana next to the pool. This was the only place where
they were safe from eavesdroppers. Their daughters had an extraordinary ability to hear things they weren’t meant to hear. From where she sat, Cecilia could see them through the French doors, their faces illuminated by the flickering light of the television. It was a tradition that they were allowed to stay up as late as they wanted on the first night of a school holiday, eating popcorn and watching movies.

  Cecilia turned her gaze away from the girls and looked at the shimmering blue of their kidney-shaped swimming pool with its powerful underwater light: the perfect symbol of suburban bliss. Except for that strange intermittent sound, like a baby choking, that was coming from the pool filter. She could hear it right now. Cecilia had asked John-Paul to look at it weeks before he went to Chicago; he hadn’t got around to it, but he would have been furious if she’d arranged for some repair guy to come and fix it. It would have indicated lack of faith in his abilities. Of course, when he did finally look at it, he wouldn’t be able to fix it and she’d have to get the guy in anyway. It was frustrating. Why hadn’t that been part of his stupid lifelong redemption program: Do what my wife asks immediately so she doesn’t feel like a nag.

  She longed to be out here having an ordinary argument with John-Paul about the damned pool filter. Even a really bad ordinary argument, where feelings were hurt, would be so much better than this permanent sense of dread. She could feel it everywhere, in her stomach, her chest, even her mouth had a horrible taste to it. What was it doing to her health?

  She cleared her throat. ‘I need to tell you something.’ She was going to tell him what Rachel Crowley had said today about finding new evidence. How would he react? Would he be frightened? Would he run? Become a fugitive?

  Rachel had not told her the exact nature of this evidence because she’d been distracted by Cecilia spilling her tea, and Cecilia had been in such a state of panic it hadn’t occurred to her to ask. She should have asked, she realised now. It might have been useful to know. She wasn’t doing too well in her new role as a criminal’s wife.

  Rachel couldn’t possibly know exactly who the evidence implicated or she wouldn’t have told Cecilia. Would she? It was so hard to think clearly.

  ‘What’s that?’ asked John-Paul. He was sitting on the wooden bench opposite her, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved striped jersey the girls had bought him last Father’s Day. He leaned forward, his hands hanging limply between his knees. There was something odd about his tone of voice. It was like the gentle, fiercely strained way he would have replied to one of the girls when he was in the early stages of a migraine and still hoping that it wasn’t going to take hold.

  ‘Have you got a migraine coming on?’ she asked.

  He shook his head. ‘I’m fine.’

  ‘Good. Listen, today when I was at the Easter hat parade, I saw –’

  ‘Are you okay?’

  ‘I’m fine,’ she said impatiently.

  ‘You don’t look fine. You look really sick. It’s like I’ve made you sick.’ His voice trembled. ‘The only thing that ever mattered to me was making you and the girls happy, and now I’ve put you in this intolerable position.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Cecilia. She curled her fingers around the slats of the bench seat and watched her daughters as their faces simultaneously dissolved into laughter over something they were watching on the television. ‘Intolerable is a pretty good word for it.’

  ‘All day at work, I was thinking, how can I fix this? How can I make it better for you?’ He came over and sat next to her. She felt the welcoming warmth of his body next to hers. ‘Obviously I can’t make it better. Not really. But I wanted to say this to you: if you want me to turn myself in, I will. I’m not going to ask you to carry this too, if you can’t carry it.’

  He took her hand and squeezed it. ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Cecilia. If you want me to go straight to the police or to Rachel Crowley, then that’s what I’ll do. If you want me to leave, if you can’t bear to live in the same house as me, then I’ll leave. I’ll tell the girls we’re separating because – I don’t know what I’ll tell the girls, but I’d take the blame, obviously.’

  Cecilia could feel John-Paul’s whole body shaking. His palm was sweaty over hers.

  ‘So you’re prepared to go to jail. What about your claustrophobia?’ she asked.

  ‘I’d just have to deal with it,’ he said. His palm got sweatier. ‘It’s all in my head anyway. It’s not real.’

  She flicked his hand away with a sudden feeling of revulsion, and stood.

  ‘So why didn’t you put up with it before? Why didn’t you turn yourself in before I even knew you?’

  He lifted his palms and looked up at her with a contorted, pleading face. ‘I can’t really answer that, Cecilia. I’ve tried to explain. I’m sorry –’

  ‘And now you’re saying I get to make the decision. It’s nothing to do with you any more. Now it’s my responsibility whether Rachel hears the truth or not!’ She thought of the blue crumb on Rachel’s mouth and shuddered.

  ‘Not if you don’t want it to be!’ John-Paul was almost in tears now. ‘I was trying to make things easier for you.’

  ‘Can’t you see that you’re making it my problem?’ cried Cecilia, but the rage was already fading, to be replaced by a great wave of despair. John-Paul’s offer to confess made no difference. Not really. She was already accountable. The moment she’d opened that letter she’d become accountable.

  She sank back down on the bench on the opposite side of the cabana.

  ‘I saw Rachel Crowley today,’ she said. ‘I dropped off her Tupperware. She said she had new evidence that implicates Janie’s murderer.’

  John-Paul’s head jerked up. ‘She couldn’t have. There’s nothing. There is no evidence.’

  ‘I’m just telling you what she said.’

  ‘Well then,’ said John-Paul. He swayed a little, as if he was having a dizzy spell, and briefly closed his eyes. He opened them again. ‘Maybe the decision will be made for us. For me.’

  Cecilia thought back to exactly what Rachel had said. Something like: ‘I’ve found something that proves who killed Janie.’

  ‘This evidence she’s found,’ said Cecilia suddenly. ‘It might actually implicate someone else.’

  ‘In that case, I’d have to turn myself in,’ said John-Paul flatly. ‘Obviously I would.’

  ‘Obviously,’ repeated Cecilia.

  ‘It just seems unlikely,’ said John-Paul. He sounded exhausted. ‘Doesn’t it? After all these years.’

  ‘It does,’ agreed Cecilia. She watched as he lifted his head and turned towards the back of the house to look at the girls. In the silence, the sound of the pool filter became loud. It didn’t sound like a choking baby. It sounded like the wheezing breaths of something monstrous, like an ogre from a child’s nightmare, creeping around their house.

  ‘I’ll look at that filter tomorrow,’ said John-Paul, his eyes fixed on his daughters.

  Cecilia said nothing. She sat and breathed in time with the ogre.

  chapter forty-two

  ‘This is sort of the ultimate second date,’ said Tess.

  She and Connor were sitting on a low brick wall overlooking Dee Why Beach, drinking hot chocolate in takeaway cups. The bike was parked behind them, the chrome gleaming in the moonlight. The night was cold but Tess was warm in the big leather jacket Connor had lent her. It smelled of aftershave. ‘Yeah, it normally works like a charm,’ said Connor.

  ‘Except you already scored with me on the first date,’ said Tess. ‘So you know, you don’t need to waste all your seductive charms.’

  She sounded odd, as if she was trying out someone else’s personality: one of those sassy, feisty girls. Actually, it was like she was trying to be Felicity and not doing a very good job of it. The magical, heightened sensations she’d felt on the bike seemed to have dissipated, and now she felt awkward. It was too much. The moonlight, the bike, the leather jacket and the hot chocolate. It was horribly romantic. She’d never been fond of classi
c romantic moments. They made her snicker.

  Connor turned to look at her with a deadly serious expression. ‘So you’re saying the other night was a first date.’ He had grey, serious eyes. Unlike Will, Connor didn’t laugh a lot. It made his occasional deep chuckles all the more precious. See, quality, not quantity, Will.

  ‘Oh, well,’ said Tess. Did he think they were dating? ‘I don’t know. I mean –’

  Connor put his hand on her arm. ‘I was joking. Relax. I told you. I’m just happy to spend time with you.’

  Tess drank some of the hot chocolate and changed the subject. ‘What did you do this afternoon? After school?’

  Connor squinted, as if considering his answer, and then shrugged. ‘I went for a run, had a coffee with Ben and his girlfriend, and ah, well, I saw my shrink. Thursday evening I see her. At six pm. There’s an Indian restaurant next door. I always have a curry afterwards. Therapy and an excellent lamb curry. I don’t know why I keep telling you about my therapy.’

  ‘Did you tell your therapist about me?’ said Tess.

  ‘Of course not.’ He smiled.

  ‘You did.’ She poked his leg gently with her finger.

  ‘All right, I did. Sorry. It was news. I like to make myself interesting for her.’

  Tess put her cup of hot chocolate down on the wall next to her. ‘What did she say?’

  He glanced at her. ‘You’ve obviously never been in therapy. They don’t say a word. They say things like, “And how did that make you feel?” and “Why do you think you did that?”’

  ‘I bet she didn’t approve of me,’ said Tess. She saw herself through the therapist’s eyes: an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart years ago suddenly reappears in his life when she’s right in the middle of a marriage crisis. Tess felt defensive. But I’m not leading him on. He’s a grown man. Anyway, maybe it will go somewhere. It’s true I never thought about him after we broke up, but maybe I could fall in love with him. In fact, maybe I am falling in love with him. I know he’s all messed up about his murdered first girlfriend. I’m not going to break his heart. I’m a good person.

  Wasn’t she a good person? She felt a dim awareness of something almost shameful about the way she’d lived her life. Wasn’t there something closed off, even small-minded and mean, about the way she cut herself off from people, ducking down behind the convenient wall of her shyness, her ‘social anxiety’? When she sensed overtures of friendship she took too long to respond to phone calls and emails, and eventually people gave up, and Tess was always relieved. If she was a better mother, a more social mother, she would have helped Liam cultivate friendships with kids other than Marcus. But no, she’d just sat back with Felicity, giggling over their wine and sniping. She and Felicity didn’t tolerate the overly skinny, the overly sporty, the overly rich or overly intellectual. They laughed at people with personal trainers and small dogs, people who put overly intellectual or misspelled comments on Facebook, people who used the phrase, ‘I’m in a very good place right now’ and people who always got ‘involved’ – people like Cecilia Fitzpatrick.

  Tess and Felicity sat on the sidelines of life smirking at the players.

  If Tess had a wider social network, then perhaps Will wouldn’t have fallen in love with Felicity. Or at least he would have had a wider range of potential mistresses at his disposal.

  When her life fell apart there wasn’t one friend Tess could call. Not one friend. That’s why she was behaving like this with Connor. She needed a friend.

  ‘I fit the pattern, don’t I?’ said Tess suddenly. ‘You keep choosing the wrong women. I’m another wrong woman.’

  ‘Mmmm,’ said Connor. ‘Also, you didn’t even bring the hot cross buns you promised.’

  He tipped back his paper cup and drained the last of his hot chocolate. He put it down on the ledge next to him and shifted closer to her.

  ‘I’m using you,’ said Tess. ‘I’m a bad person.’

  He put one warm hand on the back of her neck and pulled her close enough so she could smell the chocolate on his breath. He took the paper cup from her unresisting hand.

  ‘I’m using you to help me not think about my husband,’ she clarified. She wanted him to understand.

  ‘Tess. Honey. Do you think I don’t know that?’ Then he kissed her so deeply and so completely that she felt like she was falling, floating, spiralling down, down, down, like Alice in Wonderland.

  6 April 1984

  Janie didn’t know that boys could blush. Her brother Rob blushed, but obviously he didn’t count as a proper boy. She didn’t know that a smart, good-looking, private-school boy like John-Paul Fitzpatrick could blush. It was late in the afternoon, and the light was changing, making everything indistinct and shadowy, but still she could see that John-Paul’s face was glowing. Even his ears, she noticed, were a translucent pink.

  She’d just said her little speech about how there was this ‘other guy’ she’d been seeing and he wanted her to be his ‘sort of, um, girlfriend’. So she really couldn’t see John-Paul any more, because the other guy wanted to ‘make things sort of official’.

  She’d had this vague idea that it would be better to make it sound as if it were Connor’s fault, as if he was making her break up with John-Paul, but now, as John-Paul’s face reddened, she wondered if it had been a mistake to mention another boy at all. She could have blamed it on her father. She could have said that she was too nervous about him finding out that she was seeing a boy.

  But part of her had wanted John-Paul to know that she was in demand.

  ‘But Janie,’ John-Paul’s voice sounded girly and squeaky, as if he was about to cry. ‘I thought you were my girlfriend.’

  Janie was horrified. Her own face flushed in sympathy and she looked away towards the swings and heard herself giggle. A strange, high-pitched giggle. It was a bad habit she had, of laughing when she was nervous, when she didn’t find anything at all funny about a situation. It had happened, for example, when Janie was thirteen and the school principal had come into their homeroom with such a sombre, mournful expression on his normally jolly face and told them that their
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