Mirror, Mirror Chapter One August 1969
Today will be a day of letting go. Ellen’s eyes widened as she read her horoscope in the evening paper. Sometimes the forecasts were uncannily accurate.
Today she’d let go of Chris Wallace. After seven years of emotional turmoil, of loving and never really knowing if she was loved in return, she’d finally closed the chapter on the turbulent, passionate, savagely painful love that had left her life in tatters and her spirit crushed.
Seven years ago, she’d never have had the strength to turn her back on Chris. She’d always forgiven him, made excuses for him, let him control and manipulate her. The I love yous, I’m sorrys, You’re the only woman who understands mes, the words that had promised a love which had never been delivered, had always got to her as he knew they would. They’d always stopped the pain for a little while at least, because she had so badly wanted to hear them.
Chris knew how vulnerable she was. He’d always counted on that and on her compassion. He’d played with her emotions. She’d danced to his tune. But not any more. Now she was free of him. She’d put the past behind her and taken a step towards a new life.
Doug Roche would give her all she wanted. Kind, decent, caring Doug, who was as strong and dependable as Chris was weak and shallow. Chris with his insincere lies would promise you the moon . . . Doug would get it for you.
Ellen had always believed Chris because she wanted to believe him. Willing that there was some decency and goodness and truth in him. Time and time again he’d let her down. Chris would never change. Not for her, not for anyone. He hadn’t it in him to put another person’s feelings before his own. In a way, Ellen felt sorry for him. He had never really known the joy of loving someone. He had never known what it was like to be happy for someone when something good happened to them. He’d never known what it was like to truly share.
In all the years she’d known him and loved him, he hadn’t changed at all. He hadn’t grown or learned anything. He was still the centre of his universe and as long as she let him treat her the way he did, as long as she gave him permission to behave so badly towards her and with such lack of respect he would continue to do so. She had to accept responsibility for herself. Hard as it was, she had to finally draw the line and say enough. She had to value herself. It had finally dawned on her that she couldn’t put all the blame on Chris.
It was a painful realisation. Ellen wanted to shy away from the thought, but that was cowardly and she’d never been a coward. She’d allowed him to treat her like dirt. She’d never said, ‘I don’t accept the way you treat me. It’s not decent. It’s not nice.’ She’d let him think that his emotionally abusive behaviour was perfectly acceptable to her. And that was very wrong. Very demeaning. She was worthy of much more. And it was wrong of her to let Chris think that the way he treated her was all right. He’d never had to face the consequences of his actions. Ellen doubted he ever would. Accepting personal responsibility for his actions had never been Chris’s way.
For some reason Ellen suddenly remembered a very kind nun called Sister Michael who used to teach her religion at secondary school. Sister Michael had been different to any other teacher they’d ever had. She’d believed women should go to university and get degrees and have careers. ‘You can be anything you want, girls. Don’t limit your vision,’ she used to say. She’d been talking one day about Loving your neighbour as yourself.
‘And girls,’ she’d said. ‘How hard it is to love yourself. But if you don’t love yourself how can you love your neighbour? Don’t ever allow anyone to treat you badly. Stand up for yourself and know what you are . . . a soul of infinite value to God. If you allow someone to abuse your mind, body or spirit, you are guilty of the sin of not loving yourself. And girls, that is like slapping God in the face, because he has made you perfect.’
Ellen hadn’t really understood what Sister Michael was trying to tell a class of thirty giddy sixth years who only had one thing on their minds . . . boys. She’d always thought that loving yourself was a very selfish thing to do. But now all these years later, as she sat thinking and thinking about her relationship with Chris, she suddenly saw what that wise nun had been talking about.
She had allowed Chris to treat her badly because of her desperate need for his love. And when he’d left her, she’d considered herself worthless. And then, after all the pain and suffering, after all the torment of rejection, she’d taken him back and allowed it all to happen again. If she had respected and loved herself she’d never have let that happen.
Tears pricked her eyelids. She felt ashamed of herself and her weakness. She’d been pretty pathetic really. No wonder Miriam, her sister-in-law, used to get mad at her. But it was very hard not to keep making excuses for someone when you loved them. She had let him do it to her . . . twice. How little self-worth she had. She’d let Chris manipulate and control her and done nothing to protect herself. Never ever again would she allow anyone to do that to her. Even if she were never to be involved with anyone again. Even if it didn’t work out between her and Doug. At least she’d have peace of mind. And she did want peace of mind and a good life for herself and Stephanie, her beautiful little daughter – the one good thing that had come out of her relationship with Chris.
Ellen felt tiredness seep from every pore. It had been a long day. She was drained and exhausted. She folded up the paper and switched off the lamp. Five minutes later she was curled up in bed.
Stephanie was staying over at Miriam’s. She loved going on ‘holidays’ to be with her cousins. And it was kind of Miriam to take her so that Ellen could have a night out.
She and Doug had planned to go down to the Glenree Arms for a drink and then, because the night was so mild, Doug had suggested they drive to Howth and go for a walk along the pier. Then Chris had come knocking on her door and she’d nearly died.
Tonight certainly hadn’t turned out the way she’d expected, she thought ruefully, as she stared at the patch of star-studded black velvet sky through the square skylight that sloped down her pine ceiling.
To think, though, that Chris had called to her door, yet again expecting her to take him back after all his shitty behaviour. This time he’d found the well of love had run dry. Did he think she would put up with his selfishness and his lies for the rest of her life? Did he think he could go on taking, while he gave nothing back? Did he think he could walk all over her for as long as he wanted?
Lying alone in her bed, Ellen felt a fierce anger. How could he not have loved her the way she loved him? Would that have been so difficult? He’d always taken her love for granted. He’d always known it was there for him. And she had loved him. Passionately. From the first time she’d met him, seven long years ago at her brother Vincent’s wedding.
Now that she had finally closed the door in his face, wasn’t it just typical of her to start wondering if she’d done the right thing? She knew deep in her heart that she had. She’d better cut this nonsense out now, Ellen told herself crossly, ashamed of herself for being so stupid.
In the last few months she’d had time to think and sort herself out. Hadn’t she? She knew Chris would have stayed in her life for ever if she’d wanted. Flitting in and out as it suited him. But she didn’t want it any more. She was weary of all the emotional trauma. He was a shit. He always had been and always would be. A sexy, charming, selfish, fun-loving child-man who had always run to her for comfort when times got tough. Nothing and no one could change him. She’d never change him. Suzy, his attractive blonde dolly-bird wife wouldn’t change him either. He would never give emotional stability to any woman because he was so deeply engrossed in himself.
With Doug it was very different. Doug always made her feel that she was special. He was always interested in what she was doing. In little ways that meant a lot to her, Doug showed her that he cared about her. He always held the car door open for her. He walked on the outside when they were walking together. He mowed her lawn. He never let her carry anything heavy. He made her cups of tea when she was watching The Late Late. Doug couldn’t have been more different to Chris.
Chris had never made her a cup of tea once. It wouldn’t even dawn on him. She had always danced attendance on him and he’d expected it of her. Ellen lay in bed trying to think of one time that Chris had ever done anything nice that had made her feel cherished. He’d given her a cheap birthstone ring when he’d been trying to persuade her to resume their relationship. So that didn’t count. There’d been an ulterior motive behind that.
He’d never done one nice thing for her, Ellen thought sadly. She’d loved a mean, self-centred, weak man. Tears slid down her cheeks. If Doug hadn’t been there she wasn’t sure if she would have had the strength to send Chris away. She did miss him. She couldn’t deny that. True, she’d kept herself hectically busy so she wouldn’t have time to think about him. Opening her new deli with Miriam and her old schoolfriend Denise was all that occupied her thoughts but at night in the dark, by herself, it was hard to shut out thoughts of Chris. Maybe tonight she’d crossed that final barrier. There was no going back. It was time for a fresh start. Chris was out of her life for good. She just had to be strong. And Doug would be there to help her.
• • •
Doug Roche took a faded photo from his wallet. He stared hard at Geena Kingston’s image. He’d been crazy about her once. He’d wanted to marry her until he found out that she’d been seeing someone else behind his back. He’d suffered his heartache, just as Ellen had. But tonight had been a turning-point, he mused, as he struck a match and watched the flame curl around Geena’s photo. Why he’d kept that photo so long he didn’t know, but now as the ashes fell into the fireplace, he knew that Geena was a chapter in his past that was well and truly closed.
He wanted to make a future with Ellen and Stephanie and tonight, for the first time, he’d felt there was a chance. He wasn’t a fool, though. Ellen loved Chris, Doug knew that. He’d seen her glowing and radiant those first weeks after they’d started seeing each other again. And then gradually he’d seen the unhappiness, the stress, the preoccupied look in her eyes, as the months had gone by.
When he’d seen Chris Wallace standing at Ellen’s front door, so arrogant and cocky, so sure that Ellen would fall back into his arms, Doug had wanted to land him one right in the jaw. Had that bastard no conception of what he was doing to Ellen? Of the suffering he’d caused her? Why had he come back into her life again? He was a married man with young children. He was obviously a thoroughly selfish man. And he was a bloody idiot too, Doug thought contemptuously. He should have realised what he had in Ellen and married her years ago. When she’d closed the door on Chris tonight, he knew it was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. If she could put Chris behind her, once and for all, Doug knew there was a good chance that he and Ellen could be happy together. There was a very close bond between them, a mutual respect and friendship. Maybe in time it would turn to love. There were different kinds of loving. What he’d felt for Geena was totally different to what he felt for Ellen. If only Ellen could come to the same sort of realisation, that would be half the battle. All he could do was hope and wait.
• • •
Chris Wallace had never felt so angry in his life. The further he’d driven from Ellen’s the angrier he’d become. How dare she turf him out as if he was just some piece of flotsam! How dare that creep she was with more or less threaten him! Just where did he get off, this Doug guy? How could Ellen want to be with him?
Chris shook his head in disbelief as he drove at speed along the back roads. He didn’t care if he crashed. That would give Ellen something to think about. If he was killed in a smash-up then she’d be sorry, Chris thought self-pityingly as he scorched around a narrow bend forcing another car to pull in sharply. The driver blared his horn and shook his fist.
‘Up yours,’ Chris snarled, unimpressed.
How could Ellen reject him the way she just had? Never in a million years had he expected that Ellen Munroe would shut him out of her life. Even a few months ago when she’d told him that it was over, he’d thought it was a phase she was going through. Women could get funny ideas into their heads. He’d called her bluff. Stayed away. He’d even started a little fling with Alexandra Johnston, his wife Suzy’s best friend.
Well, it hadn’t actually happened like that. He hadn’t initiated the affair. Alexandra had. She’d thrown herself at him. It wasn’t a huge surprise to him. He had a way with women. He liked them. They found him attractive. What was a man supposed to do? He’d always been of the opinion that you should take your chances as you found them. Fidelity was overrated. Men were different to women. Their biological drives were much stronger and, if women were going to flaunt themselves at him, he was no saint and he never had been. They all knew that. Ellen, Suzy, Alexandra.
Ellen knew him better than anyone. And he’d thought he knew her. He’d thought she was happy being with him again. Their times together had been loving and immensely satisfying. It had been a huge shock to him when she’d said she wanted to end it. She’d gone all moral, saying she didn’t like the lies and deceit. She’d even thrown his marriage in his face, saying he had responsibilities to Suzy and his kids. She’d known all that when she took him back. Her scruples hadn’t mattered then, Chris thought angrily as he pulled into a lay-by at the back of the airport and watched a Viscount take off. He wished he was on the bloody plane.
A couple in the next car were snogging passionately. He and Ellen had often come here to court years ago. He felt horny thinking about it. He’d been so sure that he and Ellen would end up in bed tonight. He’d been longing for it. The sex with Alexandra was good enough but he knew it wouldn’t last. Alexandra was a cold fish. She’d none of Ellen’s warmth. He’d loved making love to Ellen. She was so giving and passionate. Had she slept with that bearded bastard of a builder? Jealousy seared his heart. How could she let another man touch her? How could she kiss anyone else? Would she whisper the kind of endearments that she’d whispered to him to that other fucker? A builder! Was that the best she could do? Chris was so angry he wanted to drive back to Glenree and smash his fist into that smug bastard’s jaw. How dare he stand there issuing threats! Who the hell did he think he was? Showing off for Ellen. No doubt she’d been listening upstairs, lapping it up.
Well, it wasn’t over. It wasn’t over by any manner of means. Ellen loved him. He was the father of her child. Stephanie was theirs. And nothing would change that. He had every right to get to know his own daughter, Chris thought self-righteously. He’d be able to find out from Emma, his first cousin, what was going on. Emma was married to Ellen’s brother Vincent. Emma would be his spy in the camp. Oh no, Ellen had not seen the back of him. Not by a long shot, Chris vowed as he started the engine and headed for Alexandra’s pad.
• • •
Alexandra Johnston raised an eyebrow as her doorbell shrilled impatiently. She glanced out the window. Chris’s red Peugeot was parked down in the car park.
How flattering, she thought smugly. He couldn’t keep away. They hadn’t made an arrangement to meet tonight. He and Suzy usually went out on Friday night. He must have told fibs and said he was working late and decided to surprise her, Alexandra decided. But that wasn’t playing the game. What did he think? That she was sitting in waiting for him to call? That she had no life of her own? Big mistake! She was calling the shots. Not Chris.
Chris Wallace was finally going to find out that there was one woman who wouldn’t dance to his tune. Alexandra would use him as long as it suited her. And then . . . when Mister Right came along . . . bye bye, lover-boy. Casanova Wallace had broken enough hearts. Now it was time for him to get a taste of his own medicine. And she was the one to give it to him.
Alexandra smirked. She liked being in control and tonight she felt extremely in control as she watched her lover stalk morosely to his car, glowering up at her window as he did so.
‘Tough, baby,’ she drawled as she lit a Carroll’s and took a slug of her G & T. By the time she was finished with Chris, he wouldn’t know which end of him was up.
• • •
He was having an affair! She knew it. Suzy Wallace paced the bedroom floor. He’d told her he was working late. He hadn’t used the hoary old auditor’s excuse this time. He’d said that he and his dippy little secretary, Ethel, were putting in a new system to increase efficiency in office procedure. He was only an insurance broker, for God’s sake! Suzy thought viciously. Not a business magnate like Aristotle Onassis or the like. Increased efficiency and new systems, her ass!
She’d phoned the office. She kept getting an engaged tone. He couldn’t be on the phone that long. It got to her so much that she dumped the twins into the back of the car and drove all the way into town from Sandymount, to find her husband’s office in darkness and not a sign of his car anywhere.
Maybe he’d just left. Maybe he’d be home when she got back. She tried to reassure herself. She’d had a knot the size of a melon in her stomach as she turned her car into the drive, hoping against hope to see Chris’s flashy red car. The kids were bawling in the back. They were tired. It was long past their bedtime. They weren’t even three yet, and it was a bit late to be dragging them around.
Suzy felt like bawling herself. For the past six months her life had been a misery. She was in turmoil. Tormented. Chris stayed out late, saying he was working. It was lies . . . all lies. But then Chris was an accomplished liar. She saw it all the time. If he didn’t want to do something that didn’t suit him, he lied. He lied to clients to get them to take out bigger insurance policies. He made his secretary tell lies if he didn’t want to take calls. If he didn’t want to have dinner with his mother, he lied. Charming plausible lies that were always believable, especially when he looked directly at you with those seductive blue eyes. Lying was second nature to Chris. And Suzy knew in her heart and soul that he was lying through his teeth to her.
It must be that bitch in Glenree, she thought frantically as she carried her two whingeing toddlers into the house. That Munroe woman and her illegitimate kid. Suzy peeled a banana each for her little son and daughter. That soothed them. While they were eating, she dialled the office number again and got the engaged tone.
‘The conniving shit,’ she cursed as she slammed down the phone. He was so devious. She was going to have it out with him yet again. Definitely. She’d had enough. When the kids were in bed, she’d ring Alexandra, her best friend, and get her advice.
How had she never seen his deviousness when she’d started dating him? She’d known he had a past. Known that he loved women. But she’d convinced herself all that had ended when he’d married her. How dumb she had been, to be so blinded by his suave, charming, seductive ways.
She was just about to bring the twins upstairs when she heard the sound of the car engine. That threw her. Had he just left the office? Had she just missed him? Maybe he had been working late? If he was seeing someone, would he come home quite this early? It was just gone twenty to eleven. Maybe the mistress had to put up with a quick fuck. That was Chris all over. Mister-Fuck-and-Run.
He was like a demon as he barged in through the front door.
‘Why aren’t the kids in bed?’ he snarled.
‘Where were you? I rang the office and I couldn’t get an answer,’ she snapped back furiously.
‘The bloody phone is out of order. For crying out loud, I’m working my butt off to give you a decent standard of living, the least you could do is have the kids in bed at a reasonable hour and the house a bit tidy,’ Chris fumed as he kicked a toy duck out of his way. ‘What the hell is wrong with you these days, Suzy? Don’t you think I have enough on my plate with the chaos at work without coming home to this mess?’ He marched into the lounge, poured a whiskey and switched on the TV.
Suzy stood, wracked with confusion and anger. Was the phone out of order? Had he really been working late? He looked dreadful. Strained and tired. Not like someone who’d been having a good shag. Chris was always in a good humour after sex.
She didn’t know what to believe any more. She wanted to believe him . . . badly. Maybe she was just paranoid. Alexandra was always telling her that she was. Maybe Chris wasn’t telling her lies. Was it all a figment of her imagination?
The twins started fighting.
She’d better put them to bed before he really lost his cool. Suzy sighed tiredly. She had a thumping headache and she couldn’t think straight. Maybe Chris was telling the truth about this goddamn system of his. Perhaps there wasn’t another woman. She had to be more trusting. If you didn’t have trust you had nothing, Suzy thought unhappily as she undressed the twins for bed.
She heard Chris pound upstairs into their bedroom. He closed the door none too gently. He was going to bed without even saying goodnight. Tears welled in her eyes. No one could make her feel miserable the way Chris could. He was a master at it. How much longer could she take it?