Page 40 of Together

She brushed her hair and glanced at him in the mirror. He’d put his journal down, and was looking up at the ceiling where a fan rotated.

‘It’s someone I used to know,’ she said at last. ‘Someone I didn’t want to talk with.’

‘You seemed . . . it really affected you, to see him. I thought you were going to faint.’

‘I haven’t seen him for a long time, that’s all. Or thought about him.’

She felt a pang of guilt at the lie. Christopher didn’t deserve to be lied to; he was a good man, a good husband. He was kind. A skilled, careful surgeon. He helped people; healed them. He had helped to heal her.

Except she had been lying to him for years, by omission at least. And she was not yet healed. The way she felt right now proved that: she was raw, unprotected flesh. The sight of Robbie had driven a barb into her and she had thought of nothing but him since she’d glimpsed him. Seeing his eyes, his dark green shirt, his unshaven chin. The way he stood in the airport – the way he stood anywhere – as if he owned it, comfortable in his own skin.

The utter shock of seeing him, as if ten years had never passed at all.

Earlier, with her family, she’d been preoccupied, hardly able to answer their questions about what her and Christopher’s life had been like in La Paz, only able to summon the faintest of interest at her mother’s gossip about what was going on in Blickley or Polly’s funny stories about the male-dominated advertising agency where she worked. She had been aware of her father watching her.

‘You look pale,’ he’d said to her, quietly, in the kitchen when they were clearing the plates after supper.

‘I’m tanned, Daddy, I can’t be pale.’

He laid his palm on her forehead. ‘You’re not ill, are you?’

‘No, I’m fine.’

‘Or expecting? If you are, you should be seen by a doctor here straight away. You’ve been working amongst a lot of communicable—’

‘I’m not pregnant either,’ she said, swallowing hard, not expecting how difficult it would be to say this. Her father had never asked her before.

‘You’re not my normal Emily.’

‘I’ve seen a lot of difficult things, Daddy,’ she’d said. ‘It’s going to take me a little while to get over them. Right now, I just want to go back there.’

Her father merely opened his arms and she went into them, resting her head on his chest, smelling his familiar odour of pipe tobacco, the comfort from her childhood.

But she had been lying to her father, too.

Now, she put her brush down.

‘It was nothing,’ she said to Christopher’s reflection in the mirror. ‘A chance encounter with someone I didn’t expect to see, and didn’t want to see. It rattled me, that’s all. I’ll be fine tomorrow.’

Christopher didn’t say anything. She got up, hung her dressing gown on the back of the chair, and got into bed beside him, sitting up against the pillows.

‘Daddy asked whether I was pregnant.’

He looked at her with quick understanding. ‘What did you say?’

‘I said no. Mum’s been asking for ages, but this is the first time he has.’

He nodded.

‘I’ll tell them eventually,’ she said. ‘Maybe this holiday would be a good time.’

‘It will be fine.’

‘Daddy will understand. I’m not sure how my mother will react to Polly being her only chance of grandchildren, especially as it doesn’t look as if she’s going to get to it any time soon.’

Christopher took off his glasses and put them on the bedside table. ‘We have other options. We could adopt.’

‘We have other things to think about first: our careers, where we want to settle – whether we’re going back to La Paz.’

Whether it was fair to bring a child into a marriage that could be disturbed by a single glance of a stranger in an airport arrivals hall.

He settled on his side of the bed and turned off his light. ‘You’re still thinking about Consuela, aren’t you?’

She turned out her own light and lay on her side, facing away from him, her eyes open in the darkness.

‘Yes,’ she said.

She hadn’t been thinking about Consuela at all. Not since seeing Robbie.

Robbie awoke to darkness and the thip-thip-thip of the bedroom fan. One of the blades had come loose and it put the whole thing out of synch. He’d meant to fix it yesterday before Marie came back.

Marie slept beside him. She was the soundest sleeper Robbie had ever known. One time, the smoke alarm had gone off at midnight, Robbie staggering out of bed, half hung-over, searching for flames, checking on William, stumbling over a toy truck left on the floor and bashing his hip on William’s chest of drawers, waking up his son, who cried. It had been caused by the battery in the alarm running out. Marie slept through it all.

He got up, pulled on his jeans, and went into William’s room. The little boy was fast asleep with his thumb in his mouth. Robbie gently pulled his thumb out and William’s mouth made soft sucking noises at the air, like a hungry baby’s. He smoothed his son’s dark hair back from his forehead and went to the kitchen.

The whole house was hot. The fans only stirred the hot air around. He opened the refrigerator and stuck his head into it for a few cool seconds. Then he took a beer, opened the back door and stood in the doorway drinking, looking at the low shadow of the house behind theirs, listening to distant thunder and the cicadas declaring love for each other in the trees.

If someone were to walk into his back yard right now and ask him why he was there at one in the morning, in this small rented pink stucco house in Coconut Grove, Florida, barefoot in his jeans and no shirt, drinking a Michelob, he wouldn’t know how to answer. He could tell them the facts but there would be no thread to it, no way for it to make sense. He wouldn’t be able to explain the past few years, the son sleeping inside whom he loved and the wife sleeping inside whom he didn’t.

The only way he could think to describe it was as the path of least resistance. The destiny that seemed to require the least effort. Something he could slide into without thinking, cushioned by a few beers or some bourbon, maybe both . . . usually both. Something that didn’t require him to think too deeply about who he was or what he had done.

He had sleepwalked here. He had been asleep for years, as deeply as Marie was now.

He hadn’t remembered what it was like to be awake until he saw Emily yesterday.

He finished his beer and went to the refrigerator for another, but they were all gone. He’d bought a twelve pack yesterday, or was it the day before? It must have been the day before.

It had been yesterday. He thought of his father suddenly and scowled.

The thirst itched in his throat and he knew what it was. He knew why it was there. It was the destiny that required the least effort.

He knew that the smart thing to do would be to go back to bed and sleep next to Marie and get up sober in the morning and go to work at the marina at Dinner Key. To make the best of what he’d been given, to take his joy in William and his work, to try to be happy. To stop using the booze to anaesthetise himself. He’d seen what it did to his father, and what it did to his mother. Marie deserved better than that, and so did William.

But he’d seen Emily today. Emily Greaves. And she’d walked past him without speaking, without meeting his eye again, as if she wished that he didn’t exist.