A gripping novel about the terrible secrets of a marriage, the love that can turn to desperation, the refuge and heartbreak of being a parent, and the fragile threads that cradle a family
Once, so very long ago, she had watched him like this when he came to pick her up for a date. . . Her stomach fluttered and burned with infatuation and desire. She would watch him walk up the path and think, "This must be love." But that was so very long ago. Now Liz is wary and afraid. She has made a terrible mistake and it cannot be undone. Alex believes that today will be the day she comes back to him. Today will be the day his wife and young son finally come home. Today they will be a family again. But Liz knows that some things can never be mended. Some marriages are too broken. Some people are too damaged. Now the most important thing in her life is her son, Luke, and she will do anything in her power to protect him. So when Alex is a few minutes late bringing Luke back Liz begins to worry, and when he is an hour late her concern grows, and when he is later still she can feel her whole life changing, because what if Alex is not just late?
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Nicole Trope is a former high school teacher with a Masters Degree in Children's Literature. She is the author of I Ran Away First, The Boy Under the Table, and The Secrets in Silence.
Read an Excerpt
Three Hours Late
By Nicole Trope
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2013 Nicole Trope
All rights reserved.
Liz watched Alex make his way up the front path.
His progress was visible from the living room window with only a slight twitch of the curtains.
Alex stood deliberately on every crack he saw, sometimes moving to the other side of the path to make sure he didn't miss one.
His hair was slicked down with water and even from her position at the window she could see he was freshly shaved.
Once, so very long ago, she had watched him like this when he came to pick her up for a date.
Then she had watched him with the delicious anticipation of the night ahead. She would stand at the window with her heart hammering and her cheeks burning, just waiting for him to ring the bell. Her hair would be perfectly curled and styled and her toes would already be pinched by her too-high heels. Her body would react to his presence even before she looked into his eyes. Her stomach fluttered and burned with infatuation and desire. She would watch him walk up the front path and think, 'This must be love.'
It had been love.
Once it had been love.
Now she watched him to gauge his mood, to figure out what her best opening line would be. Now her stomach burned with dread.
This morning she was wearing an old maternity tracksuit and her hair was pulled back with odd-coloured clips. Her breath still smelled of her breakfast coffee.
She hoped he would not want to look at her. She hoped he would simply take his son and leave. Today, she needed him to see only that she was unkempt and ugly. 'Don't look at me!' she wanted to yell.
Logically she knew that she could have been dressed in a garbage bag and there would still be no way he would just leave without forcing her to make herself understood again. No way would he just take Luke and go. Logically she knew that, but she also knew that when it came to Alex, the rules of the universe only applied sometimes. So this morning she had nursed her cup of coffee and prayed, because you never know your luck.
But now that she had seen him she knew he would want to stay. The dark green shirt he was wearing still held traces of crisp fold lines from when he had bought it. Liz had never seen it before. He would want to talk. He would not let her off lightly. Not after last night.
Shit — last night.
Liz didn't want to think about last night. She wasn't ready to deal with her mistake but Alex would not be dismissed. She could see from the way he walked and the way he dressed that he believed something had changed last night.
In the morning light that was always so cruel she would have to make the facts clear again. She would have to tell him yet again that their marriage was finished.
She watched as he smoothed his hair down and then, just before he lifted his hand to ring the bell, she stepped forward to open the door.
He smiled when he saw her.
She looked down at her cold bare feet. Her nail polish was mostly chipped away.
It was a charming smile. It included his eyes and encouraged a return gesture.
Liz looked up but stared past him.
'Hi,' she said.
He nodded in reply.
Liz angled her body away from him and called, 'Luke, Daddy's here. Come on — get your backpack.'
'Daddy, Daddy, yay, yay!' Luke yelled from the other room.
Liz knew that Luke would leave the television on and dart into the living room and it was possible that in the chaos of his excited greeting Alex would forget about Liz and just leave with his son.
'That's right, Daddy's here. Come on, don't keep him waiting. You and Daddy are going to have so much fun.'
'Yeah, me and Dad are gonna have fun! Hey, Dad, what did you bring me?'
Liz rubbed her hands through her son's fine blond hair, smoothing it back off his face. His eyes were lit up with the joy of seeing his father, his arms already outstretched in anticipation of a hug.
'Ah, it's in the car, little man, but can you give me a minute? I just need to talk to Mum about something.'
It was possible he would just leave, but it was not probable.
'Do we have to do this now, Alex?' She said. She made sure her voice was light and high. She made sure to keep out any note of impatience. It was his choice to make after all. It was always his choice. But which choice would he make? Who was Alex today? Which Alex was standing in front of her in his crisp new shirt? Liz rubbed at her bunched neck muscles.
After his greeting smile his face had set to neutral, hiding his mood. Her stomach churned and she recognised a feeling she had put aside in the last few months, except when she was talking to him. It came rushing back now, closing in on her.
His eyes narrowed. 'Yes, we do need to do it now. Go and find Nana, Luke. Mum and I need to talk.'
Luke heard the catch in his father's voice but he was only three. He hadn't yet learned when to keep quiet.
'But, Dad ...'
Liz jumped in quickly when she saw Alex's eyes flash. He had never hurt Luke, never even laid a hand on him, but she could foresee a time when the boy would be a continual challenge to his father, and then who knew what would happen?
Alex didn't like to be challenged.
'It's okay, Luke. Do what Dad says. Go and find Nana. And your blankie, Luke — don't forget your blankie.'
'Why does he need to drag that thing around, Liz? He's three years old already. Isn't it time he gave it up?'
'I think he's been through a lot, Alex. His blanket is his security.'
'He wouldn't need it anymore if his whole life hadn't been thrown into chaos.'
And behind those words were so many years of blame that Liz didn't even need to acknowledge them. Instead she dipped her head a little and weaselled her way out of the confrontation.
'Just give him a few more months and we'll sort it out, Alex. He's only a little boy.' She was aware that her voice had taken on a pleading whine. She hated the way she sounded.
Alex shook his head at her and stood up straighter, nearly reaching her height. He could always tell when he had the upper hand.
'So what did you want to discuss?' she said, buying time to allow herself a moment to try and find the right words to appease him. She needed words that would keep him calm and words that would help her maintain her distance. Her head filled up with white noise. There were no right words.
'You know what I want to discuss, babe. I want to talk about last night.'
Now his voice had an edge of sexual fire. The tone crept inside her, warming her whole body.
Her cheeks flushed. She was mortified by last night. If only because of the way her body responded. If only because of the way her body responded right now, clinging to the memory. It was treason.
She sighed, wondering if it would be better just to say that last night had made everything all right and they were going to be one big happy family again. She knew she could pacify him now and then get her father to come over and explain the facts again when Luke was due to be dropped home. Alex understood her father's size and the possibility of him using his fists. Liz had thought about calling in her father more than once, more than ten times, but she never had.
Jack Searle towered above Alex and Liz could see Alex diminished every time they were in the same room. But Jack didn't like to use his fists; he sank into silence instead. He simply left the wife he couldn't deal with. He just left and though Liz felt, even now, that she would never recover from being discarded like that along with her mother, she knew there were worse things you could do than just leave.
She thought hard about what she could say to Alex now but her mind was stubbonly blank. She had to be conciliatory but firm at the same time. She needed to keep him happy but make herself clear. Talking to Alex was exhausting.
Liz realised she should just have left it to her mother to hand Luke over to Alex. She should have stayed in bed until she had figured out what to say to him. She had been doing that for months already — being somewhere else when he came to pick up Luke — so why had she opened the door for him today?
She tried to find some placating words, but the small part of her that was recovering from being married to him took over her mouth and she said, 'Oh, Alex, last night was a mistake. It was nothing. I'm sorry I let it go so far, but you have to know that there's really nothing to discuss.'
'I don't know that, Liz. It was not nothing. I'm not nothing.' Alex bit down on his lip. He knew her mother was in the house. Then he rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. 'We were so good together,' he said, bringing out his smile again. 'Surely you can see that. We were always so good together.'
She shook her head and looked at her feet again. The nail polish had been a bright blue. It was called Caribbean Dream.
Alex changed tack. 'Come on, babe, give it another go. I can have you and Luke back home and unpacked in an hour. It will be so good for him to have us together again.'
His voice was warm and smooth like melted chocolate. She hated what he became when they discussed the possibility of getting back together again. She hated the way he darted back and forth between charm and aggression. She knew how quickly it could all go back the way it had been. In darker moments, when she thought her future would be spent in her mother's house watching the world go by and waiting for her son to grow up, she had to force herself to acknowledge what would happen — after a few honeymoon days — if she returned.
She had to remember how much it hurt to be hit with an open hand and a closed fist and how hard it was to always be trying to figure out the right thing to say. She was always on guard. Even in her sleep she had needed to be vigilant, worrying through her fitful dreams about accidently waking him. Now she only felt like that when he came over to see Luke.
'Alex, I can't talk about this now. I have things to do and you don't have much time today. He needs to be back by two.'
Alex's brown eyes darkened almost to black.
'You can be such a bitch, Elizabeth. I'm not going to let you just dismiss me. I know what I felt last night wasn't just me.'
Liz felt the sting of the word 'bitch'. The part of her that had recovered a little from being with Alex, the Liz who wanted to step out of the shadows, opened her mouth. She hated being called by her full name.
'God, Alex, leave it alone, will you. You got what you wanted last night but it was a one-time thing. It won't happen again. I was just ...'
'You were just what?'
'Lonely, I guess. I was just lonely.'
'I can change that, babe. I've been lonely too and I can make sure that you never feel that way again. We can do it, Liz. We can try again.'
'We're better apart than together, Alex. Please, let's just not discuss this now.'
'I can change, Liz. If you just give me a chance I can do better.'
'You always say that, Alex. Every time it happens you tell me it won't happen again, but it keeps happening. Maybe you need to take some time out and get some help.'
'Fuck that, Liz. I don't need some shrink telling me what's wrong with me.'
Liz had heard it all before — once, twice, two hundred times.
Every now and again he would agree to go to counselling and then back out at the last minute, claiming it was all 'just bullshit about what your mother did wrong, and you and I both know I never had a mother for most of my life'. His mother's desertion was his favourite excuse for his behaviour, and his last resort when he wanted Liz's sympathy. 'My mother left when I was five. One day I went to school and when I got home she was gone and I've never seen her again.'
'Look, Alex, we'll talk later, okay? Just bring him home at two and I'll put him down for his nap and we can talk.'
'Can we talk about getting back together? Can we talk about ending this bullshit?'
'Look ... just ... we'll talk, okay?'
'Yeah, we'll talk, but it'll be about what you want. It's always about what you want. I'm not some boy you can lead around by the nose, Liz.'
'Please, Alex ... not again.'
Alex clenched his fists and Liz could see that even standing at the front door of her mother's house she was still not safe. His silent fury filled up the space between them. Liz felt it choke her and she slowly moved one foot back so that she could turn and run.
Luke came bounding back into the room then. A puppy full of bounce.
Suddenly there was more light and Liz felt like she could fill her lungs again.
'Is it time to go, Dad? Are you done? Can we go, Mum? Can we go, Dad? Let's go, Dad, let's go!'
'We're done,' said Liz, and she looked only at Luke.
'Bye, Luke. Give me a kiss.'
'Nah, kisses are squishy.'
'Okay ... no squishy kisses. How about a hug?'
"Kay. Love you, Mum.'
'Love you, Luke.' She turned to Alex. 'Have him back by two, please.'
Liz watched Alex.
'Maybe today's not the best day for you two to go out,' she said.
'Awww ... Mum,' said Luke.
'We're going out. Just Luke and me — two boys out on the town,' said Alex and his voice had relaxed again.
'Well just ... just call me if you need me, okay,' she said.
Alex made no reply.
'Bye, Mum, love you, Mum, bye, Mum.'
Liz waved then closed the door on Alex and his sad accusing stare. She wanted him gone and now he was gone.
She felt a surge of triumph. She had stood her ground. She had not been pushed into saying something that she would regret.
* * *
'Standing your ground' was one of the first things Rebecca tried to teach them.
Rebecca was the psychologist in charge of the sad little group that Liz attended once a week. Thursdays from ten am to twelve pm — coffee and tea provided. There she sat in a circle with all the other bruised and broken women trying to find a way out of the lives they had somehow stumbled into.
Rebecca liked to make them stamp their feet and shout 'no' to show them all that they had the strength and the power to defend themselves. They stamped and shouted as loud as they could, laughing and enjoying their raised voices. But they were stamping and shouting at each other in the safe confines of the group. Outside the group it was an entirely different story.
'If you can just change the way you respond to the abuser you have a chance to change your relationship. If you can stand your ground in a safe environment where you have others around to protect you, you can force the abuser to see you as a person who has their own power,' Rebecca said.
'What crap,' Glenda said. 'That'll just make him more pissed off than before. Then he'll lie awake at night trying to figure out how to slit my throat.'
'Obviously you have to make a decision based on your own individual circumstances,' said Rebecca.
'Yeah,' laughed Glenda. 'Our own individual circumstances. Individually, each and every one of us is a bit fucked.'
Liz had only gone to the community centre because her mother insisted. The ad for the domestic violence support group had been up on the noticeboard right outside the shopping centre. It was next to an ad for lessons on flower arranging, like there was a choice. Her mother had pointed it out.
'Just give it a couple of goes, Liz. You never know — it might help.'
Liz just sniffed. 'I don't need to witter on about what Alex did. I've left him, haven't I?'
'Liz, he was here nearly every day last week. You may have moved out but you definitely haven't left him.'
'Like you would know.'
Ellen had sighed. 'You need to do something, Liz, so go or I'm giving your father a call and he can figure out what to do about Alex.'
'Aren't I too old to be treated like a child?'
'You're never too old to be treated with concern, Liz. You need to talk to someone.'
Liz took down the number and shoved it into her bag where it stayed for weeks. She waited for her mother to just drop the issue but Ellen was surprisingly dogmatic about her getting some help.
'I never got any help after your father left and I'm not saying this is the same thing but you can't hide from your pain, Liz. I did it and basically checked out for years after he left. I know I did.'
Liz didn't say anything. She waited for her mother to finish talking.
'Thanks for agreeing with me, my darling,' said Ellen.
'What exactly would you like me to say? Do you want me to say it didn't happen? Because we both know it did.'
'Liz, I can apologise all I like but I can't give you back those years. So all I can do is try to prevent you from making the same mistakes. You have Luke to think about and I know you want to do better than I did. You need help. You need to talk to other women and try to figure out how to move your relationship past the point where he has any hold over you.'
'Like Alcoholics Anonymous but for domestic abuse?'
'Yes,' laughed Ellen. 'Like that.'
* * *
After she heard the car start up Liz leaned her head against the front door. If she was honest with herself, she knew that she hadn't really achieved anything.
All the voices ran round and round in her head and it was getting harder to know who she should listen to. This morning she had managed to keep some control of the situation, but she knew that when Alex brought Luke back this afternoon he would find a way to make her feel like it was her fault he raised his hands to her. Her fault they were unhappy, her fault they were shuffling Luke between the two of them.
Excerpted from Three Hours Late by Nicole Trope. Copyright © 2013 Nicole Trope. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThree Hours Late,
Twenty minutes late,
One hour late,
One hour and twenty-five minutes late,
Two hours late,
Three hours and ten minutes late,
Three hours and forty minutes late,
Other books by Nicole Trope,