WRITTEN BY C L TAYLOR
It was breaking her heart to see her beloved Sophie in such a desperate situation, but what could she possibly do to help?
I am trying to have a conversation with my friend Verity but I’m having trouble concentrating because I’m keeping an eye on my daughter at the same time. She and her boyfriend Andy are sitting across the table from us, their heads so close together their cheeks are touching.
He’s whispering something in her ear and Sophie is trying very hard not to cry. All this because the waiter who took our order told Sophie that she was beautiful. She froze at the compliment and gave Andy an anguished look. I can only imagine what he’s saying to her now.
“I’m sorry,” I lean in closer to Verity, “you’re going to have to say that again. Something about the swimsuit you wore earlier?”
“It’s not important.” Her gaze flicks towards Sophie and Andy. “What’s going on there do you think?” she asks, keeping her voice low.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like him, you mean.”
It was supposed to be a girlie holiday
Andy was never supposed to come on our girlie holiday to Santorini. It was just supposed to be me, Verity and Sophie. It was my idea. I knew Verity needed a break from her husband and twin teenaged boys and I’ve been desperate for a holiday since I got divorced from Sophie’s dad Martin a year ago.
It wasn’t an acrimonious split, we’d been growing apart for some time but Sophie didn’t take the news well. She’s twenty-five but she cried like a child. It broke my heart to see her so upset.
She met Andy shortly after we broke the news and, for a while, I was thrilled that my daughter had met someone who so obviously made her happy. Andy was charming, funny, generous and thoughtful. He made her laugh, he bought her first edition books – her favourites from childhood – and whisked her away for romantic weekends in the Lake District.
Then things started to change. Sophie stopped going clubbing with her friends at weekends. She began wearing loose, shapeless clothes instead of the elegant fitted outfits she’d previously worn. She forbade me from mentioning any of her previous boyfriends in front of Andy.
The warning bell that had rung in my head when I’d witnessed him order for Sophie in a restaurant began to clamour. He was just like Frank, my first husband.
I tried talking to my daughter. I tried to explain that she needed to leave the relationship now before it got worse but she flat out refused. No-one had ever loved her like Andy, she said. He was stressed. Things would go back to being good when he got a new job. Then, when he did get a new job, she told me that he was still stressed because he didn’t get on with his new line manager.
There were always more excuses
I told her that she deserved better, that he was insidiously destroying her confidence and that the beautiful, vibrant girl I’d known was now a shadow of her former self. Sophie told me that if I was asking her to choose between me and him then she’d choose him.
It broke my heart.
“What was I supposed to do?” I say now, to Verity. “I invited her along to try and get her away from him but she wouldn’t come without him. There was no way I was going to leave her alone with him in the UK with me hundreds of miles away.”
“I know.” Verity puts a hand on my arm and it’s all I can do not to burst into tears. “I know how worried you are.”
“Andy told me earlier that they’re intending to move in together when they get back.”
“She’s moving out of yours?”
I press my lips together and breathe in through my nose but it does little to slow my shallow breathing. Earlier today Sophie refused to join us in the pool. She sat on a recliner by the water’s edge instead, dressed in a maxi dress. Yesterday she wore a swimsuit. Andy thought wearing a bikini in public was “vulgar” she said.
“Have you asked her?” Verity whispers. “If there was a reason why she didn’t go for a swim today?”
I know what my friend is hinting at
“The last time I asked if Andy had ever hit her she got angry with me. She told me that he wasn’t Frank and that I was paranoid and over protective.”
“Have you been to the police?”
“I spoke to someone on a domestic violence helpline but they said there was nothing I could do legally unless I witnessed the violence. They told me to continue to support her and help build her confidence…”
“Oh god, Verity. She’s barely said one word to me this holiday and if they move in together I’ve lost her forever.”
Andy notices Verity and me watching
“Urrgh,” Andy grunts with irritation on the other side of the table and moves his chair as far away from Sophie’s as he can. He rubs his hands over his face and then reaches for his glass of ouzo and knocks it back. He notices Verity and me watching and sets it back on the table. “Everything OK, ladies?”
There it is – the slow, lazy grin, a charmer’s secret weapon. I don’t say a word. I just don’t trust myself to open my mouth.
“I’m going for a walk,” Andy says, but his words are slurred and when he pushes back his chair and stands up he sways on his feet and has to reach for the table to support himself. He’s been drinking on and off all day and knocking back the ouzo ever since we sat down.
Sophie doesn’t move
I wait for Sophie to shout that she’ll join him, or at least spring up to help him, but she does neither.
We all watch as Andy careers through the restaurant, knocking into tables and chairs, muttering apologies to invisible diners. We booked off-season and the resort is beautifully empty. The couple who were eating dinner when we arrived at the cliff top restaurant left at least an hour ago.
“Verity,” I say as Andy disappears from view. “Why don’t you tell Sophie that funny story about the time the twins decided to treat you to breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day? I’m just going to quickly pop back to the apartment to get my pashmina. It’s got a bit nippy all of a sudden.”
I pad silently after him…
It doesn’t take me long to catch up with my daughter’s boyfriend. He keeps veering off on a diagonal, getting dangerously close to the low wall that separates the cliff path from a hundred metre drop straight into the sea, before lurching away again. As he launches into song – some horribly misogynistic rap affair – I slip off my sandals and pad silently after him.
Just have a word with him, I tell myself as he veers back towards the low cliff wall. I follow, getting closer and closer. Way beneath us the sea roars
and crashes, inky black and dangerous.
Just warn him off…
Yet I don’t want to warn him off. Words never work on men like Andy and Frank. They see it as part of the game. A challenge, even. Threats aren’t taken seriously, not unless they’re the ones making them.
He always knew best
I tried leaving Frank. I tried hiding, but he kept finding me, kept talking me into taking him back. He insisted that we go for a walk up to Beachy Head. When I said I didn’t want to go he called me fat and lazy. I argued that it was too late, that the sun would have set by the time we got to the top. He told me he knew best. He always knew best.
It was pitch black by the time we got up there. The café was closed and the only light was from the head torch that Frank wore. He insisted we go right up to the edge of the cliff, even though he knew I was afraid of heights.
I stumbled behind him, shaking with cold and fear.
Now, I’m so close to Andy that I can smell the stench of booze radiating off him. He stumbles to his left. His foot hits the base of the low wall and, as he fights to keep his balance, I reach out both hands and I push him over the edge.
Just like I pushed Frank.