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From Chapter 1 of Tell Anna She's Safe

It wasn't until my second visit to her house, after many long phone conversations, that Lucy told me about Tim. It took a half-consumed bottle of red wine between us on the table and a warm May breeze filtering in through the kitchen window.

She had been to my house just the weekend before for that spring's ice-breaking-up party. She had met my keen, competent canoe-head boyfriend. She had raved about our log house and its location near the water. I had invited her to come up and use the dock any time. It felt as if we were moving to new ground, from personal chats in the midst of work phone calls to social invitations and visits.

She waited until I was into my second glass of wine. Her own she topped up with water. She trained her eyes on me. "There's someone I want to tell you about. His name is Tim. Tim Brennan." She paused. "I've known him a couple of years."

I felt a sudden unease. I was used to Lucy's intensity but there was something different here.

Lucy paused again, then continued in a rush. "He was a witness at the Supreme Court hearings for Colin Fajber, two years ago. D'you know the case?"

I nodded. I did. A little. It had received national media attention.

"I went to the hearings," said Lucy. "I saw Colin Fajber on TV. There was no way he was capable of raping and stabbing a girl. And I saw his mother. The way she stood by him. I had to go. To show my support. That's where I met Tim. He testified against another convict."

Another convict besides whom? Colin Fajber?

Fajber had been convicted of murder two decades before, when he'd been just sixteen. The victim had been a young nurse. She'd been stabbed and slashed more than two dozen times. And brutally raped. It had been an unusual case to reach the Supreme Court. It was Fajber's mother who had got it there. She had even pleaded with the Prime Minister. That much I knew.

"I don't know how familiar you are with the case," Lucy was saying, "but Fajber's defence was that a guy named Archie Crowe actually committed the murder. By that time Crowe was doing time for something else, and he bragged to some other inmates that he'd got away with it by pinning it on Fajber. That's what Tim was testifying about. I ran down the hall after him when they were taking him away. I had to thank him for speaking up for Colin. He risked his life doing that – there's no worse crime in prison than being a rat."

In prison? Tim was the other convict. What had he been in for? Was he still inside? I didn't want to ask.

"I wrote to him. Then we started phoning, and then we arranged visiting privileges for me. I never meant it to go beyond friendship. I never dreamed we'd have enough in common for it to become a relationship. But," she smiled, "it did."

She leaned forward then and looked at me intently. "Tim is serving ten years for manslaughter."

I took in a quick breath, released it. Made sure my shock didn't show on my face.

"It was an accident." She was still looking at me intently. "He was being threatened. He tried to subdue the guy by pinching a nerve in his neck. He didn't mean to kill him. It was an accident."

I nodded, still trying to keep my expression neutral. My God, she was involved with a man who had killed someone. With all her fears. How had she even been able to enter the Supreme Court building without having a panic attack? Let alone visit a prison.

"They screwed up his sentence calculation," she was saying. "He should have been released by now, but it keeps getting delayed. I've been trying for almost two years now to get him out. I even hired a lawyer. It looks like he's going to be out soon. Finally. It's been a long haul." She let out a sigh. "A really long haul."

She showed me photos from a prison yard. He was a powerfully built man. He obviously worked out. He would have had time to work out. His features were too boyish for me, but others might have called him attractive. His hair, cut short and receding, was almost as dark as Lucy's but greying at the temples. His skin was fairer and he looked younger by a few years. In one photograph Lucy sat on his lap. Glowing. In another he stood in a pair of loose-fitting sweat pants. They were knotted low on his hips, displaying an impressive washboard stomach.

But it was the eyes that held me. I had been expecting the vacant stare of a criminal in a mug shot. But these eyes were warm and smiling, crinkled at the corners. They were a relief, these eyes. His eyes and his infectious grin. They matched Lucy's in the photograph.

"He has nice eyes," I said, to say something.

"Yes!" said Lucy, as if I had made a particularly astute observation. "He's a gentle soul."

I cringed at the term. I wasn't into souls. Not then. But if a "gentle soul" was someone with warm smiling eyes and an infectious grin, then I could agree with her. There was a boyish innocence about him. Innocent men did go to prison. Accidents did happen. I decided I should keep an open mind.

Lucy was warming to me, revealing more. "We have so much in common, music, he meditates, he's into Buddhism. I've looked so long for someone like him. I can't believe I found him in prison."

It was good to laugh with her. To share disbelief at the situation.

Over our dwindling glasses of wine, she talked in animation about Tim. What it was about the Fajber case, and in their childhoods, that connected them so strongly. How they'd declared themselves common law and got conjugal rights. There had been a recent pregnancy scare. And now he had proposed. He was giving her two years to decide – to match the time she had given him. No one, said Lucy, had ever said they'd wait for her. That meant more to her than anything.

By the time we had drained the bottle, my brain was reeling from the onslaught of information, but my apprehension had mellowed into tentative acceptance. She seemed to know what she was doing. Lucy wasn't someone who would get taken in. She was smart and shrewd and self-aware, and she didn't put up with bullshit. She was, she said, usually the one who broke up her relationships. So she wouldn't be abandoned. Again.