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Behind Her Eyes: Part 1: Chapter 13

Louise

David is in his office before I even get to work, and as I go to hang my coat up, Sue raises her eyebrows and shakes her head. ‘Someone got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’ For a moment I think she means me, because I must look tired and grumpy. My night terrors woke me, and then I lay in bed thinking of Lisa’s pregnancy – I can’t think of it as Ian’s new baby yet – and Adam’s month away, and by the time seven a.m. rolled around I’d had three coffees and two cigarettes and was moody as hell. Somehow this pregnancy of Lisa’s has brought back all those terrible emotions I went through when Ian left me, and his happiness feels like a fresh betrayal, which I know is stupid, but I still feel it. Sue doesn’t mean me, though, she means David.

‘He didn’t even say good morning,’ she continues, pouring me a tea. ‘And I thought he was quite charming until now.’

‘We all have off days,’ I say. ‘Maybe he’s not a morning person.’

‘Then he shouldn’t get here so early. He seems to have taken your place as the early bird.’

She has a point. I shrug and smile, but my heart is racing. Has Adele told him about her coffee with me? Is he sitting in there diagnosing me as some obsessive stalker and getting ready to fire me? I’m almost squirming with guilt. Regardless of whether she’s told him or not, I should. I’ve got too much other shit going on in my life to keep a secret for his wife. It’s not like I really know her, and he is my boss. And, I didn’t really have any choice but to go for coffee with her. She asked me. What was I supposed to say? I remember her face, worried and awkward, asking me not to mention anything about our meeting, and I have a moment of doubt. She was so vulnerable. But I have to tell him. I have to. He’ll understand. Of course he will.

I need to face the music and get it off my chest, so rather than scan Maria’s notes left from yesterday, neatly typed and printed as always, I go and knock on his door, my heart in my mouth. I open it without waiting for a reply and breeze in. Confidence. That’s the way to tackle this.

‘There’s something I need to …’

‘Shit!’ he barks, cutting me off. He’s tugging the thick foil lid from a can of expensive coffee – not the clinic standard but brought in from home – and as he turns, a spray of brown hits the surface of the coffee cabinet.

‘Jesus fucking hell, couldn’t you knock?’

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone glower before, but I have now. I feel like I’ve been slapped with the aggression and anger in his tone.

‘I did,’ I mutter. ‘Sorry. I’ll get a cloth.’

‘I’ll do it,’ he snaps at me, pulling some tissues from the box on his desk. ‘A wet cloth will make it worse.’

‘At least it didn’t get on the carpet.’ I try to sound cheery. ‘No use crying over spilt coffee.’

‘Did you want something?’ He stares at me then, and he’s like a stranger. Cold. Distant. None of that natural charm and warmth of before. My nerves jangle and my throat tightens. There’s no way I’m telling him about the coffee with Adele now. Not while he’s in this mood. I can’t remember the last time I made someone so angry by doing nothing at all. Is this another side to him? A worm of a thought slithers into my brain. Is this why Adele keeps her friends secret?

‘I was going to see if you wanted me to put the coffee on,’ I say, trying to stand tall. ‘But I see you’ve got that all under control.’ I turn and walk stiffly out, closing the door quietly behind me. It’s as close to storming out on him as I can do and keep my job, but by the time I sit down I’m trembling with anger. I haven’t done anything wrong. How dare he talk to me like that? Intimidate me like that?

Whatever guilt I’ve felt over having had coffee with Adele fades as I fume. What really went on with David anyway? A stupid kiss? That was all, and with each day it becomes more like a dream of something that never happened. A fantasy. And Adele and I would probably meet at some point. At the Christmas party or something. So what does it matter if I’ve accidentally met her already?

‘I told you,’ Sue says, as she comes past my desk and puts my forgotten tea down. ‘Don’t take it personally. You know what men are like. They’re all grumpy babies at heart.’ She leans in. ‘Especially the posh spoilt ones.’ I laugh, although I’m still hurt at his treatment of me.

Head down, Louise, I tell myself as I fire up the computer and start the day. And get on with your job. You’re never going to hear from Adele again anyway, and David is just your boss.

The Hawkins family arrives in the afternoon, and it’s obvious that the patient, twenty-one-year-old Anthony Hawkins, doesn’t want to be here. His parents are stoic middle to upper class, in their mid to late fifties, a cloud of scents accompanying them in; expensive face powder, cologne, perfume. They are well-dressed; he’s in a suit, and she’s wearing pearls with her designer blouse and skirt, but I can see the tiredness around her eyes. I take them into the waiting room, which is like the drawing room of an exclusive club, and she sits in a wing-backed chair, perching on the edge. Her husband stands, his hands in his pockets, and thanks me loudly. For all his over-confident geniality, he doesn’t want to be here any more than his son.

Anthony Hawkins is thin, too thin, and he twitches and tics, and his eyes, full of some primal defensive anger, seem unsteady in his head. They’re like those jiggly eyes you get on some children’s toys, shaking slightly while not seeming to focus, at least not on anything the rest of us can see. He doesn’t look at me at all. Even if I didn’t already know he was a heroin user it wouldn’t take a genius to guess. Anthony Hawkins could be the poster child for addiction. He looks ready to explode, but I can tell it’s mainly fear. I keep my distance though. Fear is no barrier to violence, and I’m always warier with a court-referred patient.

‘I don’t want to do this,’ he mutters, when David comes out to call him into his office. ‘I haven’t got a fucking problem.’ Anthony Hawkins’ accent is pure public school.

‘Your parents can wait out here,’ David says. He’s gentle but firm. No sign of his earlier foul mood, but still, he doesn’t look at me at all. ‘It’s only an hour. It’s not going to hurt you.’ He shrugs a little and gives Anthony his disarming, charming smile. ‘And hopefully it will keep you out of jail.’ Anthony focuses on him then, his wary, trembling junkie eyes suspicious, but like a condemned man to the gallows, he follows him.

As the door closes behind them, I see Mrs Hawkins’ shoulders sag as her facade of false strength falls away, and I feel sorry for her. Whatever Anthony has or hasn’t done it’s taken its toll on his parents, and not so long ago he was just a little boy like Adam. In his mother’s eyes, he probably still is. I make them both a cup of tea – in clients’ china, not staff mugs – and tell them that Dr Martin is very well respected. I don’t go as far as to say he’ll help their son – we can’t give promises – but I wanted to say something, and I can see the gratitude in the other woman’s eyes, as if she were hugging my words to her chest for reassurance.

The uncertainty of the world makes me think of Adam, and in a moment of maternal paranoia, suddenly worried that perhaps there’s been a problem at school or at after-school club and the clinic lines have been busy, I rummage in my bag and check my mobile, but there are no missed calls – all is, of course, routinely well – but I do have a text. It’s from Adele. Oh shit. Why didn’t I tell him?

If you’re not working tomorrow, do you want to do something? Thought we could go to the gym? They have a sauna and pool so might be relaxing. I can get you a day pass. Be nice to have the company! A x

I stare at it. Shit. What the fuck do I do now? I didn’t expect her to ever get in touch. My fingers hover over the keys. Maybe I should ignore it. I probably should ignore it. But that would be rude, and then I’d feel awkward around both of them. Shit, shit, shit. I almost text Sophie to ask her advice, and then don’t. I know what she’ll say, and if I tell her about being friends with Adele I can’t untell her, and she’s going to want to know what happens next. I don’t want my life to be entertainment for hers.

I re-read the text. I should answer it. I should say yes. I mean, the David thing was only one drunken fumble, over and done with. A stupid mistake on both parts. Maybe Adele could be a new friend. I feel like she needs me. She’s definitely lonely. That was coming off her in waves yesterday. And she’s not the only one, even though I hate to admit it. I’m lonely too – and terrified that this is it for the foreseeable future of my life. The weeks all melting into one.

Adele and I are both lonely, and however glamorous and charismatic she is, God knows what their marriage is like if he goes out, gets drunk, and snogs other women. He said it wasn’t what he normally does, but they all say that, don’t they? And what else could he say? We’ve got to work together, which is something neither of us was expecting at the time. And yeah, he was lovely the other day, but he’s been horrible today. Maybe he was being nice to get me to stay quiet about everything with Dr Sykes? Thinking about it, I should be on Adele’s side in this. I know how it feels to live with a cheating man. I know how that revelation broke me, and I hate that now I’ve been the potential cause of a pain like that.

I may not know her well, but Adele is sweet. I like her. And it’s nice to have someone texting me to do something rather than the other way around. I should meet her. It’s polite. And if we get on, then I’ll tell David afterwards. I’ll say I was going to tell him we’d met, but he was so snappy that I didn’t. It’s a good solution. I feel better already.

I only have one reservation. Why couldn’t she have suggested lunch and a glass of wine somewhere? The thought of the gym makes me want to hide. I haven’t done any exercise in ages other than run around after Adam, and he’s six now so there’s not even so much of that any more. Adele is so obviously in shape, I can only shame myself next to her. I’m not even sure I’ve got any good gym clothes. None that fit anyway.

I’m about to make up some flimsy excuse and chicken out, but then I pause. I remember my tipsy self-pitying resolve at the weekend to lose the pounds while Adam is away. To get myself a life. I’m texting before I have time to stop myself.

Sure, but I’m very unfit so don’t laugh at me!

I feel quite pleased with myself. Sod David. I’m not doing anything wrong. The answer comes back straight away.

Great! Give me your address and I’ll pick you up. Around midday?

The idea of gorgeous Adele in my flat makes my stomach clench almost more than the thought of the gym.

I can meet you there? I respond.

Don’t be silly! I’ll have the car.

With no way out, I wearily type in my address, and make a mental note to tidy up and hoover tonight. It’s stupid of course. I’m a single mother living in London – Adele must know I don’t live in a mansion – but I know I’ll feel embarrassed. Probably not as embarrassed as I will at the gym, but hey, it’ll all be a test of whether this new friendship has legs, and it will also serve as a final nail in the coffin of this not-thing that is me and David. It’s one day. It’ll be fine, I tell myself. What can really go wrong?

The Hawkins meeting overruns by half an hour, but when Anthony finally comes out of the office, he is calmer. He’s still twitchy, but there’s a definite relaxing about him. As David talks to his family and sees them out, Anthony keeps glancing up at him. Awkward admiration shines from his face even though he’s trying to hide it in front of his parents. I wonder what David said to him to make him open up so quickly. But then I remind myself, bristling a bit, of how I felt in that bar. He makes you feel special. I’ve been there. I get it. Me and Anthony are both suckers for it, by the looks of things.

I pretend to be typing a letter when he comes to the desk, and although he seems calmer too, as if a day of dealing with other people’s problems has smoothed out his own, I keep my expression cool. I don’t know why I’ve let him rile me. And I wish he didn’t still make me feel nervous and tingly. I’m so clumsy when he’s close to me.

‘I’ve booked Anthony Hawkins in for another session on Friday,’ he says. ‘The same time, three forty-five. It’s on the system.’

I nod. ‘Shall I charge for the extra half an hour he’s had today?’

‘No, that’s my fault. I didn’t want to stop him once he started talking.’

What would Dr Sykes make of that? David might want to do some charity work, but this is far from a charity business. I let it go. It’s a nice thing he’s done, and that confuses me slightly. He’s a man of contradictions.

He starts to go back to his office, and then turns and strides back, quickly.

‘Look, Louise, I’m really sorry about being so rude this morning,’ he says. ‘I was in a shitty mood and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.’

He looks so earnest. I try to stay aloof.

‘No, you shouldn’t have,’ I say. ‘But I’m just your secretary so it really doesn’t matter.’

The words come out colder than I intended, and he recoils slightly. I drop my gaze to my work as my heart thrums against my chest. Uncomfortable sweat prickles in my palms.

‘Well, I wanted to apologise.’ The softness has gone from his voice, and then he’s heading away from me. I almost call him back, immediately regretting my surliness, and thinking how stupid it is when we should be friends, and then I remember I’m meeting Adele tomorrow, and I’m trapped in that secret that I haven’t told him yet. Should I tell him now? I stare at his closed door. No, I think. I’ll stick to my plan. If it looks like Adele’s friendship is going to be a regular thing, then I’ll tell him.

I need a coffee. I need something stronger, but a coffee will have to do for now. How has my life got so complicated?


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