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Choose Me / (by Tess Gerritsen, Gary Braver, 2021) -

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Choose Me /   (by Tess Gerritsen, Gary Braver, 2021) -

Choose Me / (by Tess Gerritsen, Gary Braver, 2021) -

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Choose Me / (by Tess Gerritsen, Gary Braver, 2021) -
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2021
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Tess Gerritsen, Gary Braver
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Kirsten Potter
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/ / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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07:33:39
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Choose Me / :

.doc (Word) gerritsen_tess_-_choose_me.doc [916 Kb] (c: 3) .
.pdf gerritsen_tess_-_choose_me.pdf [2.57 Mb] (c: 7) .


: Choose Me

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AFTER CHAPTER 1 FRANKIE There are dozens of ways to kill yourself, and in the course of her thirty-two years working for Boston PD, Detective Frances _Frankie_ Loomis has probably come across them all. There was the mother of six, overwhelmed by the pandemonium of her household, who locked herself in a bathroom, slashed her wrists, and peacefully drifted unconscious in a bathtub of warm water. There was the bankrupt businessman who fastened his $500 ostrich-leather belt to a doorknob, looped the belt around his neck, and simply sat down, using his own weight to usher him down a painless road to oblivion. There was the over-the-hill actress, despondent over her dwindling prospects for new roles, who swallowed a handful of Dilaudid tablets, donned a pink silk nightgown, and stretched out on her bed, serene as Sleeping Beauty. They chose private, unspectacular exits and were considerate enough to leave behind a minimum of mess for the living to clean up. Unlike this girl. The body has already been bagged and removed by the ME, and the sidewalk, splattered with her blood, will eventually be washed clean by the falling rain, but Frankie can still see watery rivulets of it trickling toward the gutter. In the flashing rack lights of the police cruisers, those bloody streaks gleam as black as oil. It is now 5:45 a.m., an hour before sunrise, and she wonders how long the girl was lying here before the alert Lyft driver, passing by on his way home after dropping off his passenger at 3:15 a.m., spotted the body and realized it was not just a bundle of clothes on the sidewalk. Frankie rises to her feet and peers up through the falling rain at the apartment balcony. It is a five-story drop straight down, clearly high enough to account for the trauma_the shattered teeth, the caved-in face. Gruesome details that probably didn_t cross the girl_s mind when she climbed over the railing and made her fatal swan dive onto the sidewalk below. Frankie is the mother of twin eighteen-year-old daughters, so she knows firsthand how catastrophically impulsive young people can be. If only this girl had paused long enough to consider the alternatives to suicide. If only she_d thought about what happens to a body when it smashes into concrete and what such an impact does to a pretty face and perfect teeth. _I think we_re done here. Let_s just go home,_ says her partner, MacClellan. He holds a pink umbrella that clearly belongs to his wife, and he is shivering beneath the dripping paisley dome. _My shoes are soaked._ _Has anyone found her cell phone?_ she asks. _Naw._ _Let_s go back upstairs and check her apartment._ _Again?_ _Her phone has to be around here somewhere._ _Maybe she didn_t have one._ _C_mon, Mac. Every kid her age has a phone practically grafted to their hands._ _Maybe she lost it. Or some asshole passing by here picked it up off the sidewalk after she fell._ Frankie looks down at the fading halo of blood, marking where the girl_s head landed. Unlike a human body, a cell phone in a hard case can survive a five-story fall. Perhaps Mac is right. Perhaps a passerby came upon the scene, a passerby whose first impulse wasn_t to render aid or call the police but to snatch the victim_s valuables. It should not surprise her; three decades as a cop have regularly shaken Frankie_s faith in humanity. She points across the street to a security camera mounted on the building that_s facing them. _If someone did make off with her phone, that camera should have picked it up._ _Yeah. Maybe._ Mac sneezes, clearly too miserable to care. _I_ll pull the video in the morning._ _Let_s go back upstairs. See if we missed anything._ _You know what I miss? My bed,_ Mac whines, but he resignedly follows her around the corner to the apartment building_s entrance. Like the building itself, the elevator is old and it_s painfully slow. As it climbs to the fifth floor, both Frankie and Mac are too weary and dispirited to say a word. The cold weather has inflamed Mac_s rosacea, and under the harsh elevator lights, his nose and cheeks are neon red. She knows he is sensitive about his condition, so she avoids looking at him and stares straight ahead, counting the floors until the door finally creaks open. A patrolman stands guarding the door to apartment 510, a numbingly boring task at this early hour, and he gives the two detectives a half-hearted wave. Yet another cop who_d rather be home in his own bed. Inside the dead girl_s apartment, Frankie once again searches the living room_but this time more carefully and with a mother_s knowing eye. She_s become adept at spotting the clues to her own daughters_ misbehavior: the wet boots in the closet after they sneaked out one rainy night. The distinct scent of marijuana clinging to a cashmere sweater. The mysterious jump in mileage on the Subaru_s odometer. The twins complain she_s more like a prison guard than a cop, but that_s probably why her girls have survived their turbulent adolescence. Frankie used to believe that if she could keep them both alive until adulthood, then she would have accomplished her job as a parent, but whom was she kidding? A parent_s job never really ends. Even if she lives to be a hundred, her sixty-something daughters will still be keeping her awake at night. It does not take long for Frankie to repeat her circuit of the apartment. It is a cramped unit, sparsely furnished with what look like thrift-store rejects. The sofa has clearly known more than a few owners, and the wood floor bears the scrapes and gouges from countless college-age tenants dragging furniture in and out. On the desk is an empty wineglass and a laptop, which Frankie has already powered on and discovered is password protected. Beside it is the printed draft of an essay for a class at Commonwealth University: _Hell Hath No Fury: Violence and the Scorned Woman._ It was written by the girl who lived here. The girl who is now on her way to a refrigerated drawer in the morgue. Frankie and Mac have already combed through the girl_s purse, and in her wallet they found a Commonwealth student ID card, a Maine driver_s license, and eighteen dollars in cash. They know she is twenty-two years old; her hometown is Hobart, Maine; and she is five feet, six inches tall, weighs 122 pounds, and has brown hair and eyes. Frankie moves into the kitchen, where they earlier found a single serving of Marie Callender_s mac and cheese in the microwave, lukewarm but unopened. Frankie finds it strange that the girl heated up a meal that she then never ate. What happened in the interim that made her turn away from her meal, walk out to her balcony, and jump to her death? Bad news? A distressing phone call? On the countertop lies a college textbook with a woman_s face on the cover, a woman with hair aflame, her mouth open in an angry roar. Medea: The Woman behind the Myth. Frankie knows she should be familiar with the myth of Medea, but her college years are decades behind her, and all she recalls is that it has something to do with vengeance. Inside the textbook, she finds a letter tucked under the flyleaf. It_s an acceptance letter to the graduate program in the fall, sent from the Department of English at Commonwealth University. Yet another detail that puzzles Frankie. She returns to the balcony door, which is now closed. When the building supervisor first let them into the apartment, this door was wide open, and rain and sleet had blown in. Water still sparkles on the wood floor. She opens the door, steps outside, and stands under the shelter of the overhanging balcony above. Two Boston PD cruisers are parked below, the hypnotic flash of their rack lights reflected in the windows across the street. In another hour it will be daylight, the cruisers will be gone, and the sidewalk will be washed clean by rain. Pedestrians will never know they are walking across the spot where only hours ago a young woman_s life flickered out. Mac joins her on the balcony. _Looks like she was a pretty girl. What a waste,_ he sighs. _If she were ugly, it_d still be a waste, Mac._ _Yeah, okay._ _And she was just accepted to grad school. The acceptance letter_s on the kitchen counter._ _Shit, really? What the hell goes through a kid_s head?_ Frankie looks out at the silvery sheets of rain. _I ask myself that question all the time._ _At least your girls have their heads screwed on right. They_d never do something like this._ No, Frankie cannot imagine it. Suicide is a form of surrender, and her twins are fighters, iron willed and rebellious. She peers down at the street. _God, it_s a long drop._ _I_d rather not look, thank you._ _She must have been desperate._ _So you_re ready to call it suicide?_ Frankie stares at the street, trying to identify what is bothering her. Why her instincts are whispering: You missed something. Don_t turn away yet. _Her cell phone,_ she says. _Where is it?_ There_s a knock on the door. They both turn as the patrolman pokes his head into the apartment. _Detective Loomis? Got a neighbor out here. You want to speak to her?_ Standing in the hallway is a young Asian woman who tells them she lives in the apartment next door. Judging by her bathrobe and flip-flops, she_s just rolled out of bed, and she keeps glancing at the dead girl_s apartment, as if the closed door hides some unimaginable horror. Frankie pulls out her notepad. _And your name is?_ _Helen Ng. That_s spelled N-G. I_m a student at Commonwealth. Like her._ _Did you know your neighbor very well?_ _Just in passing. I moved into this building only five months ago._ She pauses, looking at the closed door. _God, I can_t believe it._ _That she_d take her own life?_ _That it happened right next door. When my parents hear about this, they_re going to go nuts. Make me move back home with them._ _Where do they live?_ _Just down the road in Quincy. They wanted me to save money and commute to school, but that_s not a real college experience. It_s not like having your own apartment and__ _Tell us about your neighbor,_ Frankie cuts in. Helen thinks about this and gives a helpless shrug. _I know she_s_she was_a senior. Comes from some little town up in Maine. She was pretty quiet, for the most part._ _Did you hear anything unusual last night?_ _No. But I have this cold, so I popped a few Benadryls. I woke up just a little while ago, when I heard the police radio in the hallway._ Helen glances again at the apartment. _Did she leave a note or anything? Did she say why she did it?_ _Do you know why?_ _Well, she did seem depressed a few weeks ago, after she broke up with her boyfriend. But I thought she got over that._ _Who was her boyfriend?_ _His name_s Liam. I_ve seen him here a few times, before they broke up._ _You know his last name?_ _I don_t remember, but I know he_s from her hometown. He goes to Commonwealth too._ Helen pauses. _Have you called her mother? Does she know?_ Frankie and Mac exchange looks. This is a call neither one of them wants to make, and Frankie knows exactly how Mac will palm off the task. You_re a woman; you_re better at this sort of thing is his usual excuse. Mac has no children, so he can_t imagine, the way Frankie can imagine, the heartbreak of getting such news. He can_t imagine how hard these calls are for her to make. Mac has also been jotting down the information, and he looks up from his notes. _So this ex-boyfriend_s name is Liam, he_s from Maine, and he attends Commonwealth._ _That_s right. He_s a senior._ _He shouldn_t be too hard to track down._ He closes his notebook. _That should do it,_ Mac says, and Frankie can read the look he gives her. Boyfriend left her. She was depressed. What more do we need? After leaving the death scene, Frankie needs to go home. She needs to take a shower, eat breakfast, and say hello to her twins_if they_re even awake yet. But on her way home to Allston, she can_t help but make a detour. It_s only a few blocks out of her way, and most days she_s able to resist the compulsion to see the building again, but this morning her Subaru seems to veer off course of its own accord, and once again she finds herself parked across the street from the brick building in Packard_s Corner, staring up at the fourth-floor apartment where the woman still lives. Frankie knows the woman_s name and where she works and how many parking tickets she_s racked up. These facts should not really matter to her anymore, but they do. She_s shared these details with no one else_not with her colleagues in the homicide unit, not even with her own daughters. No, this knowledge she keeps private, because the fact she even knows about this woman_s existence is too damn humiliating. So Frankie sits alone in her car on this drizzly April morning, watching an apartment building she has no legitimate reason to be watching, except to torment herself. Everyone assumes she_s recovered from the tragedy and moved on with her life. Her daughters have graduated from high school with honors, and during this gap year they_re both happy and thriving. Her colleagues at Boston PD no longer avoid her gaze or look at her with pity. That pity was the worst part of it_having her fellow cops, right down to the patrol officers, feeling sorry for her. No, her life is back to normal_or has assumed some semblance of it. Yet here she is, parked once again in Packard_s Corner. A woman emerges from the building, and Frankie jerks to attention. She watches as the woman crosses the street and walks past Frankie_s vehicle, obviously unaware she is being watched, but Frankie is certainly aware of her. The woman is fair haired, bundled up against the cold in black leggings and a white down jacket that is formfitting enough to reveal a narrow waist and slim hips. Frankie used to have a figure like that, back in the days before the twins arrived. Before middle age and too many hours sitting at her desk and too many meals wolfed down in a rush expanded her hips, ballooned out her thighs. In the rearview mirror, Frankie watches the woman walk away toward the T station. She thinks about getting out of her car and following her. Thinks about introducing herself and suggesting they have a civilized little chat, woman to woman, perhaps at the coffee shop down the street, but she cannot bring herself to step out of the car. In Frankie_s long career as a cop, she_s kicked open doors, tracked down killers, and twice stared down the barrel of a gun, yet she cannot bring herself to confront Ms. Lorraine Conover, age forty-six, a sales clerk at Macy_s with no criminal record. The woman walks around the corner and disappears from sight. Frankie slumps back in her seat, not yet ready to start the engine, not ready to face what other horrors this day will bring. One dead girl is bad enough. BEFORE THREE MONTHS EARLIER CHAPTER 2 TARYN No one knew she was there. No one ever would. At nine thirty in the morning, all the tenants on the second floor should be out of the building. The Abernathys in apartment 2A, who used to be annoyingly friendly with Taryn, by now would have left for their jobs, his in the City of Boston_s Auditing Department, hers in the Office of Neighborhood Development. The two engineering grad students who lived in 2B should be somewhere on campus, huddled over their laptops. The blondes in 2C should have shaken off their usual weekend hangovers and stumbled off to classes at Commonwealth. No one should be home in 2D either. By now, Liam was headed to his econ class on the far side of campus, a fifteen-minute walk away. After econ he had German III, then he_d eat lunch, probably his usual sub sandwich with extra jalape?os in the student union, and then it would be poli-sci. Taryn knew every detail of his schedule, just as she knew every inch of this apartment. She turned the key, quietly pushed open the door, and stepped inside 2D. It was larger and so much nicer than her own crappy apartment, which smelled like mildew and old pipes. Here, when she took a deep breath, what she smelled was him. The velvety steam that still lingered after his morning shower. The citrus notes of his Sauvage aftershave. The yeasty scent of the whole wheat toast he always ate for breakfast. All the smells she missed so much. Everywhere she looked brought back a happy memory. There was the sofa where they used to spend Saturday nights watching cheesy horror flicks, her head nestled against his shoulder, his arm draped around her. There was the bookshelf where their photo had once been prominently displayed. In that photo, taken the summer they_d both graduated from high school, they were standing on Bald Rock Mountain with their arms around each other, his windblown blond hair lit up like a golden halo in the sunlight. Liam and Taryn, forever. Where was that photo now? Where had he hidden it? She went into the kitchen and remembered their Sunday-morning pancakes and mimosas mixed with cheap cava because real champagne was too expensive. On the kitchen counter was the stack of yesterday_s mail, the envelopes already slit open. She read the note sent by his mother, along with the clipping from their hometown newspaper. Dr. Howard Reilly, Liam_s father, had received the town_s new Citizen of the Year award. Whoop-de-do. She flipped through the rest of his mail_a rent bill, an envelope of pizza coupons, and a credit card application. At the bottom of the stack was a thick brochure for Stanford Law School. Why was he looking at Stanford? She knew he was applying to law schools, but not once had he ever mentioned going to California. They_d already agreed that after graduation, they would both stay in Boston. That was their pact. It was what they_d always planned. It was just a brochure. It didn_t mean anything. She opened the refrigerator and surveyed old friends on the shelves: sriracha and Hellmann_s mayonnaise and Yoo-hoo. But among these familiar condiments lurked an alien invader: Chobani yogurt, low fat. This should not be here. In all the years she_d known Liam, she_d never seen him eat yogurt. He despised it. The sight of this anomaly was so unnerving it made her wonder if she_d accidentally walked into the wrong apartment and opened the wrong refrigerator. If she_d wandered into a parallel universe where an imposter Liam resided, a Liam who ate yogurt and was planning to move to California. Unsettled, she went into the bedroom, where, on weekend nights, their cast-off clothes used to lie tangled like lovers on the floor, his shirt flung across her blouse. Here, too, something was not right. His bed was made, the sheets neatly tucked in and squared off in hospital corners, the proper way one made a bed. When had he learned to make hospital corners? When had he ever made his own bed? She always used to do it for him. She opened his closet and surveyed the shirts lined up on hangers, some of them still draped in plastic from the laundry service. She plucked up a sleeve and pressed her face to the crisp cotton, remembering all the times she used to rest her head against his shoulder. But these freshly laundered shirts smelled only of soap and starch. Anonymous smells. She closed the closet door and went into the bathroom. In the toothbrush holder, where hers also used to perch, his toothbrush now stood alone and forlorn, missing its mate. She lifted the lid to the laundry hamper, dug through the dirty clothes, and pulled out a T-shirt. She buried her face in it, and the scent intoxicated her. He had so many other T-shirts; he would never miss this one. She stuffed it into her backpack to keep as her secret Liam fix, something to tide her over while they played out this farce of _taking a break from each other._ Surely their separation wouldn_t last much longer. They_d been together so long that they_d grown into a single organism, their flesh melded, their lives forever bound. He just needed time to realize how much he missed her. She stepped out into the hallway and quietly pulled the door shut. Except for stealing his T-shirt, she_d left everything in his apartment exactly as she_d found it. He wouldn_t know she_d been here; he never did. Outside an icy wind swept between the buildings, and she pulled up the hood of her jacket, wound her scarf more tightly. She_d lingered here for far too long; if she didn_t hurry, she_d be late for class. But she couldn_t help pausing on the sidewalk to take one last look at his apartment. That was when she noticed the face gazing down at her from the window. It was one of the blondes in 2C. Why wasn_t she already on campus, where she was supposed to be? While Taryn had been rummaging through Liam_s apartment, this woman was still at home. They stared at each other, and Taryn wondered if the other woman had heard her moving about in the rooms next door. Would she tell Liam about the visit? Taryn_s heart was thudding as she walked away. Maybe the blonde hadn_t heard her. Even if she had, she_d have no reason to mention it to Liam. Taryn used to spend every weekend here with him and had been in the building dozens of times before. No, there was no reason to panic. No reason to think he_d ever know. She picked up her pace. If she hurried, she could still make it to class on time. CHAPTER 3 JACK Her name was Taryn Moore, and she slunk into Professor Jack Dorian_s life on the first day of the semester, entering the seminar room dressed in a silver bomber jacket and shiny black tights that lacquered the bottom half of her body. They were already ten minutes into the class, and she murmured an apology as she squeezed her way past the other students crammed into the small room and took the last open seat at the conference table. Jack could not help registering how alluring she was as she slid into her chair, her figure as lithe as a dancer_s, her windblown dark hair with reddish highlights. She settled beside a chubby guy in a Red Sox cap, set her notebook on the table, and fixed Jack with a look so direct that for a fleeting moment he nearly forgot what he_d been saying. There were fifteen in the class, all that could comfortably fit into the English Department_s cramped seminar room. The group was small enough for Jack to soon commit their names to memory. _And you are?_ he asked, glancing down at the list of students enrolled in his Star-Crossed Lovers seminar. It was an admittedly gimmicky name for the course he_d created, exploring the theme of doomed love in literature from antiquity to the present day. What better way to entice jaded college seniors to read The Aeneid, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, Medea, or Romeo and Juliet than to wrap it all up in a sexy package of love, lust, and ultimate tragedy? What unlucky circumstances led to the lovers_ deaths? What religious, political, and societal forces doomed their romances? _Taryn Moore,_ she said. _Welcome, Taryn,_ he said, adding a check mark to the name. He found where he_d left off in his notes and continued the lecture, but he was still distracted by the woman at the end of the table. Maybe that was why he avoided looking at her. Even then, on that very first day, some instinct must have warned him to be careful. Four weeks into the semester, his instincts proved right. They were discussing the twelfth-century letters of Abelard and Heloise. Abelard was older, a famous philosopher and theologian at Notre Dame. Heloise was his intellectually gifted student. Despite a host of social and religious taboos forbidding their romance, Abelard and Heloise became lovers. Pregnant with Abelard_s child, Heloise retreated in scandal to a convent. Her uncle exacted a brutal punishment on her lover: he hired henchmen to castrate the unlucky Abelard, who was later exiled to a monastery. Although forever separated, the lovers kept their romance alive through the letters they wrote to each other, documenting the heartbreak of two star-crossed lovers who were doomed to never again touch. _Their letters reveal fascinating details about monastic life in the Middle Ages,_ Jack said to the class. _But it_s their tragic love story that makes these letters so poignant and timeless. Tragedy defined them, and their suffering in the name of love rendered them heroic. But do you see their sacrifices as equal? Which of the lovers stands out as more heroic?_ Beth, her expression serious as always, raised her hand. _I thought what made Heloise especially impressive, given the norms for women back then, was her continuing defiance._ She looked down at her text. _She writes from the convent that as others are _wedded to God, I am wedded to a man_ and _I am the slave to Abelard alone._ This was a strong-minded woman who defied the taboos of the time. I_d say she_s the real hero._ He nodded. _And she never gave up on her love for him._ _She says she_d even follow Abelard into the flames of hell. That_s true devotion._ Jason piped up: _I can_t even get my girlfriend to follow me to a Bruins game._ The class burst out laughing. Jack was happy to see everyone engaged in lively discussion, unlike those dispiriting days when he had to do all the talking and his students merely stared at him with bored and glassy eyes, like carp in a pond. Jason continued. _I also liked how Heloise writes about having sexual fantasies while she_s in Mass. Man, I can identify with that! Divine litany in Greek churches runs a whole two hours. That_s long enough for me to get it on with a dozen girls. In my head, anyway._ More laughter. That was when Taryn caught Jack_s eye. She_d been scribbling copious notes, and now she raised her hand. _Yes, Taryn?_ he said. _I have an issue with this story. And the others you_ve assigned as well,_ she said. _Oh?_ _There seems to be a theme going on here with the stories you_ve introduced so far. And it_s that the men invariably betray the women they claim to love. Heloise gives up everything for love. Yet most scholars celebrate Abelard as the true hero._ He heard passion behind her words, and he nodded for her to continue. _Abelard even depicts himself as some sort of romantic hero because of his suffering, but I don_t see him that way at all. Yes, it_s terrible that he was castrated. But while Heloise keeps their flame alive, Abelard eventually renounces all his sexual feelings for her. He voluntarily chooses piety over love, while she never surrenders her passion for him._ _Excellent point,_ he told her, and he meant it. Clearly Taryn had thought about what she_d read, and she dug deeper than the other students, many of whom did only the bare minimum to complete their assignments. Her insights and intellectual enthusiasm made teaching a pleasure. In fact, students like her were why he taught. He wished he had more like her. _You_re right, she does hold on to her passion, while he chooses to walk in the footsteps of saints and renounce the pleasures of the flesh._ _That makes him sound so noble,_ she continued, _but think of what Heloise gave up. Her freedom, her youth. Her own child. Imagine the despair she felt when she writes, _I was just your whore._ It_s as if she realizes he_s discarded her and left her to rot in a convent._ _Oh, come on!_ Jessica snorted. _She gets stuck in the convent because of social and religious pressures. He didn_t make her go there._ Caitlin, her roommate seated next to her, nodded mechanically in agreement. Jack didn_t understand why, but the pair always seemed hostile to Taryn, exchanging glances and rolling their eyes whenever she made some insightful remark. Jealousy, perhaps. _Not true,_ Taryn responded. She turned to the relevant page in her book. _Heloise writes, _It was your command only which sent me into these cloisters._ She did it for him. She did everything for him. It_s obvious to anyone who actually read the material._ Jessica reddened. _I read the letters!_ _I never said you didn_t._ _You implied it._ _Look, the letters are densely written. Maybe you just missed their point._ Jessica turned toward Caitlin and whispered, _What a bitch._ _Jessica?_ Jack said. _Did I hear you right?_ She looked him straight in the eye and said with an innocent smile: _I didn_t say anything._ But clearly the others had heard her as well, because they all looked uncomfortable. _There_s no place in this classroom for personal attacks. Is that clear?_ he said. Jessica responded by silently staring straight ahead. _Jessica?_ _Whatever._ It was time to move past this little tiff. He turned to Taryn. _You said Abelard betrayed Heloise. Care to expand on that?_ _She_s given up everything for him. She needs his comfort, his reassurance that he loves her. And what does he do? He tells her to embrace the cross. I think he reveals himself as a heartless jerk, claiming to have suffered more than she did._ Jason said: _Well, he did have his balls cut off._ The laughter was a welcome respite from the tension, but he noticed Jessica didn_t join in. She and Caitlin had their heads tilted together, whispering. He needed to hear new voices, so he looked at Cody Atwood, who as usual was sitting beside Taryn. He was a shy kid who perennially seemed to hide under his baseball cap, sometimes pulled so low that no one could see his eyes. _What do you think, Cody?_ Jack asked. _I, um . . . I think Taryn_s right._ _He always does,_ Jessica said. She turned to Caitlin and whispered, _Loser._ Jack chose to let it pass, because no one else seemed to have heard the insult. _I just agree with Taryn that Abelard_s kind of a jerk,_ said Cody. _He_s her teacher, and he_s twice as old as she is. That makes him even more of a jerk, taking advantage of his student._ _And that_s the same dynamic we see echoed in later literary works. Think of Philip Roth_s The Human Stain and Jonathan Franzen_s The Corrections. And I_m sure many of you have read Gone Girl. These stories all explore how an older teacher might fall in love with a student._ _Just like in Hot for My Prof, _ Jason said. _What?_ _Oh, it_s just this cheesy YA romance._ Jack smiled. _Funny how I missed that one._ _So is that the real theme of this class, Professor?_ Jessica said. _Teachers getting it on with hot students?_ He stared at her for a moment, sensing they_d wandered into dangerous territory. _I_m just pointing out that this is a theme that recurs in literature. These stories illustrate how and why a situation that_s forbidden by society can happen. They show us that anyone, even the morally righteous, can be drawn into a disastrous sexual affair._ Jessica smiled, eyes glittering. _Anyone, Professor?_ _We_re talking about fiction, Jessica._ _Really, what_s the big deal if a teacher falls in love with a willing student?_ said Jason. _It_s not like there_s a law against it in the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not get it on with hot coeds._ _But there is a commandment against adultery,_ Beth pointed out. _Abelard wasn_t married,_ said Taryn. _Anyway, why are we hung up on this point? We_re getting off the subject._ _I agree,_ Jack said and glanced at the clock. He was relieved to see the hour was nearly over. _Okay, I_ve got a little announcement, and I think you_ll like this. In two weeks, the Museum of Fine Arts opens a special exhibit of illustrations inspired by Heloise and Abelard. They_ve agreed to give our class a personal tour. Instead of meeting here, we_ll have a field trip at the MFA. Be sure to mark your calendars, and I_ll also send out an email to remind you. But next week, we meet here as usual. And be ready to discuss The Aeneid !_ While students filed out of the room, he gathered his notes and slid them into his briefcase. He didn_t notice that Taryn was standing right beside him until she spoke. _I can_t wait for the field trip, Professor Dorian,_ she said. _I_ve seen some of the images on the museum_s website, and it looks like a beautiful exhibition. Thanks for arranging it._ _Of course. By the way, you did a great job on your Medea paper last week. It_s the best paper I_ve read all semester. In fact, it has the level of sophistication I_d expect of graduate students._ Her face lit up. _Really? You mean that?_ _Yes. It_s quite thoughtful and very well crafted._ By reflex she gripped his arm like he was a close friend. _Thank you. You_re the best._ He nodded and gave his arm a twitch, and she pulled her hand free. He suddenly noticed Jessica watching from the doorway, and he did not like the look in her eyes. Nor did he like the obviously sexual gesture she gave to Caitlin as Taryn walked out, one finger thrusting in and out of her fist. Caitlin giggled, and they both left the room. Jessica_s paper had been worse than mediocre, and he_d found it immensely satisfying to scrawl a C-minus on it. He closed the briefcase with a loud thud, more disturbed by Jessica_s obscene gesture than he cared to admit. Only when the classroom had completely emptied did he finally pull on his coat, and he walked out alone into the cold January wind. CHAPTER 4 JACK As usual, Maggie was late. She showed up at the restaurant a little after six thirty, looking harried and windblown, but with a big smile on her face as she hustled to their table and gave her father a big hug, then air-kissed Jack. _So how_s God_s gift to medicine?_ her father, Charlie, said. Maggie pulled off her jacket, hung it over her chair, and sank into the seat like a deflating weather balloon. _Exhausted. I don_t think I sat down once all afternoon. It_s this cruddy virus going around. Everyone wants me to prescribe antibiotics, and I have to talk them out of it._ She flagged down the waitress for a chardonnay, then took Charlie_s hand. _And how_s my favorite birthday boy?_ _Feeling a lot more celebratory now that you_re here._ _We_ve been waiting for forty minutes,_ Jack said, trying not to sound sour. He had picked up Charlie on the way to the restaurant and had been watching the clock while they_d sat here making small talk. He was already on his second glass of wine. _Jack, she_s got the best excuse in the world,_ Charlie said. _All those sick people who need her._ _Thank you, Dad._ Maggie flashed her husband a so-there look. _And you_re lucky to have her, boyo,_ Charlie added. _You ever get sick, you have your own personal doctor in the house._ _Yeah, I am lucky,_ Jack conceded and took a sip of pinot noir to quell his annoyance. _At least tonight, we_ll actually get to eat dinner together._ _Speaking of dinner,_ Charlie said, rubbing his hands together, _let_s get on with the pig-out. I_ve been looking forward to this meal all year. If there is a God, he doesn_t have a cholesterol problem._ Every year, the three of them celebrated Charlie_s birthday with what he called their _pig-out,_ gorging on all the menu options forbidden by his doctor. Dino_s Steer House was an old-fashioned steak joint that had been in business for more than half a century, and while other restaurants in town had turned haute cuisine, Dino_s had no such pretensions. It still served steaks, burgers, and heart-stopping sides like porky sticks_a mountain of french fries covered with a thick cheese sauce topped with bacon bits and sour cream. _Happy birthday, Pops,_ said Maggie, clinking her wineglass against his beer. _And look what I have for you._ From her briefcase she removed a package wrapped in shiny red paper with a large golden bow. _Ah, darlin_, you shouldn_t have brought me anything,_ he said, but his eyes sparkled as he took the gift. He struggled to unwrap it without destroying the paper, painstakingly slicing the adhesive tape with a steak knife. _They close at nine thirty,_ Jack said to Charlie. With a chuckle, Charlie ripped off the paper in one swoop and beamed at the box partitioned with various roasted artisanal nuts from Fastachi. Charlie loved nuts. He leaned over and hugged Maggie. _You_re the best, kiddo. And my doctor says nuts are great for my heart._ He gave Jack a wink. _But you can_t have any. They_re mine, all mine!_ Maggie_s phone dinged with a text message. Jack sighed. She was a primary care physician at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, and they never made it through a meal without that damn phone dinging or ringing or buzzing_if she made it home for a meal at all. The waitress came to take their orders, and even as Maggie asked for a jumbo sirloin cheeseburger, she was scrolling through her text messages. _And you, sir?_ the waitress asked Jack. _If you order salmon,_ Charlie said, _you_re a disgrace to your Armenian heritage._ Jack ordered the shish kebab. The waitress turned to Charlie. _And what will you have?_ _My doctor_s got me on this blasted five-low diet._ And he counted on his fingers. _Low fat, low salt, low sugar, low meat, low taste. So bring me a medium-rare heifer with mozzarella sticks, and a side of melted bacon fat for dipping._ The woman snickered. _I_m afraid heifer_s not on the menu._ _Then how _bout barbecued ribs and porky sticks? Oh, and fried mozzarella for an appetizer. It_s my birthday._ _Is it? Well, happy birthday!_ _You wanna guess how old I am?_ The woman screwed up her face, not wanting to insult him. _I_d say fifty, fifty-five._ _Not even close. I_m thirty-seven._ The waitress_s eyebrows shot up. _Thirty-seven?_ _Celsius. You get to be my age, you go metric._ He winked as the woman left, still snickering. Most of the time Charlie_s face was hard to read, a fixed and expressionless mask that hid whatever emotions were roiling inside him. It was a face made for interrogations. Before he_d retired seven years before, Charlie had been a detective in the Cambridge PD. Jack often imagined criminals squirming under the glare of those flat blue eyes, set in a face that gave no clues_an inscrutable, emotionless Easter Island blank that could make even a saint confess to murder. But tonight Charlie was all grins and twinkling eyes as he and Maggie traded their usual father-daughter banter. Watching them together, Jack missed the evenings when he and Maggie used to share their own affectionate banter. The evenings before she_d started dragging herself home exhausted from the clinic, too hollowed out for conversation. It didn_t seem that long ago when Maggie and Jack would have dinner around six thirty_dinners prepared together or by whoever got home first. Or they_d go out to a favorite restaurant or on a warm night drive to Kelly_s on Revere Beach for lobster rolls. With the exception of special nights like tonight, dinners were takeouts now, or they ate separately_she at the hospital and Jack at the Subway down the street from their home. Maggie_s cell phone buzzed again. She frowned at the screen, then tapped the button that sent the call to voice mail. _Maybe you could turn that off while we eat?_ Jack suggested, trying his best not to show his irritation. With a sigh, she slipped her phone into her handbag. _Happy birthday!_ the waitress said, sliding their plates onto the table. _And what a happy day it is,_ Charlie said, beaming at the rack of ribs, dark and glistening with apricot glaze, and the bowl of fries piled high with melted cheese and studded with bacon chips. Maggie eyed the intimidating burger on her plate, oozing with cheese. _I haven_t eaten one of these monstrosities since your last birthday, Dad._ Charlie grinned and tucked a napkin into his shirt. _I know this is supposed to be bad for me. So maybe you should call an ambulance to wait outside with the motor running. If I go into cardiac arrest, I want that cute little waitress to give me mouth to mouth._ He snatched up the steak knife and suddenly paused, wincing. _You okay, Dad?_ Maggie asked. _Except for this ice pick in my back._ _What do you mean?_ _It feels like someone_s stabbing me between the shoulder blades. I hate when that happens._ Maggie set down her drink. _How long have you had this pain?_ _A few weeks._ He gave a careless wave. _It comes and goes. Just a nuisance, really._ _Maybe you pulled a muscle at the gym,_ Jack said. Charlie worked out regularly at Gold_s in Arlington Heights and had always been in superb physical shape, bicycling sixty miles or more a week when the weather permitted. Even at seventy, his arms were as thick as hams. _Have you seen your doctor about it?_ Maggie asked. _He said it_s just a muscle strain._ _Did he prescribe anything?_ _Just Tylenol. Maybe I should see a chiropractor._ _God, no,_ Maggie said. _You know what I think of chiropractors. At your age, you probably have a degenerative disk or two. The last thing you want is someone jerking around your spine. You should get an MRI._ _What_ll that show?_ _Maybe a herniated disk pinching a nerve._ _Hmph. I figured it was just from getting older._ _I_ll give your doctor a call. See if he can at least get you in for x-rays._ Charlie slapped his chest. _Uh-oh. Old-guy alert! Where_s that waitress? I need mouth to mouth stat!_ Maggie sighed. _Good try, Dad._ Even though her phone was tucked inside her purse, they could all hear it ringing. She couldn_t help herself; she pulled it out, looked at the caller_s number, and immediately rose to her feet. _Sorry, but I have to take this one._ She cupped the phone to her ear and headed outside. _Those patients of hers should be grateful,_ Charlie said. _I don_t think my doctor even knows me by name. I_m just another seventy-year-old white male._ _Hmm._ Charlie dipped a mozzarella stick in sauce and took a bite. _Now there_s a discouraging sound. What_s up with you, Jack?_ _I didn_t say anything._ _But I can hear you thinking. Are you two okay?_ _What do you mean?_ Charlie looked at him with that maddeningly unreadable face. _Jack, I spent my career talking to people who were trying to hide stuff._ Charlie was like a seismograph, sensitive enough to pick up even the slightest tectonic tremor, and his gaze was so intent Jack could almost feel it burrowing into his brain. _It_s her job, that_s all._ _What about her job?_ _The work is so all-consuming._ _She_s dedicated to her patients. She has a booming practice. Of course it keeps her busy._ _I know, and I_m proud of her. But lately it feels like we_re just ships passing in the night._ _It_s the nature of the beast,_ Charlie said. _Part of being married to a professional. All doctors should be like her._ How could Jack argue with that? At their wedding, his friends had congratulated him for landing a woman who was not only a looker but also a future physician who_d be bringing home fat paychecks. They didn_t know about the insane hours the job required. These days, they scarcely watched TV together. _Maybe she could cut down her hours a bit._ _I wish she could. But when a patient needs you . . ._ Jack_s voice trailed off before he finished the sentence: your husband comes second. He saw no sympathy in Charlie_s face, and why should he? Maggie was his perfect, brilliant little girl; Jack was the guy who_d stolen her away, a guy who spent his days teaching a course called Star-Crossed Lovers. Maggie returned to the table and sat down. _Sorry about the interruption._ _Everything okay?_ Charlie asked. _I have a very sick patient. She_s only forty-three years old, with three young children. And she_s dying._ _Jesus,_ said Charlie. _Ovarian cancer is the pits._ Maggie took a deep breath and rubbed a hand across her face. _It_s been a long day. I_m sorry to put a damper on your birthday._ _Maggie, nothing you do will ever ruin my day. You want to talk about it?_ _Not really. I_d rather talk about happy things._ _You_re just like your mother, you know that? Never once a discouraging word, right up until the day she died. You look more like her every day._ Jack watched as father and daughter joined hands on the table, a connection forged long before he_d ever met Maggie. He didn_t resent their closeness, but he did envy it. And he wished, not for the first time, that one day he_d know just such a bond with his own child. If they ever had a child. When they walked out of the restaurant later that night, a light snow was falling. Jack dropped off Charlie at his house, and by the time he arrived home, the snow had changed to sleet. He found Maggie sitting in the kitchen, looking haggard and far older than her thirty-eight years. _I_m sorry about your patient,_ he said and wrapped his arms around her. He meant only to comfort her, but he could feel her stiffen at the embrace. She pulled away. _Please, Jack,_ she whispered. _Not now._ _It_s only a hug. I_m not asking to make love._ _I_m sorry. I just can_t tell anymore._ _And would it be so awful if I did want to make love to my wife? It_s been so long since we . . ._ _I_m tired._ Already she was moving away from him. _Maggie, is it me?_ he called to her. _I can handle the truth, so just tell me. Is it something I_ve done or haven_t done?_ He paused, afraid to ask the question but needing to know. _Is there someone else?_ _What? Oh God, Jack, no. It_s nothing like that. All I want to do right now is take a shower and go to sleep._ She slipped away and headed up the stairs to their bedroom. He went into the living room, turned off the lights, and for a few moments sat in the dark, listening to sleet pelt the window. He remembered their wedding day and the vows they_d made to each other. A year later, at her medical school graduation, she_d taken another vow, to care for her patients. Who came first? He was no longer sure. That night, lying beside his slumbering wife, he wished he, too, could fall asleep. He considered the bottle of Ativan in his nightstand drawer and was tempted to shake out a pill or two, just to help him through the night. But he_d drunk too much wine at dinner, and the last time he_d mixed Ativan and alcohol, he_d gone for a drive in his pajamas and woken up that morning with no memory of the adventure. He closed his eyes and yearned for oblivion, but sleep refused to come. So he lay awake, inhaling Maggie_s scent of soap and apricot shampoo, remembering how they used to be. I miss you, he thought. I miss us. CHAPTER 5 TARYN The more she looks at him, the more the fire grows . . . her gaze, her whole heart, is riveted on him now . . . And that was the beginning of the end for tragic Queen Dido, whose fatal mistake was saving the life of a shipwrecked warrior. Taryn regretted ever opening this infuriating book, but Virgil_s The Aeneid was the week_s assigned reading for the Star-Crossed Lovers class. Professor Dorian had warned them that the romance ended in tragedy, so she had been braced for an unhappy ending. She_d known either Aeneas or Queen Dido or both would meet an untimely end. She hadn_t been prepared to be so pissed off about it. All weekend she_d been thinking about Queen Dido and her lover, Aeneas, the Trojan warrior who_d fought valiantly to defend his city from the attacking Greeks. Defeated by the enemy, Aeneas was forced to flee as his city, Troy, was sacked, and he and his men sailed away on ships bound for Italy. But the gods were not kind. Their fleet was battered by storms, and his ship was lost. Barely alive, Aeneas and his men washed ashore in Tyre, a land ruled by the beautiful widow Queen Dido. If only Dido had immediately ordered Aeneas put to the sword. Or had him tossed without pity back into the sea to drown. Had she done so, she might have lived to a serene old age, beloved by her subjects. She could have found happiness with a man who was far more worthy of her love. But no, Dido was too tenderhearted and trusting of these strangers from Troy. She offered them food and shelter and safety. And most reckless of all, she offered Aeneas her heart. Casting aside her dignity, she sacrificed her reputation as a chaste widow-queen, all for the love of a faithless stranger. A stranger who betrayed and abandoned her. Aeneas sailed off in pursuit of his own glory, leaving behind his heartbroken lover. In sorrow Dido climbed onto the funeral pyre that she herself had ordered built. There she unsheathed a sword of Trojan steel. Desperate for oblivion, she plunged the blade into her own body. . . . and all at once the warmth slipped away, the life dissolved in the winds. From his ship, Aeneas could see the distant glow of Dido_s funeral pyre, alight with flames. Surely he knew what that fire signified. He knew that at that moment the flames were consuming the flesh of the woman who loved him, the woman who_d sacrificed everything for him. Did he grieve? Did he turn back the ship in remorse? No, he sailed on in cold pursuit of fortune and glory. Taryn wanted to rip this book to shreds and flush it down the toilet. Or build a little bonfire in her kitchen sink and watch the pages burn, the way poor Dido burned. But they_d be discussing the story in class tomorrow, so she shoved the book into her backpack. Oh, she would have plenty to say in class about Aeneas. About so-called heroes who betrayed the women who loved them. That night she dreamed about fire. About a woman standing among the flames, her hair alight, her mouth agape in a shriek. The woman reached out in agony, and Taryn wanted to save her, to drag her from the pyre and beat out the flames, but she was paralyzed. She could only watch as the woman burned, as her body blackened and shriveled to ash. She jolted awake to the wail of a distant ambulance, and for a moment she lay exhausted, her heart still pounding from the nightmare. Slowly she registered the sound of traffic and the glare of daylight in her window. Then she glanced at the bedside clock and bolted out of bed. She was late for Professor Dorian_s class, but Cody had promised to save a seat for her. She spotted Cody slouched in his usual seat at the far end of the seminar table, his Red Sox baseball cap pulled low over his brow. As she eased quietly into the room, the snap of the door_s latch made a few heads turn to look at her. Professor Dorian paused in the middle of his discussion, and she felt his gaze follow her as she made her way around the table to where Cody was sitting. The brief silence magnified the scrape of Cody_s chair, the hiss of his down jacket as he pulled it off the empty chair beside him. _Where were you?_ Cody whispered as she sat down. _I was starting to think you weren_t coming to class._ _I overslept. What_d I miss?_ _Just some overview stuff. I took notes. I_ll give you a copy later._ _Thanks, Cody. You_re the best._ And she meant it. What would she do without Cody, who was always ready to share his notes and his lunch? She really should try to be nicer to him. Professor Dorian was still looking at her, but not in an annoyed way. Rather, it was as if she were some weird forest creature who_d wandered into his class and he didn_t know what to make of her. Then, as if he_d suddenly remembered where he was, he launched back into the lecture and turned to the chalkboard, where four pairs of names were already scrawled. Tristan and Isolde Jason and Medea Abelard and Heloise Romeo and Juliet _So far in this course, we_ve talked about four pairs of doomed lovers,_ Professor Dorian said. He turned to face them again, and for a moment she thought he was staring straight at her. _Last week it was Abelard and Heloise. Now it_s time to move on to another pair whose story ends in tragedy. And like Jason and Medea, the story of Aeneas and Dido involves betrayal._ He wrote the lovers_ names on the chalkboard. _By now, you all should have read The Aeneid._ He looked around to see a few nods, a few noncommittal shrugs. _Okay, good. Who wants to comment?_ There was the usual silence; no one ever wanted to be the first to speak up. _I think it_s pretty cool that Aeneas is the guy who founded Rome,_ said Jessica. _I always thought it was founded by two guys who were suckled by wolves as babies. I never knew it was Aeneas._ _That_s according to Virgil, anyway,_ said Professor Dorian. _He wrote that Aeneas was a Trojan prince who defended his city against the Greeks. After the fall of Troy, he flees to Italy and becomes the first hero of Rome. Now that you_ve read The Aeneid, do you all agree he_s a hero?_ Dorian glanced around the room. _Anyone?_ _Obviously he_s a hero,_ Jason said. _The Trojans thought so._ _What about his relationship with Queen Dido? The fact he abandoned her and she committed suicide? Does that influence your opinion of him?_ _Why should it?_ Luke said. _Dido didn_t have to kill herself. That was her choice and hers alone._ _And Aeneas had more important things to deal with,_ said Jason. _He had a kingdom to build. His men needed a leader. And anyway, Tyre wasn_t even his homeland. He didn_t owe it any loyalty._ With mounting irritation, Taryn listened to her classmates justify the betrayal of Dido. Suddenly she couldn_t stay silent any longer. _He_s not a hero!_ she blurted. _He_s a narcissistic asshole, just like Abelard. Just like Jason. I don_t care if he went on to found the city of Rome. He abandoned Dido, which makes him a traitor._ The classroom went silent. Then Jessica let out a mocking laugh. She never missed a chance to challenge Taryn in class, and as usual she went straight for the jugular. _Are we back to your old gripe, Taryn? It_s the same thing you said about Jason and Abelard. You_re obsessed with men betraying women._ _That_s exactly what Aeneas did,_ Taryn pointed out. _He betrayed her._ _Why are you stuck on that theme? Did some guy do it to you?_ Cody put his hand on Taryn_s arm, a touch that said: Let it slide. She_s trying to provoke you. Of course he was right. She_d known girls like Jessica all her life, privileged girls who were handed everything they wanted. Girls who_d never seen the inside of a Goodwill store because they bought all their clothes brand new. Girls who used to bring their friends into the ice cream shop where she worked every summer, just so they could stand around, smirking, as she served them. Oh yes, Taryn knew the Jessicas of the world, but they didn_t know her. Cody_s hand tightened around her arm. She took a deep breath and silently settled back in her chair. _Well, it_s true, isn_t it?_ said Jessica, looking around the classroom. _That_s Taryn_s thing. Women getting betrayed._ _Let_s move on,_ said Professor Dorian. _Maybe it_s personal for her or something,_ Jessica said. _Because it sure seems like she can_t stop talking about men who__ _I said, let_s move on._ Jessica pouted. _I was only making a point._ _Leave Taryn out of it. She has a right to her opinion, and I_m glad she spoke up. Now let_s get back to The Aeneid._ As he led the discussion in a different direction, Taryn focused on the man who_d come to her defense. She knew almost nothing about him. Not his background or his personal life or even what the R in Jack R. Dorian stood for. For the first time she noticed how tired he looked today, perhaps a little depressed, as if these classroom squabbles had worn him down. He wore a wedding ring, so she knew he was married. Did he have a fight this morning with his wife, his kids? He struck her as one of the good guys_not a man like Aeneas or Abelard or Jason, but someone who_d stand by the woman he loved. The way he_d stood by her today. She should thank him for it. After the seminar ended and the other students filed out, Taryn lingered in the classroom, watching as he gathered his papers. _Professor Dorian?_ He looked up, surprised that she was still there. _What can I do for you, Taryn?_ _You already did it. Thanks for what you said in class. That thing with Jessica._ He sighed. _It was getting pretty hostile._ _Yeah. I don_t know what I_ve done in this class to make her dislike me, but I seem to irritate her just by breathing. Anyway, thank you._ She turned to leave. _Oh. I almost forgot._ He shuffled through a stack of papers and pulled out the essay she_d written last week, about Jason and Medea. _I passed these out at the beginning of class. Before you got here._ She stared at the A-plus scrawled in red at the top. _Wow. Really?_ _The grade is well deserved. I can see you put a lot of emotion into what you wrote._ _Because I really did feel it._ _A lot of people feel things, but not everyone can express those feelings as well as you do. After what you said in class today, I_m looking forward to your paper on The Aeneid._ She looked up at him, and for the first time she registered the fact that he had green eyes, the same color as Liam_s. He was not as tall as Liam, nor as broad shouldered, but his eyes were kinder. For a moment they just looked at each other, both of them hunting for something to say but not coming up with a single word. Abruptly he broke off his gaze and snapped his briefcase shut. _I_ll see you at the museum next week._ CHAPTER 6 TARYN _Goddamn, he gave you an A-plus?_ Cody said as they walked across the quad. _I worked my ass off on that paper, and I only got a B-plus._ _Maybe you didn_t feel the theme deeply enough._ _Star-crossed lovers?_ Cody stared straight ahead. _Oh, I feel it well enough,_ he muttered. She was still beaming, still high. Professor Dorian_s praise was like jet fuel pumped straight into her veins, and she was bursting to share the triumph. She pulled out her cell phone to call her mother, even though Brenda had probably just crawled into bed after her night shift at the nursing home. Only then did she notice that her mother had sent an email. The subject line made her stop dead in the center of the quad. Time for you to come home? She opened the email. It was several paragraphs long. As Cody watched her, as other students streamed past her like schools of fish veering around a stone pillar, Taryn read and reread what her mother had written. No, her mom couldn_t possibly mean this. _Taryn?_ said Cody. She dialed Brenda_s number, but the call went straight to voice mail, which of course it would. When her mother went to bed after her shift, she always muted her phone. _What_s wrong?_ said Cody as she hung up. Taryn looked at him. _My mom says if I apply to grad school, it has to be in Maine._ _Why?_ _The money. It_s always about the money._ _Is that such a disaster? Going back to Maine?_ _You know it is! Liam and I had it all worked out. We_re staying in Boston. It_s what we planned._ _Maybe his plans have changed._ _Don_t,_ she commanded. Taken aback by her glare, Cody fell silent. He glanced up at the clock tower and said, timidly, _We_re, um, going to be late for class._ _You go. I_ll see you later._ _What about those essay questions? I thought we were going to work on them together._ _Yeah, sure. Tonight. Come over to my place._ He brightened. _I_ll bring a pizza._ _Okay,_ she muttered, but she wasn_t looking at him; she was still staring at her phone. She didn_t even notice when he walked away. Her mother sounded exhausted on the phone. It was four in the afternoon, and for a nurse_s aide who worked the graveyard shift at Seaside Nursing Home, it was the equivalent of the crack of dawn, but Taryn couldn_t wait any longer to speak to her. _You don_t seem to understand how important this is,_ Taryn said. _I can_t go back to Maine._ _And what are you going to do after you graduate?_ _I don_t know yet. I_m thinking about grad school. My grades are good enough, and I_m sure I could get into some school here._ _There are perfectly good schools here in Maine._ _But I can_t leave Boston._ I can_t leave Liam was what she was thinking. _Not everything we want in life is possible, Taryn. I_ve tried to keep up with your tuition payments, but you can_t get blood from a stone. It_s been hard enough for me, keeping up with this second mortgage. Now I_ve got nothing left to borrow against, and I_m already working double shifts. You have to be sensible._ _This is my future we_re talking about._ _I am talking about your future. About all these loans you_ll have to pay back someday, and for what? Just so you can brag you went to some fancy college in Boston? What about my retirement? I haven_t saved a penny for myself._ Brenda sighed. _I can_t do this for you anymore, honey. I_m tired. Since your father left, it seems all I ever do is work._ _It won_t be this way forever. I promised I_d take care of you._ _Then why don_t you come home? Come home now and live with me. You can get whatever education you need up here. Maybe get a part-time job to help pay for it all._ _I can_t go back to Maine. I need to be__ _With Liam. That_s it, isn_t it? It_s all about being with him. Being in the same city, the same school._ _A degree from a good school makes a difference._ _Well, his family can afford it. I don_t have that kind of money._ _We will someday._ Another sigh, this one deeper. _Why are you doing this to yourself, Taryn?_ _Doing what?_ _Betting your whole future on a boy? You_re so much smarter than that. Didn_t you learn anything when your father walked out? We can_t rely on them. We can_t rely on anyone but ourselves. The sooner you wake up and__ _I don_t want to talk about this._ _What_s going on, honey? There_s something going on. I can hear it in your voice._ _I just don_t want to go back to Maine._ _Has something happened between you and Liam?_ _Why do you think that? You have no reason to think that._ _He_s not the only boy in the world, Taryn. It_s not healthy to spend all your time mooning over him, when there are so many other__ _I have to go,_ Taryn cut in. _Someone_s at the door._ She hung up, deeply rattled by the call. She desperately wanted to talk to Liam, but she_d already left three voice mails on his phone, and he hadn_t called back yet. Outside it was starting to snow, but she couldn_t stand being cooped up inside her tiny apartment for even another minute. She needed to take a walk and clear her head. She didn_t think about where she was going; her feet automatically took her there, following the same route she_d traveled so many times before. It was dark by the time she reached Liam_s apartment building. Standing on the sidewalk, she looked up at his windows. His neighbors_ lights were on, but his windows were dark. She knew his last class of the day had ended hours ago, so where was he? She didn_t dare enter his apartment now because he might come home any minute and catch her there, but she was so starved for a glimpse of him she couldn_t leave. Not yet. Right across the street was a juice bar. She walked in, ordered a glass of acai berry, and claimed a seat by the window. Through the veil of lightly falling snow, she kept watch on his building. It was now dinnertime, and she thought of all the evenings they_d spent together in his apartment, gorging on take-out food. Pad thai from Siam House. Burgers and fries from Five Guys. They_d eat at his coffee table while they watched TV, and afterward they_d slip out of their clothes. Into his bed. I miss you. Do you miss me? The temptation to call him was so powerful that she couldn_t resist it. Once again, her call went straight to his voice mail. He was busy studying, of course, because he was determined to get into law school, and he must be preparing for the LSAT. That was why he_d turned off his phone. She ordered a second glass of acai berry juice and slowly nursed it along, making it last so they wouldn_t ask her to leave the shop. Liam was probably studying in the library; maybe that was where she should go. She_d pick a table on the first floor near the restrooms, and she_d spread out all her books and work on that paper for Professor Dorian_s class. Liam was bound to notice her when he walked past to the restroom. He_d be impressed by how focused she was, how dedicated to her classwork. So much more than just the poor hometown girl he_d known since middle school. No, she was someone bound for bigger things, someone who was his perfect match in every way. Her cell phone rang. Liam. Her hands were shaking as she answered: _Hello?_ _I thought we were studying at your place tonight. You_re not answering your buzzer._ She slumped back in the chair with disappointment. It was only Cody. _Oh God. I forgot about it._ _Well, I_m standing outside your building now, and I_ve got the pizza. Where are you?_ _I can_t meet you tonight. Can we do it another time?_ _But we were gonna go over those essay questions for Dorian_s class. I brought all my books and notes and everything._ _Look, I_ve got a lot of things on my mind. I_ll call you tomorrow, okay?_ The silence that followed was leaden with disappointment. She pictured him hulking outside her building in his mountainous down jacket, his baseball cap powdered with fallen snow. How long had he been standing in that bitter cold, waiting for her? _I_m sorry, Cody. I really am._ _Yeah._ He sighed. _Okay._ _Talk tomorrow?_ _Sure, Taryn,_ he said and hung up. She looked across the street at Liam_s window; it was still dark. A little longer, she thought. I_ll sit here just a little longer. AFTER CHAPTER 7 FRANKIE The boyfriend_s name is Liam Reilly, and he seems like just the sort of boy every mother hopes her daughter will bring home. He is blond and strapping, clean shaven, and neatly dressed in chinos and an oxford shirt. As Frankie and Mac step into his apartment, he asks politely if they would like coffee. Too few young people these days seem to respect cops, and even fewer would extend the courtesy of offering them coffee. As the three sit down in Liam_s living room, Frankie notices a stack of law school brochures on the coffee table_yet another detail that impresses her. He is nothing like the unkempt musicians her twin daughters have recently dragged home, boys with no obvious ambitions beyond landing their next gigs. Boys who are afraid to look Frankie in the eye because they know she is a cop. Why couldn_t her girls bring home a Liam instead? He is a doctor_s kid, courteous and articulate, and he tells them he_s already been accepted to two law schools. He has no arrest record, not even an outstanding parking ticket, and he seems genuinely shocked by the news of his ex-girlfriend_s death. _You had no inkling that Taryn would kill herself?_ Frankie asks him. Liam shakes his head. _I know she was upset when I broke up with her. And yeah, sometimes she could act a little psycho. But kill herself? That_s not like Taryn at all._ _What do you mean by _a little psycho_?_ says Mac. _She was stalking me._ He sees Mac_s raised eyebrow. _Seriously, she was. It started off with her calling me and texting me at all hours. Then she started sneaking into my apartment while I was out._ _You caught her in here?_ _No, but one of the girls next door saw her leave the building one morning. Taryn never returned my key, so she could_ve come in anytime she wanted. And then I noticed that things were missing._ _What things?_ _Stupid little things like my T-shirts. At first I thought I just misplaced them, but then I realized it had to be her, taking my stuff. That was creepy enough. Then it got even worse._ _You mentioned she kept calling and texting you,_ says Frankie. _I finally had to block her. But then she just used another student_s cell phone to call me._ _So she did have a cell phone._ Liam gives her a quizzical look, as if the question is absurd. _Yeah. Sure._ _Because we never found her phone._ _She definitely had one. She was always complaining that her mom could only afford to buy an Android._ _If we do find that phone, would you know how to unlock it?_ Mac asks. _Yeah. Unless she_s changed her pass code._ _What is her pass code?_ _It_s, um . . ._ The boy looks away. _Our anniversary. The day we kissed for the first time. She was kind of sentimental about it, and she kept bugging me to celebrate it with her, even after . . ._ His voice trails off. _You said she kept texting you,_ says Frankie. _Can we see those texts?_ He pauses, no doubt wondering if there is anything on his phone he shouldn_t reveal to a cop. Reluctantly he pulls out his iPhone, unlocks the screen, and hands it to Frankie. She scrolls through the list of conversations until she finds the string of texts from Taryn Moore. They are two months old. Where RU? Why didn_t U show up? I waited over two hours. Why RU avoiding me? Call me PLEASE. This is important!!!!!! The girl_s mounting desperation is apparent in these texts, but Liam did not respond to any of them. Silence is a coward_s way out, and that_s what Liam chose to be. By not responding, he left the girl screaming unheard into the void. _I guess you_ve talked to her mom,_ Liam says. _I hope Brenda_s okay._ _It was a difficult conversation._ It was in fact heart wrenching, even though Frankie was not the one who actually broke the news. That unfortunate task went to a police officer in Hobart, Maine, who knocked on Mrs. Moore_s door and informed her in person. When Frankie called a few hours later, Taryn_s mother sounded exhausted from crying, her voice barely a whisper. _Brenda was always nice to me,_ says Liam. _I felt kind of sorry for her._ _Why?_ _Her husband ran off with another woman when Taryn was ten. I don_t think she ever got over her dad leaving them._ _Maybe that_s why she freaked out when you left her._ He winces at the parallel. _It_s not like we were engaged or anything. It was just a high school thing. Except for growing up in the same town, we didn_t have much in common. I_m planning to go to law school, but Taryn didn_t have any plans, not really. Except maybe getting married._ Frankie looks down again at Liam_s iPhone. _These are the most recent text messages she sent you?_ _Yeah._ _These were sent back in February. There_s been nothing since then?_ _No. It all stopped after we had this big blowup at a restaurant. I was having dinner with my new girlfriend, Libby. Somehow Taryn found out we were there, and she barged right into the dining room. Started screaming at me, in front of everyone. I had to drag her outside and tell her, once and for all, that we were finished. I think that_s when she finally realized it really was over between us. After that, her texts stopped. I figured she_d moved on, maybe found a new boyfriend._ _Her mother didn_t say anything about her daughter having a new boyfriend._ Liam shrugs. _Brenda wouldn_t necessarily know. Taryn didn_t tell her everything._ Frankie thinks about the secrets her own daughters have kept from her: The birth control pills that she found in Gabby_s underwear drawer. The boy who_d been sneaking into Sibyl_s bedroom, until the night Frankie pulled her service weapon on him. Yes, girls were very good at keeping secrets from their mothers. _Was there another boyfriend?_ Mac asks. _I don_t know of one,_ says Liam. _Ever see her with anyone else?_ _Just that classmate of hers. Guy who hung around her all the time. I don_t know his name._ _You think she was involved with him?_ _You mean, like her boyfriend?_ He laughs. _No way._ _Why not?_ _If you saw him, you_d understand. The kid_s as big as a blimp. She probably let him hang around with her out of pity. I can_t think of any other reason._ _Friendship, maybe? A dazzling personality?_ _Yeah. Sure._ Liam snorts, because he can_t imagine being supplanted by a fat kid. He has the blind self-confidence of someone who knows damn well he_s good looking, who has never doubted his self-worth. Frankie decides she does not like this boy after all. _Why do you think she killed herself, Liam?_ He shakes his head. _Like I said, we lost touch. I wouldn_t know._ _She was your girlfriend. You_ve been together since high school. You must have some idea why she did it._ He thinks about it for a moment, but only for a moment. As if the question isn_t important enough to rack his brain over. _Really, I don_t._ He glances down at his Apple Watch. _I_m meeting someone in twenty minutes. Are we done here?_ _What an asshole,_ says Frankie as she and Mac eat lunch in the Boston PD canteen. _Comes with being a golden boy,_ says Mac. _I knew a few kids like him when I was growing up. Arrogant jerks. Thought they were something special, when all they did was hit the genetic lottery. Wish I_d gotten a few of those genes._ _What_s wrong with your genes?_ _You mean, aside from the fact I_ve got diabetes, male-pattern baldness, and rosacea?_ _I don_t think rosacea_s genetic, Mac._ _No? Well, somehow, I caught it from my mom._ He hoists the ham-and-cheese sandwich to his mouth and takes a giant bite. Given his weight and his hypertension, ham and cheese are not what he should be eating, but that sandwich looks damn tempting to Frankie, compared to her Caesar salad. Frankie doesn_t even like salads, but this morning she glimpsed her reflection in the ladies_ restroom, and it confirmed what her ever-tightening waistband already tells her. Salads it will have to be until her trousers stop pinching. Until she doesn_t grimace every time she glances in a mirror. _So you got any plans for tonight?_ he asks. _I think it_ll be TV and bed._ She resignedly spears a romaine leaf with her fork and chews it without enthusiasm. _Why do you ask?_ _If you_ve got no plans tonight, Patty_s got this cousin._ _Of course she does._ _He_s sixty-two, has a good job, owns his own house. And he_s got no criminal record._ _Ah, a real winner._ _Patty thinks you_d really like him._ _I_m not in the market, Mac._ _But don_t you ever think about getting married again?_ _No._ _Seriously? Someone to come home to every night? Someone to grow old with?_ _Okay. Yeah._ Frankie puts down her fork. _I do think about it. But there aren_t any Romeos beating down my door at the moment._ _This cousin_s real nice, and Patty_s anxious for you two to meet. We can keep it casual, just a double date with beer and burgers. If you get antsy, you just have to give me the signal, and you can make your escape._ Frankie picks up her fork and listlessly moves lettuce around on her plate. _Does her cousin know I_m a cop?_ _Yeah. She told him._ _And he_s still interested in meeting me? Because that usually stops _em cold._ _Patty says he likes strong women._ _Who are also armed?_ _Just don_t wave it around. Be your usual charming self. It_ll be great._ _I don_t know, Mac. After that last blind date . . ._ _You know why that went wrong? It_s _cause you let your daughters set it up. Who the hell sets up their mom with a bartender?_ _Well, he was pretty hot. And he made a mean martini._ _You should always start with the background check._ He gives a bow. _And yes, you can thank me for that. At least with Patty_s cousin, you know right off the bat he_s okay._ Okay. When had okay become the best she could hope for in a man? When did she stop seeking the thrill of raging hormones and a pounding heart and settle for the merely acceptable? _What_s this cousin_s name?_ _Tom._ _Tom what?_ _Blankenship. He_s a widower with two grown kids. And like I said, I ran a background on him. Not even a parking ticket._ _Sounds like stellar dating material._ Tonight is billed as nothing more than beer and burgers at a pub on Brighton Avenue, so why is she still standing in front of her closet, debating what to wear? She has not been on a date in months, not since the hot-but-larcenous bartender. She doubts this evening will turn out any better, but there is always that chance, that cruel glimmer of hope, that this man could be the one, and she doesn_t want to blow it. So she stands perusing her closet for just the right outfit. Not the blue dress, which she outgrew about two sizes ago. She yanks it off the hanger and tosses it onto a growing pile that_s bound for the Goodwill donation bin. Her green dress has stains in the armpits, so into the donation pile that goes as well. Defeated by her pitiful wardrobe, she finally rakes out her tried-and-true black pantsuit. It_s who she is anyway, a pantsuit kind of gal. Finally dressed and ready to go, she walks into the living room to collect her coat from the closet. Her daughter Gabby looks up from her magazine and makes a face. _Oh, Mom. Are you really going to wear that, tonight?_ _What_s wrong with it?_ _This is supposed to be a date, not a court appearance. Why not put on a dress? Something sexy?_ _It_s thirty-three degrees outside._ _Sexy requires sacrifice._ _Says who?_ _Says this article._ Gabby flips the magazine around to show her mother a photo of a dewy-faced model in a red leather minidress. Frankie scowls at the six-inch heels. _Yeah. No._ _C_mon, Mom, just make an effort. Sibyl and I think you_d look pretty tasty in spike heels. You can borrow mine._ _First of all, daughters should not use the word tasty and Mom in the same sentence, unless it refers to food. And second, I really don_t care if I look tasty._ _Yes, you do._ _Okay, maybe I do._ Frankie thrusts her arms into the sleeves of her coat. _But not for some guy I_ve never even met._ _Wait. Did Mac set up this blind date?_ _Yes._ Gabby groans and looks back at her magazine. _Then you might as well just go as you are._ _Wish me luck. I might be home late._ Gabby flips a page. _I doubt it._ _. . . and then when our kids were still in high school, she went to culinary school and got her degree at age forty-four. Started a whole new career when she opened her own catering business. Man, did we eat well, the kids and me! She picked up a ton of clients up on Beacon Hill, doing their Christmas parties, New Year_s, bar mitzvahs . . ._ Frankie glances at her watch, takes another gulp of beer, and wonders how to gracefully slip out of the pub and go home. How much more can the man say about his saintly wife, Theresa, who_s been dead now for seventeen months? Not a year and a half but a precise seventeen months, his status as a widower tallied the same way parents tally a toddler_s age. That_s how fresh his loss still feels to him. When Frankie first glimpsed her date across the pub, sitting with Mac and Patty, she had high hopes for the evening. Tom is trim and clean shaven, and he still possesses most of his hair. When they shook hands, his grip was firm, and he looked her in the eye as he smiled. They ordered drinks and chicken wings for the table. She told him she had twin daughters. He told her he had daughters too. Then he started talking about his late wife. That was two pitchers of beer ago. Patty announces brightly: _I_m off to the ladies_ room._ As she stands up, she gives her husband a poke in the arm. _Hm? Oh yeah, I_ll get us another round of beer,_ says Mac and obediently rises from his chair as well. Frankie knows exactly why they are leaving her alone with Tom-who-has-no-criminal-record. Patty views every unmarried acquaintance as a personal challenge, and Frankie has been her most vexing project. Left alone at the table, both Frankie and Tom sit in painful silence for a moment, both of them staring at the platter of now-ravaged chicken wings. _I_m sorry,_ he sighs. _I guess I_m not lighting any fires for you._ This is true, but Frankie wants to be kind. _I can see this is all too soon for you, Tom. It takes time to heal. Until you do, you shouldn_t force yourself to get back into circulation._ _You_re so right. This is my first date since . . ._ His voice trails off. _But Patty_s been nagging me for months to get back in the game._ _Yeah, she_s a force of nature._ He laughs. _Isn_t she, though?_ _But you_re not ready._ _Are you?_ _It_s not so fresh for me._ He looks at her. _I_m sorry. Here I_ve been talking about Theresa all evening, and I should have asked about your husband. What happened to him?_ _Patty didn_t tell you?_ _All she told me was that it was a few years ago._ She is grateful for Patty_s discretion. It_s painful enough that so many of Frankie_s colleagues know the truth. _He had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected._ In more ways than one. _It happened three years ago, so I_ve had time to adjust._ _But do we ever, really? Adjust?_ She considers the question. Thinks about the months after her husband, Joe, died, when she lay awake at night, tormented by questions that have no answers. By grief mingled with rage. No, she will never really adjust, because now she questions everything she once believed in, everything she took for granted. _The truth is I_m still not over his death,_ she admits. _In a way, it_s kind of comforting, knowing that I_m not the only one who_s having a hard time._ She smiles. _I think you must have been a really good husband._ _I could have been a better one._ _Remember that, if you ever get married again. But right now, I think you should just take care of yourself._ She reaches for her purse. _It was nice meeting you, Tom,_ she says, and she means it, even though there are no sparks between them, and there probably never will be. _It_s late, and I should head home._ _I know this wasn_t the world_s best date, but can I call you sometime? When I am feeling ready?_ _Maybe. I_ll let you know._ But as she walks back to her apartment, Frankie already knows they won_t be seeing each other again. Sometimes there are no second chances at happiness. Sometimes, merely being content with your life is enough. The air is so cold it feels like she_s inhaling needles, but it reminds her she is alive. Unlike her husband. Unlike Taryn Moore. Unlike all the other lost souls whose bodies have passed beneath her gaze. She takes another deep breath, grateful for its sting, and walks the rest of the way home. BEFORE CHAPTER 8 TARYN She really should be a better friend to Cody. He was the one person who always answered his phone when she needed a favor, the one person who tolerated her bad moods. The two of them were the black sheep of the flock, and ever since they_d met last year, when he_d chosen the seat next to hers in Western Lit, they_d been hanging out together, if only because black sheep always recognized their fellow outcasts. So yes, she really should be nicer to him, but sometimes it irritated her, the way he was always hovering nearby, trying to be helpful. Trying to burrow his way deeper into her life. She wasn_t blind; she knew why he saved her a seat in class, why he shared his class notes and slipped her candy bars when she was hungry. She would never like him the way he wanted her to like him, and how could she, when there was so much about him she found unattractive? It wasn_t just his waddling walk or the crumbs that always stuck to the front of his sweaters. No, it was his sheer neediness that annoyed her, even though she did understand where it came from. Like her, he was the kid who never fit in, the kid who was desperate to prove himself. She looked at him across the library table, where they both sat working. For the past hour he_d been hunched in his chair, working on the class paper that was due in two days, but he had tapped out scarcely two sentences on his laptop. As usual he was wearing his red baseball cap with the grease-stained bill, and it was pulled so low over his forehead that she couldn_t see his eyes. _Why don_t you ever take that thing off?_ she asked him. _Huh?_ _Your hat. I never see you without it._ _It_s the Red Sox._ _Well, you should at least wash it._ He pulled it off, leaving a hat-shaped indentation in his baby-fine blond hair, and smiled down at the brim. _My dad bought this for me when we went to a Red Sox game. They lost that day to the Yankees, but it was still pretty great, being in the stands. Eating hot dogs and ice cream. Having my dad there with me._ Cody caressed the grease stain on the brim, like Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp, hoping for the genie to appear. _It was the last day we spent together. Before . . . you know._ _Where_s he living now?_ _Somewhere in Arizona. I got a card from him at Christmas. He said maybe I could come visit him one of these days. Said he_ll take me camping._ No, he won_t, she thought. Because dads who left their families never kept any of the promises they made. They didn_t want visits. They didn_t want to be reminded of the kids they_d abandoned. They wanted to forget they even existed. Cody sighed and mashed the Red Sox hat back onto his head. _You ever see your dad?_ _Never. Not in years. He doesn_t care, and I don_t either._ _Of course you care. He_s your dad._ _Well, I don_t._ She stuffed her books and papers into her backpack and rose to leave. _Neither should you._ _Taryn, wait._ By the time he caught up with her, she was already out of the building and walking so fast across the quad that he was panting hard just to stay apace. _I_m sorry I mentioned your dad,_ he says. _I don_t want to talk about him. Not ever._ _Maybe you need to talk about him. Look, I know he walked out on you, but so did my dad. It_s something we just have to live with. It hurts, but it also makes us stronger._ _No, it doesn_t. You know what it makes us? Damaged. It makes us rejects._ She halted in the center of the quad and turned to face him. He flinched, as if she were about to strike him. As if he were afraid of her, which he probably was, on some level. Afraid of losing her or infuriating his one good friend on this campus. _When someone says they love you, it should mean forever,_ she said. _It should be something you can count on, something you can stake your life on. But my dad, he couldn_t be bothered to stick around. He left the people he was supposed to love. I hope he burns in hell._ Cody stared at her, taken aback by her fury. _I_d never do that to you, Taryn,_ he said softly. The breath suddenly whooshed out of her; so did the rage. _I know._ Cody touched her arm, tentatively, as if she might singe him. When she didn_t pull away, he put his arm around her shoulder. His touch was meant to be comforting, but she didn_t want him to get the idea there could ever be anything between them, not in the way he hoped. She pulled away. _I_m done studying for the night. I_m going home._ _I_ll walk you there._ _No, I_m fine. See you tomorrow._ _Taryn?_ he called, so plaintively that she couldn_t just walk away. She turned to see him standing alone under the lamppost. His hulking body cast a mountainous shadow. _Liam_s not worth it,_ he said. _You can do better. A lot better._ _Why are you talking about him?_ _Because that_s what this is really all about, isn_t it? It_s not about your dad leaving you. It_s about Liam ignoring you. Shutting you out. You don_t need him._ _You don_t understand anything about him and me._ _I understand more than you think. I understand he doesn_t deserve you. What I don_t understand is why you won_t let him go, when there are other guys who_d be better for you. Who want to be with you._ She couldn_t see his eyes in the shadow of his baseball cap, but she could hear the longing in his voice. _I know you_ve been with him forever, but that doesn_t mean it_s going to last._ _It_s what we planned. It_s why I_m on this campus. Because we promised to stick together, no matter what._ _Then why isn_t he here? Why doesn_t he answer when you call?_ _Because he_s studying. Or he_s in class._ _He_s not in class now._ She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Liam_s number. The call went straight to voice mail. She stared at the screen, and a possibility dawned on her, one she_d refused to consider. _Give me your phone,_ she said to Cody. _Is something wrong with yours?_ _Just give it to me._ He handed his phone to her and watched as she called Liam. It rang three times, and then she heard: _Hello?_ _I_ve been calling you all day. You never called back._ There was a long silence. Too long. _I can_t talk now, Taryn. I_m in the middle of something._ _In the middle of what? I need to see you._ _What_s this number you_re calling from?_ _It_s my friend_s phone. I haven_t been able to reach you. I thought maybe you accidentally blocked me._ _Look, I have to go._ _Call me? Call me later, no matter what time it is._ _Yeah. Sure._ The connection cut off. She stared at the phone, stunned by how abruptly Liam had ended the conversation. _So what did he say?_ Cody had been watching her the whole time, and she didn_t like his knowing look. She slapped the phone into his hand. _None of your business._ CHAPTER 9 JACK _I_m still guessing this back pain is nothing but a strained muscle,_ said Charlie as Jack drove him to his hospital appointment. _I don_t know if these x-rays are necessary. And you sure didn_t need to drive me there, boyo._ _No problem. It_s my day off._ _On a Friday, huh? Nice schedule you got there._ _The perks of being a university professor._ Jack glanced at his father-in-law, whose face had suddenly tightened with what he had to assume was pain. _You hurting?_ _A little._ Charlie gave a wave. _Nothing Tylenol can_t fix. Anyway, aches and pains come with the age. Wait till you_re seventy; you_ll see how hard it is just getting out of bed in the morning. Maggie says maybe all I need is physical therapy or a massage or two. I_m just hoping she doesn_t insist I go to a yoga class or some fool thing._ _Yoga_s good for you._ Charlie snorted. _Can you see me in one of those tighty-tight outfits, doing the downward beagle or whatever they call it?_ He looked at Jack. _This summer if I_m feeling better, maybe we can all go on a biking trip out west._ He reached into his jacket pocket and unfolded a glossy travel brochure. _Look at this. Backroads has a trek in Bryce Canyon. That_s something I_d like us to do together, while I still can. After all, I_m now a card-carrying septuagenarian._ He drew out the syllables as if pronouncing the word for the first time. _Yeah, but a young sep-tu-a-gen-ar-ian._ _When I was with Cambridge PD, I didn_t take nearly enough vacations. I spent too much precious time with the goddamn scum of the earth. Assholes you_d never miss if they got popped in the head with a bullet. Instead I should_ve taken more trips with Annie. Gone on that Alaska cruise she always wanted to take. Jesus, I regret that. Now I_ve gotta make up for lost time._ Charlie looked at Jack. _So see if Maggie can get that time off in June. About ten days._ _I_ll ask her._ _And the trip is on me. All expenses paid._ _Really? How come?_ _Because I_d rather enjoy my loot while I_m still alive and not have you spend your inheritance on memorial gutters._ _That_s very generous of you. But we still need new gutters._ _You work on getting her to take some time off._ He looked at Jack again. Filteredting away together would be good for both of you._ _We could certainly use a vacation. A chance to unwind._ _And do other things._ _Other things?_ He winked. _I_m still hoping to see a grandchild one of these days._ _I_m hoping so, too, Charlie._ _So when_s it going to happen? I hope while I_m still young enough to throw him baseballs._ The subject of children was so painful that for a moment, Jack didn_t respond. He just kept driving, wishing he could avoid even thinking about the question. _She_s still shook up about that last miscarriage, isn_t she?_ Charlie said. _She took it pretty hard. We both did._ _That happened a year ago, Jack._ _Doesn_t make it hurt any less._ _I know, I know. But you_re both still young. You_ve got plenty of time to have kids. My Annie was almost forty-two when she finally had Maggie. Greatest gift God could_ve given me. You_ll know what I mean when you_re holding one of your own._ _I_m working on it,_ was all Jack could think of saying. _Then think about Bryce Canyon, okay? The two of you in a romantic hotel room. It_d be a great place to start._ Jack did think about it. That afternoon, as he sat grading papers in the Garrison Hall Dunkin_ caf?, the Bryce Canyon brochure kept calling to him. He set aside the stack of student essays and stared instead at the brochure_s tempting vistas and suntanned faces. A week together in a beautiful place was exactly what they both needed. Maybe Charlie was right; maybe it was time to try again for that baby. _Professor Dorian?_ Through the noisy buzz of conversation in the caf?, he almost missed the greeting. Only when she repeated it did he finally look up to see Taryn standing beside his table, backpack slung over her shoulder. She flicked a strand of hair off her face, a gesture that seemed more nervous than casual. _I know it_s your day off, but they told me in your office that I might find you here,_ she said. _Do you have a few minutes to talk?_ He slipped the brochure into his briefcase and gestured to the chair across from him. _Sure, have a seat._ She draped her parka over the chair and sat down. Although they regularly met in class and had on occasion chatted in passing, this was the first time he_d sat and studied her closely. Tawny eyes shone from an open, intelligent face. She wore no makeup, making her appear both innocent and vulnerable. A hairline scar above her full lips made him wonder how she_d been injured_perhaps a childhood spill off a bicycle? A tumble from a tree? She took out her laptop and set it on the table. _I_ve just come up with a topic for my final paper, and I want to run it by you,_ she said, getting straight to business. _I_m thinking of writing about Dido and Aeneas, because it_s their story I keep coming back to. Well, her story, anyway._ _Yes, it was apparent in class that you felt a connection with Queen Dido. What will be your focus?_ _They_re clearly both passionate characters, but their passions are at odds with each other. He cares more deeply about his public duty, and he betrays her to fulfill his destiny. She_s completely invested in her love for him, and she makes the ultimate sacrifice for that love._ _Public duty versus private desire. Duty versus love._ _Exactly. In fact that might be a good title_Duty versus Love._ She tapped out some notes. _I_ve read what other scholars have written about The Aeneid, and I hate how so many of them view Dido as a stereotypical female_irrational, emotional, even pitiful. They believe her femininity threatens Aeneas_s masculine ideals of power, virtue, and order._ _And you don_t see it that way._ _Not at all. And I suspect Virgil agreed with me. He portrays her as a complex woman, a proud and powerful queen, right up until the moment when Aeneas betrays her. And then she takes her fate into her own hands. Even directs the construction of her own funeral pyre._ _You think Virgil_s sympathies lie with Dido?_ _Yes, she was seduced and abandoned. It_s also obvious in the difference in their speeches. Dido_s are filled with emotion. Aeneas is all about authority and destiny. He lacks the very passion that makes Dido so human, so real. Virgil shows us that she_s the true hero._ _Interesting premise. If you can link this with your Medea paper, you could even turn this into a graduate thesis someday. If you decide to pursue a doctorate._ Her eyes lit up at the possibility. _Wow, I hadn_t thought about it as a thesis, but yes! A paper about how women pay the price when their passions threaten men. We see that theme with Abelard and Heloise. We see it with Hemingway. When a woman_s need for love becomes too great for her man._ Her face clouded over. _We see it in real life too._ Before he could catch himself, he said, _Sounds like you_re speaking from experience._ She nodded as her eyes suddenly filled up. She looked away to recenter herself. He didn_t know what real-life experience had fueled her focus on this theme, but he recalled Jessica_s comment that Taryn seemed obsessed with men who betrayed women. _Sometimes writing can be a healing experience. You know, empowering yourself to deal with hurt and doubt._ She nodded and wiped her eyes, making her look all the more vulnerable_and making him want to comfort her. But he caught himself. _It sounds like a fine topic. I_m impressed by how deeply you_ve thought about these themes,_ he said. _Are your parents academics?_ She gave an embarrassed shrug. _Hardly. My parents divorced when I was ten years old. And my mom works as a nurse_s aide. We live in this little town called Hobart, up in Maine._ _Hobart? I_ve been there. It was years ago, when my wife and I went white-water rafting._ Back in the days when he and Maggie had still taken vacations. _Then you know it_s in the middle of nowhere. Just a little mill town._ _But it appears to have produced a budding scholar._ She smiled. _I_d like to be. There are so many things I_d like to be._ _What other English courses are you taking?_ _Eighteenth-century lit, with Professor McGuire._ He tried to keep a poker face. Ray McGuire_s office was next to Jack_s. At the beginning of the term, he had complained to Jack that the current crop of female students was distinctly unattractive. _But keep your eyes out for this girl named Taryn Moore. She_s the stuff wet dreams are made of._ Now he understood what Ray had meant. Taryn got up and put on her jacket. _I_m going to dive right into this paper. Thank you._ _And if you_re thinking of grad school, let me know. I_ll be happy to write a letter of recommendation._ Together they walked out of the building. The breeze ruffled her hair, and with the sunlight streaking it in shades of red and gold, she looked like a Pre-Raphaelite siren. _See you in class,_ she said and gave a little wave. For a long moment Jack stood on the sidewalk, and as he watched her walk away, he felt like a sad clich?. Here he was, just another married college professor coveting a female student. How needy. How pathetic. No, he wasn_t just another professor. He was the youngest full professor in the English Department, and someone who loved his job and who last year had been honored with an Excellence in Teaching Award. Moreover, he was privileged to teach in Boston, the most collegiate city in America and most desirable venue for college teaching. For every opening in English departments throughout eastern Massachusetts, hordes of PhDs rained down applications. Also, Jack had tenure, so coveted because no other profession granted employees lifetime contracts_and the only way to lose it was to get caught doing something illegal or profoundly stupid. Like romancing your student. He pulled out his phone and texted Maggie. He_d managed to snag two tickets to tonight_s Boston Symphony Orchestra performance, and he asked where she wanted to meet for dinner beforehand. Five minutes later she texted back: No time for dinner. I_ll see you at the BSO. Meet me outside the entrance at 7! Even though they wouldn_t dine together, at least he_d be spending an evening with his wife. A night at the symphony was just what they both needed. On that cold February night, only a few people were standing outside the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to Symphony Hall. The program tonight was Schumann_s cello concerto, one of Maggie_s favorites, and she_d been looking forward to this concert for weeks. Almost as much as Jack had been looking forward to a date with his wife. He stood curbside, waiting for a glimpse of her, but at 7:15 p.m., there was still no sign of Maggie. At 7:20 he spotted Ray and Judy McGuire hustling up the sidewalk from the CU garage. _Are you panhandling?_ Ray said. _I should be, given my salary._ Ray laughed and shook Jack_s hand. _So where_s that beautiful bride of yours?_ Jack glanced at his watch. _She should be here any minute now._ _Great. See you at intermission._ They climbed the steps and disappeared inside the building. Ten more minutes passed. Jack_s face was numb, but he stayed at the curb, bouncing up and down to keep warm, fingering the tickets in his coat pocket. Now he was worried. Had she been in an accident? He dialed her phone but got only her voice mail. He left a message: _Are you okay? Where are you?_ At 7:45, his cell phone rang at last. Maggie. Thank God. _Jack, I_m so sorry! I have an emergency here, and I really can_t leave right now._ _Isn_t there anyone else who can cover for you?_ _No. Not for this patient._ In the background, Jack could hear the ominous beeping of a medical alarm. _I_ve gotta go. I_ll see you at home._ She clicked off. He stood there in disbelief, shivering in the cold and hollow with disappointment. He thought about calling it a night and just heading home, but that would be a waste of an expensive concert ticket. He walked into the building just as the lights blinked, announcing that the performance was about to start. As he followed the usher down the aisle, Jack was acutely aware that he was the only patron still not seated. The usher pointed him to a row with every seat occupied, except for the conspicuous gap of two. Jack sat down and laid his coat on the empty seat. The woman to his right glanced at him, no doubt wondering why his seatmate was an overcoat. As the house lights dimmed, he noticed the couple to his left was holding hands. Others in front were whispering last-minute thoughts, one woman leaning into her mate and kissing him on the cheek. God, how he wanted Maggie there. He wanted her to be holding his hand, whispering in his ear, kissing his cheek. Instead she was across town, huddled over a patient who needed her. But I need you too. And I miss you. The hall burst out in applause as the conductor walked onto the stage. Jack could not focus on the music. He scarcely registered the performance and was only aware that the Schumann concerto was over when the audience again applauded. He grabbed his coat and pushed his way out and up the aisle for the exit. It was nearly eleven o_clock when he pulled into his driveway and parked beside Maggie_s Lexus in the garage. The house was dark except for one dim light in the kitchen. She was no doubt already in bed, he thought, so he was surprised to find her sitting at the kitchen counter with a glass of wine. She looked exhausted, her face ashen, her eyes sunken deep in shadow. _Are you okay?_ he asked. _What happened?_ She swallowed more wine. _One of the residents was too ill, so I had to pinch-hit. The patient_s fine, but I really couldn_t get away. So how was the concert?_ _It would have been better with you there._ _Sorry._ She took another sip of wine. _Feel like snuggling?_ Her code for lovemaking. _You mean now?_ _Yes, now._ He squeezed her hand, and together they walked up to the bedroom. Afterward, when Jack lay beside his sleeping wife, he wondered if this was how it would be from now on. If sex was something they did instead of dealing with the real issues between them. He stared up into the dark, listening to her breathe softly beside him. And an image floated into his mind. A woman with tawny eyes, her windblown hair streaked with sunlight. CHAPTER 10 TARYN Liam must have ratted her out. That was the only reason she could think of for why she_d been asked to visit room 125 in Dickinson Hall, where the placard on the door read: OFFICE FOR UNIVERSITY EQUITY AND COMPLIANCE, DR. ELIZABETH SACCO, TITLE IX COORDINATOR. The email Dr. Sacco had sent her yesterday hadn_t mentioned why Taryn needed to visit her, but of course it was about Liam. One of his neighbors, probably one of the blondes, must have told him she_d been slipping into his apartment while he was out. Or he_d gotten tired of all her phone calls and texts, so he_d filed a complaint about her. It hadn_t had to come to this. All he_d had to do was sit down with her, talk to her. She_d remind him of all their years together, their good memories, the many ways their lives were joined. They_d wrap their arms around each other, and everything would go back to the way it used to be between them. This was just a misunderstanding; that was what she_d tell Dr. Sacco. Taryn knocked on the door and heard: _Come in._ The woman sitting behind the desk greeted her with a neutral expression, and it bothered Taryn that she could read so little in that face. Dr. Sacco was in her forties, with neatly clipped blonde hair and a navy-blue blazer that would look at home in a bank or a corporate boardroom. _Taryn Moore, right?_ Dr. Sacco said, brisk and businesslike. _Yes, ma_am._ _Have a seat._ She gestured to the chair facing her desk, and Taryn sat down. Lying on the desk were half a dozen file folders, and Taryn quickly scanned the labels, searching for Liam_s name, but Dr. Sacco swept up the files so quickly that Taryn couldn_t get a look at them before they went into the out-box. _Thank you for coming in today, Taryn._ _I_m not sure why I_m here. Your email didn_t say._ _Because we need to keep this matter confidential. I_m the coordinator for Title Nine Equity and Compliance. Are you familiar with what my office does?_ _Sort of. I looked it up online before I came._ _Title Nine prohibits discrimination based on gender, and my office enforces those standards. Whenever there_s a complaint alleging sex discrimination or harassment involving students or staff, it_s my duty to investigate. If I find the complaint has merit, we take disciplinary action, which can mean anything from counseling to outright dismissal. If the matter is serious enough, we refer it to law enforcement._ Dismissal. Was she about to be expelled? She thought of all the student loans she_d taken out, all the double shifts she_d worked every summer to pay for tuition. And she thought of her mother dragging herself home at dawn after another exhausting night of changing bedpans at the nursing home, just so her daughter could attend Commonwealth. It had to be Commonwealth, because she needed to be with him. Would you really do this to me, Liam? _We take every complaint seriously,_ said Dr. Sacco. _I need to hear what both sides have to say, and I document everything. So after you and I have talked, I_ll ask you to sign a statement._ Taryn_s hands were trembling. She kept them below the desk so Dr. Sacco couldn_t see them and know how scared she was about the possibility of expulsion. She_d sneaked into Liam_s apartment only half a dozen times_well, maybe it was a dozen times_but she never took anything of value. She took only things he_d never miss, things that mattered only to her. Or was this about all the phone calls and texts? She thought back to the times she might have gone too far, all the things she probably should not have done, like reading his mail or stealing his pillowcase or following him around campus. Merely minor infractions, really. _. . . so far I_ve interviewed two other students, but I_ll be checking with the rest of the class to see if they experienced the same issues with him._ Taryn blinked, suddenly registering her words. What was she talking about? She_d missed something. _The class? Which class?_ _Star-Crossed Lovers._ Taryn shook her head. _I_m sorry, I don_t know what this is all about._ _Professor Jack Dorian. What has been your experience with him?_ All at once a breath whooshed out of her, and for a moment all she could do was sit without speaking, too relieved to say a word. So this was not about Liam at all. This was about something else entirely. Dr. Sacco frowned at Taryn_s silence. _Do you have anything to say about him?_ _Why are you asking about Professor Dorian?_ _Because there_s been a complaint filed against him, by one of his female students._ _Who?_ _I can_t reveal her name, but she_s in your nine-fifteen seminar. You probably witnessed the interaction she_s talking about._ _What did she say happened?_ _She said Professor Dorian made comments that were sexist and demeaning. She said he targeted her in particular, but other women in the class were just as upset about what he said._ _I never witnessed anything like that._ _Maybe you missed class that day, so you didn_t see it._ _I haven_t missed any of his classes. He_s my favorite teacher._ _So he didn_t say anything that offended you?_ _No._ Taryn paused. _What would happen to him if he had done something like that?_ _It depends how offensive the comments were. A simple warning might suffice. But if it were serious, I might recommend disciplinary action._ _Could he actually lose his job?_ Dr. Sacco hesitated. Picked up a pen and rocked it between her fingers. _For truly serious infractions, yes. It_s happened. In this day and age, the university tries very hard to be sensitive to our students_ needs. In the past, bad behavior might have been overlooked, but not now. We take every complaint seriously._ _Who made this complaint?_ _As I said, I can_t give you any names._ _Was it Jessica?_ Dr. Sacco_s lips pressed together in a tight line. That was all the confirmation Taryn needed. _So it is her._ Taryn snorted. _Well, I_m not surprised._ _Why do you say that?_ _She_s been a total jerk in class, and he called her on it, in front of everyone. Plus he gave her a C-minus on her last paper. You don_t do that to girls like Jessica. There are consequences._ _She told me that Professor Dorian made sexually denigrating remarks that made her feel personally attacked. Did you witness such behavior?_ _No. Never._ _She claims he said, and let me quote from her complaint, _that he could understand a teacher having an affair with a student.__ She looked up at Taryn. _Did he say that?_ Taryn hesitated. _Well, maybe he said something like that. But it was in the context of the theme we were discussing. It was in reference to the characters in our assigned reading._ She shook her head in disgust. _You know what? This is a bullshit complaint. I_m the reason Jessica_s going after him._ Dr. Sacco frowned, bewildered. _You?_ _Jessica and I got into an argument in class. It became pretty nasty, and Professor Dorian stepped in to defend me. That pissed her off, so she turned on him._ _I see._ But did she see? She thought of the tight clique of girls that always surrounded Jessica, girls who trailed in her wake like simpering ladies-in-waiting. Would any of them dare to contradict her, or would they all corroborate Jessica_s version of the truth? She might be the only student to defend Dorian, and suddenly it seemed vital that she did. He_d stood up for her, and now she_d stand up for him. _Professor Dorian would never harass a student. I don_t know what she thinks she_s doing, but Jessica certainly didn_t tell you the truth. And I_ll sign a statement._ _In his defense?_ _Absolutely. I_ve never met a teacher who_s so passionate about his material. When he talks about Romeo and Juliet or Aeneas and Dido, you feel their pain. He_s one of the best teachers you have in this university. If you fire him because of what some spoiled bitch says, then you_re everything that_s wrong with the Me Too movement._ Dr. Sacco was clearly taken aback by her ferocity, and for a moment she couldn_t muster a response. Staring at Taryn, she tapped her pen on the desk like a jittery metronome. _Well,_ she said, _you_ve certainly given me an alternative viewpoint. I_ll take that into account._ _Do you need me to sign a statement?_ _What you_ve just told me is sufficient. But if I receive any more complaints about Professor Dorian, I_ll need to talk to you again._ Taryn was about to walk out of her office when she stopped and turned back. _Are you going to tell him what I said about this?_ _No. This conversation was confidential._ So he_d never know that she was the one who_d defended him. This would be her own little secret. For now. CHAPTER 11 JACK Over the weekend, Charlie sent Maggie and Jack yet another brochure for the Bryce Canyon biking trip he_d been urging them to join. It featured alluring photos of visitors riding in tandem through the canyons and raising their glasses of wine at group dinners. There was a wide spectrum of ages, from millennials to people who looked Charlie_s age, and he_d scrawled across the page: We can be in these pictures too! At seventy, Charlie was in great shape, biking and working out regularly at the gym. _Why the hell not do this?_ he said over the phone. _I_m ready to sign on when you are. Let_s carpe the diem while we still have the diem to carp._ That Tuesday, Charlie_s diem began to cloud over. Because of his back pain, he couldn_t do any heavy lifting, so Jack stopped by his place to fill the log hoop for his wood-burning stove. _The doctor called me this morning,_ Charlie said, trying to sound casual as Jack tossed another log onto the stack. _He wants to do more tests on me._ Jack clapped sawdust from his hands. _What kind of tests?_ _An MRI scan, to start with._ _How come?_ _He said the x-rays showed some anomalies in my spine. But he won_t tell me what it means._ Jack felt a nugget of ice pass through his heart. _Does Maggie know?_ _I_m not sure I want to bother her about it. She_s got enough things to deal with._ _It could be just scarring from your fall off the bike a few years ago. You did crack your spine then._ _Whatever. I_m scheduled for Thursday._ Rarely had Jack pondered Charlie_s inevitable mortality. In the fifteen years he_d known him, Charlie had been the picture of health, and his eventual death seemed abstract, some event in the vague future. As Jack drove back to campus, he didn_t want to consider the possibility that something was seriously wrong with Charlie. Nor did he want to think about how it would devastate Maggie. His phone chimed with a new email. As he waited at a stoplight, he glanced down at a message from someone named Elizabeth Sacco. He didn_t recognize the name, but he saw she had a university email address. He opened the message and read it with mounting alarm: Dear Prof. Dorian: In my role at the university, I am responsible for looking into all reports of gender discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault. My office was recently made aware of a report that alleges you violated the University_s Title IX Policy. Incident Summary: A student alleges that you made inappropriate comments in English 3440 _Star-Crossed Lovers_ during a discussion about male teachers in various literary texts having affairs with their students. This university takes these allegations seriously, and I would like to schedule a meeting to discuss the allegations. Please know that you are welcome to have an adviser or advocate accompany you. Additionally I would greatly appreciate your not discussing this matter with anyone so as to preserve the integrity of the inquiry. I look forward to hearing from you soon. The instant he was back in his office, he checked the university website, and there she was: Dr. Elizabeth Sacco, Title IX Initiatives Office. He only vaguely recalled that the university even had such an office, dedicated to sexual harassment claims. These charges were ridiculous. Never before had he been accused of impropriety. For several minutes he sat trying to compose himself before he responded. If he sounded defensive, it could antagonize Dr. Sacco. If he sounded dismissive, she might be offended that he didn_t take the charge seriously. He forced out a neutral response and told her he was free to meet the next day, at her convenience. For the rest of the day, he was weighed down by an indefinable guilt, wondering if he had indeed committed some awful offense. His mind kept spinning awful possibilities, creating an apprehension that the complaint would snowball, take on a life of its own. What if Sacco chose to side with the student, who he assumed was female? What if they made him the sacrificial lamb at the altar of political correctness? How ironic, since he_d always been a proud defender of women_s rights. Now he might be lumped in with the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Or maybe he was overreacting. Maybe this was just a misunderstanding and Elizabeth Sacco was simply doing her job, following up on unfounded rumors. But the next morning, while he stood outside the door labeled OFFICE FOR UNIVERSITY EQUITY AND COMPLIANCE, he felt as if he were about to step into Kafka_s The Trial, where Josef K. woke up one day to discover he_d been arrested for an unknown crime and faced his own execution. He opened the door, and the receptionist flashed him a cool smile. _Professor Dorian?_ _Yes._ _Dr. Sacco_s expecting you. Come this way._ . . . to the chopping block. He_d been expecting an ogre, but the woman who greeted him seemed pleasant enough, in her early forties and dressed in a somber gray pantsuit. With her short hair and owlish glasses, she reminded him of a clergywoman. He settled in the chair across from her, suppressing the urge to blurt: Why the hell am I here? This was the office that dealt with claims of sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse. Last year, it had investigated the rape of a female student by a drunken hockey player. The complaint against him seemed absurd by comparison, and he wondered if this was simply a student_s revenge for a bad grade he_d given. They exchanged a few tense pleasantries about the recent snowstorm and the miseries of New England weather. She told him she was from South Florida and, until a few years ago, had seen snow only in movies. Then a few beats of silence told him the pleasantries were over. _I understand how unsettling this may be for you,_ she said. __Unsettling_ doesn_t come close. I thought at first your email was some kind of hoax, because I_ve never been accused of anything like this. This is not me._ _I_m simply trying to determine the facts, and I hope to resolve this in a way that satisfies everyone. As I wrote in my email, a student in your Star-Crossed Lovers class complained about comments you made._ _What comments?_ _You made this student uncomfortable when you spoke approvingly about teachers having affairs with students. Is that an accurate assessment of what you said in class?_ _Absolutely not! My comment was only in reference to characters in novels. I think I used as examples The Human Stain and Gone Girl. Are you familiar with those?_ _I saw the movie Gone Girl._ _Then you remember that Ben Affleck_s character took up with one of his students._ _Yes, I remember._ _And are you familiar with the letters of Abelard and Heloise?_ _They were lovers from the Middle Ages, as I recall._ _He was a teacher, and she was his young student. I simply pointed out that Heloise and Abelard may have inspired other writers to explore teacher-student affairs in contemporary fiction. And how these situations are driven by the characters_ circumstances._ She nodded. _I was an English major. I understand the point you were trying to make._ That was encouraging. _The male characters in these novels are all flawed and vulnerable. They have unhappy marriages, or they_re lonely, and they_re hungry for intimacy. That leads to the affairs. I was not advocating any such behavior, and it_s ludicrous to think that I was. I mean, what instructor would do that?_ _Yes, I understand. But you can appreciate, given current events, that we_re especially sensitive to any hint of sexual misconduct._ _Of course. I_m all in favor of disciplining men who harass and abuse. But I can_t believe anyone in class felt threatened by a discussion of fictional teachers having fictional affairs with fictional students._ She looked at her notes. _The student who filed the complaint also reported that you said you understood why it could happen. Why a professor would have an affair with a student._ She looked up at him. He felt his face flush in anger. _That_s not what I said. In fact__ _Professor Dorian._ She held up her hand. _I also interviewed other students, and one in particular described the incident exactly as you just did. She was very insistent that you were discussing only characters in a book, and nothing else._ She. Was it Taryn Moore who_d defended him? It had to be. _So I_m going to assume this complaint was merely a misunderstanding._ He released a sigh of relief. _Then . . . that_s it?_ _Yes. However, for future reference, you might consider including trigger warnings on your syllabi. Other professors are doing that, alerting students that some of the course material might be offensive because of violence, sexual abuse, racism, et cetera._ _I know others are doing that, but I have a problem with trigger warnings._ _Why?_ _Because feeling uncomfortable is what a college education is all about_being exposed to disturbing aspects of human experience. We_re talking about twentysomething adults who are exposed to a lot worse in the daily news. I_m not going to infantilize them._ _I_m certainly not going to tell you how to teach your courses. But just consider it._ He got up to leave. _Just one more thing,_ she said. _The university strictly prohibits retaliation against anyone involved in a Title Nine investigation._ _I wouldn_t do that even if I knew who complained._ But he did know, or he had a pretty good idea. He could picture Jessica now, exchanging sly winks and conspiratorial whispers with her roommate, Caitlin, whenever they disagreed with anything he said. And he remembered the C-minus he_d scrawled on Jessica_s paper, a grade she_d angrily challenged. But he would not retaliate. He_d simply show up for class and carry on as if nothing had happened. He shook Elizabeth Sacco_s hand, thanked her for dropping the charge, and walked out, feeling fifty pounds lighter. And thinking: Thank you, Taryn. CHAPTER 12 JACK _What did the student complain about?_ Maggie asked as they drove to the clinic to meet Charlie. They were both feeling anxious about his appointment, and to fill the silence, he_d mentioned his meeting with the Title IX coordinator. _We were discussing the letters of Heloise and Abelard. You know, the two lovers from the twelfth century,_ he said, as if that explained things. But it didn_t. _Heloise and Abelard? Isn_t there an exhibit about them at the MFA? I saw a banner for it on one of the buses._ _Right. The exhibit opens this week._ _So what do Heloise and Abelard have to do with your Title Nine issue?_ Suddenly he wished he had never brought up the subject. Since the complaint had been dismissed, he felt exonerated, a victim of a vengeful student. On some level, he_d thought that sharing the situation with Maggie would neutralize any suspicions she might have. But on another level he felt as if he were recklessly confessing to a crime he_d never committed. _I explained to the class that the Heloise-and-Abelard affair served as a model for contemporary stories like Gone Girl and others._ _Wasn_t Abelard her teacher?_ _Yeah._ _And he was a lot older than she was?_ _Yeah. As a result of the affair, he was castrated and served out his days in a monastery. And Heloise was shut away in an abbey._ _Why did the student report you to the Title Nine office?_ _It was a dumb misunderstanding. And the charges were dropped._ _Jack, what was the complaint? What did you say to make the student uncomfortable?_ _I said_I told them there might be reasons why a teacher would have an affair with a student._ Out of the corner of his eye he could see her staring at him. _And have you?_ _Have I what?_ _Had an affair with a student?_ _Jesus, Maggie!_ he snapped. _Why would you even ask that?_ Was he protesting too much? As if, in some dark recess of his consciousness, he had actually considered the possibility? _It_s just that . . ._ She sighed. _My job_s been crazy lately. It_s gotten hard to carve out enough time for us._ _I miss it, you know. The way we used to be._ _You think I don_t miss it too?_ She looked at him. _I_m trying, Jack. I really am. But there_s so much I have to juggle. So many people who need me._ _And what happens if we ever have kids? How are they going to fit into your schedule?_ She stiffened and turned away. At once he regretted mentioning the possibility of a child, knowing how devastated she_d been by her last miscarriage. The ghost of that lost baby still haunted them both. _I_m sorry,_ he said. She stared straight out the window. _That makes two of us._ Charlie was the last patient on Dr. Gresham_s schedule for the day, and they found him sitting all alone in the waiting room, holding a tattered copy of National Geographic in his lap. It had been only a few days since Jack had last seen Charlie, and he was shocked by how much older he looked today, as if the sand in his hourglass was spilling away ever more rapidly. Charlie smiled as they walked in and tossed the Nat Geo onto the coffee table, where it landed on the pile of other ancient magazines. _You made it,_ he said. _Of course we made it, Dad._ Maggie bent down to give her father a hug. _You didn_t need to drive here on your own. We could have picked you up._ _Trying to take away my car keys already? You_ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands._ He gave Jack a nod. _Thanks for joining me on this happy occasion._ _Sure thing, Charlie._ Filteredting older is all fun and games._ He winced and shifted in his chair. _The fact Dr. Gresham needs to discuss the MRI results in person tells me it_s about to get a whole lot more fun._ _It doesn_t necessarily mean anything,_ Maggie said, but Jack doubted Charlie was fooled by her reassurance. The false optimism in her voice was obvious. _Mr. Lucas?_ It wasn_t the nurse calling Charlie_s name, but Dr. Gresham himself. He stood holding a medical chart, his expression determinedly neutral. A bad omen, right there in his face. With a groan, Charlie rose from the chair, and they followed Dr. Gresham down a short hallway to his office. No one said a word; they were all girding themselves for what was coming. Maggie and Jack eased Charlie into a chair; then they sat down flanking him, the three of them facing Dr. Gresham across the desk. Gresham placed his hands on the chart and took a deep breath. Another omen. _I_m glad you could be here with your father, Maggie,_ Gresham said. _You can help explain things to him later, if what I say isn_t completely clear._ _I_m not an idiot,_ cut in Charlie. _I spent forty years as a cop. Just tell me the truth._ The doctor gave an apologetic nod. _Of course. I wanted to tell you this in person because I_m afraid the news isn_t good. The MRI shows a number of osteolytic lesions in your thoracic spine. It explains the pain you_ve been having, and__ _Osteo what?_ _Areas of bone destruction. There_s some danger of collapse and compression of T5 if it_s not treated with radiation, and fairly soon. As for the primary__ _So it_s cancer._ Dr. Gresham nodded. _Yes, sir. That_s what it appears to be._ Charlie looked at Maggie, who_d been shocked into silence. Maggie, who understood every word and yet couldn_t produce any of her own. _There are also multiple nodules in both the left upper lobe and right middle lobe of the lungs. Several of them are peripheral enough for a transthoracic needle biopsy. My best guess is adenocarcinoma. At this stage, with bone metastases__ _How long?_ Charlie cut in. Maggie reached for his hand, tried to hold it, but Charlie pushed her away, asserting he was still in control. He was not about to play the meek patient just because he couldn_t understand what these doctors were saying about him. _It_s, um, hard to say,_ Dr. Gresham answered. _Months? Years?_ _It_s not possible to predict these things. But some stage-four patients can live for a year or more._ _Treatment?_ Charlie asked. His voice was brusque and unemotional, while Maggie looked like she was about to crumble. _At this stage,_ Gresham said, _the treatment is palliative. Radiation for the bone lesions. Narcotics as needed for the pain. We_ll do everything we can to keep you comfortable and maximize your quality of life._ _Dad,_ Maggie whispered. Again she reached for his hand, and this time he let her take it. _Jack and I will be right beside you every step of the way._ _Fine,_ Charlie snorted, _but I_ll deal with it in my own way. If I have to go down, I_ll go down swinging. Screw cancer!_ He shoved himself out of the chair. Anger made him push past the pain, and suddenly he was the tough old Charlie that Jack knew, the Charlie who wasn_t afraid to face down thugs in a dark alley. As he strode out of the office, Maggie hustled after him. Jack heard the outer door slam shut. _Thanks, Doc,_ he said, rising to his feet. _I_m sorry about how he took the news._ _No one takes this kind of news very well._ Dr. Gresham shook his head. _I_m sorry it couldn_t have been better. The next few months are going to be tough on you all. Let Maggie know she can call me anytime. She_ll need all the support she can get._ When Jack walked out of the building, he found Charlie and Maggie standing beside his car. He was flushed and clearly angry as he waved her away. _I can drive home on my own._ _Dad, please. It_s no problem. You need to let us help._ He shook his head. _I don_t need a babysitter! I_m going home to pour myself a double scotch._ With a grunt, he climbed into his car and slammed the door shut. _Dad._ Maggie rapped at the car window as Charlie pulled out of the parking space. _Dad!_ Jack reached for her arm. _Let him go._ _He can_t just take off like this. He needs__ _Right now he needs his dignity. Let_s allow him that much._ Maggie pressed her hand to her mouth, trying not to cry. He took her in his arms, and they held each other as the sound of Charlie_s car faded away. CHAPTER 13 JACK It was a little before ten a.m. when Jack arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts. Over the main entrance hung a giant banner announcing the new exhibit: ETERNAL LOVERS: ABELARD AND HELOISE, with an image of the iconic pair in a passionate embrace. His Star-Crossed students were already waiting on the front steps, and as he approached, Jessica and Caitlin fixed him with sullen looks. He spotted Taryn standing off to the side, and he wanted to thank her for defending him against the Title IX accusation, but he_d have to do it later, in private. Certainly not while Cody Atwood hovered nearby, as he was today. Instead, he gave Taryn a smile and a nod, and it was enough to make her face light up. _Professor Dorian?_ said a young woman standing near the entrance. _Yes. You must be Jenny Iverson,_ he said. She nodded. _Assistant to the curator. I_ll be taking your class on a tour of the new exhibit. So welcome, everyone!_ As he followed the group up the marble steps to the second floor, he reminded himself not to reveal any grudge he might have against Jessica, even though he was certain she_d been the source of that Title IX complaint. Keep your cool, Jack. Just smile at the little jerks. They passed through the Rabb Gallery, past Maggie_s favorite painting in the entire museum: Renoir_s Dance at Bougival. He paused to admire the image of the two dancers, the woman in a red bonnet, the man in a straw hat, both so joyously in love. Twelve years ago, he_d proposed to Maggie before this very painting. Let that always be us, he_d said to her then. How different their lives looked today. They arrived at the Farago Gallery, where the walls were covered with a dizzying display of oil paintings and triptychs and engravings, all featuring Heloise and Abelard. In the center of the room were glass display cases with fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts of the lovers_ letters. On the far wall hung movie posters and recent translations of their story_evidence that their tragic tale had become timeless. _This exhibit was timed to open around Valentine_s Day, for reasons which should be obvious,_ said Ms. Iverson. _Instead of dinner and a movie, maybe a perfect date night will be a trip to this museum!_ _Most boring date ever,_ Jack heard Jessica mutter behind him. He chose to ignore it. _I understand you_ve already read the letters of Abelard and Heloise, so you know their love story. How an affair between a teacher and his brilliant, beautiful student pitted Christian devotion against sexual passion._ He noticed Cody looking sideways at him. _As much as we want to believe this was a true story, the authenticity of the letters has never actually been established, and some scholars argue they_re merely fiction._ _What do you think?_ Taryn asked her. _There_s such passion in these letters; I prefer to believe they_re real._ _Or they could just be erotic fantasies written by some horny monk,_ Jessica said. Iverson responded with a tight smile. _Perhaps._ _Does it really matter who wrote them?_ Taryn said. _They so beautifully immortalize a doomed love affair. I_m guessing they were the inspiration for other tales about star-crossed lovers. Maybe even Romeo and Juliet._ _Excellent observation,_ said Ms. Iverson. As they moved on, Jack heard Jessica whisper to Caitlin, _Brownnosing little bitch._ They passed by a Pre-Raphaelite painting of the doomed couple, golden-haired Heloise adorned in lustrous silk, Abelard with a head of dark ringlets. In the painting beside it was a completely different version of Abelard, depicted as a medieval scholar in a cowled hood. He looked more like a wizard than a teacher as he kissed an innocent Heloise. _He looks like Voldemort putting the moves on Hermione,_ Jason said to a few chuckles. _Maybe she did it for the A-plus,_ Jessica said. Jack saw Cody flash Taryn a frown. What the hell was the scuttlebutt in class? Did they really think there was something going on between him and Taryn? He wanted the tour to be over, but unfortunately, they were moving on to sexier depictions of the pair. They stopped before a nineteenth-century oil painting showing Abelard holding Heloise_s hands against her bared breast. Behind them, her menacing uncle Fulbert lurked in a shadowy doorway. But it was the rosy glow of Heloise_s breast that held Jack_s gaze, a breast unmarred by age or the relentless pull of gravity. He was acutely aware of Taryn standing beside him, her gaze on the painting as well. She was close enough for him to catch the scent of her hair, to feel her sweater brush against his arm. Abruptly he turned and moved on. They came to the final group of illustrations, depicting Abelard_s punishment. _As you already know, since you_ve read the letters,_ said Ms. Iverson, _Heloise_s uncle Fulbert had Abelard castrated as punishment for the affair with Heloise. So some of these images are quite disturbing._ They certainly were. One black-and-white eighteenth-century engraving showed Abelard laid out on a canopied nuptial bed with two men holding down his legs while Fulbert performed the castration. Heloise stood restrained as she watched the scene, screaming in horror. In another etching, Abelard was held down, his head covered by a hood, while a black-robed priest wielded a knife between Abelard_s legs. The final painting, The Farewell of Abelard and Heloise, by Angelica Kauffman, showed nuns leading a weeping Heloise from Abelard, the lovers_ arms stretched out to each other as they were forever separated. _She goes to a convent. He gets his balls cut off,_ Cody said. _I think it_s pretty clear who got the worst of it._ _Not Abelard,_ Taryn said. _He got what he wanted, even if he did spend the rest of his life sexless and in a monastery._ _Thanks for meeting with me,_ Taryn said an hour later as she and Jack sat at a table in the MFA_s restaurant. _I probably should have scheduled an appointment during office hours._ _We both have to eat lunch. We might as well have our meeting here._ _Yeah, but . . ._ She looked around the dining room as a waiter glided past with four glasses of wine on his tray. _The coffee shop would have been fine too._ _The food_s much better here._ He shook out his napkin with a nonchalance he wasn_t quite feeling. Professors often had lunch with their students, yet he felt a twinge of guilt, sitting here with Taryn. This restaurant was where he and Maggie had celebrated their engagement, right after he_d proposed to her in front of Renoir_s dancers. The waiter came to deliver their drink orders, iced tea for Taryn and a pinot noir for him. He took a sip to center himself. _To be honest,_ he said, _I thought this restaurant would offer more privacy. Because I wanted to thank you for coming to my defense about that Title Nine complaint against me._ _How do you know I_m the one who defended you?_ _Elizabeth Sacco told me one of the female students in the class stood up for me. I realized it had to be you._ _It was supposed to be confidential,_ she said as a smile twitched on her lips. _The complaint was ridiculous anyway. I can_t believe anyone was triggered by what you said._ _Neither can I,_ Jack said. _About affairs between teachers and students?_ _I was talking about a book. I wasn_t advocating any such behavior._ _But would you?_ _Would I what?_ _Ever have an affair with a student?_ He felt his heart take a gulp of blood. _I_m a married man. And it_s strictly forbidden by university rules. Besides, I_m twice the age of my students._ _You talk like you_re ancient or something._ _Compared to you, I am._ She smiled. _But not so old I wouldn_t date you._ The coquettishness of her response disturbed him, but he let it pass. He took another sip of wine. _Rules aside, it_s just not something I would ever do. Because it_s wrong._ She nodded. _And that_s what makes you different. You care about right and wrong. About loyalty. A lot of people in this world wouldn_t give a damn about that._ She pulled up her museum-shop bag. _Want to see what I bought?_ _Sure._ He was relieved to change the subject. She pulled out a box from which she extracted a white ceramic statue of a woman, a dagger gripped in her hand. Carved at the base of the statue was the name Medea. _You didn_t buy anything about Abelard and Heloise?_ _No, because this is more my kind of woman._ _Medea?_ She read aloud the description on the box. __In Greek mythology, Medea punished her unfaithful husband by murdering their two children. Wounded by infidelity, blinded by jealousy and anger, Medea contemplates her pending crime.__ She looked at him. _She_s a far more interesting character than Heloise, don_t you think?_ _Why?_ _Because Medea_s not passive. She_s active. She uses her rage to take command of the situation._ _By murdering her children?_ _Yes, it_s horrible, what she does. But she doesn_t spend the rest of her life whining woe is me._ _And you find that admirable?_ _I find it worthy of respect._ She placed the statue back in the box and stuffed it into her backpack. _Even if men might find the idea terrifying._ _Terrifying?_ _Female rage._ She looked straight at him, and the fierceness of her gaze unsettled him. _That_s what I_d like to write about. Medieval literature emphasizes female passivity. It saddles women with all those thou shalt nots. We_re not allowed to be immodest or wanton or rebellious. But Greek mythology celebrates our power. Think of Medea and Hera and Aphrodite. They don_t passively accept male infidelity. No, they react to it, sometimes violently. And they . . ._ Her voice suddenly dropped away. She was no longer looking at Jack but over his shoulder. He turned to see what had caught her attention, but all he noticed was a young couple walking past the hostess stand and out of the restaurant. He looked at Taryn and was alarmed by how pale her face was. _Are you all right?_ She shot to her feet and yanked her jacket from the chair. _I have to go._ _What about your lunch? It_s still coming._ She didn_t answer. She dashed out of the restaurant, just as the waiter returned to their table. _Your lobster rolls,_ he said and set down two plates. Jack looked at the chair where Taryn had been sitting. _I think you should box up her order._ _Isn_t she coming back?_ He glanced at the exit. Taryn had vanished. _I don_t think so._ CHAPTER 14 TARYN They were half a block ahead of her, unaware that she was following them, although she was staring so fiercely surely they could feel the heat of her gaze on their backs. Who was that girl with Liam? How long had this been going on between them? It was obvious that something was going on, just by the way he draped his arm over her shoulders, by the way their heads tipped together. In her high-heeled boots, she was almost as tall as he was, and the cinched belt of her down jacket emphasized a model-thin waist and slim hips. Tight blue jeans showed off impossibly long legs. Her stomach churned, and suddenly she felt so sick she reeled against a streetlamp and retched into the gutter, vomiting up sour-tasting water. For a moment, all she could do was hang on to that icy pole as people passed by her. No one asked if she was okay. No one stopped to offer a kind word. Though surrounded by pedestrians and traffic, she was all alone, invisible. When at last she lifted her head, Liam and the dark-haired slut were nowhere to be seen. It was only a ten-minute walk to Liam_s off-campus apartment. When she arrived and rang his buzzer, no one answered. She let herself into 2D to wait for him. The instant she stepped into his apartment, she sensed there was something different in the air_the way it smelled, the way the molecules themselves seemed statically charged as they swirled around her. What had once belonged to her was now foreign terrain, claimed by a usurper, and she_d been blind to what was now so obvious. She remembered the alien cartons of yogurt she_d seen in his refrigerator, the Stanford Law School brochure in his stack of mail, and the fact his bed had been so neatly made. It was her doing. The Bitch. She_d managed to slither her way into her territory, and Taryn had missed all the signs. She sat on the sofa facing the bookcase, where the photo of Liam and herself used to be. Instead of their picture was a small crystal globe, something she didn_t recognize. It caught the wintry light from the window, and she couldn_t stop staring at it. Yet another item that did not belong there. Her hands were numb from the cold. From the shock. She tucked them inside her jacket and hugged herself. There was no one else here to hug her because Liam was now hugging someone else. All afternoon and into the evening, she waited for him. She heard his neighbors on the second floor come home: The Abernathys returning from their boring jobs back to their boring lives. The blondes, giggling and chattering as they jangled keys. And from across the hall came the clang of virtual swordsmen in combat as the geeky grad students battled it out in some video game. But here in Liam_s apartment, there was only silence. She didn_t remember falling asleep. She only knew that when she woke up on the sofa, it was dark, the building was silent, and her cell phone battery was down to 6 percent. It was exactly 4:45 a.m., and he_d never come home. He was with her, of course. Staying with her. Sleeping with her. She left Liam_s building and walked through the bitterly cold darkness to her apartment. She passed a twenty-four-hour coffee shop and smelled fresh-baked croissants, but she had no appetite, even though she hadn_t eaten a thing since yesterday. It seemed like a lifetime ago. A time when she_d thought Liam was still hers. Before the Bitch had stolen him away. By the time she reached her apartment, she was so chilled she didn_t even bother to undress but just pulled off her boots and crawled into bed, shivering. Thinking about Liam and her. This was the first time in all their years together that he_d strayed. This new girl was new to him, alluring only because she was fresh meat, and he didn_t yet know her flaws. Everyone had secrets, and surely she did too. A shoplifting arrest? An abortion? A boyfriend she_d cheated on? If she had any secrets at all, Taryn would ferret them out. And she knew just the person who would help her. _I don_t want to do it,_ Cody said. They were sitting in the student union food court, and as usual he_d loaded up his lunch tray with all the things he shouldn_t be eating: three slices of pizza, an order of french fries, and an extra-large Pepsi. There was no green vegetable in sight, unless you counted the flecks of bell pepper trapped in the congealing mozzarella. Taryn sat across from him, nursing only a cup of coffee because she was too keyed up to eat anything, and she was so frustrated by Cody_s intransigence that she wanted to shove his tray off the table, just to force him to look at her. _I_m not asking you for a lot,_ she told him. _You_re asking me to spy on some girl I don_t even know._ _That_s why you have to be the one to do it._ _Why don_t you?_ _Because Liam might spot me. But he doesn_t know you. You can follow them anywhere, and you_ll never be noticed._ _Now you want me to follow them too?_ _It_s the only way to know what they_re up to. You_re the one who_s seen all those Jason Bourne movies. This is exactly what spies do. They blend into the crowd and become as invisible as ghosts. You_ll be my personal secret agent._ She leaned forward, her voice dropping to an intimate whisper. He was looking right at her now. His mouth might be full of pizza, but all his attention was on her. She saw the glint of excitement in his eyes at the thought of Cody Atwood, secret agent. He was no Jason Bourne, but he was all she had. _What do you want me to do?_ _Find out who she is. Her name, her hometown, whether she lives on campus or off. Find out her secrets._ _How am I supposed to do that?_ _You_re the spy. You should know what to do._ He was silent for a moment, rubbing a greasy hand on his chin as he mulled over how his hero Jason Bourne would handle the assignment. _I guess you_ll want photos,_ he said. _I can dust off my Canon._ _Great._ _And I_ll need my telephoto lens._ _You have one?_ _My grandpa gave me his old lens a few years ago. Haven_t used it in a while, but I_ll dig it out. So how do I find this girl? You haven_t even told me her name. Where do I look for her?_ _Begin with Liam._ He sighed and sank back in his chair. In that instant she knew she was losing him and she_d have to do something quick to reel him back. She put her hand on his arm. _You_re the only one I can count on, Cody._ _It_s not really about the girl, is it? It_s still about Liam._ _I need to know what she_s up to. What she_s planning._ _Why?_ _Because I don_t trust her. And I need to look out for my friends._ _By spying on him? On her?_ _I_d do it for you too. If I thought you were tangled up with the wrong person, I_d step in to protect you._ _You would?_ _It_s what friends do. We watch out for each other._ And she truly meant it. She might not be in love with Cody or attracted to him, but she would never let anyone hurt him. It was a matter of loyalty. _What if they catch me spying on them? I could get in trouble._ _You_re too smart. I_m sure you_ll be good at this._ He perked up, her chubby-cheeked Jason Bourne with a grease-smeared chin. _You really think so?_ _I know so._ He sat up straighter. Took a deep breath. _So where do I find Liam?_ Her name was Elizabeth Whaley, and she lived in an apartment building two blocks from campus. Cody turned out to be a better spy than Taryn had expected, and in only two days, he_d tracked down the girl_s apartment. It was a building that Taryn had walked past many times before, never imagining that this was where her enemy lived. The building was new, with underground parking, which meant the girl had money. That would impress Liam, and it would impress his parents even more. The girl was thin, fashionable, and rich. There had to be something wrong with her. Taryn waited across the street from the building until she saw a young man carrying a sack of groceries climb the steps to the front door. As he let himself in, she was right behind him, and they both stepped inside. No one ever felt threatened by a pretty girl, certainly not a girl who was smiling at them. He smiled back at her as they both got into the elevator, which quickly filled with the scent of green onions and cilantro from his sack of groceries. On the third floor he stepped off, but she stayed on until the fourth floor. It was her floor. The enemy_s. Taryn paused outside 405, listening. She heard no voices, no music, no sounds of anyone at home. But she was not planning to knock on that door anyway; instead, she knocked at 407, where the sound of a TV told her the occupant was at home. A bedraggled woman wearing blue jeans answered the door. Her blonde hair was uncombed, and her eyes were hollow with fatigue. Somewhere in the apartment, a baby started crying. The woman glanced toward the sound, then looked back at her visitor. _I_m sorry to bother you,_ said Taryn. _Do you happen to know your neighbor very well? The one next door?_ _You mean Libby?_ Libby. Short for Elizabeth. _Yes,_ said Taryn. _I run into her once in a while. Say hello in the elevator. Why?_ _Have you had any, um, concerns about her?_ _You mean like noise?_ _Or other things._ The baby cried louder. _Excuse me,_ the woman said and ran into a bedroom. She returned holding the baby, who fussed and squirmed in her arms. As she jiggled it, she asked: _Is there some sort of problem with Libby?_ _This is kind of, um, delicate._ _If there_s something I should know, I_d really like to hear it. Since I_m living right next door to her, with a baby and all._ _I know Libby from the building where she used to live. And we had, um, issues with her. Have you noticed anything?_ This had gotten her attention. Even as the baby wriggled and whimpered, the woman mulled over the question, no doubt reviewing every interaction she_d ever had with her neighbor. _Well, she_s kind of a cool cat. And I don_t think she_s a big fan of babies. At least, not my baby._ Okay. Keep going. _And there was that party she threw last month. You could smell the pot all the way down the hall. Some of the kids were drunk, and I know they weren_t all of age. It went on till way past midnight, kept me and my husband awake. And the baby too._ _That_s pretty inconsiderate._ _No kidding._ The woman was just getting started, trawling her memory for every irritation, every slight, as she jiggled the baby to keep it quiet. _Then there_s that boy she keeps bringing over. I mean, if they_re having sleepovers, why doesn_t he just make it official and move in? But I guess he can afford having his own apartment. I sure didn_t have that kind of money when I was in college._ That boy. Was she talking about Liam? _Oh, and there were the FedEx packages that went missing, down by the mail slots. We never did find out who took them. Did that happen in your building? Did things go missing there too?_ Taryn didn_t answer. She was thinking about Liam sleeping in another girl_s bed. A girl who had no right to him. No, there could still be a mistake. She didn_t know for certain it was Liam. _Please don_t tell her I was here,_ said Taryn. _Should I be worried? Should I tell the building supervisor?_ _Not yet. Not until I have proof._ _Okay. Thank you for warning me._ The woman cast a nervous glance toward 405. _I_ll keep an eye on her._ So will I. On her way back to the elevator, Taryn paused once again outside 405. She thought about how easy it would be to wait here until Elizabeth Whaley returned home. How easy it would be to follow her into her apartment and pull a knife from the kitchen drawer. She wondered how hard you had to push to make a blade sink into flesh, and how deep it had to go to pierce the heart. She considered all these things. Then she left the building and walked home. It was seven fifteen on Friday night when her phone dinged with a text message from Cody. When she opened it, at first she didn_t understand the significance of what she was looking at. It was a blurry photo taken through a window, and half the frame was filled with a man_s shoulder in the foreground. Then she focused on the couple seated in the background. The woman_s back was turned, but Taryn could see she had long dark hair and was holding a glass of red wine. The man seated across from her also held a glass of wine, raised slightly as though in a toast, and the camera had caught him in midlaugh. It was a face she knew all too well, and it was smiling at another woman. Feverishly she tapped out a reply to Cody: Where is this? He answered: Emilio_s on Concord St. She knew exactly where Emilio_s was. She remembered standing outside the restaurant with Liam when they were freshmen, salivating over the menu posted in the front window. She remembered him telling her, _One of these days, when we have something big to celebrate, I_ll bring you here._ He never had. Instead he was there with her, laughing and sipping wine. She texted Cody: R they there right now? Should be. I left only ten minutes ago. A roar whooshed inside her head, and she pressed her hands to her temples to block out the sound, but it was still there. The sound of her heart pounding. Breaking. It was a fifteen-minute walk to Emilio_s, and the whole time she thought about where they must be in their meal. By now the bread and appetizers would have been cleared away, and they_d be on the main course. She imagined the woman twirling pasta on her fork, Liam slicing into his forty-two-dollar veal entr?e. That was what he_d go for, the priciest item on the menu, if only to impress his date. She picked up her pace, her boots pounding the sidewalk in determined march tempo. She could not let them slip away from the restaurant before she confronted them. This must happen tonight, now. Her hands were clenched in fists, ready for battle. This was battle, and she thought of Achilles and Aeneas, Sparta and Troy. That war had been fought over a woman. This war would be fought between women. By the time she stepped into Emilio_s, she was flushed and sweating in her down jacket. Inside, over the background music of soft jazz, she heard the clink of chinaware and the happy buzz of conversation. In the bar, a cappuccino machine roared, frothing milk. _Can I help you?_ the hostess asked. Taryn pushed right past her into the dining room and spotted Liam at a table near the window. The chair across from him was empty, but there was a woman_s sweater and a purse draped over the back. She_d gone to the restroom, and Liam was too busy scrolling through his smartphone to notice Taryn until she was standing at his table. His chin snapped up, and he stared at her in disbelief. _Taryn? What are you__ _Why are you here with her?_ _I don_t know what you_re talking about._ _I saw you two at the museum. And now you_ve brought her here._ _You_ve been spying on us?_ _Just tell me why you_re with her._ _This is none of your business._ _It fucking well is my business._ _Okay, you have to leave. Now._ He glanced around, scanning the dining room for help. The hostess was already walking toward them, high heels clacking across the wood floor. _Is this woman disturbing you?_ she asked Liam. _Yes, she is. Maybe you could show her out._ _Not till you tell me why the fuck you_re here with her!_ Taryn screamed. Everyone was staring, but she didn_t care. She didn_t care that her hair was a wild tangle and her face was wind chapped and her voice was shaking. All she cared about was that Liam_s shame was now out in the open for the world to see. _That_s enough._ Liam rose to his feet and said to the other diners: _I_m sorry about this, folks. This woman is crazy._ _I_m calling the police,_ said the hostess, already pulling out a cell phone. _Liam, what_s going on?_ a new voice said. Taryn turned to see the Bitch, who had returned from the restroom and was frowning at her. She was doe eyed and so very pretty. _Why are you seeing my boyfriend?_ Taryn demanded. _I_m going to walk her outside,_ Liam said to the girl. _I_ll be right back._ _But Liam__ _Just wait here, okay, Libby?_ Liam hauled Taryn across the dining room and out the door to the sidewalk. An icy wind was blowing, and he was only in shirtsleeves, but he was so fueled by rage he seemed impervious to the cold. _Taryn, you are going to leave me alone. Do you understand?_ _So you_ve been cheating on me._ _Cheating? On you?_ His laugh was like a slap in the face. _Do you think you and I are still together? It_s over. It_s been over for months, and there_s nothing between us, okay? I told you that. I_ve been telling you since Christmas, but you_re like a psycho with all your phone calls and emails and texts. Do you get it now? I_m done with you. So leave me the fuck alone._ _Liam,_ she said softly. Then again, _Liam._ _Go home._ He turned back to the restaurant. _You love me. You told me so. Don_t you remember?_ _Things change._ _This doesn_t change! Not love!_ _We were kids. We didn_t know any better._ _I knew. I_ve always known. The only reason I came to Boston was to be with you. You asked me to._ _But now it_s time for both of us to move on. We_re not the same people we were in high school, Taryn. I_m heading to law school, maybe in California. I need to be able to breathe._ _Is she going to let you breathe?_ _At least she won_t smother me. She has plans of her own._ _Meaning you._ _No, meaning she_s going to do something with her life. She_s applying to grad school, thinking about a career._ _You two are going away to grad school together?_ _Come on, Taryn. Don_t make this harder than it already is. It was never going to work out between us._ _Because I don_t have her ambition? Or is it because I_m just the girl from Mill Street and you_re the doctor_s kid?_ _It has nothing to do with where you came from. It_s about where you_re going, and about where I want to go. It_s about having plans._ _But I had you._ He sighed. _I can_t be responsible for making you happy._ _All these years, you let me believe in us. You kept me around just so you could keep using me. Fucking me._ Her voice was rising, loud enough that people inside Emilio_s could hear her. Through the window she could see them staring. Let them. She hoped the Bitch was watching too. _I was just your whore, wasn_t I?_ _Taryn._ _Just a whore you used and threw away. You bastard. You bastard._ She lunged toward him. He grabbed both her wrists. _You_re acting nuts! Stop it. Stop it._ She fought him, sobbing as she pushed and punched, but he was too strong. She wrenched away, and he released her so suddenly that she stumbled backward and fell on her butt. Sitting on the icy sidewalk, she could feel the appalled gazes of people staring at her through the restaurant window. They_d seen the whole thing. They knew she was the one who_d attacked first. There was no blaming this on Liam. _Go home, Taryn,_ Liam said in disgust. _Go home before you embarrass yourself even more than you already have._ He walked back into Emilio_s, leaving her alone and shivering on the sidewalk. She could still feel all those eyes watching her as she slowly rose back to her feet. She couldn_t bear to look at the window, couldn_t bear to see them enjoying her humiliation. She just walked away, sore and limping from her fall on the pavement. She was so numb from cold and shock that she moved on automatic pilot. All she could hear were the same words echoing again and again in her head. I_m not good enough for him. Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough. Suddenly she glimpsed her reflection in a storefront window, and she halted, staring at her haunted eyes, her windblown hair. Was this what crazy looked like? Was this the moment she walked into traffic or threw herself off a building? She took a deep breath. Scraped the tangled hair off her face and stood up straight. Liam thought she wasn_t good enough. It was time to prove him wrong. AFTER CHAPTER 15 FRANKIE Sometimes this job is just too easy, thinks Frankie. The murder weapon, almost certainly covered with the killer_s fingerprints, is already sealed in an evidence bag. The estranged husband now sits handcuffed in a patrol car outside. And his wife . . . Frankie looks down at the body on the bed. The woman is dressed in a blue cotton nightgown, the hem scalloped with white lace. She lies curled up on her right side, her face nestled on a pillow that is now embedded with bits of scalp and brain matter, blasted there by the force of the gunshot. Judging by the wife_s peaceful pose, she must have slept through the sound of the key turning in her front-door lock, which she had not yet changed. She slept through the footsteps treading up the hall to her bedroom. And she was sleeping when the figure approached her bed, a figure that, after eight turbulent years of marriage, would have been chillingly familiar. _He won_t stop blabbing,_ says Mac. _If only they were all like him._ Frankie looks up as her partner walks into the bedroom. His face is still florid from the wind, his rosacea inflamed worse than ever on this cold morning. _Then you and I would be out of a job,_ she says and looks at the body again. Theresa Lutovic, age thirty-two. Maybe she was pretty once; it is now hard to tell. _Restraining order was filed just last week. New locks were supposed to be installed tomorrow._ _She did everything right,_ says Frankie. _Except for marrying the guy._ _Do the neighbors have anything to add?_ she asks. _Neighbors on the right didn_t wake up until they heard the sirens. Neighbor on the left heard a bang, doesn_t know what time it was, and went right back to sleep. If the asshole hadn_t called it in himself, it might_ve been a while before anyone found her._ Mac shakes his head in disgust. _No remorse, not one shred of it. In fact, he sounded like he_s fucking proud he did it._ Proud of asserting his God-given right of possession, Frankie thinks, looking down at what had once been that possession. Did this woman feel any inkling when she first met her husband that a blood-soaked bed was in her future? When they were dating, was there a hint_a glare, a sharp word_revealing the monster beneath his mask? Or did she ignore all the clues, lured in like so many women are by the promise of hearts and flowers and happily ever after? _At least there aren_t any children involved,_ Frankie says. Mac grunts. _Thank God for small blessings._ Eddie Lutovic sits at the interview table with his head held high, his back as ramrod straight as a soldier_s. As Frankie settles into the chair across from him, he does not meet her gaze but looks right past her, as if some phantom authority stands behind her. As if this matronly woman with bifocals and a navy-blue pantsuit cannot possibly be that authority. Frankie lets him stew in silence for a moment as she takes her time studying him. He could be considered a good-looking man, muscular and trim at thirty-six, his brown hair clipped short, his eyes an unnerving crystalline blue. Yes, she can see that some women might be attracted, even reassured, by his confident bearing. They_d think: Here is a man who can take care of me, protect me. _Mr. Lutovic,_ she says. _In case you_ve forgotten my name, I_m Detective Loomis. I need to ask you a few more__ _Yeah, you told me your name this morning,_ he cuts in, still refusing to look at her. She lets his obvious disdain slide right past her. Calmly she says, _At five ten this morning, you called nine-one-one from your estranged wife_s residence._ _That_s my house. Not hers._ _Regardless of whose house it is, you called the emergency operator. Did you not?_ _I did._ _You informed the operator that you_d just shot your wife._ He gives a dismissive wave. _Why am I talking to you? I should be talking to Detective MacClellan._ _Detective MacClellan is not the one sitting here. I am._ _Everything I need to say, I_ve already said to him._ _And now you_re going to say it to me._ _Why?_ _Because we_re not leaving this room until you do. So let_s just get on with it, shall we? Why did you shoot Theresa?_ At last he looks at her. _You wouldn_t understand._ _Try me._ _You think I wanted to kill her?_ _I think you must be angry that she was leaving you._ His glare could freeze water. _A man can only be pushed so far. That_s my house she was living in. You can_t kick a man out of his own fucking house!_ _Tell me about the gun you used. The Glock._ _What about it?_ _It_s not registered. And since Theresa had a restraining order against you, you were in illegal possession of that weapon._ _The Second Amendment says I have a right to own a gun._ _The State of Massachusetts doesn_t agree._ _Fuck the State of Massachusetts._ _And the State of Massachusetts will happily return the sentiment,_ she says and smiles. As they regard each other across the table, the gravity of his situation at last seems to sink in. Suddenly the breath goes out of him, and his shoulders sag. _It didn_t have to be this way,_ he says. _But it is. Why?_ _You don_t know how hard she made it for me. It was like she wanted to piss me off. Like she did things on purpose, to get me to react._ _What things?_ _The way she looked at other guys. The way she talked back if I called her on it._ _She asked for it, did she?_ He hears the disgust in her voice and raises his head to glare at her. _I knew you wouldn_t understand._ Oh, but Frankie does understand. She_s heard this excuse, or variations of it, too many times before. Not my fault. The victim made me do it. She could show him the list of calls his wife made to 911. She could show him the record of her last ER visit and the photo of her bruised face, and his answer would be the same: Not my fault. It never is. She sinks back, suddenly weary of her role in these three-act tragedies. Frankie is the character who invariably walks onstage too late, in the third act, after the damage is done. After the corpse is zipped into the body bag. If only she could have entered this drama earlier, when there was still time to warn the future Mrs. Lutovic: Turn back now, before you fall in love with this man. Before you say I do. Before the beatings and the restraining orders and the ER visits. Before the zipper of a body bag closes over you. But women in love are seldom dissuaded by the voice of experience. She thinks of her own impulsive daughters and all the nights she lies awake, waiting to hear the reassuring sound of their key in the door. How many hours of sleep has she lost as she watched the hours tick by, afraid to think of all the terrible possibilities? She knows all too well what can go wrong. She saw it today, in the bedroom of a dead woman. An officer escorts Lutovic out of the room, but Frankie remains in her chair, jotting down notes from the interview. It has all been recorded on video, but she is old fashioned enough to prefer the touch and permanence of paper. Words written in ink don_t vanish into the ether or get accidentally deleted, and the act of writing them down helps sear the interview into her memory. Her phone dings with a text message, but she keeps writing, in a rush to record her impressions before they fade. But what will never fade is her disgust toward Eddie Lutovic. She is so focused on her notes that she scarcely notices when Mac walks into the room. Only when she hears him sneeze does she look up. _ME_s office just called. They want to know if we_re coming,_ he says. _To what?_ _The autopsy on Taryn Moore._ She looks down at her angry scribbles. Thinks of Eddie_s leering face and his wife_s blood splattered on the pillow. She shuts her notebook. _It_s not like we have to go,_ says Mac. _It_s just a suicide._ _Are you absolutely sure about that?_ Mac gives a resigned sigh. _I_ll drive._ CHAPTER 16 FRANKIE In Frankie_s experience, autopsies seldom reveal surprises of any significance. Occasionally the ME might turn up an extra bullet wound or an occult tumor or, in the case of one deranged senior citizen who_d shot up his neighborhood, a whopping case of brain rot known as Pick_s disease. But most of the time, Frankie has already deduced the cause and manner of death even before the pathologist makes his first cut. Postmortems are often merely formalities, and Frankie is not required to attend them. This one, she wishes she had skipped. When she sees Taryn Moore_s body laid out on the table, it is far too easy for her to imagine it belonging to one of her own daughters. Daughters she nursed and bathed, whose diapers she changed; daughters she watched blossom from plump toddlers into slim-hipped teenagers into beautiful young women. Now here is another mother_s daughter, once equally beautiful, and the thought of that mother_s loss is so painful she wants to walk out of the room. Instead she stoically ties on a paper mask and joins Mac at the autopsy table. _Didn_t know if you two were coming, so I got started without you,_ says Dr. Fleer, the pathologist. If she didn_t know he was a fanatically health-conscious vegan and marathon runner, she would think he was seriously ill because he is cadaverically thin, his blue eyes staring from a disturbingly skull-like head. _I_m just about to open the thorax._ Frankie forces herself to focus on the torso as Fleer cuts through the exposed ribs with pruning shears. Standing beside her, Mac gives an explosive sneeze behind his paper mask, but it is the crack-crack of snapping bone that makes her wince. _Sounds like you should go home, Detective MacClellan,_ Fleer says. _Before you infect us with whatever virus you_re incubating._ _Why are you worried about a little virus?_ Mac snorts. _I thought you vegans were invincible._ _It wouldn_t hurt you to try going vegan for once. A few months into it, you won_t even miss those animal fats._ _When they make broccoli taste like steak, I may give it a try._ _You don_t have a fever, do you? Myalgias?_ _It_s just a head cold. This damp weather is hell on my sinuses. Anyway, I_m wearing a mask, aren_t I?_ _Paper masks are not airtight, and you were already sneezing when you walked in. By now, your viral spray has been broadcast all over this room._ _Excuse me for breathing._ Fleer cuts through the last rib and lifts off the shield of breastbone, revealing the heart and lungs. He peers into the chest cavity. _Interesting._ _What_s interesting?_ asks Frankie. _The aorta appears intact._ _Is that a surprise?_ _A five-story fall onto concrete usually results in far more intrathoracic trauma than I_m seeing in here. When a body hits the ground at that velocity, the heart jerks against its ligaments, and that can tear the great vessels, but I don_t see any large-vessel rupture here. Probably because she was only twenty-two. People that young have much more elastic connective tissue. They can bounce back._ Frankie looks at the glistening heart of Taryn Moore and thinks about the trauma from which young people sometimes don_t bounce back. A father who abandons you. A boyfriend breaking up with you. _So it_s the head injury that killed her?_ says Mac. _Almost certainly._ Fleer turns and calls across the room to his assistant, who is setting up the instrument tray for the next autopsy. _Lisa, can you pull up Taryn Moore_s skull x-rays so they can take a look?_ _What are we supposed to see there?_ says Mac. _I_ll show you. To fracture a skull takes only five foot-pounds of force. You can get that much force just by falling three feet onto your head, and this was a five-story fall._ Fleer crosses to the computer monitor, where Lisa has pulled up the skull films. _Based on these AP and lateral views, it appears she hit the ground, bounced, and hit the ground a second time. The initial impact caused this compression fracture of the squamous part of the temporal bone. The second impact fractured the frontal bone and resulted in the facial trauma. Using Puppe_s rule, we know the sequence._ _Puppe_s rule?_ says Mac. _Does that have something to do with dogs?_ Fleer sighs. _It_s called Puppe_s rule after Dr. Georg Puppe, the physician who first described the principle. It simply states that a fracture line will be stopped by any previous fracture line. And here, on this x-ray, you see where the bone has caved in? Based on the location, near the temporal fossa, I_d say there was very likely a rupture of the middle meningeal artery. When we open up the cranium, we_re almost certainly going to find a subarachnoid bleed. But let me continue with the thorax._ Fleer returns to the autopsy table and picks up a scalpel. He excises the heart and lungs, sets them in a basin, and moves on to the abdominal cavity. Swiftly and efficiently he removes stomach and bowel, liver and spleen. Frankie turns away, nauseated, when he slits open the stomach and empties the contents into a basin, releasing the sour stench of gastric juices. _The last meal she ingested was . . . red wine, I_d guess,_ he says. _I don_t see any food._ _She had macaroni and cheese in her microwave,_ says Frankie. _Well, she never ate it. There_s no solid food in here._ Fleer sets aside the sectioned stomach and turns his attention to the hollowed-out abdominal cavity. The viscera he_s removed so far are undiseased, the organs of a healthy young woman who should have outlived everyone around this table. Yet here they are, Fleer and Mac and Frankie, still alive and breathing, while Taryn Moore is not. _As soon as I finish the pelvis, we_ll open the cranium, and you_ll see just how much damage a five-story fall can . . ._ He pauses, his hands deep in the pelvic cavity. Abruptly he turns to Lisa. _Make sure you include a serum HCG in her blood work. And I_ll want to preserve this uterus in formalin gel._ _HCG?_ Lisa approaches the table. _Do you think she_s__ _Let_s have Dr. Siu look at the uterine sections._ He reaches for a syringe. _And we_ll need to collect DNA from these tissues._ _DNA? What_s going on?_ Mac says. Frankie doesn_t need to ask; she already understands the reason for the DNA collection. She looks down at Taryn Moore_s exposed pelvic cavity and asks: _How far along was she?_ _I don_t want to hazard a guess. All I can tell you is her uterus is abnormally large, and it feels soft, almost boggy, to me. We_ll preserve it in formalin and have a pediatric pathologist examine the sections._ _She was pregnant?_ Mac looks at Frankie. _But her boyfriend said they broke up months ago. You think it_s his baby?_ _If it isn_t his, we_ve just opened up a whole new can of worms._ Fleer uncaps the syringe. _DNA is the answer to all life_s mysteries._ _So now we know the reason she killed herself,_ says Mac. _She finds out she_s pregnant. Tells the ex-boyfriend, who refuses to marry her. He says it_s not his problem; it_s hers. She gets so depressed she takes a flying leap off the balcony. Yeah, it all makes sense._ _It certainly seems like a logical scenario,_ says Fleer. Mac looks at Frankie. _So are we finally satisfied this was suicide?_ _I don_t know,_ she says. _It_s that goddamn cell phone, isn_t it? It_s still bothering you._ _What cell phone?_ Fleer asks. _The girl_s cell phone is missing,_ says Frankie. _You think it was stolen?_ _We don_t know. We_re still waiting for her wireless carrier to produce the call log._ _Okay,_ says Mac. _Just for the sake of argument, let_s say this wasn_t a suicide. Let_s say someone pushed her off the balcony. How the hell are we ever going to prove that? We have no witnesses. We have no evidence of a break-in. All we know is she ended up dead on the sidewalk with a fractured skull._ A skull with two different fractures. Frankie crosses back to the computer, where Taryn Moore_s x-rays still glow on the monitor. _I have a question about these separate fracture lines, Dr. Fleer._ _What about them?_ _You said she hit the ground, bounced, and hit it again. How do you know that?_ _I told you, it_s based on Puppe_s law. The compression fracture of the temporal bone came first. The second impact caused the fracture of the frontal bone._ _What if she didn_t bounce? What if she only hit the ground once? Is it possible the first fracture happened before she even fell off the balcony?_ Fleer_s eyes narrow. _You are suggesting two separate traumatic events._ _The x-ray doesn_t exclude the possibility, does it?_ He is silent for a moment as he considers her question. _No, it doesn_t. But if what you propose is what actually happened, that would mean . . ._ _This wasn_t a suicide,_ says Frankie. CHAPTER 17 FRANKIE They sit at Mac_s workstation, where a photo of his wife, Patty, tanned and wearing a smile and a bathing suit, is prominently displayed. At fifty-two, Patty is still trim and bikini-worthy, and that photo never fails to annoy Frankie because she herself has never felt bikini-worthy. Also because it smacks of bragging: I_ve got a hot wife; what_ve you got? Which seems more than a little insensitive since half their colleagues in the unit are divorced or on the verge of it. Still, she can_t fault a man for being proud of his wife. Frankie avoids looking at smoking-hot Patty, even though the photo is hanging right above the desktop computer, and she focuses instead on the video that_s playing on Mac_s monitor. It_s footage from the surveillance camera mounted on the building across from Taryn Moore_s apartment, and while her balcony is too high to be in the camera_s field of view, this recording should have captured footage of her plummet to the ground, as well as the moment the Lyft driver discovered her body. Frankie dreads viewing the first event, that final split second between life and death, and her shoulders are tense as Mac fast-forwards the video and the time code rapidly advances from midnight to 12:30 to 1:00 a.m. A storm blew in from the west that night, and falling rain obscures the camera_s view. Suddenly there is the body, magically materializing on the sidewalk. It is little more than a formless dark lump beyond beads of falling rain. _Back up,_ says Frankie. Mac rewinds to 1:10. The body is not there. They both lean forward, watching intently as the video now plays at normal speed. _There she is,_ says Mac. He rewinds, frame by frame, and freezes the image. Frankie stares at what is captured on the screen at 1:11:25. Taryn_s falling body is merely a dark smear suspended in midair. They can make out no details of her face; they only know that they are looking at the last split second before she slammed onto the concrete. _I don_t see her cell phone anywhere,_ says Frankie. _Maybe it fell somewhere out of frame._ _Let_s see if anyone walks by. Picks it up._ Once again, the time code advances. At 1:20, a car drives past without stopping. At 1:28, another car. It is raining hard, and the drivers are no doubt focused on the road ahead as they peer through the water sheeting down their windshields. Car after car passes without stopping as Taryn Moore_s body lies there unnoticed, slowly cooling. Considering the foul weather and the late hour, it is not surprising that no pedestrians walk past. At 3:51, a black sedan glides into the frame. This vehicle does not drive past as the others did. Instead it slows down and stops, blocking the camera_s view of the body. For a few seconds the sedan idles at the curb, as if the driver cannot decide whether to brave the rain and investigate or to simply drive on as everyone else has done before him. At last the car door swings open, and a man steps out. He circles around to the sidewalk, where he crouches out of view. Seconds later, he scrambles back into his vehicle. _The nine-one-one call came in at three fifty-two,_ says Mac. _So this is our Lyft driver, right on schedule._ _He_s being a very good citizen. I can_t imagine he_d steal her phone. So what happened to it?_ _You and that phone. Look, there_s nothing here that changes our conclusion. We now know the exact time of death was one eleven. At three fifty-one, the Lyft driver finds her body and calls it in. Suicide_s still at the top of the list._ _Let_s see what the front-door camera shows._ The entrance to Taryn Moore_s apartment building is around the corner from where her body landed, and the only available surveillance footage is from a camera mounted three feet above the front-door intercom. The camera is old and the video quality grainy, but it would have recorded everyone who entered the building. Mac starts the playback at 9:00 p.m. At 9:35, they spot Taryn_s neighbor Helen Ng, her hair plastered down by rain. It was Friday night in a college neighborhood, and as the clock advanced toward midnight, tenants continued to straggle home. _There_s gotta be at least eighty, ninety people living in that building,_ says Mac. _We gonna try matching names to every one of these faces?_ _Let_s just keep watching. Maybe we_ll get lucky and pretty boy Liam will show up._ _Still won_t prove he killed her._ _It_ll prove he_s lying about the last time he saw her. And that_s a start._ _Only a start._ At 11:00 p.m., a couple appears, shaking off the rain. The young woman nibbles on the man_s ear, and as they step inside, he_s already pawing at her breasts. _That was not my college experience,_ says Mac. At 11:45, two young men stumble to the door, obviously drunk. At 12:11, a weary-looking Domino_s Pizza deliveryman trudges in from the rain, holding an insulated delivery bag. Five minutes later he exits the building, carrying his empty bag. Then, at 12:55, an umbrella appears. Unlike that garish paisley umbrella that Mac brought to the death scene, this one is black and anonymous, indistinguishable from a million other umbrellas, and the nylon dome hides whomever is holding it. Umbrella Person walks into the building without ever revealing his_or her_face to the camera. Frankie leans closer. _Now this might be significant._ _It_s just someone with an umbrella._ _Look at the time, Mac. It_s just sixteen minutes before Taryn Moore_s body hits the sidewalk._ _It might be another tenant coming home._ _Let_s see what happens next._ For the next thirty minutes, not much does happen. As the time stamp advances, no one else appears in the entranceway. The only movement captured on video is the occasional splatter of gust-driven rain blowing in. Everyone in the building, it seems, is home for the night. No. Not everyone. At 1:25 a.m., someone exits the building. It_s Umbrella Person. Once again, Frankie cannot see the face, cannot even determine the gender. Shielded by that dome of black nylon, he or she moves unseen past the camera and slips away into the night. _Go back,_ says Frankie. _Ten seconds._ Mac rewinds the video, and Umbrella Person is sucked backward into the building. Frankie scarcely dares to draw a breath as the video once again advances, but in slo-mo this time, frame by frame. The umbrella stutters into view. Just as it_s about to move out of the frame, Mac freezes the image. _Hey,_ he says. _Look at that._ He points to the black bulge that peeks out behind the umbrella, a bulge whose glossy surface reflects a splash of light from the entranceway lamp. _I think that_s a trash bag,_ he says. For a moment Frankie and Mac are silent, focused on the screen, where the video is now paused at 1:26 a.m. At that moment in time, Taryn Moore lay sprawled on the sidewalk around the corner, her skull shattered, her blood mingling with the rain. _Maybe there_s no connection,_ says Mac. _Even if there is, it_s gonna be hard for us to prove._ _Then we_d better get to work._ CHAPTER 18 FRANKIE The apartment_s ancient elevator seems even slower tonight, wheezing as it carries its four passengers and their boxes of forensic equipment up to the fifth floor. _At least this time we_ve got an elevator that works,_ says one of the crime scene techs. _Last week, Bree and I had to haul this gear up a rickety ladder to get to a death scene. It was up on the roof._ _Well, tonight, ladies,_ says Mac, _I_m here to assist you._ His gallant offer seems to impress neither Amber nor Bree, who respond with polite millennial smiles. Except for Mac, it is an all-woman team working the crime scene tonight, a sign of feminist progress that Frankie never imagined when she joined Boston PD over thirty years ago. It delights her to see so many young women like these two now patrolling city streets or arguing cases in the courtroom or gamely lugging heavy camera gear to crime scenes. Time and again, Frankie has told her twins that girls can do anything they put their minds to, as long as they work hard and stay focused and don_t let boys distract them. Someday, maybe they_ll listen. When they reach the fifth floor, Amber and Bree hoist up the two heaviest boxes of gear and carry them out of the elevator, leaving Mac to carry the lightest box. He sighs. _I feel more obsolete every day._ _We_re taking over the world,_ says Frankie. Filtered used to it._ They all pause in the hallway to pull on latex gloves and shoe covers before stepping into Taryn Moore_s apartment. Since Frankie_s previous visit, nothing has been removed, and the Medea textbook is still lying on the kitchen counter where she last saw it, the woman_s wrathful face glaring from the front cover. Bree sets down her Igloo container of chemicals and surveys the room. _We_ll start in here. But before I mix the luminol, let_s give the place a once-over with the CrimeScope._ She points to the box Mac has just set down. _The goggles are in there. You might want to put on a pair._ While Amber and Bree set up the camera and tripod, Frankie pulls on goggles to protect her eyes against any damaging wavelengths of light from the CrimeScope, which will be used for the initial survey of the room. While the CrimeScope will not detect occult blood, it will reveal fibers and stains that might warrant closer inspection. Amber closes the drapes against the city glow and says, _Can you kill the lights, Detective MacClellan?_ Mac flips the wall switch. In the abrupt darkness, Frankie can barely make out the silhouettes of the two young women who stand near the window. The CrimeScope_s blue light comes on, and Amber sweeps the beam across the floor, revealing an eerie new landscape where hairs and fibers now glow. _Looks like your victim wasn_t much of a housekeeper,_ Amber observes. _She was a college student,_ says Mac. _This place hasn_t been vacuumed in a while. I see a lot of dust and hair strands. Did she have long hair?_ _Shoulder length._ _Then these hairs probably belong to her._ The blue light skims toward the coffee table, illuminating a landscape of detritus shed by the apartment_s now-deceased occupant. Long after Taryn_s belongings are removed, after her body is laid to rest in a grave, traces of her presence will still linger in these rooms. The CrimeScope beam zigzags across an area rug and up the back of the sofa, where it comes to an abrupt stop. _Hello,_ says Amber. _This looks interesting._ _What is it?_ asks Frankie. _Something_s fluorescing on the fabric._ Frankie moves closer and stares at a glowing patch that seems to float untethered in the darkness. _It_s not blood?_ _No, but it could be a body fluid. We_ll test it for acid phosphatase and swab for DNA._ _You_re thinking semen? Her vaginal and rectal swabs showed no evidence of recent sexual activity._ _This stain could be weeks, even months old._ _Hmmm. Semen on the back of the sofa?_ says Mac. _We_re talking college kids, Detective,_ says Amber. _We can give you a long list of all the weird places we_ve found semen stains. And if you think about it, if a couple does it while they_re standing up, the stain would hit the sofa right about at this height._ Frankie doesn_t want to think about it. She doesn_t want to think about girls her daughters_ age having sex in any position. _Can we move on to the luminol?_ she asks. _I_m more interested in finding blood._ _Detective MacClellan, can you turn on the lights?_ Mac flips the wall switch. Where the patch once glowed, Frankie sees only dull green upholstery fabric. Whatever fluoresced under the CrimeScope is now no longer visible, yet she knows it_s still there, waiting to reveal its secrets. Bree opens the Igloo container and pulls out the bottles of chemicals that she_ll combine to make luminol. Since luminol rapidly degrades, it must be mixed on the spot. _You might want to put on your respirators now,_ Bree says as she pours the components into a jar and gives it a shake. _And once we kill the lights, Detectives, stay right where you are so I won_t bump into you in the dark. Okay, everyone ready?_ Frankie pulls on a respirator, and Mac flips the wall switch, once again plunging the room into darkness. Frankie hears the soft hiss of the spray bottle as Bree mists the room. Chemiluminescence has always seemed like dark magic to Frankie, but she knows it is merely the chemical reaction of luminol with the iron in hemoglobin. Long after blood is spilled, even if it is wiped away and painted over, its molecular traces will remain, silently waiting to tell a story. As the misted luminol settles onto the floor, the true story of Taryn Moore_s death is revealed. _Holy shit,_ says Mac. Parallel lines light up at their feet like phantom railroad tracks, marking where blood has seeped into the cracks between the scuffed floorboards, beyond the reach of any mop or sponge. What was invisible under bright light now glows with the ghostly echoes of violence. There it is. There_s the proof. _You recording this, Amber?_ says Bree. _Got it all on camera. Keep spraying._ The bottle hisses again. More parallel floorboard lines appear, like railroad tracks stretching across a black plain. _I see a drag mark here,_ Bree says. _Looks like the victim was pulled in the direction of the balcony._ _I see it,_ says Frankie. _Trace it backward. Where do the drag marks begin?_ Another hiss of the spray bottle. Suddenly a wedge of fluorescence glows on a corner of the coffee table. The surrounding floor lights up with scattered bright pinpoints, like a starburst that slowly fades into a black periphery. _Here,_ Bree says softly. _This is the spot where it happened._ Mac turns on the room lights, and Frankie stares down at where, only seconds before, splatters glowed like stars. All she sees now is the floor and an utterly ordinary coffee table, from which all visible evidence of violence has been washed away. Luminol has revealed the apartment_s secrets, and now when Frankie gazes around the room, she can picture how it all played out. She sees Taryn Moore opening the door to her visitor. Perhaps the girl does not yet sense danger when she allows her killer to enter. Perhaps she even offers the visitor a glass of wine or a bite of the macaroni and cheese she is heating up in the microwave. Perhaps she never sees the attack coming. But then it happens: a shove or a blow, sending the girl falling against the sharp corner of the coffee table. The impact fractures her skull and splatters blood on the floor. Now the killer drags the stunned girl toward the balcony. There he opens the door, letting in a rush of cold air, a scattering of rain. Is Taryn still alive as he lifts her over the railing, as he drops her from the balcony? Is she alive as her body plummets through the darkness? The killer now sets to work erasing the evidence of what happened. He wipes the blood from the floor and the coffee table. He stuffs the stained rags or paper towels into a black trash bag. He leaves the balcony door wide open and the lights on, carries the bag out of the building, and vanishes into the night. He gambles that no one will look beyond what appears to be a suicide, that no one will take the time to search for any microscopic traces of blood that he could not erase. But the killer made a mistake: he also took the girl_s cell phone and probably destroyed it so it cannot be tracked. It is a small detail, one that might be easily ignored by investigators. After all, it_s so much simpler for police to close this case and move on. That_s what the killer is counting on: a cop who is too overworked or careless to consider all the possibilities or to follow up on each and every clue. He doesn_t know me. BEFORE CHAPTER 19 JACK For a week, Taryn did not show up for class, nor did she respond to any of Jack_s emails. Had she fallen ill? Returned home to Maine? Even Cody Atwood could not_or would not_tell him what had happened to her, and Jack was concerned enough to look up her Facebook page, hoping to find an update on her status, but she_d added no new posts in over a week. By Monday, he was ready to call the school registrar and suggest a welfare check. So he was relieved when he heard a knock on his door that morning and looked up to see Taryn standing in the office doorway. _Are you free to talk?_ she asked. _Of course! I_m glad to see you._ She walked in and closed the door behind her. He debated whether he should ask her to open the door again. After that complaint, he thought it wiser to never again confer with a student_female or male_with the door closed. But he hadn_t seen Taryn since she_d bolted out of the restaurant at the MFA, and judging by her haggard face, she was in need of counseling. He let the door stay shut. _I_ve been worried about you,_ he said as she sat down across from him. _Nobody seemed to know why you missed class last week. Not even Cody._ She sighed. _It_s been a bad week._ _Have you been sick?_ _No. I just needed some time to think. And I_ve made a decision._ She sat up straight, squared her shoulders. _I want to go to grad school. Is it too late to apply to the doctoral program here?_ _I_m afraid it may be. But it_s not completely out of the question. The committee can make exceptions in special cases._ _Do you think I might be a special case?_ _You_re doing solid A work in my class. And Professor McGuire told me your paper on Mary Wollstonecraft was extraordinary. He_s chair of the graduate committee, so that bodes well._ He paused, trying to read her face. To understand what had led her to make this abrupt decision. _Why are you suddenly interested in grad school, Taryn?_ Her lower lip quivered. She cleared her throat, steadied her voice. _I broke up with my boyfriend._ _Oh. I_m sorry._ Her eyes pooled. She cleared her throat again, fighting tears. He ached to give her a hug but handed her a box of tissues instead. _I don_t mean to unload on you, but I didn_t want you to think I_ve blown off your class. It_s the best one I_ve ever had. And you_re the best teacher I_ve ever had._ She saw him frown and added: _Sorry if I_m embarrassing you. Anyway . . ._ She took a breath. _This has made me rethink everything about my future. About what sort of life I want. It made me realize that I_ve been as passive and powerless as Heloise. I_m not the loser Liam thinks I am, and I_m going to prove it._ _Liam? That_s your boyfriend?_ _Yeah._ She wiped her hand across her eyes. _He thinks I_m not good enough for him._ _Well, that_s just bullshit. There_s a whole world of possibilities out there for you, and you don_t need a graduate degree to prove your worth. You can do anything, be anyone you want to be. Why the hell would he think you_re not good enough?_ _Maybe because he_s a doctor_s kid, and I_m just . . . just me._ She wiped her eyes again. _We dated all through high school. I assumed that someday we_d get married. That_s what he used to tell me, anyway. But it_s not going to happen now. Not to someone like me._ She took a breath and sat up straighter. _I_m going to change that._ _Forgive me for asking, but are you applying to grad school for yourself? Or to prove something to him?_ _I don_t know. Maybe it_s both. Either way, it_s something I need to do. I want to be like you._ _Like me?_ he asked, surprised. _Your life seems so perfect. Like you_ve got it all figured out._ He smiled. _Wait till you_re my age. You_ll realize no one ever has it all figured out._ _But look at what you do. It seems like you really love your job._ _Yes, I do. Being with young people, talking about the books I love. Doing research that fascinates me. If this is the career you want, I certainly think you_re talented enough to make it happen._ _Thank you,_ she murmured. _And as for this ex-boyfriend of yours, if anyone_s a loser, he is for letting you go. Any other man would count himself lucky to have a woman as amazing as . . ._ He stopped, suddenly registering the fervor in his own voice. She had heard it, too, and she was leaning in, her eyes transfixed on his face. He looked down at the desk. _Now. Let_s talk about what you need to do to get into grad school._ _And I_ll need scholarship money as well._ _Okay. But first things first. Let_s see if we can get you into the program. There_s an application checklist I can mail you. I_ll write a recommendation letter, and I_m sure Professor McGuire will too. But even with a high GPA, you_re going to be up against tough competition. There are only a few slots in the program._ _But you still think I have a chance?_ _I_ve read your papers, Taryn. I think you_d be a real asset to the program, and we_d be lucky to keep you here._ _I can_t thank you enough._ Tears glistened on her eyelashes, and he had the reckless urge to reach across the desk and stroke away her tears. Instead, he looked at his watch, suddenly anxious to end the meeting. _You_re not like other professors. You_re much more human and understanding._ Jack shrugged that off, feeling as if he were approaching a minefield. _In any event, if you want to drop by next week, we can talk about the paper you_re writing. A strong thesis idea will certainly help your application._ _I_m already working on it._ He walked her to the doorway, where she lingered so close to him that he could smell the scent of her shampoo. He took a step away. _Come by anytime, Taryn._ She squeezed his arm and walked out of the room. Even as her footsteps faded away down the hall, he could still feel that touch on his arm. CHAPTER 20 TARYN You can do anything, be anyone you want to be. She heard his voice in her head, his words a mantra that she chanted to herself as she sat in the library, laptop open, books spread out on the table in front of her. You can do anything. Be anyone. What she wanted was to be respected. She wanted Liam to regret he_d ever left her. She wanted his mother to kick herself for thinking Taryn wasn_t good enough to marry her precious son. She wanted the world to know who she was. Most of all, she wanted to make Professor Dorian proud of her. No one had ever expressed such faith in her, not any of her other teachers, not even her own mother, although in her defense, Brenda was so beaten down by life she couldn_t foresee any better times. Taryn imagined herself driving up to Brenda_s house someday in a brand-new BMW. She would hand Brenda a copy of her own book, hot off the press. She imagined her mother weeping with joy when she told her it was time to pack up her belongings and move out of that two-bedroom shack into the new house Taryn had bought for her. But first she needed to get into grad school. And that meant she needed to finish writing this paper. From the library stacks, she_d collected The Iliad and The Odyssey and half a dozen history books about the Trojan War. The Aeneid had whetted her appetite for stories about warriors and heroes and the choices they made. Love or Glory? That was the title she_d chosen for her paper, a theme that was already shouting at her from all these Greek myths and legends. While women wailed and grieved over their treacherous lovers_Queen Dido abandoned by Aeneas, Medea abandoned by Jason, Ariadne abandoned by Theseus_those lovers simply moved on in pursuit of glory, heedless of the hearts they_d broken. For men the choice was their destiny; for women, the result was always sorrow. But not for her. She_d be the one to move on, to claim her own glory. You can do anything, be anyone . . . _You_re still here?_ said Cody. He_d left over an hour ago to have dinner, and now he was back. _It_s almost nine o_clock. You_d better get some dinner before the cafeteria closes._ _I_m not hungry._ He plopped down in the chair across from her and frowned at all the books lying open on the table. _Wow, you_re really serious about grad school._ _And nothing_s going to stop me._ She flipped a page and stared at the illustration of Agamemnon wielding a knife, about to slit the throat of his sweet young daughter Iphigenia. He was another coldly ambitious man who chose glory over love, who sacrificed his own child so the gods would send fair winds to hasten his ships to Troy. But he would pay for that monstrous act when he returned from the war. His wife, Clytemnestra, grief stricken over the death of their daughter, would have her revenge. Taryn imagined Clytemnestra_s black rage as she cornered her husband in his bath. The knife in her hand. The triumph she felt as she thrust the blade into his chest . . . _I don_t get it, Taryn. Why_s getting into grad school suddenly so important?_ _Because everything_s changed. I_ve got plans now. I_m going to get my PhD. I_m going to teach and write books and__ _Does this have something to do with Liam?_ _Fuck Liam._ She glared at Cody. _He_s nothing. He_s not worth my time. I_ve got better things to do with my life now._ Cody blinked, taken aback by her fierce retort. _What happened? What_s changed?_ She sat silent for a moment, tapping her pen on the table. Thinking about Jack Dorian and how he_d comforted her, praised her. And she remembered something else he_d said: that any man would count himself lucky to have a woman like her. _He made the difference,_ she said softly. _Professor Dorian._ _How?_ _He believes in me. No one else ever has._ _I do, Taryn. I_ve always believed in you,_ he said, but Cody was just a friend, the kind of boy who_d be blindly loyal to the end. No, the one opinion she really cared about was Jack Dorian_s. She wondered if he was thinking about her, just as she was thinking about him. _I need to work on this project,_ she told Cody. _I_ll see you tomorrow._ She waited until he left the library before she turned her attention back to her laptop and typed in the name Professor Jack Dorian. Suddenly she was hungry to see his face, hungry to know more about him. She clicked on his faculty profile page. In his photo, which had clearly not been updated in years, he was wearing a tweedy jacket and a tie, and his smile was approachable but bland. She thought of how his green eyes lit up when he laughed, and how silver now streaked the dark hair at his temples. She liked the Jack Dorian she knew now. He might be older than in this photo, and his laugh lines were a little deeper, but what mattered wasn_t his age, only his heart and his soul. And he_d opened his to her. She read the faculty profile, committing the details to memory. BA Bowdoin College. PhD Yale. Three years as assistant professor at University of Massachusetts, four years as associate professor at Boston University. Full professor for the last eight years at Commonwealth. Author of two books about literature and society and more than two dozen published articles about topics ranging from universal themes in ancient myths to modern trends in feminist literature. She wanted to read them all, to immerse herself in everything he_d written, so that the next time they met, she could impress him. She scrolled down his long list of publications and came to a sudden halt, her gaze fixed on his personal information. Spouse: Margaret Dorian. Of course she knew he was married; she_d seen the gold band on his finger, but somehow she had blocked out that particular detail. She tried to set it aside, but the images were already in her head: Jack driving home. Walking through his front door. His wife waiting to embrace him, kiss him. Or were those images wrong? She thought of the day in class when he_d looked weary and defeated, as if something had gone wrong at home. Maybe his wife wasn_t there to greet him with a kiss. Maybe she was a woman who berated him, belittled him. Maybe he was desperate for someone who_d make him happy. She searched online for Margaret Dorian, Boston. It was an unusual enough name, so it was easy to find the right woman. The top three links were all for Margaret Dorian, MD. On Rate My Physician she_d earned a top score, and one patient had written a comment about Dr. Dorian_s compassion and kindly bedside manner. The online Whitepages had the contact details for her medical practice in Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge. She hopped onto the Mount Auburn website and clicked on the link for Margaret Dorian, MD. In her photo she was wearing a white doctor_s coat and a smile. She had brown eyes and shoulder-length red hair, and although she was still attractive, Taryn could see signs of middle age creeping into her face, around her eyes, her mouth. While no longer young, she was accomplished, and her patients liked her. Taryn thought of the long hours a doctor must work, the nights, the weekends. Did her husband feel neglected? Did he spend too many nights alone, longing for company? She went back online to look for their address. It wasn_t hard to find; on the internet, there were no secrets. Google Maps took her right to their Arlington neighborhood, and on street view she could see their house, a two-story white colonial with a front lawn and neatly trimmed shrubs. On the day this street-view photo had been taken, the garage door was open, and a silver sedan was parked inside. On satellite view, she spotted no signs of children on the property_no bikes, no toys, no play set in the backyard. They were childless, which made it all the less messy should they ever split up. Should he meet someone else with whom he_d rather spend the rest of his life. She returned to the photo of Dr. Margaret Dorian. Still pretty, yes. But maybe Jack was longing for more.

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