Chapter no 18

Hidden Pictures

He sits up, shielding his eyes from the light. “Jesus, Caroline, can you turn it down?” His voice is an octave lower than normal, thick with sleep.

I don’t move from the doorway. “It’s Mallory.”

He peeks out between his fingers and seems surprised to find himself in my cottage, in my bed, under my blankets. “Oh, Jesus. Oh, fuck. I’m sorry.” He swings his legs out of bed and stands up and immediately loses his balance. He grabs the wall to steady himself and waits for the room to stop spinning. Ted is so drunk he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s not wearing pants, that he’s huddled against the wall in a polo shirt and black boxer-brief underwear. There are gray chinos splayed across the foot of the bed, like he peeled them off just before tucking himself in.

He says, “This isn’t what it looks like.”

It looks like Ted is being frisked by the police. He’s got both legs spread apart and both hands pressed against the wall.

“Maybe I should get Caroline?”

“No! God, no.” He turns to look at me. “I just need you to

—oh Jesus, oh no.” He looks back at the wall and steadies himself. “Can you bring me some water?”

I walk over to the sink and fill one of the small plastic tumblers that I serve to Teddy. It’s illustrated with polar bears and penguins. I carry it over to Ted and I can smell the booze on him; he reeks of scotch and sour sweat. He drinks

from the cup, sloshing most of it across his neck and chest. So I fill it again and this time he manages to get most of the water into his mouth. But his body is still anchored to the wall, like he’s not quite ready to take on gravity.

“Ted, why don’t you stay here? I’ll go to the big house. I can sleep on the sofa.”

“No, no, no, I need to get back.”

“I really think I should get Caroline.”

“I’m better now. The water helps. Watch.”

He stands up straight and takes a wobbly step toward me. Then he reaches out, flailing, desperate for help. I take his hand and guide him to the foot of the bed. He sinks onto the mattress, not releasing my hand until I’m seated beside him.

“Five minutes,” he promises. “It’s getting better.” “Do you want more water?”

“No, I don’t want to throw up.” “How about a Tylenol?”

I want an excuse to stand and move away from him, so I go into my bathroom and come back with three chewable baby aspirin. I put them in Ted’s sweaty palm and he dutifully grinds them between his teeth.

“Caroline and I had a fight. I just needed some space, a little room to clear my head. I saw your light was off. I figured you were out for the night. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“I understand,” I tell him, even though I really don’t; I have no idea why he climbed into my bed.

“Of course you understand. You’re a very empathetic person. That’s why you’re such a great mother.”

“I’m not a mother yet.”

“You’d make a great mother. You’re kind, you’re caring, and you’d put the child first. It’s not rocket science. Are you wearing Caroline’s dress?”

His eyes are roaming all over my body and I move behind the kitchen counter, grateful to have a barrier between us.

“She gave me some clothes last month.”

“Castoffs. Hand-me-downs. You deserve better, Mallory.” He mumbles some things I can’t make out except the very end: “You’re stuck in this shithole and there’s a whole big world out there.”

“I like it here. I like Spring Brook.”

“Because you haven’t been anywhere else. If you’d traveled, if you’d been to Whidbey Island, you’d understand.”

“Where’s that?”

He explains that it’s part of a chain of islands in the Pacific Northwest. “I spent a summer there in college. Best summer of my life. I worked on a ranch, I spent all day in the sun and at night we sat on the beach drinking wine. No TVs, no screens. Just good people and nature and the most gorgeous views you’ve ever seen.”

Then he notices the chinos on top of the bedspread. He seems to understand that they belong to him, that they ought to be on his legs. He shakes out the pants and lowers them to his feet and promptly drops them on the floor. I realize I will need to help. I kneel in front of him, holding open the pants so he can pull them on—first one leg, then the other. He raises them just past his hips, then stares into my eyes. “I swear to you, Mallory, if you saw Puget Sound, you’d forget Spring Brook in five minutes. You’d realize Spring Brook is a shithole, it’s a trap.”

I’m not really listening to anything he’s saying. When you grow up in South Philly, you have lots of encounters with lots of drunks, and you learn that most of their comments are nonsense. None of this means anything.

“Spring Brook is beautiful. And you have a wonderful life here. A beautiful family, a beautiful wife.”

“She sleeps in the guest room. She won’t touch me.”

Ted is mumbling and looking down at his pants, so it’s easy for me to pretend I didn’t hear that.

“You have a beautiful house,” I continue.

“She bought it. Not me. This is the last place on Earth I’d choose to live.”

“What do you mean?”

“Caroline’s father was very wealthy. We could afford to live anywhere. Manhattan, San Francisco, you name it. But she wanted Spring Brook, so here we are in Spring Brook.” He speaks as if events have spiraled beyond his control. “Don’t get me wrong, Mallory. She’s a good person. She has a big heart. And she would do anything for Teddy’s wellbeing. But this is not the life I wanted. I never signed on for any of this.”

“Can I get you some more water?”

He shakes his head, like I’m failing to grasp some essential point. “I’m not asking you to take care of me. I’m saying would take care of you.”

“I understand. And I’ll think about it. But right now we should get you home. Caroline is probably worried.”

Ted is increasingly incoherent—he says something about Seneca Lake and wine country and running away from everything. He manages to stand without my help, then lifts his chinos and buttons them. “We should burn these.”

“Tomorrow,” I tell him. “Let’s burn them tomorrow.”

“But not in the cottage.” He points to the smoke detector on the wall. “All your wiring is knob and tube so it’s very delicate. Very fragile. Don’t fix it yourself. Ask me for help.”

I open the door to the cottage and Ted stumbles outside onto the porch. Somehow he manages to descend the three steps to the lawn without tripping, and then he veers off into the dark, heading toward the big house.

“Good night,” I call after him. “We’ll see,” he calls back.

I close the door to my cottage and lock it. I spy a crumpled wad of Kleenex on the nightstand beside my bed. I pick it up with a paper towel and shove it deep down to the bottom of my wastebasket. Then I pull off my blankets and strip off my sheets and discover three of my bras mixed up

in everything. I don’t know how they ended up in my bed and I don’t want to know. Tomorrow I will put everything in the laundry and I will try to forget this happened.

Since I don’t have any other sheets, I have to spread my bath towels over the mattress and lie down on them. It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m transported back to the beautiful castle garden with its gentle waterfalls and sweet-smelling floral archways. Nothing can spoil this night for me—not my argument about the séance with Caroline, and certainly not discovering Ted in my cottage. And before I fall asleep I ask God to forgive me for lying to Adrian. I pray that He’ll help me find the right words to tell him the truth. I pray that Adrian will see past all the horrible things I’ve done—that he’ll see me as the person I am now, not the disaster I used to be.

You'll Also Like