‘Don’t worry, I’m a safe, boring, middle-aged bike rider,’ Connor had told her as he’d adjusted her helmet for her. ‘I stay under the speed limit. Especially when I’ve got precious cargo.’ Then he’d dropped his head and gently banged his helmet against hers. Tess had felt touched and cherished and also idiotic. She was too old, surely, for helmet-clinking and flirty little remarks like that. She was too married.
But perhaps not.
She tried to remember what she’d been doing the previous Thursday night, back home in Melbourne, back when she was still Will’s wife and Felicity’s cousin. She’d made apple muffins, she remembered. Liam liked them for his morning tea at school. And then she and Will had watched TV with their laptops on their knees. She’d caught up with some invoicing. He’d been working on the Cough Stop campaign. They’d read their books and gone to bed. Wait. No. Yes. Yes, they definitely did. They’d had sex. Quick and comforting and perfectly nice: like a muffin; nothing like sex in the hallway of Connor’s apartment of course. But that was marriage. Marriage was a warm apple muffin.
He must have been thinking about Felicity when they made love.
The thought was as brutal as a slap.
He’d been especially tender when they made love that night, she remembered. She felt particularly cherished. When in fact, he wasn’t cherishing her, he was pitying her. Perhaps he was even wondering if this was their last time together as husband and wife.
The hurt spread instantaneously throughout her body. She squeezed her legs tighter around Connor’s body and leaned forwards as if she could press herself into him. When they got to the next set of lights, Connor put back his hand and caressed her thigh, giving her an instant jolt of sexual pleasure. It occurred to her that the pain she was feeling over Will and Felicity was intensifying every sensation, so that what felt good, like the swoop of the bike and Connor’s hand on her thigh, felt even better. Last Thursday night she was leading a soft, muffled, pain-free little life. This Thursday night felt like adolescence: exquisitely painful and sharply beautiful.
But no matter how badly it hurt, she didn’t want to be home in Melbourne, baking and watching television and doing invoices. She wanted to be right here, soaring along on this bike, her heart thumping, letting her know she was alive.
It was after nine pm and Cecilia and John-Paul were in the backyard, sitting in the cabana next to the pool. This was the only place where they were safe from eavesdroppers. Their daughters had an extraordinary ability to hear things they weren’t meant to hear. From where she sat, Cecilia could see them through the French doors, their faces illuminated by the flickering light of the television. It was a tradition that they were allowed to stay up as late as they wanted on the first night of a school holiday, eating popcorn and watching movies.
Cecilia turned her gaze away from the girls and looked at the shimmering blue of their kidney-shaped swimming pool with its powerful underwater light: the perfect symbol of suburban bliss. Except for that strange intermittent sound, like a baby choking, that was coming from the pool filter. She could hear it right now. Cecilia had asked John-Paul to look at it weeks before he went to Chicago; he hadn’t got around to it, but he would have been furious if she’d arranged for some repair guy to come and fix it. It would have indicated lack of faith in his abilities. Of course, when he did finally look at it, he wouldn’t be able to fix it and she’d have to get the guy in anyway. It was frustrating. Why hadn’t that been part of his stupid lifelong redemption program: Do what my wife asks immediately so she doesn’t feel like a nag.
She longed to be out here having an ordinary argument with John-Paul about the damned pool filter. Even a really bad ordinary argument, where feelings were hurt, would be so much better than this permanent sense of dread. She could feel it everywhere, in her stomach, her chest, even her mouth had a horrible taste to it. What was it doing to her health?
She cleared her throat. ‘I need to tell you something.’ She was going to tell him what Rachel Crowley had said today about finding new evidence. How would he react? Would he be frightened? Would he run? Become a fugitive?
Rachel had not told her the exact nature of this evidence because she’d been distracted by Cecilia spilling her tea, and Cecilia had been in such a state of panic it hadn’t occurred to her to ask. She should have asked, she realised now. It might have been useful to know. She wasn’t doing too well in her new role as a criminal’s wife.
Rachel couldn’t possibly know exactly who the evidence implicated or she wouldn’t have told Cecilia. Would she? It was so hard to think clearly.
‘What’s that?’ asked John-Paul. He was sitting on the wooden bench opposite her, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved striped jersey the girls had bought him last Father’s Day. He leaned forward, his hands hanging limply between his knees. There was something odd about his tone of voice. It was like the gentle, fiercely strained way he would have replied to one of the girls when he was in the early stages of a migraine and still hoping that it wasn’t going to take hold.
‘Have you got a migraine coming on?’ she asked.
He shook his head. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Good. Listen, today when I was at the Easter hat parade, I saw –’
‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ she said impatiently.
‘You don’t look fine. You look really sick. It’s like I’ve made you sick.’ His voice trembled. ‘The only thing that ever mattered to me was making you and the girls happy, and now I’ve put you in this intolerable position.’