Husbands secret, p.23
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       Husband's Secret, p.23

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  ‘What do you mean by that exactly?’ There was a truculent tone in Tess’s voice she recognised from her teenage years.

  ‘I just mean you don’t want to go so far down a path that you can’t come back,’ said her mother.

  Tess glanced at the back door to check that Liam was inside. ‘There’s nothing to come back for! Obviously, there must have been something badly wrong with our marriage –’

  ‘Rubbish!’ interrupted her mother with such vehemence. ‘Bollocks! That’s the sort of rubbish you read in women’s magazine. This is what happens in life. People mess up. We’re designed to be attracted to each other. It absolutely does not mean there was something wrong with your marriage. I’ve seen you and Will together. I know how much you love each other.’

  ‘But Mum, Will fell in love with Felicity. It wasn’t just a drunken kiss at an office party. It’s love.’ She frowned at her fingernails and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘And maybe I’m falling in love with Connor.’

  ‘So what? People fall in and out of love all the time. I fell in love with Beryl’s son-in-law just the other week. It’s not some sign that your marriage was damaged.’ Lucy took a bite of her hot cross bun and spoke with her mouth full. ‘Of course, it’s very badly damaged now.’

  Tess guffawed and lifted her palms. ‘So there you go. We’re stuffed.’

  ‘Not if you’re both prepared to let go of your egos.’

  ‘It’s not just about our egos,’ said Tess irritably. This was ridiculous. Her mother wasn’t making any sense. Beryl’s son-in-law, for heaven’s sake.

  ‘Oh, Tess, my darling, at your age everything is about your ego.’

  ‘So, what are you saying? I should forget my ego and beg Will to come back to me?’

  Lucy rolled her eyes. ‘Of course not. I’m just saying don’t burn your bridges by jumping straight into a relationship with Connor. You have to think about Liam. He –’

  Tess was outraged. ‘I am thinking about Liam!’ She paused. ‘Did you think about me when you and Dad split up?’

  Her mother gave her a small, humble smile. ‘Maybe not as much as we should have.’ She lifted her teacup and put it back down again. ‘Sometimes I look back, and think, goodness me, we took our feelings so seriously. Everything was black and white. We got into our positions and that was that. We wouldn’t budge. Whatever happens, don’t get all rigid, Tess. Be prepared to be a bit . . . bendy.’

  ‘Bendy,’ repeated Tess.

  Her mother held up one hand and tilted her head. ‘Was that the doorbell?’

  ‘I didn’t hear it,’ said Tess.

  ‘If that’s my damned sister showing up here unannounced again, I’ll be so cross.’ Lucy straightened, and narrowed her eyes. ‘Don’t offer her a cup of tea whatever you do!’

  ‘I think you imagined it,’ said Tess.

  ‘Mum! Grandma!’

  The screen door at the back of the house flew open and Liam tumbled out, still wearing his pyjamas, his face alight. ‘Look who’s here!’

  He held the screen door wide and made a big gameshow host gesture. ‘Ta-daaa!’

  A beautiful blonde woman stepped through the open door. There was a split second where Tess genuinely didn’t recognise her and simply admired the stylish effect she created in the autumn leaves. She was wearing one of those chunky white knit cardigans with brown wooden buttons, a brown leather belt, skinny blue jeans and boots.

  ‘It’s Felicity!’ crowed Liam.

  chapter forty-five

  ‘Just sit with your mum and relax,’ said Lauren to Rob. ‘I’ll bring out some hot cross buns and coffee. Jacob, you come with me, mister.’

  Rachel let herself sink into a cushiony couch next to a wood stove. It was comfortable. The couch had the exact right level of softness, which was to be expected. Thanks to Lauren’s impeccable taste, everything in their beautifully restored two-bedroom Federation cottage was exactly right.

  The café that Lauren had originally suggested had been closed, much to her chagrin. ‘I called and double-checked what time they were opening just yesterday,’ she’d said when they saw the ‘closed’ sign across the door. Rachel had watched with interest as she almost lost her cool, but she’d managed to recover herself and suggest that they go back to their place. It was closer than Rachel’s place, and Rachel hadn’t been able to think of a reason to refuse without seeming churlish.

  Rob sat down in a red and white striped armchair opposite her and yawned. Rachel caught the yawn and immediately sat up straighter. She did not want to nod off in Lauren’s house like an old lady.

  She looked at her watch. It was only just after eight am. There were still hours and hours to endure before the day was done. At this time twenty-eight years ago, Janie had been eating her very last breakfast. Half a Weetbix probably. She’d never liked breakfast.

  Rachel ran her palm over the fabric of the couch. ‘What will you do with all your lovely furniture when you move to New York?’ she said to Rob, chattily, coolly. She could talk about the upcoming move to New York on the anniversary of Janie’s death. Oh yes she could.

  Rob took a few moments to answer. He stared at his knees. She was about to say ‘Rob?’ when he finally spoke. ‘We might rent this place out furnished,’ he said, as if speaking was an effort. ‘We’re still thinking about all those logistics.’

  ‘Yes, a lot to think about, I imagine,’ said Rachel snappily. Yes, Rob, quite a lot of logistics involved in taking my grandson to New York. She dug her fingernails into the cloth of the couch, as if it were a soft, fat animal she was abusing.

  ‘Do you dream about Janie, Mum?’ asked Rob.

  Rachel looked up. She released the flesh of the couch. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Do you?’

  ‘Sort of,’ said Rob. ‘I have nightmares that I’m being strangled. I guess I’m dreaming that I’m Janie. It’s always the same. I wake up choking for air. The dreams are always worse round this time of year. Autumn. Lauren thought maybe going to the park with you . . . might . . . be good. To face up to it. I don’t know. I didn’t really like being there. That’s the wrong way to put it. Obviously you don’t like being there either. But I just found that really hard. Thinking of what she went through. How scared she must have been. Jesus.’ He looked up at the ceiling and his face buckled. Rachel remembered how Ed would fiercely resist tears in exactly the same way.

  Ed used to have nightmares too. Rachel would wake up to hear him yelling, over and over, ‘Run Janie! Run! For God’s sake, darling, run!’

  ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had nightmares,’ said Rachel. What could she have done about it?

  Rob got his face back under control.

  ‘They’re just dreams. They’re no big deal. But you shouldn’t have to go to the park every year on your own, Mum. I’m sorry I never offered to go with you before. I should have.’

  ‘Sweetheart, you did offer,’ said Rachel. ‘Don’t you remember? Many times. And I always said no. It was my thing. Your dad thought I was crazy. He never went to that park. Never even drove along the same street.’

  Rob wiped the back of his hand across his nose and sniffed.

  ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘You’d think after all these years . . .’ He stopped abruptly.

  They could hear Jacob in the kitchen singing the words to the Bob the Builder soundtrack. Lauren was singing along too. Rob smiled tenderly at the sound. The smell of hot cross buns drifted into the room.

  Rachel studied his face. He was a good dad. A better dad than his own father had been. That was the way these days – all the men seemed to be better fathers – but Rob had always been a soft-hearted boy.

  Even as a baby he’d been a loving little thing. She used to pick him up from his cot after a nap and he’d snuggle against her chest and actually pat her back, as if to thank her for picking him up. He’d been the most chuckly, kissable baby. She remembered Ed saying, without resentment, ‘For God’s sake, woman, you’re besotted with that child.’

  It was stran
ge, remembering Rob as a baby, like picking up a much-loved book she hadn’t read in years. She so rarely bothered to think about memories of Rob. Instead, she was always trying to scrape up new memories of Janie’s childhood, as if Rob’s childhood didn’t matter because he got to live.

  ‘You were the most beautiful baby,’ she said to Rob. ‘People used to stop me in the street to compliment me. Have I told you that before? Probably a hundred times.’

  Rob shook his head slowly. ‘You never told me that, Mum.’

  ‘Didn’t I?’ said Rachel. ‘Not even when Jacob was born?’

  ‘No.’ There was an expression of wonder on his face.

  ‘Well I should have,’ said Rachel. She sighed. ‘I probably should have done a lot of things.’

  Rob leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. ‘So I was pretty cute, eh?’

  ‘You were gorgeous, darling,’ said Rachel. ‘You still are, of course.’

  Rob snorted. ‘Yeah right, Mum.’ But he couldn’t hide the delight that suddenly wreathed his face, and Rachel bit down hard on her lower lip with regret for all the ways she’d let him down.

  ‘Hot cross buns!’ Lauren appeared carrying a beautiful platter of perfectly toasted and evenly buttered buns, which she placed in front of them.

  ‘Let me help,’ said Rachel.

  ‘Absolutely not,’ said Lauren. She said over her shoulder, as she returned to the kitchen, ‘You never let me help at your place.’

  ‘Ah,’ Rachel felt strangely exposed. She always assumed that Lauren didn’t really notice her actions, or even register her as a person at all. She thought of her age as a shield that protected her from the eyes of the young.

  She always pretended to herself that she didn’t let Lauren help because she was trying to be the perfect mother-in-law, but really, when you didn’t let a woman help, it was a way of keeping her at a distance, of letting her know that she wasn’t family, of saying, ‘I don’t like you enough to let you into my kitchen.’

  Lauren reappeared with another tray containing three coffee cups. The coffee would be perfect, made exactly the way Rachel liked it: hot with two sugars. Lauren was the perfect daughter-in-law. Rachel was the perfect mother-in-law. All that perfection hiding all that dislike.

  But Lauren had won. New York was her ace. She’d played it. Good on her.

  ‘Where’s Jacob?’ asked Rachel.

  ‘He’s drawing,’ said Lauren as she sat down. She lifted her mug and shot Rob a wry look. ‘Hopefully not on the walls.’

  Rob grinned at her, and Rachel got another glimpse of the private world of their marriage. It seemed like it was a good marriage, as far as marriages went.

  Would Janie have liked Lauren? Would Rachel have been a nice, ordinary, overbearing mother-in-law if Janie had lived? It was impossible to imagine. The world with Lauren in it was so vastly different from the world when Janie had been alive. It seemed impossible that Lauren would still have existed if Janie had lived.

  She looked at Lauren, strands of fair hair escaping from her ponytail. It was nearly the same blonde as Janie’s. Janie’s hair was blonder. Perhaps hers would have got darker as she’d got older.

  Ever since that first morning after Janie died, when she woke up and the horror of what had happened crashed down upon her, Rachel had been obsessively imagining another life running alongside her own, her real life, the one that was stolen from her, the one where Janie was warm in her bed.

  But as the years had gone by it had grown harder and harder to imagine it. Lauren was sitting right in front of her and she was so alive, the blood pumping through her veins, her chest rising and falling.

  ‘You okay, Mum?’ said Rob.

  ‘I’m fine,’ said Rachel. She went to reach for her cup of coffee and found that she didn’t have the energy to even lift her arm.

  Sometimes there was the pure, primal pain of grief; and other times there was anger, the frantic desire to claw and hit and kill; and sometimes, like right now, there was just this ordinary, dull sensation, settling itself softly, suffocatingly over her like a heavy fog.

  She was just so damned sad.

  chapter forty-six

  ‘Hello,’ said Felicity.

  Tess smiled at her. She couldn’t help it. It was like the way you automatically say thank you to a police officer who is handing you a speeding ticket you don’t want and can’t afford. She was automatically happy to see Felicity, because she loved her, and she looked so nice, and because a lot had been happening to her over the last few days, and she had so much to tell her.

  In the very next instant she remembered, and the shock and betrayal felt brand new. Tess battled a desire to fly at Felicity, to knock her to the ground and scratch and pummel and bite. But nice, middle-class women like Tess didn’t behave like that, especially not in front of their impressionable small children; so she did nothing except lick her greasy lips from the buttery hot cross buns and move forward in her chair, tugging at the front of her pyjama top.

  ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.

  ‘I’m sorry for just . . .’ Felicity’s voice disappeared on her. She tried to clear her throat and said huskily, ‘. . . turning up like this. Without calling.’

  ‘Yes, it might have been better if you had called,’ said Lucy. Tess knew her mother was trying her best to look forbidding but she just looked distraught. In spite of all the things she’d said about Felicity, Tess knew that Lucy loved her niece.

  ‘How is your ankle?’ Felicity asked Lucy.

  ‘Is Dad coming too?’ said Liam.

  Tess straightened. Felicity met her eyes and quickly looked away. That’s right. Ask Felicity. Felicity would know what Will’s plans were.

  ‘He’s coming soon,’ Felicity told Liam. ‘I’m not actually staying long. I just wanted to talk to your mum first, about a few things, and then I’ve got to go. I’m, ah, going away, actually.’

  ‘Where to?’ asked Liam.

  ‘I’m going to England,’ said Felicity. ‘I’m going to do this amazing walk. It’s called the coast-to-coast walk. And then I’m going to Spain, and America – well, anyway, I’m going to be away for quite a long time.’

  ‘Are you going to Disneyland?’ asked Liam.

  Tess stared at Felicity. ‘I don’t get it.’ Was Will going with her on some romantic adventure?

  Red painful blotches stained Felicity’s neck. ‘Could you and I talk?’

  Tess stood up. ‘Come on.’

  ‘I’ll come too,’ said Liam.

  ‘No,’ said Tess.

  ‘You stay out here with me, darling,’ said Lucy. ‘Let’s eat chocolate.’

  Tess took Felicity to her old bedroom. It was the only door with a lock. They stood next to her bed, looking at each other. Tess’s heart hammered. She hadn’t realised that you could spend your whole life looking at the people you loved in an oblique, half-hearted way, as if you were deliberately blurring your vision, until something like this happened, and then just looking at that person could be terrifying.

  ‘What’s going on?’ said Tess.

  ‘It’s over,’ said Felicity.

  ‘Over?’

  ‘Well, it never got started really. Once you and Liam were gone it just –’

  ‘Wasn’t as thrilling any more?’

  ‘Can I sit down?’ said Felicity. ‘My legs are shaking.’

  Tess’s legs were shaking too.

  She shrugged. ‘Sure. Sit.’

  There was nowhere to sit but the bed or the floor. Felicity sank to the floor. She sat cross-legged with her back against the chest of drawers. Tess sat also, with her back against the bed.

  ‘Still the same rug.’ Felicity put her hand on the blue and white rug.

  ‘Yep.’ Tess looked at Felicity’s slim legs and fine-boned wrists. She thought of the little fat girl who had sat in that exact same position so many times throughout their childhood. Her beautiful green almond eyes shining out from her plump face. Tess had always known there was a fair
y princess trapped in there. Perhaps Tess had liked the fact that she was trapped.

  ‘You look beautiful,’ said Tess. For some reason, it just had to be said.

  ‘Don’t,’ said Felicity.

  ‘I wasn’t trying to make a point.’

  ‘I know.’

  They sat in silence for a few moments.

  ‘So tell me,’ said Tess finally.

  ‘He’s not in love with me,’ said Felicity. ‘I don’t think he was ever in love with me. It was a crush. The whole thing was pathetic, really. I knew straightaway. As soon as you and Liam were gone, I knew that nothing was going to happen.’

  ‘But –’ Tess lifted her hands helplessly. She felt a rush of humiliation. The events of the past week all seemed so stupid.

  ‘It wasn’t just a crush for me,’ said Felicity. She lifted her chin. ‘It was real for me. I love him. I’ve loved him for years.’

  ‘Is that right?’ said Tess dully, but it wasn’t a surprise. Not really. Maybe she’d always known it. In fact, maybe she’d even liked the fact that she’d sensed Felicity was in love with Will, because it had made Will seem all the more desirable, and because it had been perfectly safe. There had been no way that Will could have been sexually attracted to Felicity. Had Tess never really seen her cousin at all? Had she been just like everyone else who hadn’t seen past Felicity’s weight?

  She said, ‘But all those years. Spending so much time with us. It must have been horrible.’ It was as though she’d thought that Felicity’s fatness cushioned her feelings, as though she believed that Felicity must surely know and accept that no ordinary man could really love her! And yet Tess would have killed anyone who might have said that out loud.

  ‘It was just how I felt.’ Felicity pleated the fabric of her jeans between her fingers. ‘I knew he just thought of me as a friend. I knew Will liked me. Loved me even, like a sister. It was enough to spend time with him.’

  ‘You should have –’ began Tess.

  ‘What? Told you? How could I tell you? What could you have done except feel sorry for me? What I should have done was gone off and got my own life, instead of just being your faithful fat sidekick.’

  ‘I never thought of you like that!’ Tess was stung.

  ‘I’m not saying you thought of me like that. It was more that I saw myself as your sidekick. As if I wasn’t thin enough to have a real life. But then I lost weight and I started to notice men looking at me. I know as good feminists we’re not meant to like it, being objectified, but when you’ve never experienced it, it’s like, I don’t know, cocaine. I loved it. I felt so powerful. It was like in those movies when the superhero first discovers their powers. And then I thought, I wonder if I could get Will to notice me now, like those other men notice me – and then, well then . . .’

  She stopped. She’d got caught up in the telling of her story and forgotten that it wasn’t really an appropriate one for Tess to hear. Tess had only had a few days of not being able to talk to Felicity, whereas Felicity had all those years of not being able to share the biggest thing on her mind.

  ‘And then he noticed you,’ finished Tess. ‘You tried out your superpowers and they worked.’

  Felicity gave a pretty, self-deprecating shrug. It was funny how all her gestures were different now. Tess was sure she’d never seen that particular shrug before – sort of French and flirty.

  ‘I think Will felt so bad about feeling, you know, a little bit attracted to me, he convinced himself that he was in love with me,’ said Felicity. ‘Once you and Liam were gone, everything changed. I think he lost interest in me the moment you walked out the door.’

  ‘The moment I walked out the door,’ repeated Tess.

  ‘Yup.’

  ‘Bullshit.’

  Felicity lifted her head. ‘It’s true.’

  ‘No, it’s not.’

  It seemed as though Felicity was trying to absolve Will of all wrongdoing, to imply that he’d been briefly led astray, as if what had happened was no different than the betrayal of a drunken kiss at an office party.

  Tess thought of Will’s dead-white face on Monday evening. He wasn’t that
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