Authors: D.J. Palmer
A week after move-in day, the house was still in complete disarray.
Moving boxes were strewn about in every room, and packing peanuts littered the floor like engorged confetti. Balls of crinkled packing paper roosted in corners of cluttered rooms with the grace of avant-garde sculptures. The television was still in the box, much to Connor and Maggie's chagrin, while the basementâwhich Nina hoped to convert into a kids' cave of sortsâneeded a dehumidifier running twenty-four-seven before she could even consider laying down the carpet the movers had left rolled up down there. Simon, who was more obsessed than anyone in the Garrity clan with neatness and order, had assured Nina he was fine with the mess. But she knew that if she was feeling frazzled, he must have been in a total tizzy.
As the school's robotics instructor, Simon was good with technology, and had already gotten the wireless internet up and running. The Bluetooth Sonos speakers he had configured continuously pumped out high-energy classic rock music, but the boxes full of stuff were Nina's main job, and she desperately wanted to feel settled. Most nights she worked with Simon at her side, unpacking essentials, cleaning and scrubbing bathrooms, replacing the batteries in all the smoke detectors.
Despite these efforts, the place still felt like someone else's home, with Nina as a temporary guest. Maybe when she added plants, or had
pictures hanging in the hallway, maybe when all her things were in place, it would feel like home. Or maybe she should buy new furniture, new everything, because the old stuff might serve only as a reminder of all she had lost.
With so much to do, Nina focused on tackling the laundry, because at least it was a task she could manage to completion. She was folding a basket of clothes while her endless to-do list tumbled disjointedly through her mind, just like the dryer itself.
Dog foodÂ â¦ shoppingÂ â¦ Maggie's dentist appointmentÂ â¦ mend the hole in Connor's jerseyÂ â¦ forms for fall lacrosseÂ â¦ order team sweatshirtsÂ â¦ pick up prescriptions at CVSÂ â¦ enroll Maggie in CCD classes at St. FrancisÂ â¦ the kids' physicalsÂ â¦ nut-free ingredients for the football team bake sale
(Maggie was deathly allergic)Â â¦ and onÂ â¦ and on.
Moving didn't erase Nina's responsibilities, but rather added to them.
From down the hall, Nina heard an echoing “Hello?” and rose on achy knees to greet Ginny and Susanna, who had let themselves in. They were carrying two bottles of red wine, a foil-covered baking dish, and a cake box with
printed on the side.
“Happy birthday!” they shouted in unison, beaming at Nina as she approached.
“It's not my birthday,” Nina said with a crooked smile.
“Well, the cake was on sale, so it's somebody's birthdayâand it might as well be yours,” said Ginny as she sauntered inside, delicately balancing the bottles as she stooped to give Daisy a scratch hello. Ginny dressed like a J.Crew model, but despite the coastal palette of her cardigans and pleated pants, she still looked like a tired mom of three who lived in woodsy New Hampshire. She had a tousled nest of blond hair cut well above her shoulders, and a round, friendly face that was always quick with a smile.
“Where are the kids?” Susanna asked.
“Out,” said Nina. “With friends. They can't take the chaos. Neither can I.”
“And Simon?” Nina caught the slight hesitation in Ginny's voice,
though she wasn't surprised. Not long ago both her friends had been trying to talk Nina out of making this move. They didn't have anything against Simon, per se, but each had reservations about the speed at which the relationship had evolved. They weren't the only ones.
Nina's parents hadn't embraced her choice to move in with Simon either. Her mother liked Simon well enough, but thought Nina was setting a bad example for the children to be living with him before they were married. It was an argument that didn't quite adhere to her mother's views on personal choice, but Nina saw it for what it wasâa poorly disguised way of masking her hope that her only daughter would move back home to live with them. Her father, who had loved Glen like the son he'd never had, worried Simon was taking advantage of a vulnerable woman in a very tricky situation, concerns that Nina herself understood.
Before her life had taken a U-turn, Nina had scoffed at those dolled-up reality show contestants who professed their undying love for each other after a few staged dates. Now she knew there were more than a few kernels of truth to their mawkish sentimentsâand that a TV show wasn't the only way to accelerate romance. Trauma, true bone-jarring trauma, did the job just as well, if not better.
“Love what you've done with the placeâ¦” Ginny said, spinning around in a circle as she surveyed the disordered kitchen. Susanna sent Nina a sympathetic look. This was the third time since move-in day they'd showed up to help unpack, and the place still looked like it had been ransacked by raccoons. Nina had wondered if her lack of progress was a subconscious reaction from a part of her that wasn't wholly embracing the move. It wasn't only her daughter she worried about. As much as she loved Simon, Nina harbored a mostly unspoken fear of opening herself up to being hurt again.
After uncorking the wine, Nina cut three big pieces of vanilla buttercream cake. The lasagna could wait. Susanna went to the fridge after announcing her intention to whip up a quick salad, took one look inside, and had to think again.
“Someone's vying for the Mother Hubbard of the Year Award,” she said.
Nina laughed. She might have lost her mind in the mess, but not her sense of humor.
“The children aren't starving, I swear. I just haven't made it to the supermarket.”
“Like, since you moved in?” said Ginny, after checking the pantry.
“It's been hard,” Nina said, slumping down on a metal stool at the kitchen island.
“A toast then,” Susanna proposed, raising her glass. “To a happy, healthy home.”
“Cheers to that,” Nina said as all three clinked glasses.
Susanna took a sip of wine and then went to work emptying the box closest to her, aptly labeled
. Nina felt supremely grateful to have such good friends in her life, and couldn't imagine where she'd be without them. Back when everything had first exploded, when her ordered world had become unmanageably disordered, Susanna had functioned as the family spokesperson. She was the perfect choice, already experienced with handling the media from her years as a reporter. An attractive woman with long chestnut hair and kind brown eyes, Susanna was a natural on TV. But now the cameras were long gone, and Nina's great ordeal was nothing but a tabloid footnote.
When Ginny went to help Susanna unpack the box, the first thing she pulled out was an old issue of
magazine. “Thank goodness you brought
” she said with a laugh.
But Nina wasn't laughing. She hadn't even realized she'd put that magazine in the box, but of course she had. She couldn't have thrown it away. It was a reminder, a memento from the day that everything had changed.
been in her living roomâher old living roomâready to decompress during a rare moment of downtime. A cup of chamomile tea waited on the coffee table, and that
magazine sat on her lap. She was interested in the cover story aboutâof all thingsâmaking
life simpler. The issue also featured an article on four summer recipes to make outdoor entertaining easier than ever, which she found annoying because it was only the first week of spring.
She got cozy beneath a soft fleece blanket, sinking deeply into the faded beige cushions of her couch. She flipped to the desired article and read a page until her eyes glazed over. She remembered thinking she should have been working on the PTA newsletter, or even getting an early jump on the live auction, but noâshe had been cocooned, supposedly guilt-free, beneath a fuzzy blanket, preparing to relax.
Even when she worked at it, Nina could not quite get a handle on how to unwind. It simply wasn't in her DNA to turn off and do nothing. There was a time, years ago, when her entire life had been her career as a social worker. Then came Glen, who was work-obsessed even during their honeymoon phase, and admittedly Nina was too, at least until the kids were born. Then they became her whole world, until they didn't need her as they once had. To fill the void, Nina found herself unable to say no to whatever favor, obligation, committee, or volunteer effort came her way. In this respect, she didn't stop workingâshe just stopped getting a paycheck.
Surrendering her downtime, Nina tossed the blanket aside. Today there would be no relaxing; she really had to work on that newsletter. Moments later, the issue of
lay atop a pile of other magazines on the floor by her cluttered desk.
It wasn't until Nina had returned to the living room to get her cup of tea that she saw a police car parked in her driveway. The car's roof-mounted light bar was off, and that gave her a moment's comfort: not an emergency. Still, her first thought had been of the children, always the children.
Maggie was with her best friend, Laura Abel, and Connor was at a weekend football practice, punishment for the team's lackluster performance during the previous night's game. She wondered if he had been hurtâbut surely one of the team moms would have called if something awful had happened.
Nina watched through the window as two police officers, female and male, exited the car. They were dressed identically in khaki pants and blue polo shirts with official-looking embroidery stitched over the right breast pocket, guns strapped to their waists, their expressions grave.
Under normal circumstances, Nina would have felt a stab of embarrassment at the weeds growing between the paving stones. The yard didn't look all that great, either. Glen's busy work schedule left little time for the honey-do list. Nina could have used vinegar to get rid of those pesky weeds herself, but somehowâhello volunteering, organizing, chauffeuring, cooking, cleaningâshe never seemed to have the time. Those quick thoughts fled as she opened the door to watch the two police officers make their way up the brick front steps.
“Can I help you?” Nina asked, a slight quaver in her voice.
“Are you Nina Garrity?” asked the man. He removed his sunglasses the way cops sometimes did on TV shows, slowly and full of intent, revealing eyes that were a striking, steely light gray.
He tilted his head slightly, his edginess giving way to something more congenial. Or was it sympathy? Nina couldn't tell.
“Yes. Can I help you? Is everything all right?” Her voice was tinged with dread.
“Is your husband at home?” the female cop asked.
“I'm sorry,” Nina said. “Who are you? What's this about?”
“I'm Detective Yvonne Murphy, and this is my partner, Detective Eric Wheeler,” the woman said. “We're with the Seabury Police.”
They showed her their badges.
“Are you home alone?” said Murphy.
“Yes,” Nina said. “I'm alone. Is this about Glen?”
“Glen is your husband?” Wheeler asked.
“Yes,” Nina said.
“Do you know where he is?”
Nina answered Wheeler with a single word: “Fishing.”
“What time did he leave?” asked Murphy.
“Before sunrise. Maybe four
Maybe earlierâI don't really know, I was asleep. Is everything okay?”
“Was he going with anyone else?” asked Wheeler.
Nina shook her head slightly, trying to clear her mind so she could answer correctly. Her heartbeat quickened.
“Saturday is his fishing day. With the kids so busy on the weekends he almost always goes alone,” she said.
“And do you know where he usually goes?”
Nina's pulse ticked up another notch, her throat tightening.
“The launch near Governors Island. Tell me, what's going on?” Her voice rose sharply.
The two detectives exchanged glances before Murphy headed back to the police car, leaving Wheeler alone on the front steps to answer Nina's question.
“Somebody found a boat, a Starcraft, floating near that boat launch this morning,” Wheeler said.
“There was a dog aboard,” Wheeler continued, “but no operator.”
“Marine Patrol and Fish and Game are searching the water right now.”
Nina's hand went to her mouth, but not in time to stifle a gasp that became a sob. “He fell overboard?”
“We don't know,” answered Wheeler. “We also found a Ford F-150 parked at the boat launch. We've towed the truck and boat to our impound lot. Registrations show this address. Checked the dog's microchip, and believe she belongs to you.”
At that moment, Murphy opened the rear door of the patrol car and out came Daisy. She bounded up the walkway at full speed, squeezing past the detectives to get inside, eager to be home.
“I guess she's your dog,” Wheeler said, almost with a smile.
“Yes, this is Daisy,” answered Nina as she patted her dog reassuringly. Overjoyed, Daisy reared up on her hind legs and placed her front
paws on Nina's stomach. It was a habit of hers long ago broken, but instead of saying “Down,” Nina noticed dried blood matting the fur around Daisy's paws.
“What's going on here?” Nina said, pointing to Daisy's paws.
“There was some blood found.”
“In the boat,” said Wheeler. “Look, why don't you take a minute to get yourself together. Make arrangements for your children if you need.”
“Because you should come with us to the police station,” Wheeler said. “Better if we talk there.”
memory of that terrible day faded, Nina's eyes filled with tears. A cry broke from her lips, sending her shoulders quaking. Susanna and Ginny were at her side in a flash.