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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Night Before

A Novel

Wendy Walker

St. Martin's Press

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

ONE

Laura Lochner. Session Number One. Four Months Ago. New York City.



Laura: I don’t know if this is a good idea.

Dr. Brody: It’s up to you, Laura.

Laura: What if you try to fix me and I end up more broken?

Dr. Brody: What if you don’t?

Laura: I’m scared to go back there. To the past. To that night in the woods. A piece is still missing.

Dr. Brody: It’s up to you. Only you can decide.

Laura: It was in my hand. The weapon that killed him. But that night didn’t change me. That night made me see what I’ve always been.

Dr. Brody: Then let’s start there. Tell me about the girl you’ve always been.

TWO

Laura. Present Day. Thursday, 7 P.M. Branston, CT.



Lipstick, cherry red.

I choose the color because it’s bright and cheerful. It’s optimism in a tube. And that’s exactly what I need tonight.

The guest bathroom at my sister’s house is impossibly small, with slanted ceilings and a tiny oval mirror. The lipstick hovers on the edge of a pedestal sink.

I put it on first so I won’t change my mind, rolling that optimism right across my lips. Next comes the concealer. Two stripes under my brown eyes, and the dark circles from weeks of insomnia disappear. Rose blush colors cheeks that have not seen the sun for far too long.

Insomniacs sleep during the day.

My sister, Rosie, gave me a pretty dress to wear. Black with tiny flowers.

Wear a dress for a change. It will make you feel pretty.

Rosie just turned thirty. She has a husband and a toddler—Joe and Mason. They have a house in the hills of Branston, six miles from downtown. And one mile from the place where all of this started. The street where we grew up. Deer Hill Lane.

Rosie says she doesn’t have any occasion to wear the dress. The skirt gets in her way when she’s chasing after Mason and she’s too tired to do much of anything at night except grab a beer in the strip mall at the edge of town. She says this like she misses having nothing better to do than put on makeup and dresses. But really, she doesn’t need the dress or the occasions to wear it, because her days are filled with bear hugs and belly laughs and sticky kisses on her face.

Her husband, Joe, doesn’t care. He adores her. Even now, after thirteen years together. After growing up together on the same street. Even with Mason sleeping in their bed, and an old house in need of constant repair, and Rosie never wearing a dress.

He adores her because when they were young, she wore lots of pretty dresses for him and that’s the person he still sees.

That’s the kind of person I need to be tonight.

I search for my phone in a pile of towels and clothing that lie on the bathroom floor. When I do, I pull up the profile and unchain the hope. Jonathan Fields. His name sounds like a song.

Jonathan Fields. I found him on a dating website called findlove.com—an actual website. The name says everything about it. Jonathan Fields is forty. His wife left him a year ago because she couldn’t get pregnant. She kept their house. He drives a black BMW.

That’s what he told me.

Jonathan Fields spoke to me on the phone. He said he didn’t like emails or texting because it was too impersonal. He said he hated online dating but that his friend met his fiancé on findlove.com. It was not one of those hookup apps. No swiping allowed. The profile takes an hour to build. They have to approve your photos. Jonathan Fields said it was like having your grandmother fix you up on a blind date, and this made me laugh.

Jonathan Fields said he liked the sound of it.

I liked the sound of his voice, and remembering it now actually sends a surge of warmth through my body. I feel my mouth turn up at the corners. A smile.

A fucking smile.

I told him a lot about my job, and this made it easier to tell him very little about me.

I have an impressive résumé after jumping through hoops all my life. Princeton … an MBA from Columbia … a job on Wall Street!

“Wall Street” is one of those terms that won’t leave this world no matter how antiquated it’s become. I work in Midtown, nowhere near Wall Street, which sits at the very bottom of Manhattan. And the firm I work at isn’t quite as sexy as Goldman Sachs. I sit at a desk and read stuff and write stuff and hope to God it’s not wrong, because other people at our firm will make trades and deals upon the advice I give. Me, a twenty-eight-year-old who needs a shrink to tell her how to behave.

Jonathan Fields works at a hedge fund downtown, so he understands about my work.

That’s what he told me.

I didn’t tell him about my childhood here, running wild in the woods behind our house with the neighborhood kids. Me and Rosie—and Joe, whose family lived up the street until he went to high school and they moved closer to town.

And I didn’t tell him why I’ve stayed gone all these years.

I don’t use social media, not ever, so it’s not like he can check. I didn’t tell him my father’s last name. Lochner. Google still finds Laura Lochner and the things she did, or didn’t do—they can never decide—years ago. I’ve used my middle name, my mother’s last name, since I left this place. Heart. Laura Heart. Isn’t that ironic? Named after the one thing inside me that feels broken.

Omissions are not lies.

Rosie took Joe’s last name, Ferro, so there are no Lochners from our clan left in all of Connecticut.

I did tell him that I drive my sister’s minivan. It’s blue. And humiliating. I’m shopping for a new car, but I’ve just been so busy.

There’s a knock at the door. I open it and find Joe looking at me sheepishly. He’s still in his suit from his law office, but he’s loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. Joe stands six foot two and can barely see through the frame of the door without ducking. His stomach bulges at the waist of pants that have grown too small. But he still manages to be handsome.

“I’m supposed to tell you to wear the dress,” Joe says, as though talking about women’s clothing has just cut off his balls.

My sister’s voice echoes from downstairs. “Wear the damn dress! The one I gave you!”

Joe smiles and hands me the glass of bourbon he cradles in his hands. “The mouth on her, I’m telling you. Our kid is gonna be so fucked up.”

I feel the smile growing and I want to cry. Joe loves my sister. She loves him. They both love Mason. Love, love, love. It’s all around me, making me regret staying away so long. But then also reminding me why I have. The love is here, but it always feels just beyond my reach.

I take a sip of the bourbon.

“Yeah, well, that was a given, right? You married a Lochner,” I say.

Joe rolls his eyes. Shakes his head. “I know. Is it too late to get out?”

“Kind of.”

Joe sighs. He glances at the dress hanging on the shower rod. “All right. Just wear the dress. And this guy—he’d better not be a douchebag or I will kick his ass so hard.…”

I nod. “Got it. Dress. Ass kicking.”

Then he adds, and my smile fades, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

I’ve returned home because of a man, a breakup, and that’s all they know about it. I haven’t had the courage to tell them more. They’re happy to have me back. More than happy. And I don’t have the stomach to see that change by revealing another bad chapter in my life. The fact that they haven’t pressed me for answers tells me they’re expecting the worst—and that they don’t really want to know. Maybe they need to believe I’ve changed as much as I do. Maybe we will now be a normal family because I’ll stop being me.

Still, I know it must seem a bit extreme, taking a leave of absence from a competitive job, a grown woman moving in with her sister, just because of that. One breakup, and with a man they’d never met or even heard of. How serious could it have been? I feel this question seeping from Rosie’s skin every second of every day.

I consider Joe’s question. Am I ready for this? I look at him and shrug. “Probably not,” I say.

Joe replies with sarcasm. “Awesome.”

We had this same conversation before I came upstairs. Joe walked in circles, wiping counters, listening to the hum of the dishwasher, feeling satisfied that he’d put everything back in order after being at work all day. (He’s neat. Rosie is not.) He’s a happy hamster running on his wheel.

Just have fun. Don’t make too much of it. I would walk across glass to be free for a night!


Copyright © 2019 by Wendy Walker