‘I’m not asking you. I don’t want to hear one more word from you to Hannah on this subject. And if I do, or if Hannah tells me that you’ve started up again –’
‘You’ll do what?’ Sam sighed.
‘I’ll contact the film company and tell them you can’t take part. That’s all. Now go and get on with your homework.’
‘You wouldn’t do that.’
Sam attempted to stare her out and, failing, slouched away upstairs.
Which child to see first? Cat was about to check that Felix was happy constructing another tower block with his Bob the Builder Site Kit, then go to Hannah, when she had one of her increasingly rare moments of feeling alone. The life of a single parent was far worse for most other women, without adequate housing, money, family, friendships, but the lonely responsibility was the same. She had support, enjoyed her work. Then came evenings like this one and she struggled to know which way to turn, and longed for the presence of just one other adult. Any other adult.
She checked on Felix, who barely looked up from his massive fibreboard building site, made herself a coffee and rang her brother.
‘Hi, you in the middle of something?’
‘Sorry, didn’t check it was you. How’s stuff?’
‘How long have you got?’
‘Ah . . . not all that long actually.’
‘No, I’m off tonight. It’s looking good.’
‘You’ve got him?’
‘Think so. Problem of lack of evidence but we’ll find it. So, I’m in a small towel, having had a shower, and I was just choosing a shirt.’
‘Aha. Date then.’
‘Yes and I’m running a bit late . . . You all right?’
‘Fine,’ Cat said. ‘Just wanted a catch-up but we can do that another time. Supper tomorrow night?’
‘Great. Thanks. Can we have roast chicken?’
‘Sure. And maybe you can have a word with Sam at some point.’
‘See? Knew there was something. What’s the new Daniel Radcliffe done now?’
‘You may jest, but it’s gone to his head in a really unpleasant way.’
‘OK, I’ll have a word.’
‘Thanks, bro. Have a great evening. Love to Rachel.’
She thought about Rachel as she finished her coffee. Felix was singing ‘Can We Fix It?’ happily in the den. Upstairs was silent. Even Hannah’s Radio 1 didn’t seem to be playing.
Occasionally, Cat worried about Rachel, because she was so vulnerable and because of Simon’s track record with women. She wondered if he had ever seriously loved any of them and then checked herself – yes, he had loved Freya Graffham, she was pretty sure. And Rachel? Yes. He had not talked very much about her, but when he had there was a seriousness in his voice, a depth of emotion he had rarely displayed before. He was sensitive to her situation and to how difficult it was for her to split her time and her loyalties between him and her invalid husband. Kenneth might have accepted her relationship with Simon but, even so, guilt would be there, and anxiety, worry about the future. Kenneth was in the late stages of Parkinson’s but that did not mean he was going to die any time soon. They had snatched hours and the occasional weekend. They would have this evening and tonight. And then? Besides, she wondered if Rachel understood just how committed he was to his work, how much it took up not only of his time but of his mental, physical and emotional energies and commitment.
She sighed, putting her mug in the dishwasher. She loved her brother completely, but sometimes she saw a time ahead when he was still the bachelor uncle, still playing the field, in his sixties and heading for retirement. And then what?
‘I think I’ll be put to bed now,’ Felix said, coming in.
‘I see – is the builder’s work over for the day then?’
‘Yes, but tomorrow, we are doing a demolition job so I need a lot of sleep.’
He was the only one of her children who had ever voluntarily suggested that it was bedtime and he did so often. At the top of the stairs, he glanced round at her and she caught a flash of her brother’s looks on his five-year-old face, the same slow half-smile. ‘I wish Molly would come back.’
‘She will, but not quite yet.’
‘Does her mummy still need to have her?’
‘Yes. And she needs to have her mummy.’
‘She sent me a particular crane I needed for the job so I love her.’
Cat laughed. ‘I know. But you love her anyway, even without the particular crane.’
She watched him strip off his shirt and jersey as he went into the bathroom, putting them neatly together on the chair. He was the easiest of her children in every respect, by a country mile.
Twenty minutes later, he had fallen asleep in the middle of Horrid Henry. Cat switched off his light, went across the landing and listened. A slight sound from Sam’s room – probably a page turning. Sam read more books than anyone she knew apart from Judith. She decided she wasn’t yet ready to have things out with him. That would almost certainly involve a full-scale row and she needed to prepare herself carefully for what she would say, to minimise the damage it might do to them both.
Let Sam stew.
‘Can I come in?’
Silence. Then a muffled voice.
Hannah was sitting up on the bed, fully dressed but with her duvet pulled up around her, and her diary open on her knees.
‘I don’t want to talk about it any more and don’t tell me I have to be loving and forgiving because no way.’
Cat sat down and put out her hand. Hannah ignored it.
‘Don’t take it out on me, Han.’
‘He’s mean and I hate him. He didn’t even want to be in a film, he doesn’t even do drama, so what’s fair about that?’
‘And don’t say sometimes life is unfair because I’m not listening.’
Cat wondered what there was that she could say to help and decided probably nothing at all. Hannah was right – it was unfair, life often was, and Sam had indeed been mean. She hadn’t got the part in the film after longing for it so much; he had a bigger part in a bigger film he hadn’t so much as tried for. What was there to be said about any of it?
‘I just wish I could do something to help. I wish I could make it up to you.’
‘Well, you can’t and buying me stuff won’t work so don’t bother.’
‘Han . . .’
Hannah flung herself across Cat suddenly, her arms tightening round her, and sobbed and sobbed, and Cat saw that it was the only thing she could do and all Hannah wanted, even if it did not and could not change what had happened, or the unfairness of it all.
I’m laughing. That’s all. I heard it and I started to laugh. Not aloud. Inside. It all happens inside. Laughing like that, to myself, cracking up to myself inside, with a normal face, it has to be the best thing.
I always used to smile afterwards. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. I had to be careful with that one.
But laughing, I can do that inside and no one will ever know.
So tonight, I laughed until I had a pain in my belly.
Laughed and laughed and laughed.
Because what could be funnier? I ask you. ‘Police today issued a statement . . . Police have charged . . . Police have charged . . . in connection with . . . Police have charged . . .
I’m in bits. I really am.
‘THERE’S A TUNA pie in the fridge for your supper, and cheese if you want to grate it on top, and the boys have got fish fingers –’
‘Karen . . .’
‘– and don’t forget to stand over Harvey while he brushes his teeth or he won’t.’
‘Karen . . . have I looked after my sons for a night before? Have I?’
‘Well, yes, only—’
‘Or fed them, and fed myself, and watered that bloody plant . . . just go.’
‘Right. I’ve rung Mum and she sounded all right.’
‘She’ll be fine, they’ve arrested someone, stop worrying.’
‘Does that mean there won’t be any police up there now?’
‘I’d think so. If they’ve got him why would they waste resources – public money and all that?’
‘Just for peace of mind, I suppose. Listen, if she rings you –’
‘She won’t, she’ll ring you. She knows you’re going to Topsham, doesn’t she?’
‘Oh yes, I‘ve got a bagful of stuff from her for Shona and the baby. Just think . . . Mum’s a great-granny!’
‘You’ll get caught up in traffic if you don’t move. And watch the roads, they forecast black ice in the morning . . . Look, ‘I’ll ring your mother first thing.’
‘That’d be kind, love, she’ll appreciate it. She’s very fond of you.’
Harry laughed. ‘Yes, well . . .’
‘No, she is. Right . . . thanks.’ She leaned over and kissed him.
Harry pointed at the door.
‘I’m gone,’ Karen said.
Harry turned on the television, but the arrest of the electrician Matt Williams was yesterday’s news and there was only a brief report that Williams had been remanded by Lafferton Magistrates until a later date, bail having been refused.
Harry marked up a couple of programmes and a film he wanted to watch later, then turned over to Sky Sports.
‘Dad . . . can we go and see Nana?’
‘I want to see her.’
‘Bradley, it’s freezing cold out there, I’m not getting you and Harvey into the car and driving over now. You can see her tomorrow.’
‘Can I ring her then? I really, really want to tell her about my double gold.’
‘That’s a better idea. She’ll be chuffed. Does Harv want to speak to her as well?’
‘Then go up and ask him!’
Bradley shot off.
‘Rosemary, it’s me. Just checking up on you, making sure you haven’t got a party going on.’
‘Hello, Harry. Nobody feels much like having a party round here yet. Still, very good news and very clever of the police force, wasn’t it?’
‘Too right. You’ll sleep a lot easier. Have you been out?’
‘I have. Mr Dyer walked with me round to the shops on the main road. He lives at number 6. We both wanted a few bits and bobs and it felt safer on the pavements, they never cleared them properly, you know, they’re still quite treacherous.’
‘I know, so you be careful. If you need anything getting and the weather hasn’t improved give us a shout.’
‘You’re a good fellow. Has Karen gone?’
‘Yes, all excited with a bagful of bootees. She’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. Listen, there’s someone else here who’s overexcited. I’ve got to let Bradley have the phone now, he wants to tell you something. You take care now, Rosemary.’
Bradley snatched the receiver and promptly dropped it. Harry could hear his mother-in-law’s voice chattering away on the floor. He went to put the tea on.
He checked up on her again around ten o’clock.
‘Is everything all right, Harry?’
‘It is. Boys sound asleep and I’m just about to start watching the footie so I thought I’d make sure you were safe and sound first.’
‘Have you heard from Karen?’
‘Yes, got there safely. Is there anything you need?Are the police out there?’
‘No, I don’t think so, but then I haven’t been outside to look, not in this weather. Anyway, I’m warm and comfortable and off to bed soon.’
‘Have you got a hot-water bottle?’
‘You’re as bad as Karen. Yes, I have, and a hot drink and my book. Thank you for ringing though, Harry, I do appreciate it.’
‘I know you do. Night-night, Rosemary. Sleep tight.’
‘Goodnight, dear. God bless.’
She settled herself in bed with one of the three paperbacks she had still not read since getting them for Christmas. She had always used the library too but it was a bit far from here. When the community hall and sitting room were built, as they’d been promised and seen on the plans, maybe a library could be started in a small way for the residents here. She had plenty of books, others might have discards, relatives could bring some, and though it might be more of a swap system on a couple of shelves than a proper library it would serve. She kept a notepad and pen on her bedside table and she started to make a list of the sort of books people here might enjoy. Crime. Romance (nothing dirty). Anthologies. Classics. She began to put down names too. P. D. James, Joanna Trollope, Katie Fforde, Ruth Rendell, Penelope Lively, Victoria Hislop . . .
She was well into her stride, remembering books she’d loved, wondering if this or that novel was out of print, adding ‘Miss Read’ hastily, then ‘Nancy Mitford’ and ‘Denis Lehane’ – one of her own favourites but possibly a bit too raw for some.
Rosemary’s stomach for crime fiction was surprisingly strong, though she found the dark Scandinavians a bit hard to take.
She was enjoying herself, and had just jotted down Daphne du Maurier when she heard a sound. Inside? No, outside. A cat? One had tried to sneak into her kitchen and resented being thrown out. Rosemary was allergic to cat fur and did not want to have days of sneezing and reddened eyes.
Then she heard something louder. Her heart jumped into her throat like a goldfish leaping out of a bowl, and then beat so loudly she could hear the blood pulsing in her ears.
Again. A little louder. Nearer. She thought someone must surely be trying to get in through the bedroom window, which was how . . .
No. The window was secure and the sound was coming not from there, but from the front hall. The front door.
She sat up in bed, clutching at the top sheet, not knowing if she should cry out or stay silent, get up or stay still.
She did not have many seconds in which she was still free to decide.
You can never be sure. You need to know that. You have to hammer it into your skull. You can never relax, never believe you’re safe, never drop your guard.
Have to be careful. So careful. Have to go over everything and get rid if there’s even a shadow of a doubt. Because if . . .
No. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Better to be sure.