He holds out his hand but no-one takes it. Both of Izzy’s parents are looking him up and down in bewilderment.
“Audrey, we were expecting your parents,” says Mrs. Lawton.
“They were unavoidably detained,” says Frank without blinking. “I am the family representative.”
“But—” Mrs. Lawton looks flustered. “I really think your parents should— We understood this would be a family meeting.”
“I am the Turner family representative,” Frank repeats adamantly. He pulls out a chair and we sit down opposite them. The Lawtons look at each other anxiously and make little mouthing gestures and raised-eyebrow signals, but after a while they quieten down and it’s clear that the conversation about parents is over.
“We bought some bottles of water,” says Mrs. Lawton, “but we can get some teas, coffees, whatever?”
“Water is fine,” says Frank. “Let’s get to the point, shall we? Izzy wants to apologise to Audrey, yes?”
“Let’s put this in context,” says Mr. Lawton heavily. “We, like you, have gone through some pretty hellish months. We’ve asked ourselves why, over and over. Izzy has asked herself why too. Haven’t you, darling?” He looks gravely at Izzy. “How could such a thing happen? And, in a way, what did happen and who, in actual fact, was at fault?”
He presses a hand to Izzy’s, and I look at her properly for the first time. God, she looks different. She looks like an eleven-year-old, I suddenly realize. It’s kind of disturbing. Her hair is in a ponytail with a little-girl bobble, and there’s the infantile ribbony T-shirt going on, and she’s looking up at her father with huge baby eyes. She’s wearing some kind of sickly strawberry lip gloss. I can smell it from here.
She hasn’t given me a single glance this whole time. And her parents haven’t made her. If I were them, that’s the first thing I would do. Make her look at me. Make her see me.
“Izzy has been through a pretty tough journey.” Mr. Lawton continues on what is clearly a prepared speech. “As you know, she’s homeschooled for now, and she’s undergone a fairly rigorous program of counselling.”
Snap, I think.
“But she’s finding it hard to move on.” Mr. Lawton clutches Izzy’s hand, and she looks imploringly up at him. “Aren’t you, darling? She unfortunately suffers from clinical depression.”
He says it like it’s a trump card. What, are we supposed to applaud? Tell him how sorry we are, wow, depression, that must be horrible?
“So what?” says Frank scathingly. “So’s Audrey.” He addresses Izzy directly. “I know what you did to my sister. I’d be depressed if I were you too.”
Both Lawtons inhale sharply and Mr. Lawton puts a hand to his head.
“I was hoping for a more constructive approach to the meeting,” he says. “Perhaps we could keep the insults to ourselves?”
“That’s not an insult!” says Frank. “It’s the truth! And I thought Izzy was going to apologise? Where’s the apology?” He pokes Izzy’s arm and she withdraws it with a gasp.
“Izzy has been working with her team,” says Mr. Lawton. “She’s written a piece which she would like to deliver to Audrey.” He pats Izzy on the shoulder. “Izzy devised this in one of her poetry workshops.”
I hear Frank snort and both Lawtons look at him with dislike.
“This will be hard for Izzy,” says Mrs. Lawton coldly. “She is very fragile.”
“As we all are,” says Mr. Lawton, nodding at me and making a face at his wife.
“Yes, of course,” says Mrs. Lawton, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “So we ask you to listen to her piece in silence, without comment. Then we can move into the discussion phase of the meeting.”
There’s silence as Izzy unfurls a wad of A4 pages. She still hasn’t looked at me properly. Still.
“You can do it, Izzy,” whispers her mother. “Be brave.” Her father pats her hand and I see Frank make a barf gesture.
“ ‘When the darkness came,’ ” says Izzy in a trembling voice. “By Isobel Lawton. ‘It came on me, the darkness. I followed when I should not. I acted when I should not. And now I look back and I know that my life is a twisted knot…’ ”
OK, if they paid good money for this poetry workshop, they were done.
As I listen to the words, I’m waiting for some strong, visceral reaction. I’m waiting for some part of me to rise up and hate her or attack her or something. I’m waiting for the big moment, the confrontation. But it’s not coming. I can’t get traction. I can’t feel it.