"Why did you leave Scotland?" Miller is pretending to squint at the setting sun—but even sitting next to her and looking out at the harbour himself, Alec can tell she's got her head on one side and is actually peering shrewdly at him.
He sighs and leans against the back of the park bench. "I've got a heart condition", he says. "Had to get away from all that fried food, didn't I."
She gives a snorting chuckle but says nothing. Turns and does look over the water. They sit quietly until the light is gone.
They’ve said they’ll meet every week. Alec isn’t sure why. He was meeting the family on a regular basis while the case was going, but the case is closed now. He doesn’t have a standing meeting with Beth and Mark; nor with the press, thank God; nor with the Chief Superintendent, because now that he thinks of it he isn’t the police anymore. And Ellie Miller was never the victim here, nor the victim’s family—though now that he thinks of it maybe she is.
Anyway, they’ve said they’ll meet every week, but it isn’t long before he’s lost track of what day it is and turns up on a Thursday because he thinks it’s Friday. He’s about to apologise and go away again when he starts coughing, and when he can’t stop, she makes him come inside and drink about eight cups of tea before she’ll let him out again. He tries to protest that he can’t have that much tea, that it’s just as bad as coffee, his heart won’t stand it. “Shut up,” she says, “it’s chamomile.”
He drinks it all, and falls asleep on her sofa.
In the morning he lets himself out before she and the kids wake up, and doesn’t come back for their regular Friday meet-up.
A week after that they seem to be pretending it didn’t happen. He throws a bit of bread to a seagull. "How's Tom doing at school?" Eleven- and twelve-year-old kids can be such shits.
"How should I know? You think he tells me anything? I'm his mother." She deflates a bit. "I don't know. I think some of the older girls gave him some trouble and Chloe told them off."
"She’s a brave one, all right." He wonders if his own daughter is half the lass Chloe Latimer is turning out to be. Mind, she hasn’t had a tenth of the burdens. Thank God.
She starts bringing Fred with her when they meet at the waterfront. Her sister had been minding him, but apparently not anymore. “Lucy can be reliable, but not all the time. When she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad, she’s horrid. You don’t mind, do you?” She takes the cap off Fred’s head, stuffs it in her coat pocket, and hands him a toy, which he throws on the ground.
“Of course I don’t mind.” He bends down to pick up the toy and hand it to Fred, and the whole world tilts and doesn't right itself straightaway. He grabs for the bench.
And misses, and catches Miller's leg. "Oi, easy, there," she starts to say—and then the annoyance is gone from her voice as she tries to steady him and grab his hand without putting Fred down. "Sir—I mean—Alec—"
"I'm all right," he gasps. "Just a bit of—"
"It's not a bit of anything." She helps him drag himself up to sit by her side. He tries to sit up straight. "Have you had this cold all this while?"
He can't help it; he lists a bit to the left and leans against her. He doesn't answer.
She comes round and finds him at the hotel before he can ring to say he isn't coming out that day. "Is there some reason you haven't been to see a doctor?"
"Don't need a doctor." He tries to shift to a cool spot on his pillow, but he can't find one.
"Have you always been like this?" she asks, exasperated. "It's one thing to ignore your health when there's a case on, but this is nothing but bloody stupid."
"Just got to wait it out." He sneezes. It hurts like hell, but it isn't anything he can't handle. "It's a cold."
"Is it hell. You've been ill for weeks." She puts her hand on his forehead.
"For Christ's sake, Miller, I'm not your husband and I don't need you looking after me!"
She snatches her hand back; she's gone white as a sheet. He knows it was the wrong thing to say, but as she bolts from the room, of course he doesn't have the strength to get up and follow and apologise to her.
He doesn't see her for three more weeks.
He does go to the doctor, and he gets medicines for his flu and bronchitis and a bit of scolding for not coming in sooner. He takes the medicines and drinks buckets of chamomile tea and feels a little better.
He wonders if Miller has done as she said she might—taken her kids and moved away. Given the whole family a new start. It's never much worked for him, though, and he's used up almost the whole of Great Britain. Where could he go from here? Cornwall? France? Maybe America. Miller may have gone north, if she decided she had to get away. Changed her name. He could change his name, he supposes. As long as his daughter knows what name he's using, it doesn't much matter if hers is the same.
He wonders if his daughter is still using his name.
He keeps going to the harbour. It's relaxing to sit and watch the boats, even when Miller's not there. He thinks of going round to apologise at her house, but decides he wouldn't be welcome.
Then on the third Friday she shows up again. Sits down next to him and looks out at the water. He looks at her for a moment and then looks out into the setting sun.
"You know I know that fried food thing is bullshit," she says.
He does not look at her. "I assume even your Tom knows that fried food thing is bullshit."
He can hear her slight smile. "Just so we understand each other."
Now he does look at her. "Yes," he says. "I think we do."