Читать онлайн «The Classroom: A gripping and terrifying thriller which asks who you can trust in 2018»
Ian plants a kiss on each of their foreheads. Harriet gives him a big hug, which he accepts but only fleetingly returns.
‘I’ll go and rescue the supper, shall I?’ Ian says.
‘We’ve eaten,’ Kirsten tells him.
‘Anything left for me?’ he asks.
She shakes her head. ‘Didn’t think you’d be back in time. There’ll be something else, though. Check the fridge.’
She turns back to the book. She tries to re-create the mood, but it’s gone. Harriet is distracted. Soon, Ian mooches back in with some pitta bread and hummus.
‘How was Harriet’s first day?’ he asks. ‘How was it, sweetie?’
‘We had to draw our holidays,’ she says.
Kirsten shares a look with Ian, seeing his understanding.
The conversation moves on.
‘And how was your day, sweetheart?’ Ian asks Kirsten, rubbing her shoulders. ‘Any tricky patients?’
‘It’s not the patients that are tricky, it’s trying to run a business while trying to raise a child basically single-handedly. That’s tricky!’
‘Hush, Kirsten, not in front of—’
Shit, he’s right, of course. She should have bitten her tongue – every time she snaps like this, she gets one step closer to being her parents, everything turning into an argument. ‘Sorry. Sorry, both of you. Bit stressed.’ Kirsten kisses both of them on the forehead, then sits back on the sofa.
‘But, Ian, do you know, all my competitors offer early morning and late evening appointments?’ she continues. ‘All of them, without exception. I’m never going to make it, working in school hours only.’
‘So go back to the public sector,’ he says, joshing her. It’s a running joke, that she’s gone private, while he remains wedded to the state sector. She rolls her eyes. He grins. ‘Or, more realistically, take on a partner,’ Ian tells her.
He says it like it’s so easy.
‘I can’t afford to take on a partner until there’s a business case, and there won’t be a business case until I make more money!’
‘So we’ll get an au pair, like you said,’ Ian counters.
‘It’s not about an au pair, Ian. It’s about you … being here.’
Sometimes, late at night, they sit on the sofa and listen to each other’s concerns. Address them all rationally, over an equally split bottle of wine. This is not one of those occasions.
Harriet gets up and leaves the room.
‘We’re not really bickering, darling, come back!’ Kirsten calls after her.
‘Sweetie, it’s OK—’ Ian joins in.
Kirsten stands, ready to follow Harriet.
‘It’s not, though, is it?’ Kirsten says. ‘It’s not OK.’
Ian climbs off the sofa and kneels in front of Kirsten.
‘It is OK. You’re just stressed. I’m sorry. I’ll try to get home earlier. OK? Maybe I don’t need to shadow all the teachers running up to the inspection, just the problem ones.’
‘You sure you won’t miss the time with the students?’
The comment hangs in the air. Their shared past, ever present.
‘Kirsten, come on. Let’s try to salvage this. I’ll go and find Harriet. You put your feet up, do work emails, whatever. You deserve it, OK?’
She nods, but she feels her jaw pumping.
Ian stands and kisses her on the top of her head.
Together, they go up the stairs to Harriet’s bedroom. She’s sitting on her bed, talking to her teddy bear. Kirsten gestures not to disturb Harriet so they hover outside the room. Ridiculous, to eavesdrop, but it’s the only way inside Harriet’s head sometimes.
‘You do not do that, no no no!’ shouts Harriet, in a little kiddy shout. ‘Bad bear!’
And then she hits the bear across the face.
Christ. Who has she learnt that from?
Kirsten makes to go into the room, but Ian holds out a hand to stop her.
‘Let me,’ he whispers. ‘You did this afternoon. Go downstairs and put your feet up.’
Kirsten shrugs, lets him go in. But after the bear exchange, she’s not about to leave Ian alone with Harriet. She wants to be sure of what goes on. So she moves out of the doorway, does some loud stepping on the spot to imitate going downstairs, then stays where she can hear.
‘I’m sorry about the shouting, sweetheart,’ she hears Ian say.
She can’t see Harriet’s reaction, but Ian continues.
‘Sometimes grown-ups just get a bit angry with themselves, and they take it out on each other.’ It’s a platitude, but Kirsten’s not sure she could do better.
‘As long as they don’t take it out on their children,’ says Harriet, very seriously. ‘Children are there to make people happy.’
Kirsten blinks back tears. She makes it sound so simple.
‘That’s right, sweetie,’ Kirsten hears Ian say. ‘Did someone teach you that?’
‘My new teacher, she’s great,’ Harriet says.
There’s rustling, maybe a hug. ‘I’m so glad you like her, sweetheart.’
‘And the playground is brilliant. Look, I got two more scabs.’
Harriet showed them to Kirsten earlier. Kirsten had kissed each one of them. She can’t see how Ian reacts, but hears ‘I love you, Daddy’.
‘I love you too, sweetheart.’ So. He’s being good, caring Daddy now. Makes a change. But credit where it’s due. Kirsten is about to sneak away downstairs, when Harriet speaks again.
‘I love Mummy too but please will you tell her she doesn’t need to shout? We can still hear if she uses her gentle voice.’
Kirsten closes her eyes and leans against the wall. Her child shouldn’t have to say this.
‘I can ask her, sweetie, but I don’t know if she’ll listen,’ she hears Ian say. Great, so much for spousal support.
‘You’ll have to make her listen.’
Then Ian again: ‘You’re right, sweetheart. I’ll have to make her listen. One way or another.’
Kirsten feels a little chill spread over her at the words, then shakes it off. He’s just trying to reassure their daughter. She could walk into the room, say she is persuaded, that she will use her gentle voice from now on. Ask Ian to explain what he means. But no. Gentle voice here means retreat. Don’t spoil this rare father-daughter bonding session. Retreat. Pad softly downstairs and leave them to it. Whatever ‘it’ is.
Chapter 7 (#ulink_035508a3-99ac-56fc-a46c-264d2cc54426)
MIRIAM, SEPTEMBER 2018
Miriam’s stomach rumbles. She should eat. She looks from her lesson plans to her watch: 7.30 p.m. Kiddy bedtime. Imagine them now, all the parents, tucking in their kids. If only it could be her. Brushing those strands of beautiful hair away from the little ones’ faces to make room for a kiss. Maybe another bedtime story, another lullaby. Then turn off the light, leave the room to be lit by the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling.
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