Leaning against the wall, I didn’t feel the plaster that was holding me up. I’d come up stairs like a zombie, not even bothering to check my feet were firmly planted on each step as I always told Hazel to. I barely remembered walking. It was as if I’d floated here in a wave of my own numbness, stopping just before the door for a breather.
Adam had followed, tentatively. He stayed a few paces back, lurking still by the stairs – not sure whether to speak, come forward, or stay where he was. The bottle of scotch was still in his hand, his best and most coherent thought for the night. Perhaps I was drunk. Four empty glasses downstairs suggested that I might be, all downed in quick succession and with little thought for taste. A shame. For once, Adam had forked out for the good stuff.
Behind the door, a tea party was in progress. My little girl thumping her feet across the floor like an elephant – the star guest of any tea party and her absolute favourite toy. She chattered in different voices to herself, playing the part of each of her toys as they gossiped and laughed, shared scandalous stories and complained about their husbands. Just like in real life, like Kate’s acquaintances when they deigned to stay for coffee. Adam inched forward and lifted the bottle.
‘Matty…’ he started, but didn’t finish. Couldn’t finish. What was there to say? There were things you never wanted to hear yourself say, things you never wanted to hear yourself let alone tell someone else. Opening that door was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had held out long enough. I swallowed, took a deep breath and walked in.
The tea party stopped as I entered, Hazel dropping what she was doing to beam at me. Nine years old, she was perfect and she was happy.
‘Daddy!’ she scrambled to stand. ‘Is Mum home?’
That was when I couldn’t take anymore.
That was when the tears started.