‘You need to sort yourself out.’
Tristan opened his eyes. He had been sitting in his armchair with his head tossed back, trying to ignore the pain that was shuttling from one side of his head to the other with all the regular insistency of a loom, but the words brought him back to himself, and he opened his eyes to look up with some distaste at the man who was to be his brother-in-law.
‘Mm,’ he said, seeing that some remark was called for but having nothing to say.
‘I mean it,’ said Ted Humphries, and his voice was urgent, low, insistent. Tristan gazed at him through narrowed eyes, his aching mind beginning to unravel the reasons for Ted’s tone of voice, his anxious glances towards the door.
‘Mm,’ he repeated, then exerted himself to a mumble. ‘Mustn’t upset the womenfolk.’
‘Don’t be such an ass,’ said Ted. ‘Pull yourself together, man. Can’t you see how you’re worrying your sister?’
Tristan thought about this and decided that, while it was undoubtedly sad that Sarah was so upset, he could not quite bring himself to feel guilty.
‘Good thing she’s got you,’ he said, and closed his eyes again. A second later he reopened them, for Ted was suddenly bending over him and he could almost feel his hot breath on his face.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he snarled, and Tristan felt his heart begin to gallop like a startled deer, and struggled backwards away from his antagonist. ‘She needs you as much as she needs me - any idiot can see that! Dear God, what sort of a man…’
But before he brought them both to the final insult he stopped himself, backed away, pulled a hand across his moustache, and Tristan remembered Ted’s broken heart, his wife who had died so young, and the tension collapsed out of his muscles. He sensed a strange kinship with the man, a kinship stronger than the one promised by their future relationship, their shared love of Sarah.
‘For God’s sake, just…’
But Ted could not finish, and then Sarah appeared in the doorway and they both turned to look at her, and if Tristan had been in his right mind he would have noticed the strain in her neck muscles, the pinched forehead, the eyes that resembled those of a rabbit, that knows the hawk is in the air above it and fears to move even slightly, lest it be seen.
‘Coffee,’ was what she said, and she said it brightly, and for once Tristan reached out eagerly, because he needed something to drive away this headache and coffee might…might…
‘I am sorry,’ he said, quietly, as she bent to give him his cup, and it surprised him even more than he surprised her. Her lips pressed together but she nodded.
‘Drink your coffee,’ she said, and, eyes closing again, he did.