This blog was featured on 04/09/2019
The Better Sister: An Excerpt
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
19 days ago
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
19 days ago

This month, we are getting to know international bestseller Alafair Burke. This renowned author's latest novel is another can't-miss thriller, The Better Sister. Check out this excerpt guest editor's latest release.

6

I had no idea how long I had been at the police station. It could have been twenty minutes or three hours. It was as if time had stopped the moment I found Adam, his legs splayed unnaturally, his heather- gray T-shirt and white jersey pajama bottoms soaked with blood.

I answered every question they asked, even as my mind was fighting to accept the reality that Adam was gone, and I had no idea what life would look like without him. Then I answered them again and again, doing my best not to appear impatient or defensive.

And I could tell they didn’t believe me.

I hadn’t caught the name of every person I’d spoken to, but I had the detectives straight. Bowen and Guidry. B and G, like boy and girl. Bowen was male; Guidry was female. It’s how I remembered.

Bowen, the guy, said, “We need to call his mother.” He was tall and slender, with dark, wavy hair and angular features. His skin was pasty.

I could only imagine the look I gave him. A photographer from Cornell’s alumni magazine once told me that my natural expression made me seem “intimidating and inaccessible.” I wore my friendliest smile as I responded that I had no problem with either of those impressions.

But now I wasn’t posing for a picture. I was in a windowless room with cinder-block walls and blue linoleum floors and a door that probably used to be white—a door that I heard lock behind us after I followed the two detectives into the room. I noticed a camera hanging from the corner of the ceiling and wondered if it was on.

I wasn’t stupid, after all. The last thing I’d ever been was stupid. Despite the kind gestures—the bottled water, the coffee, the offer to help with any calls that needed to be made—I knew the police had a job to do. And testing me was part of it.

As I walked them through every horrible step—driving home from Catherine’s party, slipping keys in the door to enter a dark, silent house, finding the bedroom empty, and then circling back to the living room, seeing Adam there, on the floor, with so much blood—another part of my brain was somewhere else entirely. My words were all about that night, but the movie playing on a screen in my head was The Story of Adam and Chloe. Seeing him at the mall when I was a little kid. Meet- ing him again when he picked up Nicky. The first time he had called me, instead of Mom, when there was a problem. The move to New York. Playing on the floor of his apartment with little Ethan. The first forbidden kiss. Our feet in the sand as we exchanged rings at sunset on Main Beach. I could see all of it, vividly in bright, intense Technicolor.

The divided halves of my brain finally reconciled when an image of my hand checking Adam’s neck for a pulse managed to break through. I remembered thinking at the time that it was the same spot on his neck that I would press my cheek against when he was on top, making love to me. I could still feel his blood, dried and crusty on my black jersey jumpsuit. I could still taste the vomit that had finally come as a police officer walked me across the lawn to his car after the ambulance departed.

“Would someone have expected you and your husband to be at your house tonight?” Detective Guidry asked. She had long ash-blond hair, tied into a messy knot that seemed too playful for her profession. “We get a lot of break-ins at the part-time properties. People assume they’re empty.”

I shrugged. How was I supposed to know what a burglar would expect? “We come out every two or three weekends off-season. Some- times more. Sometimes less. No real schedule.”

I felt them judging me. They had to, right? They’d seen the house. Not huge, compared to other homes on the block, but surely more luxurious than what police were used to. And here I was, admitting how rarely we used the place beyond the summer months.

“Flip side of the coin,” Bowen said. “Did anyone know for certain that you and your husband would be there?”

“I told you before: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill Adam.” Bowen told me he understood, but then asked the question again anyway.

“I guess. I mean, I told my assistant when I left a little early today that I was trying to beat traffic. A friend wanted to have brunch in the city on Sunday, but I told her we’d be out here. And the people at the party I was at tonight—I told them that Adam was on his way out, so they might have assumed the house was empty. But obviously they were all at the party with me, and none of them would do something like—” I couldn’t bring myself to use the words to accurately describe what was happening.

“You told your friends he was ‘on his way,’ but wasn’t he actually already at your house fairly early on during the party?” Guidry’s expression was blank, but the tone of her voice made it clear she thought she’d caught me in some kind of lie.

“Easier on my friends’ feelings than explaining he wasn’t exactly a fan of their company.” I managed a dry smile, but neither detective seemed to appreciate the humor.

“It’s just a little unusual for one half of a couple to attend a party while the other one’s home,” Guidry said. “The two of you weren’t arguing or something like that?”

“You can check our texts if you’d like.” I reached into my purse for my cell, pulled up our most recent exchange of messages, and placed the phone in front of her. She glanced down at it.

7:02 pm

Heading to Catherine’s soon. ETA?

7:58 pm

Sorry, fell asleep in the car. Driver actually had to wake me up! Finally here though. Having fun? Where’s Ethan?

8:12 pm

Went to movies with Kevin. Told him he could spend the night, so you’re solo. And, yes, fun here. Bill is telling that story about hooking up with a stranger at Studio 54 before finally realizing it was . . .

8:13 pm

Has anyone guessed right yet?

8:14 pm

Everyone here has heard it before. I give it three more tries before someone finally says the name.

And BOOM, there it is. Better go. Catherine’s glaring at my phone. Think she’s about to herd us into the dining room. Not too late to join;-)

8:16 pm

Um, yeah, no. Plus ZZZZ. Pro tip: Water down Catherine’s vino when she’s not looking.

8:17 pm

Jesus. My last communication with my husband was a fucking emoji. Guidry managed a friendly nod as she slid the phone back to me. “Your husband probably told others he was heading out here tonight?”

“I guess,” I said with a shrug.

“Such as?” Bowen had his pen ready above his notebook, prepared to jot down names.

“I have no idea.” Instinctively, I reached for my phone to text Adam, then shook my head. “People at work, I guess. The clients he met with today, maybe.”

We were interrupted by a knock on the door. A uniformed officer whispered something to the detectives, and Bowen followed him out of the room.

Guidry shifted her chair toward the center of her side of the table so we were seated directly across from each other. “There’s another possibility I think we should discuss, Mrs. Taylor. Do you think there’s a chance someone went to the house looking to target you?”

I opened my mouth to tell her I had no enemies, but no words came out. I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours I had spent read- ing online posts about myself in recent months. I woke up at least once a week from a nightmare built upon the words that had become a familiar part of my daily routine—die, rape, bitch, every possible description of my breasts and genitalia. But at some level, I must never have believed that I was in actual danger. Otherwise, Guidry’s question wouldn’t have caught me so off guard. Can you have enemies if you don’t know who they are?

I swallowed before answering. “A lot of nasty comments on social media and that kind of thing. But nothing physical.”

“What kind of nasty comments?”

I reached again for my phone, pulled up my Twitter mentions, and handed it to her. Her eyes widened and then widened again as she read. “Pardon me for asking, Mrs. Taylor, but with these kinds of threats, why wasn’t the alarm set?” “The alarm?”

“At your house. You said when you got home, you entered with a key and that you didn’t need to disarm the security system. And obvi- ously the motion detectors we saw inside the house didn’t activate an alarm after the break-in occurred. But your husband was in his pajamas, and you said it looked like he had been in the bed before getting up— probably because he heard someone in the house. You’re getting these kinds of threats, and he didn’t set the alarm before going to sleep?”

“You sound like you’re blaming Adam for what happened to him.” She sat back and let out a puff of air. “Not at all, ma’am.” Ma’am?

She looked like she was older than I was. “I’m just trying to get the best sense possible of what happened tonight.”

“What happened tonight is someone murdered my husband. And we never really use the alarm when we’re at the house. I use it at night if I’m out here alone—which is rare—but otherwise it’s more for when we’re in the city. Like you said, burglars target the part-time houses.”

I imagined some amorphous figure peeking through the back window, deciding no one was home.

“And these threats,” she said, handing me my phone, “all of it was online? No letters or packages? Anyone following you home or something like that?”

I shook my head.

“We’ll take a look into it,” Bowen assured me. “We’ll be looking into everything.”

I MANAGED TO KEEP MY cool through all of it, which is absolutely what Adam would have expected of me. The police seemed satisfied. Or at least they were doing a good job of faking it.

But then I mentioned Ethan. “At least Ethan wasn’t home,” I muttered. He had gone to see the latest Marvel movie with his friend Kevin Dunham and spent the night at his house. My son was safe. At least I could hold on to that. “I need to find him. I don’t want him to hear about this when he wakes up.”

“We’ll need to call his mother,” Bowen had said.

I must have looked so confused. And irritated. And dismayed by his stupidity. Adam calls it—called it—my “not having it” face.

“I’m not having Kevin’s mother tell him about this. I barely know the woman.”

“Not Kevin’s mother. Your stepsons.”

Ethan started calling me Mama around the time he was five, after I was seeing Adam regularly, but before we got married. I corrected him at first, feeling guilty about taking the title from Nicky, not to men- tion missing the sound of his little voice saying “Glow-y.” But Adam convinced me that it was a sign Ethan missed having a maternal figure in his life.

And somehow the police already knew that I wasn’t actually my son’s mother.

The satisfaction they must have taken as they saw my face move from fatigue to offense and finally to realization.  I pictured them googling Adam. Finding our wedding announcement in the Sunday Styles section. “The groom has a son from a prior marriage.”

The police needed to call Ethan’s mother. My husband, Adam, was dead, and now his son—my son, or so it had seemed for nearly a decade—would need his mother.

I recited her home phone number from memory. It was the same number I’d had for the first eighteen years of my life. When she asked for a second number, I had to look up the mobile information in my contacts. “Her name is Nicky Macintosh. And she’s my sister.”

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