Connor gave her a sympathetic smile. ‘Not that juicy. I was going to say that I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last year. I’ve been – how do people put it – “working through” some stuff.’
‘Oh,’ said Tess, carefully.
‘You’ve got that careful look on your face,’ said Connor. ‘I’m not crazy. I just had a few issues I needed to . . . cover off.’
‘Serious issues?’ asked Tess, not sure if she really wanted to know. This was meant to be an interlude from all the serious stuff, a crazy little escapade. She was letting off steam. (She was aware of herself already trying to define it, to package it in a way that made it acceptable. Perhaps the self-loathing was about to hit.)
‘When we were going out,’ said Connor, ‘did I ever tell you that I was the last person to see Janie Crowley alive? Rachel Crowley’s daughter?’
‘I know who she is,’ said Tess. ‘I’m pretty sure you never told me that.’
‘Actually, I know I wouldn’t have told you,’ said Connor. ‘Because I never talked about it. Hardly anyone knew. Except for the police. And Janie’s mother. I sometimes think that Rachel Crowley thinks I did it. She looks at me in this intense way.’
Tess felt a chill. He murdered Janie Crowley, and now he was about to murder Tess, and then everyone would know that she’d used her husband’s romantic predicament as an excuse to jump into bed with an ex-boyfriend.
‘And did you?’ she asked.
Connor’s head jerked back as if she’d slapped him. ‘Tess! No! Of course not!’
‘Sorry.’ Tess relaxed back against her pillow. Of course he didn’t.
‘Jeez, I can’t believe you would think –’
‘Sorry, sorry. So was Janie a friend? Girlfriend?’
‘I wanted her to be my girlfriend,’ said Connor. ‘I was pretty hung up on her. She’d come over to my place after school and we’d make out on my bed, and then I’d get all serious and angry and say, “Okay, this means you’re my girlfriend right?” I was desperate for commitment. I wanted everything signed and sealed. My first girlfriend. Only she’d hum and ha, and, was all, “Well, I don’t know, I’m still deciding.” I was losing my mind over it all, but then, on the morning of the day she died, she told me that she’d decided. I’d got the job, so to speak. I was stoked. Thought I’d won the lottery.’
‘Connor,’ said Tess. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘She came over that afternoon, and we ate fish and chips in my room, and kissed for about thirty hours or so, and then I saw her off at the railway station, and next morning I heard on the radio that a girl had been found strangled at Wattle Valley Park.’
‘My God,’ said Tess uselessly. She felt out of her depth, similar to the way she’d felt when she and her mother were sitting across the desk from Rachel Crowley the other day, filling in Liam’s enrolment forms, and she kept thinking to herself, Her daughter was murdered. She couldn’t link Connor’s experience to anything even remotely similar in her own life, and so she didn’t seem able to converse with him in any normal way.
Finally she said, ‘I can’t believe you never told me any of this when we were together.’
Although, really, why should he have? They’d only gone out together for six months. Even married couples didn’t share everything. She had never told Will about her self-diagnosis of social anxiety. The very thought of telling him made her toes curl with embarrassment.
‘I lived with Antonia for years before I finally told her,’ said Connor. ‘She was offended. We seemed to talk more about how offended she was than what actually happened. I think that’s probably why we broke up in the end. My failure to share.’
‘I guess girls like to know stuff,’ said Tess.
‘There was one part of the story I never told Antonia,’ said Connor. ‘I never told anyone until I told – this therapist woman. My shrink.’
‘You don’t have to tell me,’ said Tess nobly.
‘Okay, let’s talk about something else,’ said Connor.
Tess swatted at him.
‘My mother lied for me,’ said Connor.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You never had the pleasure of meeting my mother, did you? She died before we met.’
Another memory of her time with Connor floated to the surface. She’d asked him about his parents and he said, ‘My father left when I was a baby. My mother died when I was twenty-one. My mother was a drunk. That’s all I have to say about her.’ ‘Mother issues,’ said Felicity when Tess repeated this conversation. ‘Run a mile.’
‘My mother and her boyfriend told the police that I was home with them from five o’clock that night. I wasn’t. I was home alone. They were out getting drunk somewhere. I never asked them to lie for me. My mother just did it. Automatically. And she loved it. Lying to the police. When the police left, she winked at me as she held the front door for them. Winked! As if she and I were in cahoots. It made me feel as if I had done it. But what could I do? I couldn’t tell them that Mum had just lied for me, because that would make it look as if she thought I had something to hide.’
‘But you’re not saying she actually thought you did it,’ said Tess.
‘After the police left she held up a finger like this and said, “Connor, baby, I don’t want to know,” as if she was in a movie, and I said, “Mum, I didn’t do it,” and she just said, “Pour me a wine, darl.” After that, whenever she got nasty drunk, she’d say, “You owe me, you ungrateful little bastard.” It gave me a permanent sense of guilt. Almost as if I had done it.’ He shuddered. ‘Anyway. I grew up. Mum died. I never talked about Janie. I never even let myself think about her. And then my sister died, and I got Ben, and straight after my teaching degree I got offered the job at St Angela’s. I didn’t even know that Janie’s mother was working there until my second day of work.’