Chapter 4 - Zoe
Viv rushed through my front door without knocking. In her manicured hands were two cups of cappuccino. A kiss imprint of cherry signalled which one was hers. Even in her haste, she had time to apply a layer of crimson to her lips.
“Come here you,” Viv said as she placed the cups down on my scratched, second-hand coffee table and hugged me so tight that I got a mouth full of her fiery red tresses. I could feel the silk of her scarf too – one from her collection of annual presents from me.
“Thank you for coming,” I whispered over her shoulder, feeling her slender silhouette between my arms. She smelled comforting, familiar. I reluctantly relinquished my embrace and stepped back with intent.
Viv took my hands into hers, reaffirming our connection. She always was the more tactile one between us.
“How are you holding up?” she asked, her jade eyes fixed to mine.
How was I feeling? I settled on, “Confused. Sad. Angry.”
As if sensing my upset, Barney, my cat, weaved through my legs purring.
“You are going to feel all those things,” she said as we gravitated towards the lounge, “it is to be expected. If there is anything I can do to help, anything, let me know.”
She emphasised anything because she knew I was normally very opposed to people making a fuss over me. This time though, I knew I needed to just get straight to the crux of it.
“Right now, I need your opinion. My mother told me something… something frightening before she died.”
Viv’s eyelids were tense and drawn wide. Her pupils enlarged. She jolted as her phone buzzed in her hand, breaking her gaze. The phone tilted in her palm so she could make out the caller before proceeding to put it into her bag.
“It’s no one important.” Viv shuffled against the velvet corner settee, settling in for the revelations, horizontal creases plastered against her forehead. “What did your mum tell you?”
Her hands were back to cradling mine. Coffees sat untouched, growing cooler by the minute. Sweat began to bloom at my armpits.
“I think you just need to read it for yourself.”
I passed Viv the letter and focused my attention on Barney’s apricot fur and began stroking him more vigorously than normal. After several minutes, Viv laid the letter down against her thighs. Her features creased as if she were in pain. I wonder what I had looked like the first time I read the letter. To be a fly on that wall.
After what felt like an eternity, she finally spoke with a grit to her voice, like she was straining to speak. “I don’t understand. Why would your mum leave this for you?”
Of all the first questions to come, this one I did not expect.
“I don’t know. I guess she felt afraid.” I was clutching at straws, desperate to get to the more pertinent point. “What do you think I should do?”
Viv turned herself from my gaze then. She began staring at her hands, twisting them over in her lap. “Do you believe her?” Her words a whisper between us.
My body stiffened with the inquisition. How could she question my mother’s character, and so soon after her death? The accusation almost winded me.
I finally found my voice, “How can I not, Viv? Why would she lie about something like this? She is my mum for crying out loud! She wouldn’t leave me with this information if it wasn’t true.”
Slightly abashed, by the flush to her cheeks, Viv continued, “Where was the letter?”
“Stuffed inside a jacket of hers. One she said I could inherit. One she knew I’d find.” Viv didn’t say anything, so I went on, “I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of my father being this alter-ego villain. Who is he meant to have killed anyway? When was he meant to have done these things? Was it before I was born, in his past?” The questions hummed in my brain.
Finally, Vivienne spoke - quietening my thoughts. “Listen, your mother could have been confused when she wrote this. The meds and chemo could have impacted her state of mind. I know your dad, Zoe. He is no killer!” Her tone was stern and forceful. She stared at me with lips curled inwards.
She didn’t understand. I shook my head. “How well do you ever really know a person though? We see one version of our parents. The only side of my father I know is him as a father. Who he is behind closed doors, well that could be entirely different.” I could see this got Viv thinking so I kept going, “I need to know the truth, Viv. Despite what my mother says, I can’t leave this alone. I need to know if my father is what she says… a killer, but I can’t do it on my own.”
Viv’s head bolted up to meet my gaze. “What do you want me to do?”
My stomach was doing summersaults as I proposed that she should do some digging herself.
I knew the journalist in her wouldn’t be able to walk away from such a request. My mother didn’t want me to investigate these allegations, but she said nothing about my newspaper-columnist-best-friend doing so.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Viv responded.
As I said, she was my absolute rock.