I hurry to my bedroom, reminding myself it is possible to be scared to death. Not the outcome I'm looking for in life. A scare floods your body with adrenaline, makes your heart pump faster. If you have an underlying heart problem, fright can induce sudden cardiac death. I've become a bit fixated with tragic death, so I apologize in advance. Remember, knowledge is power. I have a lot of tragic knowledge to share.
Mary's tragic death shook us all, of course. My beautiful daughter Mary, how I miss her. I'll never be able to curl her shiny dark hair, laugh with her about the lavish wedding we'd plan together one day, revel in her constant achievements, guide her choices as she prepared for her future. There is no future now, not for her. But I can focus on David and Betsy. I've been watching over them, but not engaging with them. That changes tonight. At dinner.
I'm reenergized. Truth be told, I'm a bit more awake these days than I should be, and that makes me a little on edge, a little temperamental. You understand, of course, after all I've been through. But still, I need to watch it, practice the breathing exercises Dr. Rosenthal taught me. I take a deep cleansing breath, and exhale some of the tension of the day. I imagine my frustrations flowing from me like a fast-running river, just like Dr. Rosenthal tells me to do. I don't tell her about the dam. I'm sure my flowing river thoughts will return soon, right? I mean, breath work is the key to health, that's what these yoga people keep saying and what Dr. Rosenthal repeats on her relaxation podcasts. They really don't
work, but I'm not going to be the one to tell her that.
I trudge into my bathroom and through to the walk-in closet. I look at the section of cocktail dresses, but with the chill in the air I decide to grab warm socks and a cozy gray cashmere sweater. It's brisk here at the beach once the sun sets, even in the middle of summer. Evenings in May, like tonight, always hold an extra special chill.
I glance at the cluster of picture frames on the counter next to my sink. Mary on the day we adopted her, swaddled in a soft pink blanket. Mary at age ten throwing her arms around our new labradoodle puppy, Cash. I pick up the last frame. In the photo taken a year and a half ago, Mary's grinning, so excited to be pledging the sorority of her dreams. She wears a white cocktail dress and holds a huge bouquet of red roses her dad hand-delivered to her—without me since I had to stay home with Betsy—during one of his now-frequent business trips to Los Angeles.
Mary's happiness her freshman year in college was almost too big to contain in a photo, too grand for a picture frame. Boundless potential and limitless opportunity once she left home, left me, for a new life and flowers from her dad. She was so excited to be miles away from me, my rules, my one line in the sand. I shake my head, glance at my reflection in the mirror.
Betsy is different. Although she shows all the outward signs of teenage rebellion, she's really a good, obedient daughter. My new favorite, I suppose. Mary promised me she'd be back after freshman year, of course, but she never really was. It was so hard for me when we moved her into her dorm room and then had to drive away. It was like cutting off my right hand. It was hard for David, too. He was vulnerable, missing his eldest, even though Betsy and I were still here. Are still here.
"I loved you, Mary."
"Who are you talking to?" David materializes behind me. He thinks he sneaked up on me but I heard him coming. I see the judgment in his dark blue eyes as he shakes his head.
"Nobody." We lock eyes. He looks at the photo in my hands and I know he thinks I'm talking to myself. Another "creepy" habit of mine, as he says. I place the photo back where it belongs.
He's changing in the closet. I hear a swish as he tugs off his tie and know he's hanging it neatly next to the rest of his collection. Next he'll open the drawer to find a casual shirt. He reappears in jeans and a white T-shirt, dark brown Gucci loafers. He's brushing his teeth. We make eye contact in the mirror. Sometimes he knows I'm watching him. Most of the time he doesn't. I wonder if he has decided to stay with me for dinner? Perhaps I should have changed
into a dress? I still can. I smile. "I'm looking forward to our romantic dinner."
"Did you sleep well last night?" He spits in the sink, ignoring my statement.
I check my face in the mirror and decide I don't look too sleep deprived. I doubt he notices the circles under my eyes. I'm an expert with concealer. Tomorrow, I'll look even better. It's only day one of operation reconnection.
I lie. "Yes. Like a baby."
He tilts his head, slaps his expensive cologne on his neck. How manly, like he's the Old Spice guy or something. "Are you sure you can handle the Celebration of life ceremony tomorrow?"
No. What a stupid name. I'm sure this is all his assistant's idea. I answer, "Of course. I have to be there. I'm the mom. Star of the show." I meet David's eyes. I am the lead actor in this house, in this family, I'm reminding him. Every mom is. And I will be there tomorrow for the ceremony. It's my duty, it's the beginning of my reemergence, an important aspect of my strategy even though I didn't want this memorial service, and didn't arrange it. Despite all of that, of course I'll be there. She was my daughter.
I know he'd like nothing better than to soak up all of the attention, both from the attendees and the event planner. The perfect father. He loves the spotlight, hosting parties, chatting with friends. But he's not going alone. I've been preparing myself for this week. I'm looking forward to reviving my role: his adoring, beautiful wife. I reach over and run my hand along the limestone countertop between our two sinks, the stone cool to the touch. I tap my nails, a slow drumbeat.
"I'm coming to the ceremony," I say and walk to the bedroom, and pause next to our king-size bed. Large enough we don't bump into each other at night. I touch my favorite pillow.
"I can take care of it, host it alone, if you're not up to it." He is behind me. I feel his eyes on the back of my neck.
"I'll be fine." I turn to face him. "Dinner should be here any minute. Tonight will be lovely, and tomorrow night, at the ceremony, I'll be right by your side, David, as you will mine."
I'm back. I smile at his frown. He doesn't like my answer.
This excerpt ends on page 28 of the hardcover edition.