Authors: D.J. Palmer
Summer turned to fall as Nina began her job search in earnest. In that time, she did a dozen drafts of her r
, with Susanna's help. She updated her LinkedIn profile, reconnected with former colleagues and friends, all while sending inquiry after inquiry into the black hole of the internet, receiving no return responses. Somehow this was not supposed to dampen her spirits; after all, she was just beginning the process. Hadn't she taught her children that patience was a virtue and not to expect instant gratification? But in this day and age of social media and continuous feedback, she expected a certain degree of immediacy and tried not to take radio silence as a portent of things to come.
Nina was back in Dr. Wilcox's office, seated on the now familiar comfy chair, soothed by the sounds of the fountain and the white noise machine.
How should we start today's session?
she asked herself. Should she talk about Maggie and Simon, their argument about the TV remote that was really about so much more? Or maybe she should talk about her career; share her worries and fears about being professionally put to pasture and Simon's concerns over her resuming a demanding job?
As it turned out, Dr. Wilcox had a different topic in mind.
She glanced up from the notes she'd jotted down. “In a previous session you said you didn't think you'd ever date again after what Glen did to you. Can we talk about Glen now?”
A flood of memories rushed over Nina as if she were drowning in them. She remembered driving down her dirt road, dazed, seated in the back of the police car, where the prisoners usually go, on her way to the station to discuss her missing husband.
“I spent a lot of time with Detectives Wheeler and Murphy, answering their questions,” Nina told Dr. Wilcox, who studied her with a look of sympathy and concern. “I thought maybe Glen had cut himself badly with a fishing knife, fell, hit his head hard, and somehow ended up in the water. He was an excellent swimmer, so he could have made it to shore, got lost in the woods, maybe he had a concussion and was disoriented. It gave me hope.”
“But that wasn't the story?”
“No, it wasn't. Because the police searched the woods, with dogs even, and there was no sign of Glen anywhere. Then they asked me all sorts of questions. Was Glen depressed? Could he have been suicidal? They even wanted to know about our marriage.”
“What did you tell them?”
Nina opened up about several issues that hadn't seemed worth mentioning to the detectives. They were little things, really, like how Glen still resented her for moving them out of the city. Seabury was too isolated for him, and moving there had only confirmed his belief that “rural” equaled “remote.”
Nina, on the other hand, had adjusted quickly to their new town. It was safe, the kind of community she'd always wanted to live in, a place where other mothers kept an eye out for her children, where everyone had each other's backs. Nina appreciated Glen's willingness to move, and told him so almost daily for the first few years. It was an idyllic community in so many waysâit just wasn't Boston, as Glen took every opportunity to remind her.
The marriage gradually became overwhelmed, thanks in part to the move north coupled with the daily grind of life. Spontaneity had yielded to schedules. Glen did what he always did: put his focus and energy into his work, moving up the career ladder, while Nina directed
hers into the kids and home. As time wore on, and his work responsibilities grew, Glen showed increasingly less interest in her worldâthe mundane tasks of gardening, shopping, cleaning, laundry, the dog, and the kidsâbecause he'd become too consumed with his.
The day-to-day went along smoothly enough, but Nina was also aware of a growing gulf between them as exhaustion replaced intimacy. Then again, wasn't that most marriages? Didn't most couples start off feeling some sort of imperative, an insatiable need for the other person, until those feelings became so familiar they went as unnoticed as breathing?
“But you never talked about divorce or separation?” Dr. Wilcox asked.
“No, no,” Nina said dismissively. “We were happyÂ â¦ I mean happyish, right? I mean, who doesn't have problems? But I wasn't going to get into all that with the police. I felt the focus needed to be on finding Glen. Nothing else mattered. So eventually, I went home because I had to break the news to the children.”
“How did they take it?”
“It was hard, of course. I know the words âDad,' âaccident,' âmissing'âthey all came out in the course of the conversation, but for the life of me I have no recollection of saying them. All I remember is Mag's sweet voice cracking when she asked for her daddy. We hugged and cried together. Even Connor cried so hard he couldn't speak.”
“How painful for all of you.”
“Oh, it was. But it was just the start.”
Nina recounted the first night after Glen had gone missing, reliving those moments in vivid detail for Dr. Wilcox's benefit. That evening she felt like she was hosting a wake for a person who wasn't dead. At least forty people were in the house, probably more, with cars lining the side of the road almost to the end of the street.
Several news vans had parked out front, their bright portable lights turning twilight into daylight. They had wanted a statement from Nina and the children. They wanted tears on camera, raw emotion
that would make for a juicy tease to get viewers to tune in and satisfy advertisers.
Nina wasn't going to play their game, but she did want Glen's picture on the broadcast in case he was an amnesiac, lost and wandering. Susanna went on TV, functioning as the Garrity family spokesperson. Nina watched the News 9 broadcast live from outside her home. The picture they used for the report was of Glen smiling after a family hike to the top of Mount Monadnock. Susanna found the photo on Facebook, and everyone agreed it was the best one to use.
“Where were Maggie and Connor while all this was going on?” Dr. Wilcox asked.
“Maggie was hiding out in her room. It was too overwhelming to be downstairs. Connor wanted to go to the lake and search for his fatherâin fact, a whole group of us suggested we do just that, but the police didn't want us there. That part of Lake Winnipesauke by Governors Island has all sorts of terrain, and they had professionals on the scene, and we would have been in the way.
“Connor was really upset about not being able to help with the search, and I did what I could to reassure him the police would find his dad, that everything would be all right, but I could tell he didn't believe me. Hell, I didn't believe me either.”
“You implied things got even worse. Do you want to talk about it?”
Nina took in a breath to inflate her resolve. Some memories were harder to relive than others.
“Well, it was a chaotic night,” she said a bit apprehensively, “with people coming and going. By eleven o'clock the house had nearly emptied out. At Susanna's urging I went upstairs to get some rest. I was probably a vodka tonic away from slurring my words.”
“Understandable,” Dr. Wilcox said.
“I had just closed my eyes when my cell phone chirpedâan incoming text. It was a New Hampshire area code, six-oh-three,” Nina said, “but wasn't a number I recognized, and it wasn't anyone in my phone's contacts. In fact, the text message started off by saying they were using
an anonymous texting app that kept their identity a secret. Whoever it was didn't want to be involved, but they had something to share.”
Bitterness rode up the back of Nina's throat, the memory still so raw and cutting it was easy to conjure up her initial shock and anger.
“What was it?” Dr. Wilcox asked.
“The texterâto this day I don't know if it was a guy or a girlâbelieved Glen was seeing a woman named Teresa.”
“That was the name in the text. I'd never heard of her.”
“AndÂ â¦ and for a moment I thought it was a prank, some sick person who had seen Glen's story on the news, knew all about him, looked up my phone number somehow, and was playing with my emotions for kicks. I imagined a group huddled around a phone, laughing at this poor woman they were taunting.”
“But it wasn't a prank?”
“No. The texter sent a picture. Two pictures, actually.”
The first picture Nina described had been too small for her to see clearly, but with a touch of her finger she'd expanded it into a larger image, filling her phone's display.
She saw Glen out at night, lit by a camera's flash, standing in front of a bar or restaurant Nina did not recognize, dressed in clothes she did recognize. He had his arm draped around a young woman who was heavily made up, hoop earrings almost touching her shoulders, choker necklace in place, dressed for a night on the town in a short black skirt, calf-high leather boots, and a tight-fitting black top that showed off the swell of her breasts.
The woman's strawberry-blond hair fell well past her shoulders, framing a slightly freckled face with enviable cheekbones, vibrant eyes, and a generous smile that was the early stage of a laugh. She radiated sexuality, lust. Glen had his head turned, his face pressed up against her cheek, his lips puckered, attached to her like a remora on a shark. Even though it was a frozen moment, Nina could still tell it
was an intimate kiss, not a quick peck. Glen's blue eyes shone with delight.
The second picture she received left no doubt about the sort of kisses they shared. Glen had his lips pressed firmly against Teresa's, their mouths locked open, his hands squeezing her backside hard enough for Nina to see the strain put on his knuckles.
Almost two years later, she could recall the follow-up text message verbatim.
This girl is Teresa Mitchell. She's my friend. Saw Glen's picture on TV. Think he's your husband. Knew him as Teresa's boyfriend. They were in love. Didn't know he was married. Took these photos when we were out together. Sorry for everything. Thought you deserved the truth.
Nina's hands shook so fiercely, she could barely type a reply.
Where? Where were these taken? When?
The Muddy Moose Carson NH. Teresa works there. That's where they met. Sorry to be the one to tell you. You have my sympathy. Good-bye.
Dr. Wilcox took in a sharp breath. “What did you do?”
“Well, that same night I sent the pictures to the police, of course, and gave them the number of the texter, because after all my husband was missing, and this woman, Teresa, could have had something to do with it. But I was worried, you know, afraid how much worse it would get.”
“We were about to become a living, breathing
special. âCheating husband vanishes. Was the grieving wife all an act?' You get the idea.”
“Indeed. I'm guessing there's more to this story.”
“Much more,” Nina said.
Oh, the dreaded, dreaded half hour. Some people hate gym, or get stomach cramps before math, English, or Spanish, but no, not me. I love all those classes. I love school. Homework doesn't bother me in the slightest. I don't get knotted up over tests; I'm not a perfectionist like that. But I am abysmally miserable during lunch.
I should explain. Lunch is where the complicated social structure of middle school gets sorted out. Groups are defined mostly by where they eat: the football team has three tables; soccer has a few; drama and band each have their own section of our incredibly noisy cafeteriaâand so on. According to our guidance counselor, all that BS we heard in grade school about being inclusive doesn't apply in the dog-eat-dog world of middle school. Here, our friend groups form because of how we spend our time outside of school, in various clubs, sports, and whatnot, which is why the jocks and nerds mix like oil and water.
Up until midway through last year, my friend group was made up mainly of the lacrosse team, a mix of boys and girls who played the game (club in the fall, school team in the spring) and hung out together all year round. We went to each other's houses for parties, swimming, goofing off on trampolines, that kind of stuff. Since this was my friend group, naturally we ate lunch together, or at least that's what we did until I got the boot, and no, I don't mean the kind you walk in.
I won't bother naming all the names, because they don't matter anymore. All except for two: Justin D'Abbraccio and Laura Abel. Justin is the clich
cute boy in schoolâstar lacrosse player, drummer in the jazz band, alpine ski racer, floppy hair and dreamy green eyes. Laura Abel is the girl at the center of it all. She is an expert dresser, the gorgeous, all-American-blonde type, with a nose for sniffing out gossip the same way Daisy can locate a morsel of dropped food. She is the queen of conflict, starting fights or resolving them whenever she wants, and has a crucial opinion when it comes to picking sides. Basically, she is the person other kids turn to when they aren't sure how to think or feel.
It's Laura who gets invited to all the “cool” parties, Laura who wins the class elections, Laura who gets the most attention from the boys. Her social media posts are mandatory reads, always with an avalanche of comments decorated with colorful emojis. To get a comment back feels like being anointed with special powers, to be one of the chosen, even if your moment in the spotlight was as fleeting as a shooting star.
It's not as if people don't have a voice of their own, or they can't make something happen without Laura's involvement.
They just don't want to.
Everything between Laura and me turned sour in June of last year, near the end of seventh grade. By that point, the police had put out word they were looking for Teresa Mitchell in connection to my dad's disappearance, so everyone knew or at least suspected that he'd had an affair. They also knew (because Connor had said something to his friends and word travels fast in Seabury) that my mom and Mr. Fitch were going out to dinner together, meaning I had more than enough strikes to make me a social outcast. But to my ex-friends' credit, they didn't seem to care about my father's secrets or my mom and a teacher at school who might or might not be becoming an item.
But Laura cared a whole heck of a lot that Justin D'Abbraccio was being extra nice to me on account of everything I'd gone through that year. You see, Laura and Justin were dating. Dating in middle school
meant eating lunch together, texting each other constantly, and sending pictures and messages over whatever social media thingy was in fashion at the moment. It was basically a meaningless label that had
of meaning, if that makes any sense.
Now imagine thisâJustin started texting me and liking my posts. He also started hanging out by my locker, waiting for me to show up. It's not like
were dating or anything. But his parents had split up the year before while Laura's were still married, so maybe he felt compassion for me. Maybe he understood I was suffering, and, God forbid, wanted to ease my pain a little.
Laura didn't care one tiny bit about Justin's motives. She cared about competition and nothing more. I wasn't as pretty or as well dressed as Laura Abel, but I was a heck of a lot better lacrosse player. Now, if I had Justin on my arm, it was easy to see how damaging that could have been to her social status. Which was why Laura went on the offensive. She started a campaign against me, backbiting, spreading rumors (“You won't believe what Maggie Garrity said about you!”) and making sure people knew that if they hung out with me, they weren't welcome in Laura's circle anymore.
Well, it didn't take long for bad to go to worse. One day I was poor Maggie Garrity, the girl whose world had been turned upside down, and the next I was a rat-fink bitch of the highest order. All of my lacrosse friends turned into frenemies. I started getting tagged in social media posts of parties I wasn't invited to. Someone flagged me on Facebook for being inappropriate (FYI, I wasn't, and I don't use Facebook anymore).
There was other bullying going onâlike posts that went up on social media implying my father was a pedophile and may have abused me; a website listing that basically advertised a young girl looking for hot guys and included my mobile phone number. (FYI, I got a new phone number.)
None of this, not one of the attacks against me, got pinned on Laura, but trust me, she was behind it all. In the end, it didn't really matter.
Laura could be suspended or not; I could do all of the self-esteem-building stuff the guidance counselor recommended, read all of her pamphlets on how to deal with bullyingâI'd still eat lunch alone.
It wasn't like I could go clique jumping (really, that's not a thing), and the other activities I was involved in (student council and newspaper club) I had picked because that's what the lacrosse kids were doing, so those were now off-limits. I could have made waves with the principal, because bullying is such a big deal these days, but instead I played it down. The only thing I'd get by calling out my bullies would have been more bullying.
Justin quickly realized that his allegiance was with Laura, and just like that he acted like I didn't exist. Which brought us to this point: me eating lunch alone with a stupid boot on my foot, my dad gone, and terrible Simon in my house.
There were two chairs between me and Jackson and Addie, or Jaddy as they were better known, a new school couple who were so in love I could have sat on Jackson's lap and he wouldn't have noticed me. I was stabbing a grape with my fork, imagining it was Simon on the receiving end, when a boy came over to my table.
I knew him, of course, because Seabury isn't a big school and everyone knows everyone here. But if we'd exchanged a dozen words with each other over the years, I couldn't have said what they were. Benjamin Odell was not an athlete, but he was a mathleteâone of the best math students in the school, in fact, though I didn't know what class he was taking, because it was so much higher than everyone else's level.
Ben was rail thin. Whatever muscle he had went to moving his limbs, not much more than that. To me, it looked as though his mother cut his short brown hair, or maybe he did it himself, because it was a little lopsided in the front. Somehow it was sweetly endearing, a throwback to grade school, when most of us didn't realize what we actually looked like. He had a gap between his front teeth, and his wire-rimmed glasses seemed flimsy for such thick lenses.
“Can I sit here?” Ben said to me.
Ben was a rover during lunch period, a real rarity. He'd sometimes eat with the band kids (he played some instrument, I wasn't sure which), sometimes it would be with the other mathletes, or sometimes, sin of all sins, he'd sit with whatever teacher was assigned lunch duty. Today he wanted to sit with me, and I couldn't figure out why.
He brought his lunch from home, but I didn't think he had an allergy like I did, because he was never in my nut-free classes in grade school. All us “nut cases,” as we affectionately called each other, were usually grouped together out of convenience.
I nodded my head toward the empty chair next to Jackson.
I said without saying it, and down went Ben.
He organized his food: some kind of sandwich with mustard, a batch of baby carrots, a carton of milk, and a few cookies. I had a cheese sandwich, cut-up cucumbers, those grapes, and brownies Mom had baked. She did that from time to time.
“I've noticed you eat alone a lot,” he said.
My social status has sunk so low that I'm getting sympathy from the class geek.
“It's not a big school, Ben,” I said. “I'm pretty sure you know why.”
“Do you want to talk, or do you like to eat in silence?”
Ben was funny, not the haha kind, but the peculiar kind. He was nice enough, I guess, but all I really knew about him was that he was supposedly on the autism spectrum somewhereâlike an Asperger's kid, I think. Wherever he was on that spectrum, if in fact he was on it at all, it would have to have been on the super-duper-smart end of it.
“I can talk and eat,” I told him. “I'm multitalented that way.”
“I heard you moved,” he said. “How do you like your new house?” I was about to answer him, but Ben continued talking. “I moved last year. I hate my new house,” he said. “It's smellyâlike old cheese.”
And then Ben smiled, and when he did, something inside me opened upâa little door that had closed to people like him, people different from me. Maybe it was because of my circumstances, or it could be I'd developed more empathy, or perhaps I was feeling especially glum
that day, or maybe it was his gap-toothed smile. Whatever it was, I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly glad that Benjamin Odell had decided to sit down next to me at lunch.
A smile came to my face as I thought about Laura Abel, Justin D'Abbraccio, and all those fake people who'd pretended to be my friends. I looked at Ben like he was crazy or something, and then a laugh came out of me.
And with that laugh, for the first time in a long time, I felt less alone.