Behind her eyes, p.21
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       Behind Her Eyes, p.21

           Sarah Pinborough
 
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When they’ve walked a bit further, she realises that they’ve come as far as the old well. It’s barely visible against the greens and browns of the wood, the old brick covered in moss, a relic from a time long ago. A forgotten thing.

  She leans on the side and looks down into the darkness, a dry and empty pit. ‘I imagined this well when I was at Westlands,’ she says. ‘I imagined crying all my sadness into it and then sealing it up.’ It’s close to the truth. Imagined isn’t the right word, but it’s the best she can tell David.

  He comes up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist. ‘I wish I could make it better.’

  ‘You make everything better.’ And it’s true, he does. He may not have the wildness of Rob, who makes her feel young and free, but he is solid. And that’s what she really needs. Even though she misses Rob, David’s who she really wants. Her rock. His watch still hangs on her wrist, and she holds it up. ‘Can you wear your watch yet?’

  ‘I could, but you keep it. You wearing it makes me feel like I’m with you.’

  ‘You’re always with me, David Martin. Always. I love you.’ She’s glad to keep the watch. She knows he’ll visit at weekends when he can, but the watch is like him – reliable. Strong. There’s a weight to it she can feel. She needs an anchor. Maybe one day she’ll even tell him why. Explain about the night of the fire. Maybe. Maybe when they’re old and grey and he sees more mystery in the world than he does now.

  A chill has crept into the afternoon air, and suddenly there’s the quiet patter of rain on the leaves overhead. A gentle steady shower, rather than the force of a downpour, but they head back and make a picnic of all kinds of food, and drink a bottle of wine that David has brought with him, before tumbling into bed in one of the spare rooms. She’s not ready for her bedroom yet. It belongs in the past. So much belongs in the past.

  ‘We should sell this place,’ she says, when they’ve made love and are lying sleepily in the dark. Her fingers gently run along the new smoothness of the scars up his arm. She wonders how much they still hurt. David would never say. ‘Once we’re married.’

  ‘New beginnings,’ he says. He doesn’t want to linger here any more than she does, and what do they need this enormous place for anyway? Her father only needed it for his ego.

  ‘New beginnings,’ she answers, before they both drift into sleep. No swift summoning of a second door for her tonight. She’s not ready for that. Just the first door for a change. She intends to dream of their future together. How perfect it will be.

  40

  LOUISE

  ‘Since you’ve been ignoring my texts, I decided to pop in to your office to surprise you for lunch,’ Sophie says, breezing into the flat, little Ella trailing in her wake. ‘But I was the one who got the surprise when Sue said you’d quit. What the fuck is going on?’

  I really don’t need this now. I’ve barely slept after last night’s adventure, and my nerves are on edge. I texted Adele this morning to say I needed to see her, but she hasn’t answered and I’m freaking out that maybe David’s found the phone. Why else hasn’t she got back to me if he’s at work?

  Sophie takes off her jacket and flings it onto the sofa. ‘Tell me you haven’t quit over him. Tell me you took my advice and dumped them both? Please tell me that.’

  ‘Auntie Sophie!’ Adam tears in from his room and wraps himself around her legs. ‘Ella!’ Ella is a quirky, ethereal child who never seems to repeat a single word of either of her parents’ colourful language – unlike Adam who I try not swear around but who somehow manages to pick up on it anyway. If a six-year-old is capable of being hopelessly in love, then I’m sure that Adam is in love with Ella.

  ‘I’ve been to France for a month! And I’m going to have a brother or sister! Lisa’s making a baby!’

  It’s the first time he’s mentioned the pregnancy in front of me – I wasn’t even sure he knew – but his what-might-upset-Mummy caution has gone in the rush of his excitement.

  ‘Ian’s having another baby? You didn’t mention that,’ Sophie says. She sounds a bit stung. I shrug.

  ‘You were too busy lecturing me.’ The mention of the impending baby is still a barb in my side, but I don’t want her to see that. We usher the children off to Adam’s room to play, clutching bags of sweets that Sophie’s brought with her, and we go out to the balcony with wine.

  She lights a cigarette and offers me one, but I wave my e-cig at her. ‘I sort of quit,’ I say.

  ‘Wow, well done. I keep meaning to get me and Jay onto those. Maybe one day. So,’ she looks at me, wine in one hand and cigarette in the other, ‘talk to me. What’s happened? You’ve got thinner. Is that stress or intentional?’

  ‘Both,’ I say. And then, despite myself, I tell her. I’m bursting with the anxiety of it all, and sharing it seems like such a relief. She lets me talk and talk, barely interjecting, but I know I’ve made a mistake when I see her face darken, and the lines that she tries hard to hide with her fringe furrow deep in her forehead. She’s looking at me as if she can’t believe what she’s hearing.

  ‘Well, it’s no wonder you lost your job,’ she says, when I finally finish. ‘What did you expect him to do? You’d made friends with his wife and didn’t tell him.’ She’s frustrated with me. ‘Who does that? I told you on the phone you couldn’t keep it up.’

  ‘I didn’t mean to carry it all on,’ I say. ‘It just happened.’

  ‘What, like letting him in and fucking him repeatedly once you were friends with her just happened? Like this crazy breaking into his office just happened?’

  ‘Of course that didn’t just happen!’ I snap. She’s speaking to me as if I’m some kind of teenager. With her track record, I expected more understanding.

  ‘But anyway, all that isn’t the point. I’m worried about her. What if he’s trying to get rid of her? Their marriage is totally weird, and this stuff with the pills and controlling the money …’

  ‘You don’t know what their marriage is like.’ She cuts me off. ‘You’re not in it. And Jay looks after all our money, and I’m pretty sure he has no dastardly motives.’

  ‘You’re not worth a fortune,’ I mutter, biting back the urge to remind her that all their money is Jay’s money because she doesn’t exactly bring the big bucks in. ‘This is different.’

  She sucks hard on her cigarette, thoughtful. ‘You’ve been shagging this bloke, and you’ve not shagged anyone in ages, so you must really have liked him. How come you’re on her side in all this? You sure you’re not feeling guilty and somehow trying to redeem yourself?’

  She does know me, I’ll give her that. ‘Maybe it’s partly that, but there’s so much evidence, Sophie. And if you met her, you’d think the same. He’s so moody. Properly dark moods. And she’s so nervous of him. She’s so sweet and fragile.’

  ‘Fragile?’ She arches a perfectly shaped eyebrow. ‘Or crazy?’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Well, you’re wanging on about these pills and everything, and seeing it as something sinister that he’s doing to her – but what if she does have a screw loose? Have you thought about that?’

  ‘These are serious pills.’

  She shrugs. ‘It might be a seriously loose screw.’

  I shake my head, adamant. ‘If she was crazy I’d know. It would show. We’ve spent a lot of time together.’

  ‘Yeah, because crazy always shows. Tell that to the people who knew Ted Bundy or just about any other serial killer. All I’m saying is that maybe you’re over-thinking all this. Seeing something that isn’t there.’

  ‘Maybe,’ I say. I don’t believe that for a second, but there’s no point in talking to her about it any more. I know I can over-think things, but I’m not over-thinking this. I wish she hadn’t come over. Looking at her, I think maybe she’s wishing the same. She’s pitying me a little, I can see that, as if she’s sad that I can’t even get the fun of an affair right.

  ‘Maybe this is about Ian really,’ she says, cautiously. ‘You know, with the n
ew baby coming. It can’t be easy for you.’

  ‘You think I’m inventing problems in David and Adele’s marriage because my ex has got his bimbo girlfriend knocked up?’ I snap back at her. More of a growl really. Fuck off, I think with a surge of anger. Fuck off back to your shallow affairs. I’m not giving up on Adele. I’m not. ‘You think I made up that file I found? The pills?’ We stare at each other for a long moment, neither speaking.

  ‘No, of course not,’ she says, eventually. ‘I’m worried about you, that’s all. Anyway’ – she makes some pretence of looking at her watch – ‘I’ve got to go. My mum’s coming around this evening for my sins, and I’ve got to figure out what the fuck to cook.’ There’s still half a bottle of wine sitting at our feet, and I’m pretty sure she’s lying. I don’t know how that makes me feel. Lonely. Friendless. Empty. Angry at her.

  ‘I love you, Lou,’ she says when Ella’s gathered up and they’re at the front door. ‘But stay out of their business. No good comes from getting in the middle of a marriage. You’ve totally crossed all the lines. You know that. Step away. Leave them to it. Move on.’

  ‘I’ll think about it,’ I say. ‘I will. I promise.’

  ‘Good,’ she says and gives me a half-smile. I can almost hear her telling Jay about this. Oh my God, guess what Louise has done! It’s crazy! Poor cow!

  I smile back as she and Ella leave, but my teeth are gritted.

  I save the rest of the bottle of wine until Adam is in bed, even though I’ve been smarting all afternoon over Sophie’s derision of my concerns about Adele and David. I should have kept my mouth shut. The story of my life, always blurting things out that I should keep to myself. She hasn’t even texted since she left, not even to joke about it by way of apology, which would be her normal thing. Sophie hates confrontation, and although we didn’t technically argue, there was no denying the heavy cloud of disagreement and disapproval over our whole conversation. She’d made her mind up as soon as she knew I hadn’t taken her advice and ended it with both of them. Everything after that was white noise in her head. So much for all her free-thinking, free-living stoner mentality.

  When the doorbell goes at seven I’ve poured myself the last of the Sauvignon Blanc in a failed attempt to settle my mood, and I nearly drop the glass when I open the door. I don’t know who I’m expecting. Laura, maybe. Sophie even, come to make the peace.

  But no. It’s him. David.

  The long summer evenings are fading and the sky has turned grey. It feels like a metaphor for everything that’s happened between us. Blood rushes to my face and I know even my chest is blotching. I feel sick. I feel afraid. I feel a whole host of things I can’t pin down. My ears buzz.

  ‘I don’t want to come in,’ he says. He looks an untidy mess, his shirt not quite tucked in right. His shoulders are slumped. I feel like a vampire. As I’ve grown stronger from getting better sleep, they’ve both grown weaker.

  ‘I wasn’t going to invite you,’ I retort, pulling the door slightly closed behind me in case Adam gets up. Also, I feel safer outside.

  ‘The office keys. I want them back.’

  ‘What?’ I say, although I’ve heard him clearly and my mouth has instantly dried with guilt.

  ‘I know it was you, Louise. I haven’t told anyone what you did. I just want the keys back. I think that’s fair, don’t you?’

  ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I stick to my guns as my stomach roils once more.

  ‘You’re a terrible liar.’ He stares at the ground as if he can’t bear to look at me. ‘Give me the keys.’

  ‘I don’t need them anyway.’ I keep my chin up, defiant, but my hands are trembling as I take them from my shell key ring and give them to him. His fingers brush mine as he takes them, and my body betrays me with an urgent longing. Does he feel it too? What a head fuck all this is. How can I still have these feelings even though he part terrifies me?

  ‘Stay away, Louise. I told you before and I meant it.’

  ‘And I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I have stayed away. I’ve had enough of the pair of you.’ I deliver it fiercely, but it’s all lies, lies, lies. He can see through me. I hate that.

  He looks at me for a long moment, and I wish I could read him better. His blue eyes have dulled to match the dying sky, and I can’t see what’s going on behind them. What he’s thinking.

  ‘Stay away from us. If you don’t want to end up hurt.’

  ‘Is that a threat?’ I want to cry and I don’t even know why. What have I got myself into? And after everything, why do I find it so hard to hate him when he’s right in front of me like this? My David.

  He glares at me. That cold David is back. The stranger. ‘Yes, it’s a threat. Believe me, it’s a threat. You know what you forgot last night?’

  I’m silent, just staring. What? What did I forget?

  ‘There’s a security camera outside the clinic.’

  Oh God, he’s right. I can see where he’s going with this before he says it. He knows, but he says it anyway.

  ‘One word from me to get last night’s recording looked at and at best all that will happen to you is that your chances of future employment are screwed. At best.’

  He jabs a finger at me and I flinch. The pills. The file with all the notes on Adele. Psychotic break. Sociopathic tendencies. Maybe it’s him who has them. Maybe he’s not only a mercenary after his wife’s money. Maybe he’s the madman. But still, although he has me over a barrel, none of this would look good on him if I got to have my say. I’m a threat to him too.

  ‘Stay out of my marriage,’ he finishes. Each word is spat out as if he wishes he could spit right at me.

  ‘Says the man who fucked me. Maybe you should worry about yourself rather than whatever I’m doing or not doing.’

  ‘Oh, I do, Louise,’ he says. ‘Trust me, I do.’ He turns to walk away, and then pauses. ‘There’s one thing I’d like to know. One thing I need to know.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘How exactly did you meet my wife?’

  ‘I told you. I bumped into her. I wasn’t stalking her or you or anything.’ Don’t flatter yourself, I want to add.

  ‘I know that. I mean when and where.’

  I stare at him, hesitant. ‘Why does it matter?’

  ‘Humour me, Louise. I want to know.’

  ‘It was a morning. I’d just dropped Adam off at school. She was on her way back from walking with you to the clinic and I bumped into her and knocked her down.’ It feels like yesterday and yet so far away. So much has happened since then. My head starts to throb. Ensnared as I am, as much as I’m determined to help Adele, right now I wish I’d never met either of them.

  David shakes his head and half smiles. ‘Of course,’ he says.

  ‘What?’

  He looks at me then, directly at me, but his face is in shadow, his eyes glints of glass in the gloom, his words disembodied. ‘My wife has never walked to work with me in the mornings.’

  ‘I don’t believe you,’ I say. ‘I don’t believe anything you say any more.’

  He’s still standing there, a darkening figure, when I close the door, shutting him out, reclaiming my small world, my private space. I press my ear against the door to see if I can hear his footsteps on the concrete outside, but my head is filled with my heartbeat throbbing in my ears.

  Oh God, oh God, oh God. What am I doing? Maybe Sophie is right. Maybe I should walk away. How much of my life do I want to fuck up for this? David could make me look like a crazy person to Dr Sykes. To everyone. I could be screwed for work for ever. I could probably go to prison. It’s all my own fault. My curiosity’s fault. If I hadn’t been curious about Adele I would have made my excuses and not gone for coffee that morning. And what did he mean ‘she never walks to work with me’? She must have done. What’s he trying to make me think?

  Don’t trust him, I tell myself. Don’t listen to him. Go with what you know. You know about the pills. You know about the
calls. You know about his drinking and the money and the file in the office. These things are solid things. And he just threatened you.

  Adele still hasn’t texted me back, but even if I do decide to walk away from it all, she needs to know about what I found in the office. She needs to make her own decisions based on that. I’ll go and see her tomorrow and then I’ll leave it all alone. I’ve said that before, but this time I mean it. I have to mean it.

  My head is pounding and I sit on the sofa and let my skull rest against the back cushions. I need to calm down. I inhale through my nose and breathe out through my mouth, letting the air get deeper and slower and forcing the tense muscles of my scalp, face, and neck to relax. I empty my thoughts, imagining them being blown away on a night breeze. I don’t want to think about them. I don’t want to think about my mess. I don’t want to think about anything. I want to leave myself behind, just for a while.

  It happens so suddenly. Almost between breaths.

  The silvery edges of the second door appear in the darkness behind my eyes, shining so brightly that I almost flinch, and then, before I even see the shimmering watery surface, I’m through it and—

  —I’m standing over myself. But I can’t be, because I can see me sitting on the sofa, my head lolling back. My eyes are closed, my mouth half-open. The wine glass sits, empty on the table beside me. I don’t remember bringing it in. How am I seeing myself? What is happening? I panic and I feel a massive tug at the very core of me – exactly like the tug in my dream of Adam’s room – and then my eyes open and I’m back on the sofa.

  There’s nothing calm about my breathing now, and I’m wide awake and alert. What the fuck was that? I look to the side table and see the wine glass there where I must have absently put it down after David left. What the fuck just happened?

  41

  ADELE

  Watching, waiting, learning, practising. My days are fuller than they’ve been in as long as I can remember, and it’s wonderful. I’ve got heels on when David finally gets home, ones that match my outfit. It’s nice to get dressed up and to be beautiful. The skin between my toes on my right foot is sore and scabby, but the irritation with each step is worth it, just like the increasing itching is worth it. It’s a reminder that I’m in control. It keeps me in control. Anyway, I’ve mastered that now. I’m ready for that part of my plan, and I’m glad that I can now shake adoring Anthony off.

 
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