She pulled into her driveway, pressed the button on the remote for the garage and looked in her rear-vision mirror. The cabbie had popped the boot. A broad-shouldered man in a suit was pulling out his luggage.
It wasn’t a Kingston boy.
It was John-Paul. He always looked so unfamiliar when she saw him unexpectedly like this in his work clothes, as if she was still twenty-three and he’d gone and got all grown-up and grey-haired without her.
John-Paul was home three days early.
She was filled with equal parts pleasure and exasperation.
She’d lost her chance. She couldn’t open the letter now. She turned off the ignition, pulled on the handbrake, undid her seatbelt, opened the car door and ran down the driveway to meet him.
‘Hello?’ said Tess warily, looking at her watch, as she picked up her mother’s home phone.
It was nine o’clock at night. Surely it couldn’t be another telemarketer.
It was Felicity. Tess’s stomach cramped. Felicity had been calling all day on her mobile, leaving voicemail messages and texts that Tess left unheard and unread. It felt strange, ignoring Felicity, as if she was forcing herself to do something unnatural.
‘I don’t want to talk to you.’
‘Nothing has happened,’ said Felicity. ‘We still haven’t slept together.’
‘For God’s sake,’ said Tess, and then to her surprise, she laughed. It wasn’t even a bitter laugh. It was a genuine laugh. This was ridiculous. ‘What’s the hold-up?’
But then she caught sight of herself in the mirror above her mother’s dining room table and saw her smile fade, like someone catching on to a cruel trick.
‘All we can think about is you,’ said Felicity. ‘And Liam. The Bedstuff website crashed – anyway, I won’t talk to you about work. I’m at my apartment. Will is at home. He looks like a wreck.’
‘You’re pathetic.’ Tess turned away from her reflection in the mirror. ‘You’re both so pathetic.’
‘I know,’ said Felicity. Her voice was so low, Tess had to press the phone hard against her ear to hear her. ‘I’m a bitch. I’m that woman we hate.’
‘Speak up!’ said Tess irritably.
‘I said I’m a bitch!’ repeated Felicity.
‘Don’t expect any argument from me.’
‘I don’t,’ said Felicity. ‘Of course I don’t.’
There was silence.
‘You want me to be all right with it,’ said Tess. She knew them so well. ‘Don’t you? You want me to make everything all right.’
That was her job. That was her role in their three-way relationship. Will and Felicity were the ones who ranted and raved, who let the clients upset them, who got their feelings hurt by strangers, who thumped the steering wheel and shouted ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was Tess’s job to soothe them, to jolly them along, to do the whole glass is half-full, it will all work out, you’ll feel better in the morning thing. How could they possibly have an affair without her there to help? They needed Tess there to say, ‘It’s not your fault!’
‘I don’t expect that,’ said Felicity. ‘I don’t expect anything from you. Are you all right? Is Liam all right?’
‘We’re fine,’ said Tess. She felt an overwhelming tiredness, and with it came an almost dreamy sense of detachment. These huge swoops of emotion were exhausting. She pulled out one of the dining room table chairs and sat down. ‘Liam is starting at St Angela’s tomorrow.’ Watch me getting on with my life.
‘Tomorrow? What’s the rush?’
‘There’s an Easter egg hunt.’
‘Ah,’ said Felicity. ‘Chocolate. Liam’s kryptonite. He’s not being taught by any of the psychotic nuns who taught us, is he?’
Tess thought: Don’t you CHAT with me, as if everything is normal! But for some reason she went on talking anyway. She was too tired and it was too ingrained in her psyche. She’d chatted to Felicity every day of her life. She was her best friend. She was her only friend.
‘The nuns are all dead,’ she said. ‘But the PE teacher is Connor Whitby. Remember him?’
‘Connor Whitby,’ repeated Felicity. ‘He was that sad, sinister guy you were going out with before we came to Melbourne. But I thought he was an accountant.’
‘He retrained. He wasn’t sinister, was he?’ said Tess. Hadn’t he been perfectly nice? He was the boyfriend who had loved her hands. She remembered that suddenly. How strange. She’d been thinking about him last night, and now he’d reappeared in her life.
‘He was sinister,’ said Felicity definitely. ‘He was really old, too.’
‘He was ten years older than me.’
‘Anyway, I remember there was something creepy about him. I bet he’s even creepier now. There’s something unsavoury about PE teachers, with their tracksuits and whistles and clipboards.’
Tess’s hand tightened around the phone. Felicity’s smugness. She always thought she knew everything, that she was the superior judge of character, that she was more sophisticated and edgy than Tess.
‘So I guess you weren’t in love with Connor Whitby then?’ she said, brittle and bitchy. ‘Will is the first one to take your fancy?’
‘Don’t bother,’ she cut her off. Another wave of rage and hurt swelled in her throat. She swallowed. How could this possibly be? She loved them both. She loved them both so much. ‘Is there anything else?’