Later that night, as she lay in bed, with Keith next to her, asleep and snoring a little in a way which she found endearing and adorable instead of irritating, she thought about the two of them. It seemed to her that friendship was a better guide to people and to your heart than love was. You could fall in love with totally the wrong person. But affection and friendship only worked with someone likable. Not that she could help being in love with Keith. It was simple. She loved him. And she didn’t want to share him. But it seemed she had to, because he needed men in his life. Well, not men in general, but Keith. And Tom. And Luigi. She twitched her mouth ironically. Even if she stayed with Keith, she thought she was as likely to have as happy a life as her mother, who had married a monster.
For the first time she felt a pang of sorrow for her mother. Truly, she was and had been a coward, and she should have protected Esmé from her father. But it must have been hell for her too. Does mum miss me? she wondered. Sometimes they’d had happy times, when she’d been little, when her father hadn’t been there. Making cakes. Playing dollies in the back yard under the fig-tree. Going to the zoo, just the two of them, and having ice-creams on a park bench. Feminine outings, which were always spoiled when they went out with her father, turning into edgy exercises in placation and pretence. Always afraid to offend him, to cross him. Afraid of the icy silences, the rage, the ever-present potential for violence. And it struck her that her mother had also lived in fear. Why had she never left him? It couldn’t have been the money. The answer, when it came to her, was grim: her mother feared for her life.
She turned over and snuggled up to Keith’s warm body. Keith might be gay-shaded, but he was kind as well as strong. She would never feel afraid of him. However much their love didn’t fit into any prepackaged convenient cliché, it was still love, and it was vastly better than what her mother had. And so much better than nothing.
She drifted into sleep, happy.