Page 47 of Together

At that he did glance at her, as if surprised, but then he focused on the tiles again.

‘How did you know?’ she asked, at last.

‘You haven’t been yourself since we arrived – not since he called your name. You’ve been different.’

‘But that could have been about anything.’

‘I love you. I know. You’d know the same, if it happened to me.’ He smiled, sadly, at the tiles. ‘It wouldn’t happen, but if it did, you’d know.’

She didn’t think she would know. When did she look at Christopher closely? When had she ever had to? He was always there, always Christopher, lean and tall, wearing glasses and a tie, even in the heat. He had a haircut every three weeks; he shaved every morning – once, even, after an earthquake. He worked with extraordinary care and could face even the most daunting surgical conditions with equanimity. He did not change; had never changed.

But he watched her closely enough, loved her enough, to see right through her.

‘I remember when you told me about first meeting him,’ he said. ‘At Cambridge. For six months, you were walking on air, and I had nothing to do with it.’

He sounded sad.

‘And then you were . . . Emily, that September when you came back up, you were a shadow of yourself. No matter what I did, I couldn’t reach you. It was awful to see you like that, and not be able to help you.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I thought that when you started loving me, we could forget all that. I thought I’d helped you.’

‘I thought so too.’ She had to whisper it. ‘I thought it was over.’

‘I do – I do believe that you don’t want to hurt me, Emily. Maybe I’m a fool. I am probably a fool. But I love you enough to think that you wouldn’t intentionally hurt me.’

‘I don’t want to hurt you.’

But I have.

That hung in the air between them, heavy as the scent from the bath oil.

‘We’re here in Miami for another ten days,’ Christopher said at last, and now his voice was brisk. ‘Then we go back to England. And once we’re home, Emily, this is finished. Forever. And we shan’t speak of it again.’

Emily stared at him, unable to believe what he was saying.

‘So do what you feel you must. And then, when we’re home, it will be over.’ He nodded as if reassuring himself. ‘I can trust you. Can’t I?’

‘I . . . ’

He waited.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, you can trust me.’

‘Fine.’ He stood up, brushed down his trousers. ‘I won’t ask any questions, and I trust you to invent plausible enough excuses for your family. I have no desire to be an object of pity.’

His voice broke on the last word. He turned and left the bathroom.

It wasn’t much of a workshop; more like a ramshackle shed, built from bits of fencing and corrugated iron that Robbie had managed to salvage from around the neighbourhood. But it had a neat pegboard of tools, and a scarred workbench (also salvaged), and it smelled of sawdust and glue and varnish, and William had his own little stool in the corner.

Robbie sat, an opened beer on the workbench in front of him, and watched William rubbing sandpaper over the head of the dolphin that Robbie had carved for him out of a piece of driftwood.

‘I’m gonna make it real smooth,’ said William. His chubby fingers gripped the sandpaper. ‘Then I can take it to bed with me.’

‘As soon as your mother says you’re old enough to use a knife, you can carve your own. I’ll teach you.’

‘I’m going to carve dogs. A lot of dogs. I’ll carve a dog for you, Daddy.’ He gave the head of the dolphin a last rub, and put down the sandpaper. He considered the other pieces of sandpaper spread out beside him, and carefully chose a finer grade. Just as Robbie had taught him, to work from coarse to fine, to take care to get into the corners, not to rub too hard, to let the grain of the wood be your guide.

It hurt Robbie’s heart to watch him. William’s movements were so similar to his own. He reached for his beer, thought better of it, and pulled his hand back. He picked up a screwdriver and began work on the bilge pump he’d been repairing.

‘If we had a real dog,’ said William, concentrating on his sanding, ‘he could look out for Mommy and me when you’re away. He could bark at bad guys.’

‘You don’t have to worry about bad guys.’

‘I have dreams about bad guys sometimes. But if I had a dog, I wouldn’t have to worry.’ He rubbed the fine paper over the dolphin’s belly. ‘I like Duke.’

Duke was Marie’s father’s dog. He had bitten Robbie on the one and only time he had visited them on the farm in Wisconsin. Les had seemed to think this was funny.

‘Mommy says that if you ever go away, we would go live with Pop-pop and Nana and Duke.’

So she’d talked about it with William. She was serious about what she said.

The proof made the air heavier, made it difficult for him to breathe. She’d mentioned it to their child. She’d made plans.

‘Would you . . . like that?’ he asked. ‘Living with Pop-pop and Nana, instead of with me?’

‘I like Duke.’

‘Would you miss me?’

William nodded. ‘I’d miss my room too.’

Robbie put down the screwdriver. He went to his son and put his arms around him. Buried his face in his hair and breathed in the scent of sandpaper and strawberry milk and child. This small being, in every way perfect, who he’d loved from the first moment he’d seen, still slimy from birth. Who he loved more than any other person in the world except for one.

‘I’d miss you,’ he whispered. ‘I’d miss you so much. I won’t go away. I promise.’

‘OK,’ said William.

‘I promise you.’ He held him tightly, tightly enough so that William struggled and he had to let him go.

‘So does that mean we can get a dog?’ William asked.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The air was heavy, thick with moisture. Emily found the weather in Florida oppressive at the best of times but this was like a blanket around her shoulders. ‘Is there even going to be enough wind?’ she asked Robbie as she followed him down on to the dock where he kept his boat – not near the ranks of sleek white yachts, but on the side of the marina near the public boat launch, next to a row of fishing boats which reeked faintly of fish. It was a small sailboat, with a tiny cabin. The hull was painted blue, the decks white, its name painted in black on the stern: Little Billy.

‘It’ll pick up. There’ll be a storm before sunset.’ He held out his hand to help her aboard and she caught a whiff of alcohol on his breath. Bourbon drowns out the taste, he had told her. She frowned, but said nothing. His hand didn’t linger on hers. He merely helped her aboard, and then he was untying lines from cleats and springing on to deck himself.

‘It’s not going to storm soon, is it?’ There were puddles on the walkway and pontoon from earlier rainfall; she could almost see them evaporating away in the sunshine. In the distance, the clouds towered, stacked on top of each other. After La Paz the horizon here in Miami seemed so vast and flat. And the rain here was nothing like the rain in England: it was heavy and absolute, and often over as soon as it had begun. Emily had seen a rainbow almost every day. It was so casual a miracle here that people didn’t even bother to look up.

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