Saturday 22 June 2019
It was clearly the home of two professionals. The décor made it obvious that no small children regularly visited the two women, although photographs of young children adorned some of the walls and surfaces. Louise disliked the upmarket furniture and fittings. Modern and industrial chic had never been her thing. She desired warm, welcoming, and comforting furnishings; decorating ideas that her little sister did not share with her. When Alex had told her Duncan was out of prison and back in the area, her legs had barely been able to hold her up, and she’d collapsed onto the nearest sofa which she’d always considered to be the most uncomfortable one Alex and Caroline had in their living room.
‘You’re joking.’ It came out as more of a statement than a question.
‘I’m not. I ran into him yesterday. Almost quite literally,’ Alex replied. Sitting down next to Louise, Alex took hold of her hand, stroking it in the comforting way Louise did for her when things were rough.
‘Why didn’t they call me? They said, family liaison, said they’d call if there was any change to his status. Release is a change to his status, isn’t it?’
‘It is, yes. I’ll look into why you weren’t contacted. Get to the bottom of it all.’
‘Did he look well?’ The question escaped Louise’s lips before she realised what she’d asked. ‘Not that I really care.’
‘Reasonably well, yes.’
‘Typical.’ Louise spat out her reply as if it were poison on her tongue. ‘Bastard always lands on his feet. Shame he didn’t get shanked in prison.’
‘Isn’t that what they call it when someone gets stabbed in prison?’
‘Pretty sure,’ Alex replied, ‘that they call it getting stabbed in prison.’ She stifled a giggle. Louise, unintentionally funny all her life, didn’t like being laughed at.
‘Whatever. Don’t tell me you hadn’t thought about it too.’ Louise was right. There were days and nights, weeks, months where Alex had prayed to whatever God was listening that Duncan would meet a grisly end in prison for what he’d put her sister through.
‘Well . . . ’
Louise glanced over at Caroline making a pot of tea in the kitchen. She’d never imagined that Alex would ever be involved in any sort of domestic partnership with a man or a woman. Her younger sister had spent much of her childhood a solitary child with minimal interest in the usual things that caught the attention of little girls. For Alex, the world revolved around law from an early age. Eventually, she and Caroline had crossed paths and become inseparable. Louise nodded her head in Caroline’s direction.
‘Does Caroline know about Duncan?’
Alex shook her head.
‘You’ve been together what, six years? And in all that time you’ve never thought to tell her about what Duncan did?’
‘No. Why would I?’
‘Because it’s what people do, Alex. They talk to each other. They tell one another things about themselves. People, normal people talk, and they let people they love into their lives. But then, you’ve never been normal, have you?’
* * * * *
It would take less than a minute for her body to hit the ground below once it fell from the top of the cliff. In the darkness, it was unlikely that anyone would have seen him dump her. He’d be back at home before she’d be discovered, and there’d be more than enough time to perfect his alibi. Duncan smiled to himself, and made his way down the steps from the clifftop. He’d yet to decide whether to get rid of Emma’s clothing and possessions to make it seem as if she’d left him, or leave everything in the house to give the impression that something untoward had occurred.
He doubted anyone would really miss her. Early on in their relationship he’d groomed her to cut off all contact with her family and friends.
‘I’m the only one you need, Emma,’ he’d said. ‘I’m the only person in the world who cares about you.’
She’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker, and stripped herself of all the other relationships she had with people. It had been difficult at first because inevitably, people continued to call or drop round or email, enquiring after her. But he’d put a stop to all that by moving her so far away from everyone she knew that she was forced to rely entirely on him. And now, no one would miss her. Not anymore.
* * * * *
‘I can’t believe you . . . I don’t even know who you are anymore.’
Caroline rolled away from Alex, pulling her share of the comforter with her.
‘What?’ Alex asked unaware that with every word she was losing Caroline’s trust.
‘We’ve been together seven and a half years, and you never thought to mention the single most important or defining moment in your sister’s life? Do you just assume that everybody you meet knows everything about you? Or are you emotionally obtuse?’
‘I’m not entirely sure how one brings up that one’s older sister almost lost her life to a violent beating dished out by her aggressive ex-husband. Or that one’s sister’s aforementioned ex-husband then spends the better part of the last ten years in prison for that beating and almost killing a police officer who came to the sister’s rescue?’
Caroline, further angered by Alex’s longwinded and confusing explanation snapped. ‘You can’t even explain what happened in simple fucking terms. How did you ever qualify as a barrister when your explanations are so full of shit?’
‘Wow, nice to know what you really think of me.’ Alex turned her back on Caroline, switched off the bedside lamp, and laid awake in the dark.
Not one to allow ill-will to linger, Caroline immediately regretted saying anything.
‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, her hand searching behind her back for Alex. When she found Alex’s hand, Caroline felt her pull away, recoiling from Caroline’s touch. ‘I didn’t mean it.’
‘Of course you did,’ Alex replied. ‘I’ve never known you not to mean what you say. It’s one of the things that makes you such a formidable barrister.’
Caroline rolled back to face Alex. She traced her hand along the length of her partner’s body, from thigh to shoulder, but received no reaction from Alex.
‘Alex? What’s happening with us?’ There was nothing but silence from Alex’s side of the bed. Caroline sighed, closed her eyes, and hoped that everything would return to normal in the morning.
‘We’re becoming an Adele song,’ Alex whispered. ‘Just not sure which one yet.’
. . . To be continued . . .