মুখ্য The Wife Between Us
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I enjoyed this book soooo much
17 May 2020 (13:55)
This thing doesnt work..nxa
24 May 2020 (02:08)
Theological dictionary of the new testAment
22 July 2020 (12:47)
24 July 2020 (11:07)
This is one of the wonderful place I have gotten almost all my books.????
06 August 2020 (21:40)
There was never a time i did not get the book i wanted O_o
12 August 2020 (08:23)
Most of the books I get are never complete.
31 August 2020 (18:02)
I really love the speed with which I get these books.
28 September 2020 (21:06)
I can't open the file
11 October 2020 (06:55)
Most of the books I got via this App are incomplete
30 October 2020 (14:12)
I really enjoyed this book. And the quality is excellent
27 November 2020 (23:14)
Download Media365 Reader on Google play store if your phone was unavailable to open the file.
10 January 2021 (18:09)
It is an excellent book with suspense till the end. I greatly enjoyed reading it.
25 January 2021 (16:36)
convert it to pdf or download epub.. that works for me
08 May 2021 (07:09)
CHAPTER FOUR I SIT ON THE FLOOR of the dressing room, the lingering perfume of roses reminding me of a wedding. My replacement will be a beautiful bride. I imagine her gazing up at Richard, promising to love and honor him, just as I did. I can almost hear her voice. I know how she sounds. I call her sometimes, but I use a burner phone with a blocked number. “Hi,” her message begins. Her tone is carefree, bright. “I’m sorry I missed you!” Is she truly sorry? Or is she triumphant? Her relationship with Richard is now public, though it began when he and I were still married. We had problems. Don’t all couples, after the glow of the honeymoon fades? Still, I never expected him to tell me to move out so quickly. To erase the tracks of our relationship. It’s as though he wants to pretend we were never married at all. As if I don’t exist. Does she ever think about me and feel guilty for what she did? Those questions batter me every night. Sometimes, when I’ve lain awake for hours, the sheets twisted around me, I shut my eyes, so close to finally succumbing to sleep, and then her face leaps into my mind. I sit bolt upright, fumbling for the pills in my nightstand drawer. I chew one instead of swallowing so it takes effect faster. Her voice-mail greeting gives me no clues about her feelings. But when I watched her one night with Richard, she looked incandescent. I’d been walking to our favorite restaurant on the Upper East Side. A self-help book had recommended that I visit painful places from my past, to release their power over me and reclaim the city as my own. So I trekked to the café where Richard and I had sipped lattes and shared the Sunday New York Times, and I wandered past Richard’s office, where his company held a lavish holiday party every December, and passed through the magnolia and lilac trees in Central Park. I felt worse with every step. It was a horrible idea; no wonder that book was languishing on the discount rack. Still, I’d pressed on, planning to round out my tour with a drin; k at the restaurant bar where Richard and I had celebrated our last few anniversaries. That was when I saw them. Maybe he was trying to reclaim the spot, too. If I’d been walking just a bit faster, we would have reached the entrance at almost the same moment. Instead I ducked into a storefront and peered around the edge. I caught a glimpse of tanned legs, seductive curves, and the quick smile she flashed at Richard as he opened the door for her. Naturally my husband wanted her. What man wouldn’t? She was as delectable as a ripe peach. I crept closer and stared through the floor-to-ceiling window as Richard ordered his girlfriend a drink—she had champagne tastes, it seemed—and she sipped the golden liquid from a slim flute. I couldn’t let Richard see me; he wouldn’t believe it was a coincidence. I’d followed him before, of course. Or rather, I’d followed them. Yet my feet refused to move. I greedily drank her in as she crossed her legs so the slit in her dress revealed her thigh. He was pressed close to her, leaning down as his arm curved over the back of her stool. His hair was longer, brushing the collar of his suit in the back; it suited him. He had the same leonine expression I’d come to recognize when he closed a big business deal, one he’d been pursuing for months. She tossed back her head and laughed at something he said. My nails dug into my palms; I’d never been in love with anyone before Richard. At that moment I realized I’d never hated anyone, either. “Vanessa?” The voice outside the dressing-room door jars me out of the memory. The British accent belongs to my boss, Lucille, a woman not known for her patience. I run my fingers under my eyes, aware mascara is probably pooled there. “Just straightening up.” My voice has grown husky. “A customer needs help in Stella McCartney. Sort out the room later.” She is waiting for me to emerge. There is no time to fix my face, to erase the messy signs of grief, and besides, my purse is in the employees’ lounge. I open the door and she takes a step back. “Are you unwell?” Her perfectly arched eyebrows lift. I seize the opportunity. “I’m not sure. I just … I feel a little nauseous.…” “Can you finish the day?” Lucille’s tone holds no sympathy, and I wonder if this transgression will be my last. She answers before I can: “No, you might be contagious. You should leave.” I nod and hurry to grab my bag. I don’t want her to change her mind. I take the escalators to the main floor and watch pieces of my ravaged reflection flash in the mirrors I ride past. Richard is engaged, my mind whispers. I hurry out the employees’ exit, barely pausing for the guard to search my purse, and lean back against the side of the store to slip on my sneakers. I consider a taxi, but what Hillary said is true. Richard got our house in Westchester and the Manhattan apartment he’d kept from his bachelor days, the one he slept in on nights when he had late meetings. The one where he hosted her. He got the cars, the stocks, the savings. I didn’t even put up a fight. I’d entered the marriage with nothing. I hadn’t worked. I hadn’t borne him children. I’d been deceitful. I hadn’t been a good wife. Now, though, I wonder why I accepted the small lump-sum payment Richard offered me. His new bride will set the table with china I selected. She’ll nestle close to him on the suede couch I chose. She’ll sit beside him, her hand on his leg, laughing her throaty laugh as he shifts into fourth gear in our Mercedes. A bus lumbers past and spews hot exhaust. The gray plume seems to settle around me. I push away from the building and walk up Fifth Avenue. A pair of women carrying large shopping bags nearly crowd me off the sidewalk. A businessman strides past, cell phone pressed to his ear, his expression intent. I cross the street and a biker whips by, just inches away. He yells something in his wake. The city is tightening around me; I need space. I cross Fifty-ninth Street and enter Central Park. A little girl with pigtails marvels at a balloon animal tied to her wrist, and I stare after her. She could have been mine. If I’d been able to get pregnant, I might still be with Richard. He might not have wanted me to leave. We could be coming here to meet Daddy for lunch. I’m gasping. I unfold my arms from across my stomach and straighten up. I keep my eyes fixed ahead as I walk north. I focus on the steady rhythm of my sneakers hitting the pavement, counting each step, setting small goals. A hundred steps. Now a hundred more. At last I exit the park at Eighty-sixth Street and Central Park West and turn toward Aunt Charlotte’s apartment. I crave sleep, oblivion. Only six pills are left, and the last time I asked my doctor for a refill, she hesitated. “You don’t want to become dependent upon these,” she said. “Try to get some exercise every day and avoid caffeine after noon. Take a warm bath before bed, and see if that does the trick.” But those are remedies for garden-variety insomnia. They don’t help me. I’m almost at the apartment when I realize I’ve forgotten Aunt Charlotte’s wine. I know I won’t want to go back out, so I turn and retrace my steps a block, to the liquor store. Four red and two white, Aunt Charlotte had requested. I take a basket and fill it with Merlot and Chardonnay. My hands close around the smooth, heavy bottles. I haven’t tasted wine since the day Richard asked me to go, but I still crave the velvety fruit awakening my tongue. I hesitate, then add a seventh and eighth bottle to my basket. The handles dig into my forearms as I make my way to the cash register. The young man behind the counter rings them up without comment. Maybe he’s used to disheveled women in designer clothes coming in here in the middle of the day to stock up on wine. I used to have it delivered to the house I shared with Richard, at least until he asked me to stop drinking. Then I drove to a gourmet market a half hour away so I wouldn’t run into anyone we knew. On recycling day, I took early-morning walks and slipped the empty bottles into neighbors’ bins. “That all?” the guy asks. “Yes.” I reach for my debit card, knowing that if I’d gone for expensive wines rather than fifteen-dollar bottles, the charge wouldn’t have cleared my checking account. He packs the bottles four to a bag, and I push the door open with my shoulder and head for Aunt Charlotte’s, the reassuring heft pulling down my arms. I reach our building and wait for the arthritic elevator’s doors to creak open. The journey up twelve flights takes an eternity; my mind is consumed with the thought of the first mouthful sliding down my throat, warming my stomach. Blunting the edges of my pain. Luckily my aunt isn’t home. I check the calendar hanging by the refrigerator and see the words D-three p.m. Probably a friend she’s meeting for tea; her husband, Beau, a journalist, passed away suddenly after a heart attack years ago. He was the love of her life. As far as I know, she hasn’t dated anyone seriously since. I set the bags on the counter and uncork the Merlot. I reach for a goblet, then replace it and grab a coffee mug instead. I fill it halfway, and then, unable to wait a moment longer, I raise it to my lips and the rich cherry flavor caresses my mouth. Closing my eyes, I swallow and feel it trickle down my throat. Some of the tightness slowly eases out of my body. I’m not sure how long Aunt Charlotte will be gone, so I pour more into my mug and take it and my bottles into my bedroom. I slip off my dress, leaving it crumpled on the floor, and step over it. Then I bend down to pick it up and place it on a hanger. I pull on a soft gray T-shirt and fleecy sweatpants and climb into bed. Aunt Charlotte moved a small television into the room when I first arrived, but I rarely use it. Now, however, I’m desperate for companionship, even of the electronic variety. I reach for the remote and flip through channels until I land on a talk show. I cup my mug in my hands and take another long drink. I try to lose myself in the drama being played out on-screen, but the topic of the day is infidelity. “It can make a marriage stronger,” insists a middle-aged woman who is holding the hand of a man seated beside her. He shifts in his seat and looks down at the floor. It can also destroy it, I think. I stare at the man. Who was she? I wonder. How did you meet her? On a business trip, or maybe in line for a sandwich at the deli? What was it about her that drew you in, that compelled you to cross that devastating line? I’m clutching my mug so tightly my hand aches. I want to hurl it at the screen, but instead, I refill it. The man crosses his legs at the ankle, then straightens them. He clears his throat and scratches his head. I’m glad he’s uncomfortable. He’s beefy and thuggish-looking; not my type, but I can see how he’d appeal to other women. “Regaining trust is a long process, but if both parties are committed to it, it’s very possible,” says a woman identified as a couples therapist on the screen below her image. The drab-looking wife is babbling on about how they’ve rebuilt trust completely, how their marriage is now their priority, how they lost each other but have found each other again. She sounds as if she’s been reading Hallmark cards. Then the therapist looks at the husband. “Do you agree trust has been reestablished?” He shrugs. Jerk, I think, wondering how he got caught. “I’m workin’ on it. But it’s hard. I keep picturing her with that—” A beep cuts off his last word. So I got it wrong. I thought he was the cheater. The clues were present, but I misread them. Not for the first time. I bang the mug against my front teeth when I go to sip more Merlot. I slide down lower in bed, wishing I’d left the television off. What separates a fling from a marriage proposal? I thought Richard was just having some fun. I expected their affair to blaze hot and extinguish itself quickly. I pretended not to know, to look the other way. Besides, who could blame Richard? I wasn’t the woman he’d married nearly a decade ago. I’d gained weight, I rarely left the house, and I’d begun to search for hidden meanings in Richard’s actions, seizing upon clues that I thought indicated he was tiring of me. She is everything Richard desires. Everything I used to be. Right after the brief, almost clinical scene that officially ended our seven-year marriage, Richard put our house in Westchester on the market and moved into his city apartment. But he loved our quiet neighborhood, the privacy it afforded. He’ll probably buy another place in the suburbs for his new bride. I wonder if she plans to quit work and devote herself to Richard, to trying to become pregnant, just as I did. I can’t believe I have any tears remaining, but more slide down my cheeks as I refill my mug again. The bottle is nearly empty and I spill a few drops on my white sheets. They stand out like blood. A familiar haze settles around me, the embrace of an old friend. I experience the sensation of blurring into the mattress. Maybe this is how my mother felt when she had her lights-out days. I wish I’d understood better back then; I felt abandoned, but now I know some pain is too fierce to battle. You can only duck for cover and hope the sandstorm passes. It’s too late for me to tell her, though. Both of my parents are gone. “Vanessa?” I hear a gentle knock against my bedroom door and Aunt Charlotte enters. Behind her thick glasses, her hazel eyes look magnified. “I thought I heard the television.” “I got sick at work. You probably shouldn’t come any closer.” The two bottles are on my nightstand. I hope the lamp is blocking them. “Can I get you anything?” “Some water would be great,” I say, slurring the s slightly. I need to get her out of my room quickly. She leaves the door ajar as she walks toward the kitchen and I pull myself out of bed, grabbing the bottles and wincing as they clink together. I hurry to my armoire and place them on the floor, righting one when it nearly topples over. I’m back in the same position when Aunt Charlotte returns with a tray. “I brought some saltines and herbal tea, too.” The kindness in her voice ties a knot in my chest. She places the tray by the foot of my bed, then turns to leave. I hope she can’t smell the alcohol on my breath. “I left the wine in the kitchen for you.” “Thank you, honey. Call if you need anything.” I drop my head back to the pillow as the door closes, feeling dizziness engulf me. Six pills are left.… If I let one of the bitter white tablets dissolve on my tongue, I could probably sleep through until morning. But suddenly I have a better idea. The thought shears through the fog in my mind: They’ve only just gotten engaged. It isn’t too late yet! I fumble for my bag and grab my phone. Richard’s numbers are still programmed in. His cell rings twice, then I hear his voice. Its timbre belongs to a bigger, taller man than my ex-husband, a juxtaposition I always found intriguing. “I’ll get right back to you,” his recorded message promises. Richard always, always keeps his promises. “Richard,” I blurt out. “It’s me. I heard about your engagement, and I just need to talk to you.…” The clarity I felt a moment ago wiggles away like a fish through my fingertips. I struggle to grasp the right words. “Please phone me back.… It’s really important.” My voice breaks on the last word and I press End Call. I hold the phone to my chest and close my eyes. Maybe I could have avoided the regret ravaging my body if only I’d tried harder to see the warning signs. To fix things. It can’t be too late. I can’t bear the thought of Richard marrying again. I must have dozed off because an hour later, when my cell vibrates, it jolts me. I look down to see a text: I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more to say. Take care. R. At that moment a realization seizes me. If Richard had moved on with another woman, I might be able to eventually patch together a life for myself. I could stay with Aunt Charlotte until I’d saved enough to rent my own place. Or I could move to a different city, one with no reminders. I could adopt a pet. Maybe, in time, when I saw a dark-haired businessman in a well-cut suit turning a corner, the sun gleaming off his aviator shades, I wouldn’t feel my heart stutter before I realized it wasn’t him. But as long as he is with her—the woman who blithely stepped up to become the new Mrs. Richard Thompson while I pretended to be oblivious—I will never have peace. The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at: us.macmillanusa.com/piracy. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS From Greer and Sarah: We are grateful every day for our editor and publisher, Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press, whose brilliant brain has made this a much better book and whose unparalleled energy, vision, and savvy have launched it higher and farther than we ever dreamed. We are lucky to have an outstanding publishing team behind us, which includes: Katie Bassel, Caitlin Dareff, Rachel Diebel, Marta Fleming, Olga Grlic, Tracey Guest, Jordan Hanley, Brant Janeway, Kim Ludlam, Erica Martirano, Kerry Nordling, Gisela Ramos, Sally Richardson, Lisa Senz, Michael Storrings, Tom Thompson, Dori Weintraub, and Laura Wilson. Thank you to our amazing, smart, and generous agent, Victoria Sanders, as well as her fabulous crew: Bernadette Baker-Baughman, Jessica Spivey, and Diane Dickensheid at Victoria Sanders and Associates. Our gratitude also to Mary Anne Thompson. To Benee Knauer: We are so appreciative of your spot-on early edits, most especially teaching us the true meaning of “palpable tension.” Many thanks to our foreign publishers, notably our dreamy dinner partner Wayne Brookes at Pan Macmillan UK. Our deep appreciation also to Shari Smiley at the Gotham Group. From Greer: Simply put, this book would not exist without Sarah Pekkanen, my inspiring, talented, and hilarious co-author—and cherished friend. Thank you for being my partner in crime on this wondrous journey. In my twenty years as an editor, I learned a tremendous amount from the authors I worked with, especially Jennifer Weiner and also her agent, Joanna Pulcini. I also want to thank my former colleagues at Simon & Schuster, many of whom I also regard as dear friends, especially my mentor at Atria Books, Judith Curr; the sublime Peter Borland; and the most talented young editor in the business, Sarah Cantin. From elementary school through graduate school I was fortunate to have teachers who believed in me, most remarkably Susan Wolman and Sam Freedman. I am deeply grateful to our early readers, Marla Goodman, Alison Strong, Rebecca Oshins, and Marlene Nosenchuk. I am gifted with many friends—both in and outside of the publishing industry—who cheered me on from the sidelines. Thank you to Carrie Abramson (and her husband, Leigh, our wine consultant), Gillian Blake, Andrea Clark, Meghan Daum (whose poem to me inspired Sam’s), Dorian Fuhrman, Karen Gordon, Cara McCaffrey, Liate Stehlik, Laura van Straaten, Elisabeth Weed, and Theresa Zoro. A special shout-out also to my Nantucket book club. Thank you to Danny Thompson and Ellen Katz Westrich for keeping me physically and emotionally fit. And my family: Bill, Carol, Billy, Debbie, and Victoria Hendricks; Patty, Christopher, and Nicholas Allocca; Julie Fontaine and Raya and Ronen Kessel. Robert Kessel, who always motivates me to break down walls. Mark and Elaine Kessel, for passing on their love of books, serving as my earliest readers, and always telling me to “go for it.” Rocky, for keeping me company. Extra-special gratitude to Paige and Alex, who encouraged their mother to pursue her childhood dream. And finally to John, my True North, who not only told me that I could and should, but held my hand every step of the way. From Sarah: Ten years ago, Greer Hendricks became my editor. Then she became my beloved friend. Now we are a writing team. Our creative collaboration has been a singular joy, and I am so grateful for the way she supports, challenges, and inspires me. I cannot wait to see what the next ten years have in store for us. My appreciation to all of the Smiths for their assistance through this process: Amy and Chris for the encouragement, laughter, and wine; Liz for her early read of the manuscript; and Perry for his thoughtful advice. Thanks to Kathy Nolan for sharing her expertise on everything from marketing to websites; to Rachel Baker, Joe Dangerfield, and Cathy Hines for always having my back; the Street Team and my Facebook friends and readers who spread the word about my books with fun and flair; and my vibrant, supportive community of fellow authors. I’m grateful to Sharon Sellers for keeping me strong enough to climb that next mountain, and to the wise, witty Sarah Cantin. My appreciation also to Glenn Reynolds, as well as Jud Ashman and the Gaithersburg Book Festival crew. Bella, one of the great dogs, sat patiently by my side as I wrote. Love to the incomparable Pekkanen crew: Nana Lynn, Johnny, Robert, Saadia, Sophia, Ben, Tammi, and Billy. Always, and most of all, to my sons: Jackson, Will, and Dylan. CHAPTER ONE NELLIE COULDN’T SAY what woke her. But when she opened her eyes, a woman wearing her white, lacy wedding gown stood by the foot of her bed, looking down at her. Nellie’s throat closed around a scream, and she lunged for the baseball bat leaning against her nightstand. Then her vision adjusted to the grainy dawn light and the pounding of her heart softened. She let out a tight laugh as she realized she was safe. The illusion was merely her wedding dress, ensconced in plastic, hanging on the back of her closet door, where she’d placed it yesterday after picking it up from the bridal shop. The bodice and full skirt were stuffed with crumpled tissue to maintain the shape. Nellie collapsed back onto her pillow. When her breathing steadied, she checked the blocky blue numbers on her nightstand clock. Too early, again. She stretched her arms overhead and reached with her left hand to turn off the alarm before it could blare, the diamond engagement ring Richard had given her feeling heavy and foreign on her finger. Even as a child, Nellie had never been able to fall asleep easily. Her mother didn’t have the patience for drawn-out bedtime rituals, but her father would gently rub her back, spelling out sentences over the fabric of her nightgown. I love you or You’re super special, he’d write, and she would try to guess the message. Other times he’d trace patterns, circles, stars, and triangles—at least until her parents divorced and he moved out when she was nine. Then she’d lie alone in her twin bed under her pink-and-purple-striped comforter and stare at the water stain that marred her ceiling. When she finally dozed off, she usually slept hard for a good seven or eight hours—so deeply and dreamlessly that her mother sometimes had to physically shake her to awaken her. But following an October night in her senior year of college, that suddenly changed. Her insomnia worsened sharply, and her sleep became fractured by vivid dreams and abrupt awakenings. Once, she came downstairs to breakfast in her sorority house and her Chi Omega sister told her she’d been yelling something unintelligible. Nellie had attempted to brush it off: “Just stressed about finals. The Psych Stat exam is supposed to be a killer.” Then she’d left the table to get another cup of coffee. After that, she’d forced herself to visit the college counselor, but despite the woman’s gentle coaxing, Nellie couldn’t talk about the warm early-fall night that had begun with bottles of vodka and laughter and ended with police sirens and despair. Nellie had met with the therapist twice, but canceled her third appointment and never went back. Nellie had told Richard a few details when she’d awoken from one of her recurring nightmares to feel his arms tightening around her and his deep voice whispering in her ear, “I’ve got you, baby. You’re safe with me.” Entwined with him, she felt a security she realized she’d yearned for her entire life, even before the incident. With Richard beside her, Nellie was finally able to succumb again to the vulnerable state of deep sleep. It was as if the unsteady ground beneath her feet had stabilized. Last night, though, Nellie had been alone in her old ground-floor brownstone apartment. Richard was in Chicago on business, and her best friend and roommate, Samantha, had slept over at her latest boyfriend’s. The noises of New York City permeated the walls: honking horns, occasional shouts, a barking dog … Even though the Upper East Side crime rate was the lowest in the borough, steel bars secured the windows, and three locks reinforced the door, including the thick one Nellie had installed after she’d moved in. Still, she’d needed an extra glass of Chardonnay before she’d been able to drift off. Nellie rubbed her gritty eyes and slowly peeled herself out of bed. She pulled on her terry-cloth robe, then looked at her dress again, wondering if she should try to clear space in her tiny closet so it would fit. But the skirt was so full. At the bridal boutique, surrounded by its poufy and sequin-encrusted sisters, it had looked elegantly simple, like a chignon amidst bouffants. But next to the tangle of clothes and flimsy IKEA bookshelf in her cramped bedroom, it seemed to veer dangerously close to a Disney Princess ensemble. Too late to change it, though. The wedding was approaching fast and every detail was in place, down to the cake topper—a blond bride and her handsome groom, frozen in a perfect moment. “Jeez, they even look like you two,” Samantha had said when Nellie showed her a picture of the vintage china figurines that Richard had emailed. The topper had belonged to his parents, and Richard had retrieved it from the storage room in his apartment building’s basement after he proposed. Sam had wrinkled her nose. “Ever think he’s too good to be true?” Richard was thirty-six, nine years older than Nellie, and a successful hedge fund manager. He had a runner’s wiry build, and an easy smile that belied his intense navy-blue eyes. For their first date, he’d taken her to a French restaurant and knowledgeably discussed white Burgundies with the sommelier. For their second, on a snowy Saturday, he’d told her to dress warmly and had shown up carrying two bright green plastic sleds. “I know the best hill in Central Park,” he’d said. He’d worn a pair of faded jeans and had looked just as good in them as he did in his well-cut suits. Nellie hadn’t been joking when she replied to Sam’s question by saying, “Only every day.” Nellie smothered another yawn as she padded the seven steps into the tiny galley kitchen, the linoleum cold under her bare feet. She flicked on the overhead light, noticing Sam had—again—made a mess of the honey jar after sweetening her tea. The viscous liquid oozed down the side, and a cockroach struggled in the sticky amber pool. Even after years of living in Manhattan, the sight still made her queasy. Nellie grabbed one of Sam’s dirty mugs out of the sink and trapped the roach under it. Let her deal with it, she thought. As she waited for her coffee to brew, she flipped open her laptop and began checking email—a coupon from the Gap; her mother, who’d apparently become a vegetarian, asking Nellie to make sure there would be a meat-free option at the wedding dinner; a notice that her credit-card payment was due. Nellie poured her coffee into a mug decorated with hearts and the words World’s #1 Teacher—she and Samantha, who also taught at the Learning Ladder preschool, had a dozen nearly identical ones jammed in the cupboard—and took a grateful sip. She had ten spring parent-teacher conferences scheduled today for her Cubs, her class of three-year-olds. Without caffeine, she’d be in danger of falling asleep in the “quiet corner,” and she needed to be on her game. First up were the Porters, who’d recently fretted over the lack of Spike Jonze–style creativity being cultivated in her classroom. They’d recommended she replace the big dollhouse with a giant tepee and had followed up by sending her a link to one the Land of Nod sold for $229. She’d miss the Porters only slightly less than the cockroaches when she moved in with Richard, Nellie decided. She looked at Samantha’s mug, felt a surge of guilt, and used a tissue to quickly scoop up the bug and flush it down the toilet. Her cell phone rang as Nellie was turning on the shower. She wrapped herself in a towel and hurried into the bedroom to grab her purse. Her phone wasn’t there, though; Nellie was forever misplacing it. She eventually dug it out of the folds of her comforter. “Hello?” No answer. Caller ID showed a blocked number. A moment later a voice-mail alert appeared on her screen. She pressed a button to listen to it but only heard a faint, rhythmic sound. Breathing. A telemarketer, she told herself as she tossed the phone back on the bed. No big deal. She was overreacting, as she sometimes did. She was just overwhelmed. After all, in the next few weeks, she’d pack up her apartment, move in with Richard, and hold a bouquet of white roses as she walked toward her new life. Change was unnerving, and she was facing a lot of it all at once. Still, it was the third call in as many weeks. She glanced at the front door. The steel dead bolt was engaged. She headed to the bathroom, then turned back and picked up her cell phone, bringing it with her. She placed it on the edge of the sink, locked the door, then slung her towel over the rod and stepped into the shower. She jumped back as the too-cold spray hit her, then adjusted the knob and rubbed her hands over her arms. Steam filled the small space, and she let the water course over the knots in her shoulders and down her back. She was changing her last name after the wedding. Maybe she’d change her phone number, too. She’d slipped on a linen dress and was swiping mascara over her blond eyelashes—the only time she wore much makeup or nice clothes to work was for parent-teacher conferences and graduation day—when her cell phone vibrated, the noise loud and tinny against the porcelain sink. She flinched, and her mascara wand streaked upward, leaving a black mark near her eyebrow. She looked down to see an incoming text from Richard: Can’t wait to see you tonight, beautiful. Counting the minutes. I love you. As she stared at her fiancé’s words, the breath that had seemed stuck in her chest all morning loosened. I love you, too, she texted back. She’d tell him about the phone calls tonight. Richard would pour her a glass of wine and lift her feet up onto his lap while they talked. Maybe he’d find a way to trace the hidden number. She finished getting ready, then picked up her heavy shoulder bag and stepped out in the faint spring sunshine. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO AFTER AUNT CHARLOTTE comes to get me at the Robertson bar, I take a cool shower, scrubbing off my sweat and makeup. Wishing I could rinse away the day as easily and have a fresh chance with Emma. I’d planned my words so carefully; I’d anticipated that Emma would be skeptical at first. I would have been, too—I still remember how I’d bristled when Sam seemed suspicious of Richard, or when my mother expressed concern that I seemed to be losing my identity. But I’d assumed Emma would at least listen to me. That I would have the opportunity to plant doubts that might prompt her to take a closer look at the man she was choosing to spend the rest of her life with. But clearly she’d already formed a strong opinion of me, one that tells her I’m not to be trusted. Now I recognize how foolish I was to think this could end so easily. I will have to find another way to make her understand. I notice my left arm is red and slightly raw from where I’ve been aggressively scrubbing it. I turn off the shower and smooth lotion on my tender skin. Then Aunt Charlotte knocks on my bedroom door. “Up for a walk?” “Sure.” I’d rather not, but it’s my inadequate concession to her for the worry I’ve caused. So the two of us head over to Riverside Park. Usually Aunt Charlotte sets a brisk pace, but today she strolls slowly. The steady, repetitive movement of my arms and legs and the soft breeze from the Hudson River help me feel more grounded. “Do you want to continue our conversation?” Aunt Charlotte asks. I think about what she requested: Please stop lying to me. I’m not going to lie to her, but before I can tell Aunt Charlotte the truth, I need to figure out what it is for myself. “Yes.” I reach for her hand. “But I’m not ready yet.” Although at the bar we only dissected a single evening of my marriage, talking with my aunt has released some of the pressure that has built up inside me. The full story is far too tangled and complex to unravel in one afternoon. For the first time, though, I have someone else’s recollections to rely on other than my own. Someone I can trust as I absorb the aftershocks of my life with Richard. I take Aunt Charlotte to the Italian restaurant near her apartment, and we order minestrone soup. The waiter brings us warm, crusty bread, and I drink three glasses of ice water, realizing I’m parched. We talk about the biography of Matisse that she is reading, and a movie I pretend to want to see. Physically I feel a little better. And the superficial chat with my aunt distracts me. But the moment I’m back in my room, closing my blinds as dusk falls, my replacement returns. She is an uninvited guest I can never turn away. I see her at her dress fitting, twirling before a mirror, the new diamond glinting on her finger. I imagine her pouring Richard a drink and bringing it to him, kissing him as he takes it from her hand. I am pacing back and forth in the small bedroom, I realize. I walk to my desk and locate a yellow legal pad in a drawer. I bring it and a pen back to my bed and stare at the blank page. I begin to form her name, my pen lingering over the edges and curves in her letters: Emma. I have to get the words exactly right. I must make her understand. I realize I am pressing the pen into the paper so deeply that the ink has bled through the page. I don’t know what to write next. I don’t know how to start. If I could only figure out where my demise began, I might be able to explain it to her. Was it with my mother’s mental illness? My father’s death? My inability to conceive a child? I am growing more and more certain the origin lies within that October night in Florida. I can’t tell Emma about that, though. The only part of my story she needs to understand is Richard’s role in it. I tear away the paper and begin again with a clean one. This time I write, Dear Emma. Then I hear his voice. For a moment, I wonder if my mind has conjured it, until I realize he’s in the apartment, and that Aunt Charlotte is calling my name. Summoning me to Richard. I leap to my feet and glance in the mirror. The afternoon sun and walk have left me pink cheeked, and my hair is swept into a low ponytail. I’m wearing Lycra shorts and a tank top. Dark circles mark my eyes, but the soft, forgiving light is kind to my body’s sharp angles. Earlier today I dressed up for Emma, but in this moment I look more like the Nellie my husband fell in love with than I have in years. I walk barefoot into the living room, and my body reacts instinctively, my vision tunneling until he is all I can see. He is broad shouldered and fit; his runner’s build filled out during the years we were married. Richard is one of those men who grow more attractive with age. “Vanessa.” That deep voice. The one I still hear in my dreams all the time. “I’d like to talk.” He turns to Aunt Charlotte. “May we have a moment?” Aunt Charlotte looks at me and I nod. My mouth is dry. “Of course,” she says, retreating to the kitchen. “Emma told me you went to see her today.” Richard is wearing a shirt I don’t recognize, one he must have bought after I left. Or maybe one Emma bought for him. His face is tanned, the way it always gets in the summer because he runs outside in good weather. I nod, knowing it’s futile to deny it. Unexpectedly, his expression softens and he takes a step toward me. “You look terrified. Don’t you know I’m here because I’m worried about you?” I gesture to the sofa. My legs feel shaky. “Can we sit down?” Throw pillows are piled at either end of the couch, which means we end up closer to each other than either of us might have expected. I smell lemons. I feel his warmth. “I’m marrying Emma. You have to accept this.” I don’t have to, I think. I don’t have to accept you marrying anyone. But instead I say, “It all happened so fast. Why the rush?” Richard won’t indulge my question. “Everyone asked me why I stayed with you all those years. You complained that I left you alone at home too much, but when we socialized, you were … The night of our cocktail party—well, people still talk about it.” I don’t realize a tear is rolling down my cheek until he gently wipes it away. His touch sets off an explosion of sensation inside me; it has been months since I’ve felt it. My body clenches. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I never wanted to say it because I knew it would hurt you. But after today … I don’t have any choice. I think you should get help. An inpatient stay somewhere, maybe the place where your mom went. You don’t want to end up like she did.” “I’m doing better, Richard.” I feel a flash of my old spirit. “I’ve got a job. I’m getting out more and meeting people.…” My voice trails off. The truth is visible to him. “I’m not like my mother.” We’ve had this conversation before. It’s clear he doesn’t believe me. “She overdosed on painkillers,” Richard says gently. “We don’t know that for sure!” I protest. “It could have been a mistake. She might have gotten her pills mixed up.” Richard sighs. “Before she died, she told you and Aunt Charlotte she was doing better. So when you just said that to me … Look, do you have a pen?” I freeze, wondering how he senses what I was doing in the moment before he arrived. “A pen,” he repeats, furrowing his brow at my reaction. “May I borrow one?” I nod, then stand up and return to my bedroom, where the legal pad with Emma’s name sits on my bed. I glance over my shoulder, suddenly gripped by the fear that he has followed me. But the space in my wake is empty. I turn over the pad and pick up the pen, then I notice our wedding album still splayed on the floor. I put it on the floor of my armoire, then go back into the living room. My knee gently bumps against Richard’s when I sit back down next to him. He tilts toward me on the couch as he reaches for his wallet. He withdraws the single blank check he always carries. I watch as he writes a number and adds several zeros. I gape at the amount. “What is this for?” “You didn’t get enough in the settlement.” He puts the check on the coffee table. “I liquidated some stock for you and let the bank know there would be a large withdrawal from my checking account. Please use this to get some help. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you.” “I don’t want your money, Richard.” He fixes his eyes on me. “I never did.” I’ve known people with hazel eyes that morph from green to blue to brown based on the light, or what they’re wearing. But Richard is the only person I’ve ever met whose irises shift solely through shades of blue—from denim to Caribbean sea to a beetle’s wing. Now they are my favorite shade, a soft indigo. “Nellie”—it is the first time he has called me this since I moved out—“I love Emma.” A sharp pain bursts in my chest. “But I will never love anyone as much as I loved you,” he says. I continue to look into his eyes, then I jerk away my gaze. I am stunned by his admission. But the truth is, I feel the same way about him. The silence in the air hangs like an icicle about to crack. Then he leans forward again, and shock robs me of the ability to think coherently as his soft lips find mine. His hand cups the back of my head, pulling me in closer. For just a few seconds, I am Nellie again and he is the man I fell in love with. Then I’m jolted back to reality. I push him away, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “You shouldn’t have done that.” He looks at me for a long moment, then stands up and leaves without a word. CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN I PLACE THE POSTCARD with the German shepherd back on Aunt Charlotte’s desk. I have missed so much work. I can’t be late again. I tuck the letter to Emma in my purse. I will deliver it after my shift. I imagine I can feel its weight pulling down the strap on my shoulder as I begin my walk to Midtown. I’m halfway there when my phone rings. For a brief moment, I think, Richard. But when I look down, the number flashing is Saks. I hesitate, then answer and blurt out, “I’m almost there. Another fifteen minutes, tops.” I pick up my pace. “Vanessa, I hate to have to do this,” Lucille says. “I’m so sorry. I lost my cell phone, and then…” She clears her throat and I fall silent. “But we need to let you go.” “Give me one more chance,” I say desperately. With Aunt Charlotte’s condition, I need to work now more than ever. “I was going through a rough time, but I promise, I won’t— Things are turning around.” “Being late is one matter. Repeated absences are another. But concealing merchandise? What were you planning to do with those dresses?” I’m going to deny it, but something in her voice tells me not to bother. Maybe someone saw me remove the three black-and-white floral knit Alexander McQueen dresses and hide them in the stockroom. It’s futile. I have no defense. “I have your final check. I’ll mail it to you.” “Actually, can I come in to pick it up?” I hope I can convince Lucille to give me another chance in person. Lucille hesitates. “Fine. We’re a little busy at the moment. Stop by in an hour.” “Thank you. That’s perfect.” Now I have time to deliver the letter to Emma’s office instead of waiting until after work and leaving it at her home. It’s only been twenty-four hours since I last saw Richard’s fiancée, but that means it’s a day closer to her wedding. I should be using this time to plan my speech to Lucille. But all I can think of is how I can linger outside in the courtyard and see if Emma steps out for a coffee or to run an errand. Maybe I’ll be able to discern from her expression if Richard told her about his visit. The last time I entered this sleek high-rise building was for Richard’s office party. The night it all began. But I have so many other memories of this place: coming here from the Learning Ladder to meet Richard and watching him conclude a business call, his voice so intent it was almost stern, while he made goofy faces at me above the phone receiver; commuting in from Westchester to join Richard and his colleagues for dinner; stopping by to surprise Richard and having him lift me off my feet into a joyful hug. I push through the revolving door and approach the security guard’s desk. At ten o’clock, the lobby isn’t busy, for which I’m grateful. I don’t want to bump into anyone I know. I vaguely recognize the guard, so I keep my sunglasses on. I hand over the envelope with Emma’s name printed on it. “Can you deliver this to the thirty-second floor?” “Just a moment.” He touches a screen on his desk and types in her name. Then he looks up at me. “She no longer works here.” He pushes the envelope back to me across the desk. “What? When did she—did she quit?” “I don’t have that information, ma’am.” A UPS deliverywoman walks up behind me, and the guard shifts his attention. I take the envelope and walk back through the revolving door. In the nearby courtyard is a little bench where I planned to wait for Emma. Now I collapse onto it. I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, Richard wouldn’t want his wife working, particularly not for him. I briefly wonder if she has taken another job, but I know she wouldn’t do that right before her wedding. I am equally certain she won’t return to work after she is married, either. Her world is beginning to shrink. I need to get to her right away. She threatened to call the police if I approached her apartment again, but those are not consequences I can focus on now. I stand up and go to put the letter in my purse. My fingers graze my wallet. The one containing Duke’s picture. I pull the small color photograph out from its protective plastic covering. Rage descends over me; if Richard were here now, I would fly at him, clawing his face, screaming obscenities. But I force myself to return, yet again, to the security guard’s desk. “Excuse me,” I say politely. “Do you have an envelope?” He hands me one without comment. I put Duke’s photo inside, then I search my purse for a pen. I come up with a gray eyeliner and use it to write Richard Thompson on the envelope. The blunt-tipped, soft liner leaves a trail of progressively messier letters, but I don’t care. “Thirty-second floor. I know he still works there.” The guard raises an eyebrow but otherwise remains impassive, at least until I leave. I need to go to Saks, but as soon as I am through there, I intend to walk directly to Emma’s apartment. I wonder what she is doing at this precise moment. Packing up her things in preparation for the move? Buying a sexy nightgown for her honeymoon? Having a final coffee with her city friends, promising she’ll be back all the time to see them? My left foot hits the pavement. Save. My right foot comes down. Her. I walk faster and faster, the words echoing in my brain. Savehersavehersaveher. * * * I was too late once before, when I was in my final year in Florida at the sorority. That will not happen again. On the night Maggie vanished, I came home from Daniel’s just as the pledges were returning to the house, wet and giggling, smelling like the sea. “I thought you were sick!” Leslie yelled. I pushed through the cluster of pledges and headed upstairs to my room. I was shattered, unable to think straight. I don’t know what made me look back at the girls, who were by then drying themselves with the towels someone was throwing over the top of the staircase. I spun around. “Maggie.” “She’s right—she’s right—” Leslie spluttered. Those two syllables echoing as my sorority sisters scanned the room, their laughter fading as they checked faces, searching for the one who wasn’t there. The story of what happened on the beach emerged in frantic shards and fragments; memories distorted by alcohol and exuberance that had turned to fear. Some fraternity boys had crept along behind the girls as they’d marched to the beach, perhaps galvanized by the flash of that hot-pink bra. The pledges had all stripped, as instructed, then run into the ocean. “Check her room!” I shouted to our sorority president. “I’ll go to the beach.” “I saw her come out of the water,” Leslie kept saying as we ran back to the ocean. But so had the guys. By then the boys had run onto the sand, hooting and laughing, scooping up the discarded clothing and dangling it just out of reach of the naked girls. It was a prank; not one we’d planned, though. “Maggie!” I screamed as we sprinted now onto the beach. The girls had been screaming, too, with some of the clothed sisters chasing the boys. The pledges tried to cover themselves with shirts or dresses the guys dropped as they withdrew farther back onto the sand. The girls had eventually gotten back the clothing and had run to the house. “She isn’t here!” Leslie yelled. “Let’s go back to the house in case we missed her on the way.” Then I saw the white cotton top with little cherries and matching shorts strewn on the sand. * * * Blue and red lights churning. Divers searching the ocean, dragging nets through the water. A spotlight dancing across the waves. And the high, drawn-out scream when a body was pulled from the ocean. It came from me. The police questioned us one by one, methodically forming a narrative. The local newspaper filled four pages with articles and sidebars and photographs of Maggie. A news station from Miami filmed footage of our sorority house and aired a special report about the dangers of pledge-week drinking. I was the social director; I was Maggie’s big sister. These details were reported. My name was printed. So was my photo. In my mind, I always see skinny, freckled Maggie retreating into the ocean, trying to hide her body. I see her going out too far, losing her footing in the unsteady sand. A wave breaks over her head. Maybe she cries out, but her voice blends into the other shrieks. She gulps salt water. She spins around, disoriented, in the inky black. She can’t see. She can’t breathe. Another wave drags her under. Maggie vanished. But maybe she wouldn’t have if I hadn’t disappeared first. Emma will disappear, too, if she marries Richard. She will lose her friends. She will become estranged from her family. She will disconnect from herself, just as I did. And then it will get so much worse. Save her, my mind chants. CHAPTER FORTY THE BUILDING BEFORE ME could be a Southern mansion, with its grand columns and wraparound porch lined with a tidy row of rocking chairs. But to gain access to the grounds, I have to pass through a gate manned by a security guard and show photo identification. The guard also searches the cloth bag I’m carrying. He raises his eyebrows when he sees the items inside, but merely nods for me to continue on my way. A few patients at the New Springs Hospital are gardening or playing cards on the porch. I don’t see him among them. Richard is spending twenty-eight days at this acute mental-health facility, where he is undergoing intensive daily therapy sessions. It is part of the deal he made to avoid being prosecuted for assaulting me. As I climb the wide wooden steps toward the entrance, a woman unfolds herself from a chaise lounge, her limbs sharp and athletic looking. The bright afternoon sun is in my eyes and I can’t immediately identify her. Then she moves closer, and I see it is Maureen. “I didn’t know you’d be here today.” I shouldn’t be surprised; Maureen is all Richard has left now. “I’m here every day. I’ve taken a leave of absence from work.” I look around. “Where is he?” One of his counselors passed along Richard’s request: He wanted to see me. At first I was unsure if I would comply. Then I realized I needed this visit, too. “Richard is resting. I wanted to talk to you first.” Maureen gestures to a pair of rocking chairs. “Shall we?” Maureen takes a moment to cross her legs and smooth a crease in her beige linen pantsuit. Clearly she has an agenda. I wait for her to reveal it. “I feel terrible about what happened between you and Richard.” I see Maureen glance at the faded yellow discoloration on my neck. But there is a disconnect between her words and the energy she is conveying. Her posture is rigid and her face is devoid of sympathy. She doesn’t care for me. She never has, even though early on I’d hoped we would become close. “I know you blame him. But it isn’t that simple. Vanessa, my brother has been through a lot. More than you ever knew. More than you can ever imagine.” At this, I can’t help blinking in surprise. She is casting Richard as the victim. “He attacked me,” I almost shout. “He nearly killed me.” Maureen seems unaffected by my outburst; she merely clears her throat and begins again. “When our parents died—” “In the car accident.” She frowns, as if my remark has irritated her. As if she has planned for this to be less a conversation than a monologue. “Yes. Our father lost control of their station wagon. It hit a guardrail and flipped. Our parents died instantly. Richard doesn’t remember much, but the police said skid marks showed my dad was speeding.” I jerk back. “Richard doesn’t remember—you mean he was in the car?” I blurt. “Yes, yes,” Maureen says impatiently. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” I am stunned; he concealed more of himself than I ever realized. “It was horrible for him.” Maureen words are almost rushed, as if she wants to hurry through these details before she gets to the important part of her story. “Richard was trapped in the backseat. He hit his forehead. The frame of the car was all twisted and he couldn’t get out. It took a while for another driver to pass by and call for paramedics. Richard had a concussion and needed stitches, but it could have been so much worse.” The silvery scar above his eye, I think. The one he said was caused by a bike accident. I picture Richard as a young teenager—a boy, really—dazed and in pain from the crash. Crying out for his mother. Failing to rouse his parents. Trying to wrench open the upside-down station wagon’s doors. Beating his fists against the windows and yelling. And the blood. There must have been so much blood. “My dad had a temper, and whenever he got mad, he drove fast. I suspect he was arguing with my mother before the crash.” Maureen’s cadence is slower now. She shakes her head. “Thank God I always told Richard to wear a seat belt. He listened to what I said.” “I had no idea,” I finally respond. Maureen turns to look at me; it’s as if I’ve pulled her from a reverie. “Yes, Richard never talked about the accident with anyone but me. What I want you to know is that it wasn’t just when he was driving that my father lost his temper. My father was abusive to my mother.” I inhale sharply. My dad wasn’t always good to my mom, Richard had told me after my mother’s funeral as I sat shivering in the bathtub. I think back to the photograph of his parents Richard hid in the storage unit. I wonder if he needed to literally bury it to suppress the memories of his childhood, so they could yield to the more palatable story he presented. A shadow falls over me. I instinctively whip my head around. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” a nurse in blue scrubs says, smiling. “You wanted me to let you know when your brother woke up.” Maureen nods. “Can you ask him to come down, Angie?” Then Maureen turns to me. “I think it would be better for you two to talk here rather than in his room.” We watch the nurse retreat. When the woman is out of earshot, Maureen’s voice turns steely. Her words are clipped. “Look, Vanessa. Richard is fragile right now. Can we agree that you will finally leave him alone?” “He’s the one who wanted me to come here.” “Richard doesn’t know what he wants right now. Two weeks ago, he thought he wanted to marry Emma. He believed she was perfect”—Maureen makes a little scoffing sound—“even though he barely knew her. He thought that about you at one time, too. He always wanted his life to look a certain way, like the idealized bride and groom on the cake topper he bought for my parents all those years ago.” I think of the mismatched date on the bottom of the figurines. “Richard bought that for your parents?” “I see he didn’t tell you about that, either. It was for their anniversary. He had this whole plan that we’d cook them a special dinner and bake them a cake. That they’d have a wonderful night and start loving each other again. But then the car crash happened. He never got to give it to them. “It was hollow inside, you know. The cake topper. That’s what I thought when I saw it broken in the hallway that day.… I guess he was bringing it to the tasting to show the cake designer. But Richard really has no business being married to anyone. And it’s my job now to make sure that it doesn’t happen.” She suddenly smiles—a wide, genuine grin—and I’m completely unnerved. But it isn’t for me. It’s for her brother, who is approaching us. Maureen stands up. “I’ll give you two a few minutes alone.” * * * I sit beside the man who both is and is no longer a mystery to me. He wears jeans and a plain cotton shirt. Dark stubble lines his jaw. Despite the fact that he’s been sleeping so much, he appears tired and his skin is sallow. He is no longer the man who enthralled me, then subsequently terrorized me. He appears ordinary to me now, somehow deflated, like a man I wouldn’t look at twice as he waited for a bus or bought a cup of coffee at a street kiosk. My husband kept me off-balance for years. He tried to erase me. My husband also hugged my waist on a green sled while we sped down a hill in Central Park. He brought me rum raisin ice cream on the anniversary of my father’s death and left me love notes for no reason at all. And he hoped I could save him from himself. When Richard finally speaks, he says what I have wanted to hear for so long. “I’m sorry, Vanessa.” He has apologized to me before, but this time I know his words are different. At last they are real. “Is there any way you could give me another chance? I’m getting better. We could start over.” I gaze out at the gardens and rolling green lawn. I had envisioned a scene much like this when Richard first showed me our Westchester house: The two of us side by side on a porch swing, but decades into our marriage. Connected by memories we’d constructed together, each of us layering in our favorite details with every retelling, until we’d created a unified recollection. I’d expected to be angry when I saw him. But I only feel pity. By way of an answer to his question, I hand Richard my cloth bag. He pulls out the top item, a black jewelry box. In it are my wedding and engagement rings. He opens the box. “I wanted to give these back to you.” I have spent so long mired in our past. It is time to return them to him and truly move on. “We could adopt a child. We could make it perfect this time.” He wipes his eyes. I have never seen him cry before. Maureen is between us in an instant. She takes the bag and the rings from Richard. “Vanessa, I think it’s time for you to go. I’ll see you out.” I stand up. Not because she told me to, but because I am ready to leave. “Good-bye, Richard.” * * * Maureen leads me down the steps toward the parking lot. I follow at a slower pace. “You can do whatever you want with the wedding album.” I gesture to the bag. “It was my gift to Richard, so it’s rightfully his.” “I remember. Terry did a nice job. Lucky that he was able to fit you in that day after all.” I stop short. I’d never told anyone how close we’d come to not having a photographer at our ceremony. And it has been nearly a decade since our wedding; even I couldn’t come up with Terry’s name that quickly. As Maureen meets my stare, I recollect how a woman had phoned to cancel our booking. Maureen knew which photographer we were using; she had suggested I include black-and-white shots when I emailed her a link to Terry’s website and sought her opinion about Richard’s gift. Her icy-blue eyes look so much like Richard’s in this instant. It is impossible to gauge what she is thinking. I recall how Maureen came to our house for every holiday, how she spent her birthdays with her brother engaged in an activity she knew I didn’t enjoy, how she never married or had children. How I cannot remember her mentioning the name of a single friend. “I’ll take care of the album.” She stops at the edge of the parking lot and touches my arm. “Good-bye.” I feel cold, smooth metal against my skin. When I look down, I see she has slipped my rings onto the fourth finger of her right hand. She follows my gaze. “For safekeeping.” CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX I AM UPDATING my résumé on my laptop when my cell phone rings. Her name flashes across the screen. I hesitate before answering. I worry this could be another of Richard’s traps. “You were right,” says the husky voice I’ve come to know so well. I remain quiet. “About the Visa bill.” I fear that even my slightest utterance will cause Emma to stop talking, change her mind, hang up. “I called the credit card company. There was no wine charge from Sotheby’s. Richard never ordered the Raveneau.” I can hardly believe what I have just heard. Part of me still worries Richard may be behind this, but Emma’s tone is different from in the past. She no longer sounds contemptuous of me. “Vanessa, the way you looked when he said he would escort you downstairs … that’s what convinced me to check. I thought you were jealous. That you wanted him back. But you don’t, do you?” “No.” “You’re terrified of him,” Emma says bluntly. “He actually hit you? He tried to strangle you? I can’t believe Richard would—but—” “Where are you? Where is he?” “I’m home. He’s in Chicago on business.” I’m grateful she’s not at Richard’s apartment. Her place is probably safe. Although her phone may not be. “We need to meet in person.” But this time it will be in a public place. “How about the Starbucks on—” “No, you have to stick to your routine. What do you have planned today?” “I was going to take a yoga class this afternoon. And then go pick up my wedding gown.” We won’t be able to talk in a yoga studio. “The bridal shop. Where is it?” Emma gives me the address and time. I tell her I will meet her there. What she doesn’t know is that I’m going to arrive early to make sure I’m not ambushed again. * * * “What a perfect bride,” Brenda, the boutique’s owner, exclaims. Emma’s eyes meet mine in the mirror as she stands on the raised platform in a creamy silk sheath. She is unsmiling, but Brenda seems too busy surveying the final fit of the dress to notice Emma’s somber mood. “I don’t think it needs a single tweak,” Brenda continues. “I’ll just steam it and we’ll messenger it to you tomorrow.” “Actually, we can wait,” I say. “We’d like to take it with us.” The dressing area is empty, and in a corner are several armchairs. It’s private. Safe. “Would you care for some champagne, then?” “We’d love some,” I say, and Emma nods in agreement. As Emma slips out of the dress, I avert my gaze. Still, I see her reflection—smooth skin and lacy pink lingerie—in a half dozen angles in mirrors around the room. It is an oddly intimate moment. Brenda takes the gown and carefully places it onto a padded hanger while I impatiently wait for her to leave the room. Before Emma can even finish fastening the button on her skirt, I head to the chairs. This bridal shop is one place where I can be certain Richard won’t unexpectedly show up. It’s practically forbidden for a groom to see his fiancée in a wedding gown before the ceremony. “I thought you were crazy,” Emma says. “When I worked for Richard, I used to hear him on the phone with you, asking what you’d eaten for breakfast and if you’d gotten out for some fresh air. I had access to emails he sent asking where you were. Saying he’d phoned four times that day but you hadn’t answered. He was always so worried about you.” “I can see how it seemed that way.” We fall silent as Brenda returns with two flutes of champagne. “Congratulations, again.” I’m worried she will linger and chat, but she excuses herself to check on the dress. “I figured I had you sized up,” Emma tells me bluntly once Brenda is gone. She looks at me carefully, and I see an unexpected familiarity in her round blue eyes. Before I can place it, she continues, “You had this perfect life with this great guy. You didn’t even work, you just lounged around in the fancy house he paid for. I didn’t think you deserved any of it.” I let her continue. She tilts her head to the side. It’s almost as if she is seeing me for the first time. “You’re different than I imagined. I’ve thought about you so much. I wondered what it would feel like for you to know your husband was in love with someone else. It used to keep me up at night.” “It wasn’t your fault.” She has no idea how true that statement is. A loud ding emanates from Emma’s purse. She freezes with the flute almost touching her lips. We both stare at her bag. She pulls out her phone. “Richard texted me. He just arrived at his hotel in Chicago. He asked what I’m up to and wrote that he misses me.” “Text him and tell him you miss him, too, and that you love him.” She raises one eyebrow but does what I ask. “Now give me your phone.” I tap on it, then show it to Emma. “It’s tracking you.” I point to the screen. “Richard bought it for you, right? His name is on the account. He can access your phone’s location—your location—at any time.” He did the same thing to me after we got engaged. I eventually figured it out after that day in the grocery store when I wondered if he already knew what I’d be serving him for dinner. It was how he discovered my clandestine visit into the city, and to the wine store a few towns over. Richard was also responsible for the mysterious hang-ups that began after I met him, I’ve realized. Sometimes they served as punishment, such as during our honeymoon, when Richard thought I’d been flirting with the young scuba instructor. Other times I believe he was trying to keep me off-balance; to unnerve me so that he could subsequently reassure me. But I don’t tell this part to Emma. Emma is staring at her phone. “So he pretends he doesn’t know what I’m doing even though he does?” She sips her drink. “God, that’s sick.” “I realize it’s a lot to take in.” I recognize this is an extraordinary understatement. “Do you know what I keep thinking about? Richard showed up right after you slipped that letter under my door. He immediately tore it up, but I keep remembering this one line you wrote: ‘A part of you already knows who he is.’” Emma’s eyes grow unfocused and I suspect she is reliving the moment when she began to see her fiancé anew. “Richard wanted to—it was like he wanted to murder that letter. He kept ripping it into smaller and smaller bits, then he shoved them in his pocket. And his face—it didn’t even look like him.” She lingers in the memory for a long moment, then shakes it off and stares directly at me. “Will you tell me the truth about something?” “Of course.” “Right after the cocktail party at your house, he came in with a bad scratch on his cheek. When I asked him what happened, he said a neighbor’s cat did it when he tried to pick it up.” Richard could have covered the scratch or come up with a better story for it. But conclusions would be drawn after my sloppy conduct at our party; it was more proof of my instability, my volatility. Emma is very still now. “I grew up with a cat,” she says slowly. “I know that scratch was different.” I nod. Then I inhale deeply and blink hard. “I was trying to get him off me.” Emma doesn’t react initially. Perhaps she instinctively realizes that if she shows me sympathy, I’ll crumple into tears. She simply looks at me, then turns away. “I can’t believe I got this so wrong,” she finally says. “I thought you were the one … He’s coming back tomorrow. I’m supposed to spend the night at his place. Then Maureen’s coming to town. We’re meeting at my apartment so she can see my dress … then we’re all going to taste wedding cakes!” Her chatter is the only sign that she’s nervous, that our conversation has thrown her. Maureen is an added complication. I’m not surprised Richard and Emma are including her in the wedding preparations, though; I remember wanting to do the same. Along with the butterfly-clasp necklace I gave her, I sought out her opinion on whether Richard would want black-and-white or color photographs in the album that was my wedding gift to him. Richard also called her and put her on speakerphone while the three of us discussed entrée options for the meal. I put my arm around Emma. At first her body is rigid, but it softens for a brief moment before she pulls away. She must be holding back a tidal wave of emotions. Save her. Save her. I close my eyes and recall the girl I couldn’t save. “Don’t be scared. I’m going to help you.” * * * When we arrive at Emma’s place, she lays her wedding gown across the back of her sofa. “Can I get you anything to drink?” I barely touched my champagne; I want my thoughts to remain clear so I can figure out how Emma can safely extract herself from Richard. “I’d love some water.” Emma bustles about her galley kitchen, anxiously chattering again. “Do you take ice? I know my place is a little messy. I was going to do laundry and then all of a sudden I just felt like I had to check on the Visa charge. He added me to that account after we got engaged, so all I had to do was call the number on the back of my card. I’ve got some grapes and almonds if you want a snack.… Usually I reviewed his AmEx statements before submitting them to Accounting for reimbursement, but a couple of times, he told me he’d handle it himself. That’s why I never saw the refund.” Emma shakes her head. I absently listen to her as I look around. I know she is grasping for ways to blunt the impact of what she has learned about Richard. The champagne she quickly drank, the frantic energy—I recognize the symptoms too well. As Emma cracks ice cubes into our glasses, I study her small living room. The couch, the end table, the roses that are now slightly wilted. Nothing else is on the end table, and I suddenly realize what I’m looking for. “Do you have a landline?” “What?” She shakes her head and hands me my glass of water. “No, why?” I am relieved. But all I say is “Just figuring out the best way for us to communicate.” I am not going to tell Emma everything yet. If she learns how much worse the reality could be, she may shut down. There’s no need to explain that I am certain Richard was somehow eavesdropping on calls I made from our house phone during our marriage. I finally made the connection after I saw the pattern emerge on the pages of my notebook. When our burglar alarm erupted in the Westchester house and I fled to cower in my closet, I was initially reassured that the video cameras posted by our front and back doors showed no evidence of an intruder. Then I realized Richard had checked the cameras. No one else had verified what they might reveal. And immediately before the siren had blared, I was on the phone with Sam. I’d made a joke about bringing guys home after a night of barhopping. I now believe Richard had set off the alarm. It was my punishment. He feasted on my fear; it nurtured his sense of strength. I think of the mysterious cell phone hang-ups that began shortly after our engagement, how he’d booked a scuba dive for his claustrophobic new bride, how he always reminded me to set the burglar alarm. How he’d enjoyed comforting me, whispering that he alone would keep me safe. I take a long drink of water. “What time is Richard coming back tomorrow?” “Late afternoon.” Emma looks at her gown. “I should hang this up.” I walk with Emma into her bedroom and watch as she hooks the gown on the back of her closet door. It appears to be floating. I can’t pull my gaze away from it. The bride who was supposed to wear this exquisite dress no longer exists. The gown will remain vacant on her wedding day. Emma straightens the hanger slightly, her hand lingering on the dress before she slowly pulls it away. “He seemed so wonderful.” Her voice is filled with surprise. “How can a man like that be so brutal?” I think of my own wedding dress, nestled in a special acid-free box in my old closet in Westchester, preserved for the daughter I never had. I swallow hard before I can speak. “Parts of Richard were wonderful. That’s why we stayed married for so long.” “Why didn’t you ever leave him?” “I thought about it. There are so many reasons why I should have. And so many reasons why I couldn’t.” Emma nods. “I needed Richard to leave me.” “But how did you know he ever would?” I look into her eyes. I have to confess. Emma has already been devastated today. But she deserves to be told the truth. Without it, she will be trapped in a false reality, and I know exactly how destructive that can be. “There’s one more thing.” I walk back to the living room and she follows me. I gesture to the couch. “Can we sit down?” She perches rigidly on the edge of a cushion, as if steeling herself for what is to come. I reveal everything: The office holiday party when I first spotted her. The gathering at our house when I pretended to be drunk. The night I faked illness and suggested Richard take her to the Philharmonic. The business trip when I encouraged them to stay overnight. She is holding her head in her hands by the time I finish. “How could you do this to me?” she cries. She leaps to her feet and glares at me. “I knew it all along. There really is something wrong with you!” “I am so sorry.” “Do you know how many nights I lay awake wondering if I’d contributed to the demise of your marriage?” She didn’t say she felt guilt, but it’s natural that she would have; I am certain their physical relationship began while Richard and I were still married. Now all of Emma’s memories with Richard are doubly tainted. She must feel like a pawn in my dysfunctional marriage. Maybe she even thinks we deserved each other. “I never thought it would go this far.… I didn’t think he would propose. I thought it would just be an affair.” “Just an affair?” Emma shouts. Her cheeks flush with anger; the passion in her voice surprises me. “Like it’s some innocuous little thing? Affairs destroy people. Did you ever consider how much I would suffer?” I feel battered by her words, but then something ignites in me and I find myself pushing back at her. “I know affairs destroy people!” I shout, thinking of how I’d curled up in bed for weeks after learning about Daniel’s deception, after seeing his tired-looking wife. It happened almost fifteen years ago, but I can still visualize that little yellow tricycle and pink jump rope behind the oak tree in his yard. I still remember how my pen had trembled across the page when I signed in at the Planned Parenthood clinic. “I was deceived once by a married man in college,” I say, more softly now. This is the first time I’ve ever revealed this particular piece of my story to anyone. The rush of pain that hits me is so fresh, it’s as if I’m that heartbroken twenty-one-year-old all over again. “I thought he loved me. He never told me about his wife. Sometimes I think my life could have been so different if I’d only known.” Emma strides across the room. She yanks open her door. “Get out.” But the venom is gone from her tone. Her lips are trembling and her eyes shine with tears. “Just let me say one final thing,” I plead. “Call Richard tonight and tell him you can’t go through with the wedding. Tell him I came over again and it was the last straw.” She doesn’t react, so I continue quickly as I begin to walk toward the door. “Ask him to announce to everyone that the engagement is off; that part is really important,” I stress. “He won’t punish you if he gets to control the message. If he comes out with his dignity.” I pause in front of her so she cannot miss my words. “Just say you can’t deal with his psycho ex-wife. Promise me you’ll do that. Then you’ll be safe.” Emma is silent. But at least she is looking at me, even though it is with a cold, appraising stare. Her eyes rake across my face and down my body, then back up again. “How am I supposed to believe anything you say?” “You don’t need to. Please go stay with a friend. Leave your cell phone here so he can’t find you. Richard’s anger always passes quickly. Just protect yourself.” I step over the threshold and hear the door close sharply behind me. I hover in the hallway, staring down at the dark blue carpet beneath my feet. Emma must be reevaluating everything I’ve told her. She probably doesn’t have any idea who to trust. If Emma doesn’t follow the script I’ve given her, Richard may unleash his rage on her, especially if he can’t find me. Or worse, he may convince her to change her mind and go through with the wedding. Maybe I should not have told her of my role in this. Her security should have trumped my need to unburden my guilt, to be scrupulously honest. Her faulty perception would have left her less vulnerable than this dangerous truth. What will be Richard’s next step? I have twenty-four hours until he returns. And I have no idea what to do. I slowly walk down the hallway. I am so reluctant to leave her. I am about to step into the elevator when I hear a door open. I glance up and see Emma standing in her threshold. “You want me to tell Richard I’m calling off the wedding because of you.” I nod quickly. “Yes. Blame it all on me.” Her brow furrows. She tilts her head to one side and looks me up and down again. “It’s the safest solution,” I say. “It might be for me. But it isn’t safe for you.” PROLOGUE SHE WALKS BRISKLY DOWN the city sidewalk, her blond hair bouncing against her shoulders, her cheeks flushed, a gym bag looped over her forearm. When she reaches her apartment building, her hand dips into her purse and pulls out her keys. The street is loud and busy, with yellow cabs racing by, commuters returning from work, and shoppers entering the deli on the corner. But my eyes never stray from her. She pauses in her entryway and briefly glances back over her shoulder. An electrical charge seems to pulse through me. I wonder if she feels my stare. Gaze detection, it’s called—our ability to sense when someone is observing us. An entire system of the human brain is devoted to this genetic inheritance from our ancestors, who relied on the trait to avoid becoming an animal’s prey. I’ve cultivated this defense in myself, the sensation of static rising over my skin as my head instinctively lifts to search out a pair of eyes. I’ve learned the danger of dismissing that warning. But she simply turns in the opposite direction, then opens her door and disappears inside, never looking my way. She is oblivious to what I have done to her. She is unaware of the damage I have wrought; the ruin I have set in motion. To this beautiful young woman with the heart-shaped face and lush body—the woman my husband, Richard, left me for—I’m as invisible as the pigeon scavenging on the sidewalk next to me. She has no idea what will happen to her if she continues like this. None at all. From Greer: For John, Paige, and Alex, with love and gratitude From Sarah: For the ones who encouraged me to write this book CHAPTER TEN SHE LIVES ON an active street. New York City has dozens of blocks like hers—not ritzy, not poverty-stricken, but falling somewhere in the wide swath of the middle. It reminds me of the neighborhood I lived in when I first met Richard. Despite the torrential burst of rain that has just ended, enough people are around so I don’t stand out. A bus stop is on her corner, next to a deli, and two doors down from her building is a small hair salon. A father pushing a stroller crosses paths with a couple walking hand in hand. A woman juggles three bags of groceries. A Chinese-food delivery guy splashes through a puddle and splatters me with a few drops, the aroma of the meals stacked on the back of his bicycle wafting in his wake. In the past, my stomach would have been tempted by the succulent smells of chicken fried rice or sweet-and-sour shrimp. I wonder how well she knows her neighbors. She might’ve knocked on the door of the apartment above hers, handing over a UPS delivery box that was mistakenly left by her door. Maybe she picks up fruit and bagels at the deli, where the owner mans the cash register and greets her by name. Who will miss her when she disappears? I’m prepared to wait quite a while. My appetite is nonexistent. My body feels neither hot nor cold. There is nothing I need. But before long—at least I think I have not waited very long—I feel a quickening in my pulse, a hitch in my breath, as she rounds the corner. She is carrying a bag. I squint and make out the logo of Chop’t, the takeout salad place. It swings as she walks, matching the gentle sway of her high ponytail. A cocker spaniel darts in front of her and she pauses to avoid becoming entangled with the leash. The owner reels in the dog, and I see her nod and say something, then she bends down to stroke its head. Does she know how Richard feels about dogs? I’m holding my cell phone to my ear, my body half turned away from her, my umbrella tilted to cover my face. She continues walking toward me and I soak her in. She wears yoga capris and a loose white top, with a Windbreaker tied around her waist. Salad and exercise; she must want to look her best in her wedding gown. She pauses in front of her building, reaching into her purse, and a moment later, she vanishes inside. I let my umbrella drop and massage my forehead, trying to focus. I tell myself I’m acting crazy. Even if she were pregnant—which I don’t believe is a possibility—she probably wouldn’t be showing yet. So why did I come here? I stare at her closed door. What would I even say if I knocked and she answered? I could beg her to call off the wedding. I could warn her that she’ll regret it, that he cheated on me and he’ll do the same to her—but she’d probably just slam the door and phone Richard. I don’t want him to ever know I’ve followed her. She thinks she’s safe now. I imagine her rinsing her plastic salad bowl and putting it into the recycling bin, applying a mud mask, maybe calling her parents to talk about last-minute wedding details. There is still a little time. I cannot be impulsive. I have a long walk home. I round the corner, retracing her steps. A block later I pass Chop’t and I turn around to go in. I study the menu, trying to guess what she might have craved, so I can order the same thing. When the server hands me my salad—in a plastic bowl and tucked in a white paper bag alongside a fork and napkin—I smile and thank her. Her fingers brush mine and I wonder if she also waited on my replacement. Before I am even out the door, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by acute hunger pangs. All the dinners I’ve slept through, the breakfasts I’ve skipped, the lunches I’ve tossed in the trash—they converge upon me now, fueling a nearly savage desire to fill the emptiness inside me. I step to one side, where there is a counter and stools, but I can’t wait long enough to put down my things and settle into a seat. My fingers tremble as I open the container and begin to fork in mouthful after mouthful, holding the container close to my chin so I don’t spill any, devouring the tangy greens, chasing bits of egg and tomato around the slippery container with my fork. I’m queasy as I swallow the final bite, and my stomach feels distended. But I am as hollow as ever. I throw away the empty bowl and begin to walk home. * * * When I enter the apartment, I see Aunt Charlotte splayed on the couch, her head angled against a cushion, a washcloth draped over her eyes. Usually on Sunday nights she teaches an art-therapy class at Bellevue; I haven’t known her to ever miss one. I’ve also never seen her nap before. Worry pierces me. She lifts her head at the thump of the door closing and the washcloth slips off, into her hand. Without her glasses, her features seem softer. “Are you okay?” I recognize the irony: It’s an echo of the words she has repeated to me ever since a cab deposited me on the curb outside her building with three suitcases stacked behind me. “Just a killer headache.” She grips the edge of the sofa and stands. “I overdid it today. Check out the living room. I think I cleared away twenty years of clutter after my subject left.” She is still wearing her painting uniform—jeans topped by one of her late husband’s blue oxford shirts. By now the shirt is soft and worn, decorated with layers of drips and splatters. It’s a work of art in itself; a visual history of her creative life. “You’re sick.” The words seem to propel themselves out of me. My voice is high and panicky. Aunt Charlotte walks over and puts her hands on my shoulders. We are nearly the same height and she looks directly into my eyes. Her hazel eyes are faded by age, but they are as alert as ever. “I am not ill.” Aunt Charlotte has never shied away from difficult conversations. When I was younger, she explained my mother’s mental-health issues to me in simple, honest terms, ones I could understand. Even though I believe my aunt, I ask, “Promise?” My throat thickens with tears. I cannot lose Aunt Charlotte. Not her, too. “I promise. I’m not going anywhere, Vanessa.” She hugs me and I inhale the scents that grounded me as a girl: linseed oil from her paints, the lavender she dabs on her pulse points. “Have you eaten? I was going to throw something together.…” “I haven’t,” I lie. “But let me make dinner. I’m in the mood to cook.” Maybe it’s my fault she is exhausted; maybe I’ve taken too much from her. She rubs her eyes. “That would be great.” She follows me to the kitchen and sits on a stool. I find chicken and butter and mushrooms in the refrigerator and begin to pan-sear the meat. “How did the portrait go?” I pour us each a glass of sparkling water. “She fell asleep during our session.” “Really? Naked?” “You’d be surprised. Overprogrammed New Yorkers often find the process relaxing.” As I whisk together a simple lemon sauce, Aunt Charlotte leans over and inhales. “It smells delicious. You’re a much neater cook than your mother.” I pause in rinsing off the chopping board. I am so used to masking what I feel that it’s easy to slip on a smile and chat with Aunt Charlotte. But the reminders are everywhere, as always—in the white wine I dash into my sauce, and the salad greens I push aside to reach the mushrooms in the refrigerator’s vegetable bin. I fall into light conversation with my aunt, gliding above the thoughts roiling through my mind, like a swan whose churning feet are hidden as he floats across the water. “Mom was a tornado,” I say, even conjuring a smile. “Remember how the sink was always overflowing with pots and pans, the counters coated with olive oil or bread crumbs? And the floor! My socks would practically stick to it. She didn’t exactly subscribe to the belief that you should tidy up as you went along.” I reach into the big ceramic bowl on the counter and pull out a Vidalia onion. “Her food was great, though.” On her good days, my mother would create elaborate three-course meals. Worn volumes by Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, and Pierre Franey lined our bookshelves, and I would often find her reading one the same way that I might devour Judy Blume. “You were probably the only fifth grader who would get homemade beef bourguignonne and a lemon torte on an ordinary Tuesday night,” Aunt Charlotte says. I flip the chicken breasts, the uncooked side crackling against the hot pan. I can see my mother now, her hair wild from the heat seeping from the oven, clattering pots onto burners and mincing garlic, and singing loudly. “Come on, Vanessa!” she’d say when she caught sight of me. She’d twirl me around, then shake salt into her hand and throw it into a pot. “Never follow a recipe exactly,” my mother always said. “Give it your own flair.” I knew a crash would come soon after those nights, when my mother’s energy had burned itself out. But something in her freedom was glorious—her unfiltered, stormlike joy—even though it frightened me as a child. “She was something else,” Aunt Charlotte says. She leans an elbow on the blue tile countertop and rests her chin in her hand. “She was.” I’m glad my mother was still alive when I married, and in a way, I’m grateful she isn’t around to see how I’ve ended up. “Do you like cooking now, too?” Aunt Charlotte is watching me carefully. Almost studying me, it seems. “You look so much like her, and your voice is so similar sometimes I think it’s her in the other room.…” I wonder if another, unspoken question is in her mind. My mother’s episodes grew more severe in her thirties. Around the same age I am now. I lost touch with Aunt Charlotte during my marriage. That was my fault. I was even more of a mess than my mother, and I knew Aunt Charlotte couldn’t just swoop in to help me. I was too far gone for that. The hopeful, buoyant young woman I was when I married Richard is almost unrecognizable to me now. She turned into a disaster, Hillary had said. She was right. I wonder if my mother also suffered from obsessive thoughts during her episodes. I’d always imagined her mind was blank—numb—when she took to her bed. But I’ll never know. I choose to answer the simpler question. “I don’t mind cooking.” I hate it, I think as my knife comes down and severs the onion cleanly. When Richard and I first married, I didn’t know my way around a kitchen at all. My single-girl dinners consisted of Chinese takeout or, if the scale was mistreating me, a microwaved Lean Cuisine. Some nights I skipped dinner altogether and munched on Wheat Thins and cheese as I sipped a glass of wine. Still, the unspoken arrangement was that once Richard and I married, I would cook for him every weeknight. I’d quit working, so it seemed more than reasonable. I rotated between chicken, steak, lamb, and fish. They weren’t fancy meals—a protein, a carb, and a vegetable—but Richard seemed appreciative of my efforts. The day we first visited Dr. Hoffman—the day Richard learned I’d been pregnant in college—was my first attempt at making something special for him. I wanted to try to ease the tension between us, and I knew Richard loved Indian food. So after I left Dr. Hoffman’s office, I looked up a recipe for lamb vindaloo, searching for the one that seemed the least complicated. It’s funny how certain details stick in the memory, such as how the wheel of my shopping cart needed to be adjusted, causing it to squeak every time I turned down a new aisle. I wandered through the market, searching for cumin and coriander, trying to forget how Richard’s face had looked when he learned I’d gotten pregnant by another man. I’d called Richard to tell him I loved him, but he hadn’t replied. His disappointment—worse, the thought of his disillusionment—upset me more than any argument could. Richard didn’t yell. When angry, he seemed to coil into himself until he regained control over his emotions. It didn’t usually take him long, but I worried I’d pushed him too far this time. I remember driving home on the quiet streets, the new Mercedes sedan Richard had purchased for me purring past the stately colonials constructed by the same builder who’d sold Richard our house. Occasionally I saw a nanny out with a young child, but I’d yet to make a friend in our neighborhood. I was hopeful when I began to cook dinner. I cut the lamb into even chunks, following the recipe carefully. I remember how sunlight glowed through the large bay windows in our living room, as it did toward the end of every day. I’d found my iPod and scrolled down to the Beatles. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” twanged through the speakers. The Beatles always lifted my spirits because my father used to blast John, Paul, George, and Ringo in our old sedan when he took me out for ice cream or to the movies during my mom’s lighter episodes, the ones that only lasted a day or two and didn’t require Aunt Charlotte’s assistance. I’d allowed myself to imagine that after I served Richard his favorite meal, we would cuddle in bed and talk. I wouldn’t tell him everything, but I could admit a few of the details. Maybe my revelation would even bring us closer. I’d let him know how terribly sorry I was, how I wished I could erase what had happened and start again. So there I was, in my exquisite kitchen, stocked with Wüsthof knives and Calphalon pots and pans, cooking dinner for my new husband. I was happy, I think, but I wonder now if my memory is playing tricks on me. If it is giving me the gift of an illusion. We all layer them over our remembrances; the filters through which we want to see our lives. I’d tried to follow the recipe exactly, but I’d neglected to buy the fenugreek because I had no idea what it was. And when it came time to add the fennel, I couldn’t find it, even though I swore I’d put it in the cart. The fragile emotional peace I’d tried to build began to crumble. I, who had been given everything, couldn’t even manage to make a proper meal. When I opened the refrigerator door to put back the coconut milk and saw a half-full bottle of Chablis, I hesitated, staring at it. Richard and I had agreed that I’d stopped drinking, but surely a few sips wouldn’t hurt. I poured myself a half glass. I’d forgotten how good the crisp minerality tasted on my tongue. I retrieved our pressed blue linen place mats and matching napkins from the big oak armoire in the dining room. I laid out the nice china Hillary and George had given us as a wedding gift. When we first got married, I’d had to consult an online etiquette site to learn how to set a formal table. Despite my mother’s extravagant meals, she was uninterested in the dining ambience; sometimes when all the dishes were dirty, we’d eat off paper plates. I set candlesticks in the middle of the table and switched the music to classical, selecting Wagner, one of Richard’s favorite composers. Then I retreated to the couch, wineglass by my side. By now our house had more furniture—sofas in the living room, splashes of artwork on the walls, including the portrait Aunt Charlotte had done of me as a child, and an Oriental rug in vivid blues and reds in front of the fireplace—but the rooms still felt a bit characterless to me. If only we’d had a high chair in the dining room, a few soft toys scattered on the rug … I stilled my hand when I realized I was tapping my fingernails against my glass and making little chiming sounds. Richard usually arrived home around eight-thirty, but it wasn’t until after nine that I finally heard his key turn in the lock and the thunk of his briefcase on the floor. “Honey,” I called. No answer. “Sweetie?” “Give me a second.” I listened to his footsteps climbing the stairs. I didn’t know if I should follow him, so I stayed on the couch. When I heard him begin to descend, I caught sight of my wineglass. I ran to the sink, rinsing it out quickly and putting it back in the cabinet still wet, before he could see. It was impossible to decipher his mood. He could have been upset with me, or he could have just had a tough day at work. Richard had seemed tense all week; I knew he was dealing with a difficult client. During dinner I tried to make conversation, my lighthearted tone masking the worry underneath. “This is good.” “I remembered you told me once lamb vindaloo was your favorite dish.” “I said that?” Richard bent his head to take a forkful of rice. I’d felt puzzled. Hadn’t he? “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about my…” My voice trailed off. I couldn’t say the word. Richard nodded. “It’s forgotten,” he said quietly. I’d steeled myself for questions. His words came almost as a letdown. Maybe I’d wanted to share that part of my life with him, after all. “Okay” was all I said. As I cleared the table, I noticed half his plate was still full. By the time I’d finished cleaning, Richard was already asleep. I curled up next to him, listening to his steady breaths, until I drifted off, too. The next morning, Richard left early for the office. Midway through the day, as I was at the hair salon getting highlights, my phone pinged with an incoming email from the local French culinary institute. The note read, Ma cherie. Je t’aime. Richard. When I opened the attachment, I saw a gift certificate for ten cooking lessons. “Honey?” Aunt Charlotte’s voice is concerned. I wipe my eyes and gesture to the cutting board. “Just the onion.” I can’t tell if she believes me. After dinner, Aunt Charlotte goes to bed early and I clean the kitchen. Then I retreat to my room and listen to the sounds of the old apartment settling in for the night—the sudden hum of the refrigerator, a door slamming in the unit below. Sleep is elusive now, as if I’ve stockpiled enough of it over my lost months to suppress my natural circadian rhythm. My mind wanders to the topic of a recent podcast: obsession. “Our genes are not our destiny,” insisted the speaker. But he acknowledged that addiction is hereditary. I think of the way my mother left a trail of destruction. I think of the way my mother dug her nails into her palms when she was agitated. And I think, as always, of her. A plan begins to form in my mind. Or maybe it has been there all along, waiting for me to catch up to it. To become strong enough to carry it out. I see her again, bending down to stroke the head of the little dog in her path. I see her crossing her shapely legs and leaning close to Richard at the bar—our bar. And I see her on the day I came to his office to surprise him for lunch, back when we were still married. The two of them were walking out of the building. She wore a blush-colored dress. His hand gently touched the small of her back as he allowed her to exit the door first. She’s mine, the gesture seemed to say. He used to touch me that way. I told him once I loved the subtle, sexy feel of his fingers there. I get up, moving quietly in the darkness, and retrieve my burner phone and my laptop from the bottom dresser drawer. Richard cannot marry again. I begin to make preparations. The next time I see her, I will be ready. CHAPTER NINETEEN HER NAME IS EMMA. “I used to be you,” I begin as I look at the young woman before me. Her blue eyes widen as she takes in my appearance. She examines my changed hair, then the dress draped over my too-thin frame. It is clear my reflection is not an image she can imagine superimposed on herself. I’ve lain in bed so many nights rehearsing what I’ll say to her. She was Richard’s assistant; that is how they met. Less than a year after she was hired to replace his secretary Diane, he left me for her. I don’t need to reach for the printed copy of my speech in my bag, my backup in case words failed me. “If you marry Richard, you will regret it. He will hurt you.” Emma frowns. “Vanessa.” Her voice is even and measured. It’s as if she is talking to a small child. It’s the tone I used when I told my Cubs it was time to put away their toys or finish up their snacks. “I realize the divorce was hard on you. It was hard on Richard, too. I saw him every day; he really tried to make it work. I know you’ve had your troubles, but he did everything he could.” I sense some accusation in her gaze; she believes I’m to blame. “You think you know him,” I interrupt. I’m going off script, but I press on. “But what did you see? The Richard you work for isn’t the real man. He’s careful, Emma. He doesn’t let people in. If you go through with the wedding—” She interrupts me now. “I feel horribly about everything. I want you to know he started opening up to me as a colleague, as a friend. I’m not the kind of woman who ever thought she’d have an affair with a married man. We didn’t expect to fall in love.” I believe this. I saw their attraction spark shortly after Richard hired Emma to manage his calls, proofread his correspondence, and keep his schedule. “It just happened. I’m sorry.” Emma’s round eyes are earnest. She reaches out and touches my arm gently. I flinch as her fingertips gently graze my skin. “I do know him. I’m with him ten hours a day, five days a week. I’ve seen him with his clients and our coworkers. I’ve seen him with the other assistants, and I saw him with you back when you were married. He’s a good man.” Emma pauses for a moment, as if debating whether to go on. She is still staring at my lighter hair color. My naturally blond roots finally blend in well. “Maybe it’s you who never knew him.” Her tone has an edge. “You have to listen to me!” I am shaking now, desperate to convince her. “Richard does this! He confuses things so we can’t see the truth!” “He said you might try something like this.” Contempt has replaced the sympathy in her voice. She folds her arms and I know I am losing her. “He told me you were jealous, but this has gotten out of control. I saw you outside my building last week. Richard said if you pull something like that again, we’ll file a restraining order.” Beads of sweat run down my back, and more gather on my upper lip. My long-sleeved dress is too warm for the weather. I imagined I’d planned everything out so carefully, but I’ve stumbled, and now my thoughts are as thick and muggy as this June day. “Are you trying to get pregnant?” I blurt. “Did he tell you he wants to have children?” Emma takes a step back, then moves to the side and passes me. She walks to the curb and lifts up her hand to signal a cab. “Enough,” she says, without turning to look back at me. “Ask him about our last cocktail party.” Distress makes my voice shrill. “You were there. Remember how the caterers showed up late and there wasn’t any Raveneau? That was Richard’s fault—he didn’t order it. It was never delivered!” A taxi slows. Emma turns to me. “I was there. And I know the wine was delivered. I’m Richard’s assistant. Who do you think placed the order?” This I never expected. She opens the door of the cab before I can recover. “He blamed me,” I shout. “After the party, it got bad!” “You really need help.” Emma slams the door shut. I watch as the cab pulls Emma away from me. I stand on the sidewalk outside her apartment, as I’ve done so many times before, but for the first time I truly wonder if everything Richard said about me is true. Am I crazy, like my mother, who battled mental illness her entire life—at times more successfully than others? My nails are digging into my palms. I cannot stand the thought of them together tonight. She will tell him everything I’ve said. He’ll lift her legs over his and massage her feet and promise he will keep her safe. From me. I hope she will listen. That she will believe me. But Richard suspected I would try this, after all. He told her so. I know my ex-husband better than anyone else. I should have remembered he also knows me. * * * It rained the morning of our wedding.