‘I don’t even want to see him again.’ I speak softly but there is a defiance to my tone, my words.
Mother looks down her aquiline nose. She’s perfected the disapproving gaze. I sometimes imagine that she used to stare at her own mum like that. But Granny would not have tolerated such insolence.
Insolence. That’s Granny and Mother’s favourite word.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Anna,’ Mother replies. Even though she’s fuming, with laser beams shooting from her eyes, her tone is measured, quiet and calm. ‘You’re going to marry him. It’s all been arranged.’
‘I don’t love him.’
‘Love?’ Mother scoffs. ‘Love has nothing to do with marriage, you insolent girl.’
See? Insolent. Mother throws it into sentences like Chef seasons our dinners.
‘You’ve bought into the whole fairytale concept, my dear,’ Mother continues. ‘Too many Disney movies in your childhood. That nanny was a bad choice and has damaged you more than I knew.’
The phone rings in the hallway. The quiet footsteps of Hank, our butler, speed towards the phone, while my mind drifts back to Ella, my nanny. I was three when she arrived and seven when she left. I loved her with all my heart, and still see her face, twenty years later, as I snuggle into bed each night. I remember her bedtime stories, tucking me in, and her kisses to my forehead. She tried hard to patch the holes left by an absent mother. I wonder how I can track her down without Mother knowing. I’d love to see Ella again.
‘Anna!’ Mother snaps.
‘You will marry Ari. There’s nothing more to be said.’
Hank sidles into the room. ‘Ma’am,’ he says to Mother. ‘A word?’
She nods, and he inclines his head towards her left ear. He whispers; her face registers shock.
Hank leaves the room. Mother turns to me. ‘Anna. The marriage is off. We’ve received word that the police have Ari under arrest.’
I gasp audibly. Mother will hate that. I frown in confusion as I register what this all means. I don’t have to marry Ari! And then, curiosity overwhelms me and I ask, ‘What for?’
Mother ignores the question.
I wait with her for a minute before I leave her in the study to find Hank. He’s in the kitchen with Chef. I stand behind the door, listening to their conversation.
‘…yes, I’ve just informed her,’ Hank says to Chef.
‘Christ, I don’t envy your job.’ Chef chuckles. ‘How’d she take the news?’
‘Well, shocked obviously. But I detected relief, too. Better to find out now, than when poor Anna is married to the bastard.’
‘For sure. She didn’t want to marry him anyway, so I guess Anna will be over the moon.’ Chef clears his throat. ‘Well, victims aside.’
‘God, those poor children.’
‘Jail isn’t enough for these guys. I’ve got my own ideas on how to deal with child sex offenders.’
My heart stops for a beat or two in shock. Ari’s a child sex offender? I feel hot, clammy, light-headed. I sink to the floor as bile rises in my throat.
I wake to see Hank’s concerned face. He lifts me up; I’ve been lying in a pool of my own vomit.
‘Anna,’ he says. ‘Come into the kitchen. Chef will make you a hot chocolate or something. Everything’s going to OK.’
‘For me, yes. The marriage is off. I’m fine.’ I look at Hank and I see my own eyes reflected back at me: wide, terrified. ‘But what about those poor children. They’ll never be OK. He’s ruined their lives.’