Grace sat back and leaned her head against the head-rest. Johnny loved her. She could see it right there, written on his face. She could feel it in the grasp of his hand on hers. But he had called her a whore, the way Patrick had called her mother a whore, and later, Grace too. Maybe this was love. Maybe love grabbed ahold of you and made you so crazy that it wrung the worst shit out of you and made you spit it at the beloved if you thought they were leaving you. Maybe love did that to you.
Johnny loved her, of that she was sure. She could feel it, and the rage happening between them was part of it. She had never felt this angry at David. But David hadn’t dislodged her insides and rearranged them quite as Johnny could with just one word. This, here in the car, smacks and tugs and calling your woman a whore, this was love.
And she loved him too, more than anyone. Anyone except Sindi. She loved David, but in a different way. David was her rock, her best friend, but it had become like living with a brother. They were family and always would be, since Sindi bound them in blood, but Johnny – this was the kind of love that knocked you off the course of every known thing. It shook you by the shoulders and woke you up.
To look at him was to feel again the course of long-suppressed love rush through her into a well of tenderness. Only Johnny could touch the concealed places of her joy and pain; only he was strong enough to bear these with her. He had relit something inside her that she thought had been snuffed out, woken a spirit that found itself soaring in his presence. She could not, would not, give this up. “Where would we go, if I left? Where do you live? I don’t even know that.”
“Look, you’re going to have to take a bit of the truth here, Grace, to get to the other side, where things will be good for us. I’ve been living with someone. It’s not serious. I never told you because it isn’t really that serious between me and her – I was planning on leaving anyway.”
Inside of Grace’s chest something splintered. The sound of blood rushing and buzzing dizzied her. Johnny had someone else. He had been going home to a woman, sharing a life, a bed with her. What could she say? She had known it, felt it, but hadn’t been willing to face it. Now the fact slapped her in the face.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I just told you why … it wasn’t important enough. You were going home to your husband every night. Did you expect me to be a monk? It was always going to be over quickly with her anyway. I can leave her tomorrow, tonight even. I told you, it’s not serious.”
“And then what? You leave tonight and then what?”
“We’ll get a place together, you and me, Grace. We’ll get a flat close by to the baby. You’ll be close enough to see her.”
“I’m not leaving her! I’m not leaving my baby. And her name is Sindi! You’ve never even said her name.”
He punched the car window with his fist, sighed and threw his head back.
“Calm down, Grace. Just think now, logically. We won’t be able to have her at first. But we’ll work it out. You’ll have your baby. Think about it. A life together, out in the open. No more once-a-week, after dark. I know that I can make you happy, Grace.”
He smiled and his eyes lit up. The lines on his forehead softened and Grace started to feel better. He had come back into her life for a reason: surely it was no accident, meeting him on the train out of the blue like that? She hadn’t even been thinking about him that day, and he came back. And weighing the two men, callous as that seemed, on the scale of her emotions, one thing was clear: Johnny was the love of her life.
Once David found out everything about her – her father, her mother, the sordid details; Johnny, the lies – he probably wouldn’t want her anyway. He would realise he deserved better. He deserved a decent, honest wife who didn’t have a past life waiting to explode into the present. He should have a girl from a good, solid home who could match him in solidity and respectability. Not her, not Grace, born in shame and raised on a diet of humiliation. Johnny knew all of this and still he loved her. He saw all of her and wanted her. In him, her shame could rest and die.
“Are you sure you want this, Johnny?”
“Absolutely,” he replied. No wavering.
“Are you sure you can take us on, both of us, me and Sindi?”
So sure and so confident: that settled it for Grace. He loved her. He loved her. He had come back for her, and he loved her. It was always supposed to be him. Fate had thrown a cruel twist into their story, and now they were correcting it.
They drove back to Grace’s home in silence, having fixed their plans. They would go into the house together and confront David and his mother. Or, rather, they would allow those two to confront them. Grace would tell David it was over. She would pack some things for Sindi and herself – it would only take a minute – and they would go to a friend of Johnny’s for the night. They would both take the next day off work. First they would take Sindi to daycare, and then they would find a place to rent. Tomorrow they would begin their new life together: Grace, Johnny and Sindi.
They arrived at the front gate to find the house shrouded in darkness. Gwen’s car was not parked against the curb next to the gate, where Grace had expected to see it. Surely she had driven straight to David, to share the news with her son? Gwen would not just have come and gone after delivering such devastating news. Surely not?
“Wait, Johnny. Let’s just wait on this.”
Grace felt her courage fading.“Something’s not right; it’s not right to do it this way. I owe it to David to do it on my own.”
“Bad idea. You don’t know what he’ll do. He might hurt you. Let me come with you.”
“What? He’d never do that. He couldn’t hurt a fly. No, please. Let me do this on my own. Trust me, Johnny. Let me go up there tonight one last time and tell him my way.”
“Why? Now that we’ve decided, what could you want there?”
“I owe this to David at least. I know him, I know what to say. He would never hurt me. Just allow me to do this last thing for him.”
Johnny eyes darkened but he nodded assent. More words were exchanged, and he agreed to pick her up the next morning at eight. Grace climbed out of the car after an earnest “I love you” and slammed the door with finality. The taillights of his car were two tiny red pinpricks by the time Grace turned to ascend the steps.
This would be the last time she would enter the house as her home. Heavy of heart, for she had loved it here, but compelled by a force much larger than anything she felt for David, she made her way up. Not for the first time, Grace cursed God; a merciless, malignant God who took pleasure in shuffling the cards of their lives in the completely wrong order. This life with David was a mistake. As bad as she felt to hurt him, Grace needed to focus on Johnny, her first love. It should have been him all along.
It should have been him. The thought filled her head as she plodded up the stairs, towards the devastating deed she was forced to commit. It should have been him. The rhythm of her footsteps on the concrete veranda floor. It should have been him. The sound of the key as it turned in the front door lock. It should have been him. The scream of the stars, moon and night sky retreating from her, as she prepared to do this thing, utterly alone.
The house was dark and quiet, save for the glow of a nightlight at the very back of the bedroom. She entered the living room. David lay sprawled there on the couch, fast asleep. The kitchen was neat, everything in its place, and the living room had been tidied. Grace slipped off her shoes and padded over to the couch on bare feet.
She stood, feeling helpless, watching her husband in his sleep of innocence. Her heart swelled with tenderness for him, but she checked it, steeling herself. This should have been Johnny, right here, on the couch. Johnny should have been the father of the little girl asleep in the bedroom. David stirred, sensing her presence, and opened his eyes, soft from the memory of a dream. He smiled. Grace warmed to the crinkles around his eyes. He whispered hello in a sleepy voice. Clearly Gwen had not yet been there.
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