They spent the afternoon reminiscing, talking about the baby and the various relatives, past and present and Stephanie didn’t bring up the subject of Angus again. Katherine was grateful and, though she was stunned by her sister in law’s words she left it alone. It sat in the back of her mind, whenever there was a lull in the conversation she heard it again. “Leave him. Grab hold of your life.” And this from the most unlikely source.
“I’d better get back. It’s after six and he might be home already.”
“Look Kate,” as she tried out the new name Stephanie grinned, “I do like that. So, Kate. I love my brother of course I do – he’s my brother. We were kids together and that is, I think, usually something that binds you for life. But, I also know that he’s a vain bugger, always was. He’s selfish, I know most men are but he’s really selfish and … Look, I know as well as anyone what it’s like to be stuck with a bloke that is wrong for you. I know how it steals your life. I would hate to see you go away, especially when it seems we could be really good friends. I feel as though I should apologise, I just didn’t know how to handle things, so I did what I always do, I just got bossy with you and tried to take control. I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t apologise, I don’t think anything would have made a difference anyway. I was lost back then. I know that now. I just had to find my own way.” They leant together across the small space on the settee and hugged awkwardly.
“What a shame we wasted so much time eh? But, if your happiness lies in Scotland with some bloke you hardly know – then go and get it. I will never mention any of this again, I promise you that I will never tell a soul and whatever you decide will be fine, just fine by me.”
“Steph. You know what – I never realised before just how amazing you are.”
“Go on you daft bugger. Get off before this all gets too American.” Stephanie stood at the door waving until Katherine turned the corner at the junction and could no longer see her. It had been a strange and wonderful afternoon, but she felt even more confused. If his own sister was telling her to leave him, what was it that was keeping her with Bill. Loyalty of course and surely love?
Or was she lying to herself and it was something else?
She stopped suddenly in the middle of the street. It wasn’t Bill she didn’t want to give up, it was that last tiny bit of her daughter.
If she left him she was leaving a piece of Sophie. The little girl had been half Bill, he had held her when she was born and cut the cord. He had held her when they wanted to take her away for that last time, and how he had cried. If she left him for someone else, then she was losing that connection because only they had been her parents. So many small things that they had shared, the early smiles, the gurgle of her laughter early in the morning, the trials of teething and then at last the anguish that she believed no-one else would understand but him.
He wasn’t home and in her emotionally drained state she was relieved. She threw together a plate of salad for him, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge. She laid the table and wrote a note telling him that she had gone to bed with a headache.
She opened the laptop and left a message for Angus.
Absolutely exhausted. I didn’t sleep last night. Maybe Skype tomorrow?”
As soon as she stretched out under the duvet she felt herself falling away into the darkness and she let it engulf her. She didn’t hear Bill come in two hours later and go straight to the drinks cupboard to pour whisky. She didn’t hear him curse as he took the cold meal from the fridge and slouch on the settee eating in the semi darkness, and she didn’t see him lower his head into his hands and groan in frustration and anger.
“I went to see Stephanie yesterday.”
“Oh right. How is she?”
“She’s fine,” As she watched him across the table an insane desire to blurt it all out almost had its way, “Yes, she’s fine. She thinks you’re a selfish bastard actually and reckons I should go and live with Angus. So, can you get your own dinner tonight? I’ll be in Edinburgh.” She had to get up and move away because she was afraid she might just act on the impulse. She clattered around tidying the work top and wiping the sink and in her mind she could see the slope up to the street from Waverly station and his tall figure in a dark coat waiting for her.
“I’m away next week. George is sending me to Germany, going on Tuesday, back probably Friday.”
“You’ll be okay will you, on your own?”
“I usually am.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well you know, I do spend a lot of time on my own.”
“Oh shit, you’re in a mood. You’ve got your yoga, you could do all sorts of things. You could get out, go to the library, I don’t know. Just do stuff, you reckon you’re better now so why don’t you just get on with it.”
“Okay, okay. Actually, now you mention it – I’m going out tomorrow night. I’m going to Treena and Stella’s hen night.”
“What – don’t be ridiculous. You can’t.”
“Yup, I reckon I can.” And she smiled at him and went through to the lounge where she logged on to her laptop and began browsing the shopping sites, she would need a new dress. Later she would go into town. Something with a bit of bling. Her hands were trembling but she felt good anyway.