She often found herself alone in the evenings, or at least alone with a bottle of good red wine for company. She told herself it was simply the way she preferred it these days. She had few real friends. Old friends still lingered awkwardly in the background, popping up from time to time to see how she was doing, trying to find the right words to say to a woman who had lost everything. Newer friends had deserted her like rats leaping from a sinking ship, disgust and distaste smeared on their faces, none of them wishing to associate with a woman who had allowed her son to be abused under her own roof, by her own husband. The whispering and the nudging had died down a bit now. She lived and worked just outside of Redchurch, and rarely went back that way, so she was less likely to be recognised. But even so, there were many times she felt watched when she was out. There were many times she felt the urge to hurry back home and lock the door behind her. She sometimes only felt safe when she was tucked up under her favourite throw on the sofa, with a glass of wine in her hand, and something dumb and meaningless on the TV.
Except she would not be alone on this evening. She had received a mysterious text message on her way home from work, which she could only guess came from Danny’s girlfriend Lucy. Well, that’s if she was his girlfriend, Kay sighed, as she put her feet up on her sofa, wine glass in hand. She really had no idea what was going on with those two, and had only seen her son once in the last two weeks. Since the scene at the cemetery he seemed to have gone back to burying his head in the sand, she thought, refusing to talk about the past, or anything connected to it. When she had last seen him he had let her take him out for lunch in her nearest pub. He had told her about his visits to the job centre, about courses and possible jobs he had been thinking about. She had listened to him intently and proudly, pleased beyond belief that he was making a move towards the future, and relieved to see the energy in his eyes, but at the same time it had worried her. She had made tentative steps to talk about the graffiti, and what his thoughts on it were now, but he had ignored her attempts. As far as she knew nothing else had happened since someone had sprayed ‘murderer’ across Michael’s door. But she had to ask herself reasonably, if anything else had happened, would Danny have told her? She did not know the answer to that.
Kay checked her watch. Ten to six. Lucy had asked to come over at six. Kay had text back that this was fine, and had not asked why, or if anything was wrong. She remembered Danny had said something about Lucy wanting to talk to her, about Lucy having questions, and she supposed that the time had come for Lucy to ask them. The wine was helping both her nerves and her defensiveness. She was on her second glass and it was doing a fine job keeping the hostility she felt in check.
She rested her head on the back of the sofa for a moment. She realised she was almost excited about having a visitor, such a rarity they were these days, but she was also equally on edge about what Lucy had to say to her. She had all the answers, all the come backs she had been forced to use over the years, in her mind and ready to fly. You knew before I did and you didn’t say, was one she had only just thought of, and she was not going to let that one slip, should Lucy start too aggressively with her. That one would sting a bit, she imagined, but it was the truth. She had been thinking about it ever since the text came through. She had been running that summer, the summer Danny turned sixteen, through her head again. The summer they had been packing up to move to Cedar View. Kay thought back, as she had many times before, trying to retrace when she had first started to feel uneasy, or scared around Lee, and it was this time that always stood out for her. Still, far later than Danny had worked him out, she thought taking another sip of wine, and checking her watch again.
She recalled her drinking had accelerated around that time, and she had shrugged it off, explaining it away on the house move. Moving house is one of the most stressful things in life, she had told herself on many an occasion that summer, as the sale went through. That was when she had felt the first shivers. Lee had been tense and explosive at times, though never really with her, not at first. But she had seen another side to him, that was certain. He was unpredictable and moody, yet bursting with a sense of his own power and importance, repeatedly reminding people that had pissed him off, about the cost of the house he was buying, as if having that much money excused him from being decent about anything. Kay held her wine glass with two hands, one wrapped tightly around the delicate stem, and the other holding the cup lightly, fingers tapping against the glass. Unbeknown to her of course, at exactly that same time, her son and his friends had been plotting and planning their escape. They had all been in on it, she knew now. All of them. And when Lee and her had called the police and reported him missing, they all knew where he really was, they all knew and they all kept it quiet. To protect him. To protect themselves. She thought about this now and she shook her head, still unable to quite fathom it. After the move, after Danny’s disappearance, she had found out for herself what a monster her husband really was, but what still stuck in her throat, even now, was that they were just kids at the time. Just kids, sixteen years of age. They hadn’t felt they could trust anyone except themselves. She still had the niggling and disquieting feeling that she did not even know the full story.
Kay checked her watch again and saw that it was six o’clock. She picked the remote up from the arm of the sofa and turned the volume on the TV down a few notches, in case she didn’t hear the doorbell buzz. The move, she recalled with a deep shaking tremble, the move had set him right off. It was like a mask had fallen. It was like he had been in disguise all along. It had bewildered her how enraged he seemed to be by Danny running off. He accused her daily of not caring enough about where he was and what he was doing. He would come home from work later and later, explaining that he had been out looking for him. Then there was the incident when he had supposedly, allegedly threatened Danny’s friend Jake outside the cafe where he worked in town. His bar manager had provided him with an alibi, so nothing had ever come of it, but he had gone wild that night, after they had left. That was when she had seen it. That was when she had realised the truth in the note her son had left her. He scares me. But it was worse than that, wasn’t it? It was far worse than that, and as Danny had recently reminded her himself, there was probably still a hell of a lot that she did not know.
She knew how sinister he had suddenly appeared to her. How the house she had been so childishly excited about, how suddenly made her feel like a child. It was his house, and his rules. He had been particular about cleanliness and tidiness in her rented terrace, always on at Danny to tidy his room, and carrying out spot checks. Kay had thought it a good thing, she recalled grimly. It was good that Danny did as he was told. It was good that finally there was an adult he listened to. But in that house, on Cedar View, it was her turn to do as she was told. The first time it had been his hands around her throat, no words spoken. She should have known there would be a second time, and there was. A slap to the face during an argument about housework.
The third time had convinced her she was in trouble. The third time, the time he held her face into her own bowl of soup, until it clogged her nostrils and filled her throat, while his voice ranted from above about how cold the fucking soup was, how she had not put enough effort in. She had known it then. There had been no denying it, no explaining it away on stress, no hiding from it or justifying it. She had seen him then, she had finally seen him, and her heart had exploded with grief and horror, not for herself, but for her son.
The buzzer sounded then, loud and harsh, jerking Kay from her memories and making her spill wine over her arm and the sofa. “Shit,” she hissed under her breath, placing the wine on the floor and brushing at her arm, as she headed for the door and slapped the button down. “Hello?”
“Hi, it’s Lucy.”
“Hi Lucy. Come on up.” Kay held the buzzer and then opened the door and waited for the girl to come up the stairs. She realised she was relieved of the distraction, even if it was going to mean more rehashing of the past. Lucy came rather timidly up the last few steps and walked towards her, looking like she was unsure whether to even smile or not. Things had always been frosty between them, Kay mused, even before Danny had ran off. She had been so glad that he had a nice girlfriend, so relieved there was someone else to keep him on the straight and narrow, but she had felt even then that Lucy did not think much of her in return. She offered her a genuine smile however, and held the door open for her. “How are you?”
“Good thank you,” Lucy replied politely, just like the polite girl her parents had brought her up to be. They still lived a few houses down from the home Lee had died in on Cedar View. Kay took the girls coat and showed her through to the lounge. She watched Lucy from behind as she walked through, taking in her slim neat body in grey bootleg trousers and cream coloured short sleeved blouse. She guessed she had come straight from work at the school, as she did not normally dress so smart. Her hair was pinned up with a clip and she looked nervously at the sofa before Kay nodded at it.
“Go on take a seat. I was having wine, do you want some? Or would you like a tea, or coffee?”
“Oh,” Lucy raised her eyebrows at the glass on the floor. “I could have one glass of wine I suppose. It is Friday after all.”
“Okay. Take a seat, go on.” Kay fetched her a glass of wine from the kitchen and passed it to her. Lucy took a seat on one end of the small sofa and Kay retook hers on the other side, patting hurriedly at the wet patch her wine had made. “So,” she said, looking straight at Lucy. “I would love to be polite and ask about your day, and the school, and other things, but I imagine you’ve come here for some reason more specific and pressing than that. So do you just want to get to the point?” She hoped she did not sound hostile, but it seemed more honest to get straight into it. Lucy blinked in surprise and sipped her wine before answering.
“Thanks for seeing me,” she half shrugged. “I guess it’s been years?”
“Yes probably,” Kay agreed. “Which again, is why I realise you’ve not just come to make polite small talk with me.”
Lucy looked down, sipped more wine and seemed unsure how to proceed. Kay felt for her then. “So how is my son?” she sighed and asked. “Have you seen him this week?”
“Once,” Lucy nodded. “I cooked him dinner.”
“And? How did he seem to you?”
“Oh, you know, okay I suppose. On the outside. He was telling me about going to the job centre. He’s been going a lot you know, trying to figure out what he wants to do now.”
“And there’s been no more graffiti or anything?”
“No nothing,” Lucy shook her head quickly. “Nothing at all. Thank God. I’m guessing it was one or two idiots being silly.”
Kay nodded in reply. “Well let’s hope so. Did he tell you about our little trip to the cemetery a few weeks ago?”
Lucy frowned instantly. “No!”
“Typical Danny,” Kay rolled her eyes. “Keeps things from people doesn’t he? He’s really good at that.”
“I hope you don’t mean…?”
“My husband abusing him?” Kay asked briskly. “I suppose I do mean that in a way, but not just that Lucy. He does it all the time. He only tells people what he wants to. There must be tons of things you know that I don’t, and he didn’t tell you he made me drive him to Lee’s grave, for the second time.”
Lucy looked even more confused and distressed now, and Kay looked away from her young face, not enjoying the look on it one bit. “Second time?”
“He and Michael went there before, I don’t know, the day after he got out maybe? They took a piss on it for a laugh and an old man, Lee’s father apparently, came along and saw them. And Danny has not told you any of this, I can tell by the frankly horrified look on your face.” Again, Kay did not feel any joy or triumph in telling Lucy things she did not know, awful things, but she wanted all the cards laid out on the table before Lucy got started on her.
Lucy seemed to take a moment or two to compose herself. She looked wide-eyed and shook her head slightly before taking another tiny sip of wine. She looked back at Kay and Kay saw anger in her brown eyes. “He did not tell me any of that.”
“I told you. And I’m not being vindictive Lucy, I am simply being honest. My son has never been good at lying, but he is very good at not telling people things.”
“I suppose he wanted to protect me,” Lucy replied, somewhat defiantly. “I guess he thought I would be angry. And I am angry, I mean. Why would they go and pee on the grave? Oh my god, honestly,” she dropped her forehead to her hand for a moment. “Idiots. They’re as bad as each other. It was really his father, the old man?”
“Well we suppose so,” Kay shrugged, draining the last of her wine. “He apparently shouted at them and they ran off.”
“This was before the graffiti? Before any of the graffiti?”
“Yes,” Kay nodded. “But as you say, nothing else has happened since? Maybe we all need to calm down and let it lie.”
“I’m gonna’ fall out with him next time I see him,” Lucy said, her eyes meeting Kays with anger again. “I can tell you that.” Kay smiled at her, uncrossed her legs and got up with her wine glass.
“Well you deserve the truth Lucy.” She stalked into the kitchen, retrieved the wine bottle and came back to the sofa with it.
“What happened when you took him there? Why did he want to go back again?”
“Well he was worried wasn’t he? That Lee’s father was behind the graffiti, that there would be more to come. He wanted to grill me about Lee’s family, and whether they would want some kind of revenge. In the end though, he mostly got angry and shouted at me and walked back and forth on the grave.” Kay neatly poured herself another glass of wine, placed the bottle on the floor and crossed one leg back over the other. Lucy was staring at her aghast.
“He hasn’t told me any of this. In fact the last two weeks he has done a spectacular job of making me think he is fine, and everything is okay.”
“Lucy,” Kay shook back her hair and looked at the girl seriously. “Why did you want to see me tonight? I mean, I am happy to sit here and fill you in on the less than happy side of Danny that I’ve been receiving, and you can fill me in on the side he’s been presenting to you, but why are you really here darling?”
Kay felt the wine warming its way through her and it was a feeling that she always liked and welcomed. She felt her body loosen along with her mind. Lucy looked fidgety, she thought, tense. She smiled at her, hoping to put her at ease. “I’m sorry,” Lucy said then, “but it sort of shocks me, the way you talk about Danny. You might not realise it, but you sound angry at him, with him. Like you want me to see a side of him that’s not very nice or something.”
“Lucy, you were the one who asked to come and see me tonight,” Kay said, putting her back on track. “Yes I do feel angry at Danny at the moment, but that is only because I can see he is pretending to everyone, pretending that all is okay when it’s not. Why did you want to come?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said quickly, too quickly. “Well I mean, I do, but…”
“Danny told me a few weeks ago that you might want to talk. He didn’t say why.”
“Well okay,” Lucy drank a large mouthful of wine somewhat bravely, and sort of wriggled on the sofa, as if she was gearing herself up to come out with it. “It’s not just one thing. It’s lots of things. And for some reason, so much has been going through my head since he got out, about what is right and wrong, and what I’m doing, and you for some reason, just seemed the best person to talk to about it.”
“Really?” Kay was surprised. “Why me?”
“I’m not sure if I should be with him or not,” Lucy said then, blurting it out loudly, and then covering her mouth with one hand. “There,” she said, dropping the hand and sipping more wine. “I said it.”
“Okay, okay,” Kay said, at once pleased and stunned that Lucy should wish to confide in her, whilst aware that she was on her third glass of wine and should be very careful about what she said to the girl. “You better take me through this slowly Lucy. What’s wrong? What are you thinking?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Lucy said, again too quickly, and Kay could see the shininess to her eyes suddenly. “I love Danny. I mean, I really love him Kay. I’ve loved him for years, since I first met him probably. So it’s not that, because I don’t want you thinking that.”
“I loved him for so long before he ever even noticed me,” Lucy went on, finishing her glass and starting to place it on the floor. Kay thought quickly, snatching up the bottle and pouring the last of the wine into her glass before she could think twice about it. Lucy did not protest. She just looked momentarily stunned, and then lifted the now full again glass to her lips. “It sounds silly, but I just sort of like adored him from afar, that kind of thing? I thought he was gorgeous,” she glanced sideways and half grinned at Kay. “I mean, he stood out from the other boys, you know? They were all short hair, or bloody awful curtains, and he was different, he was gorgeous but sort of unapproachable at the same time.” Kay found herself smiling helplessly. It was lovely she thought then, lovely to hear Lucy’s schoolgirl view of her son, her son who had been driving her so insane at that time. “Anyway,” Lucy sort of flapped a hand and drank more wine before going on. “It seemed to take ages for him to speak to me, to notice me, and then years before anything happened. So I mean, I just don’t want you thinking that I don’t love him, because I do, so much.” She was looking at Kay and shook her head once. “I do love him so much Kay.”
“Okay,” Kay grinned at her. “I believe you. I get it. So what is the problem?”
“The problem,” Lucy sighed, “is not so much what happened, or why, but it’s the eight years spent apart. It’s like we never really got the chance to get to know each other. We had about a year as a couple. Sixteen years old. And then, you know…”
“Okay,” Kay nodded again, sort of enjoying herself now. It had been years, she thought then, years since she had engaged in a conversation like this with another woman. “But you waited for him Lucy. All those years. You came to meet him from prison.”
“Yes,” Lucy nodded firmly, wine glass in both hands. “I did. I wanted to. And yes, I did wait for him.” She lifted the glass then and drank two large mouthfuls, almost finishing it off, and Kay searched her mind, wondering if there was another bottle in the fridge, and thinking to herself that here was a girl who had had a tough and stressful week at work dealing with other people’s kids, here was a girl who was simply relishing the chance to get off her face and talk her troubles away. I am in the firing line at some point, Kay thought and knew, but I can handle it.
“But I didn’t you know, wait wait.” Lucy half shrugged again. “I mean, I had this boyfriend at university. And then another fella a bit later on, but that was less serious.”
“Lucy,” Kay said to her. “No one would blame you for that. He went to jail when you were sixteen? You couldn’t be expected to put your whole life on hold.”
“But I did, that’s what I mean,” Lucy insisted, sitting forward suddenly, urgently, “I did! I had this boyfriend Lewis, I went out with him for a year, my first year of University. It was sort of serious, I could see myself with him, but then there was Danny in the background. I went to visit him whenever I could. As much as I could. He wrote to me. I wrote to him. He was always there. I got so confused, and it wasn’t fair on Lewis so I called it a day. We gave it another go a year or so later, but I thought, unless I stop visiting Danny, I can’t give Lewis what he wants, and every time I visit Danny, I know that it is Danny I really want.” Lucy sighed then, and pushed one hand forcefully back through her hair. “Anyway, I saw someone else a while later. I let it drag on, but I knew it was never going anywhere. What I’m trying to say Kay, is that the last eight years, I’ve seen other people, I’ve tried it out, you know? I’ve fucking tried to move on, and I’ve failed.”
“Okay,” Kay said, feeling the strong urge to reach out and touch the girls arm. She did not though. She still had the distinct impression that Lucy had particular things she wished to say to her at some point. Didn’t they all? “So what’s the problem Lucy? Why don’t you think you should be with him?”
“Because he hasn’t had that chance,” Lucy shrugged and looked at her. “Has he? He’s been locked up. Since sixteen. He hasn’t had the chance to play the field or whatever. So how the hell can he really know what he wants?”
“Oh I see.” Kay nodded and thought again to herself, is there more wine in the fridge, maybe I should go and check, because this is really getting interesting now.
“You see?” Lucy echoed her. “He’s twenty-four, but in terms of experience he’s really still sixteen.”
“You’re saying you think he should play the field then come back to you when he knows what he wants?”
Lucy blinked at her. “Yes,” she said in surprise. “That is what I’m saying. And I know it sounds mental. After loving him for so long, to even think about pushing him away and risk losing him for good, but the thing is, I know now. I could be so selfish really, because I know exactly what I want Kay. I am old enough and wise enough, and I’ve seen enough to know exactly what I want, how I want my life to go, but he hasn’t has he? Would it be unfair of me to push what I want onto him when he hasn’t really had a chance to find out if I am really right for him? If he really loves me?”
The girl had tears in her eyes now. She did a good job of blinking them away, but Kay knew. She got up then and headed for the kitchen. She needed more wine, even if Lucy refused it. “So basically,” she said, on the way, “you think he ought to have a break from you and play the field and then come back to you if he realises you are the one for him?”
“Yes,” Lucy agreed, sounding almost bereft in her relief. “Yes, that is what I mean. But I can’t say that to him can I? From a man’s point of view? He will think I’m insane and just trying to hurt him.”
Kay found a bottle of cheap white in the fridge, a gift from a man she had rebuffed recently, and brought it back to the lounge. “But a woman,” she looked at Lucy, “a woman would know what you mean?”
“Well you obviously do.”
“Lucy,” Kay smiled, unscrewing the cap. “You are so sweet.”
“You love him so much, you know he is the one for you, yet for some reason you are insecure enough to think he doesn’t feel the same about you, because he hasn’t had the chance to play the field?”
“You don’t agree?” Lucy was frowning at her.
“I have no idea,” Kay admitted. “And I can understand where you are coming from. Totally. I would just say take it slow. Look for the signs. Be careful. If you put it to him the way you put it to me, he could misunderstand. You could both get very hurt.” Kay deftly poured herself another glass of wine, and then held the bottle out to Lucy. Lucy looked at it in confusion. “Come on,” Kay said to her. “You’re not just here to grill me about your love life, are you? You’re here to grill me about my parenting skills. Maybe you’ll need some dutch courage for that.”
Lucy blinked. Then held her glass up. “I can’t drive now,” she said.
“You can sleep here. It’s Friday.”
Lucy frowned, and pushed back her hair before nodding unsurely. “Okay. Thanks.”
“So you want Danny?” Kay asked, leaning back into the sofa. “You’ve worked that much out. He’s the one you want.”
Lucy nodded, unsmiling. She took a mouthful of wine, before leaning back beside Kay. “It’s easy for me,” she said.
“What else do you want?”
“Just normal stuff,” Lucy shrugged. “Happiness. Babies.”
“Why not?” Lucy looked her way. “That’s what I want. I can see it all clearly, but that is so selfish. I can see me and Danny forever, you know? I can see kids, and a home, and a life. But I think in truth, all of that scares the shit out of him.”
“You’re worried that he’s too damaged,” said Kay. “That it will never get any better for him. That the past will always be there, ruining things, yeah?”
“I’m worried,” said Lucy, drinking more wine. “That he’s a sixteen year old kid in the body of a twenty-four year old man. No experience of other girls, except me. I know how I feel about him, because I was always comparing those other men to him, and I just always wanted him.”
“You might find he surprises you,” Kay said. “But hey, it’s nothing to do with me. I would love to see you two together forever, because I think you are so good for each other, you balance each other out, so different and yet so similar, you know? All I would say Lucy, is be very careful. He is very fragile, despite what he thinks, and very angry too. I don’t want to see you two wreck what you have. I don’t honestly know where he would be without you.”
Lucy looked at her then, sipped more wine, and crossed one leg over the other. Here it comes, Kay thought, almost excitedly, because for one, she wanted to get the inevitable accusations over with, and for two she was getting drunk, and found confrontation a lot more welcome when drunk. “So really,” Lucy said then, and her tone was suddenly very brittle, “how much did you know? About what went on?”
“Why do you need to know?”
“I need to know because you are part of his life, and he’s made his peace with you, and if me and him do make a go of it in the long term, then you and me will be in each others lives, won’t we?”
“Gosh, especially if you have children,” Kay said, stifling a drunken giggle. She saw Lucy’s nostrils flare. They both took another mouthful of wine.
“Well, whatever,” Lucy said. “Danny obviously needs you in his life, and I want to respect that, but I’ve always had a hard time coming to terms with it.”
“With what Lucy?”
“Well, with what happened to him! Under your roof! If we all knew, how didn’t you? You know?” Lucy pushed herself up slightly, drained the last of her wine and automatically held her glass out to Kay, as if getting plastered now was a given. Kay obliged, lifted the bottle and refilled her. “I just don’t get it. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to come here and argue with you. But I really really want children one day Kay, and I just can’t even begin to consider someone treating them like that, under the same roof?”
“You don’t think I ask myself the same question every single day?” Kay said to her. “You don’t think I feel guilty enough already? See, I knew this was really why you came tonight. I am sure all of Danny’s friends would like their turn with me, given the chance. So would a lot of people Lucy. I have no real friends, you do know that? I’m not expecting you to feel sorry for me, but I just want you to know that you are not the only one that blames me on a daily basis.”
“It’s not that I blame you,” Lucy said, shifting slightly on the sofa and running a hand back through her hair again. “I just don’t get it. I just had to speak to you, eventually, you know?”
“It’s not like Danny ever came and told me,” Kay said, and her voice sounded to her more defensive, more hostile than she had intended, but she wanted Lucy to know that it was the truth. She shook her head at her. “Well apart from this one time, right at the beginning, and you probably already know that he said it in the heat of an argument and I didn’t believe him. I didn’t. I hold my hands up and admit it Lucy. At that time he’d been trying very hard to split me and Lee up and I just assumed it was his latest ploy. And after that nothing. Really. Lucy, he never told me anything again.”
“But I don’t think people do,” Lucy shrugged. “When they are in that situation. And especially if you didn’t believe him when he tried! People in situations like that, they don’t tell people, do they? Not unless they are very strong and confident, and he obviously wasn’t at that time, being thirteen and at war with you anyway. He thought you wouldn’t believe him.”
“I didn’t know Lucy,” Kay said then, taking more wine. “If that’s what you came to ask me. I know that’s what everyone is always dying to ask me. How could I be such a diabolical mother? Well…” she snorted through her nose. “I never ever pretended to be a great mother, you know? I never ever made out I knew what I was doing, I had John at nineteen you know. I had no clue. No clue whatsoever. My mother had to show me how to change his nappies and burp him and everything, because I was a mess.” She looked at Lucy and nodded seriously. “I loved David, his dad, but I was not ready to be a mother. I didn’t get on with my own mother but I was forced to ask her for help, which she gave me gladly, but not without making me feel even crapper about who I was. So there you go Lucy,” she looked at her defiantly. “I was a crap mother from the very beginning, so what do people expect? I was never any good at it.”
Lucy was staring back at her, her eyebrows down, her teeth chewing at the side of her mouth. She had curled her legs up under her on the sofa, and the bottom of her wine glass was resting on one thigh. “You were never any good at it?” she repeated back what Kay had said to her. “What is that supposed to mean? I don’t understand.”
“Well of course not, of course you won’t understand Lucy. I hear your parents are lovely? I mean, Danny has always said, how lucky you are.”
Lucy nodded instantly. “I am, I really am,” she agreed. “They are lovely. Completely supportive, wonderful, caring parents. I couldn’t ask for more. I had the best childhood ever, really I did.”
“Well you know,” Kay said, one arm now lounging over the back of the sofa, “I’ve always wondered about it, if you pass on the way you were brought up? Assuming you have a lovely safe childhood like you did, you will aim to give your children the same? I think we all try to better what our parents gave to us, but at the same time, you learn how to be a parent by watching your own parents, don’t you?” Lucy shrugged in reply and took another sip of her wine. “Well,” Kay sighed, “I used to think I would never behave like my mother, but looking back I was probably just like her. She was cold, you know. She was distant and preoccupied, and I always got the feeling me existing just got in her way all the time. I didn’t have any brothers and sisters, and I always remembering hearing her when people asked if she had any more children, she would say God no! One is enough! Just like that, like the thought horrified her. I sort of thought I wouldn’t have kids myself, because I was too selfish and flighty and unsettled, but then, you know. I had two.”
“You thought Lee was good for Danny, didn’t you?” Lucy asked then, and Kay could see what she was doing, bringing the conversation back in line, back to what she wanted to examine. She paused for a moment before replying.
“Lucy, what I’m trying to explain to you,” she said with a sigh, “is that before Lee came along, I was a pretty hopeless mother anyway. Ask John, if you ever get the chance. I bounced from one man to the next, looking for attention and approval. John brought Danny up more than I did, you know. I used to lean on him so much, because he was so level-headed and calm, and Danny and me were the same, so explosive and self-absorbed. He always hated me having men. So yes, to begin with I did think Lee was good for him. He seemed to know how to handle him, and he just took control, he let me relax. Stupid, eh?” She laughed a small bitter laugh, “as that was obviously exactly what he wanted me to do. Let him be in charge.”
“You didn’t ever suspect anything?” Lucy pressed, shifting her position on the sofa and bringing her knees up to her chin. “Did you honestly think Danny liked him? I just can’t believe that Kay. Even before I knew what was going on I could tell he detested that man.”
“Yes! I remember I saw him on the beach, the day you were getting married? He was there in his suit and tie, looking miserable. Said he wasn’t going. We sat down and talked about other things, because that’s what he always did. Talked about other stuff, but even then I could see this horrible sadness in his eyes Kay. And I was just his friend then, just an outsider. How could I have seen that, and you didn’t?”
Lucy was growing more horrified and distressed by the minute, Kay could see, and she guessed the wine was not helping. “I thought it was drugs,” she shrugged at her. “There was all this talk of drugs…and his behaviour, at school and home, I just thought it was that.”
“It was that too, and we know whose fault that was, don’t we?”
“I knew nothing about that!” Kay replied, her voice rising now. “That is one thing I can promise you. Lee was as straight as they come. Barely even drank. I had no idea whatsoever he was supplying drugs, or Jack was, or whatever.”
“It just seems Kay,” Lucy sat forward suddenly then, dropping her feet back down to the floor, “that you somehow had your eyes closed the whole time? Whether by choice, or whatever I don’t know, but it’s like you were blind. Your son is messed up, whether it’s drugs or something else, you still don’t do anything about it? That’s what I can’t get my head around, you see. And I was lying next to Danny a few weeks ago, just staring at his back, at all the scars, and all I could think about was you. All I could think was how? How could you not know?”
Kay felt the tears coming then. She choked them back, and wiped furiously at her eyes. She thought then, I don’t need this girl telling me I am a diabolical mother, I know I am, I know I was. She knew she had floated through those years in a sea of fog, that had protected her from reality, but how much of that fog had been her own construction, and how much had been Lee’s? She had spent years trying to figure out the answer to that question, to how much blame and guilt were really hers? How much had she really known? That was what Lucy was driving at. That was what Lucy needed to know.
“There were two incidents,” she said then, sniffing loudly and watching Lucy’s face darken as her anger intensified. “Two things that I saw, that I should have paid more attention to. Two chances I suppose you could say, to question things and maybe see where it was all heading. There was one day when Danny seemed to be winding Lee up. He was counting for my benefit. He wanted me to notice how much Lee criticised him. So he was counting, and Lee had a headache, and out of nowhere he picked up the remote control and hurled it at him.” Kay swallowed, rubbed away the next flow of tears and lifted her glass to her lips to moisten them. “Danny ducked and it missed him and he ran out. Lee was so angry. I should have seen it then, shouldn’t I? But I guess I focused on the fact Danny had been teasing him. I didn’t want to lose Lee. I mean, I did really love him, as repulsive as that must seem to you now.”
“What was the other thing?” Lucy asked coldly.
“Christmas Day. The first Christmas we all had together. Well John didn’t come back for it. Danny was winding him up again, I could tell. At the breakfast table, asking me for wine when he knew Lee wouldn’t like it, and then I let him, so Lee was mad at me, and I felt like I could never please either of them. Danny started swearing. Lee lost his temper and slapped him.”
Kay could see the disgust in Lucy’s eyes and she accepted it. She remembered feeling cold, watching her son tear from the house, his face bleeding. She remembered looking at Lee, at the size of him compared to Danny. And then he had started working on her. That was how it had felt. Like he talked her out of the alarm bells that were ringing in her mind, and started to convince her of a totally different truth. Danny was always to blame. Danny was a bad kid. Danny was out of control, and rude, and disruptive and there was only so much anyone could take of that before they lost their temper. Danny was trying to ruin it for them. He was trying to push him away, like he did with Frank Bradley. She had not wanted to lose Lee, she knew that now, and maybe that was why Lee had found it so easy to talk her around to his way of seeing things.
“You chose Lee over your son,” Lucy said to her, and she nodded.
“Yes, you are right, in a way I did.” Kay looked around for a tissue, as her eyes continued to leak. Failing to find one, she got up and stalked back into the kitchen to snatch a piece of kitchen roll from the holder on the side. She paused for a moment to dab at her eyes with it, before heading back to the sofa. She glanced quickly at Lucy and wondered how bad this was going to get, and whether it was going to do any of them any good. “It wasn’t conscious,” she said to Lucy’s glaring face. “I didn’t sit and decide, I want Lee and Danny can go to hell. It wasn’t like that. What I really wanted was us all to get along and be happy! And do you know, a lot of the time it seemed like that? Or maybe I just wanted to desperately believe it, I don’t know, but in some ways after Lee came along, Danny started behaving better and I was relieved. And I had no idea what was really going on. I had no idea Lee was so….so obsessed with him, because that’s what I started to realise, once we were in the Cedar View house. I started to realise a lot, but I just want to get it straight with you Lucy,” she screwed up the tissue and held it in her hand. “I never knew he was beating him, I never knew he used a belt on him, I never knew he gave him drugs, I never knew he did any of those things, I promise you.”
“The man was sick,” Lucy said then, her lip curling in disgust. She looked across the lounge with pinched up lips, and then lifted the glass and quickly tipped the last of the wine down her throat. Her eyes travelled to the bottle on the floor, and Kay picked it up and offered her more. She nodded and waited while it was refilled. “Sick and depraved and a control freak and a sadist. I can’t even bear to think about it sometimes, and then sometimes I just can’t stop thinking about it! I half never ever want to hear what he did, and I half want to ask Danny every time I am with him.”
“Does he tell you, if you ask him?”
“Sometimes,” she shrugs. “But I don’t like to. I feel like it hurts him, and that’s not fair.”
“And tell me the truth,” Kay asked, sloshing more wine into her own glass. “Does it bother you what Danny did? How did you feel at the time? How do you get your head around the fact he killed someone?”
Lucy automatically shot her an icy look. “How do you?” she demanded. “How do you, when you know it could have been avoided if only you’d been a better mother?”
Kay took an intake of breath, and let the hurt roll through her. It was okay, she thought, sucking in more breath, and following it with more wine; she had heard worse than that. She had taken worse abuse from John. “Well I had the benefit of finding myself in the same position, with Lee I mean,” she spoke the words slowly and carefully, her eyes locked on Lucy’s. “And believe me, during that year of hell there were plenty of times I thought seriously about killing him. There were times I would have done it, in self-defence, had I been able to get to a weapon in time. And there were times I lay awake in bed after he’d beaten me, thinking of ways I could kill him and get away with it.”
“But lucky you,” said Lucy, her tone cold. “Danny did the job for you.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Kay said then, sighing and shaking her head, and looking down into her glass, just to get away from Lucy’s accusing eyes. “I have heard this all before Lucy. From everyone. How is this supposed to help you?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said with a careless shrug. “I just know I had to talk to you at some point. I had to try and understand.”
“And do you? Or do you just hate me even more?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said honestly. “I sometimes find it hard to believe that Danny doesn’t hate you.”
“Well think about that for a moment,” Kay said quickly, sitting forward. Lucy frowned at her in distrust. “No,” she insisted, “if anyone should hate me it should be him. If he really thought I knew what was going on, if he thought I knew what Lee and Jack were up to, what a mess he was in with it all, he would have nothing to do with me, would he? Would he? You see, he knew I was kept in the dark, because he helped keep it that way, for whatever reason.”
“Because of shame!” Lucy cried suddenly then, her brown eyes shining with sudden tears of anger. “Because of shame and fear, Kay! That’s why he kept it from you, and us. He tried like hell to even keep it from Michael and Anthony. They only worked it out because their father had been rough on them in the past. They only got the truth out of him because they kept trying, they kept trying to help him…” Lucy broke off, spluttering helplessly over her own tears. She placed her wine glass between her lowered knees, and covered her face with her hands. Kay watched her uselessly, her hands in her lap, her glass empty. What was this all about, she found herself wondering sadly? When was this blame game ever going to end? “The thing is Kay…” she heard Lucy struggling through her sobs. “We don’t even know the half of it…we don’t even know what went on…what he said about Jack Freeman, at the trial…”
“Something went on,” Kay said, nodding vehemently. “I know it did. The day he came to the house, the day he did it…Lee was goading him, telling him if he did anything stupid he’d go to prison where there would be more men like Jack.” She shook her head at the memory. “I didn’t get it then…I was just horrified that Danny was there like that, just raging and screaming in the hallway.” She blinked, seeing in her mind the way he had pushed up his shirt to show her his back, the way the horror had pieced slowly together in her mind…how Lee had been so very late home the night before, and how when he had rolled into bed his breath had smelled of whiskey, and he had chuckled to himself as he reached for her and smacked her on the backside. “He was in such a state,” she told Lucy now, and again felt the strongest urge to place her hand over Lucy’s, to pull her near and face the pain together. But she knew she could not. “And he screamed at Lee that he remembered what Jack had done…that he had pretended to be asleep, or dreaming, or something. I sort of forgot about it until the trial.”
“What happened to Jack Freeman?” Lucy looked up and asked. Her face was awash with tears, and her lip trembled. Kay sighed.
“No idea. Haven’t got a clue. He just vanished.”
“And Danny really thinks Lee’s family might be behind that graffiti we got?”
“Well he did. Maybe he’s calmed down about it now.”
“What about Freeman? Do you think he could be?”
Kay shuddered and shook her head quickly. “I don’t see how. Or why for that matter. Please don’t say that to Danny will you?”
“Course not. I just want him to forget about all of that. I want us to get on with our lives, and be happy.” Lucy wiped the palms of her hands down either cheek and looked at Kay with a small smile. “Do you think we have a chance of that?”
“You do,” Kay told her firmly, and this time she gave in to the urge to touch her, and she placed her hand briefly over Lucy’s knee. “You really do. Give it time. He’s only just got out. The real healing starts now. Another few years from now, I’m sure things will be so much easier.” She pulled her hand away, and got up from the sofa. “I think I’ve had maybe too much wine!” she joked, and Lucy nodded in reply.
“Me too. Are you sure it’s okay to stay over?”
“Certainly,” Kay told her. “I’ll get you some blankets and make us both a cup of tea, how about that?”
Lucy managed a smile. Kay went to leave the room, but Lucy suddenly got up from the sofa. She looked at her awkwardly, her eyes scanning the room. “You were right really,” she said softly, “you know, what you said about Danny being the only one with any right to hate you? And if he doesn’t, then we shouldn’t. He did tell me he hid it from you well. He told me Lee would do things that wouldn’t show, stuff like that. I can kind of see how you wouldn’t have known how bad it was.”
Kay wanted to hug her. Never had words spoken so hesitantly meant so much to her. Nothing would ever lift the weight of guilt she felt, and nothing would ever stop the things she didn’t know from haunting her every time she looked at her son, but Lucy’s words made her want to cry. “Thank you Lucy,” she nodded at her. “I’ll get you those blankets.”