His daughter's sunny smile clouded over. "Physio?" she muttered.
"You had a session in the morning." 'Gently, gently. Let her cover if she wants to.'
"Oh, yeah. Nice. I think." They both knew that her unreliable brain had let go of the information.
Charlie reached for the folder that recorded all the things her memory couldn't. "Says here, you were working on balance and strength—and that he had to tell you off for swearing."
"Dad! It does not say that," she giggled.
"It does," he teased. He loved making her laugh. "There's a list of words used. Some I haven't heard since I was last in the East End."
"Shut up! Here's your coffee. What's the therapist called? I can't quite . . ."
Charlie skipped to the end of the report. "It's, er, it's Stu." And his hand seemed to lose its grip on the handle of his mug. Coffee dripped onto the page, obliterating the name.
"That's it. Stu," she said.
Charlie held his breath and watched for a memory to flicker across her face but there was nothing. It meant nothing to her. It'd been wiped, like every detail of that night. The razor-sharp brain that had earned her a place at Oxford to study law had been catastrophically blunted in a matter of minutes. Fifteen minutes, the ambulance crew had calculated. She'd stopped breathing for the time it took him to drink a gin and tonic and her whole life had changed. When she emerged from her coma, she remembered nothing.
She was lucky. It had never left Charlie.
* * *
Mrs. Lyons was hovering when he came out, brutally tweaking the flower arrangement into shape. "Ah, here you are," she chirped as if he was a favorite guest. He wasn't.
"Now, then," she said as she seated him in her private drawing room, "we really need to get this bill settled, don't we?"
"I will be transferring the money tomorrow, Mrs. Lyons," Charlie said. "I am very grateful for your patience."
"Well, that is good news but I'm afraid that is what you said on the last occasion. And on the other occasions we have had to discuss this matter."
"As I explained last time, I have had a slight liquidity problem—I don't want to bore you with the details—but the money will be in place." He could feel the prickle of perspiration in his hairline. "You have my word."
Mrs. Lyons's mouth hardened and she stood, smoothing her dress over her jutting hip bones. "Fine. But I cannot emphasize enough that this will be our last conversation on the subject.
You are now six months in arrears and I'm afraid I cannot extend our more than generous terms any further. I feel you are taking advantage of us, Mr. Perry."
"Perhaps you should be looking for alternative accommodation for Birdie, Mr. Perry."
* * *
He's yanked a tissue from a fake ormolu box on Mrs. Lyons's desk as he left and was wiping at the sweat under his eyes as he walked to the main door.
"Is everything all right?" the receptionist called to him. "Oh, yes. Bit of hay fever. All splendid, thanks." "Birdie's such a lovely girl."
'Girl.' He wanted to say she was a woman—she would be thirty-eight next week—that she should have been a top-rung barrister by now. But her injuries had frozen her in time. Her vulnerability had kept her a girl in everyone's eyes.
"Yes. She is."
"She's been a popular girl today. You're not her first visitor."
"Really? She didn't say anything. And it wasn't in the folder." Charlie scrambled through possibilities in his head.
The visitor column in the weekly diary was almost exclusively confined to him and Birdie's mother—they came on different days to avoid any awkwardness. One of Birdie's old teachers came a couple of times a year but she always let him know beforehand so he could prime his daughter. Could it have been a school friend? The girls in her set had fallen away after they'd left for university but Birdie followed a couple of them on social media.