As soon as the verdict had been announced, Elizabeth slipped away into the shadows. She didn’t want to encroach on their grief. It was partly her fault that her ex-rival was going to be in prison for ten years. Yes, Martha’s testimony didn’t help her either, but, if she had been honest then maybe she could have done the same.
If she were to get through the next few years, her own problems had to come first.
Money, in short supply, prompted her to put the family home on the market – if it weren’t for selling her car, she would have struggled to even buy food. She thought it would be difficult, to let go of the home she had grown up in, but strangely it was easier than she thought.
When the estate agent had told her its true worth, she nearly fell off her chair.
But someone had to buy it first. It didn’t matter how much the house was on paper, if nobody took an interest, then it was worthless. It had been on the market for four months, but without a proper offer soon, the bank would take it first.
It didn’t help that most of the people, who came to view the house, didn’t want to buy it. They had more interest in the person selling. In the last few weeks alone, there had been twenty viewings. Elizabeth felt like she was on trial. She could tell, just by their expressions, that they wanted to find out about her part in Martha’s demise; weren’t in the least interested in how far it was from the motorway.
Yet she couldn’t help but get excited.
With the house sold, she could buy a one bedroomed flat, and could move out of the area completely. Maybe, with the money left over, she could go on holiday to Wales. It would be great to spend some time with her father.
But Martha didn’t have that choice.
She sent numerous letters to the prison, and they all came back unopened. There was nothing to do, but to move away. Get on with her own life – hoping the guilt wouldn’t follow her like a stealthy snake through the grass.
It was the radio interview that changed her mind.
Laura had spoken about her father, and how Martha suffered at his hands. Shared experiences resonated with Elizabeth.
The cruelty. The control. The unattainable perfection, in a bid to make Thomas happy.
She wondered, if Martha chose to appeal, how she could help not hinder her this time. In a newspaper article it had been mentioned that Laura worked in a library. Maybe she could see her, talk to her. Find out what Martha planned to do next.
Weeks later she found the courage to walk inside.
In line with the queue, Elizabeth stepped forward, watched Laura going through the motions. She looked like the world was carried on fragile shoulders, but still found a smile for each customer as they became first in line.
Elizabeth stood at the counter.
‘Can I help you?’
Laura tilted her head towards the light, which streamed in from the window above her. Hands used to shield against the sun’s rays, she stared at Elizabeth like she was a mirage.
‘I get it, you are mad with me and you’ve every right to be.’
‘Understatement of the year much,’ Laura said.
‘I just wanted to talk to you, but I can see you’re busy.’
‘It’s not you that is in prison for ten years. Ten years, bloody hell. You stand there with your crocodile tears. I think you need to get away from here before I lose control.’
‘This was a bad idea, it’s just I wanted to say sorry.’
‘Sorry, well now you’ve said it, you can go and crawl back under your rock.’
‘I wanted to tell you, that I lied on the stand. I painted Thomas to be the perfect boyfriend, but his temper wasn’t just aimed at Martha. If there was another trial, I would be willing to give evidence.’
Laura looked to her watch and called over her colleague. ‘Mary, could you take over, I’m going to take my lunch break.’
One last look at Elizabeth, Laura gave a short, sharp laugh, and walked towards the front entrance. She picked out a packet of menthol cigarettes from her pocket and lit one up.
‘Will you go away please?’ Laura asked.
‘I know you’re angry with me; you’ve every right. I lied under oath because I thought I loved Thomas, but there was a moment, when my eyes met your mum’s and I realised something.’
‘That you were a rotten lying bitch.’
‘I deserve that, but you know what Thomas was like.’
At first, Elizabeth refused the cigarette Laura offered. ‘I don’t smoke, but then again I didn’t drink until your father came into my life.’ Eventually she took the cigarette and watched as Laura lit it with her lighter. Elizabeth drew in the smoke and gave a little cough. ‘No, I still don’t smoke. Look I’m sorry I bothered you, I was just feeling out of sorts.’
‘Wait, you don’t get away with it so easily,’ Laura said, and pulled her back.
‘I can’t stay here to be abused, I had too much of that when Thomas was alive.’
‘I’m nothing like him.’
‘Of course you’re not, but I’m tired, and I need to go to the job centre, not that anyone will hire me.’
‘Am I meant to feel sorry for you?’
‘No, it is what it is, but I have no energy for a fight. You’re right, this was a bad idea, bothering you like this.’
Laura put the packet inside her pocket. ‘No, I have questions of my own. Do you want a cup of tea?’ Laura asked. ‘There’s a café inside the library, much more comfortable in there. Plus I wouldn’t put it past reporters to be lurking about.’
Sat in the tiny cafeteria, with two small cups of tea in front of them, Elizabeth couldn’t think of the right things to say.
‘What did you want to tell me?’ Laura’s voice softened.
‘I wanted to tell you I didn’t think Martha deserved to go to prison. Thomas could be lovely when he wanted something for himself. That’s why I lost my job. He persuaded me to change a few dates and add some qualifications. It seemed insignificant then, but now I know it was more than that.’
‘Were you afraid of my father?’ Laura asked.
‘Not in the beginning, but at Christmas he showed his true colours.’
‘Then why did you lie on the stand; you must have known Mum went through the same.’
‘Honestly, I’m not sure. In some warped way I didn’t want Thomas’s name raked through the mud.’
‘I suppose you are going to say you loved him, that he was different with you.’
‘I may not have suffered like your mum, but he controlled me the same, but I thought he loved me – he told me often enough – and I was lonely, my mother had died only a few months before. I know what you are going to say, your mum went through a lot more.’
‘No, I want to ask what you saw in him? I’ve often wondered that with mum, but I doubt she’ll ever tell me.’
‘He could be kind, thoughtful. When I got into work, he would always leave a flower on my desk, just one. It was a nice start to the day.’
‘Flowers, his answer for everything.’