She shrugs. ‘I’m fine. Really. She’s not mine any more. I should have understood that ages ago. I suppose I … didn’t want to see what was in front of my face.’
‘At least you still have your house,’ Greg says. ‘Paul told me it’s amazing.’ He catches Paul’s warning glance. ‘What? She’s not meant to know you’ve been talking about her? What are we? Fifth-graders?’
Paul looks briefly sheepish.
‘Ah,’ she says. ‘Not really. No, I don’t.’
‘It’s under offer.’
Paul goes very still.
‘I have to sell it to meet the legal fees.’
‘You’ll have enough over to buy somewhere else, right?’
‘I don’t know yet.’
‘But that house –’
‘– was already mortgaged to the hilt. And needs work, apparently. I haven’t done anything to it since David died. Apparently amazing imported glass with thermic qualities doesn’t last for ever, even though David thought it would.’
Paul’s jaw tightens. He pushes back his chair abruptly and leaves the table.
Liv looks at Greg and Andy, then at the door.
‘Garden, probably,’ says Greg, raising an eyebrow. ‘It’s the size of a pocket handkerchief. You won’t lose him.’ And then, as she stands, he murmurs, ‘It’s terribly sweet how you keep demolishing my big brother. I wish I’d had your skills when I was fourteen.’
He is standing on the little patio, which is crammed with terracotta pots of straggly plants, made spindly in the winter frosts. He is turned away from her, his hands rammed into his pockets. He looks crushed.
‘So you did lose everything. Because of me.’
‘Like you said, if it hadn’t been you it would have been someone else.’
‘What was I thinking? What the f**k was I thinking?’
‘You were just doing your job.’
He lifts a hand to his jaw. ‘You know what? You really do not have to make me feel better.’
‘I’m fine. Really.’
‘How can you be? I wouldn’t be. I’d be mad as … Ah, Jesus.’ His voice explodes with frustration.
She waits, then takes his hand, pulls him to the little table. The ironwork is chilly, even through her clothes, and she scrapes her chair forward, places her knees between his, waiting until she is sure he is listening.
His face is rigid.
‘Paul. Look at me. You need to understand this. The worst thing that could have happened to me already happened.’
He looks up.
She swallows, knowing that these are the words that stall; that may simply refuse to emerge. ‘Four years ago David and I went to bed like it was any other night, brushing our teeth, reading our books, chatting about a restaurant we were going to the next day … and when I woke up the next morning he was there beside me, cold. Blue. I didn’t … I didn’t feel him go. I didn’t even get to say … ’
There is a short silence.
‘Can you imagine knowing you slept through the person you love most dying next to you? Knowing that there might have been something you could have done to help him? To save him? Not knowing if he was looking at you, silently begging you to –’ The words fail, her breath catches, a familiar tide threatens to wash over her. He reaches out his hands slowly, enfolds hers within them until she can speak again.
‘I thought the world had actually ended. I thought nothing good could ever happen again. I thought anything might happen if I wasn’t vigilant. I didn’t eat. I didn’t go out. I didn’t want to see anyone. But I survived, Paul. Much to my own surprise, I got through it. And life … well, life gradually became liveable again.’
She leans closer to him. ‘So this … the painting, the house … It hit me when I heard what happened to Sophie. It’s just stuff. They could take all of it, frankly. The only thing that matters is people.’ She looks down at his hands, and her voice cracks. ‘All that really matters is who you love.’
He doesn’t speak, but dips his head so that it comes to rest against hers. They sit there in the wintry garden, breathing in the inky air, listening to the muffled sound of his son’s laughter coming from the house. Down the street she can hear the acoustics of early evening in the city, the clatter of pans in distant kitchens, televisions firing up, a car door slamming, a dog barking at some unseen outrage. Life in its messy, vital entirety.
‘I’ll make it up to you,’ he says quietly.
‘You already have.’
‘No. I will.’
There are tears on her cheeks. She has no idea how they got there. His blue eyes are suddenly calm. He takes her face in his hands and kisses her, kisses the tears away, his lips soft against her skin, promising a future. He kisses her until they are both smiling and she has lost all feeling in her feet.
‘I should go home. The buyers are coming tomorrow,’ she says, reluctantly unwinding from him.
Across town the Glass House stands empty. The thought of returning to it is still unappealing. She half waits for him to protest. ‘Do you … do you want to come with me? Jake could sleep in the spare room. I could open and shut the roof for him. Might win me a few points.’
He looks away. ‘I can’t,’ he says baldly. And then: ‘I mean I’d love to. But it’s …’
‘Will I see you over the weekend?’
‘I’ve got Jake, but … sure. We’ll work something out.’
He seems oddly distracted. She sees the doubt that shadows his face. Will we really be able to forgive what we have cost each other? she thinks, fleetingly, and feels a chill that has nothing to do with the cold.
‘I’ll drive you home,’ he says. And the moment passes.
The house is silent when she lets herself in. She locks the door, puts her keys on the side and walks into the kitchen, her footsteps echoing across the limestone floor. She finds it hard to believe she only left here this morning: it feels as if a whole lifetime has passed.
She presses the button on her answer-phone. A message from the estate agent, puffed with self-importance, announcing that the buyers are to send in their architect the following day. He hopes she is well.
A feature writer from an obscure arts magazine, wanting an interview about the Lefèvre case.
The bank manager. Reassuringly oblivious to the media frenzy. Please can she call at her earliest convenience to discuss her overdraft situation? This is his third attempt to contact her, he adds pointedly.
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