He had turned back when visibility got too poor, and now he entered the driveway to the house again. Only two windows were still lit, one on the ground floor and one on first floor, and he felt ready to go to bed, too. He was certainly glad that it would be his last night under this roof. Back at home he would soon be able to commit this woman and her strange ways to distant memory.
For Amy, on the other hand, it would be difficult. He had observed the trust and easy comfort that lay at the heart of her relationship with Mrs. Delahunty.
On the evening of their trip to Siena he happened to be present in Amy's room when Mrs. Delahunty came in to suggest to the girl to paint a picture as her way of saying "thanks" for her survival. She had been able to play down Amy's new lapse of memory in a way he had very much appreciated at that moment.
But whatever amount of admiration he might have developed on that evening, it was heavily withdrawn the next night. She had found him working on his journal out in the gardens as the cool breeze of the evening made it the most pleasant place to be. Having had more than her fair share of alcohol already, she would not recognize his preferrence to read undisturbed, but talked on and on about her time in America and Marrakesh, a topic that had lost its appeal of being new for him.
When he had given up hope of getting any more work done and announced he would retire to his room, she went up to the house with him, and while they were crossing one of the living rooms, she turned his attention to a bookcase, which, as he learned now, held a whole shelf of "her books". So he finally discovered that she was able to afford her lifestyle by writing novels – trivial love stories, to be specific, the kind they sell along with magazines in super markets. Somehow it made perfect sense.
Recalling this latest revelation from the previous night, he finished his bedtime routine and slipped under the covers.
It was not even a half hour later when he woke up again with a start, as the light was turned on and he heard Mrs. Delahunty call his name urgently. His mind raced through the different scenarios that could possibly cause such an alarm. But, as she said herself, nothing was the matter. She only wanted to talk some more – and have him share a drink with her. Obviously she had drunk too much already – again. He felt like being trapped in a mad house.
None of his harsh replies made her give up on her quest. On the contrary, she complained about his calling her "Mrs. Delahunty" all of a sudden. Well, being very un-American about this, he preferred to address just the people he felt close to by their first name – he would not do her the favour now, in this situation of all times. She sat down in the armchair next to his bed and started to share her thoughts on the possible motives of the man who deposited the bomb in the train compartment. After a few sentences his interest was sparked. Did she know something new about it? But it turned out to have been another one of her dreams which had raised all these speculations.
Now he was really furious. He did not have to listen to this nonsense in the middle of the night. He jumped out of the bed, put on his bathrobe and tried to come up with a way to get her out of his room without making a scene.
But she had also changed her strategy. She suggested that he was taking Amy to live with him out of a feeling of guilt for not having made peace with his sister before she died and suggested that these motives were self-centred, without the girl's welfare as the first priority.
To have these accusations thrown at him stopped him abruptly in his own persuit. He got the notion that a battle was going on, and it dawned on him that the woman was fighting to keep Amy with her. After a short outburst of rage he sat on the side of his bed, exhausted.
When she tried to hand him the glass of grappa again, he answered with a furious deflecting movement of his arm, causing her to spill the contents right onto his pyjamas. Drunken as she was, she had difficulties finding her balance as she started fussing over him, stuttering appologies. While the cold sticky liquid made its way down his chest, suddenly a lot of things came together. He realized that since the very beginning she had tried to charm him and that her determination to have him loosen up, as she called it, was meant to possibly seduce him. His carefully guarded restraint snapped. He would not take this any longer. If she was so determined, well, then she would get what she had asked for. But on his very own terms -there was no reason at all why he should hand it to her on a silver platter.
Just the smallest bit of pressure was needed to push her flat on the bed, her gown now falling open completely. He tore his own wet bathrobe and pyjama off and threw it to the ground. Adrenaline and testosterone, built up by his anger, fuelled a different kind of emotion now. He realized with satisfaction that she had finally stopped talking, just staring at him with those incredible large eyes. But he would not answer that look – if she should be shocked or afraid now, it was certainly her own fault.
When he let his body slump down onto hers, the sudden warmth and softness lead to the immediate response, and the last concious thought he would later remember, was, to shut off his mind and for once in his life let himself be ruled by instincts alone. She did not try to put up any resistance at all as he pulled her slip down and spread her legs.
After he had completely exhausted himself, it was difficult to resurface to concious reality. With great reluctance he sat himself up on his ellbow and looked down into the face of the woman beneath him. Her eyes were closed and he noticed the strong smell of alcohol on her breath. Relief swept over him – he would not have been able to handle the moment were it otherwise.
He found he could not take his eyes of her face. Until now he had carefully avoided any glances in that direction, which were not absolutely necessary when talking. She must have been a great beauty, he mused, and, to be honest, she still was, the wrinkles that age had brought accentuated the well-formed features of her face in just the right way. Her hair was silky and, although probably artificially coloured, it looked very natural, golden and shimmering, and he had to suppress the urge to run his fingers through it and to capture her soft lips with his. This was ridiculous, he scolded himself, it would mean to surrender, and he had just proved to be the victor in this strange duel they seemed to have gotten themselves caught in.
Slowly his conscience caught up with him. He knew his behaviour had been abominable, and the fact that she had been a prostitute once was no excuse whatsoever. But it was done, and he told himself, that her past experiences and the fact, that she was quite drunk, would make it impossible for her to remember this night in any detail later. That she had passed out and still was proved his point.
He flung himself out of the bed and started to dress. He would not be able to sleep anymore anyway. Then he fastened her dressinggown properly and picked her up into his arms. He had never carried someone this way, and he was amazed how light she was. He stopped at the door and listened. The house lay quiet, and so he walked through the corridor to the stairs and went up to her private rooms. His guess as to where her bedroom was located was correct and he positioned her in the big armchair right next to the door at the dressingtable. Somehow he did not want to cross the room all the way to her bed. Through the open window the moonlight fell among the many bottles and glasses on the dressing table and was reflected by the mirror behind it. The scenery was strange and seemed like a dream and he hastily turned and made his way back downstairs.
- - - - - -
They drove to the airport in silence. Amy was clearly very sorry to be leaving, but not comfortable enough with him to talk about it. He himself felt a bit sick. The image of Emily in the armchair at the dressing table would not leave his mind, only now he saw her awake and weeping quietly.
When he approached the check-in counter his trepidation grew. He could not possibly go on like this. Emily had been right after all, even if he had not found the strenght to admit it to her, or even to himself at that moment. He hated the idea, that she had been able to understand him so well. He turned around and saw Amy standing next to Quinty, holding on to his hand. Suddenly he knew what he should do. Taking two steps back he kissed the girl goodbye, a weight lifting from his shoulders, he shook Quinty's hand, told him he would call in a few weeks time, and off he strode purposely, leaving behind what could never be fitted into his life anyway.