The Silent Wife Page 2

Weirdly, Beckey had reached back behind her head for the clip. The last thing her mother had touched before leaving the house. Beckey had opened the jaws. She had finger-combed her hair to shake it out. She had squeezed the plastic clip so hard in her palm that a tooth had broken. She remembered thinking that her mother was going to kill her—I want it back. But then she’d realized that her mother couldn’t kill her ever again because her mother was dead.

Beckey brushed tears from her face as she neared the end of Main Street. Left or right? Toward the lake where the professors and rich people lived, or toward the tiny lots punctuated by doublewides and starter homes?

She hooked a right, away from the lake. On her iPod, Flo Rida had given way to Nicki Minaj. Her stomach churned the Doritos and cinnamon buns, squeezing out the sugar and sending it into her throat. She clicked off the music. She let the headphones drop back around her neck. Her lungs did that shuddery thing that signaled they were ready to stop, but she pushed through, taking in deep gulps, her eyes still stinging as her thoughts skittered back to sitting on the couch with her mother, chomping on Skinny Girl popcorn while they sang along with Heath Ledger to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

You’re just too good to be true …

Beckey ran faster. The air grew stale the deeper she got into the sad neighborhood. The street signs were oddly breakfast-themed: SW Omelet Road. Hashbrown Way. Beckey never went in this direction, especially at this hour. The orangey-red light had turned a dirty brown. Faded pick-up trucks and old cars pocked the street. Paint peeled from the houses. A lot of windows were boarded up. Her heel started to throb from pain. Surprise. The hole in her sock was rubbing a blister. Beckey’s memory tossed out an image: Kayleigh jumping out of bed wearing nothing but a sock.

Beckey’s sock.

She slowed to a walk. Then she stopped in the middle of the street. Her hands rested on her knees as she bent over to catch her breath. Her foot was full-on stinging now like a hornet was trapped inside her shoe. There was no way she would make it back to campus without skinning off her heel. She was supposed to meet with Dr. Adams at seven this morning to go over her paper. Beckey didn’t know what time it was now, but she knew that Dr. Adams would be annoyed if she didn’t show. This wasn’t high school. The professors could really screw with you if you wasted their time.

Kayleigh would have to pick her up. She was a deplorable human being, but she could always be relied on to ride to the rescue—if only for the drama. Beckey reached for her pocket, but then her memory dredged up another set of images: Beckey at the library slipping her phone into her backpack, then later at the dorm dropping her backpack onto the kitchen floor.

No phone. No Kayleigh. No help.

The sun was higher above the trees now, but Beckey still felt an encroaching darkness. Nobody knew where she was. Nobody was expecting her back. She was in a strange neighborhood. A strange bad neighborhood. Knocking on a door, asking someone to use the phone, seemed like the beginning of a Dateline. She could hear the narrator in her head—

Beckey’s roommates figured she was taking time to cool down. Dr. Adams assumed she had blown off their meeting because she had failed to complete her assignment. No one realized the angry, young college freshman had knocked on the door of a cannibal rapist …

The pungent odor of rot pulled her back into reality. A garbage truck rolled into the intersection at the mouth of the street. The brakes squealed to a stop. A guy in a onesie jumped off the back. Rolled a trashcan over. Clipped it onto the lift-thingy. Beckey watched the mechanical gears grinding inside the truck. Onesie-guy hadn’t bothered to look in her direction, but Beckey was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that she was being watched.

Rape o’clock.

She turned around, trying to remember if she’d taken a left or right onto this particular road. There wasn’t even a street sign. The feeling of being watched grew more intense. Beckey scanned the houses, the insides of trucks and cars. Nothing stared back. No curtains twitched in the windows. No cannibal rapist stepped out to offer his assistance.

Her brain immediately did that thing that women weren’t supposed to do: chided herself for being scared, pushed down her gut instinct, told her to go toward the situation that frightened her instead of running away like a baby.

Beckey countered the arguments: Get out of the middle of the street. Stick close to the houses because people are inside. Scream your fucking head off if anyone comes close. Get back to the campus because that’s where you’ll be safe.

All good advice, but where was the campus?

She edged sideways between two parked cars and found herself not on a sidewalk, but in a narrow strip of weeds running between two houses. In a city, she would’ve called it an alley, but here it was more like an abandoned lot. Cigarette butts and broken beer bottles spotted the ground. Beckey could see a neatly mowed field behind the houses, then the forest just beyond the rise.

Going into the woods seemed counter-intuitive, but Beckey was intimately familiar with the packed dirt trails that crisscrossed the forest. She would probably find other Type A students riding bikes or heading to the lake to do tai chi or squeezing in an early morning run. She looked up, using the sun as a guide. Heading west would lead her back to campus. Blister or not, she would eventually have to return to the dorm because she couldn’t afford to fail Organic Chemistry.

Beckey tasted a sour burp in her mouth that had a distinct cinnamon undertone. Her throat felt thick. The vending machine treats were pushing for a second appearance. She had to get back to the dorm before she puked. She was not going to barf like a cat in the grass.

Walking between the two houses made her shudder so hard that her teeth clicked. She picked up the pace across the open field. Not running but not exactly strolling, either. The blister felt like a pinch on her heel every time she stepped down. Wincing seemed to help. Then she was gritting through it. Then she was jogging through the field, her back burning with a thousand eyes that were probably not watching her.


The temperature dropped as she breached the line into the forest. Shadows moved in and out of her periphery. She easily found one of the trails that she’d run on a million times before. Her hand reached for her iPod, but she changed her mind. She wanted to hear the quiet of the forest. Only an occasional ray of sun managed to slice through the thick tree canopy. She thought about earlier this morning. Standing in front of the fridge. The cool air cupping her burning hot cheeks. The empty popcorn bags and Coke bottles scattered across the floor. They would pay her back for the food. They always paid her back. They weren’t thieves. They were just too lazy to go to the store and too disorganized to make a list when Beckey offered to shop for them.


The sound of the man’s voice made Beckey turn her head, but her body kept moving forward. She saw his face in the split second between stumbling and falling. He looked kind, concerned. His hand was reaching out to her as she fell.

Her head cracked against something hard. Blood filled her mouth. Her vision blurred. She tried to roll over, but only made it halfway. Her hair was caught on something. Pulling. Tugging. She reached behind her head, for some reason expecting to find her mother’s hair clip. What she felt instead was wood, then steel, then the man’s face came into focus and she realized that the thing that was lodged inside of her skull was a hammer.



Will Trent shifted his six-four frame, trying to find a comfortable angle for his legs inside his partner’s Mini. The top of his head fit nicely into the sunroof area, but the child’s car seat in the back was severely limiting his room in the front. He had to grip his knees together so he didn’t accidentally bump the gear into neutral. He probably looked like a contortionist, but Will thought of himself more as a swimmer dipping in and out of the conversation Faith Mitchell seemed to be having with herself. Instead of stroke-stroke-breathe, it was zone out-zone out-say what now?

“So, there I am at three in the morning posting a scathing one-star review about this clearly defective spatula.” Faith took both hands off the steering wheel to pantomime typing. “And then I realize I’d put a Tide pod in the dishwasher, which is crazy because the laundry room is upstairs, and then ten minutes later I’m staring out the window thinking, is mayonnaise really a musical instrument?”

Will had heard her voice go up at the end, but he couldn’t tell whether or not she wanted a response. He tried to rewind the conversation in his head. The exercise did not bring clarity. They had been in the car for nearly an hour and Faith had already touched on, in no particular order, the exorbitant price of glue sticks, the Chuck E. Cheese Industrial Birthday Complex, and what she called the torture porn of parents posting photos of their kids going back to school while her toddler was still at home.

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