One from her father, sending big kisses. Caroline says f**k the lot of them.
Liv can just make out a distant thumping bass from the apartment below, the slamming front doors and laughter that are the acoustics of an ordinary Friday night out. It is a reminder that elsewhere the world turns regardless; that there is life beyond this strange hiatus.
The evening stretches. She puts on the television, but there is nothing she wants to watch, so instead she showers and washes her hair. She lays out clothes for the next day, and eats some crackers and cheese.
But her emotions do not settle: they jangle, like a rail of empty coat hangers. She is exhausted, but paces the house, unable to sit still. She keeps tasting Paul on her lips, his words in her ears. She considers calling him, briefly, but when she pulls out her phone, her fingers stall on the buttons. What would she say, after all? I just wanted to hear your voice.
She walks through to the spare room, which is immaculate, empty, as if nobody had ever stayed there. She walks around it, lightly touching the tops of the chair, the chest of drawers as she passes. She no longer feels comforted by silence and emptiness. She pictures Mo, curled up with Ranic in an overcrowded house full of noise, like the one she has just left.
Finally she makes herself a mug of tea and walks through to her bedroom. She sits in the middle of her bed, leans back against the pillows and studies Sophie in her gilded frame.
I secretly like the idea that you could have a painting so powerful it could shake up a whole marriage.
Well, Sophie, she thinks, you shook up a whole lot more than that. She gazes at the painting she has loved for almost a decade and finally she allows herself to think about the day she and David had bought it, the way they had held her aloft in the Spanish sunshine, her colours bouncing in the white light, reflecting the future they believed they had together. She remembers them hanging it in this room on their homecoming; the way she had gazed at The Girl, wondering what David saw in herself that mirrored the image and feeling somehow more beautiful for what he had seen.
You look like she does when you –
She remembers a day, in the early weeks after his death, when she had raised her head dully from her damp pillow and Sophie had seemed to be looking straight at her. This, too, is bearable, her expression had said. You may not know it now. But you will survive.
Except Sophie hadn’t.
Liv fights the sudden lump in her throat. ‘I’m so sorry for what happened to you,’ she says, into the silent room. ‘I wish it could have been different.’
Suddenly overwhelmed with sadness, she stands, walks over to the painting and turns it round so that she can no longer see it. Perhaps it’s a good thing she’s leaving this house: the space on the wall would have been a constant reminder of her failure. It already feels oddly symbolic of the way Sophie herself was effectively rubbed out.
And just as she is about to release it, she stops.
The study, over these past weeks, has grown messy and chaotic, piles of papers spilling over every surface. She moves around it with new purpose, placing them in neat piles, in folders, securing each with an elastic band. She doesn’t know what she will do with them once the case is over. Finally, she seeks out the red folder that Philippe Bessette gave her. She flicks through the delicate sheets of paper until she finds the two pieces she is looking for.
She checks them, then takes them into the kitchen. She lights a candle, and holds the pieces, one at a time, over the flickering flame, until there is nothing left but ashes.
‘There, Sophie,’ she says. ‘If nothing else, you can have that one on me.’
And now, she thinks, for David.
‘I thought you’d be headed off by now. Jake’s asleep in front of America’s Funniest Home Videos.’ Greg walks into the kitchen bare-foot and yawning. ‘You want me to put up the camp bed? It’s kind of late to be dragging him home.’
‘That would be great.’ Paul barely looks up from his files. His laptop is propped open in front of him.
‘What are you doing going over those again? The verdict is due Monday, surely? And – um – didn’t you just quit your job?’
‘There’s something I’ve missed. I know it.’ Paul runs his finger down the page, flicking impatiently to the next. ‘I have to check through the evidence.’
‘Paul.’ Greg pulls up a chair. ‘Paul,’ he says, a little louder
‘It’s done, bro. And it’s okay. She’s forgiven you. You’ve made your big gesture. I think you should just leave it now.’
Paul leans back, drags his hands over his eyes. ‘You think so?’
‘Seriously? You look kind of manic.’
Paul takes a swig of his coffee. It is cold. ‘It will destroy us.’
‘Liv loved that painting, Greg. And it will eat away at her, the fact that I’m … responsible for taking it from her. Maybe not now, maybe not even in a year or two. But it will happen.’
Greg leans back against the kitchen unit. ‘She could say the same about your job.’
‘I’m okay about the job. It was time I got out of that place.’
‘And Liv said she was okay with the painting.’
‘Yeah. But she’s backed into a corner.’ When Greg shakes his head in frustration, he leans forward over his files. ‘I know how things can change, Greg, how the things you swear won’t bother you at the start can eat away at the good stuff.’
‘And I know how losing the things you love can haunt people. I don’t want Liv to look at me one day and be fighting the thought: You’re the guy who ruined my life.’
Greg pads across the kitchen and puts the kettle on. He makes three cups of coffee, and hands one to Paul. He puts his hand on his brother’s shoulder as he prepares to take the other two through to the living room. ‘I know you like to fix stuff, big brother of mine. But honestly? In this case you’re just going to have to hope to God it all works out.’
Paul doesn’t hear him. ‘List of owners,’ he is muttering to himself. ‘List of current owners of Lefèvre’s work.’
Eight hours later Greg wakes to find a small boy’s face looming over him. ‘I’m hungry,’ it says, and rubs its nose vigorously. ‘You said you had Coco Pops but I can’t find them.’
‘Bottom cupboard,’ he says groggily. There is no light between the curtains, he notes distantly.
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