The Husband's Secretby Liane Moriarty
The #1 New York Times Bestseller
One of the Best Books of the Year —Entertainment Weekly
One of the Top Ten Books of the Year —People magazine
“It’s a knowing, touching, and entertaining page-turner. What a wonderful writer—smart, wise,/p>/b>/i>/b>/b>/i>/b>/b>/i>… See more details below
The #1 New York Times Bestseller
One of the Best Books of the Year —Entertainment Weekly
One of the Top Ten Books of the Year —People magazine
“It’s a knowing, touching, and entertaining page-turner. What a wonderful writer—smart, wise, funny.” —Anne Lamott
"The Husband's Secret is so good, you won't be able to keep it to yourself." —USA Today
“Shocking, complex and thought-provoking, this is a story reading groups will devour. A knockout!" —Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author
“Emotionally astute, immensely smart, and as cinematically plotted as any Tom Perrotta Novel destined for critical accolades and a big-screen adaptation.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A novel that’s perfect for vacation reading.” —People
"Brilliant." —Sophia Hannah, international bestselling author of The Wrong Mother
At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read
My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .
Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.
Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.
THE HUSBAND'S SECRET is a smart, thoughtful read...[a] lip-smacking and intelligently written novel. (A rating 'MUST LIST')
“The Husband’s Secret is so good, you won’t be able to keep it to yourself.”—USA Today
“Brilliant.”—Sophie Hannah, international bestselling author of The Wrong Mother
“Lip-smacking and sharply intelligent.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Perfect for vacation reading: There’s humor, suspense, a circle of appealing women.” —People
“Secrets can be sinister; they can eat you alive. But they can also set you free. The Husband’s Secret demonstrates this power with one of the most entertaining stories I have read in ages. Perfect for book clubs—lots to debate in these pages. I just loved it.”—Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Original Wife
“Simultaneously a page-turner and a book one has to put down occasionally to think about and absorb, Moriarty’s novel challenges the reader as well as her characters, but in the best possible way.”—Publishers Weekly
“Reading groups rejoice. This meaty novel from the bestselling author will probably land on many must-read lists.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Moriarty may be an edgier, more provocative and bolder successor to Maeve Binchy.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Penguin Group
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 2 MB
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Liane Moriarty is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the reading group hit, What Alice Forgot, as well as The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, and the Nicola Berry series for children. Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two small, noisy children.
More from this Author
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE HUSBAND’S SECRET
“In The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty has created a contemporary Pandora whose dilemma is spellbinding. Shocking, complex, and thought-provoking, this is a story reading groups will devour. A knockout!”
—Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author
—Sophie Hannah, international bestselling author
“I really enjoyed The Husband’s Secret, and raced right through it in two days. It’s a knowing, touching, and entertaining page-turner. What a wonderful writer—smart, wise, funny.”
—Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author
“A novel that’s perfect for vacation reading: There’s humor, suspense, a circle of appealing women whose dilemmas intersect with Cecilia’s . . .”
“Liane Moriarty is far more than the skillful writer of potboilers. Her compelling characters could be your friends and neighbors, nice and neurotic in equal doses . . . Amid three intertwined storylines and terrific plot twists, Moriarty presents a nuanced and moving portrait of the meaning of love, both marital and familial, and how life can hinge on a misunderstanding or a decision made in haste. The Husband’s Secret is so good, you won’t be able to keep it to yourself.”
“Reading groups rejoice. This meaty novel from the bestselling author will probably land on many must-read lists.”
—Dallas–Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“A smart, thoughtful read . . . [a] lip-smacking and intelligently written novel.”
“Moriarty may be an edgier, more provocative, and bolder successor to Maeve Binchy.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“At first, this reviewer wanted to warn readers not to be taken in by the light tone of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. On second thought, maybe readers should let this rather crafty novelist’s deceptive breeziness and humor sweep them along. It makes the shocks just that much more deliciously nasty, including the gob-smacking twist in the epilogue . . . The genius of The Husband’s Secret is that it makes us start to wonder what in our own lives would—or would not—have happened if, say, we had waited just fi ve more minutes before we walked out the door, had not said that hurtful thing, had applied a bit of logic to that situation.”
“Secrets can be sinister; they can eat you alive. But they can also set you free. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty demonstrates this power with one of the most entertaining stories I have read in ages. Perfect for book clubs—lots to debate in these pages. I just loved it.”
—Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times bestselling author
“This great summer read is hard to put down.”
“A provocative page-turner . . .”
Poor, poor Pandora. Zeus sends her off to marry Epimetheus, a not especially bright man she’s never even met, along with a mysterious covered jar. Nobody tells Pandora a word about the jar. Nobody tells her not to open the jar. Naturally, she opens the jar. What else has she got to do? How was she to know that all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore, and that the only thing left in the jar would be hope? Why wasn’t there a warning label? And then everyone’s like, Oh, Pandora. Where’s your willpower? You were told not to open that box, you snoopy girl, you typical woman with your insatiable curiosity; now look what you’ve gone and done. When for one thing it was a jar, not a box, and for another—how many times does she have to say it?—nobody said a word about not opening it!
It was all because of the Berlin Wall.
If it weren’t for the Berlin Wall, Cecilia would never have found the letter, and then she wouldn’t be sitting here, at the kitchen table, willing herself not to rip it open.
The envelope was gray with a fine layer of dust. The words on the front were written in a scratchy blue ballpoint pen, the handwriting as familiar as her own. She turned it over. It was sealed with a yellowing piece of sticky tape. When was it written? It felt old, like it was written years ago, but there was no way of knowing for sure.
She wasn’t going to open it. It was absolutely clear that she should not open it. She was the most decisive person she knew, and she’d already decided not to open the letter, so there was nothing more to think about.
Although, honestly, if she did open it, what would be the big deal? Any woman would open it like a shot. She listed all her friends and what their responses would be if she were to ring them up right now and ask what they thought.
Miriam Oppenheimer: Yup. Open it.
Erica Edgecliff: Are you kidding, open it right this second.
Laura Marks: Yes, you should open it and then you should read it out loud to me.
Sarah Sacks: . . .
There would be no point asking Sarah because she was incapable of making a decision. If Cecilia asked her if she wanted tea or coffee, she would sit for a full minute, her forehead furrowed as she agonized over the pros and cons of each beverage, before finally saying, “Coffee! No, wait, tea!” A decision like this one would give her a seizure.
Mahalia Ramachandran: Absolutely not. It would be completely disrespectful to your husband. You must not open it.
Mahalia could be a little too sure of herself at times with those huge brown ethical eyes.
Cecilia left the letter sitting on the kitchen table and went to put the kettle on.
Damn that Berlin Wall, and that Cold War, and whoever it was who sat there back in nineteen forty-whenever-it-was, mulling over the problem of what to do with those ungrateful Germans; the guy who suddenly clicked his fingers and said, “Got it, by Jove! We’ll build a great big bloody wall and keep the buggers in!”
Presumably he hadn’t sounded like a British sergeant major.
Esther would know who first came up with the idea for the Berlin Wall. Esther would probably be able to give her his date of birth. It would have been a man, of course. Only a man could come up with something so ruthless, so essentially stupid and yet brutally effective.
Was that sexist?
She filled the kettle, switched it on and cleaned the droplets of water in the sink with a paper towel so that it shone.
One of the mums from school, who had three sons almost exactly the same ages as Cecilia’s three daughters, had said that some remark Cecilia had made was “a teeny-weeny bit sexist,” just before they started the Fete Committee meeting last week. Cecilia couldn’t remember what she’d said, but she’d only been joking. Anyway, weren’t women allowed to be sexist for the next two thousand years or so, until they’d evened up the score?
Maybe she was sexist.
The kettle boiled. She swirled an Earl Grey tea bag and watched the curls of black spread through the water like ink. There were worse things to be than sexist. For example, you could be the sort of person who pinched your fingers together while using the word “teeny-weeny.”
She looked at her tea and sighed. A glass of wine would be nice right now, but she’d given up alcohol for Lent. Only six days to go. She had a bottle of expensive Shiraz ready to open on Easter Sunday, when thirty-five adults and twenty-three children were coming to lunch, so she’d need it. Although she was an old hand at entertaining. She hosted Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas. John-Paul had five younger brothers, all married with kids. So it was quite a crowd. Planning was the key. Meticulous planning.
She picked up her tea and took it over to the table. Why did she give up wine for Lent? Polly was more sensible. She had given up strawberry jam. Cecilia had never seen Polly show more than a passing interest in strawberry jam, although now, of course, she was always catching her standing at the open fridge, staring at it longingly. The power of denial.
“Esther!” she called out.
Esther was in the next room with her sisters watching The Biggest Loser while they shared a giant bag of salt-and-vinegar chips left over from the Australia Day barbecue months earlier. Cecilia did not know why her three slender daughters loved watching overweight people sweat and cry and starve. It didn’t appear to be teaching them healthier eating habits. She should go in and confiscate the bag of chips, except they’d all eaten salmon and steamed broccoli for dinner without complaint, and she didn’t have the strength for an argument.
She heard a voice from the television boom, “You get nothing for nothing!”
That wasn’t such a bad sentiment for her daughters to hear. No one knew it better than Cecilia! But still, she didn’t like the expressions of faint revulsion that flitted across their smooth young faces. She was always so vigilant about not making negative body-image comments in front of her daughters, although the same could not be said for her friends. Just the other day, Miriam Oppenheimer had said, loud enough for all their impressionable daughters to hear, “God, would you look at my stomach!” and squeezed her flesh between her fingertips as if it were something vile. Great, Miriam, as if our daughters don’t already get a million messages every day telling them to hate their bodies.
Actually, Miriam’s stomach was getting a little pudgy.
“Esther!” she called out again.
“What is it?” Esther called back, in a patient, put-upon voice that Cecilia suspected was an unconscious imitation of her own.
“Whose idea was it to build the Berlin Wall?”
“Well, they’re pretty sure it was Nikita Khrushchev’s!” Esther answered immediately, pronouncing the exotic-sounding name with great relish and her own peculiar interpretation of a Russian accent. “He was, like, the prime minister of Russia, except he was the premier. But it could have been—”
Her sisters responded instantly with their usual impeccable courtesy.
“Shut up, Esther!”
“Esther! I can’t hear the television!”
“Thank you, darling!” Cecilia sipped her tea and imagined herself going back through time and putting that Khrushchev in his place.
No, Mr. Khrushchev, you may not have a wall. It will not prove that communism works. It will not work out well at all. Now, look, I agree capitalism isn’t the be-all and end-all! Let me show you my last credit card bill. But you really need to put your thinking cap back on.
And then fifty-one years later, Cecilia wouldn’t have found this letter that was making her feel so . . . What was the word?
Unfocused. That was it.
She liked to feel focused. She was proud of her ability to focus. Her daily life was made up of a thousand tiny pieces—“Need coriander”; “Isabel’s haircut”; “Who will watch Polly at ballet on Tuesday while I take Esther to speech therapy?”—like one of those terrible giant jigsaws that Isabel used to spend hours doing. And yet Cecilia, who had no patience for puzzles, knew exactly where each tiny piece of her life belonged and where it needed to be slotted in next.
And okay, maybe the life Cecilia was leading wasn’t that unusual or impressive. She was a school mum and a part-time Tupperware consultant, not an actress or an actuary or a . . . poet living in Vermont. (Cecilia had recently discovered that Liz Brogan, a girl from high school, was now a prizewinning poet living in Vermont. Liz, who ate cheese-and-Vegemite sandwiches and was always losing her bus pass. It took all of Cecilia’s considerable strength of character not to find that annoying. Not that she wanted to write poetry. But still. You would have thought that if anyone was going to lead an ordinary life, it would have been Liz Brogan.) Of course, Cecilia had never aspired to anything other than ordinariness. Here I am, a typical suburban mum, she sometimes caught herself thinking, as if someone had accused her of holding herself out to be something else, something superior.
Other mothers talked about feeling overwhelmed, about the difficulties of focusing on one thing, and they were always saying, “How do you do it all, Cecilia?” and she didn’t know how to answer them. She didn’t actually understand what they found so difficult.
But now, for some reason, something to do with this silly letter, everything felt somehow at risk. It wasn’t logical.
Maybe it wasn’t anything to do with the letter. Maybe it was hormonal. She was “possibly perimenopausal,” according to Dr. McArthur. (“Oh, I am not!” Cecilia had said automatically, as if responding to a gentle, humorous insult.)
Perhaps this was a case of that vague anxiety she knew some women experienced. Other women. She’d always thought anxious people were cute. Dear little anxious people like Sarah Sacks. She wanted to pat their worry-filled heads.
Perhaps if she opened the letter and saw that it was nothing, she would get everything back in focus. She had things to do. Two baskets of laundry to fold. Three urgent phone calls to make. Gluten-free muffins to bake for the gluten-intolerant members of the School Website Project Group (i.e., Janine Davidson), which would be meeting tomorrow.
There were other things besides the letter that could be making her feel anxious.
The sex thing, for example. That was always at the back of her mind.
She frowned and ran her hands down the sides of her waist. Her oblique muscles, according to her Pilates teacher. Oh, look, the sex thing was nothing. It was not actually on her mind. She refused to let it be on her mind. It was of no consequence.
It was true, perhaps, that ever since that morning last year, she’d been aware of an underlying sense of fragility, a new understanding that a life of coriander and laundry could be stolen in an instant, that your ordinariness could vanish, and suddenly you’re a woman on your knees, your face lifted to the sky, and some women are running to help, but others are already averting their heads, with the words not articulated, but felt: Don’t let this touch me.
Cecilia saw it again for the thousandth time: little Spider-Man flying. She was one of the women who ran. Well, of course she was, throwing open her car door, even though she knew that nothing she did could make any difference. It wasn’t her school, her neighborhood, her parish. None of her children had ever played with the little Spider-Man. She’d never had coffee with the woman on her knees. She just happened to be stopped at the lights on the other side of the intersection when it happened. A little boy, probably about five, dressed in a red and blue full-body Spider-Man suit was waiting at the side of the road, holding his mother’s hand. It was Book Week. That’s why the little boy was dressed up. Cecilia was watching him, thinking, Mmmm, actually Spider-Man is not a character from a book, when for no reason that she could see, the little boy dropped his mother’s hand and stepped off the curb into the traffic. Cecilia screamed. She also, she remembered later, instinctively banged her fist on her horn.
If Cecilia had driven by just ten minutes later, or even five minutes later, she would have missed seeing it happen. The little boy’s death would have meant nothing more to her than another traffic detour. Now it was a memory that would probably cause her grandchildren to one day say, “Don’t hold my hand so tight, Grandma.”
Obviously there was no connection between little Spider-Man and this letter. He just came into her mind at strange times.
Cecilia flicked the letter across the table with her fingertip and picked up Esther’s library book: The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall.
So, the Berlin Wall. Wonderful.
The first she knew that the Berlin Wall was about to become a significant part of her life had been at breakfast this morning.
It had been just Cecilia and Esther sitting at the kitchen table. John-Paul was overseas, in Chicago until Friday, and Isabel and Polly were still in bed.
Cecilia didn’t normally sit down in the mornings. She generally ate her breakfast standing at the breakfast counter while she made lunches, checked her Tupperware orders on her iPad, unpacked the dishwasher, texted clients about their parties, whatever, but it was a rare opportunity to have some time alone with her odd, darling middle daughter, so she sat down with her Bircher muesli, while Esther powered her way through a bowl of rice bubbles, and waited.
She’d learned that with her daughters. Don’t say a word. Don’t ask a question. Give them enough time and they’ll finally tell you what’s on their minds. It was like fishing. It took silence and patience. (Or so she’d heard. Cecilia would rather hammer nails into her forehead than go fishing.)
Silence didn’t come naturally to her. Cecilia was a talker. “Seriously, do you ever shut the hell up?” an ex-boyfriend had said to her once. She talked a lot when she was nervous. That ex-boyfriend must have made her nervous. Although she also talked a lot when she was happy.
But she didn’t say anything that morning. She just ate, and waited, and sure enough, Esther started talking.
“Mum,” she said, in her husky, precise little voice with its faint lisp. “Did you know that some people escaped over the Berlin Wall in a hot-air balloon they made themselves?”
“I did not know that,” said Cecilia, although she might have known it.
So long, Titanic; hello, Berlin Wall, she thought.
She would have preferred it if Esther had shared something with her about how she was feeling at the moment, any worries she had about school, her friends, questions about sex. But no, she wanted to talk about the Berlin Wall.
Ever since Esther was three years old, she’d been developing these interests or, more accurately, obsessions. First it was dinosaurs. Sure, lots of kids are interested in dinosaurs, but Esther’s interest was, well, exhausting, to be frank, and a little peculiar. Nothing else interested the child. She drew dinosaurs, she played with dinosaurs, she dressed up as a dinosaur. “I’m not Esther,” she’d say. “I’m T. rex.” Every bedtime story had to be about dinosaurs. Every conversation had to be related somehow to dinosaurs. It was lucky that John-Paul was interested, because Cecilia was bored after about five minutes. (They were extinct! They had nothing to say!) John-Paul took Esther on special trips to the museum. He brought home books for her. He sat with her for hours while they talked about herbivores and carnivores.
Since then Ether’s “interests” had ranged from roller coasters to cane toads. Most recently it had been the Titanic. Now that she was ten, she was old enough to do her own research at the library and online, and Cecilia was amazed at the information she gathered. What ten-year-old lay in bed reading historical books that were so big and chunky, she could barely hold them up?
“Encourage it!” her schoolteachers said, but sometimes Cecilia worried. It seemed to her that Esther was possibly a touch autistic, or at least sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum. Although Cecilia’s mother had laughed when she mentioned her concern. “But Esther is exactly like you were!” she said. This was not true.
“I actually have a piece of the Berlin Wall,” Cecilia had said that morning to Esther, suddenly remembering this fact, and it had been gratifying to see Esther’s eyes light up with interest. “I was there in Germany, after the Wall came down.”
“Can I see it?” asked Esther.
“You can have it, darling.”
Jewelry and clothes for Isabel and Polly. A piece of the Berlin Wall for Esther.
Cecilia, twenty years old at the time, had been on a six-week holiday traveling through Europe with her friend Sarah Sacks in 1990, just a few months after the announcement that the Wall was coming down. (Sarah’s famous indecisiveness paired with Cecilia’s famous decisiveness made them the perfect traveling companions. No conflict whatsoever.)
When they got to Berlin, they found tourists lined along the Wall, trying to chip off pieces as souvenirs using keys, rocks, anything they could find. The Wall was like a giant carcass of a dragon that had once terrorized the city, and the tourists were crows pecking away at its remains.
Without proper tools it was almost impossible to chip off a proper piece, so Cecilia and Sarah (well, Cecilia) decided to buy their pieces from the enterprising locals who had set out rugs and were selling a variety of offerings. Capitalism really had triumphed. You could buy anything from gray-colored chips the size of marbles to giant boulder-size chunks complete with spray-painted graffiti.
Cecilia couldn’t remember how much she had paid for the tiny gray stone that looked like it could have come from anyone’s front garden. “It probably did,” said Sarah as they caught the train out of Berlin that night, and they’d laughed at their own gullibility, but at least they’d felt like they were a part of history. Cecilia had put her chip in a paper bag and written “MY PIECE OF THE BERLIN WALL” on the front, and when she came back to Australia she’d thrown it in a box with all the other souvenirs she’d collected: drink coasters, train tickets, menus, foreign coins, hotel keys.
Cecilia wished now she’d concentrated more on the Wall, taken more photos, collected more anecdotes she could have shared with Esther. Actually, what she remembered most about that trip to Berlin was kissing a handsome, brown-haired German boy in a nightclub. He kept taking ice cubes from his drink and running them across her collarbone, which at the time had seemed incredibly sexy, but now seemed unhygienic and sticky.
If only she’d been the sort of curious, politically aware girl who had struck up conversations with the locals about what it had been like living in the shadow of the Wall. Instead, all she had to share with her daughter were stories about kissing and ice cubes. Of course, Isabel and Polly would love to hear about the kissing and ice cubes. Or Polly would; maybe Isabel had reached the age where the thought of her mother kissing anybody would be appalling.
Cecilia had put “Find piece of Berlin Wall for E” on her list of things to do that day (there were twenty-five items—she used an iPhone app to list them), and at about two p.m., she had gone into the attic to find it.
“Attic” was probably too generous a word for the storage area in their roof space. You reached it by pulling down a ladder from a trapdoor in the ceiling.
Once she was up there, she had to keep her knees bent so as not to bang her head. John-Paul point-blank refused to go up there. He suffered from terrible claustrophobia and walked six flights of stairs every day to his office so he could avoid taking the elevator. The poor man had regular nightmares about being trapped in a room where the walls were contracting. “The walls!” he’d shout, just before he woke up, sweaty and wild-eyed. “Do you think you were locked in a cupboard as a child?” Cecilia had asked him once (she wouldn’t have put it past his mother), but he said he was pretty sure he wasn’t. “Actually, John-Paul never had nightmares when he was a little boy,” his mother had told Cecilia when she asked. “He was a beautiful sleeper. Perhaps you give him too much rich food late at night?” Cecilia was used to the nightmares now.
The attic was small and crammed, but tidy and well organized, of course. Over recent years, “organized” seemed to have become her most defining characteristic. It was like she was a minor celebrity with this one claim to fame. It was funny how once it became a thing that her family and friends commented on and teased her about, it seemed to perpetuate itself, so that her life was now extraordinarily well organized, as if motherhood were a sport and she were a top athlete. It was like she was thinking, How far can I go with this? How much more can I fit in my life without losing control?
And that was why other people, like her sister, had rooms full of dusty junk, whereas Cecilia’s attic was stacked with clearly labeled white plastic storage containers. The only part that didn’t look quite Cecilia-ish was the tower of shoe boxes in the corner. They were John-Paul’s. He liked to keep each financial year’s receipts in a different shoe box. It was something he’d been doing for years, before he met Cecilia. He was proud of his shoe boxes, so she managed to restrain herself from telling him that a filing cabinet would be a far more effective use of space.
Thanks to her labeled storage containers, she found her piece of the Berlin Wall almost straightaway. She peeled off the lid of the container marked “Cecilia: Travel/Souvenirs. 1985–1990,” and there it was in its faded brown paper bag. Her little piece of history. She took out the piece of rock (cement?) and held it in her palm. It was even smaller than she remembered. It didn’t look especially impressive, but hopefully it would be enough for the reward of one of Esther’s rare, lopsided little smiles. You had to work hard for a smile from Esther.
Then Cecilia let herself get distracted (yes, she achieved a lot every day, but she wasn’t a machine, she did sometimes fritter away a little time) looking through the box and laughing at the photo of herself with the German boy who did the ice cube thing. He, like her piece of the Berlin Wall, wasn’t quite as impressive as she remembered. Then the house phone rang, startling her out of the past, and she stood up too fast and banged the side of her head painfully against the ceiling. The walls, the walls! She swore, reeled back, and her elbow knocked against John-Paul’s tower of shoe boxes.
At least three lost their lids and their contents, causing a mini landslide of paperwork. This was precisely why the shoe boxes were not such a good idea.
Cecilia swore again and rubbed her head, which really did hurt. She looked at the shoe boxes and saw that they were all for financial years dating back to the eighties. She began stuffing the pile of receipts into one of the boxes when her eye was caught by her own name on a white business envelope.
She picked it up and saw that it was John-Paul’s handwriting.
For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick
To be opened only in the event of my death
She laughed out loud, and then abruptly stopped, as if she were at a party and she’d laughed at something somebody said and then realized that it wasn’t a joke, it was actually quite serious.
She read it again—“For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick”—and oddly, for just a moment, she’d felt her cheeks go warm, like she was embarrassed. For him or for her? She wasn’t sure. It felt like she’d stumbled upon something shameful, as if she’d caught him masturbating in the shower. (Miriam Oppenheimer had once caught Doug masturbating in the shower. It was just so dreadful that they all knew that, but once Miriam was on to her second glass of champagne, the secrets just bubbled out of her, and once they knew it was impossible to un-know it.)
What did it say? She considered tearing it open right that second, before she had time to think about it, like the way she sometimes (not very often) shoved the last piece of chocolate in her mouth, before her conscience had time to catch up with her greed.
The phone rang again. She wasn’t wearing her watch, and suddenly she felt like she’d lost all sense of time.
She threw the rest of the paperwork back into one of the shoe boxes and took the piece of the Berlin Wall and the letter back downstairs.
As soon as she left the attic, she was picked up and swept along by the fast-running current of her life. There was a big Tupperware order to deliver, the girls to be picked up from school, the fish to be bought for tonight’s dinner (they ate a lot of fish when John-Paul was away for work because he hated it), phone calls to return. The parish priest, Father Joe, had been calling to remind her that it was Sister Ursula’s funeral tomorrow. There seemed to be some concern about numbers. She would go, of course. She left John-Paul’s mysterious letter on top of the fridge, and gave Esther the piece of the Berlin Wall just before they sat down for dinner.
“Thank you.” Esther handled the little piece of rock with touching reverence. “Exactly which part of the Wall did it come from?”
“Well, I think it was quite near Checkpoint Charlie,” said Cecilia with jolly confidence. She had no idea.
But I can tell you that boy with the ice cube wore a red T-shirt and white jeans and he picked up my ponytail and held it between his fingertips and said, “Very pretty.”
“Is it worth any money?” asked Polly.
“I doubt it. How could you prove it really was from the Wall?” asked Isabel. “It just looks like a piece of rock.”
“DMA testing,” said Polly. The child watched far too much television.
“It’s DNA, not DMA, and that comes from people,” said Esther.
“I know that!” Polly had arrived in the world outraged to discover that her sisters had gotten there before her.
“Well, then why—”
“So who do you reckon is going to get voted off The Biggest Loser tonight?” asked Cecilia, while simultaneously thinking, Why, yes, whoever that is observing my life, I am changing the subject from a fascinating period of modern history that might actually teach my children something to a trashy television show that will teach them nothing, but will keep the peace and not make my head hurt. If John-Paul had been at home, she probably wouldn’t have changed the subject. She was a far better mother when she had an audience.
The girls talked about The Biggest Loser for the rest of dinner, while Cecilia pretended to be interested and thought about the letter sitting on top of the fridge. Once the table was cleared and the girls were all watching TV, she took it down to stare at it.
Now she put down her cup of tea and held the envelope up to the light, half laughing at herself. It looked like a handwritten letter on lined notebook paper. She couldn’t decipher a word.
Had John-Paul perhaps seen something on television about how the soldiers in Afghanistan wrote letters to their families to be sent in the event of their deaths, like messages from the grave, and had he thought that it might be nice to do something similar?
She just couldn’t imagine him sitting down to do such a thing. It was so sentimental.
Lovely though. If he died, he wanted them to know how much he loved them.
“. . . in the event of my death.” Why was he thinking about death? Was he sick? But this letter appeared to have been written a long time ago, and he was still alive. Besides, he’d had a checkup a few weeks back, and Dr. Kluger had said he was as “fit as a stallion.” He’d spent the next few days tossing his head back and whinnying and neighing around the house, while Polly rode on his back swinging a tea towel around her head like a whip.
Cecilia smiled at the memory, and her anxiety dissipated. So a few years ago, John-Paul had done something uncharacteristically sentimental and written this letter. It was nothing to get all worked up about, and of course she shouldn’t open it just for the sake of curiosity.
She looked at the clock. Nearly eight p.m. He’d be calling soon. He generally called around this time each night when he was away.
She wasn’t even going to mention the letter to him. It would embarrass him, and it wasn’t really an appropriate topic of conversation for the phone.
One thing: How exactly was she meant to have found this letter if he had died? She might never have found it! Why hadn’t he given it to their solicitor, Miriam’s husband, Doug Oppenheimer? So difficult not to think of him in the shower every time he came to mind. Of course it had no bearing on his abilities as a lawyer; perhaps it said more about Miriam’s abilities in the bedroom. (Cecilia had a mildly competitive relationship with Miriam.)
Of course, given the current circumstances, now was not the time to be feeling smug about sex. Stop it. Do not think about the sex thing.
Anyway, it was dumb of John-Paul not to have given the letter to Doug. If he’d died she probably would have thrown out all his shoe boxes in one of her decluttering frenzies without even bothering to go through them. If he’d wanted her to find the letter, it was crazy to just shove it in a random shoe box. Why not put it in the file with the copies of their wills, life insurance and so on? John-Paul was one of the smartest people she knew, except when it came to the logistics of life.
“I seriously don’t understand how men came to rule the world,” she’d said to her sister, Bridget, this morning, after she’d told her about how John-Paul had lost his rental car keys in Chicago. It had driven Cecilia bananas seeing that text message from him. There was nothing she could do!
This type of thing was always happening to John-Paul. Last time he went overseas he’d left his laptop in a cab. The man lost things constantly. Wallets, phones, keys, his wedding ring. His possessions just slid right off him.
“They’re pretty good at building stuff,” her sister said. “Like bridges and roads. I mean, could you even build a hut? Your basic mud hut?”
“I could build a hut,” said Cecilia.
“You probably could,” groaned Bridget, as if this were a failing. “Anyway, men don’t rule the world. We have a female prime minister. And you rule your world. You rule the Fitzpatrick household. You rule St. Angela’s. You rule the world of Tupperware.”
Cecilia was president of St. Angela’s Primary Parents and Friends Association. She was also the eleventh top-selling Tupperware consultant in Australia. Her sister found both of these roles hugely comical.
“I don’t rule the Fitzpatrick household,” said Cecilia.
“Sure you don’t,” guffawed Bridget.
It was true that if Cecilia died, the Fitzpatrick household would just . . . Well, it was unbearable to think about what would happen. John-Paul would need more than a letter from her. He’d need a whole manual, including a floor plan of the house pointing out the locations of the laundry and the linen cupboard.
The phone rang, and she snatched it up.
“Let me guess. Our daughters are watching the chubby people, right?” said John-Paul. She’d always loved his voice on the phone: deep, warm and comforting. Oh, yes, her husband was hopeless, and lost things and ran late, but he took care of his wife and daughters, in that old-fashioned, responsible, I-am-the-man-and-this-is-my-job way. Bridget was right: Cecilia ruled her world, but she’d always known that if there was a crisis—a crazed gunman, a flood, a fire—John-Paul would be the one to save their lives. He’d throw himself in front of the bullet, build the raft, drive them safely through the raging inferno, and once that was done, he’d hand back control to Cecilia, pat his pockets and say, “Has anyone seen my wallet?”
After she saw the little Spider-Man die, the first thing she did was call John-Paul, her fingers shaking as she pressed the buttons.
“I found this letter,” said Cecilia. She ran her fingertips over his handwriting on the front of the envelope. As soon as she heard his voice, she knew she was going to ask him about it that very second. They’d been married for fifteen years. There had never been secrets.
“A letter from you,” said Cecilia. She was trying to sound light, jokey, so that this whole situation would stay in the right perspective, so that whatever was in the letter would mean nothing, would change nothing. “To me, to be opened in the event of your death.” It was impossible to use the words “event of your death” to your husband without your voice coming out odd.
There was silence. For a moment she thought they’d been cut off, except that she could hear a gentle hum of chatter and clatter in the background. It sounded like he was calling from a restaurant.
Her stomach contracted.
If this is a joke,” said Tess, “it’s not funny.”
Will put his hand on her arm. Felicity put her hand on her other arm. They were like matching bookends holding her up.
“We’re so very, very sorry,” said Felicity.
“So sorry,” echoed Will, as if they were singing a duet together.
They were sitting at the big round wooden table they used for client meetings, but mostly for eating pizza. Will’s face was dead white. Tess could see each tiny black hair of his stubble in sharp definition, standing upright, like some sort of miniature crop growing across his shockingly white skin. Felicity had three distinct red blotches on her neck.
For a moment Tess was transfixed by those three blotches, as if they held the answer. They looked like fingerprints on Felicity’s brand-new slender neck. Finally, Tess raised her eyes and saw that Felicity’s eyes—her famously beautiful almond-shaped green eyes; The fat girl has such beautiful eyes!—were red and watery.
“So this realization,” said Tess. “This realization that you two . . .” She stopped. Swallowed.
“We want you to know that nothing has actually happened,” interrupted Felicity.
“We haven’t—you know,” said Will.
“You haven’t slept together.” Tess saw that they were both proud of this, that they almost expected her to admire them for their restraint.
“Absolutely not,” said Will.
“But you want to,” said Tess. She was almost laughing at the absurdity of it. “That’s what you’re telling me, right? You want to sleep together.”
They must have kissed. That was worse than if they’d slept together. Everyone knew that a stolen kiss was the most erotic thing in the world.
The blotches on Felicity’s neck began to slink up her jawline. She looked like she was coming down with a rare infectious disease.
“We’re so sorry,” said Will again. “We tried so hard to—to make it not happen.”
“We really did,” said Felicity. “For months, you know, we just—”
“Months? This has been going on for months!”
“Nothing has actually gone on,” intoned Will, as solemnly as if he were in church.
“Well, something has gone on,” said Tess. “Something rather significant has gone on.” Who knew she was capable of speaking with such hardness? Each word sounded like a block of concrete.
“Sorry,” said Will. “Of course—I just meant—you know.”
Felicity pressed her fingertips to her forehead and began to weep. “Oh, Tess.”
Tess’s hand went out of its own accord to comfort her. They were closer than sisters. She always told people that. Their mothers were twins, and Felicity and Tess were only children, born within six months of each other. They’d done everything together.
Tess had once punched a boy—a proper closed-fist right hook across the jaw—because he called Felicity a baby elephant, which was exactly what Felicity had looked like all through her school days. Felicity had grown into a fat adult, “a big girl with a pretty face.” She drank Coke like it was water and never dieted or exercised or seemed particularly bothered by her weight. And then, about six months ago, Felicity had joined Weight Watchers, given up Coke, joined a gym, lost forty kilos and turned beautiful. Extremely beautiful. She was exactly the type of person they wanted for that Biggest Loser show: a stunning woman trapped in a fat person’s body.
Tess had been thrilled for her. “Maybe she’ll meet someone really nice now,” she’d said to Will. “Now that she’s got more confidence.”
It seemed that Felicity had met someone really nice. Will. The nicest man Tess knew. That took a lot of confidence, to steal your cousin’s husband.
“I’m so sorry, I just want to die,” wept Felicity.
Tess pulled back her hand. Felicity—snarky, sarcastic, funny, clever, fat Felicity—sounded like an American cheerleader.
Will tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling with a clenched jaw. He was trying not to cry too. The last time Tess had seen him cry was when Liam was born.
Tess’s eyes were dry. Her heart hammered as if she were terrified, as if her life were in danger. The phone rang.
“Leave it,” said Will. “It’s after hours.”
Tess stood, went over to her desk and picked up the phone.
“TWF Advertising,” she said.
“Tess, my love, I know it’s late, but we’ve got us a little problem.”
It was Dirk Freeman, marketing director of Petra Pharmaceuticals, their most important and best-paying client. It was Tess’s job to make Dirk feel important, to reassure him that although he was fifty-six and was never going to climb any higher in the ranks of senior management, he was the big kahuna and Tess was his servant, his maid, his lowly chambermaid, in fact, and he could tell her what to do and be flirty, or grumpy, or stern, and she’d pretend to give him a bit of lip, but when it came down to it, she had to do what he said. It had occurred to her recently that the service she was providing Dirk Freeman bordered on sexual.
“The color of the dragon on the Cough Stop packaging is all wrong,” said Dirk. “It’s too purple. Much too purple. Have we gone to print?”
Yes, they’d gone to print. Fifty thousand little cardboard boxes had rolled off the presses that day. Fifty thousand perfectly purple, toothily grinning dragons.
The work that had gone into those dragons. The e-mails, the discussions. And while Tess was talking about dragons, Will and Felicity were falling in love.
“No,” said Tess, her eyes on her husband and cousin, who were both still sitting at the meeting table in the center of the room, their heads bowed, examining their fingertips, like teenagers in detention. “It’s your lucky day, Dirk.”
“Oh, I thought it would have—well, good.” He could barely hide his disappointment. He’d wanted Tess all breathless and worried. He’d wanted to hear the tremor of panic in her voice.
His voiced deepened, became as abrupt and authoritative as if he were about to lead his troops onto the battlefield. “I need you to hold everything on Cough Stop, right? The lot. Got it?”
“Got it. Hold everything on Cough Stop.”
“I’ll get back to you.”
He hung up. There was nothing wrong with the color. He’d call back the next day and say it was fine. He’d just needed to feel powerful for a few minutes. One of the younger hotshots had just made him feel inferior in a meeting.
“The Cough Stop boxes went to print today.” Felicity turned in her seat and looked worriedly at Tess.
“It’s fine,” said Tess.
“But if he’s going to change—” said Will.
“I said it’s fine.”
She didn’t feel angry yet. Not really. But she could feel the possibility of a fury worse than anything she’d ever experienced, a simmering vat of anger that could explode like a fireball, destroying everything in its sight.
She didn’t sit down again. Instead she turned and examined the whiteboard where they recorded all their work in progress.
Cough Stop packaging!!!
It was humiliating to see her own scrawly, carefree, confident handwriting with its flippant exclamation marks. The smiley face next to the Bedstuff website, because they’d worked so hard to get that job, pitching against bigger companies, and then, yes! They’d won it. She’d drawn that smiley face yesterday, when she was ignorant of the secret that Will and Felicity were sharing. Had they exchanged rueful looks behind her back when she’d drawn the smiley face? She won’t be so smiley-faced once we confess our little secret, will she?
The phone rang again.
This time Tess let it go to the answering service.
TWF Advertising. Their names entwined together to form their little dream business. The idle “what if” conversation they’d actually made happen.
The Christmas before last they’d been in Sydney for the holiday. As was traditional, they spent Christmas Eve at Felicity’s parents’ house. Tess’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Phil. Felicity was still fat. Pretty and pink and perspiring in a size eighteen dress. They had the traditional sausages on the barbecue, the traditional creamy pasta salad, the traditional pavlova. She and Felicity and Will had all been whining about their jobs. Incompetent management. Stupid colleagues. Drafty offices. And so on and so forth. “Geez, you’re a miserable bunch, aren’t you?” said Uncle Phil, who didn’t have anything to whine about now that he was retired.
“Why don’t you go into business together?” said Tess’s mother.
It was true that they were all in similar fields. Tess was the marketing communications manager for a but-this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it legal publishing company. Will was the creative director of a large, prestigious, extremely pleased with themselves advertising agency. (That’s how they’d met. Tess had been Will’s client.) Felicity was a graphic designer working for a nasty tyrant.
Once they’d started talking about it, the ideas had fallen into place so fast. Click, click, click! By the time they were eating the last mouthfuls of pavlova, it was all set. Will would be the creative director! Obviously! Felicity would be the art director! Of course! Tess would be the account executive! That one wasn’t quite so obvious. She’d never held a role like that. She’d always been on the client side, and she considered herself something of a social introvert.
In fact, a few weeks ago she’d done a Reader’s Digest quiz in a doctor’s waiting room called “Do You Suffer from Social Anxiety?” and her answers (all C’s) confirmed that she did, in fact, suffer from social anxiety and should seek professional help or “join a support group.” Everybody who did that quiz probably got the same result. If you didn’t suspect you had social anxiety, you wouldn’t bother doing the quiz; you’d be too busy chatting with the receptionist.
She certainly did not seek professional help, nor tell a single soul. Not Will. Not even Felicity. If she talked about it, then it would make it real. The two of them would watch her in social situations and be kindly empathetic when they saw the humiliating evidence of her shyness. The important thing was to cover it up. When she was a child her mother had once told her shyness was almost a form of selfishness. “You see, when you hang your head like that, darling, people think you don’t like them!” Tess had taken that to heart. She grew up and learned how to make small talk with a thumping heart. She forced herself to make eye contact, even when her nerves were screaming at her to look away, look away! “Bit of a cold,” she’d say to explain away the dryness of her throat. She learned to live with it, the way other people learned to live with lactose intolerance or sensitive skin.
Anyway, Tess wasn’t overly concerned that Christmas Eve two years ago. It was all just talk, and they’d been drinking a lot of Aunt Mary’s punch. They weren’t really going to start a business together. She wouldn’t really have to be the account executive.
But then, in the new year, when they got back to Melbourne, Will and Felicity had kept going on about it. Will and Tess’s house had a huge downstairs area that the previous owners had used as a teenagers’ retreat. It had its own separate entrance. What did they have to lose? The start-up costs would be negligible. Will and Tess had been putting extra money on their mortgage. Felicity was sharing an apartment. If they failed, they could all go back out and get jobs.
Tess had been swept along on the wave of their enthusiasm. She’d been happy enough to resign from her job, but the first time she sat outside a potential client’s office, she had to cram her hands between her knees to stop them from trembling. Often she could actually feel her head wobbling. Even now, after eighteen months, she still suffered debilitating nerves each time she met a new client. Yet she was oddly successful in her role. “You’re different from other agency people,” one client told her at the end of their first meeting, as he shook her hand to seal the deal. “You actually listen more than you talk.”
The horrible nerves were balanced by the glorious euphoria she felt each time she walked out of a meeting. It was like walking on air. She’d done it again. She’d battled the monster and won. And best of all, nobody suspected her secret. She brought in the clients. The business flourished. A product launch they did for a cosmetics company had even been nominated for a marketing award.
Tess’s role meant that she was often out of the office, leaving Will and Felicity alone for hours at a time. If someone had asked her if that worried her, she would have laughed. “Felicity is like a sister to Will,” she would have said.
She turned from the whiteboard. Her legs felt weak. She went and sat back down, choosing a chair at the other end of the table from them. She tried to get her bearings.
It was six o’clock on a Monday night. She was right in the middle of her life.
There had been so many other things distracting her when Will came upstairs and said he and Felicity needed to talk to her about something. Tess had just put down the phone from speaking with her mother, who had rung to say she’d broken her ankle playing tennis. She was going to be on crutches for the next eight weeks, and she was very sorry, but could Easter be in Sydney instead of Melbourne this year?
It was the first time in the fifteen years since Tess and Felicity had moved interstate that Tess had felt bad about not living closer to her mother.
“We’ll get a flight straight after school on Thursday,” Tess had said. “Can you cope until then?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine. Mary will help. And the neighbors.”
But Aunt Mary didn’t drive, and Uncle Phil couldn’t be expected to drive her over every day. Besides, Mary and Phil were both starting to look frail themselves. And Tess’s mother’s neighbors were ancient old ladies or busy young families who barely had time to wave hello as they backed their big cars out of their driveways. It didn’t seem likely that they’d be bringing over casseroles.
Tess had been fretting over whether she should book a flight to Sydney for the very next day, and then perhaps organize a home helper for her mother. Lucy would hate to have a stranger in the house, but how would she shower? How would she cook?
It was tricky. They had so much work on, and she didn’t like to leave Liam. He wasn’t quite himself. There was a boy in his class, Marcus, who was giving him grief. He wasn’t exactly bullying him; that would have been nice and clear-cut and they could have followed the school’s sternly bullet-pointed “We Take a Zero-Tolerance Approach to Bullying” code of practice. Marcus was more complicated than that. He was a charming little psychopath.
Something new and awful had gone on with Marcus that day at school, Tess was sure of it. She’d been giving Liam his dinner while Will and Felicity were downstairs working. Most nights she and Will and Liam, and often Felicity too, managed to eat as a family, but the Bedstuff website was meant to go live that Friday, so they were all working long hours.
Liam had been quieter than usual while he was eating his dinner. He was a dreamy, reflective little boy; he’d never been a chatterbox, but there had been something so grown-up and sad about the way he mechanically speared each piece of sausage with his fork and dunked it in the tomato sauce.
“Did you play with Marcus today?” Tess had asked.
“Nah,” said Liam. “Today’s Monday.”
But he’d closed down and refused to say another word about it, and Tess had felt rage fill her heart. She needed to talk to his teacher again. She had the strongest feeling that her child was in an abusive relationship and nobody could see it. The school playground was like a battlefield.
That’s what had been on Tess’s mind when Will had asked her if she’d come downstairs: her mother’s ankle and Marcus.
Will and Felicity were sitting at the meeting table waiting for her. Before Tess joined them, she collected all the coffee mugs that were sitting around the office. Felicity had a habit of making herself fresh cups of coffee that she never finished. Tess put the mugs in a row on the meeting table and said, as she sat down, “New record, Felicity. Five half-drunk cups.”
Felicity hadn’t said anything. She looked oddly at Tess, as if she felt really bad about the coffee cups, and then Will made his extraordinary announcement.
“Tess, I don’t know how to say this,” he said. “But Felicity and I have fallen in love.”
“Very funny.” Tess had grouped the coffee cups together and smiled. “Hilarious.”
But it seemed it wasn’t a joke.
Now she studied her hands on the honey-gold pine of the desk. Her pale, blue-veined, knuckly hands. An ex-boyfriend had once told her that he was in love with her hands. Will had a lot of trouble getting the wedding ring over her knuckle at their wedding. Their guests had laughed softly. Will had pretended to exhale with relief once he got it on, while he secretly caressed her hand.
Tess looked up and saw Will and Felicity exchange covert worried glances.
“So it’s true love, is it?” said Tess. “You’re soul mates, are you?”
A nerve throbbed in Will’s cheek. Felicity tugged at her hair.
Yes. That’s what they were both thinking. Yes, it is true love. Yes, we are soul mates.
“When exactly did this start?” she asked. “When did these feelings between you develop?”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Will hurriedly.
“It matters to me!” Tess’s voice rose.
“I guess, I’m not sure, maybe, about six months ago?” mumbled Felicity, looking at the desk.
“So when you started to lose weight,” said Tess.
Tess said to Will, “Funny that you never looked twice at her when she was fat.”
The bitter taste of nastiness flooded her mouth. How long since she’d let herself say something that was purely nasty? Not since she was a teenager.
She had never called Felicity fat. Never said a critical word about her weight.
“Tess, please . . .” said Will, without any censure in his voice, just a soft, desperate pleading.
“It’s fine,” said Felicity. “I deserve it. We deserve it.”
She lifted her chin and looked at Tess with naked, brave humility.
So Tess was going to be allowed to kick and scratch as much as she wanted. They were just going to sit there and take it for as long as it took. They weren’t going to fight back. Will and Felicity were fundamentally good. She knew this. They were good people, and that’s why they were going to be so nice about this, so understanding and accepting of Tess’s rage, so that in the end Tess would be the bad person, not them. They hadn’t actually slept together, they hadn’t betrayed her. They’d fallen in love! It wasn’t an ordinary grubby little affair. It was fate. Predestined. Nobody could think that badly of them.
It was genius.
“Why didn’t you tell me on your own?” Tess tried to lock eyes with Will, as if the strength of her gaze could bring him back from wherever he’d gone. His eyes, his strange hazel eyes, the color of beaten copper, with thick black eyelashes, eyes that were so different from Tess’s own run-of-the-mill pale blue ones; the eyes that her son had inherited and that Tess thought of now as somehow belonging to her, a beloved possession for which she gracefully accepted compliments: “Your son has lovely eyes.” “He gets them from my husband. Nothing to do with me.” But everything to do with her. Hers. They were hers. Will’s gold eyes were normally amused; he was always ready to laugh at the world, he found day-to-day life generally pretty funny. It was one of the things she loved about him most. But right now they were looking at her imploringly, the way Liam looked at her when he wanted something at the supermarket.
Please, Mum, I want that sugary treat with all the preservatives and the cleverly branded packaging and I know I promised I wouldn’t ask for anything but I want it.
Please, Tess, I want your delicious-looking cousin and I know I promised to be true to you in good times and bad, in sickness and health, but pleeeease.
No. You may not have her. I said no.
“We couldn’t work out the right time or the right place,” said Will. “And we both wanted to tell you. We couldn’t—and then we just thought, we couldn’t go any longer without you knowing—so we just . . .” His jaw shifted, turkeylike, in and out, back and forth. “We thought there would never be a good time for a conversation like this.”
We. They were a “we.” They’d talked about this. Without her. Well, of course they’d talked without her. They’d fallen in love without her.
“I thought I should be here too,” said Felicity.
“Did you, now?” said Tess. She couldn’t bear to look at Felicity. “So what happens next?”
Asking the question filled her with a fresh nauseated wave of disbelief. Surely nothing was going to happen. Surely Felicity would rush off to one of her new gym classes and Will would come upstairs and talk to Liam while he had his bath, maybe get to the bottom of the Marcus problem, while Tess cooked a stir-fry for dinner; she had the ingredients ready. It was too bizarre, thinking of the little plastic-wrapped tray of chicken strips sitting staidly in the refrigerator. Surely she and Will were still going to have a glass of that half-empty bottle of wine and talk about potential men for the brand-new, slender Felicity. They’d already canvassed so many possibilities. Their Italian bank manager. The big quiet guy who supplied all their gourmet jams. Never once had Will slapped his hand to his forehead and said, “Of course! How could I have missed it? Me! I’d be perfect for her!”
It was a joke. She couldn’t stop thinking that the whole thing was a terrible joke.
“We know nothing can make this easy, or right, or better,” said Will. “But we’ll do whatever you want, whatever you think is right for you and for Liam.”
“For Liam,” repeated Tess, dumbstruck.
For some reason it hadn’t occurred to her that Liam would have to be told about this, that Liam would have anything to do with it, or be in any way affected. Liam, who was upstairs right now, lying on his stomach, watching television, his six-year-old little mind filled with giant-sized worries of Marcus.
No, she thought. No, no, no. Absolutely not.
She saw her mother appearing at her bedroom door. “Daddy and I want to talk to you about something.”
It would not happen to Liam the way it had happened to her. Over her dead body. It was the one thing she’d always known she could and would spare him from. Her beautiful, grave-faced little boy would not feel the loss and confusion she’d felt that awful summer all those years ago. He would not pack a little overnight bag every second Friday. He would not have to check a calendar on the refrigerator to see where he was sleeping each weekend. He would not learn to think before he spoke whenever one parent asked a seemingly innocuous question about the other.
Her mind raced.
All that mattered now was Liam. Her own feelings were irrelevant. How could she save this? How could she stop it?
“We never, ever meant for this to happen.” Will’s eyes were big and guileless. “And we want to do this the right way. The best way for all of us. We even wondered—”
Tess saw Felicity shake her head slightly at Will.
“You even wondered what?” said Tess. Here was more evidence of their talking. She could imagine the enjoyable intensity of these conversations. Teary eyes demonstrating what good people they were, how they were suffering at the thought of hurting Tess, but what choice did they have in the face of their passion, their love?
“It’s too soon to talk about what we’re going to do.” Felicity’s voice was firmer suddenly. Tess’s fingernails dug into her palms. How dare she? How dare she talk in her normal voice, as if this were a normal situation, a normal problem?
“You even wondered what?” Tess kept her eyes on Will.
Forget about Felicity, she told herself. You don’t have time to feel angry. Think, Tess, think.
Will’s face went from white to red. “We wondered if it would be possible for all of us to live together. Here. For Liam’s sake. It’s not like this is a normal breakup. We’re all . . . family. So that’s why we thought, I mean, maybe it’s crazy, but we just thought it might be possible. Eventually.”
Tess guffawed. A hard, almost guttural sound. Were they out of their minds? “You mean, I just move out of my bedroom and Felicity moves in? So we just say to Liam, ‘Don’t worry, honey, Daddy sleeps with Felicity now and Mummy is in the spare room’?”
Felicity looked mortified. “Of course not.”
“When you put it like that—” began Will.
“But what other way is there to put it?”
Will exhaled. He leaned forward. “Look,” he said. “We don’t need to work anything out right this second.” Sometimes Will used a particularly masculine, reasonable but authoritative tone in the office when he wanted things done a certain way. Tess and Felicity gave him absolute hell about it. He was using that tone now, as if it was time to get things under control.
How dare he?
Tess lifted her closed fists and slammed them down so hard on the table that it rattled. She’d never done such a thing before. It felt farcical and absurd and somewhat thrilling. She was pleased to see both Will and Felicity flinch.
“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” she said, because all at once it was perfectly clear.
It was simple.
Will and Felicity needed to have a proper affair. The sooner, the better. This smoldering thing they had going had to run its course. At the moment it was sweet and sexy. They were star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet gazing soulfully at each other over the purple Cough Stop dragon. It needed to get sweaty and sticky and sleazy and eventually—hopefully, God willing—banal and dull. Will loved his son, and once the fog of lust cleared, he’d see that he’d made a ghastly but not irretrievable, mistake.
This could all be fixed.
The only way forward was for Tess to leave. Right now.
“Liam and I will go and stay in Sydney,” she said. “With Mum. She called just a minute ago to say she’s broken her ankle. She needs someone there to help her.”
“Oh, no! How? Is she okay?” said Felicity.
Tess ignored her. Felicity didn’t get to be the caring niece anymore. She was the other woman. Tess was the wife. And she was going to fight this. For Liam’s sake. She would fight it and she would win.
“We’ll stay with her until her ankle is better.”
“But, Tess, you can’t take Liam to live in Sydney.” Will’s bossy tone vanished. He was a Melbourne boy. There had never been any question that they would live anywhere else. He looked at Tess with a wounded expression, as if he were Liam being unjustly told off for something. Then his brow cleared. “What about school?” he said. “He can’t miss school.”
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >