What was she doing here anyway? She’d forgotten how bad Sydney bars were compared to Melbourne. That’s why there wasn’t anyone over thirty in this place. If you were a grown-up living on the North Shore you had to do your drinking at home and be tucked up in bed by ten o’clock.
She missed Melbourne. She missed Will. She missed Felicity. She missed her life.
Connor leaned forward. ‘Liam has pretty good hand-eye coordination,’ he shouted. For God’s sake, was this a parent-teacher conference now?
When Tess had picked Liam up from school this afternoon, he’d seemed elated and hadn’t mentioned anything about Will or Felicity. Instead, he’d talked nonstop about how he was definitely the best at the Easter egg hunt, and how he’d shared some of his eggs with Polly Fitzpatrick, who was going to have this amazing pirate party and everyone in the class was invited, and how he’d done this really fun game with a parachute on the oval, and there was an Easter hat parade on the next day, and their teacher was going to dress up like an Easter egg! Tess didn’t know if it was just the novelty factor or the chocolate high that was making him so happy, but for now at least Liam was definitely not missing his old life.
‘Did you miss Marcus?’ she’d asked him.
‘Not really,’ Liam had answered. ‘Marcus was pretty mean.’
He’d refused help making his Easter hat and had made his own weird and wonderful creation out of an old straw hat of Lucy’s incorporating fake flowers and a toy rabbit. Then he’d eaten all his dinner, sung in the bath and been sound asleep by seven-thirty pm. Whatever happened, he wasn’t going back to that school in Melbourne.
‘He gets it from his father,’ sighed Tess. ‘The good hand-eye coordination.’ She took a big mouthful of the bad wine. Will would never take her anywhere like this. He knew all the best bars in Melbourne: tiny, stylish, soft-lit bars where he’d sit across the table from her and they’d talk. The conversation never faltered. They still made each other laugh. They went out every couple of months. Just the two of them. Saw a show or had dinner. Wasn’t that what you were meant to do? To invest in your marriage with nice, regular ‘date nights’? (She couldn’t stand that phrase.)
Felicity took care of Liam when they went out. They always had a drink with her when they got home, and told her about their night. Sometimes, if it was too late, she stayed the night and they all had breakfast together in the morning.
Yes, Felicity had been an integral part of date night.
Did she lie in the spare bedroom wishing she was in Tess’s place? Had Tess’s behaviour been unwittingly, yet unspeakably, cruel to Felicity?
‘What’s that?’ Connor leaned forward, squinting at her.
‘He gets it –’
‘Booya!’ There was an explosion of noise around one of the poker machines.
‘You bitch, you total bitch!’ One of the pretty young girls (‘skanky’ Felicity would have described her) slapped her friend’s back while a torrent of coins cascaded from the machine.
‘Booya, booya, booya!’ A broad-chested young man pummelling his chest like a gorilla lurched sideways against Tess.
‘Watch it, mate,’ said Connor.
‘Man, I’m so sorry! We just won –’ The boy turned around and his face lit up. ‘Mr Whitby! Hey guys, this is my primary school PE teacher! He was like the best PE teacher ever.’ He stuck out his hand and Connor stood and shook it, shooting a rueful look at Tess.
‘How the hell are you, Mr Whitby?’ The boy shoved his hands in his jeans pockets and shook his head as he looked at Connor, seemingly overcome with a sort of paternal emotion.
‘I’m good, Daniel,’ said Connor. ‘How are you?’
The boy was suddenly struck by an astonishing thought. ‘You know what? I’m going to buy you a drink, Mr Whitby. It would be my f**king pleasure. Seriously. Excuse my language. I may be intoxicated. What are you drinking, Mr Whitby?’
‘You know what, Daniel, that would have been great, but we were actually just leaving.’
Connor held out his hand to Tess and she automatically picked up her bag, got to her feet and took it, as naturally as if they’d been in a relationship for years.
‘Is this Mrs Whitby?’ The boy looked Tess up and down, entranced. He turned to Connor and gave him a big sly wink and a thumbs-up gesture. He turned to Tess. ‘Mrs Whitby. Your husband is a legend. An absolute legend. He taught me, like, long jump, and hockey, and cricket, and, and, like every sport in the f**king universe, and you know, I look athletic, I know, and I am, but it might surprise you to learn that I’m not that coordinated, but Mr Whitby, he –’
‘Gotto go, mate.’ Connor clapped the boy on the shoulder. ‘It was good seeing you.’
‘Oh, likewise, man. Likewise.’
Connor led Tess out of the bar and into the wonderfully quiet night air.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I was just losing my mind in there. I think I’m going deaf. And then, a drunk ex-student offering to buy me drinks . . . Jeez. So, it looks like I’m still holding your hand.’
‘It looks like you are.’
What are you doing, Tess O’Leary? But she didn’t let go. If Will could fall in love with Felicity, if Felicity could fall in love with Will, she could spend a few moments holding hands with an ex-boyfriend. Why not?
‘I remember that I always loved your hands,’ said Connor. He cleared this throat. ‘I guess that’s bordering on inappropriate.’