She was going to kill James.
They’d made a promise to each other. Yes, it had been an unspoken promise, but it was an unspoken promise they’d carried their entire lives. They didn’t speak about their father’s severe depression outside the family home, not to anyone. It was kept between them. Their father’s attempted suicide came under that pact.
So why the hell had James told Pascha Virshilas, of all people?
‘Do I take it by the horrified look on your face that you’re angry I know?’ Pascha asked.
‘Yes, I am very angry,’ she said, her fury so great she could barely get her words out.
‘Why? Are you ashamed of him?’
‘Of course not! But when my dad’s well again I know he will be ashamed. He won’t want anyone to know.’
‘Has he done this before?’ Pascha asked quietly.
‘What? Tried to kill himself?’ Her voice rose.
‘I know this is painful for you to talk about but I must know—when did he take the pills?’
‘Didn’t James tell you that?’
‘No. And, before you turn your anger on your brother, he didn’t tell me, not directly. It was a throwaway comment about stopping his watch on the medicine cabinet. I don’t think he even realised he’d said it.’
Slightly mollified, Emily put the fabric down and made a valiant stab at humour. ‘Your powers of deduction astound me.’
To her alarm, Pascha saw right through her attempt to lighten the mood and placed his hand on her wrist. ‘I’d already guessed something bad had occurred. This just confirmed it. Now, please answer my question. When did he take the pills?’
Finally she met his gaze head-on. ‘When do you think he took them?’
He sighed heavily, as if purging his lungs of every fraction of oxygen contained within them.
‘He tried to kill himself the same day you suspended him on suspicion of theft. Two months to the day after we’d buried my mother.’
The obvious remorse that seeped out of him as she spoke her words had her feeling suddenly wretched.
She tugged her wrist out of his strong grip but, instead of moving her hand away, rested it atop his. ‘He was a man on the edge before you suspended him,’ she explained with a helpless shrug. ‘What you did pushed him over that edge, and I’m not going to lie to you Pascha: I’ve spent the past month hating you for it.
‘But the truth is, my father had just been waiting for an excuse. James and I knew how bad he was becoming. It’s like watching a child cross a road with a lorry rushing towards them but not being able to run fast enough to push the child away, or scream loudly enough for them to hear. We couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t reach him. I’ve never been able to. The only person who could reach him when he fell into that pit was my mother, but she isn’t here any more.’
Did Emily realise she had tears pouring down her cheeks? Pascha wondered. Or that her fingers were gripping his hand as if he were the anchor rooting her? His chest hurt to see such naked distress.
‘This depression, it’s happened before?’
She nodded, running her hand over her face in an attempt to wipe her free-flowing tears away. ‘He’s always suffered from it but can go months—years—without succumbing. And I know I shouldn’t say succumbing, as if it’s his fault, because I know it isn’t. He can’t help it any more than Mum could help getting that monstrous illness.’
Despite her impassioned words, Pascha didn’t think she believed them, not fully.
He tried to think how he would have felt if he’d been a child and his father had shut himself away for weeks on end. Children were sensitive and felt things more deeply than most adults credited.
His illness had been devastating for his parents, but they were adults and understood there was nothing they could have done to prevent it. Children were liable to blame themselves.
Just as he was considering which of his contacts would be best placed to recommend a psychiatrist at the top of their field, his phone vibrated, the Top Cat tune ringing out loudly.
Emily laughed, tears still brimming in her eyes. ‘I love that tune.’
He grinned in response and swiped his phone to answer it.
It was his lawyer, Zlatan.
‘I’ll call you back,’ he said, disconnecting the call. He got to his feet and looked down at her. She’d stopped crying. Her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks all blotchy. She looked adorable.
‘Are you going to be okay? I need to call Zlatan.’
She sniffed and nodded. ‘I still can’t believe that’s your ring tone. Top Cat was my favourite cartoon as a child.’