Saturday, 20 July 2013
EVIE WAKES JUST before six. I get out of bed, slip into the nursery and pick her up. I feed her and take her back to bed with me.
When I wake again, Tom's not at my side, but I can hear his footfalls on the stairs. He's singing, low and tuneless, Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you ... I hadn't even thought about it earlier, I'd completely forgotten; I didn't think of anything but fetching my little girl and getting back to bed. Now I'm giggling before I'm even properly awake. I open my eyes and Evie's smiling too, and when I look up, Tom's standing at the foot of the bed, holding a tray. He's wearing my Orla Kiely apron and nothing else.
'Breakfast in bed, birthday girl,' he says. He places the tray at the end of the bed and scoots round to kiss me.
I open my presents. I have a pretty silver bracelet with onyx inlay from Evie, and a black silk teddy and matching knickers from Tom, and I can't stop smiling. He climbs back into bed and we lie with Evie between us. She has her fingers curled tightly around his forefinger and I have hold of her perfect pink foot, and I feel as though fireworks are going off in my chest. It's impossible, this much love.
A while later, when Evie gets bored of lying there, I get her up and we go downstairs and leave Tom to snooze. He deserves it. I potter round, tidying up a bit. I drink my coffee outside on the patio, watching the half-empty trains rattle past, and think about lunch. It's hot – too hot for a roast, but I'll do one anyway, because Tom loves roast beef, and we can have ice cream afterwards to cool us down. I just need to pop out to get that Merlot he likes, so I get Evie ready, strap her in the buggy and we stroll down to the shops.
Everyone told me I was insane to agree to move into Tom's house. But then everyone thought I was insane to get involved with a married man, let alone a married man whose wife was highly unstable, and I've proved them wrong on that one. No matter how much trouble she causes, Tom and Evie are worth it. But they were right about the house. On days like today, with the sun shining, when you walk down our little street – tree-lined and tidy, not quite a cul-de-sac, but with the same sense of community – it could be perfect. Its pavements are busy with mothers just like me, with dogs on leads and toddlers on scooters. It could be ideal. It could be, if you weren't able to hear the screeching brakes of the trains. It could be, so long as you didn't turn around and look back down towards number fifteen.
When I get back, Tom is sitting at the dining-room table looking at something on the computer. He's wearing shorts but no shirt; I can see the muscles moving under his skin when he moves. It still gives me butterflies to look at him. I say hello, but he's in a world of his own and when I run my fingertips over his shoulder he jumps. The laptop snaps shut.
'Hey,' he says, getting to his feet. He's smiling but he looks tired, worried. He takes Evie from me without looking me in the eye.
'What?' I ask. 'What is it?'
'Nothing,' he says, and he turns away towards the window, bouncing Evie on his hip.
'It's nothing.' He turns back and gives me a look and I know what he's going to say before he says it. 'Rachel. Another email.' He shakes his head and he looks so wounded, so upset, and I hate it, I can't bear it. Sometimes I want to kill that woman. 'What's she said?'
He just shakes his head again. 'It doesn't matter. It's just ... the usual. Bullshit.'
'I'm sorry,' I say, and I don't ask what bullshit exactly, because I know he won't want to tell me. He hates upsetting me with this stuff.
'It's OK. It's nothing. Just the usual pissed nonsense.'
'God, is she ever going to go away? Is she ever going to just let us be happy?
He comes over to me and, with our daughter between us, kisses me. 'We are happy,' he says. 'We are.'
We are happy. We had lunch and lay out on the lawn, and then when it got too hot we came inside and ate ice cream while Tom watched the Grand Prix. Evie and I made playdough, and she ate quite a bit of that, too. I think about what's going on down the road and I think about how lucky I am, how I got everything that I wanted. When I look at Tom, I thank God that he found me, too, that I was there to rescue him from that woman. She'd have driven him mad in the end, I really think that – she'd have ground him down, she'd have made him into something he's not.
Tom's taken Evie upstairs to give her a bath. I can hear her squealing with delight from here and I'm smiling again – the smile has barely fallen from my lips all day. I do the washing-up, tidy up the living room, think about dinner. Something light. It's funny, because a few years ago I would have hated the idea of staying in and cooking on my birthday, but now it's perfect, it's the way it should be. Just the three of us.
I pick up Evie's toys, scattered around the living-room floor, and return them to their trunk. I'm looking forward to putting her down early tonight, to slipping into that teddy Tom bought me. It won't be dark for hours yet, but I light the candles on the mantelpiece and open the second bottle of Merlot to let it breathe. I'm just leaning over the sofa to pull the curtains shut when I see a woman, her head bent to her chest, scuttling along the pavement on the opposite side of the street. She doesn't look up, but it's her, I'm sure of it. I lean further forward, my heart hammering in my chest, trying to get a better look, but the angle's wrong and I can't see her now.
I turn, ready to bolt out of the front door to chase her down the street, but Tom's standing there in the doorway, Evie wrapped in a towel in his arms.
'Are you OK?' he asks. 'What's wrong?'
'Nothing,' I say, stuffing my hands into my pockets so that he can't see them shaking. 'Nothing's wrong. Nothing at all.'