Husbands secret, p.24
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       Husband's Secret, p.24
 

           Liane Moriarty

  shallow or stupid. His feelings for Felicity had been real enough for him to begin the process of dismantling his whole life.

  It was Liam, she thought. The moment Tess walked out the door with Liam, Will finally understood what he was sacrificing. If there was no child involved, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place. He loved Tess, presumably he did, but right now he was in love with Felicity, and everyone knew which was the more powerful feeling. It wasn’t a fair fight. It was why marriages fell apart. It was why, if you valued your marriage, you kept a barricade around yourself and your feelings and your thoughts. You didn’t let your eyes linger. You didn’t stay for the second drink. You kept the flirting safe. You just didn’t go there. At some point Will had made a choice to look at Felicity with the eyes of a single man. That was the moment he had betrayed Tess.

  ‘Obviously I’m not asking for your forgiveness,’ said Felicity.

  Yes, you are, thought Tess. But you’re not getting it.

  ‘Because I could have done it,’ said Felicity. ‘I want you to know that. For some reason it’s really important to me that you know that I was serious. I felt terrible, but not so terrible that I couldn’t have done it. I could have lived with myself.’

  Tess stared at her, appalled.

  ‘I just want to be totally honest with you,’ said Felicity.

  ‘Thanks, I guess.’

  Felicity dropped her eyes first. ‘Anyway. I thought the best thing would be for me to just leave the country, to get as far away as possible. So you and Will can work things out. He wanted to talk to you first, but I thought it would make more sense if –’

  ‘So where is he now?’ said Tess. There was a strident note to her voice. Felicity’s knowledge of Will’s whereabouts and plans was infuriating. ‘Is he in Sydney? Did you fly up together?’

  ‘Well, yes, we did, but –’ began Felicity.

  ‘That must have been very traumatic for you both. Your last moments together. Did you hold hands on the plane?’

  The flicker in Felicity’s eyes was indisputable.

  ‘You did, didn’t you?’ said Tess. She could just imagine it. The agony. The star-crossed lovers clinging to each other, wondering if they should keep on running, fly to Paris!, or do the right thing, the boring thing. Tess was the boring thing.

  ‘I don’t want him,’ she told Felicity. She couldn’t stand her role as the stodgy, wronged wife. She wanted Felicity to know that there was nothing stodgy about Tess O’Leary. ‘You can have him. Keep him! I’ve been sleeping with Connor Whitby.’

  Felicity’s mouth dropped. ‘Seriously?’

  ‘Seriously.’

  Felicity exhaled. ‘Well, Tess, that’s – I don’t know.’ She looked around the room for inspiration and returned her gaze to Tess. ‘Three days ago you said you would not have Liam growing up with divorced parents. You said, you wanted your husband back. You made me feel like the worst person in the world. And now you tell me that you’ve just jumped straight into an affair with an ex-boyfriend, while Will and I, we never even – God!’ She thumped her fist on the side of Tess’s bed, her colour high, her eyes shining with fury.

  The injustice, and perhaps the justice, of Felicity’s words took Tess’s breath away.

  ‘Don’t be so pious.’ She shoved Felicity’s skinny thigh as hard as she could, childishly, like a kid on a bus. It felt strangely good. She did it again, harder. ‘You are the worst person in the world. Do you think I would have even looked at Connor if you and Will hadn’t made your announcement?’

  ‘You didn’t muck about though, did you? Bloody hell, stop hitting me!’

  Tess gave her one final shove and sat back. She had never felt such an overwhelming desire to hit someone before. She had certainly never given in to it. It seemed that all the niceties that made her a socially acceptable grown-up had been stripped away. Last week she was a school mum and a professional. Now she was having sex in hallways and hitting her cousin. What next?

  She took a deep, shaky breath. In the heat of the moment, they called it. She had never realised just how hot the heat of the moment could get.

  ‘Anyway,’ said Felicity. ‘Will wants to work things out, and I’m leaving the country. So do whatever you want to do.’

  ‘Thanks,’ said Tess. ‘Thanks very much. Thanks for everything.’ She could feel the anger almost physically draining from her body, leaving her limp and detached.

  There was silence for a moment.

  ‘He wants another baby,’ said Felicity.

  ‘Don’t tell me what he wants.’

  ‘He really wants another baby.’

  ‘And I suppose you would have liked to have given him one,’ said Tess.

  Felicity’s eyes filled. ‘Yes. I’m sorry, but yes.’

  ‘For God’s sake, Felicity. Don’t make me feel bad for you. It’s not fair. Why did you have to fall in love with my husband? Why couldn’t you have fallen in love with someone else’s husband?’

  ‘We never really saw anyone else,’ Felicity laughed as the tears rolled down her face. She wiped the back of her hand across her nose.

  That was true.

  ‘He doesn’t think he can ask you to go through another pregnancy because of how sick you got with Liam,’ said Felicity. ‘But it might not be as bad with a second pregnancy, right? Every pregnancy is different, isn’t it? You should have another baby.’

  ‘Do you really think we’re going to have a baby now and live happily ever after?’ said Tess. ‘A baby doesn’t fix a marriage. Not that I even knew my marriage needed fixing.’

  ‘I know, I just thought –’

  ‘It’s not really because of the sickness that I don’t want a baby,’ she said to Felicity. ‘It’s because of the people.’

  ‘The people?’

  ‘The other mothers, the teachers, the people. I didn’t realise that having a child was so social. You’re always talking to people.’

  ‘So what?’ Felicity looked mystified.

  ‘I have this disorder. I did a quiz in a magazine. I have –’ Tess lowered her voice. ‘I have social anxiety.’

  ‘You do not,’ said Felicity dismissively.

  ‘I do so! I did the quiz –’

  ‘You’re seriously diagnosing yourself based on some quiz in a magazine?’

  ‘It was Reader’s Digest, not Cosmopolitan. And it’s true! I can’t stand meeting new people. I get sick. I have heart palpitations. I can’t stand parties.’

  ‘Lots of people don’t like parties. Get over yourself.’

  Tess was taken aback. She had expected hushed pity.

  ‘You’re shy,’ said Felicity. ‘You’re not one of those loud-mouthed extroverts. But people like you. People really like you. Haven’t you ever noticed that? I mean, God, Tess, how could you have had all those boyfriends if you were such a shy, nervy little thing? You had about thirty boyfriends before you were twenty-five.’

  Tess rolled her eyes. ‘I did not.’

  How could she explain to Felicity that her anxiety was like a strange mercurial little pet she was forced to look after? Sometimes it was quiet and pliable, other days it was crazy, running around in circles, yapping in her ear. Besides, dating was different. Dating had its own definite set of rules. She could do dating. A first date with a new man had never been a problem. (As long as he asked her out, of course. She never did the asking.) It was when the man asked her to meet his family and friends that her anxiety reared its freaky little head.

  ‘And by the way, if you really had “social anxiety”, why did you never tell me?’ said Felicity with total confidence that she knew everything there was to know about Tess.

  ‘I never had a name for it before,’ said Tess. ‘I never had words to describe this feeling until a few months ago.’ And because you were part of my cover identity. Because you and I pretended together that we didn’t care what other people thought of us, that we were superior to just about the whole world. If I’d admitted to you how I felt, I would have had
to admit that not only did I care what other people thought, I cared far too much.

  ‘You know what, I walked into an aerobics class wearing a size twenty-two T-shirt.’ Felicity leaned forward and looked at her fiercely. ‘People couldn’t look at me. I saw one girl nudging her friend to check me out and then they both fell about laughing. I heard a guy say, “Watch out for the heifer.” Don’t you talk to me about social anxiety, Tess O’Leary.’

  There was a banging on the door.

  ‘Mum! Felicity!’ shouted Liam. ‘Why have you locked the door? Let me in!’

  ‘Go away, Liam!’ called back Tess.

  ‘No! Have you made up yet?’

  Tess and Felicity looked at each other. Felicity smiled faintly and Tess looked away.

  Lucy’s voice came from the other end of the house. ‘Liam, come back here! I said to leave your mother alone!’ She was at a disadvantage on her crutches.

  Felicity stood. ‘I have to go. My flight is at two o’clock. Mum and Dad are taking me to the airport. Mum is in a state. Dad isn’t speaking to me, apparently.’

  ‘You’re seriously leaving today?’ Tess looked up at her from the floor.

  She thought briefly of the business: the clients she’d worked so hard to win over, the cash flow they’d tried so hard to maintain, fussing and fretting over the profit and loss like a delicate little plant, the ‘work in progress’ Excel spreadsheet they’d studied each morning. Was this the end for TWF Advertising? All those dreams. All that stationery.

  ‘Yes,’ said Felicity. ‘It’s what I should have done years ago.’

  Tess stood as well. ‘I don’t forgive you.’

  ‘I know,’ said Felicity. ‘I don’t forgive me either.’

  ‘Mum!’ yelled Liam.

  ‘Hold your horses, Liam!’ called out Felicity. She grabbed Tess’s arm and said in her ear, ‘Don’t tell Will about Connor.’

  For one strange moment they hugged, and then Felicity turned and opened the door.

  chapter forty-seven

  ‘There’s no butter,’ announced Isabel. ‘No margarine either.’

  She turned from the fridge and looked at her mother expectantly.

  ‘Are you sure?’ asked Cecilia. How could that have happened? She never forgot a staple. Her system was foolproof. Her refrigerator and pantry were always perfectly stocked. Sometimes John-Paul rang on his way home and asked if she needed him to ‘pick up milk or anything’ and she’d always reply, ‘Uh, no?’

  ‘But aren’t we having hot cross buns?’ said Esther. ‘We always have hot cross buns for breakfast on Good Friday.’

  ‘We can still have them,’ said John-Paul. He brushed his fingers automatically across Cecilia’s lower back as he walked past her to the kitchen table. ‘Your mother’s hot cross buns are so good they don’t need butter.’

  Cecilia watched him. He was pale and a little shaky, as if he was recovering from the flu, and he seemed in a tremulous, tender mood.

  She found herself waiting for something to happen – the shrill ring of the phone, a heavy knock on the door – but the day continued to be cloaked in soft safe silence. Nothing would happen on a Good Friday. Good Friday was in its own protective little bubble.

  ‘We always have our hot cross buns with lots and lots of butter,’ said Polly, who was sitting at the kitchen table in her pink flannelette pyjamas, her black hair rumpled, her cheeks flushed with sleep. ‘It’s a family tradition. Just go to the shop, Mum, and get some butter.’

  ‘Don’t speak to your mother like that. She’s not your slave,’ said John-Paul, at the same time as Esther glanced up from her library book and said, ‘The shops are closed, stupid.’

  ‘Whatever,’ sighed Isabel. ‘I’m going to go Skype with –’

  ‘No you’re not,’ said Cecilia. ‘We’re all going to eat some porridge, and then we’re all going to walk up to the school oval.’

  ‘Walk?’ said Polly disdainfully.

  ‘Yes, walk. It’s turned into a beautiful day. Or ride your bikes. We’ll take the soccer ball.’

  ‘I’m on Dad’s team,’ said Isabel.

  ‘And then on the way back we’ll stop by at the BP service station and pick up some butter, and we’ll have hot cross buns when we get home.’

  ‘Perfect,’ said John-Paul. ‘That sounds perfect.’

  ‘Did you know that some people wish the Berlin Wall never come down?’ said Esther. ‘That’s weird, isn’t it? Why would you want to be stuck behind a wall?’

  ‘Well, that was lovely, but I really should go,’ said Rachel. She placed her mug back down on the coffee table. Her duty was done. She shifted herself forward and took a breath. It was another one of those impossibly low couches. Could she stand up on her own? Lauren would get there first if she saw she was having difficulty. Rob was always just a moment too late.

  ‘What are you doing for the rest of the day?’ asked Lauren.

  ‘I’ll just potter about,’ said Rachel. I’ll just count the minutes. She held out a hand to Rob. ‘Give me a hand will you, love?’

  As Rob went to help her, Jacob toddled over with a framed photo he’d picked up from the bookcase and brought it over to Rachel. ‘Daddy,’ he said, pointing.

  ‘That’s right,’ said Rachel. It was a photo of Rob and Janie on a camping holiday they’d taken on the south coast the year before Janie died. They were standing in front of a tent, and Rob was holding his fingers up like rabbit ears behind Janie’s head. Why did children insist on doing that?

  Rob came and stood next to them and pointed at his sister. ‘And who’s that, buddy?’

  ‘Auntie Janie,’ said Jacob clearly.

  Rachel caught her breath. She’d never heard him say ‘Auntie Janie’ before, although she and Rob had been pointing her out in photos to him since he was a tiny baby.

  ‘Clever boy.’ She ruffled his hair. ‘Your Aunt Janie would have loved you.’

  Although, in truth, Janie had never been particularly interested in children. She’d preferred constructing cities with Rob’s Lego to playing with dolls.

  Jacob gave her a cynical look, as if he knew this, and wandered off with the photo frame swinging precariously between his fingertips. Rachel put her hand in Rob’s and he helped her to her feet.

  ‘Well, thank you so much, Lauren –’ she began, and was disconcerted to see that Lauren was staring at the floor with a fixed expression, as if she was pretending not to be there.

  ‘Sorry,’ she gave them a watery smile. ‘It was just hearing Jacob say “Auntie Janie” for the first time. I don’t know how you get through this day, Rachel, every year, I really don’t. I just wish I could do something.’

  You could not take my grandson to New York, thought Rachel. You could stay here and have another baby. But she just smiled politely and said, ‘Thank you, darling. I’m perfectly all right.’

  Lauren stood. ‘I wish I’d known her. My sister-in-law. I always wanted a sister.’ Her face was pink and soft. Rachel looked away. She couldn’t bear it. She didn’t want to see evidence of Lauren’s vulnerability.

  ‘I’m sure she would have loved you.’ Rachel sounded perfunctory, even to her own ears that she coughed, embarrassed. ‘Well. I’ll be off. Thank you for coming to the park with me today. It meant a lot to me. I’ll look forward to seeing you on Sunday. At your parents’ house!’

  She tried her best to inject some enthusiasm into her voice, but Lauren had closed her face back up and recovered her poise.

  ‘Lovely,’ she said coolly, and leaned forward to brush her lips against her cheek. ‘By the way, Rachel, Rob said he told you to bring a pavlova, but that’s really not necessary.’

  ‘It’s no trouble at all, Lauren,’ said Rachel.

  She thought she heard Rob sigh.

  ‘So, now Will is going to make an appearance?’ Lucy leaned heavily on Tess’s arm as they stood on the front porch watching Felicity’s taxi turn the corner at the end of the street. Liam had disappeared inside somewhere. ‘This is l
ike a play. Evil mistress exits stage right. Enter chastened husband.’

  ‘She’s not really an evil mistress,’ said Tess. ‘She said she’s been in love with him for years.’

  ‘For heaven’s sake,’ said Lucy. ‘Silly girl. Plenty of fish in the sea! Why must she want your fish?’

  ‘He’s a pretty good fish, I guess.’

  ‘Do I take it you forgive him then?’

  ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I can. I feel like he’s only choosing me because of Liam. I feel like he’s settling for me. For second best.’

  The thought of seeing Will filled her with almost unbearable confusion. Would she cry? Yell? Fall into his arms? Slap him across the face? Offer him a hot cross bun? He loved hot cross buns. Obviously he didn’t deserve one. ‘You’re not getting a bun, babe.’ That was the thing. It was just Will. It was impossible to imagine how she’d maintain the level of drama and gravitas the situation required. Especially with Liam there. But then again, he wasn’t Will, because the real Will would never have allowed this to happen. So this was a stranger.

  Her mother studied her. Tess waited for a wise, loving comment.

  ‘I assume you’re not going to see him in those raggedy old pyjamas are you, darling? And you are going to give your hair a good brush, I hope?’

  Tess rolled her eyes. ‘He’s my husband. He knows what I look like first thing in the morning. And if he’s that superficial, then I don’t want him.’

  ‘Yes, you’re right of course,’ said Lucy. She tapped her lower lip. ‘Gosh, Felicity was looking particularly lovely today, wasn’t she?’

  Tess laughed. Maybe she would feel more resilient if she was dressed. ‘Fine, Mum, I’ll go put a ribbon in my hair and pinch my cheeks. Come on, cripple, I don’t know why you had to come outside to see her off.’

  ‘I didn’t want to miss any of the action.’

  ‘They never did sleep together, you know,’ whispered Tess as she held the screen door with one hand and her mother’s elbow with the other.

  ‘Seriously?’ said Lucy. ‘How peculiar. In my day infidelity was a much raunchier affair.’

  ‘I’m ready!’ Liam came running down the hallway.

  ‘For what?’ said Tess.

  ‘To go fly a kite with that teacher. Mr Whatby or whatever his name is.’

  ‘Connor,’ breathed Tess, and nearly lost hold of her mother. ‘Shit. What time is it? I’d forgotten.’

  Rachel’s mobile rang just as she got to the end of Rob and Lauren’s street. She pulled the car over to answer it. It was probably Marla, ringing for Janie’s anniversary. Rachel was happy to talk to her. She felt like complaining about Lauren’s perfectly toasted hot cross buns.

  ‘Mrs Crowley?’ It wasn’t Marla. It was a woman’s voice. She sounded like a snooty doctor’s receptionist: nasal and self-important. ‘This is Detective-Sergeant Strout from the Homicide Squad. I meant to call you last night, but I ran out of time, so I thought I would try and catch you this morning.’

  Rachel’s heart leapt. The video. She was calling on a Good Friday. A public holiday. It had to be good news.

  ‘Hello,’ she said warmly. ‘Thank you for calling.’

  ‘Well. I wanted to let you know that we received the video from Sergeant Bellach and we have, er, reviewed it.’ Detective-Sergeant Strout was younger than she first sounded. She was putting on her best professional voice for the call. ‘Mrs Crowley, I understand you may have had high expectations, that you even thought this might have been something of a breakthrough. So I’m sorry if this is disappointing news, but I have to tell you that at this stage we won’t be questioning Connor Whitby again. We don’t think the video justifies it.’

  ‘But it’s his motive,’ said Rachel desperately. She looked through the car windscreen at a magnificent gold-leafed tree soaring up to the sky. ‘Can’t you see that?’ She watched a single gold leaf detach itself and begin to fall, circling rapidly through the air.

  ‘I’m so sorry, Mrs Crowley. At this stage there’s really nothing further we can do.’ There was sympathy there, yes, but Rachel could also hear a young professional’s condescension towards an elderly layperson. The victim’s mother. Obviously far too emotional to be objective. Didn’t understand police procedure. Part of the job to try and soothe her.

  Rachel’s eyes filled with tears. The leaf vanished from sight.

 
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