Liam dragged on her arm, so she had to bend back down again.
‘You and Daddy and Felicity should stop fighting,’ he said, cupping his hand around Tess’s ear. His breath was warm and toothpaste scented. ‘Just say sorry to each other. Say you didn’t mean it. So we can go back home.’
Tess’s heart stopped.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Had she really thought she could put this over Liam? He’d always surprised her with how well he observed what was going on around him.
‘Grandma can come and stay with us in Melbourne,’ said Liam. ‘We can look after her there until her ankle gets better.’
Funny. That had never actually occurred to Tess. It was as if she thought her life in Melbourne and her mother’s life in Sydney took place on different planets.
‘They have wheelchairs at the airport,’ said Liam solemnly, just as the edge of a little girl’s backpack swung against his face and caught the corner of his eye. His face crumpled and tears spilled from his beautiful golden eyes.
‘Honey,’ she said helplessly, on the edge of tears herself. ‘Look. You don’t have to go to school at all. This was a crazy idea –’
‘Well good morning, Liam. I was wondering if you were here yet!’ It was that dotty school principal. She crouched down on her haunches next to Liam as easily as a child. She must do yoga, thought Tess. A boy about the same age as Liam walked by and gave her a loving pat on her grey, frizzy-haired head, as if she was the school dog, not the school principal. ‘Hello, Miss Applebee!’
‘Good morning, Harrison!’ Trudy lifted a hand and her shawl slid off her shoulders.
‘I’m sorry. We’re creating a traffic jam here –’ began Tess, but Trudy just smiled slightly in her direction, readjusted her shawl with one hand and returned her attention to Liam.
‘Do you know what your teacher, Mrs Jeffers, and I did yesterday afternoon?’
Liam shrugged and roughly brushed away his tears.
‘We turned your classroom into another planet.’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘Our Easter egg hunt is in outer space.’
Liam sniffed and looked extremely cynical. ‘How?’ he said. ‘How’d you do that?’
‘Come and see.’ Trudy stood up and took Liam’s hand. ‘Say bye to your mum. You can tell her how many eggs you found in space this afternoon.’
Tess kissed the top of his head. ‘Okay, well. Have a wonderful day, and don’t forget I’ll –’
‘There’s a spaceship of course. Guess who gets to fly it?’ said Trudy, leading him away, and Tess saw Liam glance up at the school principal, his face suddenly bright with cautious hope, before he was swallowed up in a crowd of blue and white checked uniforms.
Tess turned and headed back out onto the street. She felt that strangely untethered feeling she always felt when she left Liam in someone else’s care, as if gravity had disappeared. What would she do with herself now? And what was she going to say to him after school today? She couldn’t lie and tell him that there was nothing going on, but she couldn’t tell him the truth, could she? Daddy and Felicity are in love. Daddy is meant to love me best. So I’m feeling angry with them. I’m feeling very hurt.
Supposedly the truth was always the best option.
She’d rushed into this. She’d pretended to herself that she was doing everything for Liam. She’d yanked her child from his home and his school and his life because in actual fact that was what she wanted to do. She wanted to be as far away from Will and Felicity as possible, and now Liam’s happiness was dependent on a peculiar frizzy-haired woman called Trudy Applebee.
Maybe she should homeschool him, until all this was sorted out. She could handle most of it. English, geography. It could be fun! But maths. That was her downfall. Felicity had got Tess through maths when they were at school, and now she was in charge of helping Liam with his maths. Felicity had said just the other day that she was quite looking forward to rediscovering the quadratic equation when Liam was in high school, and Tess and Will had looked at each other, shuddered and laughed. Felicity and Will had behaved so normally! All that time. Hugging their little secret to themselves.
She was walking along the street outside the school, back towards her mother’s house, when she heard a voice behind her.
‘Good morning, Tess.’
It was Cecilia Fitzpatrick suddenly walking alongside her in the same direction, chunky car keys jangling from one hand. There was something odd about the way she was walking, as if she had a limp.
Tess took a deep, bracing breath. ‘Morning!’ she said.
‘Just dropped Liam off for his first day, did you?’ said Cecilia. She was wearing sunglasses so Tess was spared the scary eye contact. She sounded as if she was coming down with a cold. ‘Was he okay? Always a bit tricky.’
‘Oh, well, not really, but Trudy . . .’ Tess stopped, distracted, because she’d just noticed Cecilia’s shoes. They weren’t matching. One was a black ballet shoe. The other was a gold sandal with a heel. No wonder she was walking funny. She looked away and remembered to keep talking. ‘But Trudy was wonderful with him.’
‘Oh, yes, Trudy is one in a million, that’s for sure,’ said Cecilia. ‘Anyway, this is my car here.’ She indicated a very shiny white four-wheel drive with the Tupperware logo along the side. ‘We forgot Polly had sport today. I never . . . anyway, we forgot, so I’ve got to drive home and get her shoes. Polly is in love with the PE teacher, so I’ll be in terrible trouble if I’m late.’