Lucy Norris Knight
She put her hand over her mouth. Christopher.
‘Sweetheart?’ Robbie came in and rested his hand on the back of her chair. ‘Coming to bed?’
‘I . . . was looking at a photo of Brianna and John and I just got this. About Christopher.’ She swivelled the chair so that Robbie could read the email over her shoulder.
‘Oh, Em, I’m sorry.’ He pulled up a second chair and put his arm around her shoulders.
She had tears in her eyes. ‘Sometimes I think of him. I often wondered how he . . . but I didn’t ask. I don’t know how Lucy got my email address. That’s his wife, Lucy. She must have looked it up somewhere.’
‘I doubt it. I don’t think Polly knows it. It must have been a search engine or something.’
‘Maybe Christopher had it.’
‘He never emailed me. I saw him for the last time at my mother’s funeral.’ She shook her head. ‘I think of him now and I just picture him the way I knew him at Cambridge. I can’t picture him an old man, or even as he was when we were – when we were in Bolivia together. I see him skinny, with that hairstyle he had, so neat, and those horn-rimmed glasses he used to wear. There’s been a whole lifetime since then. Isn’t that funny?’
‘He was your best friend.’
‘For a very, very long time, yes, he was. Until you.’ She put her palm on Robbie’s cheek and he turned into it and kissed it.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘That’s sad news.’
‘I knew him so well. I knew everything about him, once.’ She scrolled down the email, but there was nothing else. Just the fact of Christopher’s death, and the kind words from his wife, who was obligated to send her nothing but had anyway.
‘He knew,’ she said. ‘He knew . . . that . . .’
Robbie frowned slightly. ‘He did?’
‘I told him, once. Or he half figured it out. When we were still at Cambridge, doing our exams. We only spoke about it once and he never mentioned it again. Not even when you and I . . . when I left him.’
‘Do you think he told his wife?’
‘I don’t think so. Christopher was a gentleman. I told him to keep it a secret and he would have done. He was a good man.’
Robbie gazed at her. ‘That means,’ he said, slowly, ‘that no one else knows, now.’
‘Not Polly?’ he said.
‘I don’t even know if Polly is still alive. But I don’t think she knew. She didn’t want to know. Not Marie?’
‘I never told Marie.’
‘So no one knows.’
‘Only you and me,’ said Robbie. ‘We’re the only people left alive who know it.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes. Just you and me.’
‘Then we’re free,’ he said. ‘Finally, you and I are free.’
When Emily woke up, Robbie was gone. She put her hand out to touch his pillow and it was still warm, still bearing the imprint of his head. The sun had risen and was shining through their bedroom window.
When they’d first moved to Maine, they could only afford seafront property by buying a lot with a near-derelict house on it: a boxy, strict Victorian farmhouse, weathered and sagging, with holes in the roof. Robbie had renovated the house so extensively that little of the original footprint remained. It was a three-gabled, cedar-shingled house with a wide porch on the side facing the ocean, white trim on all the doors and windows, and a garage workshop on the side. But sometimes, when Emily looked up at the house, she could see the ghost of that old nineteenth-century building standing there, too.
The original master bedroom had been at the back of the house, facing the woods, but Robbie had moved it to the front, facing east and the water. He wanted to hear the ocean as they slept, and he wanted to see the sun rise.
In practice, he was usually awake before sunrise, even since he’d retired.
Emily smiled and listened for him around the house. He whistled, sometimes, moving from room to room. He always listened to rock music, but he whistled Bach. She didn’t even think he consciously realised he was doing it. It was a thread of sound that tied their years together: along with the dogs’ toenails on the floor, children’s footsteps, the radio in his workshop, the constant susurration of the sea.
She didn’t hear him this morning, but she kept listening anyway.
The phone rang; she let it go for a couple of rings to see if Robbie would pick it up downstairs, since at this hour it was bound to be for him, not her. When he didn’t, she reached over for the extension on his bedside table.
She recognised the voice at once: he’d never quite lost his Quebec accent. ‘Good morning, Pierre.’
‘I wondered if maybe you wanted to come down to the boatyard? It’s not a problem, we’re always glad to see Bob, but—’
She sat up straight. ‘What’s he done? Is he all right?’
‘Oh, nothing to worry about. He’s fine. But maybe you want to come down, you know?’
She dressed in a hurry and left in her own car, noticing that Robbie’s truck was gone.
Pierre hadn’t changed the name of the boatyard when he bought it from Robbie on his retirement; the sign was still painted blue on white, Brandon’s Boatyard. Pierre had had it repainted recently, from the looks of it. When she got there, Pierre was waiting for her near the entrance to one of the work bays, standing next to Little Sterling, both with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups in their hands. Pierre was small and scrappy, descended from generations of woodsmen; Little Sterling, despite his name, was a mountain of a man descended from generations of lobstermen. The two of them made a Laurel and Hardy silhouette together, though this morning Emily didn’t find them comical at all.
‘He was here when I got here this morning,’ Pierre said to her. ‘And he’s been working steady, won’t have coffee or nothing. Says he’s got to get the ketch done by the weekend, but you know, there’s no deadline on her, she just come in yesterday.’
They all looked down to the water, where Robbie worked on one of the boats in the slips. His back was turned to them.
‘Did he . . .’ She swallowed. ‘Did he know who you were?’
‘Oh yeah, he did. He told me I’d never finish my apprenticeship if I stood around drinking coffee all day.’
‘Is he all right, doc?’ asked Little Sterling.
‘I’m sure he’s absolutely fine,’ she said, firmly, and walked down to the slips. Her footsteps on the wooden pontoons announced her presence and Robbie looked up from his work on the white-hulled boat and smiled at her.
With that smile she could tell that he knew her. She didn’t know how afraid she’d been until she felt the relief.
‘Robbie? Are you all right, love?’
He put down his wire brush. ‘Never better.’
‘Why are you here?’
‘I’m working on this ketch. She’s . . .’ He faded off, and for a moment he looked confused.
‘It’s not your boatyard any more,’ she said to him, gently, touching his wrist. ‘You sold it to Pierre, remember?’
‘Pierre L’Allier. You said he was the best person to take it on when you retired and you let him have it at a ridiculously good price.’