Behind Her Eyes, p.17Sarah Pinborough
‘For whom?’ He’s frowning.
Then I see it. The shock as he tries to take it in. The confusion.
‘Sorry, did you say Louise Barnsley?’ Then he looks at me, but he’s still trying to put everything in place in his head. His world just turned upside down and then got shaken all over again. ‘And this is an extension on a guest membership my wife arranged?’
I shrug at him, pleading, and mouth She’s a friend I made.
‘Okay, yes, thank you. That’s fine.’ His eyes fall to my mobile phone, and he’s reaching for it as he hangs up, before I can even make the pretence of going for it myself.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘She’s someone I met. That’s all. Just a friend. I didn’t want to say anything. I was lonely. She was nice to me.’
He’s not listening to me, but scanning through the texts in the phone, his face like thunder. I’ve kept most of them. Of course I have. In preparation for this.
He stares at me then, for a long moment, and he’s gripping my phone so tightly I think he might crush it. Whose windpipe would he like to crush most right now, mine or Louise’s?
‘I’m sorry,’ I say again.
He’s pale, his jaw clenched tightly, his whole body trembling with pent-up emotion he’s fighting to contain. I’ve only seen him like this once before, and that was so long ago. I want to hold him. To tell him everything’s going to be okay. That I’m making everything better for him. But I can’t. I have to be strong.
‘I’m going out.’ The words are forced out between his teeth. I don’t think he’s even seeing me.
He storms towards the front door and I call after him, but he doesn’t even pause in his stride, a whirlwind of rage and confusion.
The door slams and I’m alone. I hear the clock tick in the silence. I stare after him for a moment and then pour a glass of the opened red wine. It should breathe for longer, but I don’t care.
I let out a long sigh after the first sip and then roll my head around my shoulders releasing the tension. Poor Louise, I think. I’m exhausted, but I try to shake it away. I still have things to do. See if Anthony has left the package where I asked him to for one thing. And then see what David is doing. My tiredness is going to have to wait.
After all, I can sleep when I’m dead.
They leave tomorrow. The month is over and there’s no reason for either of them to stay longer, star patients that they are. It’s a weird feeling, but Adele can’t help smiling as she packs. Freedom from Westlands, and David to marry at the end of his university term. Despite everything that’s happened, her future looks good. Her only worry is Rob. He’s making jokes about it, but she can see that he doesn’t want to go back to his sister, not at all. It hurts her to see him almost vulnerable. It also hurts to leave him. It’s her only sadness as she folds her clothes into her small suitcase, but it’s a sharp one.
‘Want to go down by the lake?’ she asks. He’s sitting on her bed, watching her pack and, for the first time since she’s known him, he looks like a little boy rather than an almost-man. His dark hair hangs over his face, but she can see the glint of the braces he hates so much on his teeth. His T-shirt is still ironed though. She’s never known anyone to press a T-shirt or their jeans before. Maybe he even irons his socks. Perhaps it’s one small bit of control he has in what seems like a uncontrolled life to Adele. One kink in his wildness.
He pulls something from his top pocket and grins. A neatly rolled joint. ‘The last of the weed. We might as well. Maybe they’ll catch us toking and we’ll have to stay longer.’
She knows he kind of hopes for it. She knows he’d love for them to have to stay longer, and part of her wishes for the same, because she can’t imagine not seeing Rob every day. But she’s missed David so much and she’s fizzing with the excitement of seeing him and kissing him and marrying him with no parents around to disapprove.
Rob suspects that this is the end of their friendship, but she knows it isn’t. Maybe Rob can come and live with them at some point when they’re married. David will like him, she’s sure of that. How could he not? Rob is too fabulous for anyone not to like.
She grabs his hand. It feels good in hers. She’s almost forgotten what holding David’s hand feels like, and that feels like a betrayal, but David isn’t here and Rob is, and they do love each other in their own way.
‘What are we waiting for?’ she says.
It’s not so warm today, the wind on the water carrying a chill that bites every now and then, but they don’t care as they sit under the tree where they first met and pass the spliff between them. She’ll miss this too. She can’t imagine David ever wanting to get high. She can’t tell him she’s done drugs here. He’d be horrified. Another secret that’s hers and Rob’s.
‘Maybe I’ll burn the notebook now,’ Rob says. ‘A ceremonial farewell.’ As ever his tone is light and his eyes sparkle, but she knows he’s down. She squeezes his hand tightly.
‘No, keep it. You never know, your dreams might hold more surprises.’ She inhales, enjoying the relaxing buzz, and then passes the joint back to him. ‘And when you come to visit you can tell me about them. Where you’ve been, who you’ve seen.’ She smiles at him. ‘You’d better include me in some of those dreams.’
‘Back at ya,’ he says. ‘You’re going to be seeing enough of dreary David. You don’t need to dream about him too.’
She gives him a playful punch on the arm and he laughs even though he means it. It’ll be different when they meet. How could she love them both if they can’t love each other? It’s not possible.
‘You okay about going back to your house?’ he asks.
‘I think so.’ She’s not sure, but it’s part of her therapy plan. Face the music as it were. Go back to the source of the trauma. Spend some time there.
‘There are plenty of rooms that aren’t damaged, and the burned out ones have been cleaned up and temporary repairs done. David’s organised it.’
‘I guess he can, now you’ve given him all your money,’ Rob says, dryly.
‘No I haven’t,’ she says, exasperated. ‘I keep telling you that. It’s only for now. It’s easier. His uni fees and everything, and the stuff with the house, I couldn’t do that from in here. And on top of that, it’s too much to think about. I’m happy he’s taken it on. Let it go, Rob. And don’t tell anyone. It’s been difficult enough for David since the fire without this reaching the newspapers.’
‘Okay, okay. I just worry about you.’ This is no time for their first argument and she knows he knows that. He pauses. ‘I’ll worry about you even more in that big old house by yourself.’
‘I’ll be fine. It’s only for a few weeks. People will be checking in on me. Some of the locals, my solicitors, and of course a doctor. Someone’s even going to bring food and clean for me when needed. David says he’ll come at weekends when he can.’
‘A whole new life ahead for you,’ he says wistfully. ‘Think of me back on the shitty estate still trapped with my fucking awful sister.’
‘Is it that bad?’ she asks. He’s still never opened up about his life, even though she has tried gently prodding him too over the past week or so.
‘It is what it is.’ He tries to blow smoke rings, but the wind breaks them up before they’re half formed and he gives up. ‘I don’t want to think about it until tomorrow.’
‘You can call me, you know,’ she says. ‘I’ll give you my mobile number. If things are shit, call me. Come and stay for a few days.’
‘Oh, I’m sure David would love that.’
‘David’s at university,’ she says, and then in a moment of rebellion adds, ‘and it’s my bloody house.’
They grin at each other then, and she can see that he loves her, and it makes her feel warm inside, if a little complicated. David is everything to her, but now there is also Rob in her heart. She would never have felt so much better by now without him. She’d probably have been locked up for good.
‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Maybe I will.’
She hopes he will. She hopes he’d call her rather than be miserable. But he’s proud, Rob, she knows that. As proud as David in a different way.
‘You promise?’ she says, leaning forward so their faces are close and her hair is brushing his cheek.
‘I promise, my beautiful Sleeping Beauty princess. I promise.’
‘Good.’ She kisses him on the nose. ‘That’s that settled then.’
I shouldn’t have let him in, I shouldn’t have let him in, is all I can think as the horror of the whole mess now collapsing around me sinks in. If I hadn’t let him in, I wouldn’t have had to face it. Not yet. I want to be sick. I don’t know what to say.
He’s shaking with rage as he stands in my sitting room, waving Adele’s crappy mobile phone at me, shouting something about having read all the texts. I’m crying, and I don’t even know when I started, maybe when he first stepped through the door and I instantly knew he knew, but I wish I wasn’t. My stomach has turned to water and I feel as if I’ve been caught in an affair and I’m trying to explain it away. I hate myself.
‘The whole time?’ He’s incredulous, still struggling to get his head around it. ‘All this time you’ve been friends with my wife and you didn’t tell me?’ His Scottish accent is stronger in his anger, country rough, and it surprises me. A stranger’s voice.
‘I didn’t know how to!’ I wail at him, my hands gesticulating with no meaning at all except maybe to try and wave it all away. ‘I didn’t … I literally bumped into her in the street and she fell over and then we went for coffee! I didn’t mean to be her friend but then she texted me and I didn’t know what to do!’
‘And you didn’t think to mention to her that you worked for me? You didn’t think that would be normal?’
I’m shocked into momentary silence that must look like more guilt. I thought he knew everything. Maybe he found Adele’s phone and then came straight here? Maybe he hasn’t spoken to her yet? Or maybe she didn’t tell him that part. Maybe she was too afraid. I don’t know what to say. Should I tell him that of course she knew? That she asked me to keep it a secret? But then that gets her into more trouble. And of all of us, Adele is the one who hasn’t done anything wrong here. I say nothing.
‘How fucking crazy are you?’ Spit flies out with his words. ‘Jesus, I thought you were so honest. So normal. Have you been stalking me?’
‘I felt sorry for her!’ I scream at him, even though the walls are thin and Laura next door will definitely hear. ‘She was lonely!’
‘Jesus fuck, Louise. You know how crazy this is, don’t you?’
‘I didn’t want to be her friend. I didn’t.’ The words are snotty through my tears. ‘I got roped in, and at the start I thought what we’d done in the bar was a one-off.’
‘But why didn’t you tell me? All these fucking lies, Louise? Who are you?’
‘I didn’t lie, I just didn’t—’ I shrug, helpless. I just didn’t tell you. It’s feeble and I know it even before he cuts me off.
‘What was it you said to me? You’re an open book?’ He sneers and I barely recognise him. ‘You’re full of shit. I thought I could trust you.’ He turns away and runs his hand through his hair, but it looks as though he’s on the verge of tearing it out by the roots. ‘I can’t get my head around this. I can’t.’
‘What are you really worried about, David?’ I take the moment. The best form of defence is attack, and if he thought he could trust me then why didn’t he ever tell me anything? Maybe he’s the one full of shit. ‘That maybe I know things I shouldn’t? That maybe I’ll make Adele grow a spine and sort you out? Kick you out? Get her life back?’
‘What?’ He turns and looks at me, properly looks at me, for the first time since he’s stormed inside. He frowns. His voice lowers. ‘What has she said to you about me?’
‘Oh, she never says anything other than she loves you.’ It’s my turn to sneer. ‘But I see things. I know how you treat her. How nervous of you she is. I see how you’ve been playing around with her head.’
He stares at me long and hard. ‘Don’t for a second think you know anything about my marriage.’
‘I know you have all her money. Is that why you won’t leave? The poor little farmer’s boy saves the wealthy heiress and then gets her to sign over her inheritance and never gives it back? You’re a walking Agatha fucking Christie plot.’ Now I’m angry. Yes, maybe he is right to be so upset with me, and I don’t know how I’d feel in his position – violated and cheated maybe – but he was sleeping with me behind his wife’s back, so I’m claiming that as a get-out-of-jail-free card, for now, anyway.
‘You really think nothing of me at all, do you?’ He’s pale and shaking, but his eyes are all fire.
‘No, that’s not true,’ I say, hating the way fresh tears spring from my eyes. ‘I have feelings for you. I thought maybe I loved you. Was partway there at any rate. But there is all this other stuff, David. Stuff you don’t tell me. Stuff your poor wife is too afraid to talk about.’
‘What the fuck is it that you think you know, Louise?’ His words are cold and clipped and a terrible stillness has settled on him. Contained rage. Is that a threat or a question? I’m more afraid now than I was when he was shouting. I think about how he treats Adele and I think of his burn scars and how he rescued her from the blaze. I think of the money. Were his heroics for her or for him?
‘What really happened to Adele’s parents?’ My arms fold across my chest as my quiet voice hurls the implied accusation. ‘A fire in the middle of the night and you happened to be passing. She told me about that. Her hero.’ I make a pfft sound to finish showing exactly what I think of that, even if I don’t really know what I think of that.
‘I fucking saved her life.’ He growls as he jabs a finger at me, almost stabbing me with it. I take a step back.
‘Yeah, you did. But not her parents. They died. That worked out well for you, didn’t it?’
He recoils, his eyes wide. ‘You fucking bitch. You think I …?’
‘I don’t know what to think!’ I’m shouting, ranting. ‘I’m tired of thinking about it. The pills, the phone calls, all that shit! Adele’s controlling David, my kind but fucked-up David, trying to figure the real you out in the mess of it all. I never wanted to have to think about it! I never wanted to be her friend, but I am, and I like her, and I feel shit about everything!’ I’m so upset I can hardly get a breath, sobbing and panting and fighting for air. ‘I feel like shit!’
‘For fuck’s sake, calm down, Louise.’ He takes a step forward, trying to take my arms, but I shake him off as I gasp and cry. He’s shocked by my torrent of emotion; I can just about see that.
‘I’m her only friend.’ I’m on a roll to destruction and I can’t stop it. I’m tired of having all the questions eating me up inside. ‘Her only friend. Why is that?’
‘What happened to Rob, David?’
He freezes then, and I can almost feel the whole world hold a breath between us. My own breathing levels. ‘Why aren’t they friends any more?’ I ask. ‘What did you do?’
He stares at me. ‘How do you know about Rob?’ The words are barely more than a whisper.
‘What did you do?’ I ask again, but something in his face makes me wonder if I really want to know. He doesn’t seem to hear me. For a long moment he says nothing and I realise he’s not staring at me, but at something beyond me, something only he can see.
‘You’re fired,’ he says, eventually.
The words, cold and clinical, are so not what I’m expecting that I don’t make any sense of them.
‘What?’ It’s my turn to frown, confused.
‘Hand in your immediate notice tomorrow. By email. I don’t care what reason you give – make something up. You should manage that easily enough
I’m stunned. My job? He’s taking my job?
‘And if you think about telling Dr Sykes about our tawdry little affair, then I will show him this.’ He holds up Adele’s phone. ‘And then you’re going to look as obsessive as Anthony Hawkins.’ He leans in close to me, threateningly controlled and quiet. ‘Because only a fucking crazy person would start a secret friendship with the wife of the man they’re fucking.’ He pulls back slightly. ‘And Dr Sykes is a man’s man. He won’t care that I fucked you. But he won’t respect you for fucking me. He’ll find a way to get rid of you himself.’
I’m losing my job. Suddenly, this is all very real. David hates me, I don’t know if Adele’s okay, and now I’ve lost my job. I think back to that first night in the bar where we laughed and drank and he made me feel so alive, and then the tears come thick and fast and fresh and full of self-pity. It’s my mess and I should own it, but knowing that makes me feel worse.
‘You said you loved me.’ I’m pathetic in my mouse-like quiet.
He says nothing to that, but his face is twisted and sour and not my David at all.
I want to cry some more, and what’s worse is that even now, even after it’s all out in the open, I’m still none the wiser about anything. For all my accusations, he hasn’t give me any answers.
‘David, just tell me—’ I start, hating the pleading in my voice, the need to repair something.
‘Stay away from me.’ He cuts me off, his voice like ice. ‘Stay away from Adele. Trust me on this, Louise, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from both of us. We are not your business, you understand?’
I nod, a cowed child, the fight gone out of me. What am I fighting for anyway? I can’t undo the things I’ve said, and I’m not entirely sure I want to. I just want answers, and those he won’t give me.
‘I never want to see you again,’ he says. The words are soft but brutal. A kick in the kidneys that leaves me breathless as he turns to go.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes