“I wasn’t aware that I was being so . . . obvious,” he murmured. He shook himself out of some kind of reverie before reaching for his wallet and extracting a platinum credit card. It was pretty clear that he had no intention of answering her question. He was a generous, but not overly generous, tipper, and when she returned with his credit card he stood up while pocketing his wallet.
“Thank you . . . Bronwyn, is it?” She nodded mutely and he smiled—just the barest tilt at the corners of his mouth—again. “The name suits you.” She didn’t respond to that, not sure if it was a compliment or not.
He turned to go and then hesitated before turning back to face her.
“How old are you, Bronwyn?”
His expression was inscrutable.
“You seem younger.” He shrugged. “I’m twenty-nine.”
“Okay?” Why was he telling her this? He was a strange man, but not in a scary way. He seemed so sophisticated, so unlike anyone else she had ever met.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that . . .” He seemed to lose track of what he was saying and stood, awkwardly silent for a few seconds. “You just . . . you have . . .” What? She had what? She ran her tongue over her teeth, afraid that she may have something stuck in them, and then rubbed her nose in case she had a spot on it.
“Such amazing eyes,” he concluded in a rush.
She gaped at him uncomprehendingly for a while, and he went dull-red before clearing his throat and turning away abruptly. He left before she could blink, before she could draw breath, and before she could call him back.
It had been nearly a week since their ill-fated kiss and Bryce hadn’t spoken to her much since then. He had given her the master bedroom and as with the conservatory, the room had an unlived feel to it. Her wardrobe had been left untouched, but Bryce’s clothes were gone; not a tie or even a stray cuff link remained. It was as if he had never shared the same closet space with her. None of her old clothes fit her anymore; they were all a couple of sizes too large. Bronwyn had been dismayed to discover exactly how much weight she had lost over the last couple of years. She had always been slender, so the fact that she had dropped two dress sizes must mean that she looked completely emaciated! No wonder Bryce had said that she looked like a wraith.
She made a concerted effort to eat more, and as Kayla was spending a lot of time with her father, Bronwyn was getting plenty of rest, so much rest that she was getting quite bored. She was sitting in the conservatory, reading an easy (or so the back blurb claimed) guide to South African Sign Language, when she heard Kayla’s happy chatter approaching. She tucked the book behind a cushion, not wanting Bryce to know she was trying to learn SASL. Something told her that he would not be happy about it. Any references she had made to his deafness were not well received.
Kayla entered the room in her inimitable way, all happy laughter and incomprehensible speech while Bryce followed her in his inimitable way, all scowls and growls when he saw that Bronwyn occupied the conservatory.
“Mummeeeee!” The little girl squealed when she saw Bronwyn, and she clambered into her mother’s lap, smelling of sunshine and sea air. She was wearing cute pink dungarees, one of the very many expensive items of clothing her father had purchased for her. He had taken his daughter out shopping, without Bronwyn, the day after their arrival in Camps Bay. He had sent the housekeeper to ask for Kayla’s sizes. Bronwyn had felt rather awkward around Celeste, the housekeeper, who had been with them since their wedding just over four years ago, but the elderly woman had welcomed her back with a genuinely warm smile. Bronwyn had written the sizes down and mentally wished him luck with Kayla, who inevitably became a nightmare to handle in any shopping situation. No sooner had they left, than she started worrying about both of them. Bryce might find Kayla more than a handful with his deafness, and Kayla would probably start panicking when she figured out that her mummy was nowhere to be found. Her worrying had come to nothing though, because the two had returned from their shopping spree fast friends and totally inseparable from that point onward. She was a little jealous and resentful at the ease with which Bryce had established a position in her daughter’s life. A petty part of her had hoped that Kayla would give him a hard time of it, but her daughter had accepted him without protest and seemed to barely miss Bron at all.
Despite her deep-seated feelings of animosity toward Bryce, Bronwyn tried very hard not to begrudge them this time together, if only for Kayla’s sake. The little girl needed Bryce in her life. And Bronwyn had to acknowledge that the toddler, with her boundless energy, would have sapped her last reserves. Now she cuddled the affectionate child lovingly, delaying the moment when she would actually have to look at her grim husband. When she managed to summon up the guts to glance at him, she was surprised by an expression of unguarded vulnerability on his face. The expression was quickly shuttered when he noticed that she was staring at him, and the habitual frown took its place.
“What did you and Daddy do this morning?” she asked Kayla, keeping her eyes trained on his face so that he would not feel excluded.
“We play horsy . . . giddup.” The child chortled in remembered glee. She bounced on her mother’s lap, and Bronwyn winced as Kayla’s shoes dug into her thighs. “Giddup mummy . . . giddup, giddup!” Bryce plucked the child from Bronwyn’s lap before she could do any damage.
“You’re hurting your mummy,” he told the child in his carefully modulated voice. He spoke very quietly, and Bronwyn guessed that he had difficulty judging the volume of his voice. He kept it so soft that she strained to hear him sometimes. Not that anything he said was ever directed at her. She guessed that the volume of his voice would grow in proportion to his anger, and he was perpetually angry with her. He stared at her thoughtfully for a little while before totally shocking her and sitting down next to her, putting Kayla down to play with the toys that were scattered all over the floor.