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Bette hung her head. Wendy made notes.
‘Yes,’ Bette said, staring at the coffee table, its sheen now blinding in the midday sun.
Wendy had asked if there was anything else Bette wanted to raise.
‘I’ve made some enquiries – tentative enquiries – about adopting another child.’ She looked up, and for the first time she saw Wendy’s eyes widen a fraction. ‘Okay,’ Bette said. ‘I can tell immediately that you’re aghast that I haven’t mentioned this sooner, or to Tina, or – is it that she hasn’t mentioned it to you? Because, believe me, she doesn’t know. I mean, she’s not—’
‘I can’t tell you what Tina has told me, but obviously if you haven’t told her then she can’t have told me.’
‘No.’ Bette looked warily at the therapist. ‘You see, she doesn’t know I haven’t given up on more children.’
Wendy tilted her head. The chain of amber beads hanging from her glasses twinkled. ‘May I ask whether you’ve discussed this with Angie?’
‘So you’re still mulling it within yourself?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know what it is, it’s just . . .’ Bette leaned forward, balancing her elbows on her knees and holding her hands together. ‘Is it better to have everything out in the open all at the same time or should I wait till Tina’s, I don’t know, over the worst?’
‘Well,’ Wendy said, looking at the water jug, ‘this is an important issue.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Bette held out her hands. ‘I respect you so much, and I’m sorry, but I really, really wish you’d just give me a straight answer.’ Wendy stared at her. ‘You can’t, can you?’
‘I can’t tell anyone what to do, no.’
‘But Tina. You can tell me whether it will set her back, can’t you?’
Wendy took off her glasses. ‘No. Because I don’t know what Tina wants.’
In the hallway, Bette lifted her jacket down from the old-fashioned coat stand. Her eyes flitted towards the music room.
‘Do you play the piano?’ she said.
‘I noticed the Stabat Mater.’
‘Oh dear.’ Wendy laughed. ‘My bête noir at the moment.’
‘It’s a beautiful piece.’
‘Yes, even I haven’t managed to destroy it. Do you play?’
Bette’s eyes drifted upwards. She would have loved to stay and pore over photographs, talk about music. There was a small chance she’d be back, though. It wasn’t ethical for Wendy to be Bette’s therapist while she was still seeing Tina, or even to give them formal couples’ counselling. But once Tina had completed her therapy, if Bette or both of them felt they had a need for more support then Wendy had told Bette she would be very happy to see them.
Bette noticed that Wendy was balancing herself lightly against a delicate mahogany console table.
‘Is it arthritis?’ she asked.
‘Mmm. Nuisance in my job.’
‘I’m sorry I extended the session.’
‘Not at all. I was very interested in what you had to say.’
Bette smiled politely and then they shook hands.
‘The work is hard, Bette. But you needn’t think about every aspect of it all the time. Some conflicts resolve acutely, others rumble on to the grave, barely noticeable in the end.’
‘Project management 101. What’s essential and what’s “nice to have”.’
‘I expect so.’
Bette turned quickly towards the door. There was too much to say. To this woman who collected Imogen Cunningham. This woman who loved the Stabat Mater. This woman who told her her fears were real and could be tamed. This woman who was helping Tina to bring all the fragments of herself back together.
Bette felt a piece of her heart go to her.
‘Thank you,’ she said, and left.