Thinking about Will and their early days together should hurt, but it didn’t, not right now at least. She felt light-headed with wicked, delicious sexual satisfaction and . . . what else? Vengeance, that was it. Vengeance is mine, sayeth Tess. Will and Felicity thought she was up here in Sydney nursing a broken heart, when in fact she was having excellent sex with her ex-boyfriend. Sex with an ex. It left married sex for dead. So there, Will.
‘Tess, my darling?’ said her mother.
Her mother lowered her voice. ‘Did something happen last night between you and Connor?’
‘Of course not,’ said Tess.
‘I couldn’t possibly,’ she’d said to Connor that third time, and he’d said, ‘I bet you could,’ and she’d murmured, ‘I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t,’ over and over, until it was established that she could.
‘Tess O’Leary!’ said her mother, just as a Year 1 boy’s birdcage hat slipped from his head. Tess met her mother’s eyes and laughed.
‘Oh, darling.’ Lucy grabbed hold of her arm. ‘Good on you. The man is an absolute spunk.’
‘Connor Whitby is in a very good mood today,’ said Samantha Green. ‘I wonder if that means he’s finally got himself a woman?’
Samantha Green, whose eldest child was in Year 6, did part-time bookkeeping work at the school. She charged by the hour, and Rachel suspected that St Angela’s would still pay for the time Samantha was spending outside the office next to Rachel watching the Easter hat parade. That was the problem with having one of the mums work for the school. Rachel couldn’t very well say, ‘Will you be billing us for this, Samantha?’ When she was only there for three hours, it really didn’t seem necessary for her to stop work to watch the parade. It wasn’t like her daughter was taking part. Of course Rachel didn’t have a child taking part either, and she’d stopped work to watch. Rachel sighed. She was feeling itchy and bitchy.
Rachel looked at Connor sitting at the judges’ table wearing his pink baby’s bonnet. There was something perverted about a grown man dressed up as a baby. He was making some of the older boys laugh. She thought of his malevolent face on that video. The murderous way he’d looked at Janie. Yes, it had been murderous. The police should arrange for a psychologist to look at the tape. Or some expert in face-reading. There were experts in everything these days.
‘I know the kids love him,’ said Samantha, who liked to wring a topic dry before she moved on to the next one. ‘And he’s always perfectly nice to us parents, but I always sensed something not quite right about that Connor Whitby. You know what I mean? Ooh! Look at Cecilia Fitzpatrick’s little girl! She’s just beautiful, isn’t she? I wonder where she gets it from. Anyway, my friend Janet Tyler went out with Connor a few times after her divorce and she said Connor was like a depressed person pretending not to be depressed. He dumped Janet in the end.’
‘Hmmm,’ said Rachel.
‘My mother remembers his mother,’ said Samantha. ‘She was an alcoholic. Neglected the kids. Father ran off when Connor was a baby. Gosh, who’s that with the birdcage on his head? The poor kid is going to lose it in a moment.’
Rachel could vaguely remember Trish Whitby turning up at church sometimes. The children were grubby. Trish scolded them too loudly during the service and people turned to stare.
‘I mean, a childhood like that has to have an impact on your personality, doesn’t it? Connor’s, I mean.’
‘Yes,’ said Rachel so adamantly that Samantha looked a bit taken aback.
‘But he’s in a good mood today,’ said Samantha, getting herself back on track. ‘I saw him in the car park earlier and I asked him how he was and he said, “Top of the world!” Now that sounds to me like a man in love. Or at least a man who got lucky last night. I must tell Janet. Well, I probably shouldn’t tell poor Janet. I think she quite liked him, even if he was strange. Oops! There goes the birdcage. Saw that coming.’
Top of the world.
Tomorrow was the anniversary of Janie’s death and Connor Whitby was feeling on top of the world.
Cecilia decided to leave the parade early. She needed to be moving. When she sat still, she thought, and thinking was dangerous. Polly and Esther had both seen that she was there, and there was only the judging to follow, and Cecilia’s daughters weren’t going to win, because she’d told the judges last week (a thousand years ago) to make sure they didn’t. People got resentful if the Fitzpatrick girls won too many accolades; they suspected favouritism, making them even less likely to volunteer their time to the school.
She wouldn’t run again for P&C president after this year. The thought struck her with absolute certainty as she bent down to pick up her bag from next to her chair. It was a relief to know one thing for sure about her future. No matter what happened next, even if nothing happened, she would not run again. It simply wasn’t possible. She was no longer Cecilia Fitzpatrick. She’d ceased to exist the moment she’d read that letter.
‘I’m going,’ she said to Mahalia.
‘Yes, go home and rest,’ said Mahalia. ‘I thought you were about to faint away for a moment there. Keep the scarf. It looks lovely on you.’
As she walked through the quadrangle Cecilia saw Rachel Crowley watching the parade with Samantha Green on the balcony outside the school office. They were looking the other way. If she was quick about it, she’d get by without them seeing her.