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Authors: D.J. Palmer

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CHAPTER 11

Nina, Ginny, and Susanna emerged from the barre fitness studio into a dry, perfectly temperate late-September afternoon, sweat-drenched and ready for post-workout lattes at nearby Pressed Caf
é
. It was Ginny who had gotten the trio into doing the ballet-inspired workouts to build up core strength and boost their increasingly sluggish metabolisms. And it was Ginny who would bemoan the pitfalls of getting older—sagging parts that shouldn't sag, wrinkles that came and went like lines on an Etch-a-Sketch, battled away with creams and facials—while Susanna, far more pragmatic, would note that the grim by-product of never having another birthday meant saying sayonara to this life.

For what it was worth, Nina felt increasingly comfortable with the changes of aging. Her long dark hair, which could be wavy or straight depending on the humidity, still had plenty of body and only sporadic grays to pluck. Her lips were full, and the prominent nose she had wanted reduced in high school now seemed to fit her heart-shaped face perfectly fine. The creases around her brown eyes had grown deeper from stress, but Nina wasn't about to erase them with Botox injections.

She was perhaps eight pounds over her ideal weight, but it was a soft eight. Her arms and legs were well-toned from the barre workouts, but more than those exercise classes, Nina gave Simon the credit for the recent boost in her self-esteem and comfort with her appear
ance, years be damned. His support and admiration, the love he gave so freely, made it possible for her to stop blaming herself for what Glen had done.

It was natural, her friends said (and Dr. Wilcox later confirmed), for Nina to experience feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy after Teresa appeared on the scene. As time went on and the wounds felt less fresh, Nina invented several intentionally cruel names for Glen's paramour—Tarty Teresa and Strawberry Shortcake being two of her favorites, though these sobriquets she shared only with Ginny and Susanna. Nina often asked herself why Glen strayed. Was she not enough of a wife, mother, or lover to make him happy?

“Screw him,” had been Ginny's response. “What an ass. You don't deserve any of that.”

Of course Nina agreed; strongly, in fact. But it was one thing to agree, and quite another to believe. When Nina and Simon fell in love, those doubts she'd harbored about herself retreated like the tide, and a renewal of mind, body, and spirit came about, one that had made it possible to believe what her friends had been saying all along.

“It wasn't you. It was him, wherever he may be. Dead or not. Lake or not.”

Screw him
was right.

Now the ladies were sipping lattes and reliving a class that had had more pliés than
The Nutcracker
.

“The Heritage Commission had a meeting last night,” Susanna said, changing topics, and Nina caught a hint of trepidation in her voice. Susanna knew, as did Ginny, how Nina had once taken great pride in her numerous volunteer commitments, trying as they might have been. She had been “that woman”—the one who morphed from devoted mom to dedicated volunteer without missing a step. Nina pinned the Busy Badge to her chest like some medal of honor, and wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. But Glen's disappearance had changed everything. In the aftermath, it had become impossible to stay involved, and so she had simply jettisoned her commitments, Heritage
Commission included, but took with her feelings of guilt for backing away.

“Stephanie Abel was there, talking as always.”

Nina failed to stifle a groan. She knew all about Stephanie Abel, long before Maggie had had her dealings with Stephanie's daughter, Laura.

“Let me guess,” Nina said, stirring frothy milk with her spoon. “She's finally realized what a terrible child she's raised.”

Nina wanted to escalate Maggie's bullying plight to the superintendent if need be, but had bowed to her daughter's wishes to stay out of it.

“No, and no,” Susanna said, eyeing Ginny warily—
How much to share?
said the look.

“Don't handle me with kid gloves,” said Nina. “I'm a big girl.”

“She was talking about you and Simon,” said Susanna. “How it was inappropriate for you to be living together so soon after Glen—you know.”

“Cheated on me, then vanished or drowned? We can use the words, it's okay.”

“Yes, that,” Susanna said.

“Don't give that bitch any brain cycles,” Ginny chimed in. “She's not worth it.”

“No, she's not,” Nina agreed. “But I don't need any of that getting back to Maggie. She's had a hard enough time with Laura Abel as it is.”

“Actually, Stephanie mentioned something about Maggie eating alone during lunch period and how your choices were going to alienate her even more.”

“My choices?” Nina said, aghast. “Does she have any clue it was her bratty kid who caused all the problems in the first place?”

“I'm sure she's in denial,” said Ginny.

“Of course she is,” Nina said with disgust.

She contemplated ways to engage Stephanie Abel, thinking the best way to put an end to her gossiping was to plant a boot on her throat, when her cell phone rang. It wasn't a number Nina recognized. She
answered, half expecting a robocall, but in fact, the caller was a real live human being, one who worked in Human Resources at The Davis Family Center, a support services organization specializing in family matters.

Nina had interviewed there the previous week and did not think the conversation had gone particularly well. Then again, she had done several interviews, none of which had led to a second meeting. Still, the economy was doing well, and she had reason to remain optimistic. Now she was feeling downright jubilant, trying not to let her burgeoning excitement get the better of her. Nina's girlfriends sensed something big afoot, and instinctively leaned closer to catch whatever snippets of conversation they could.

“That's wonderful news,” Nina said, eliciting more excited glances from Ginny and Susanna. “When would you need to know? I see. Yes, yes of course. I can do that. I just need to talk this over with my…” Nina hesitated ever so briefly.
My what?
She hadn't yet said yes to Simon's marriage proposal, though she was closer every day, and “future fianc
é
” made her sound downright unstable—a woman with a story at least, which she was. Partner? Future husband? New husband? She went for none of those options. “Talk it over with my family. And thank you, David. Thank you so much. This is wonderful news, very exciting. I'll be in touch soon.”

She ended the call, and her friends' beaming expressions demanded a quick reveal.

“I got a job,” Nina said. And what followed were cheers that drew glances, hugs, and a few tears in Nina's eyes.

“I'm so happy for you,” Ginny said, with Susanna echoing that sentiment.

“I can't believe it,” Nina said, and then she paused as Simon's words of concern came to her. Would it be detrimental for Maggie, as he had suggested, to have her mother preoccupied, especially when she was struggling emotionally and having difficulty at school? And what about
Connor? He was going through a huge upheaval as well. How would it be for him if his mother were suddenly less available? Perhaps he might go off the rails, so to speak.

Nina had more questions than answers. It was a good thing she had a therapist appointment in the morning.

 

CHAPTER 12

At therapy, Nina decided not to discuss Maggie's struggles. The night before, she had spoken to her daughter about the bullying at school, revealing what Stephanie Abel had said at the Heritage Commission meeting. When Nina learned of Maggie's new lunch companion, Ben Odell, the welcome news of their unlikely friendship offered a ray of hope that she might come out of her funk, feel less angry toward Simon, and maybe ease the transition for everyone. Talk of her job offer Nina thought could wait, too. Instead, she picked up right where she left off—with two pictures a stranger had sent of her husband kissing another woman.

With those photos, Glen became a stranger to her, and Nina was like a stranger to herself. Her completely ordered world had been shredded and taped back together in a poor imitation of what had been. Her vision of her life was nothing but an illusion—a cruel trick played on an unwitting patsy. There was, however, one truth Nina took from the terrible ordeal, an abstract notion that with time and rumination calcified into a harsh new understanding: just because you love someone doesn't mean you know them.

Nina told Dr. Wilcox about the morning after she received the pictures of Teresa and Glen together. She woke up as though she'd not slept a wink, and fed the children their breakfast in a daze. Time passed in a blur, with the secret weighing heavily on her heart.

The next day, the police gave permission for community volunteers to help with the search effort. Nina headed to the boat launch, her mental state echoing the fog that hovered ghostlike above the choppy water of Lake Winnipesaukee. Professional search-and-rescue teams continued their hunt for a body that seemed determined to stay hidden, and the U.S. Coast Guard also joined the quest, just as Detective Wheeler said they might. They brought along two specially equipped Boston Whalers, giving the New Hampshire Marine Patrol and State Police some welcome assistance. Nina didn't know if the police were rushing to Carson to track down the waitress, but she assumed the focus was still on the search for Glen.

She recalled standing at the lake shoreline, watching the search teams motor about in an organized fashion, craning her neck to follow the helicopter's purposeful circles. Her black boots sank into the mud as a steady rain pelted rhythmically against her green umbrella.

“Maggie said she thought the rain was her dad crying. That he was letting us know he would miss us.”

Dr. Wilcox smiled wanly at the bittersweet sentiment, her right hand jotting something down. “She thought he had drowned?”

“We all did,” Nina said, pausing before adding, “Some of us still do.”

“Connor?” Dr. Wilcox remembered.

“Yes, Connor for sure,” said Nina. “He thinks his father is dead.”

“And you?”

“Jury is out. Maybe he's dead. Maybe he just wanted to start over. Fake his death and begin anew without the burden of child support and alimony. People snap, you know.”

Dr. Wilcox's eyes glimmered ever so briefly. “What happened during the search?”

“I tried to redirect my energy to my kids and the volunteers,” Nina said. “But I kept seeing those pictures in my head, Glen kissing that woman, his eyes glowing with lust—with love, maybe?

“At first I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to do,” Nina went on. “I didn't tell anybody but the police about the pictures.”

“So the search went on and nobody, not even your close friends, knew about the affair?”

“That's right. I think there were at least a hundred people out looking for him. I manned the volunteer tent, feeling like I was deceiving every last one of them.”

“Why's that?”

“They weren't looking for Glen, the loving husband and devoted family man. They were searching for an adulterer, a man with secrets as hidden as he was.”

Nina recounted how groups of volunteers, arms linked, headed out into the woods by the boat launch and returned cold and soaking wet, without any leads. Coffee couldn't warm them, and she sensed the mood shift late that day. By then, the enthusiasm for the search, so infectious in the morning, had fatigued, along with the searchers themselves.

It had been painful to think of spending another day thanking people for their kindness and sacrifice, hugging them, presenting a face of grief while she ignored the other feelings invading her bones. But that's exactly what she did the next day, too: she lied to herself and to others.

“I didn't know what else to do. I knew eventually the truth would come out one way or another. But that wasn't the only thing upsetting me.”

Nina took a moment to collect her thoughts and let the painful memories resurface.

“During the search I noticed that nobody from Glen's work was there,” she began.

“He worked for—?” Dr. Wilcox let the question hang, prompting Nina to fill in the blanks.

“Center Street Bank. He was a senior financial advisor in the consumer banking division.”

“I see. Is that what brought him to Carson?”

“I thought maybe, yes,” said Nina. “Maybe he went there to scout a location for a branch, and got it on with a waitress while blowing off
steam. But Glen didn't work in the retail side, so he'd have no reason to help open new bank branches.”

“Got it.” Dr. Wilcox took another note.

“While I thought it was odd that Glen would have even gone to Carson, it was even odder that nobody from the bank bothered to contact me. I mean, he was all over the news, but I didn't receive one phone call, no emails even.”

“Why do you think?”

“I didn't know,” said Nina. “So when I got home from the search I called his office.”

“And?”

And …

Nina relived those moments in detail, letting them unfold for Dr. Wilcox as they had unfolded for her.

SHE DIALED
the main number and asked for Human Resources. A pleasant-sounding man with a nasal voice answered the phone after a few rings.

“Dan Kastner. May I help you?”

Nina had to take a deep breath before she could speak. “Yes, hello. My name is Nina Garrity.”

She expected to hear a gasp, a heavy sigh, some weighty noise that preceded expressions of sincere sympathy, but no. There was only silence.

“Yes? What can I do for you, Ms. Garrity?”

“Um—” Nina cleared her throat. “I'm Glen Garrity's wife, Nina.”

“Glen … Garrity?”

“Yes,” said Nina. “He's the boater from Seabury, New Hampshire, who's gone missing. Surely you've seen the news…?”

“Oh yes, yes, of course. Of course, I have. I'm truly sorry, Ms. Garrity. What is it I can do for you?”

Do for me?
Dan's response had baffled Nina.
He's your employee,
she
thought.
Where have you been? Why hasn't anyone called?
It was more than a strange choice of words—Nina struggled to come up with something Dan could actually do for her. By this point, after days without recovering a body, she, along with the police, had all assumed that Glen was dead.

“Well—um, I'm curious about health insurance, first,” Nina said, stammering a bit. “Our daughter Maggie has nut allergies and, well, if she needs to go to the hospital, you know, how long will we still have insurance?”

Nina figured she'd eventually work her way up to asking why nobody from Center Street Bank had been in touch, feeling idiotic for fumbling her way through the conversation.

“This is for Glen Garrity, right?”

“Yes,” said Nina, now annoyed.

“Hmmm—Mrs. Garrity, could you give me a moment, please?”

Nina pinned the phone between her shoulder and ear, breathing deeply. The hold music sounded like a Bon Jovi tune re-created on the marimba. Why
did
he put her on hold? Was there a problem with the insurance? Eventually, she heard the line click over.

“Mrs. Garrity?”

To Nina's surprise, it was a woman's voice, not Dan's.

“Yes,” said Nina.

“Hello, I'm Jill Fleishman, the vice president of Human Resources for Center Street Bank. Dan told me you called asking about benefits in connection with your husband, Glen.”

“Yes, that's correct.”

Nina felt short of breath. Her skin had gone tingly as a terrible feeling sank into her chest.

“Um—Mrs. Garrity, I'm not sure how to say this. I know you're dealing with a tremendous shock.”

“Please, just talk to me,” she said. “Is Glen in trouble at work? I'm trying to figure out why he's been spending time in Carson—that's where he's been going. I'm assuming he was doing a job for you there?”

“Mrs. Garrity, I don't know about Carson, but what I can tell you is that your husband hasn't worked here for the past two years.”

Nina was sure she'd misheard. “Excuse me? Could you repeat that, please?”

“We terminated Glen's employment two years ago,” Jill Fleishman said.

“Terminated?” Nina's head was buzzing.

“Yes.”

“Why?” Nina hoped she hadn't shouted the question.

“I'm afraid that's privileged information.”

“I'm his wife. He's missing.”

“Yes, I know. I'm sorry, but our confidentiality policy extends to all current and former employees of the bank.”

Nina knew this was an argument she wasn't going to win, so she changed subjects. “You said this happened two years ago?”

“Yes.”

“But that's impossible. He—he went—”

Nina stopped herself. She was going to say he went to work every day. But actually, he just went out the door. He got into his car. He drove away. He could have been in Chelmsford, or Carson, or Cleveland for all she knew. He could have gone anywhere.

“I can send you some paperwork—but I would—I would need a death certificate to release it.”

Nina's throat closed up, but somehow, she managed to get out the words: “Thank you for your time.”

IF DR. WILCOX
found Nina's story shocking, it did not register on her face.

“That's another profound betrayal,” she said.

“I nearly fainted,” Nina replied. “Anyway, the first thing I did was go to the file cabinet where we kept all our financial documents. I'd seen our tax returns, but I'd never studied them. I just signed the page Glen
gave me to sign; I never asked to
see
the numbers or look at the deductions, because I simply didn't see the need. I trusted him.”

“I'm guessing that was a mistake.”

“Quite. You see, Glen and I established a division of labor. I took care of the house stuff—the kids, the meals, shopping, that sort of thing—and he did the bills and filed all our financial statements. I had a general idea of what we had, but I really only paid attention to what was in the checking account. Those numbers went down and then up every two weeks as he got paid.

“He made a good living, but it wasn't a windfall. He still worried about money all the time, which is why he pushed himself so hard at work to get a promotion, maybe stock options, you know the routine.”

Nina hadn't bothered with all the details, but after the 401(k) contribution, money Glen put in the stock market, taxes, food, utilities, home repair, insurance, what little they gave to charity, the occasional vacation, the random charges that seemed impossible not to rack up on the credit card—new clothes for Connor, summer camp for Mags, sports camps for Connor, fitness clubs, doctor, dentist, car payments, auto repair, all the random stuff—maybe they had four thousand dollars or so available in disposable income at the end of the year.

Maybe.

“And I thought of what they told me—two years, he'd been fired two years ago. I was thinking, hoping really, that he had a secret job to go along with his secret girlfriend and secret life in Carson.”

“Did he?”

“No. He didn't.” Nina grimaced. “I went through all the bank statements, all of our investments. I thought we'd saved about two hundred thousand dollars, maybe more, but there was only forty grand in all the investment accounts, including the 401(k).”

“What happened to the money?” Dr. Wilcox asked.

“It seems Glen drained our investments like he was running a mini Ponzi scheme. He took from one account to give to another, college funds included, all to hide the fact that he'd lost his job. We had about
enough money to last us a year, but not much more. He even bought us pricey health insurance after the COBRA ran out, to keep up appearances.”

Nina paused here, processing a thought. “It made me wonder,” she said, “for a man with so many secrets, if maybe he'd done something else, something at his job, the reason he got fired, that had made it necessary for him to disappear.”

“Do you know the reason?”

“No,” Nina said grimly. “I eventually got them to send me some paperwork, because death in absentia takes ages to process. What they sent was vague at best—they cited ‘underperformance' as the reason for firing him. I know as much about Glen—his motives, his choices, his fate—now as I did back then.”

Dr. Wilcox returned a grim expression of sympathy. “How are your finances now?”

“Now? Well, with Simon they've gotten a whole lot better. Without him in the picture, I would've had to move away, go live with my parents, no choice there. That would have been okay, but I love Seabury and didn't want to leave. Anyway, Simon has family money, he told me, and his teacher salary, plus rental income from his lakefront home. For the most part we've kept our finances separate, but now you could say my finances have gotten another boost.”

“How so?”

“I got a job. I'm going to be working with The Davis Family Center doing social work. The offer came yesterday.”

Dr. Wilcox brightened. “That's wonderful news,” she said.

“Simon's concerned. He thinks it's going to be too much on me, and hard on Maggie not to have me as available.”

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