For Better and Worse – Margot Hunt

Seventeen Years Earlier On their first date, Will took Natalie to a cozy French bistro in uptown New Orleans. The restaurant was painted a dark, moody red and had gilt-framed mirrors on the walls that reflected the candles that flickered on every table. It was a popular eatery and every table was full, even on a Thursday night. It was also nearby the Tulane University campus, where Will and Nat were both law students. They’d each ordered the steak-frites—which had given them reason to exchange a brief smile. We’re so compatible we ordered the same thing! And shared a bottle of the house red, which was better than expected. While they sipped their wine, and waited for their salads to arrive, they chatted about the Contracts class they had together. “Word on the street is that Professor Harley met his wife when she was his student,” Will said. “Seriously? Isn’t there a rule against professors dating students?” “I’m sure there is. Maybe they kept it quiet until after she’d graduated,” Will said, thinking that Natalie had especially nice eyebrows, and wondering if it was odd that he found them erotic. Was it weird to be attracted to a woman’s eyebrows? “Still, he was taking a pretty big risk.” Will shrugged. “They must have thought it was worth it. Maybe it was true love.” Nat felt her cheeks flush at his mention of love.

She looked down at the wineglass in her hand and rotated the stem slowly. Nat had been surprised when Will asked her out, and she still wasn’t entirely sure she was interested in him. Yes, he was funny and handsome, but he certainly wasn’t her type. Most of her past boyfriends had been thin and pale, with esoteric taste in music and movies, and who went too long between haircuts. Whatever it was they were interested in—computers, postmodern literature, political activism—they were always very serious about it. Will couldn’t have been more different. As far as she could tell, he didn’t take anything seriously. He was also blond and broad-shouldered and square-jawed. He even had dimples, for Christ’s sake. She knew without asking that he was athletic.

A former lacrosse player, she guessed, or maybe he’d rowed on his school’s crew team. He had lightly tanned skin and blue-gray eyes, that changed a bit depending on what color he was wearing, and he was undeniably cocky—a trait Nat had never found attractive. And yet… Will made her laugh. They sat next to one another in Contracts class—Professor Harley had passed around a seating chart on the first day, so everyone was stuck in the seats they’d randomly chosen for the rest of the semester—and Will would pass her notes with funny comments or sketches he’d drawn on his notepad. Then Nat had bumped into Will at a mixer the law school had sponsored at a local bar. They’d spent the evening talking and laughing together, and at the end of the night, Will had asked her out. Natalie had to admit—to herself, at least—that she was intrigued. Will lifted the bottle and poured more wine into Natalie’s glass. “What are you planning to do after law school?” “I’m going to move back to Florida and hopefully get a job with a public defender’s office to learn the ropes,” Nat said promptly. “Then, once I have some experience, I’m going to open my own criminal law practice.

” “Are you always so indecisive?” Will grinned at her. Natalie was slightly put off by Will’s grin. Yes, it was sexy and charming, but she had the feeling that Will trotted it out whenever he wanted people to think he was sexy and charming. She had never liked players. “You don’t know what you want to do yet?” Will shrugged. “I guess wherever I can get a job. If I can get a job. The market for new lawyers isn’t exactly hopping at the moment.” The waitress appeared with two salads, lightly dressed, and set them down on the table. “This looks very tasty,” Will said once the waitress had left.

“And by eating it, I’m taking care of my monthly vegetable serving.” “You’re not a veggie person?” “I like vegetables that look and taste like meat. Or tacos.” Natalie wrinkled her nose. “Ick.” “Just what every guy hopes he hears on his first date.” Will grinned at Nat again, and this time she couldn’t help but return the smile. “But you must have some idea of what kind of law you want to practice,” she said, returning to their pre-salad conversation. “I know I don’t ever want to be inside a courtroom, if I can help it,” Will said, spearing lettuce on his fork. “But beyond that, I have no idea.

” “Really? I think being in court would be much more interesting than spending all day in an office. It’s partly why I want to go into criminal law.” “What’s the other part?” “You know.” Nat waved a hand. “Standing up for the wrongly accused. Truth, justice, the American way. All of that high-minded stuff.” “You might be missing a fairly big downside,” Will suggested. He pushed his plate away and leaned forward, propping his elbows on the white tablecloth. “Like what?” “All of your clients will be criminals.

” Natalie lifted one finger. “Accused criminals.” “Okay, but if you only defend the wrongly accused, you’ll starve slowly. Or, maybe starve quickly. Odds are pretty good that you’ll be spending a large portion of your time with some pretty despicable people.” Will was enjoying the back-and-forth. He’d had a crush on Nat since they’d met on that first day of Contracts class. For one thing, she was hot, with her compact athletic body and long, wavy brown hair, and Will very much approved of her fondness for short skirts. But he also liked Nat’s dry wit and the way her blue eyes lit up when she was engaged in a conversation. He kept finding himself wanting to impress her.

“You might want to think your plan through.” “Not a chance. Besides, people who’ve been accused of committing a crime—” Nat began. “You mean criminals?” Will interrupted. “Innocent until proven guilty,” Nat corrected him, although her smile softened the reprimand. “How different are they from you and me? They’re just people, some of whom made bad choices, yes, but some of whom just ended up in bad situations, or had a run of bad luck. Couldn’t that happen to anyone?” The waiter appeared. He poured the rest of the wine into their glasses, then cleared the salad plates. “Your entrées will be right out.” “Thank you,” Nat said, smiling at him.

Once the waiter left, Will said, “It might not be politically correct to say so, but for starters, most criminals—excuse me, people accused of committing a crime—aren’t as smart as you and I are.” “That is arrogant!” Nat stared at him in disbelief. She should have known that anyone who had an endless supply of striped oxford shirts, and who wore loafers without socks, would not be her type. “Why?” “Because it’s cocky. And superior. And smug.” “Cocky, superior and smug, huh? Don’t hold back, let me know how you really feel.” “You can’t go around saying that you’re smarter than other people.” “Even if it’s true?” “Especially if it’s true!” “Have you heard those guys on the radio who do that weekly Stupid Crimes spot? Just yesterday they were talking about a man who chained an ATM to the bumper of his truck, tried to drive off with it and ended up leaving the bumper—complete with the attached license plate—at the scene of the crime.” Will began to laugh.

“And then when the police went to arrest him, he tried to claim that he hadn’t been trying to steal the ATM, but that—get this—the bank had hired him to test how secure it was. I’m smarter than that guy, for sure.” “You have to give him credit for a really creative excuse.” “No, I don’t. And if your crime is highlighted on a radio spot called Stupid Crimes, you’re probably not a criminal mastermind.” “Okay, yes, some criminals do really dumb things,” Nat agreed. “But not all of them. Some of them are dealing with drug or psychiatric issues, or have other extenuating reasons for why they’re committing crimes.” “Maybe, but still—the smart ones don’t get caught.” “Do you really think that’s true?” “I do.

” Will took a sip of his wine. “I bet if we wanted to, you and I could plan the perfect crime. Maybe even the perfect murder.” “But why would we want to?” Natalie could feel herself drawn toward him again. At least Will wasn’t boring. Most of the law students she met were such grinders, and talked incessantly about their class notes and outlines and class standings. “I don’t know. Don’t you have anyone you’d like to knock off?” “I have to admit, I really can’t stand Professor Carlson,” Nat said. Carlson was their Civil Procedure professor, and he took great and obvious pleasure in using the Socratic method to humiliate his first-year law students. “In fact, I hate him with every fiber of my being.

Everyone does. I’m pretty sure even his dog hates him.” “Perfect. Let’s say we decided we want to kill Professor Carlson. I bet we could do it and never get caught. I mean, that guy has to have a lot of enemies, right? Several decades of law school graduates who he ritually humiliated.” “How would we go about doing that?” Nat asked. “That’s an excellent question. Obviously, nothing as tacky as buying a gun and shooting him.” “Of course not.

We wouldn’t want to be vulgar while committing a homicide.” “Exactly. Poison, maybe?” Will suggested. Outside, a boom of thunder sounded. Rain began to patter rhythmically against the tall glass windows of the restaurant. The hum of conversation around them, mixed with the clinks of cutlery on plateware, somehow made their conversation seem even more intimate. Will wondered if he should order another bottle of wine. “Isn’t poison supposed to be the favored murder weapon for women? Although, now that I think about it, I might have read that in an Agatha Christie novel.” “The only problem with poison is that someone, somewhere, has to buy the poison,” Will mused. “That can be traced.

And then you’d have to find a way to administer the poison without your victim noticing.” “You’re not giving up already?” “Of course not. I just want to make sure we get it right, and don’t end up in jail for the rest of our lives. What about bludgeoning him to death, then finding a foolproof way to discard the murder weapon? Like a log that could be burned. Or, there’s the garrote, always popular among assassins. All you need is a length of piano wire and nerves of steel.” “Yikes, that’s even more brutal than a gun.” “If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, you may not make the best accomplice,” Will pointed out. “I would be an excellent accomplice.” Nat tossed her hair back over her shoulders.

“What about DNA or fingerprints or witnesses?” “First of all, there wouldn’t be any witnesses. We’re too smart for that. And whatever our murder weapon of choice would be, obviously we’d take precautions not to leave behind any physical evidence. We’d be too careful to take any unnecessary risks,” Will asserted. “And most important, we’d never confess. You’d be amazed how many people break down under police questioning. If you refuse to say anything, refuse even to be interviewed, it forces the police to build a case against you. And if they don’t have any slam-dunk evidence, how are they going to do that?” “You make it all sound so easy,” Nat said. “Easy, no. I doubt it would be easy to take a life.

But I think if you had to—I mean, if we had to—” Will amended, “we could absolutely get away with it.” “I’m not sure if I should be flattered or frightened,” Nat mused. “Definitely flattered,” Will said, flashing another cocky grin. “Well, then.” Nat raised her wineglass in a mock toast, as another boom of thunder sounded outside. “To our future as criminal masterminds.” Will clinked his glass against hers. “To getting away with it.” PART ONE Natalie CHAPTER 1 I hadn’t known it at the time, but it was the last normal weekend of my life. If I had known what was coming, I might have chosen to spend those days differently.

I wouldn’t have wasted time cleaning out the refrigerator, for example, or spent that hour running to nowhere on the treadmill at the gym. But no matter what was looming, I still wouldn’t have missed our family’s weekly trip to the beach on that beautiful Sunday in late February. It was one of the best parts about living in our small seaside Florida town of Shoreham. Most of the rest of the country was digging out from under the most recent snowstorm and shivering through frigid temperatures. We, though, were enjoying perfect beach weather. Not too hot, not too cold. “Come on, you guys,” Charlie yelled over his shoulder as he thumped up the wooden boardwalk that led from the parking lot to the beach. He was leading our dog, Rocket, on a blue nylon leash, and the black dog trotted after him, his favorite ratty tennis ball clenched in his teeth. The boardwalk sloped crookedly over the dunes, winding through overgrown sea grape shrubs, and they were both soon out of my sight. “I guess he’s not waiting for us,” I commented.

Will was pulling our beach chairs and assorted gear out from the back of our SUV. “Do you want me to carry the beach bag?” he asked. “No, I’ve got it.” I heaved the bag up onto my shoulder. “Are you sure? That thing weighs a ton.” “I said I’ve got it.” I headed toward the boardwalk, Will trailing after me. We’d started the tradition of going to the beach every Sunday morning that the weather allowed, no matter what my trial schedule looked like, or how busy Will was at the office, when Charlie was still a toddler. Back then, Charlie’s favorite beach activity was to stand at the shoreline, and play tag with the water as it rolled in. He’d run from it, giggling and screeching when it reached his plump little feet.

The memory always made me smile, especially now that Charlie was eleven and his baby years had disappeared, never to return. “The water looks great,” Will said as we reached the end of the boardwalk. The ocean was finally in sight, navy blue and churning with white-topped waves. “I hope it’s warmer than it was last week. It took three days for my testicles to descend back to their normal resting place.” “Good to know. Thank you for sharing that.” “You know I like to keep you informed about the status of my testicles.” I shaded my eyes and looked for Charlie. He’d already dumped the boogie boards and was down by the shoreline, throwing Rocket’s tennis ball for him where the sand was firm.

Rocket was a small dog with ears too big for his head and an energy level that never fully abated. He raced after the ball, barking happily. “There they are.” I nodded in our son’s direction. Will and I wove our way down the beach to join them. When we reached the spot Charlie had chosen, Will set up the chairs while I dropped the heavy canvas bag on the sand, relieved to be rid of the weight. I wasn’t sure why I’d insisted on carrying it, when I knew Will wouldn’t have minded. My husband grabbed his boogie board. “Last one in is a boy band singer,” he called out to Charlie, who laughed his deep, froggy laugh that always made me smile. Charlie ran to get his own board, and the two of them waded out into the ocean.

Rocket raced behind them, although he ventured only a few inches into the water, and backtracked every time a wave rolled toward him. I sat down, took in a deep breath of salt air and felt the tension in my shoulder muscles relax. It was good to be outside in the sunshine, after a week of sitting under the fluorescent lights at my office. It had been a rough week in the life of Natalie Clarke, criminal attorney and defender of the downtrodden. One of my clients, a single mother named Melanie Bell, had been arrested a few months earlier for drug possession, after the police found a plastic sandwich bag full of pills in her car during a routine traffic stop. Unfortunately for Melanie, it was her third offense, and the best plea deal I could get out of the State’s Attorney assigned to the case—a sour-faced woman named Christine Christof, who hated defense attorneys, as though our doing our jobs was a personal offense to her—was a ten-month sentence. It wasn’t a great offer, and when I’d relayed it to Melanie, she’d burst into tears, insisting that she couldn’t possibly be away from her three young children for that long. Against my advice, Melanie decided to instead take an open plea. This meant that she would plead guilty to the drug possession and let the judge decide on her sentence. I tried to explain to her that this was a risky strategy.

Yes, the judge might be sympathetic to her situation. If she went to jail, her children would end up in foster care, which was never ideal. Melanie had successfully completed a drug addiction program five years earlier, and remained clean until her recent relapse was brought on by a painful hernia surgery. Even though she was a good candidate for another rehab program, the judge could also just as easily give her an even longer sentence than the one being offered by the State’s Attorney. But Melanie had insisted, and on the previous Thursday morning, had entered her open guilty plea. The judge sentenced her to eighteen months. Melanie lashed out physically and verbally, and eventually had to be restrained by the deputies assigned to the courtroom. I had to stand aside while they fastened handcuffs to her wrists. “I’m so sorry, Melanie,” I said, meaning it. I had told her the risks, warned her what could happen, but in the end, it had been her decision.

Still, I felt badly for her. I couldn’t imagine being separated from Charlie for that long. When Melanie stopped fighting the deputies, she turned to look at me with an expression that was so malevolent, so hateful, I almost took a step back. “You fucking bitch,” she said. “This is all your fault.” And then Melanie spat in my face. I’d felt a mixture of pity and revulsion, watching the deputies drag her away. But mostly, as I wiped her saliva off my face with a crumpled tissue I’d found in the bottom of my briefcase, I’d felt weary. I had been practicing criminal law for almost fifteen years, first as a public defender, then opening my own practice. And, yes, there had been moments during that time when I’d triumphed, times I’d helped good people out of bad situations.

But then there were the days when my clients felt justified to spit in my face. Somewhere in between were all the other days when I mostly felt ineffectual, a small cog in a broken judicial system. I knew a morning at the beach would chase away my ennui. I would burrow my feet into the sand, gaze out at the calming vista of the sky meeting the sea, and let the sun bake my skin until I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to dive into the water to cool off. It was just what I needed. “Do you have sunscreen on?” I called out to Charlie. He feigned deafness and raced back out into the waves to join his dad. I rubbed SPF 50 onto my pale arms as I watched Will and Charlie ride their boogie boards through the surf. Rocket barked happily in the shallows, waiting for them to reach the shore. “Mom, did you see that wave?” Charlie yelled.

“It was three stories tall!” The wave wasn’t even close to being that big, but I grinned and gave him a thumbs-up. “Are you coming in?” he called. “In a minute,” I said. “I want to sit for a bit and read my book.” Charlie bent down to pet Rocket, then turned and ran back in the surf after his father. My eyes drifted toward my husband, who was joking and laughing with Charlie about something. Will had started going to the gym regularly recently, and it was starting to pay off. His stomach was flat again, and I could see new definition in his arm and chest muscles. I was glad he was taking better care of himself. At least, I told myself I should be happy about it.

And yet… I couldn’t help but wonder what had prompted this sudden change in lifestyle. Anxiety fluttered up inside me whenever I wondered if it wasn’t a what that had prompted a change, but instead a who. Was it possible Will was having an affair? A decade earlier, I would have laughed at the idea. Back then, when Charlie was a baby, and we were both trying to figure out how to balance parenthood with demanding careers, Will had still been my best friend. We’d delighted together in Charlie’s smiles and general adorableness, and even the lack of sleep seemed like something we’d one day look back on fondly. Every evening, once Charlie was asleep, we’d collapse on the couch together, usually with a glass of wine and something mindless on the television. And on the weeks when I was in trial, Will would get Chinese takeout, and listen to me practice my closing arguments over cartons of fried rice and kung pao chicken. I wasn’t sure when that had changed. As the years had marched on, first slowly, then faster and faster still, I could feel Will moving away, a distance growing steadily between us. These days, he preferred to retreat to the home office after dinner, rather than spend the evening alone with me.

Romantic weekend trips were a thing of the past, replaced by Saturdays spent at Charlie’s soccer games or ferrying him around to karate class and classmates’ birthday parties. I couldn’t even remember the last time we’d gone out on our own, without clients or friends accompanying us. We hadn’t had sex in months. And now, suddenly, my forty-year-old husband had lost fifteen pounds and was looking like he had in his twenties. I knew it didn’t necessarily mean anything nefarious was going on. It wasn’t like weight loss was proof that Will was having an affair. Except…there was also his recent obsession with his phone. The device was practically glued to his hand, day and night. Will never, ever left it behind, not even just to head into the kitchen to rummage through the fridge. And whenever I walked up behind him, he’d suddenly set the phone facedown, so I couldn’t see what he was doing.

When I asked him why he was hiding it from me, he said I was being paranoid. Am I being paranoid? I wondered. Will and Charlie rode in on a wave together. Charlie whooped as he fell off his boogie board and the wave crested over him. Will managed to stay on his board, but just barely. He stood up to shake the water out of his hair. I was fairly sure he was sucking in his stomach, and wondered if it was for the benefit of the gaggle of tanned, bikini-clad twentysomethings who were sitting a few yards away. “Dad, come on,” Charlie said, ready to plunge back into the ocean. “I’m going to take a break,” Will told him. “Rocket is dying to chase his ball.

” Rocket, hearing both his name and the word ball—his favorite of all the words he knew—started barking frantically. Will grabbed the damp and sandy tennis ball and pitched it down the beach. Rocket raced off after it. The bikini girls watched and laughed as the small dog leaped athletically in the air to catch the ball in his mouth. Rocket trotted triumphantly back to Will, his whiplike tail wagging happily. “He’s adorable,” one of the girls said, rising up on her elbows, flaunting a taut core. And another, not to be outdone, chimed in. “What breed of dog is he?” Will turned and grinned at them. “He’s a terrier mix, but he thinks he’s as fierce as a rottweiler and as fast as a greyhound.” The girls tittered with laughter.

“That’s so cute,” one of them cooed. I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. “Mom,” Charlie called. “Take a picture of me riding this wave!” I obediently pulled out my digital camera and stood. Just as I was wondering if the sunlight was too bright, too harsh, a cloud passed over, softening the glare. I quickly snapped a bunch of photos as Charlie turned back to the ocean and paddled out with his boogie board. That night Will grilled hamburgers for dinner while I baked sweet potato fries and tossed a salad. I tasked Charlie with bringing out the plates and silverware to the table on our back deck, and followed behind him with a tray of side dishes and condiments. “What’s your favorite dinosaur?” Charlie asked once we were all settled in at the table, burgers in hand. “Triceratops,” I said immediately.

I knew this game and the responses it required. What’s your favorite mammal? Elephant. Marine animal? Whale. Fictional animal? Phoenix. “Triceratops?” Charlie repeated scornfully, although he knew this would be my answer. “They’re so lame.” I dipped a sweet potato fry in barbecue sauce. “They’re one of the only dinosaurs that could fend off an attack from a T. rex. That’s not lame.

” “Dad, what’s your favorite dinosaur?” “I don’t have one.” “Just pick one,” Charlie insisted. “What’s the one in the Jurassic Park movie that kills off all the humans and opens doors with its claws?” “The Velociraptor,” Charlie said. “But they weren’t as big in real life as they were in the movie. And they had feathers, so they probably looked more like a bird.” “Pretty scary bird,” Will commented. Charlie took the tiniest of tiny bites of his hamburger. “Did you know they discovered a giant prehistoric snake called the Titanoboa? I saw a video of it online fighting a T. rex. Although that would never have happened, because they lived in different time periods.

” “Then how did they manage to get a video of the fight?” Will teased him. Charlie looked perplexed. “It was a reenactment. They didn’t have video cameras then. Or people.” “I know. I was kidding. Eat your dinner.” After we finished, Charlie and I cleared the table, and Will loaded the plates into the dishwasher. “Go take a shower,” I told Charlie.

“And don’t forget to use soap.” “I always use soap. Except for that one time I forgot. Oh, and that other time.” “That’s why I always remind you.” ” Charlie headed off toward his bathroom. “Who forgets to soap up in the shower?” Will asked. “Your son,” I said. I opened the refrigerator door and began putting the condiments away. I looked up to see that Will was watching me.

“Why are you staring at me?” “Did you get your hair cut?” I lifted a hand self-consciously to the nape of my neck, which still felt naked. “A few days ago. You just noticed?” “You had it clipped back all weekend.” I actually hadn’t been wearing it up. My new bob was too short to put in a ponytail, a fact that was already making me regret cutting it so short. I suddenly felt self-conscious. “Do you like it?” “Sure.” Will kept looking at me with an odd expression on his face. “What?” “Why did you ever cut your hair short? When we were in law school, it was really long.” “You know I cut most of it off when Charlie was a baby.

” “Why?” “Because he used to grab it and pull it all the time. Don’t you remember? For such a tiny baby, he had a death grip. Besides, it took forever to dry, especially in the humidity. And it wasn’t very professional.” “I liked it,” Will said. I started to have the odd, unpleasant feeling that we were talking about something other than my hair. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have at the moment, so I turned back to putting away the condiments. “Don’t forget to update the calendar when you get a chance,” I said. We kept a large monthly whiteboard calendar in the kitchen, with everyone’s schedule laid out in their own color—mine in red, Will’s in green and Charlie’s in blue. We were all so busy, with work and school and assorted extracurricular activities, it was the only way to stay on top of our plans.

I made sure Charlie’s and my schedules were marked in for the next week by Sunday, but I always had to remind Will to update his agenda. “I love it when you talk sexy like that,” Will said, as he added a detergent pellet to the little tray on the inside door of the dishwasher. I smiled. “You think calendars are sexy?” “No, I hate calendars. And I hate that calendar in particular.” I glanced at the calendar, which had an attractive wood frame. “What’s wrong with it? I bought it at Pottery Barn.” “That doesn’t make it better. I sometimes have nightmares about that calendar chasing me down and eating me alive.” “What’s going on with you? Why are you being so hostile toward our calendar? It’s an inanimate object.

” “It’s your calendar, not our calendar. And sometimes I just chafe against all the strict Natalieimposed dictates over our lives.” I shut the refrigerator door and turned slowly toward him. I could feel my temper rising, pressing hotly in my chest. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Will shrugged, which suddenly struck me as an annoyingly passive-aggressive gesture. “I just wonder sometimes what would happen if the calendar wasn’t filled in. If Charlie’s every activity wasn’t planned out. Hell, if we didn’t live or die by the weekly menu plan. What would happen if this Thursday, we had steaks on the grill, instead of—” Will walked over to read the calendar, where I’d also written in the dinner menu for the week “—baked pork chops. Would life end as we know it if we didn’t eat pork chops on Thursday? I don’t think it would.

I think we’d be just fine.” I stared at him, wondering where this attack was coming from. “You may not have noticed, but we both work full-time,” I said tersely. “I plan out our menu, and the corresponding shopping list, so that we actually eat home-cooked meals instead of having takeout every night. If you have a problem with how I do that, you’re perfectly free to take over the meal planning and grocery shopping.” Will sighed heavily. “Never mind.” He closed the dishwasher with more force than strictly necessary, then brushed by me to open the refrigerator. Will grabbed a bottle of beer—which, ironically, I had purchased the day before during the very weekly shopping trip he apparently found so oppressive in his life—and popped the top off. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing.” “It’s clearly not nothing. My menu planning and shopping list somehow offend you. Please elaborate.” I crossed my arms over my chest. Will ran a hand over his head and looked tired. “No, you’re right. I shouldn’t have said anything.” But now I wasn’t ready to let it go. “Then why do you keep picking on me? First my hair, now the calendar.

The menu planning and shopping list… Is there anything else you’d like to criticize?” “I’m not criticizing you. I just wonder sometimes what would happen if something in your life went off plan. How you would handle it.” I let out a humorless bark of laughter. “What are you talking about? I’m a trial attorney. Things go off plan all the time. Every day. Just a few days ago, one of my clients spat at me.” “But that’s just it—there are bright line rules that determine what happens in court. When your client spit on you, the deputies cuffed her and dragged her away, right? Which is exactly the response you’d expect. It’s probably the reason you were drawn to this profession in the first place.” “Thank you for that psychoanalysis.” “I’m not criticizing you. I’m just making an observation. You like rules and order and calendars.” Will waved a hand in the direction of the whiteboard. “It’s your comfort zone. You wouldn’t be happy as a soldier in Fallujah, wondering if you’re about to be ambushed by insurgent forces.” “And that’s what you think your job as an estate lawyer compares to? A soldier in a war zone?” “No, of course not. I wasn’t saying anything of the kind. But, yes, I do think that I’m more flexible and easygoing in general.” “How nice of you to share that sentiment with me,” I said sarcastically. Will took another swig of his beer, then looked around as if he’d lost something. I wondered why he was suddenly so antsy when I saw that his gaze fell on his phone, sitting facedown on the counter. He grabbed it and typed a pass code to unlock the screen. That was another thing—he never used to have a lock screen on his phone. “Why do you keep your phone locked?” “What?” he answered without lifting his head. “You never used to lock it. You said it irritated you to have to punch in a pass code every time you wanted to listen to a voice mail.” “It’s supposed to be safer to keep it locked. What if it was stolen? I have clients’ information on here,” he said. “Speaking of which, I need to go send out a few emails before I wind down for the night. I’ll take Rocket for a walk when I’m done.” Will strode off. A few beats later, I heard the door to our home office close. I spent a few minutes scrubbing the kitchen counters with more force than necessary, breathing heavily through my nose. So now I was a control freak? Yes, I liked to stay on top of our schedule, but why was that such a bad thing? I finally gave up trying to get the coffee stain out of the granite countertop and threw the sponge in the sink. I stalked upstairs to our bedroom, where I changed into my favorite soft cotton pajamas. Our master bedroom decor was tranquil and serene, with soft gray walls and a low modern platform bed made up with simple white linens. I had kept clutter to a minimum, to keep it a calming, restful place. Although at the moment I was feeling anything but calm and restful. I pulled out my laptop and sat down on the bed with it. I had downloaded the photos I’d taken at the beach earlier, but I hadn’t had time to go through them. Photography was a relatively new hobby for me. Will had given me the camera as a Christmas present, which had been a nice surprise. At first. Right up until Will had commented—in an annoyingly condescending tone—that he thought I’d benefit from taking up a new pastime. Anyway. I still wasn’t very good. Usually, I just shot a ton of photos and then deleted most of them, which is what I did now. There were a few cute pictures of Charlie riding the waves on his boogie board. One of Charlie and Will grinning at one another. I moved those over to a file to edit later. Then I saw one of just Charlie that stopped me dead. I enlarged it and leaned forward toward the screen. In the picture, my son was facing away from the camera, looking out toward the ocean, his board tucked under one arm. His slim shoulders set back, the blades resolutely pushed together. His round hands gripping either side of the boogie board. His orange swim shirt, a size too big, pulling up and gathering at around the waist. In front of him, the ocean was swirling darkly. The water looked almost alive, churning angrily. I had been there, of course. I had taken the picture. But I didn’t remember the water looking so foreboding at the time. Now, blown up on my laptop screen, it looked like Charlie had stopped to consider whether he should take another step forward. It looked like he was about to walk straight into danger. And even though I knew my son was in his room, safe and alive, my stomach knotted with fear.

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