Across the hall from those two bedrooms is another room. The door is shut, so he taps on it gently and then pushes it open.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.
She’s on her back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, her blonde hair spilled over her pillow. A nurse in blue scrubs is at the foot of her bed, putting socks on her feet. Crew is lying next to Verity on the bed, holding an iPad. Verity’s eyes are vacant, uninterested in her surroundings. She’s unaware of the nurse. Unaware of me. Of Crew. Of Jeremy as he leans over and brushes hair from her forehead. She blinks, but there’s nothing else there. No recognition that the man she had three children with is trying to be affectionate with her. I try to cover the chills that have appeared on my arms.
The nurse addresses Jeremy. “She seemed tired, so I thought I’d put her to bed early tonight.” She pulls a blanket over Verity.
Jeremy moves to the window and closes the curtains. “Did she take her after-dinner meds?”
The nurse lifts Verity’s feet, tucking the blanket beneath them. “Yeah, she’s good until midnight.”
The nurse is older than Jeremy, maybe in her mid-fifties, with short red hair. She glances at me, then back at Jeremy, waiting for an introduction.
Jeremy shakes his head like he forgot I’m even here. He waves toward me while looking at the nurse. “This is Laura Chase, the author I was telling you about. Laura, this is April, Verity’s nurse.”
I shake April’s hand, but feel her judgment as she eyes me up and down. “I thought you’d be older,” she says.
What do I even say to that? Coupled by the way she looks at me, her comment feels like a dig. Or an accusation. I ignore it and smile. “It’s good to meet you, April.”
“You too.” She grabs her purse off the dresser, directing her attention to Jeremy. “I’ll see you in the morning. Should be an easy night.” She reaches down and pinches Crew’s thigh. He giggles and scoots away from her. I step aside as April exits the bedroom.
I glance at the bed. Verity’s eyes are still open, connecting with nothing. I’m not sure she’s even aware her nurse left. Is she aware of anything? I feel terrible for Crew. For Jeremy. For Verity.
I don’t know that I’d want to live in this condition. And knowing Jeremy is tied to this life… It’s all so depressing. This house, the tragedies in this family’s past, the struggles in their present.
“Crew, don’t make me do it. I told you to shower.”
Crew looks up at Jeremy and smiles, but fails to get off the bed.
“I’m gonna count to three.”
Crew sets his iPad beside him, but continues to defy Jeremy.
“Three…two…” And then, at the count of one, Jeremy lunges at Crew, gripping his ankles and pulling him up in the air. “Upside down night it is!”
Crew is laughing and squirming. “Not again!”
Jeremy looks over at me. “Laura, how many seconds can a kid hang upside down before their brain flips over and they start talking backward?”
I laugh at their interaction. “I heard twenty seconds. But it could be fifteen.”
Crew says, “No, Daddy, I’ll go shower! I don’t want my brain to be upside down!”
“And you’ll clean out your ears? Because they clearly weren’t working before when I told you to take a shower.”
Jeremy tosses him over his shoulder, turning him right side up before placing him back on his feet. He ruffles his hair and says, “Go.”
I watch as Crew rushes out the door and into his bedroom across the hall. Watching Jeremy interact with Crew makes the house seem a little more welcoming. “He’s cute. How old is he?”
“Five,” Jeremy says. He reaches down to the side of Verity’s hospital bed and raises it a bit. He grabs a remote off the table next to her bed and turns on the TV.
We both exit the bedroom, and he pulls the door slightly shut. I’m standing in the middle of the hallway when he faces me. He slides his hands into the pockets of his grey sweatpants. He acts like he wants to say more—explain more. But he doesn’t. He sighs and looks back at Verity’s bedroom.
“Crew was scared to sleep up here by himself. He’s been a trooper, but nights are rough for him. He wanted to be closer to her, but he didn’t like sleeping downstairs. I moved us both up here to make it easier on him.” Jeremy makes his way back down the hallway. “Which means you have the run of the downstairs at night.” He flips off the hallway light. “Want to see her office?’
I follow him downstairs, to the double doors near the stairwell landing. He pushes open one of the double doors, revealing the most intimate part of his wife.
When I step inside, it feels like I’m rummaging around her underwear drawer. There are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with books tucked into every vacant crevice. Boxes of papers line the walls. The desk… My God, her desk. It extends from one end of the room to the other, stretching along a wall lined with huge window panes overlooking the entirety of the backyard. There isn’t an inch of desk that isn’t covered with a stack of pages or files.
“She’s not the most organized person,” Jeremy says.
I smile, recognizing a kinship with Verity. “Most writers aren’t.”
“It’ll take time. I would attempt to organize it myself, but it’s all Greek to me.”
I walk to one of the shelves closest to me and run my hand over some of the books. They’re foreign editions of her work. I pluck a German copy from the shelf and examine it.
“She has her laptop and a desktop,” Jeremy says. “I wrote the passwords on sticky notes for you.” He picks up a notebook next to her computer. “She was constantly taking notes. Writing down thoughts. She’d write ideas down on napkins. Dialogue in the shower on a waterproof notepad.” Jeremy drops the notepad back onto the desk. “She once used a Sharpie to write down character names on the bottom of Crew’s diaper. We were at the zoo, and she didn’t have a notepad.”
He does a full, slow circle as he looks around at her office like it’s been a while since he’s stepped foot in here. “The world was her manuscript. No surface was safe.”
My insides warm at the way he seems to appreciate her creative process. I spin in a circle, taking it all in. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
“I didn’t want to laugh when you said you might not need to stay the night. But in all honesty, this might take you more than two days. If it does, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need. I’d rather you take your time and make sure you have everything you need than go back to New York unsure of how to tackle this.”
I look at the shelves containing the series I’m taking over. There are to be nine total books in the series. Six have been published, and three are still to be delivered. The series title is The Noble Virtues, and each book is a different virtue. The three that are left up to me are Courage, Truth, and Honor.
All six books are on her shelves, and I’m relieved to see extras. I pull a copy of the second novel off the shelf and skim through it.
“Have you read the series yet?” Jeremy asks.
I shake my head, not wanting to reveal I listened to the audiobook. He might ask me questions about it. “I haven’t yet. I didn’t have time between signing the contract and coming here.” I place the book back on the shelf. “Which is your favorite?”
“I haven’t ready any of them, either. Not since her first book.”
I spin and look at him. “Really?”
“I didn’t like being inside her head.”
I hold back my smile, but he sounds a little bit like Corey right now. Unable to separate the world his wife creates from the one she lives in. At least Jeremy seems to be a little more self-aware than Corey ever was.
I look around the room, slightly overwhelmed, but I’m not sure if it’s because Jeremy is standing here or because of the chaos I’m about to have to sort through. “I don’t even know where to start.”