Behind her eyes, p.26
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       Behind Her Eyes, p.26

           Sarah Pinborough
 
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  ‘Adele?’

  Her mouth has twisted into a sour pout at the mention of the name, but she nods. ‘She came to my house. She must have followed me home one day. She told me to stay out of her marriage. She said I couldn’t have David and that he belonged to her. I was shocked and tried to tell her that there was nothing going on, and after what happened when my own husband cheated I wouldn’t do that to another woman, but she wasn’t listening. She was furious. Beyond furious.’

  I wouldn’t do that to another woman. Marianne is a better person than me. It’s my turn to look away, even though I’m listening intently, sucking in her every word to savour later.

  ‘She told me to stop talking to him,’ she continues, oblivious to my sharp pang of guilt. ‘To stop advising him if I knew what was good for me. She said he wasn’t going to leave her and that he loved her and whatever was in their past was their business and theirs alone.’ She pauses and sips her tea. ‘I felt awful. Mortified, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I told her we were friends and that was it. She said I was a miserable old woman with only a cat for company and no man would ever look at me. It was such a childish insult that I actually laughed at it. Shock, I think, but I laughed all the same. That was probably my mistake.’

  ‘Did you tell David?’

  ‘No. I was actually surprised when he turned up at the cafe the next morning, to be honest. I’d presumed he must have told her about our conversations because how else could she have known about them?’

  How else indeed. How far can you go, Adele? I can just imagine Adele hovering above them, invisible, as they talked. How angry she must have been. The image leads immediately to that of her hovering above my bed watching me fuck her husband. Oh God.

  ‘But he acted like nothing had happened. He looked tired, yes. Unhappy, yes. Hungover, probably. But certainly not as if he’d told his wife all about our conversations. I created the opportunity to say he should talk to her about their problems. He said they were beyond that and that she never understood. I was obviously feeling quite uncomfortable about it all, so I told him what I really thought. That he should stop talking to me about it, but if he was that unhappy then he should leave her and hang the consequences. I was angry with her by then, after the shock of her visit had worn off. She was a harpy, I thought. The kind of woman nothing would ever be good enough for. He’d be better off out of it.’

  I like this woman. She’s a straight-talker. I doubt she has secrets or invites them from others or is great at keeping them. I’ve missed being that person. Open.

  ‘What I failed to realise, however,’ she says softly, ‘is that I’d be the one facing the consequences. Or, more accurately, Charlie would.’

  She sees my quizzical expression.

  ‘My old cat. She killed him.’

  My world spins.

  Another dead cat. Coincidence? My thoughts sound like David’s notes. David, who Adele claimed killed their cat, and I believed her over him. Oh, Louise, you stupid fool. ‘How?’ I croak out.

  ‘He didn’t come in one night and I was worried. He was fifteen and his days of hunting mice to bring in for me were over. Mainly he slept on the sofa while I was at work, and then slept on me when I got home. As much as I hate to admit it, she was right on one thing – since my divorce, Charlie had been my main source of company. It’s hard adjusting to being single after being part of a couple.’

  I know exactly what she means. That left-behind feeling.

  ‘Anyway,’ she continued, ‘I think she must have poisoned him first. Not enough to kill him, but enough to subdue him. He was a greedy bugger and very friendly. He’d come to anyone who had a scrap of chicken for him. I couldn’t sleep wondering where he was, and then just after dawn I heard a yowl from outside. It was a pathetic sound. Weak. Distressed. But it was definitely my Charlie. I’d had him since he was a kitten, I knew all his noises. I leaped out of bed and went to the window, and there she was. Standing in the road holding my limp, sick cat in her arms. At first, I was more confused than alarmed. I had no idea what she was doing there so early, but my initial thought was that he’d been run over and she’d found him. Then I saw her face. I’ve never seen someone that cold before. That devoid of feeling. “I warned you.” That’s all she said. So quiet. So calm. Before I could react – before I could really grasp what was happening – she’d dropped him to the ground, and as he started to try to crawl to the front door, she … she stamped on his head.’

  As she looks into my wide eyes I can see the remembered horror in hers, and then the slight movement in her throat as she swallows. ‘She was wearing high heels,’ she finishes. No more elaboration is needed after that.

  ‘Jesus Christ.’

  ‘Yeah.’ She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as if she can sigh it all out of her head. ‘I’d never seen anything like that before. That level of rage. Of madness. I never want to see it again.’

  ‘Did you call the police?’

  ‘Oh, I was going to. But first I wanted David to see what she had done. It was nearly time for me to come and open up here, so I thought I’d show him – give him a short, sharp, shock – and then call the police. I was angry and heartbroken, but I was also afraid. I was afraid for him and for me. I wrapped my poor Charlie up in a blanket and took him with me. I had no intention of working that day, I just wanted to see David and then go home and cry. That probably sounds ridiculous over a cat.’

  ‘It really doesn’t.’ I mean it too, as I reach across the table and squeeze her arm. I know how bad it is to be alone, and at least I’ve always had Adam. I can only imagine how awful she felt.

  ‘David’s reaction was interesting.’ She’s thoughtful now the worst of her story is out of the way. Maybe my visit is unexpected therapy for her. ‘I didn’t see it at the time, but when I look back on it, I do,’ she continues. ‘He was appalled, that’s true. And disgusted and upset. But he wasn’t shocked. You can’t fake shock. Not well, at any rate. I actually think he was relieved that she’d only hurt the cat. That scared me most of all of it. That relief. What did he think she was really capable of, if killing a cat like that was a cause for relief?’

  My hands are shaking so much I have to hide them under the table. Oh Adele. What games have you played with me?

  ‘He persuaded me not to press charges. He said he knew Adele and it would be my word against hers and she could be very convincing. That beauty of hers works for her. But he told me I’d never have to worry about her again. He’d make sure of that. He said he’d make a payment to the Cat Protection League. He basically begged me not to call the police, and I was too tired and emotional to argue. I just wanted them both out of my life.’

  ‘So you didn’t report her?’

  She shakes her head. ‘No. I closed the cafe for a few days and stayed at home, grieving and also jumping every time the doorbell went in case it was her. But she didn’t come back, and I never saw him again.’

  ‘And that was it?’ I ask. ‘They vanished?’

  ‘I got a letter from David a few weeks later, sent to the cafe. He said he’d found a new job and they were moving away. He thanked me for my friendship and said he was sorry that it had been so damaging for me, and that he would never forgive himself for that. It made me feel sick to look at it. It went straight in the bin. I wanted to forget all about them.’

  ‘I’m sorry I’ve brought it all back up,’ I say. ‘And I’m sorry about your cat. But thank you for talking to me. For telling me. You’ve really helped. More than you can know.’

  She gets up from the table and I do the same, my legs weak beneath me.

  ‘I don’t know how you’re involved with them, and I don’t want to know,’ she says. ‘But get away from them. As fast as you can. They’re damaged goods and they’ll hurt you.’

  I nod and give her a weak smile and then rush out into the fresh air. The world seems too bright, the leaves too green on the trees, their edges too sharp against the sky. I need somewhere to
think.

  I order a large glass of wine and take it to a corner table, obscured slightly from view of the businessmen and early lunch customers who are slowly filling up the Blackheath pub with laughter and conversation. I barely hear them. Only when I’ve drunk half my wine does the white noise of panic in my head abate, and I’m left to face the stark realisation I can no longer avoid.

  I believed everything Adele told me so easily. I sucked it all up. And it was all lies. Suddenly I see all my rows with David so differently. There was fear in his anger. When he told me to stay away from them, he wasn’t threatening me, he was warning me. His aggression was to protect me. Does he really care about me after all? Did he mean it when he said he was falling in love with me?

  Oh God, I’ve been a stupid, stupid fool. I want to cry, and the wine isn’t helping. I’ve been best friends with a psychopath. Friends? I rethink the word. We haven’t been friends, not at all. I’m a fly caught in her web, and she’s toying with me. But why? If she knows about me and David, why didn’t she just hurt me?

  I need to talk to him. I need to talk to her. But how much does she actually know? Does she know I’ve come here and spoken to Marianne? And why did she teach me about the dreaming if she knew about me and David? Why help me like that?

  With no answers there, I flip my thinking to David. The pills, the phone calls, the money. Is it all containment? Trying to keep the world safe from her? Or is he protecting himself as much as her? I still don’t know what happened to Rob. He made a mistake in his past. No, I correct myself. That’s not what she said. She said he’d done something wrong thinking he was protecting the woman he loved. Something wrong is bigger than a mistake.

  I get my phone out of my bag and find the clinic’s number in my contacts, and my finger hovers over the dial button. What if he did kill Rob and then I tell him about the letter I’ve sent to the police, then what? What will he do? Should I trust him and tell him everything? My heart races at the thought. Fuck it, I think. Trust your heart. For once in all this, trust David. Deal with Adele afterwards.

  I hit the dial button and press the phone to my ear. Sue answers and I make an attempt to disguise my voice. I tell her my name is Marianne and I must speak to Dr David Martin as a matter of urgency. She tells me she’ll see if he’s free and to hold.

  He’ll agree to meet me. He has to.

  50

  THEN

  ‘Fuck, I’ll be glad when this visit is over,’ Rob says, reluctantly peeling the potatoes and putting them in a pan of cold water. ‘Polish this, clean that, throw that away, hide this.’ He looks over to where she’s pouring boiling water into the stuffing mix. ‘He’s just a bloke, not the fucking pope.’ Adele sticks her tongue out at him, and he throws some wet potato skin at her.

  ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pick it up!’ he says, gently mocking her once more.

  ‘I want things to be nice,’ she says. ‘For all of us.’ She’s so excited about David coming that she could barely sleep at all last night even though they’d got pretty stoned. Rob, however, has got moodier and moodier about the visit, even though he’s promised to be nice. She’s pretty sure it’s nerves. People aren’t his thing, and no matter how much she tells him he’ll like David she can see that he’s not at all convinced.

  ‘It’ll be fine,’ he says, his dark hair flopping over his face as he returns to his task. ‘Well, if you don’t poison us all with that chicken, anyway. And make sure you rub plenty of butter into the skin.’

  The past twenty-four hours have kept them busy. They’ve cleaned up all the debris of their feral lives – no evidence of junk food and joint roaches and spilled tobacco anywhere – and the rooms smell of polish and air freshener. A proper grown-up house. Rob’s even promised not to mention drugs or get high or anything over the weekend. Adele doesn’t believe for a second that he won’t have a joint when he’s on his own in his room, but Rob’s sharp enough to open a window, and the house is certainly big enough that the smell won’t carry.

  When the chicken is finally stuffed and in the oven, she checks her watch – David’s watch that’s now hers, a constant link to him – for the thousandth time that day.

  ‘He’ll be here soon,’ she says, grinning. She’s glowing, and she can’t help it. David, David, David. Her head is filled with him. ‘Ten minutes or so, I think.’

  ‘Whoop de do,’ Rob says. ‘Can we have a drink now?’

  She pours them both a glass of wine, feeling very grown up with her roast dinner on and drinking from her parents’ best crystal glasses. They should probably wait for David, but a drink will relax Rob. They lean against the kitchen table together, and she links her arm into his.

  ‘David can be a bit quiet and reserved at first,’ she says. ‘But don’t read anything into it. That’s just his way. He’s a bit shy. But he’s very funny when he relaxes.’

  ‘Funny like me?’ Rob looks sideways at her, and she nudges his ribs.

  ‘Different funny. Anyway, I have every confidence that you’ll like him. If you can get past the awful fact that he worries about me. I mean, how terrible of him, after everything.’

  ‘Okay, okay, point taken. And you stop worrying, I’ve told you, I’ll be nice.’

  They both smile then, and she feels some of the tension ease out of his wiry arm.

  ‘Come on,’ she says. ‘Let’s go and wait for him.’

  They take their wine and go and loiter on the wide stone steps, and while Adele impatiently peers up the drive, Rob leans against one of the pillars by the heavy oak doors and drinks. He looks entirely relaxed, which reinforces Adele’s suspicion that he’s actually a bundle of nerves.

  Finally, the purr of an engine cuts through the stillness, and Adele lets out a yelp and runs down onto the gravel, jumping up and down.

  ‘He’s here! He’s here!’ She’s so excited. It’s like her little family will be complete. No missing Rob when she’s with David, and no missing David when she’s with Rob.

  It takes a minute or so for the car to make it down the long drive from the gates, but as soon as he’s pulled up, Adele is by the door waiting for him to get out. She looks back at Rob and grins, and from his place, still on the steps, he sends back a half-smile as if suddenly awkward and out of place. He looks small and young standing there, and she wishes he would believe her that it’s all going to be okay.

  David unfurls himself from the car, tall and broad in jeans and a T-shirt ,with a thin, pale blue V-neck jumper over the top, and, as it does every time she sees him, the sight of him takes her breath away. He’s a grown man. Her man.

  ‘Hey,’ he says, and pulls her in for a kiss. ‘I’ve missed you.’

  ‘I’ve missed you too.’ She can’t keep the smile from her face. She grabs his hand. ‘Come on.’

  ‘What about my stuff in the car?’

  ‘That can wait.’

  She pulls him towards the house, to where Rob is shuffling his feet, his shoulders hunched over, as if he’s wishing the ground could open up and swallow him. She understands it. Their whole friendship has always been only him and her. In a sudden wave of sympathy, she lets go of David’s hand and runs up the stairs to Rob, linking her arm in his and dragging him out of the shadows.

  ‘David, this is Rob, my best friend. Rob, this is David, my fiancé. I command that you both love each other immediately.’ She smiles, perfectly happy. Even after everything, and even here in this house, she could not be more perfectly happy.

  By 10.30 on Saturday night, they have all drunk too much, but at least the atmosphere is less strained than it has been. It was wonderful to have David in her arms and bed and inside her last night, and they had laughed and planned and giggled, but she could tell that David wasn’t particularly impressed by Rob.

  ‘He’s shy,’ she told him, as they curled up together, spooning amidst the sweaty sheets.

  ‘He doesn’t say much. He’s a bit odd,’ was David’s verdict. ‘I can’t see what you like about him so much.’

&nb
sp; But today has been different, and she’s glad. When she’d got down to the kitchen this morning, Rob had already started cooking breakfast, and instead of sullenly staring at David as he had the day before, he’d been giving a comedy cooking demonstration, claiming to be a French chef called François des Oeufs, and making David laugh with his over-the-top performance, adding salt to eggs, and frying sausages as if he were the top chef at the Ritz. David then joined in, pretending to be a very stilted BBC interviewer questioning him about his techniques, and the whole thing descended into a farce pretty quickly, both of the boys doing their best to make each other, and then Adele, laugh. As they’d eaten Rob had asked questions about university and was clearly trying to be friendlier, even though that didn’t come as easily to him as when he wasn’t putting on some silly performance. David had answered all the questions, and although he too still seemed slightly unsure, breakfast had definitely been a turning point.

  Then they’d gone for a long walk through the woods and dicked around by the well, and it had been fine. She’d loved being out with the two of them, skinny little Rob and her big, strong handsome David. She is lucky to have them. Rob was definitely trying, and that was working. She can see the awkwardness going out of David slightly.

  She feels quite content sitting in front of the fire with a gentle wine buzz humming in her head. It might not have been the perfect weekend she’d hoped for, but it’s getting better. They’re both protective of her, that’s all it is, which makes them both wary of each other. She’s lucky really.

  David gets up to go to the loo and get another bottle of wine, ruffling her hair as he goes past. His fingers feel good, and she smiles at him, watching him leave. Rob, lounging on the rug opposite her, sits up.

  ‘How am I doing?’ he asks. ‘Better than yesterday?’

  She grins at him. Her other man. ‘You’re perfect. Well done.’

 
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