The Hypnotist's Love Story(5)

by Liane Moriarty

So now all their cards were on the table.

“What made you tell me tonight?” asked Ellen. His thumb was tracing circles in her palm. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear. “About your stalker?”

His thumb stopped.

“I saw her,” he said.

“You saw her!” Ellen’s eyes darted about the restaurant. “You mean, here?”

“She was sitting at a table under the window.” He gestured with his chin over Ellen’s shoulder. She went to turn around to look but Patrick said, “Don’t worry. She’s gone now.”

“What was she doing? Just … watching us?”

Ellen was aware of her heart rate picking up. She wasn’t sure how she felt: frightened, possibly a little thrilled.

“She was texting on her mobile,” said Patrick wearily.

“Texting you?”

“Probably. I’ve got my phone switched off.”

“Do you want to see what she said?” Ellen wanted to see what she said.

“Not particularly,” said Patrick. “Not at all, actually.”

“When did she leave?” If only Ellen had known earlier, she could have seen her.

“When I stood up to go to the bathroom, she followed me. We had a little chat in the corridor. That’s why I took so long. She said she was just leaving, and she did, thank God.”

So she must have walked right past Ellen! Ellen searched her mind for a memory of a woman walking by but came up blank. It was probably when she was doing her self-hypnosis, damn it.

“What did she say?”

“She always puts on this pathetic act, as if we just happened to run into each other. You’d think she’d look like a crazy bag lady, with, you know, crazy hair, but she looks so normal, so together. It makes me doubt myself, as if I’m imagining the whole thing. She’s a successful career woman. Well respected. Can you believe it? I always wonder what her colleagues would think if they knew what she does in her spare time. Anyway … shall we talk about something more pleasant? How was your fish?”

Are you kidding? There was no other subject Ellen wanted to talk about more. She wanted to know every detail. She wanted to understand what was going through this woman’s head. She normally understood a woman’s perspective in any given situation. She was a girl’s girl. She liked women; it was men who often mystified her. But stalking your ex-boyfriend for three years? Was she a psychopath? Had he treated her badly? Was she still in love with him? How did she justify her own behavior to herself?

“The fish was great,” said Ellen. She tried to suppress her greed for more information. It was a bit unseemly when this was obviously such a distressing part of this man’s life. She knew it was one of her flaws: a ravenous curiosity about other people’s personal lives.

“Who is looking after your son tonight?” she asked, to help him change the subject.

“My mother,” said Patrick. His face softened. “Jack adores his grandma.”

Then he blinked, looked at his watch, and said, “Actually, I promised I’d call him to say good night. He wasn’t feeling that well when I left. Would you mind?” He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket.

“Of course not.”

“I don’t normally call him when I’m out,” he said, as he turned the phone on. “I mean, he’s a pretty independent kid now. He does his own thing.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s just that he’s had this really bad cold and then it turned into a chest infection. He’s on antibiotics.”

“It’s perfectly fine.” She wanted to hear him talking to his little boy.

His phone was beeping, over and over.

Patrick grimaced. “Text messages.”

“From your, ah, your stalker?” Ellen tried not to look too avidly at the beeping phone.

He studied the screen on his phone. “Yes. Mostly I just delete them without even bothering to read them.”

“Right.” She couldn’t help herself. “Because they’re nasty?”

“Sometimes. Mostly they’re just pathetic.” She watched his face as he read the messages, pressing buttons with his thumb. He smiled ironically, as if he was engaged in nasty banter with an enemy. He rolled his eyes. He chewed on the edge of his lip.

“Want to read them?” He held out the phone to her.

“Sure,” said Ellen casually. She leaned forward and read as he scrolled through the messages for her.

Fancy seeing you here! I’m at a table under the window.

You look good in that shirt.

You ordered the pork belly? What were you thinking?

She’s pretty. You two look good together. S xx

Ellen recoiled.

“Sorry,” said Patrick. “I shouldn’t have shown you that one. I promise you, you’re not in any, you know, danger.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” She nodded at the phone. “Keep going.”

Nice running into you tonight. We should do coffee one day soon?

I love you. I hate you. I love you. I hate you. No, I definitely hate you.

Ellen sat back.

“What’s your professional opinion?” asked Patrick. “Certifiably crazy, right? Remember, this relationship ended three years ago.”

“How long did you go out for?”

“Two years. Well, three years. She was my first relationship after my wife died.”

She wanted to ask how it ended but instead she said, “Why don’t you just change your phone number?”

“I used to change it all the time, but it’s not worth it. I’m self-employed. I need people to be able to track me down. Hey, I’d better call my son. I’ll be quick.”

Ellen watched him as he dialed a number and held the phone to his ear.

“It’s me, mate. How are you going? … What did I have? Oh, pork belly.”

He glanced down ruefully at his plate. “Yeah, it wasn’t that great. Anyway, how are you feeling? You’re OK? You took your antibiotics? What’s Grandma doing? Oh really? That’s good. Yeah. OK. Well, maybe if you just tell me quickly.”

He stopped talking and listened. His eyes met Ellen’s and he winked briefly.

“Is that right? OK, well—right. A volcano? Parachuting? Geez.”

He kept listening, tapping his fingers on the tablecloth.