When she arrives at his house half an hour later, Caroline is already home.
‘I forgot it was her night for life drawing,’ he says sheepishly.
Paul does not attempt to push things further. She wonders briefly if she talks too much about David; whether somehow she has made herself off limits. But then she thinks it might just be him being gentlemanly. Other times she thinks, almost indignantly, that David is part of who she is, and if Paul wants to be with her, well, he’ll have to accept that. She has several imaginary conversations with him and two imaginary arguments.
She wakes up thinking about him, about the way he leans forward when he listens, as if determined not to miss a single thing she says, the way his hair has greyed prematurely at the temples, his blue, blue eyes. She has forgotten what it’s like to wake up thinking about someone, to want to be physically close to them, to feel a little giddy at the remembered scent of their skin. She still doesn’t have enough work but it bothers her less. Sometimes he sends her a text message in the middle of the day and she hears it spoken in an American accent.
She is afraid of showing Paul McCafferty how much she likes him. She is afraid of getting it wrong: the rules seem to have changed in the nine years since she last dated. She listens to Mo and her dispassionate observations about Internet dating, of ‘friends with benefits’, of the dos and don’ts of sex – how she should wax and trim and have ‘techniques’ – and it’s as if she’s listening to someone speaking Polish.
She finds it hard to tally Paul McCafferty with Mo’s assertions about men: sleazy, chancing, self-serving, p**n -obsessed slackers. He is quietly straightforward, a seemingly open book. It was why climbing the ranks of his specialist unit in the NYPD didn’t suit him, he says. ‘All the blacks and whites get pretty grey the higher up you get.’ The only time he looks even remotely uncertain, his speech becoming hesitant, is when discussing his son. ‘It’s crap, divorce,’ he says. ‘We all tell ourselves the kids are fine, that it’s better this way than two unhappy people shouting at each other, but we never dare ask them the truth.’
‘What they want. Because we know the answer. And it would break our hearts.’ He had gazed off into the middle distance, and then, seconds later, recovered his smile. ‘Still, Jake is good. He’s really good. Better than we both deserve.’
She likes his Americanness, the way it makes him slightly alien, and completely removed from David. He has an innate sense of courtesy, the kind of man who will instinctively open a door for a woman, not because he’s making some kind of chivalrous gesture but because it wouldn’t occur to him not to open the door if someone needed to go through it. He carries a kind of subtle authority: people actually move out of the way when he walks along the street. He does not seem to be aware of this.
‘Oh, my God, you’ve got it so bad,’ says Mo.
‘What? I’m just saying. It’s nice to spend time with someone who seems …’
Mo snorts. ‘He is so getting laid this week.’
But she has not invited him back to the Glass House. Mo senses her hesitation. ‘Okay, Rapunzel. If you’re going to stick around in this tower of yours, you’re going to have to let the odd prince run his fingers through your hair.’
‘I don’t know …’
‘So I’ve been thinking,’ says Mo. ‘We should move your room around. Change the house a bit. Otherwise you’re always going to feel like you’re bringing someone back to David’s house.’
Liv suspects it will feel like that however the furniture is arranged. But on Tuesday afternoon, when Mo is off work, they move the bed to the other side of the room, pushing it against the alabaster-coloured concrete wall that runs like an architectural backbone through the centre of the house. It is not a natural place for it, if you were going to be really picky, but she has to admit there is something invigorating about it all looking so different.
‘Now,’ says Mo, gazing up at The Girl You Left Behind. ‘You want to hang that painting somewhere else.’
‘No. It stays.’
‘But you said David bought it for you. And that means –’
‘I don’t care. She stays. Besides …’ Liv narrows her eyes at the woman within the frame. ‘I think she’d look odd in a living room. She’s too … intimate.’
‘She’s … sexy. Don’t you think?’
Mo squints at the portrait. ‘Can’t see it myself. Personally, if it were my room I’d have a massive flat-screen telly there.’
Mo leaves, and Liv keeps gazing at the painting, and just for once she doesn’t feel the clench of grief. What do you think? she asks the girl. Is it finally time to move on?
It starts to go wrong on Friday morning.
‘So, you have a hot date!’ Her father steps forward and envelops her in a huge bear hug. He is full of joie de vivre, expansive and wise. He is, once again, speaking in exclamation marks. He is also dressed.
‘He’s just … I don’t want to make a big deal of it, Dad.’
‘But it’s wonderful! You’re a beautiful young woman! This is as nature intended – you should be out there, fluttering your feathers, strutting your stuff!’
‘I don’t have feathers, Dad.’ She sips her tea. ‘And I’m not entirely convinced about the stuff.’
‘What are you going to wear? Something a bit brighter? Caroline, what should she wear?’
Caroline walks into the kitchen, pinning up her long red hair. She has been working on her tapestries and smells vaguely of sheep. ‘She’s thirty years old, Michael. She can pick her own wardrobe.’
‘But look at the way she covers herself up! She’s still got David’s aesthetic – all blacks and greys and shapeless things. You should take a leaf out of Caroline’s book, darling. Look at the colours she wears! A woman like that draws the eye …’
‘A woman dressed as a yak would draw your eye,’ says Caroline, plugging in the kettle. But it is said without rancour. Her father stands behind her and moulds himself around her back. His eyes close in ecstasy. ‘We men … we’re primal creatures. Our eyes are inevitably drawn to the bright and the beautiful.’ He opens one eye, studying Liv. ‘Perhaps … you could wear something a bit less masculine at least.’
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