Even after all he’s been through, he’s still the best man that has ever entered my life. He’s patient, attentive and a much better lover than Verity could have possibly described him to be. After her death, when I had to go back to Manhattan, Jeremy called me every day. I stayed away for two weeks—until everything began to settle. When he asked me to come back, I was there that same night. I’ve been with him every day since then. We both knew we were rushing things, but it was hard being apart. I think my presence brought him comfort, so we didn’t worry about the timing or if our relationship was too much, too soon. In fact, we didn’t even discuss it. The definition of our relationship was unspoken. It was organic. We were in love and that’s all that mattered.
He decided to sell the house shortly after we found out I was pregnant. He didn’t want to remain in the same town where he and Verity had lived. And honestly, I didn’t want to remain in that house with all those terrible memories. We started fresh three months ago in North Carolina. With the advance and Verity’s life insurance, we were able to pay cash for a home right on the beach in Southport. Every evening, the three of us sit on the deck of our new home and watch the waves crash against the shore.
We’re a family now. We aren’t made up of all the members of the family Crew was born into, but I know Jeremy is appreciative that Crew has me in his life. And he’ll be a big brother soon.
Crew seems to be adjusting well. We did put him in therapy, and Jeremy sometimes worries it’ll do more harm than good, but I reassure him of all the good therapy did for me as a child. I have faith that Crew will easily forget the bad memories if we give him enough good ones to cover them up with.
Today is the first time we’ve stepped foot in their old house in months. It’s eerie, but necessary. I’m getting too close to my due date to travel again, so we’re using this opportunity to clear out the house. Jeremy has received two offers on it already, and we don’t want to have to drive back up here during my last month of pregnancy to empty it out.
The office was the hardest room to clear out. There was so much stuff that probably could have been salvaged, but Jeremy and I spent half the day putting everything through the shredder. I think we both just want that part of our lives to be over. Gone. Forgotten.
“How are you feeling?” Jeremy asks. He walks into the office and places a hand on my stomach.
“I’m good,” I say, smiling up at him. “You almost finished?”
“Yep. A few more boxes on the porch and we’ll be done.” He kisses me, just as Crew runs into the house.
“Stop running!” Jeremy calls out over his shoulder. I push myself out of the desk chair and follow Jeremy with it as I roll it toward the door. He grabs one of about ten boxes left on the porch and begins to carry it to the car. Crew slips around me to run outside, but pauses, then comes back into the house.
“I almost forgot,” he says, rushing toward the stairs. “I have to get my stuff out of mom’s floor.”
I watch as he runs upstairs, toward Verity’s old bedroom. It was empty last time I checked. But a moment later, Crew comes walking downstairs with papers in his hand.
“What are those?” I ask him.
“Pictures I drew for my mom.” He shoves them in my hands. “I forgot she used to keep them in the floor.”
Crew runs outside again. I look down at the pictures in my hands. The old familiar feeling I carried around with me while staying in this house has returned. Fear. Everything starts flashing through my head. The knife that was on the floor in Verity’s room. The night I saw her on the monitor, on her hands and knees, like she was digging at the floor. Crew’s passing words just now.
I forgot she used to keep them in the floor.
I rush up the stairs. And even though I know she’s dead and isn’t in there, I’m still terrified as I walk down the hallway to her room. My eyes fall to the floor, to a piece of wood Crew failed to put back in place after he took out his pictures. I kneel down and pick up the loose piece of flooring.
There’s a hole in the floor.
It’s dark, so I reach my hand inside and feel around. I pull out something small. A picture of the girls. I pull out something cold. The knife. I reach in again and feel around until I find an envelope. I open it and pull out a letter, then drop the empty envelope to the floor next to me.
The first page is blank. I blow out a steady breath and lift it, revealing the second page.
It’s a handwritten letter to Jeremy. Fearfully, I begin to read.
I hope it’s you who finds this letter. If it isn’t you, I hope it will get to you somehow because I have a lot to say.
I want to start off with an apology. I’m sure by the time you read this, I’ll have left in the middle of the night with Crew. The thought of leaving you alone in the home where we shared so many memories together makes me ache for you. We had such a good life with our children. With each other. But we’re Chronics. We should have known our heartache wouldn’t end with Harper’s death.
After years of being the perfect wife to you, I never expected this career that I love and devote most of my time to would ultimately be what ended us.
Our lives were perfect until we somehow flipped into an alternate dimension the day Chastin died. As much as I try to forget where it all started to go wrong, I was cursed with this mind that never forgets a single thing.
We were in Manhattan having dinner with my editor Amanda. You were wearing that thin grey sweater I loved—the one your mother bought you for Christmas. My first novel had just released and I signed the new two-book deal with Pantem, which is why we were at that dinner. I was discussing my next novel with Amanda. I don’t know if you tuned this part of the conversation out, but I’m guessing you did because writer talk always bored you.
I was expressing my concerns to Amanda because I wasn’t sure which angle to take with the new book. Should I write something completely different? Or should I stick to the same formula of writing from the villain’s point of view that made my first novel so successful?
She suggested I stick to the same formula, but she also wanted me to take even more risks with the second book. I told her it was difficult for me to make a voice in my novel sound authentic when it wasn’t at all how I think in my everyday life. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to improve my craft with the next book.
That’s when she told me to try an exercise she learned in grad school called antagonistic journaling.
This would have been a great time for you to be paying attention at that dinner, but you were on your phone, probably reading an eBook that wasn’t mine. You caught me staring and you looked up at me, but I just smiled at you. I wasn’t mad. I was happy you were there with me and being patient while I received advice from my new editor. You squeezed my leg under the table, and I directed my attention back to Amanda, but my focus was on your hand as it trailed circles around my knee. I couldn’t wait to get back to our place that night because it was our first night away from the girls together, but I was also very interested in the advice Amanda was giving me.
She said antagonistic journaling was the best way to improve my craft. She said I needed to get into the mind of an evil character by writing journal entries from my own life. . . things that really happened. . . but to make my inner dialogue in the journal entry be the opposite from what I was actually thinking at the time. She told me to start by writing about the day you and I met. She said I should write down what I was wearing, where we met and what our conversation was that night, but to make my inner dialogue more sinister than it actually was.
It sounded simple. Harmless.
I’ll give you an example from a paragraph I just wrote above.
I look over at Jeremy, hoping he’s paying attention. He isn’t. He’s staring down at his fucking phone again. This dinner is a huge deal for me. I realize this isn’t Jeremy’s scene—these fancy dinners and meetings in Manhattan—but it’s not like I force him to do this all the time. Instead, he’s reading someone else’s eBook, being completely disrespectful to this entire conversation.
He reads all the time, yet he doesn’t feel comfortable reading MY books? It’s an insult in the highest form.