The Silent Wife Page 3

He tilted his head, dipping back into the conversation.

“Then we get to the part where Mufasa plunges to his death.” Faith was apparently talking about a movie now. “Emma starts flat-out bawling the same way Jeremy did when he was her age, and I realized that I somehow ended up giving birth to two different kids exactly two Lion Kings apart.”

Will dipped back out of the conversation. He’d felt his gut clench at Emma’s name. Guilt scattered like buckshot into his chest.

He had almost killed Faith’s two-year-old daughter.

This was how it happened: Will and his girlfriend were babysitting Emma. Sara was doing paperwork in the kitchen. Will was sitting on the living room floor with Emma. He was showing the toddler how to replace the tiny button battery in a Hex Bug. The toy was disassembled on the coffee table. Will had balanced the breath-mint-sized battery on the tip of his finger so that Emma could see. He was explaining that they should be extra careful not to leave it lying around because Betty, his dog, might accidentally eat it when, suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, Emma had leaned over and sucked the battery into her mouth.

Will was an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He had been in real-world emergencies where life and death hung in the balance and the only thing that had tipped the scales was his ability to act quickly.

But when that battery disappeared, Will had been paralyzed.

His bare finger pointed helplessly into the open air. His heart folded like a bike around a telephone pole. He could only watch in slow motion as Emma sat back, a smirk on her cherubic face, and prepared to swallow.

That was when Sara had saved them all. Just as quickly as Emma had snorked up the battery, Sara had swooped down like a bird of prey, hooked her finger into Emma’s mouth and scooped out the battery.

“Anyway, I’m looking over this girl’s shoulder at the checkout line, and she’s texting the shit out of her boyfriend.” Faith had moved on to another story. “Then she leaves, and I’m stuck forever wondering whether or not her boyfriend really did hook up with her sister.”

Will’s shoulder drilled into the window as the Mini banked a sharp turn. They were almost at the state prison. Sara would be there, which fact edged Will’s guilt over Emma into trepidation about Sara.

He shifted again in the seat. The back of his shirt peeled away from the leather. For once, Will was not sweating from the heat. He was sweating his relationship with Sara.

Things were going great, but somehow, they were also going really, really badly.

On the outside, nothing had changed. They were still spending more nights together than not. Over the weekend, they had shared her favorite meal, Sunday naked breakfast, and his favorite meal, Sunday naked second breakfast. Sara kissed him the same way. It felt like she loved him the same way. She was still dropping her dirty clothes two inches from the laundry basket, still ordering a salad but eating half of his fries, but something was horribly wrong.

The woman who had practically beaten Will over the head for the last two years, forcing him to talk about things he did not want to talk about, was suddenly declaring that one topic of conversation was off limits.

This was how it happened: Six weeks ago, Will had come home from doing chores. Sara was sitting at his kitchen table. Suddenly, she had started talking about remodeling his house. Not just remodeling it, but demolishing it so there was more room for her, which was kind of a sideways way of telling Will that they should move in together, so Will had decided to go into a sideways proposal, saying that they should get married in a church because it would make her mother happy.

And then he’d heard a cracking sound as the earth froze under his feet and ice enveloped every surface and Sara’s breath came out in a puff when instead of saying, “Yes, my love, I would be thrilled to marry you,” she’d said in a voice colder than the icicles stabbing down from the ceiling, “What the fuck does my mother have to do with anything?”

They had argued, a tough position for Will since he hadn’t known precisely what they were arguing about. He had gotten in a few jabs about his house not being good enough for her, which had turned into an argument about money, which had put him on better footing because Will was a poor government worker and Sara—well, Sara was currently a poor government worker but before that, she had been a rich doctor.

The argument had rocked on until it was time to meet Sara’s parents for brunch. And then she had put a moratorium on discussing marriage or moving in together for the next three hours, and those three hours had stretched into the rest of the day, then the rest of the week, and now it was a month and a half later and Will was basically living with a really hot roommate who kept wanting to have sex with him but only ever wanted to talk about what to order for dinner, her little sister’s determination to screw up her life, and how easy it was to learn the twenty algorithms that solved a Rubik’s Cube.

Faith pulled into the prison parking lot, saying, “Of course, because this is me, that exact moment is when I finally started my period.”

She went silent as she coasted into a space. Her last sentence had no sense of finality to it. Was she expecting an answer? She was definitely expecting an answer.

Will settled on, “That sucks.”

Faith looked startled, like she’d just realized he was in the car. “What sucks?”

He could see clearly now that she had not been expecting an answer.

“Jesus, Will.” She angrily bumped the gear into park. “Why don’t you warn me the next time that you’re actually listening?”

Faith got out of the car and stomped off toward the employee entrance. Her back was to Will, but he imagined she was grumbling with every step. She flashed her ID at the camera outside the gate. Will rubbed his face. He breathed the hot air inside the car. Were all of the women in his life insane or was he an idiot?

Only an idiot would ask that question.

He opened the door and managed to pry himself out of the Mini. Sweat prickled at his scalp. They were in the last week of October and the heat outside the car wasn’t much better than inside. Will adjusted the gun on his belt. He found his suit jacket between Emma’s car seat and a bag of stale Goldfish crackers. He Homer Simpsoned the entire bag, eyeballing a prison transport bus that was pulling out onto the road. The bus careened into a pothole. Behind the barred windows, the inmates’ faces were all various shades of misery.

Will tossed the empty Goldfish bag into the backseat. Then he got it back out and took it with him as he walked toward the employee entrance. He looked up at the low-slung, depressing building. Phillips State Prison was a medium-security facility located in Buford, about an hour outside of Atlanta. Nearly one thousand men were housed in ten living units that contained two dormitories each. Seven of the units had two-man cells. The rest were combinations of singles, doubles and isolation cells housing MH/SM inmates. MH stood for inmates diagnosed with mental health issues. SM stood for special management, or protective custody, which meant cops and pedophiles, the two most reviled classes of inmates in any prison.

There was a reason MH and SM were tied together. To an outsider, a single person cell sounded like a luxury. To an inmate in isolation, a single person cell meant twenty hours a day of solitary confinement in a windowless, seven-by-thirteen concrete box. And this was after a ground-breaking lawsuit that had found Georgia’s previous solitary confinement rules inhumane.

Four years ago, Phillips, along with nine other Georgia State prisons, was hit by an FBI sting that took down forty-seven corrupt corrections officers. All the remaining COs were shuffled around the system. The new warden didn’t put up with much bullshit, which was good and bad, depending on how you looked at the inherent dangers of warehousing angry, isolated men. The prison was currently in lockdown after two days of rioting. Six COs and three inmates had been badly injured. Another inmate had been brutally murdered in the cafeteria.

The murder was what had brought them here.

Prev page Next page