Peter sat in the armchair, dully taking in the view from the large glass windows. The sky was the grey of early morning and the traffic was slowly building. An hour ago he had heard Holly’s voice occasionally rising in what sounded like anger, but it had grown quiet bow. He had listened for the sound of the front door, but there’d been nothing. He longed to go out and see her, but resisted the urge.
His cellphone had rung a couple of times with calls from Clint but he’d ignored it. His thoughts were unfocused; whether through exhaustion or shock he wasn’t sure. If his thoughts drifted anywhere, it was to Layla.
A part of him suddenly felt guilty. He’d made this all about Holly. It was Holly he was upset about. Holly he was worried for. Holly he wished this had never happened to. But his wife’s killer was being brought to justice. Shouldn’t he be glad of that? He had loved Layla so strongly at one point; he had chosen her, over all the people telling him she wasn’t worth it. And now after all was said done, he couldn’t say how he felt anymore.
Perhaps no one had ever really known her. She was not the angel he had at one point constructed in his head. But she wasn’t quite the devil everyone had tried to make him see. Evelyn seemed to have been the closest to seeing the real Layla. She had known a woman who discovered she was pregnant and was suddenly desperate to make her marriage work.
Why was that? Layla could not really have had any very strong feelings for Peter himself, could she? Perhaps she’d become used to him, she liked how easy it was for her to manipulate him, maybe she had become fond of him over time. But she was willing to try so hard for the sake of that unborn child. Why had that touched her when nothing else had?
He supposed he would probably never know exactly what made Layla tick. They had both lost that chance.
He rose to his feet and pushed open one of the windows, leaning against the windowsill to breath in the fresh air.
There was soft knock on the den door and it opened slowly. He turned. Evelyn was looking tired and worried.
“How is she?” he asked quickly.
“She’s upstairs in the bedroom. She was very,” Evelyn hesitated, “upset. But she’s quieted down.”
Peter nodded. He glanced out the window again, taking in the view of the city.
“She wants to see you,” said Evelyn.
“She knows I’m here?”
“Yes. I’ve told her the police questioned you and that you came to me with the news of Alan’s arrest.” What she hadn’t told Holly lay unspoken between them. “She wants to see you. I think she’s worried about you.”
Peter nodded. “I’ll go up.”
As he passed Evelyn in the doorway she held out a hand and stopped him. “Dear don’t do anything foolish.”
He resisted a retort and went out into the living room and up the short staircase. He knocked gently. There was a soft “come in” and he opened the door.
Holly was seated on the bed, her feet up. She looked like she had been crying but she was relatively calm now.
She looked up at him. She didn’t exactly smile but face seemed to soften at the sight. “Hey.”
He came up and sat down beside her. “Are you…well you’re not okay but, how are you?”
“I don’t know,” she said helplessly. “I just don’t know.”
Peter reached out to take her hand but stopped himself, laying his own down on the bed instead. “I can’t begin to imagine how hard this is for you. But I’m so sorry you have to go through it.”
Holly shook her head and turned to him, apparently forcing herself to focus. “How are you Peter? This must be so hard for you too, and a huge shock.”
“I…” Peter didn’t want to lie to her. He didn’t even want to mislead her. It was wrong. Surely she’d been deceived enough already. “It wasn’t a total shock.”
She looked surprised.
“I’m sorry Holly. Part of the evidence against Alan came from me.” He hurried on in a rush, trying to explain before she had time to react. “It can all be independently verified. It will all be independently verified by the police. And I had no idea Alan had that gun. But when they matched the weapon, the LAPD brought me in to find out what was going on and how he got the gun. Showing them the evidence was the only option. I wanted to take it to you first. And I swear I never wanted it to go this way.”
There was a moment when she just stared at him and he wondered if this was perhaps just one piece of information too many for her to digest after everything else.
“That’s why you’ve been trying to see me,” she said suddenly. “When you came over that day, when Alan interrupted us, you had a folder”
“Yes. I’d found proof and wanted to show it to you.”
She made a small noise, halfway between a laugh and a sigh. “And I thought you were just there to tell me you loved me again and ask me to leave him.”
“Holly…” began Peter very slowly, but she continued talking, not hearing him.
“He told me he didn’t feel safe with me around you. He said you might hurt me like you did Layla. But he knew all along that you hadn’t hurt her. He knew the only killer was him and he still-” She broke off abruptly and covered her eyes.
“Holly, please. Please don’t.”
She reached out and hugged him tightly. “I don’t know what to feel anymore. Like a fool? Love? Hate? I just don’t know.”
He held her and the two stayed there. Minutes ticked by in silence, Holly’s breathing slowly evening out as she regained composure.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last, “that I avoided you. I owed you more.”
“No. Don’t even think about it.”
She shifted in their hug so she could look up into his face. “I’ll never ignore your calls again.” She looked back down.
There was another long silence, and Peter had almost thought Holly might have fallen asleep when she asked, “There’s one thing I don’t understand. How did you have the proof?”
“Evelyn told me they had photographs, and fingerprints and footage from the security camera. You gathered all that?”
“Yes I did.”
“So you were looking for Layla’s killer?”
“I…sort of, yes.”
“But when did you realize it was Alan? If you matched his prints you must have suspected him.”
Peter sighed. “At that point I already knew it was him. I’d confronted him.”
“Several months ago. Shortly before he left for Australia.”
He felt her stiffen in his arms before she pulled away. She was staring at him with an unreadable expression but it scared him.
“You knew that long ago?” Her voice was curious.
“I didn’t have the proof. I had some text message linking him with Layla but nothing to show he had actually killed her.”
“But you talked to him? And he admitted it?”
“Yes. He did.”
Holly stood up quickly from the bed and backed away, as if to put distance between them. “You didn’t tell me.”
“How could I? I didn’t have proof. Who would you have believed? A man you rejected or a man you loved?”
“I deserved to be given that chance. Instead I went to Australia with him. I became engaged to him. What if you had never found any proof? I could have married him!”
“Holly.” Peter got to his feet. “Please-”
“You knew for months that the man I loved was a liar and a murderer. A murderer, Peter! Can’t you even comprehend that?”
“That I wouldn’t believe you! So you said,” she snapped. “You had no right to keep that from me for so long.” She looked on the verge of tears again and turned her back to him. “Get out.”
“What kind of person did you think I was to believe I’d want to marry the man who killed your wife? Get. Out.”
Peter paused for one awful moment, desperately searching for the right words to say. He wanted to go to her. He almost wanted to beg her to forgive him. But that would just be one more emotional trauma she didn’t need.
He left the bedroom.