Three: Now or Never
One day they find out.
It's Suzy's birthday, but there's not much he can do for her. The best he can offer by way of gifts is himself, so she knows him pretty bloody well by now. He's divulged his innermost secrets and stories over the years. The fact that she still loves him for all his doubts and darkness is a testament to their relationship.
"All right, now move to the left –"
"Well not that far –"
"Henry it's a little hard to know where to stop when you're blindfolded."
"Right, sorry. Are you okay?"
She rubs her shin, stepping awkwardly around the coffee table, and nods. He knows this is not much of a surprise, if she has to do it herself, but he can't do much more.
"Okay, now stop," he commands gently. "Reach out and pick up the plastic in front of you."
"Is this the record –?"
"Yes, you've got it. Now run your hands down, to the shelf with the vinyls."
He guides her through the motions of setting up the turntable. She's a good listener, and knows most of where it all is anyway. There's a sudden chill at her elbow, and Suzy knows that Henry is right next to her. His voice is that warm timbre that makes her insides surge. "Now, pick up the needle and move it…keep going…there. Drop it."
There's a crackling silence, and then a feint piano melody fills the room. Her whole body relaxes with the sound, her heart singing the words already.
"I'll close my eyes, to everyone but you…and when I do…I'll see you standing there."
Their song. Of course. Suzy has been too caught up in the sound of his voice and the throbbing of her shin to think of what might be coming. She slips the blindfold off, and Henry is standing in the middle of the living room.
"It's not much of a surprise, but…Happy Birthday," he says as the song tugs them forwards and plucks at their hearts. They start to dance, a slow step-by-step. Suzy's mouth stretches wide in a languid smile and she moves as close to him as she can get. Henry raises his hands to her palms. There's nothing but the space of life and death between them – a mere dimension, a magic veil. If it were a dream he would not even have to reach out to be touching her.
"I could do this forever," she says happily.
"Good, 'cos I've got a lot of time my hands," he replies, making a twirling motion with his fingers – she spins herself slowly underneath them. "As long as you don't get bored of me."
"Never. As long as you don't mind a pruny old dance partner."
"If you can still kick it at eighty, Suze, I'm there."
She laughs, and in that moment she can see it all, moments of her future, lined up like snapshots: forever dancing and laughing and loving this man with all her heart.
"You're never going to leave me, are you?" she says suddenly. It's not a question, it's a realisation.
He twirls her again, moving in close as she comes to rest in front of him. "Not if I have any fucking say in the matter," he declares firmly.
And they have haven't even realised it but the song is over and something else has started, something joyous that reaches deep into her soul and fills her with happiness. It builds up so quickly that she has to laugh to stop it spilling over, and she begins to spin in circles and dance a mad beat around Henry. He watches her somewhat ungainly and random movements with a repressed smile.
"Are you all right, Suze? You're usually a much better dancer than this."
"I'm great, Henry," she replies, clicking her fingers as she steps quickly towards him. "I'm fucking brilliant." Her swearing is always done in a breathless, rebellious way, and it makes him burst out in a grin.
"Come here then, you mad woman," he says, and together they finger-click and quick-step and make fools of themselves. The song is turned up and nothing in the world matters except this absurd satisfaction they feel with each other.
But the world has other ideas about what's important. Like remembering that you're having a birthday dinner at your house.
Suzy doesn't hear Jonquil calling her name over the din, doesn't know she's being watched until Henry spins her again and she winds up facing the very confused family that has just spilled into the living room.
The blood is rushing in her ears, creeping up to colour her face…the jazz song rolls on, now far too loud and obnoxious for a moment such as this.
"Suzy?" Jonks can't say anything else. Steve is staring at her, his arm half wrapped around Jennifer, who in turn clenches a firm hand on Verity's shoulder. Zach looks uncomfortable, as does Elvis's new girlfriend, shielded behind her embarrassed boyfriend.
Suzy opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out except a dry croak. She looks to Henry, who apprehensively nods at the turn table. With stiff, clumsy fingers she switches it off and faces the group.
"I forgot you were coming," she manages to say. "Sorry, I was just…having some fun –"
"With who?" Steve questions sceptically.
"No-one," Suzy says quickly. "I was…"
"You were talking to someone," Jonks points out. "And laughing."
Suzy looks again to Henry, which really doesn't help the matter, and he relays her thoughts exactly:
Everyone wants an explanation, but Suzy can't seem to come up with anything. They begin arguing, as if it's going to help. Zach and the teenagers stand around looking embarrassed for her and it makes Henry want to reach out and take her hand. It's like watching someone drown.
"Just say something Suze," he mutters. "Make up anything."
But she's floundering under the accusations of Jonks, who is three months pregnant and has since been acting as if she's the sole motherly figure in the family.
"It's like you've become this terrible attention seeker," she says loudly, "And I don't see why when I've offered countless times to help you find a man so you're not lonely."
"Since when are you the fucking relationship expert?" Henry interjects, standing as close to Suzy as he can. She can hardly hear him over the voices of the others –
"Maybe we should go –"
"No, Zach, she needs our help –"
"What's wrong with your mum?"
"Nothing Steph –"
"Stop pretending Elvis, can't you see –?"
"I bet she's been doing this for years, she's always been a nut bag –"
"What the fuck do you know, Steve?" Henry shouts angrily, fists clenched in vain. "You're the one who –"
"Enough!" Suzy snaps, her voice echoing. "I'm done, I've had enough!"
Henry knows what's coming and it fills him with dread.
"Don't do this Suze, you'll look mad –"
But how many more years must pass before everyone gives up on labelling her as 'alone'? How much longer before she gets to be with Henry, finally, completely? There are too many years left for her to be with her kids, but not enough – too many years left of warding away questions as to why no other man will ever touch her. Because the one man she wants to can only do so in their dreams.
"I don't care if I look insane, I don't want everyone to think I'm alone!" she shouts emphatically, rounding on her sister. "I've been a good mother, Jonquil, for twenty years. I've had a marriage that burned me out and I don't need you to tell me that I should be looking for someone else when I found someone years ago!" Suzy is running out of breath. She meets eyes specifically with Henry as she says: "I – am – not – alone!"
No one knows quite what to say. Even the kids, who long ago accepted there was something strange about their mother, are watching her like she's going to break apart.
"Who did you find?" Jonks asks tenderly, in case she explodes.
"He found me," Suzy answers. "Henry found me." She's trembling, beyond all coherent thought and sense.
"Suzy, stop," Henry pleads, "They're going to lock you up –"
But she can't stop. She's beyond having excuses now. The kids are too old to be taken away from her and after all these years she's earned the right to let her secret spill.
"I have the ghost of Henry Mallet living with me," she says slowly. "And I love him."
"Suzy…" Henry looks stricken. They're going to shut her in a mental ward for sure. She'll be so heavily drugged she'll never see him again.
"What did I tell you? She's a fruit loop," says Steve.
"I am not crazy –"
But Suzy is cut off. Nobody quite knows what to do with her. Their arguing is suddenly very panicked and insinuating. Elvis drags Steph outside, returning alone and ashen-faced. Verity stares at her mother as if she's disappointed. Jonquil and Steve are arguing with Zach. Henry paces listlessly, hands fisted in his hair. Suzy suddenly feels weak after her moment of sheer fury. Her knees feel like they're going to give way when a voice of reason comes to her rescue, from someone unexpected.
"I have a connection to the paranormal too," Jennifer declares with a clear of her throat. "Steve and Verity know what I'm talking about. Maybe we should listen to Suzy before we start jumping to conclusions."
There's a stunned silence.
"Jennifer, I have never loved you more in my death," Henry says. Suzy smiles timidly.
"That's different," Steve splutters, "That's…you're not saying you can see –"
"I can't see them but I know they're there," Jennifer replies firmly. "Don't tell me you're going to decide you think I'm nuts too, Stephen."
"Well – no –"
"Then be quiet." Jennifer turns to Verity. "I taught you how to sense them, didn't I?"
Verity hasn't said much. She's been on the verge of finally believing her mother is sick and now everything's been turned around again. She just nods mutely.
"Well maybe we're about to find out where you got the gift from," Jennifer continues in that logical, high voice of hers. She looks to Suzy expectantly.
"T-thank you," she says. "Um…I'm just…I've kept this hidden…for so long…that – it's not fair on anyone to keep doing it. You waste so much time worrying about me…and I waste so much time lying that – it's ridiculous." Steeling herself, she looks at Henry for courage. "I'm the only one who can see him. He showed up in my penthouse at the Elysian the first morning I moved in…and he's been a constant presence in my life ever since."
"But that was nearly a decade ago Suzy," Jonks says imploringly, "Don't you think if you'd had the ghost of a rock star around for that long we would have noticed?"
"Well I'd have thought so too," Suzy replies, "But apparently you all thought I was weird enough that a little extra weirdness was nothing to worry about."
"Why didn't you say anything earlier?"
"Why do you think?"
"For this exact reason," Jennifer offers mildly. "It's a scary thought, knowing you have a gift that others might send you to a hospital for."
Suzy wonders how she ever thought badly of Jennifer, until she realizes something that gives her the chills.
"You taught Verity how to sense ghosts? Did you teach her how to get rid of them?" she asks quickly.
"Well…yes, but –"
"Don't you go touching a hair on Henry's head," she points an accusatory finger at Jennifer, suddenly protective and feverishly angry. "I had friends that you sent away thinking you were doing them a favour but you hurt them. Well I won't let you do that to Henry, and neither will he. He's left this world before and come back just because he wanted to be with me so don't think you'll be able to 'help' him in any way –"
"Suzy, it's all right, I promise I won't touch him," Jennifer holds her hands up in defence. "Verity and I haven't done that in years."
"Can we stop talking about this as if it's normal?" Jonks interrupts. "Suzy is obviously troubled –"
"I can prove it!" Suzy exclaims, determined to make them all see now that she's got someone on her side. "Go into any room of this house – outside even – and say a number, a phrase, anything. Henry will listen to you and he'll tell me what you've said!"
"Please," she begs her sister. "Please just do it."
Jonks concedes, taking Zach with her for good measure. She strides out of the living room, out the front door. It slams hard behind her. With a careful look at Suzy, Henry follows them out. There's a tense few seconds as they wait. When the three of them return, everyone looks at Suzy expectantly.
She's looking at thin air as she listens to words they don't hear. But that doesn't stop Jonquil's mouth falling open as her sister says:
"Jonquil, you told Zach about the jellyfish that stung you in Byron Bay, and Zach…you said a number…you said nine million, two thousand, six hundred and thirty –"
"– six…" she and Zach finish at the same time. "That's unreal," he breathes out.
"And he can move things! Show them Henry!"
Henry has been watching the whole exchange with a mingled feeling of unease and anger. He'd always known the day might come that Suzy would lose it, but he never knew just how furious he'd be when the family turned on her. It's not their fault, he knows. How are they supposed to understand in a day when it took him and Suze years to find equilibrium? But it still doesn't stem the tide of restless fury he feels at Steve's complete lack of sensitivity, the urge to protect Suzy from harm beating like long-lost blood through his body.
"Right, I'll show them I'm here," he tells her. "I'm fucking here!" Fixing his gaze on Steve, Henry concentrates his riled emotions into a solid feeling and slashes the air in front of him. A rushing wind slams the turntable lid down and opens the cabinet doors. There's a collective gasp. Elvis goes pale. Henry does it again and magazines go flying off the coffee table. Verity's hand clenches around Jennifer's arm.
"Oh my god," she breathes out. Jonquil is in utter shock. Everyone is looking around the room warily, as if hoping to see the cause for the disruptions. Nobody says anything.
Suzy beams at Henry. She could kiss him.
And then Verity steps towards her mother. "Where is he?" she asks in a whisper. Suzy's heart soars.
"Just to my right," she answers gently, pointing. Verity stops just short of stepping on Henry's feet but he doesn't move. He's trapped by the importance of this moment that he's been imagining for years. He has watched these kids grow up and now they're about to discover him. Verity closes her eyes and takes a deep breath through her nose. Then she steps back over to Suzy and does it.
"I always thought it was just you," she says in a hushed voice. "Ever since Jennifer taught me how to do it I could smell something around you…it was like stale cigarettes…but it didn't make sense. I just thought it was some weird perfume you had, or something left over from when Nanna died. But it's not…it's him." She takes another sniff, and looks directly at Henry though she can't possibly know she's doing it. Henry suddenly sees himself looking over a much younger Verity, and singing to her while she sleeps a troubled sleep. He wondered then how much comfort he had been.
"I could smell you this whole time."