I have decided to re-title the book formally known as Splosh. It should be live in the next few hours. The story is the same wonderful madcap romp that ends with food for thought but I just thought I’d go with the modern liking for titles that are as long as the manuscript – The 100 year old man who jumped out of a window and disappeared. The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which is excellent by the way) and so on. - We shall see. Thanks as always to wonderful Studioanjou for updating my cover
Jane and Judy went with her. They stood in silence holding hands as the wind whipped at their coats and lifted their hair. The weather had changed now and the balm of summer seemed to have fled, suddenly and unexpectedly, it was over. Mary was glad of the blustery disturbance; she could blame her tears on blown grit, just the weather.
Jane hadn’t known him and so had no need for grief, Judy had only known the worst of him and so had no tears to shed for his damaged soul. Mary though had seen the best of him and it was the best of him that caused the ache in her heart and the moisture in her eyes as the vicar droned on about time and misery and dust.
There was to be an inquest of course but at least they had been allowed to lay his body to rest. As she peered into the hole in the dark earth Mary shuddered. Bill had been cremated and the thought of this beautiful young body lying in the ground slowly disintegrating was ghastly.
She peered from under her brows at the family who stood at the other side of the grave, his mother, dry eyed but pale and hollow looking, his brother who seemed impatient and uncomfortable. There was no-one who she could identify as a father and no sister. It was a surprisingly small turnout for a young person and again this made her sad. They had learned a little more about his background and with the truth of a violent and dysfunctional home life Mary had found that she could partly understand and yes, forgive. He had fought his life and lost it was that simple.
Though he could be gentle, the violence that had been instilled from the earliest days of his childhood had been stronger than any form of affection and in the face of perceived slight or betrayal he had nothing else but violence to react with.
Because she wasn’t his next of kin they hadn’t asked her to identify his body and so it had lain in the hospital mortuary alone until his mother was fetched to confirm that about which there wasn’t actually any doubt. The message left on the voice mail of a friend had never been played to her but she understood that it was simply a direction to her house, a kindness designed so that she wouldn’t have to deal with the trauma of finding him
Mary had stayed with Jane and together they visited the funeral directors. He looked peaceful. The way out that he had chosen had drained the blood from his body but hadn’t disfigured his fine face. She had reached and gently pushed back the heavy fringe and tried to focus on the positives, to let go the horror.
The days following his suicide were a blur. She hadn’t been able to go home, the police had her house locked down until they finished their investigations. Once it was given back to her she had arranged for cleaners to go in and so had never seen the bathroom and the blood. Now it was on the market and she knew that she would never live there again. At the last he had stolen the vestiges of love for her marital home and forced her to move on. Her mum and dad were surprisingly supportive and discreet and the small room of her childhood and youth had welcomed her back and simplified her life.
It was time to change and to grow, she saw that now and had signed up for a counselling course, she would take what she had learned and try to help others.
The police had let her read the letter and one of the kinder officers had offered to make her a copy, of course the original was evidence. She didn’t need a copy, the pain on the pages was too much to bear and anyway what would she do with it.
As the droning voice wound down to the dreadful end when they would be expected to toss flowers and earth onto his coffin she replayed in her mind words that she hoped she would one day find a way to forget. Finally as the small gathering dispersed she walked with her friends down the tree lined path and left the splendour and the catastrophe that had been Jacob behind them in the cold ground.
I know it was you who put the pictures up on the website. It had to be you. All I can say is that I understand why you did it and I am sorry. There is nowhere else for me to go and no way to fix things and so I hope that you will forgive me and understand why I have chosen your home.
I watched you go Mary. I watched you every day, did you know that – no I don’t imagine you did. I watched you because you are so lovely. I know now that there is no way for us to be together, no way for me to ever be with anyone, and so I have come here to where I was happy and I hope that you were too, for a while, just a little.
I am sorry for it all.
I cared about you but I don’t think I was ever supposed to be in love.
When the car drew up to the kerb they were eating breakfast. Mary had slept well and waking in the small, feminine room she felt her face lift into the lines of a smile, it felt strange to wake without dread. For just a moment she could pretend herself a girl again, in the pink and white room at her mum and dad’s house in a place of safety before all the drama and heartache. Of course it would be before the fun and love and laughter as well. What would she change, well of course with hindsight she would have made Bill go to the doctors sooner but wasn’t sure it would have done any good. She would have spent every possible minute with him – but no, they had what they had because of the way that they had lived and it had been lovely. Perhaps she wouldn’t have changed any of that – just told him she loved him often, but then she had anyway. There was sorrow at her loss but no guilt.
The last few weeks though, what would she have changed of all of that. Well everything, she would never have become involved – maybe? Her mind took her to the time after her shower when their heat softened bodies had melded and their damp limbs had intertwined, she saw again in her mind’s eye his firm young body as he walked around the bedroom with her lying sated and tumbled among the covers. If she had known would she have forgone those moments? Yes, yes Oh yes. The crime he had committed was unforgivable and no amount of pleasure would pay for the terrible mental and physical pain that he had subjected her too. There was no getting away from it she wished that she had never met him.
When Mary joined Jane in the kitchen coffee was waiting and warm rolls and jam. Sunshine poured through the french window which stood open to the birdsong. What a wonderful morning, she felt a rush of optimism and bent to hug her friend.
“You’ve no idea how much better I feel Jane, just being here with you. Thank you.”
“I’m so glad everything’s okay with us now, but I do feel bad you know about my reaction. I cried and cried about it, I was a real bitch. Then I called your mum and I shouldn’t have done, but I was worried about you. I am so sorry; I don’t get any satisfaction you know out of what happened. I did come to see you once to tell you I was sorry but I don’t think you were in.”
Now was not the moment to admit that she had watched from the window as Jane had walked away.
“Can I stay again tonight? Just tonight and then tomorrow I have to go home.”
“Of course you can.”
“I do need to go and meet Judy today though and see what’s happening. Why don’t you come as well, you’d like her.”
“Okay, yeah, let’s go and have lunch somewhere.”
They heard the car, the engine rumbled outside in the road and there was the sound of doors slamming. It wasn’t a busy street but there was no reason to assume that the noises were anything to do with them, not until the doorbell chimed.
Jane waved a hand at Mary, stay there, I’ll go. and she strode through the lounge and into the little square hallway. Through the glass of the front door she could make out two figures. A frown creased the skin of her forehead as she leaned forward and put the safety chain in to the slider.
She opened the door, just a crack and the two tall figures turned to peer at her and then raised their hands to show their warrant cards. Jane’s heart leapt into her mouth, something had happened to Millie, her daughter was hurt. With quivering hands she slipped the chain and pulled open the door.
“What’s happened, is it Millie, what’s wrong?” The words tumbled over her tongue in panic, her heart was pounding her throat dry.
The taller of the two smiled at her but his eyes were wary, he had done this job before and knew just how easily things could slip out of control. “Sorry to bother you madam but we are looking for Mary Roland.”
“Oh thank God.” For just a moment relief wiped out everything else but then reality kicked back in.
“Are you Mary Roland madam, or is she here. We have been told that maybe she is staying here.”
Mary had heard the voices and left the kitchen, now standing in the hallway behind Jane her heart chattered and jumped. “There was something wrong. The police were here, looking for her, how did they know she was here, only Judy knew?”
“I’m Mary, Mary Roland. What’s happened?”
“A friend, Judy Allbright gave us this address. We need to ask you a couple of questions. Are you acquainted with Jacob Chadwick madam, a student at the college?”
“Yes.” Her mind was racing now and the one word was all she could manage.
“Do you mind if we come inside. We need to speak to you.”
Jane opened the door and ushered them through into the living room. They took off their hats and then the taller one spoke again. “It might be better Ms Roland if you sat down. We have some rather upsetting news for you.”
She didn’t need a second telling, all the strength had gone from her legs, she and Jane reached to each other and sat side by side hands entwined, waiting.
Although the problems were still seething on the periphery of her life Mary felt soothed and gentled spending time with her old friend. They talked for hours about Jacob, about the abortive lunch date which had ended in bitterness and ill feeling but they laughed also, about past times and Mary was surprised to find herself with a smile on her face and lightness in her soul that she thought had perhaps been lost forever.
“I’ve put you in Millie’s room and Alan is away on business so it’s just us at least until the weekend if you want to stay that long.”
“I don’t know love, perhaps tomorrow. A lot of it depends on what happens with him, Jacob. If the college throw him out and he goes quickly then I can safely go home. I have a horrible feeling that if I stay away too long it might be impossible to go back, even now when I think about it I feel sick. I’m going to have to sell it aren’t I?”
“Hey, give it time, wait a while. You’ve always loved your place, don’t do anything rash.”
“Oh I don’t know, perhaps it’s a good thing, maybe I should make more effort. One thing that I have learned from all of this is that I had become very set in my ways. I had a lovely comfy, unchallenging rut and maybe I was wasting my life a bit. I mean, I’m not that old and now when I look at it all from a different perspective well – another twenty, thirty years just living from day to day it’s a waste isn’t it.” Jane shrugged her shoulders and raised her eyebrows.
They ate and had another couple of drinks, they listened to some music. It was calm and wonderful.
“I think I’m ready to call it a day if that’s okay, can I go up? Millie’s room yeah?”
“Yes, go on up, I’ll just do the lights, check the doors and stuff. I’ve put you a towel in there. If you need anything let me know.”
Mary closed the door to the little bedroom, there were posters on the wall and a collection of well-loved teddies gazed down indifferently from a shelf above the desk. Mille was her goddaughter. She had been away at University for two years now and it was ages since they had done anything together. That was another area of her life that she would have to sort out. Millie visited home often but her place here looked denuded and pared back. The narrow bed was comfortable though and the main thing was that it felt safe, unsullied and calm.
As she snuggled beneath the covers Mary looked around for a clock but the gold alarm with its big bell, which Mary had bought for her years ago, was apparently another of the personal things Millie had taken with her. She would set the alarm on her mobile phone. She pulled it out of the little pocket in her handbag and turned it on.
It tinkled and dinged, moving through the boot sequence, but then there were more alert tones. She had forgotten about the text message which had come in earlier. It would be easier to leave it until tomorrow, if it was from Jacob she wouldn’t read it anyway, just delete the same as all the others. Of course until she did that the reminder would beep at regular intervals and so with a sigh she picked it up.
The first one had his name on it, should she read it? He was missing. For a moment her finger hovered and then she pressed the delete button, it wasn’t her problem. Was it? There was one from Judy, asking if she was okay and with a pang of guilt she responded. She apologised for not letting her know where she was and said she was safe and would like to meet her tomorrow if possible.
There was another which had come in later from Judy asking if she had heard from Jacob as he was still missing and yet another later still. Had she and Jane really been talking for so long? The next had his name and she was torn, the wise thing to do was to delete again but this time she didn’t. She opened the message. It was short.
Mary. I’m sorry. I can’t make it right. Everything is over. I did care for you. Jacob. Goodbye Lovely Lady. xx
It was perplexing and unsettling and though she had climbed the stairs heavy-lidded and weary she felt sleep spiraling away as she read the message over and over. A sense of dread overwhelmed her.
Jane. Jane was the answer, well maybe. Mary wanted to try and sort things out anyway and perhaps now, when she truly needed a friend and a safe haven this was the time. She had read somewhere that if you want to make someone your friend then ask a favour of them. Jane had long been her friend, until the recent nastiness anyway, and so perhaps this was an ideal way to get back in touch.
She picked up the telephone handset. “Hi, Jane it’s me. It’s Mary.”
“Oh. Hi. How are you?”
“Not that brilliant actually.”
“Oh, oh right, well I’m sorry to hear that. Can I do anything, are you ill?”
“Not exactly but I’m in a hell of mess Jane.” Mary was surprised to hear her own words distorted by a sob. She had intended to be calm, strong but in the event the sound of the familiar voice undid her shattered nerves.
“Oh love.” And there it was. The depth of their friendship swam to the surface and in an instant all was resolved.
“Oh Jane, I’ve been such a fool and you were right and, well it’s been dreadful and now I’m very scared.”
“Yes, I think I may be in danger. Look I don’t want to talk about it over the phone. Can I come over to your house and Jane, could I stay with you tonight?”
“Of course you can. Get yourself here right now. I’ll shift the car so you have room to park. Just pull in behind me on the drive. See you in about half an hour – yeah.”
“It’ll take me a bit longer. I need to pack a couple of things and lock up. Jane – thanks.”
“I’m waiting for you love.”
She threw her overnight things into a bag, watered her plants and took the perishables out of the fridge to take with her. She picked a couple of bottles of wine from the rack and dumped the whole lot into the car. Once the house was locked and bolted she left without even a backward glance, at the end of the road a wave of relief swept over her. Her heart lifted as she let go the fear that had wrapped around it like a string of barbs. It was all spoiled wasn’t it, her home, her life, her peace, it was all gone and she didn’t see how it could be regained. Not there for sure but if not there, then where?
Passing the bus stop where the whole sorry affair had started she glanced at the small queue. Of course he wasn’t there but if he had been then it wouldn’t have surprised her. In her mind he was always there, bright hair shining in the sunshine, mouth curved in a gentle smile and his eyes glinting with amusement.
The drive was uneventful and as she turned into the narrow driveway Jane opened the door and hurried forward to help with the bags. Once inside they held each other for a long time, there were tears and smiles and comforting warmth. Jane offered tea but knowing the reveal and explanation were to come, Mary simply opened the wine and held the bottle in front of her. Jane fetched glasses and they settled in her bright dining room. For a long moment there was quiet as Mary searched for the words to start the difficult conversation.
In the event once she started it all spilled out easily. Jane reached across the shining table top and laid her hand on top of Mary’s, her eyes glittered with moisture but she didn’t speak until it was over.
“So, where is he now?”
“Nobody knows. He hasn’t been seen since yesterday.”
“Well, you’re safe here anyway but why haven’t you called the police. Surely that’s what you should do.”
“Oh Jane, you were right before and you’re probably right now but it’s all too late. I’ve got it all wrong right from the start and I just don’t know what I can do to fix it. I think I’m going to have to move, away from the house. It’s just not the same anymore, all the memories of Bill, the things we did, the happiness, it’s been obliterated, I just can’t feel it any more. I think that’s one of the worst things you know. I feel that I let him down.”
Now was the ‘I told you so moment’ but it didn’t happen and the fact that she simply squeezed Mary’s hand and then took a big swig of her white wine was more precious than gold to Mary and wiped away any residual ill feeling between them.
“You can stay here as long as you want to. Does your friend Judy know where you are now?
“No, I’ll call her and let her know. Right now though I would love to just sit here with you in this room and wipe it all out. I wish I could make it not happen but I can’t.”
“No, you can’t but you can move on, I’ll help you. This isn’t the end of the world Mary, it’s a glitch and no matter what you decide to do, about your house and all of that I’ll help you. It’s all going to be fine.”
Mary’s phone chimed and the text alert blinked at her. For a moment her finger hovered over the answer key but the peace was so very precious that she rejected the call and turned off her mobile without looking at the tiny scroll of words sliding along the top of the screen.
Judy had been gone for a couple of hours, the house was calm and tidy again. Mary peered at her reflection in the hall mirror. Another couple of days and she could probably risk a visit to her mum and dad. The bruises were fading fast and could soon be covered by foundation and concealer. It had been a long time since she’d seen her parents and guilt had started wheedle its way in. At the thought of the last time she had been with them she felt the now familiar prickle of tears in the corners of her eyes. Would the crying ever stop?
So much had happened since she was last in their little bungalow and a lot of the drama hinged on the call her mum had made. Of course they were never to know anything about all of this. She would cut out her tongue before she told them the torment that she had endured and would go to any and all lengths to avoid her mum feeling guilty because of the phone call. Yes, by the end of the week she would go to see them and maybe take them out to lunch. It would be lovely to do something normal, something that felt like old times.
“Cripes.” She suddenly realised that the house phone had been unplugged since before the horrible night when Jacob had tried to strangle her. She flew down the hall, yes, there was the tiny plug lying on the carpet. Her mobile was off as well, if her mum and dad had been trying to contact her at all over the last couple of days they would be worried sick. She would have to ring them.
She stuck the little plastic plug back into the socket and lifted the receiver, why she did that she couldn’t have said but in the event the purring of the dial tone was reassuring being as it was a connection with life outside of the house and her problems.
She glanced around. There was no mark on the wall, no blood on the carpet, nothing to witness the horrible events of two nights ago. Would she though ever truly be able to forget, to move on and enjoy her home the way that she had before. She was beginning to doubt it very much.
She replaced the handset and it rang before she had chance to move more than a couple of steps away. Jacob didn’t have this number, it was alright, “Hello.”
“Mary, it’s Judy. Are you okay?”
“Hi. Yes, I’m okay.”
“Are you really, is there anyone there with you?”
“No, I’m on my own. I was just going to go to the shops.”
“Yes, Judy what’s the matter.”
“Oh, I’m probably just being silly. Nobody has seen Jacob. He didn’t go back to the house last night. Steve rang me this morning. He wanted to talk about yesterday of course. Anyway it seems that Jacob was out early yesterday morning and nobody has seen him since then. We don’t know if he has seen the pictures and already made a run for it, though that seems unlikely as his stuff is all still there. The boys at the house are wondering what to do. They don’t know whether they should tell the college, or just wait. They’ve tried ringing him and his phone’s off. I was really calling to make sure he wasn’t there and to warn you.”
“Oh. I don’t know what to say Judy. I don’t know what to do. I haven’t been out yet today but I’ve had no trouble here. I suppose it would be best if they report it, I suppose it is unusual for him not to come home isn’t it.”
“Well yes but it is just one night. The college is buzzing with reaction to the pictures yesterday, the authorities obviously know about it. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. Look make sure you lock your doors and windows – better still can’t you go and stay with someone, you know just get away from there for now.”
“I don’t know, I suppose I could but …”
“Look just be careful yeah. I’ll call you again if I hear anything. Do you think you could bear to put your mobile on? There is the risk that he’ll call you or text but anyway I think you should make sure you can be reached.”
“I will. Thanks Judy. I’m going out now for about an hour. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”
“Mary, take care.”
A quiver of fear ran through her body, a board somewhere in the house clicked as it cooled and her heart pounded, every nerve ending jumped as if she’d touched a live wire.
Where was he?
She told herself she was ready and said so to Judy but Mary’s stomach was tied in knots. In just a few minutes the photographs of her battered and bruised face would pop up on all the “in use” computers at the college. It was the middle of the afternoon. Judy had judged that to be the busiest time in a normal day.
An hour ago she had come back from her morning at the campus and reported that the publication of Jacob’s degree show images were causing a furore. Most people were incensed she said.
“Nearly everyone has assumed that it’s a rotten trick by someone who is jealous of his skill and so he has a great deal of sympathy.”
Mary covered her mouth with her hands, “That’s not what was supposed to happen. I didn’t think that would be what happened.”
“No, no it’s exactly what should happen. Up to now no-one knows what it’s all about and so he is a bit of a hero – once the other pictures come up those people who have come out on his side will be thrown into turmoil. They can’t approve of what he’s done and they are going to hate the fact that by association he has put them in the wrong camp. Really, it’s fine Mary, it’s what I expected.
“Has he said anything?”
“No, nobody has seen him, he’s not at the house and none of his friends have seen him in the college. He could be out on an assignment but wherever he is there is a nasty surprise waiting for him when he comes back.”
They settled themselves in front of the computer desk, booted up and counted down the minutes.
In the event when the first of the photographs popped up Mary found her response to be flat and unemotional. She had known what her face looked like, had watched the swelling decrease and the bruising fade from livid purple to black through to yellow. Seeing it now on the screen it felt as though she was looking at a photograph of someone else. The images of Chloe shocked her more. The damage seemed a greater outrage on the younger, prettier face, though she knew that it was no such thing.
There were six images in total and between each one the text ‘And this is the work of Jacob Chadwick. Is this a man you want to call friend’ in flashing red letters which slowly faded into the next horrible image. Judy had done a brilliant job.
Even before the last picture flashed onto the screen Judy’s phone began to chirp and tinkle, text messages and emails flooded in from friends and class mates. She scrolled quickly through them reading out excerpts here and there Of course they didn’t know of her involvement and so many of them simply told her what was going on and then commented on their reactions.
What a monster, who are these women?
No, this can’t be true.
Who put this show up, I want to shake them by the hand.
What proof is there that this is genuine?
And of course ‘Where is Jacob, has anyone seen him, what does he say about it?’
Judy pushed back from the desk and turned to Mary who was staring dried eyed and silent at the screen.
This wasn’t how she had expected to react. All she felt was drained and emptied out. It had taken a lot of arranging from the first germ of a plan and now with no real idea of what was coming next it all seemed an anti-climax.
“You okay Mary?” in response to Judy’s quiet question she simply nodded. How strange was this, she had expected a sort of euphoria and all there was really was a deep sadness and a feeling that something precious had been lost to her.
“You did a brilliant job Judy. Thank you.”
“Mary, this is only the start, we have to wait now. That was only the touch paper, we lit it and now we have to wait for the fireworks don’t we?”
“Yes, yes of course you’re right. I wonder where he is though, I wonder if he’s seen it yet, or maybe someone has told him. You’ll think I’m mad but I feel sorry for him.”
“I know, I know.
“Hell Mary haven’t you got any alcohol in this place, this is time for a drink, a big drink. If you like I’ll stay with you. I’ve told Steve I probably can’t see him tonight. We could send out for a pizza, maybe, or something. We need to lift your mood and we deserve a celebration, at the very least it was damned good hacking.” She laughed and raised her hand palm facing Mary and they high fived and then fell onto each other in a hug.
“You are amazing Judy, you really are.”
“Yeah well – if you say so. Now about that drink.”
As she uncorked the bottle of wine Mary couldn’t shake an awful premonition that she hadn’t yet seen the worst of it. Somewhere a foreshadowing told her what was to come next would be shattering and would change her life forever. She didn’t believe in premonitions but this belief was so very strong it was as if the very air she breathed knew about it and wanted to warn her.
She told herself it was reaction, just adrenalin withdrawal after a period of stress, a trick of her over wrought brain but no matter what she told herself it felt real and no amount of red wine and pizza was going to chase it away. She caught a glance of her face reflected in the kitchen window. A pale wraith like creature looked back at her, a creature who had seen the future and knew the horrors that it held.
The smell of toast and coffee dragged Mary from her sleep, she felt stiff and sore, her throat hurt and there was deep, shocked sadness like a lump of cold dough in her chest.
Judy was busy in the kitchen and the radio played quietly in the background. She threw the duvet to the floor and creaked and groaned her way to the breakfast table.
“How are you? I hope you don’t mind, I made us some coffee and toast or would you rather have tea?”
“No, coffee’s brilliant. Thanks so much, there’s jam in the fridge.”
“Right, so how are you feeling?”
“I don’t know to be honest. I ache a bit and my throat hurts when I swallow but I just feel so sad. It’s like someone came and stole all the light and colour, I just feel sort of grey, I can’t think of any other way to put it.”
“Hey, you need to be strong Mary. You can’t let yourself drift into depression; if you do he’s done even more damage to you. It’s going to be over soon and you can put it into a mental box, I know you won’t forget but you can make it part of your history but you mustn’t let it define who you are, don’t become a victim.”
“How did you get to be so wise?”
“Well, to be honest there is history in my family of this sort of thing. I don’t intend to talk about it and it wasn’t personal but I’ve seen it before and you have to be strong.”
“Is that why you came to see me, because of your family?”
“Partly yes, I admit that when I saw you with him I felt obliged to warn you. I didn’t do a very good job of it in the end did I?”
“You did what you could and I’ll always be grateful. I think if you hadn’t come last night he might actually have killed me you know.” As the words left her mouth Mary felt her fingers start to shake and she wrapped them around the warmth of the coffee mug to still the quivering.
“I have never come across anything like this. Oh yes at work I’ve seen people who have been beaten, women with black eyes and bruises but I would never have believed it could happen to me. My husband could no more have hit me, or anyone for that matter, than fly.
“It has made me look at so many things differently. I realise now how precious peace and security are, how just ordinary can actually be enough. On top of that though it’s made me maybe want to do something, you know maybe see if I can help.”
“I can give you some numbers if you like. I have contacts at some of the women’s refuges.”
“That’d be great. When this is all over I’ll have a word with someone.
“Judy, do you know, what makes them do it. Do you have any idea why someone like Jacob could be so lovely and kind and gentle one minute and then a brutal fiend the next?”
Judy shook her head. “It’s not simple and I think that there are lots of reasons. I think that if children are beaten and mistreated they do often go on to do it themselves as adults but it’s very complicated. I have read some stuff about it but I think each case has to be judged individually.”
“I just wonder you know, it anything could be done – for Jacob.”
As she sat down with a plate of toast in one hand and her own coffee in the other Judy shrugged. “He’d need to either want to find help or, heaven forbid hurt someone so badly that the police were involved and they would make him have treatment I think.”
“What will be happening now, with the web site?”
“Hmmm, let’s see it’s eight o clock. The first of his good pictures will be going live in half an hour. Then it will pretty much depend on whether he sees it himself or someone tells him. There is the outside chance that if he sees the first couple he will get in touch with IT and get them to investigate. He could possibly have the thing stopped if there is anyone there bright enough to get to it. I’m hoping though that by the time he finds out enough of his degree work will have been published for it to mean he’s no chance of replacing it and then, at two o clock this afternoon the pictures of you and Chloe will be up. By just after two o clock it will be done Mary and then we just have to wait and see what happens.
I did it that way so that interest will build through the day, we could have put it all up together one image after the other quickly but then a lot of people might not have seen it. What will happen now is that during the day anyone on the computers will suddenly find their screen filled with one after the other of his pictures and then this afternoon ours.
The college might take action, he could just make a run for it or the others might be so shocked that they force him to leave. It was a great plan but we can’t be absolutely sure of the outcome. I hope the college chuck him out but…” she shrugged.
“I thought that I’d go in this morning to the college and see what sort of reaction there is and then come back here to be with you later. We can watch it live if you can bear it or just wait until something happens. It’s up to you.”
“I’m going to have to ring work this morning and tell them I’ll be back next week and then I’m going to clean the house, top to bottom. I’m going to keep busy, keep my mind occupied. I think I’d want to watch it go live and then I’ll know it’s happened.”
“Right.” Judy gulped back the last of her drink and then pulled on her coat. She leaned and kissed Mary on the cheek. “Be strong Mary, it’s nearly over.”
Her kindness almost reduced her to yet more tears and she bit them back and walked to the front door to take off the locks and then reinstate the security after the other woman had left. A long morning stretched before her but she felt a stirring of something approaching excitement.
There was no question of going to bed. Mary knew that she wouldn’t be able to sleep, she wondered if she would ever sleep again. She could still feel the shadow of his hand around her neck and over and over the ghastly choking feeling tightened her throat.
“Can you stay Judy, I know it’s a lot to ask but can you stay with me tonight. I don’t want to be on my own.”
“I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.”
“You can use the guest room, if you’re tired. I’m going to sit here for a while.” Her voice quivered and Judy leaned to her again and squeezed her shoulders.
“Or, we could work on the programme.”
Mary was motionless, barely breathing, staring into the dimly lit room. After a minute she gulped. “We could couldn’t we. Judy do you think that’s what we should do?”
“Well, you don’t want to call the police.” Mary shook her head.
“No, I couldn’t bear it. The fuss and the embarrassment, everyone knowing. I know that maybe I should but I just can’t, I think it would just make it all so much worse.”
“Well, in that case it’s back to square one isn’t it? Drive him out, disgrace him and if possible screw up his degree submission. It’s just about ready you know. If we get to it now we can finish it in a couple of hours and then by morning it could be out there.”
“What about Chloe.”
“I’ll send her a text but really there isn’t going to be too much for her to worry about, I don’t think anyone will know who she is. Unless you were here at the time and were close to her it would be very difficult to piece it together and there are only a couple of us who know what happened and we’re going to protect her as best we can.
“You though, well, you’re still here and there are a few people in his house who know you and Jacob have a thing going on. Some of them have guessed about your relationship and they are going to know, I don’t think there’s any way to avoid it. We can blank out your eyes and so on but I think you have to be prepared for the fact that people will guess. You say you don’t want the police here because it’ll all become common knowledge but you know, it’s going to be out there even if we do it this way.”
“Yes, yes, I know. I did hope that we could do this without revealing who I was but I realised a while ago that it probably isn’t possible. The thing is though, doing it this way I don’t have to convince anyone. You were here tonight, you saw my face before, what he did. I don’t have to stand in front of a judge and tell a jury what he did and hope they believe me. I know if it came to that I’d wimp out. I know they’d look at me and think I was a desperate middle-aged woman throwing herself at a young man. He is lovely looking you have to admit. He is handsome and he seems kind. That’s one of the worst things about all this you know. He is kind, and gentle and funny.” She started to sob and Judy sat beside her holding her hand while she allowed the grief to drip down her cheeks and soak the fabric of her dressing gown.
“Let’s do it, let’s just see if this can work and then maybe I can have my life back.”
They powered up the computer and polished and tweaked the damning evidence ready to launch it on the college Intranet the next morning. Mary dragged herself into the kitchen to make them hot chocolate and toast which she then couldn’t eat because of the soreness in her throat.
As the dawn crept across the sky and the birds argued and gossiped in the trees in the road outside they pressed the key. Such a small action. They hugged, a warm, sisterly embrace and then settled down, Judy in the big armchair and Mary on the couch, they covered themselves with duvets and they waited.