Lies She Told – Cate Holahan

He’s tracking my time. Every ten seconds, Trevor’s dark eyes dart to the digital clock on his computer screen, a driver checking his rearview. My pitch has not impressed. He has more important things to attend to, authors who bring in more money. My work is not worth these valuable minutes. He doesn’t say any of this, of course. Our decade-long relationship has made his thoughts apparent. I read them in the lines crinkling his brow as he sits across from me in his office chair, scratching his goatee while the air conditioner’s hiss recalls the reputational damage wrought by my latest book, Accused Woman. Not my best work, to say the least. Critics dubbed the protagonist “Sandra Dee on diazepam.” She lacked agency, they said. Too many things happened to her. Really, she was too like me to be likeable. My former psychiatrist, Dr. Sally Sertradine, suggested similar failings.

“An affair?” Finally, he speaks . barely. A true Brit, Trevor drops the ending r. His accent mocks me, as though my idea has so offended him that even his critique doesn’t require clear articulation. He removes the wire-framed glasses previously perched on the wide bridge of his nose, sets them on his mouse pad, and walks to his window. Before him lies a landscape of penthouse terraces. In Manhattan, success is determined by view. Trevor’s placement, high above even the city’s wealthy, is a reminder of his importance relative to my own, of the weight his opinion should carry as opposed to mine. “There’s hardly a new way to do an affair.” “Well, I think of it as a classic revenge story.

” My voice cracks as I make my case. Dr. Sally also said I regress into adolescence at the first whiff of confrontation. The hormones are making things worse. “I think romantic suspense readers want—” “Right. What they want.” He faces me and nods. Trevor talks with his head the way Italians speak with hand gestures. The angle of his chin conveys his amusement or displeasure. “You must give your audience what they’re craving.

Readers are done with love triangles and tortured consciences. Consider what Hollywood is buying: stories about pushing sexual taboos and psychological manipulation. People want to play mind games in the bedroom, eh?” A forty-two-year-old guy is telling me, a thirty-five-year-old woman smack in the middle of my target audience demographic, what my peers want in the sack. Sad fact is, I should probably take notes. For the past year, David and I have only bothered with intercourse when my basal temp kicks up. Trevor is recently divorced and inarguably attractive: a Bronze Age Rodin of a man. Women must be, as he’d say, “queuing” up. He snaps to an unknown rhythm. Suddenly, his eyes brighten like he’s figured out the step. “How about something with psychiatrists? Does he love her or is he messing with her mind?” I could name four books involving twisted therapists that graced the bestseller lists in the past two years.

But doing so would just support Trevor’s suggestion. He isn’t claiming that his idea is original, only that it’s “on trend.” Trends sell, whether writers like them or not. Trevor mistakes my silence as serious consideration. “Think Hannibal Lecter without the horror. The sociopathic doctor meets a young Clarice, and she falls—” “I don’t know, Trev. Transference? Is that—” “Trans?” He wrinkles his nose, offended by my attempt to slip esoteric knowledge into our conversation. Trevor often laments this about me. He complains that I bog down my books with details: how a gun shoots, how police detect trace amounts of blood, DNA lingo fit for a biologist. For Accused Woman, I attended a week-long writer’s workshop at the police academy in Queens so I could get down every detail of the way a gun discharges and how detectives investigate.

I even bought my own handgun: a Ruger SR22, touted by experts as the most affordable semiautomatic for women. My aim is horrible. “Transference happens when a person projects unresolved feelings about their past onto people in their present, like a patient transferring romantic emotions onto their psychi—” Trevor’s full lips press flat against his teeth. “It’s not important. Forget it.” My voice sounds small. Somehow, I’ve neared forty without gaining the surety that’s supposed to come with middle age. I cough and try to add heft to my tone. The act clenches my stomach, intensifying the persistent queasiness that I’ve suffered for weeks. “What if, by the time the book comes out, interest in psychiatrists has waned?” Trevor gives a What-you-gonna-do? shrug.

“Well, think about it. And send me an outline before you go too deep into anything.” The request spurs me from my seat quicker than a cattle prod. Not once in my career has Trevor demanded anything more than a rough idea and a finished draft. Now he needs a chapter-by-chapter breakdown? The suddenness of my movement topples the chair onto Trevor’s floor. I recoil at the spectacle of its four legs sticking in the air like a poisoned cockroach. I promised myself I’d stay calm. I right the seat and stand behind it, head lowered. My temples throb their early warning alarm for a migraine. “That’s really not how I work.

I let the characters dictate the action.” My tone is apologetic. Sorry, Trev. I’m not good enough to write an outline. That’s what he thinks I’m saying. “Maybe it’s worth a try. New methods can lead to new results.” “If I could just write through a draft—” “Liza, come on. You’re a fast writer. An outline’s no big deal for you.

” “A draft barely takes longer. I’ll spend twelve hours a day writing. Fourteen—” “You’ve got the MWO conference coming up.” “I’m only staying through my panel.” Nerves add unnecessary vibrato to my voice. “Hey, if you like the story, then we’re both happy. If not, I’ll start over.” I force a laugh. “I’ll even throw in a psychiatrist.” He runs his hand through his grown-out buzz cut.

The longer hairstyle is new, postdivorce. It makes him look younger. “Please, Trev.” I’m actually begging. “I think this idea could have legs. Let me run with it. Give me one month. Thirty days.” Trevor reclaims his glasses and places them on his face. The spectacles magnify the teardrop shape of his eyes as he checks in with his computer clock.

“All right.” His head shakes in disagreement with his words. “You have until September fifteenth. One month. I can’t give you any more than that.” He crosses the room, passing his bookcase of edited award winners. The Wall of Fame. I have a novel on there, though it’s long been bumped from the center shelves. The door opens, inviting in the pattering of computer keys and one-sided phone conversations. Trevor smiles as he holds it.

I try to mirror his expression, as though he’s being chivalrous rather than kicking me out. As I pass him, he gives my shoulder a supportive squeeze, reminding me that we’re still friends, regardless of business. “Hey. I meant to ask, how’s the search going?” His expression is appropriately pained. In the beginning, everyone inquired with overacted enthusiasm, as though it was possible that we’d find Nick unharmed, wandering the streets tripping on acid, too busy admiring the pretty colors of the New York City lights to realize that he’d been staring at them for days. Nick didn’t use hallucinogens to David’s knowledge, but there was always a first time. An offer in a club by someone cute. Younger. Nick wouldn’t have dared seem not “with it.” He prided himself on hanging out with models and misfits, the artsy types that applauded themselves for gentrifying the Brooklyn neighborhoods where even hipsters feared to tread.

“I read that the police are watching the water.” My throat goes dry. “Warm weather speeds decomposition. If he ended up in the East River, his body is likely to float to the surface.” Trevor winces. Once again, I’ve provided too much information for him. He’s surprised that I would be this clinical. But it’s been a month. We all know Nick is dead at this point. Well, nearly all of us.

“Give my best to David, eh? Tell him I’m sorry about his law partner.” I have a desire to scratch the bridge of my nose. Thinking too hard about Nick makes me itchy. “I will. It’s been difficult for him. Nick was the best man at our wedding.” Trevor offers a weak smile. “Sorry for you as well, then.” “Oh. Thanks.

” The words come out flat. Accepting condolences on behalf of Nick Landau is as uncomfortable as constipation on a car ride. Twelve years married to his closest friend, yet I knew him about as well as the public knows A-list celebrities. I could tell police what he looked like, where he’d worked, the general area where he’d lived. But that’s it, really. Truth is, Nick never liked me much. Chapter 1 Bastard. His nose is buried in her long neck, his vision blurred by a cascade of black hair and the restaurant’s mood lighting. He doesn’t see me. I see him, though, despite the dying light outside and the dimness beyond the picture window.

Despite the fact that I’m standing across the street from the Italian eatery where he took me just last week—me with my hair flowing like the woman’s whose lips now part as my husband brings his mouth to her ear. Bitch. I recognize her. She testified for him four months ago, hiding her beauty behind her butch blue police uniform, her hair yanked into that severe, standard-issue bun. The hairstyle had emphasized her humped nose, making it overwhelm her face. I hadn’t judged her pretty enough to grab my husband’s attention, to compete with me, given my circumstances. I’d failed to consider her chest, covered by a bulky button-down, or the way candlelight might soften her features. I’d failed to consider that my husband might cheat while I carried his child. A black-clad hostess collects Jake and his date. She leads them from the bar perpendicular to the window to a table pressed beside the glass.

My spouse is sat with his back to the street so that his eyes remain on the prettied-up woman in the skintight cocktail dress, white with black piping on the sides to fake an hourglass silhouette. “Excuse me.” A hand drops onto my shoulder. Heavy. Warm. I whirl around, clutching the baby carrier buckled to my torso. “Is everything all right?” A slight woman stands beside me in a power suit. Her strained smile deepens the marionette lines around her mouth but fails to form any crow’s-feet. She must see my smudged mascara, applied earlier in the hopes of surprising my husband or at least avoiding embarrassment in front of Battery Park’s well-heeled stroller mafia. I swipe beneath my eyes with my knuckles.

“Yes. Everything’s fine. I’m—” “So hard being a new mom.” She gestures to the tiny hat peeking above the BabyBjörn. I look at my child for the first time in God knows how many minutes. She squirms in the carrier, arms and legs flailing like a flipped beetle. Her face is nearly the same color as the deep-pink bonnet atop her head. Her navy eyes are squeezed tight from the force of her howling. How long has she been awake? How long has she been squealing like this, with me zeroed in on her father, everything around me blurring into slow-motion light? My surroundings sharpen as I picture myself from this stranger’s perspective. I’ve been standing on the edge of the sidewalk beside a busy street, seemingly staring at nothing while my baby screams.

This woman fears I suffer from postpartum depression. People are wary of new moms in Manhattan. They know we’re all shut away in small apartments made tinier by ubiquitous baby gear, our walls closing in while our husbands continue working late as though no one waits at home. I’d been waiting tonight. But the evening was so warm and the sunset, poisoned with air pollution, such a pretty shade of salmon. Why not go for a walk? And then, as my child continued to sleep against my chest, why not head uptown twelve more blocks to Jake’s office? Why not pass that restaurant we went to last Thursday with the delicious grilled octopus and see about grabbing a table in the backyard garden? Ignorance is bliss. If only I’d stayed home. I sway side to side, failing to soothe my child or convince this woman that I don’t intend to step into oncoming traffic. “I have two kids, myself,” the stranger volunteers. “Boys.

Six and Eight. Such a handful.” She smiles wryly, inviting me to vent, and introduces herself. The name doesn’t register. With all the thoughts running through my brain, I can barely recall my own. Her expression tenses as she waits for my response. “Um. Beth.” I force an I’m okay smile. The effort squeezes more tears from my eyes.

“And what about this little one?” I smile harder. “Victoria.” “Beautiful name for a beautiful girl.” My baby’s complexion reddens into an overripe tomato. Her toothless mouth opens wider. Motion is poor medicine for hunger. I pull down the scoop neck of my tank so that her cheek may rest on my bare skin. Instinctively, she roots for my breasts, both of which sense her presence and swell with a searing rush of fluid. The woman watches all this. Her expression relaxes into something more friendly.

“Victoria is for victorious,” I explain. “We had trouble conceiving. She’s our . ” My voice catches. Will there be an “our” after tonight? Not if I confront Jake like this: him, enjoying appetizers with his lover, and me, makeup a mess, shouting about broken promises while an infant howls in my arms. I will be the shrew, overwhelmed by the baby at my bosom, uninterested in sex, dressed for a spin class that hasn’t happened in months. This other woman, meanwhile, will remain the sexy thing in a body-sucking sheath. The stranger’s smile has faded as she’s waited for me to finish my thought. I cough. “Vicky’s my little miracle.

” That sells it. She gives my upper arm a supportive we girls got to stick together pat and continues down the street. Victoria starts fussing again. I pull a nipple beyond my top’s neckline, and she latches immediately. I twist my head as I nurse, spying on the happy couple, trying to remain in the shadows and simultaneously project my pain through the restaurant’s window. I want Jake to sense me without seeing me, just as I can feel him when he enters a room, recognize his presence by his scent, the length of his stride, the shape of his head as he approaches a restaurant with his hand spread on the small of a stranger’s back. After an eternity, Victoria releases my nipple, exposing my breast to the warm air. I adjust my shirt, and she settles against my sternum. Her lids lower. A satiated smile curls the sides of her mouth.

Love, painful as a contraction, rips through my chest as I marvel at her chubby cheeks and double chin—the bond between Jake and I made flesh. Our victory. Again, I turn my full attention to the restaurant. The waiter stands beside their table, a black leather folder in his outstretched hand. They’ve split an appetizer rather than shared a meal. Perhaps my staring has served a purpose. My husband realizes his mistake. He’s calling this whole thing off. His biggest indiscretion will prove to be a misplaced hand and inappropriate whispering. I retreat from the curb in anticipation of his solo exit.

Jake passes cash to the waiter and then offers his hand to the woman, helping her stand from the bistro chair. I count the seconds until he releases her fingers. One. Two. Three Mississippi. She matches his stride out the restaurant, hip brushing his side. There’s laughter as the door opens. Hers. He’s amusing her. It’s been months since he’s made an effort to do the same with me.

They walk up the street. I follow on the other side, weaving around the downtown tourists with my head tilted to the sidewalk. Vicky’s socked feet strike my stomach. My walk is too bouncy. I could wake her. As I slow my stride, an illegally parked Ford Taurus flashes welcome on the opposite corner. A door opens. The officer slides into the driver’s seat. Come on, Jake. Say good night.

Say good-bye. He glances behind him, sensing me at last, perhaps. Say good night. Say good-bye. My husband walks around to the passenger’s side. I look away, fearful that he’ll see me. When I look up, Jake is no longer on the road. A blue police light flashes on the Ford’s dashboard as it speeds off in the opposite direction. An internal voice tries to calm me. Maybe everything I have seen has an explanation.

They are coworkers, of sorts. They were talking shop, had too much to drink. Maybe they’re flirting, not fucking. Maybe they’re headed back to the office. Maybe I already know the truth. I turn around, sniffling and swollen, imagining my husband’s thick hands cupping this woman’s sides, his fingertips brushing back her dark hair, his voice telling her she’s beautiful, exciting, enticing—so much more so than boring Beth, his overtired wife. The traffic light turns. Cars race to beat the next red signal. Their headlights form halos in the darkening sky. For the briefest moment, I consider stepping off the curb.

I LIZA stare at the white screen, hands arched above the keyboard, a pianist waiting for a cue. Voices crescendo from Eighty-Sixth Street through the open window above my desk. Horns blare, traffic jammed on the FDR Drive. The target length for a romantic suspense story is eighty thousand words. To make my deadline, I must write 50 percent more than my daily average. I’ve gotten as far as chapter two and a carriage return. Beth, my protagonist, has happened upon her cheating husband. A mild nausea gnaws at my gut as I consider how I’d handle her predicament in my life. Given my nonconfrontational personality, I’d probably try ignoring the affair at first and keep playing the happy wife, hoping that my husband would soon outgrow his “midlife crisis.” Eventually, though, my lack of acting skills would show.

I’d become sad and withdrawn each time David came home late, until he stopped wanting to come home at all. Ultimately, he’d leave for good, and I’d be left huddled beneath unwashed covers, unable to drag myself to the shower. I’d probably pity-eat to the point where my clothes wouldn’t fit. Friends—Christine, mostly—would demand that I “get back out there,” dragging me to “hot spots” in the city sure to nuke whatever dignity I’d managed to maintain during the divorce. I recall a makeover intervention that she’d staged when we were fifteen. She’d insisted we slather on eye shadow and sneak into some seaside dive sure to make me forget about my dad. “We need to toast to his departure, not get depressed about it,” she’d said. “Let’s make the tourists serve us for a change!” I’d ended up puking behind a dumpster while Chris held my hair. Not the night that she’d envisioned. A shudder crawls from one shoulder to the other as the bittersweet memory is replaced with the bilious image of me back at the meat market, flaunting my depression weight gain before men my age who are too busy salivating at twenty-year-olds to notice.

Meanwhile, David—the man upon whom I’d bestowed my own twenties—would be busy making beautiful babies with his surely fertile husband-stealing bimbo. I shake the sickening thought from my head and breathe deeply. David is not cheating on me. He’s stressed about his missing friend. That’s all. I drum my fingers on the black keys, not hard enough to type anything. What will be my opening line this time? For a suspense writer, even one who fills her pages with licentious liaisons, the first sentence of every chapter is like an AA meeting. It demands the immediate confession of a problem by a specific someone. My name is Liza, and I’m a . I obviously know Beth’s issue, though I don’t yet know how to solve it.

We’ll figure it out together, two friends fumbling toward a solution. My main characters are more extensions of my social circle than figments of my imagination. Each is fleshed out with characteristics of myself or my loved ones, endowed with unwritten pasts stitched together from my own experiences and the secrets of those closest to me. These embezzled backstories dictate my characters’ actions as much as my own personal history decides my emotional responses. I don’t invent my characters. I steal them from my surroundings. To be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind. A door slams. I look behind me into the short hallway leading past the bathroom, trying to discern whether the bang was in my apartment or the neighboring unit.

Footsteps answer my question. I check the time as I log off. Ten o’clock. Dinner has been staling on the stove for the past forty minutes. I exit the bedroom and peer around the wall into the living/dining room, spying on my spouse. I do this often now, watching him from a distance, trying to ascertain his mood before engaging. Since Nick’s disappearance, he’s toggled between stages one through three of grief: tearful shock, frantic denial, and raging anger. I never know whether I should settle down for a silent night of him staring into space or brace myself for an endless rant against the inept police who still can’t figure out how his friend and law partner “fell off the motherfucking map.” David stands in the dining area. His suit jacket hangs from one of four chairs surrounding a round glass table.

It looks slept in. My husband came of age in the midnineties, when men were waxing philosophical about shampoo. He prides himself on his bespoke suits, and his vanity is filled with retinoid creams. The state of his blazer is a very bad sign. He gazes out the French doors leading onto our Juliet balcony, hands shoved in the pockets of his pinstriped pants. The traffic noise is louder in the living area. One of the doors must be cracked. Though the apartment lacks central air, we never open them wide. A squat, seventy-five-year-old railing is the only thing preventing our potted Ficus from falling eight stories to the street below. “Hey, you.

” I drape my arms over his shoulders and punctuate my statement with a peck below his ear. He pats my hand against his chest before pulling away. There are no words. As much as I’d like to fault Nick’s disappearance for his silence, our conversations have been dwindling for the past six months. It started, I think, with a case: a ten-million-dollar wrongful death suit against the state of New York, filed on behalf of the heartbroken mother of a high school senior who committed suicide after four years of merciless bullying. Nick had always been a strict constructionist with regard to attorney/client privilege, but the publicity surrounding the case had made David follow suit for the first time. Overnight, every question about David’s day became a threatened violation of his professional ethics. Now I don’t ask. A dozen years together has eliminated any pressure to cough up a few sentences for politeness’ sake. Our relationship has discarded formalities like my spouse’s scalp has shed hair.

All that’s left of David’s once Richard Gere–worthy mane are buzzed salt-and-pepper sides and a receding widow’s peak. He overcompensates with a permanent five-o’clock shadow, which I find sexy, albeit sandpapery. His shoulders rise with each breath. I monitor their tempo, wait for the rhythm to pause. “You hungry?” He grunts something affirmative. I walk through to the kitchen and turn on the gas burner beneath my room temperature pasta dish. “How are you?” He responds, though not loud enough for me to make out the words. I think he’s said, “Oh, you know.” I grab two plates from the cupboard and a pronged spoon, which I use to dish out some of my reheated concoction. While David keeps mulling over the view, I shut off the range, grab utensils, and balance the plates on my forearm like a diner waitress.

I slide his dinner in front of the seat draped with his wrinkled suit jacket and set my place beside him. His briefcase claims my chair. As I move it to the floor, I spy a stack of papers slipped into the back pocket. They’re stuffed vertically into the flap so that half of an enlarged photo sticks out. Have You Seen This Man? David has used Nick’s headshot from the firm’s website. The image doesn’t do justice to the dead. Nick was handsome, though not in a generic, Hollywood way. He had wavy black hair that he wore to the nape of his neck and a Roman nose made more prominent by his narrow face. Deep-set eyes. Thin lips.

Static images emphasize the angularity of his features. To appreciate Nick’s beauty, one had to see him in action: smiling, frowning, posing. He had a roguish quality, a swaggering confidence that he possessed despite, or maybe because of, his small stature. Nick couldn’t have been taller than five foot six; I towered over him at five foot nine. But like an actor, he commanded a room with his presence and orator’s voice, delivered with a Mississippi twang and a side of biting wit. Friends of mine who didn’t find him attractive on first sight would be falling all over him by the end of a night. I put David’s briefcase on the floor by his jacket and ask if he’d like wine, mostly to draw his attention to the table. He mumbles, “No thanks,” and pulls back the chair. As soon as he sits, he begins shoveling pasta into his mouth, the first stage of ignoring me. I interrupt his eating before his eyes glaze over.

“I have an appointment tomorrow.” David’s chewing slows. I decide to interpret his deliberate mastication as a flicker of interest. “Dr. Frankel will check on the cysts and the scarring. Last week she told me that the synthetic hormones seem to be helping other women in the trial . ” David shoves another forkful in his mouth. “I want to ask her about the migraines too. I know I’ve had them before, and it’s common for them to get worse with the hormones, but they’ve been really increasing in frequency . ” Though I’m not hungry, I take a bite of penne for fellowship and wait for David to speak.

Maybe I shouldn’t expect it, but I’d like a little empathy, perhaps an apologetic sorry that the drugs have me in a state of constant hangover. David meets my gaze and stabs at his pasta. I put down my utensil and rub my temples for emphasis. “Aspirin always worked for me. Now it doesn’t even help most of the time.” “Then stop with the drugs.” He points at my left forearm with his fork, indicating the implant. Though most people wouldn’t notice, a trained eye would see six raised lines, each about an inch long, spaced equally apart like a flesh-colored bar code or scarred brand. Beneath each track mark is a needle filled with one month of fertility hormones. Two are already spent.

“No one is making you take them,” David continues. Tears, on a hair trigger since the new hormones, flood my vision. I flutter my lashes at the ceiling. David considers crying a female form of manipulation. He shrugs. “I was ready to call it after the Clomid failed. But then you wanted this experimental thing . ” My pulse throbs in my temples and my teeth. The doctor’s visit should have been a safe discussion, even a welcome one. David, after all, had encouraged me to take the fertility hormones after a year of single-line pregnancy tests and the endometriosis diagnosis. He’d known how desperately I wanted to have our baby, to raise a little person derived from our union, endowed, perhaps, with my creativity and his dark hair or blessed with his studiousness and my bone structure. And he’d wanted our baby too. He’d often mused about watching our genes flourish under a progressive parenting style, so unlike the authoritarian structure with which he’d been raised. How could he give up on our child? Over pasta? My legs are trembling. Adrenaline urges me to run, to escape to the bathroom, where I can turn on the shower and dissolve into a sobbing mess. I place my palms flat on the glass table and breathe. I will not flee. I will not lose control. David doesn’t mean it. This is Nick’s fault. Stress from his partner’s disappearance has overwhelmed him to the point of—temporary—surrender. “Honey, I know your friend is gone and—” “Missing.” “And I know it’s not the best time to do this. But each day that I age decreases our chances of conception. I’m doing what I can, and I need you to do your part too. We need to make time for—” He pushes back from the table and reaches for the briefcase. “What are you doing?” “I’m not having this conversation.” “It’s not even a conversation! I was telling you about my appointment. It’s been a month, Dave. Our life can’t remain on hold indefinitely while we—” “On hold?” He slaps the table and stands. Ceramic rattles against the glass surface. I wince as a knife clatters to the floor. “You think life has been on hold? In addition to my own caseload, I have all of Nick’s work falling on top of me. It’s impossible to get a continuance for everything. And the police are doing nothing to find him! I don’t know whether he had a mental breakdown and is hiding out somewhere or if he was the victim of a hate crime—” I pat the air, trying to calm him and myself. Yelling will push him out the door. “Why would Nick be the victim of a hate crime?” David throws up his hands. “Why? How can you ask that?” “Well, he’s a white male. I don’t see—” He gestures to the side of the room, appealing to an invisible jury. “We won a ten-million-dollar suit on behalf of a transgender teen that held public institutions accountable for allowing toxic environments for LGBT people. Our names were in the paper. The firm has been inundated with hate mail ever since. At least two people have threatened to kill us if their daughters ever have to use a bathroom with a transitioning girl. It’s a two-second web search to find our pictures. For all we know, someone stalked Nick to his apartment and is holding him hostage. But the police are doing nothing!” I misjudged his mood. Grief stage three is not the time to bring up infertility issues. “Please sit. Let’s just have dinner.” I reach out toward him. “I’m not your enemy here.” His look casts doubt on my statement. Still, he collects the knife from the floor and settles back into the seat. He palms his fork and stabs his pasta until each prong is overloaded with noodles. “I know you’re under a lot of pressure. Maybe we should get away for the weekend. The house is free.” David’s nose flares at the affected way I refer to the Hamptons place. The house is nothing more than my childhood home, a cedar-shingled two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath in Montauk, on the water. It is worth a significant chunk of change, however. Whatever I think about my father, I must concede that the man knew real estate. “Why didn’t you get a renter?” He points at me with his loaded fork. “August is prime time.” “I got that insane offer from the trader who only wanted mid-June to the first week of August. What he paid alone will cover taxes and upkeep for the entire year, so we didn’t need another guest.” I proffer a smile. “I thought we might enjoy it.” “You should have put it on one of the short-term B and B sites.” David’s frown saps whatever was left of my appetite. Though his salary has always covered our expenses with plenty to spare, things have been tighter since my books stopped making any significant financial contribution. The fertility treatments haven’t helped our bottom line, either. “Well, I didn’t so . ” David jams the food into his mouth. “I can’t commit to a vacation right now.” Talking with his mouth full is an act David only performs for present company. I should probably take his lack of basic social skills around me as evidence of a solid marriage. He’s so secure that there’s no need for basic courtesies. Still, I long for the days when he felt I was worthy of a conversation that didn’t involve the view of chewed particles. “You go.” A fleck of basil lodges between his teeth. “The quiet will help your writing, and you can hang out with Christine.” A familiar tension twists in my temples. As much as I’d love to see my best friend, the whole point of staying at the house is for David and me to be together, away from the distraction of his job or Nick’s disappearance. Also, I hate sleeping in my childhood home by myself. It makes me inexplicably anxious. Perhaps something about the crash of the sea outside, like a persistent knock on the door by someone intent on coming in. Or maybe the way the wind whistles through the rafters at night. All I know is, when I’m there alone, the house feels angry. The presence of other people purges the bad energy. “I don’t need quiet to write. I want you there.” David’s eyes roll. Though he knows I dislike staying solo at the beach house, he thinks I’m insane for it. Montauk, as he so often insists, is one of the safest places on the planet. “I mean if you’re really concerned that you have a bull’s-eye on your back because of that case, don’t you think it would be good to get out of the city?” I walk behind his chair. He bristles as my palms land on his shoulders. I massage his neck for a beat before hugging him from behind. Once, he’d lean into me as I did this. But something has shattered between us, something invisible that I sense deep within me, the way a broken bone detects coming rain. “Come on, David. We need this. Your trial will start next month, and I’m leaving for the MWO conference Sunday. I won’t see you. We won’t get to try . ” He exhales, a long, drawn-out sigh, something from anger-management therapy or yoga classes. “I have Nick’s cases.” Again, the conversation has returned to Nick. The missing man sits in the center of a corn maze, and I keep getting turned around trying to find the exit. Nick. Nick. Nick. When Nick and David met in law school, it was as though my fiancé had found a long-lost twin. Here was a man who could relate to his fundamentalist upbringing and his conflicting desire to challenge the rules he saw as unfair. Someone who understood—unlike his single mom–raised, New York–bred progressive wife—how it felt to be a Southerner surrounded by Northeasterners. As long as what happened to Nick remains a mystery, David will think of nothing else. The month that’s passed hasn’t dulled the pain of his friend’s disappearance. A year could go by and David would probably still be focused on him, holding out hope that the man he considered a brother might turn out to be alive and well. I drop my chin onto David’s shoulder. “Hey, the police academy in Flushing is on the way to Montauk. I could talk to my contacts from that writers’ police workshop. This one cop, Sergeant Mark Perez, was a twenty-year veteran. He might know something about violent crime in Nick’s neighborhood, or someone who can tell us something.” David reaches up and pats my cheek. “Thank you.” He exhales, an audible surrender. “Maybe I will try to get away for a couple days. I could come out Friday and Saturday, get back to work on Sunday.” I kiss his neck and thank him. Two days. Intercourse, maybe twice a day. Between two hundred million and five hundred million sperm per ejaculation. Seven or so ripe eggs in my ovaries ready for fertilization. All I need is one to stick to my uterine wall. The odds seem in my favor. David seems to sense where my mind is. He sighs again and tells me how tired he is from “everything.” I decide not to push my luck. “I better get back to my book.” I scrape my dinner into the garbage and then put the plate in the dishwasher. Afterward, I grab David’s jacket with a promise to toss it with the rest of the dry cleaning, like I always do. It smells of his sweat and cologne, a mossy, musky mix that I recognize as his signature. My open laptop waits for me on the bedroom desk. I sit on the rolling chair and stare, again, at the near-blank page. What is Beth’s main problem this chapter? What does she want? Her husband to renounce the other woman, beg her forgiveness, and tearfully renew his pledge to be faithful, for starters. But that’s not happening this chapter. Maybe it won’t happen at all. I swirl my finger atop the trackpad. What does Trevor want? A troubled ingenue falling under the spell of her Jungian therapist as he interprets her dreams? Before my better self can block the image, I see my editor lording over a leather couch. The light from a reading lamp reflects off the sweat beads on his bare brown chest. The image lingers like a hot flash. I force it back into the trash bin of my memories and rejected fantasies, blinking until I regain focus on the glowing screen in front of me. I press the keys.


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