About the Author

Shari Lapena

Books by this Author
A Stranger in the House
Excerpt

Chapter One

On this hot August night, Tom Krupp parks his car–a leased Lexus–in the driveway of his handsome two-story home. The house, complete with a two-car garage, is set behind a generous lawn and framed with beautiful old trees. To the right of the driveway, a flagstone path crosses in front of the porch, with steps leading up to a solid wooden door in the middle of the house. To the right of the front door is a large picture window the width of the living room.

The house sits on a gently curving street that ends in a cul-de-sac. The surrounding houses are all equally attractive and well maintained, and relatively similar. People who live here are successful and settled; everyone's a little bit smug.

This quiet, prosperous suburb in upstate New York, populated with mostly professional couples and their families, seems oblivious to the problems of the small city that surrounds it, oblivious to the problems of the larger world, as if the American dream has continued to live on here, smooth and unruffled.

But the untroubled setting does not match Tom's current state of mind. He cuts the lights and the engine and sits uneasily for a moment in the dark, despising himself.

Then, with a start, he notices that his wife's car is not in its usual place in the driveway. He automatically checks his watch: 9:20. He wonders if he's forgotten something. Was she going out? He can't remember her mentioning anything, but he's been so busy lately. Maybe she just went out to run an errand and will be back any minute. She's left the lights on; they give the house a welcoming glow.

He gets out of the car into the summer night–it smells of freshly mown grass–swallowing his disappointment. He wanted, rather fervently, to see his wife. He stands for a moment, his hand on the roof of the car, and looks across the street. Then he grabs his briefcase and suit jacket from the passenger seat and tiredly closes the car door. He walks along the path, up the front steps, and opens the door. Something is wrong. He holds his breath.

Tom stands completely still in the doorway, his hand resting on the knob. At first he doesn't know what's bothering him. Then he realizes what it is. The door wasn't locked. That in itself isn't unusual-most nights he comes home and opens the door and walks right in, because most nights Karen's home, waiting for him. But she's gone out with her car and forgotten to lock the door. That's very odd for his wife, who's a stickler about locking the doors. He slowly lets out his breath. Maybe she was in a rush and forgot.

His eyes quickly take in the living room, a serene rectangle of pale gray and white. It's perfectly quiet; there's obviously no one home. She left the lights on, so she must not have gone out for long. Maybe she went to get some milk. There will probably be a note for him. He tosses his keys onto the small table by the front door and heads straight for the kitchen at the back of the house. He's starving. He wonders if she's already eaten or whether she's been waiting for him.

It's obvious that she's been preparing their supper. A salad is almost finished; she has stopped slicing mid-tomato. He looks at the wooden cutting board, at the tomato and the sharp knife lying beside it. There's pasta on the granite counter, ready to be cooked, a large pot of water on the stainless steel gas stove. The stove is off and the water in the pot is cold; he dips a finger in to check. He scans the refrigerator door for a note-there's nothing written on the whiteboard for him. He frowns. He pulls his cell phone out of his pants pocket and checks to see if there's any message from her that he might have missed. Nothing. Now he's mildly annoyed. She might have told him.

Tom opens the door to the refrigerator and stands there for a minute, staring sightlessly at its contents, then grabs an imported beer and decides to start the pasta. He's sure she'll be home any minute. He looks around curiously to see what they might have run out of. They have milk, bread, pasta sauce, wine, parmesan cheese. He checks the bathroom-there's plenty of toilet paper. He can't think of anything else that might be urgent. While he waits for the water to come to a boil, he calls her cell, but she doesn't pick up.

Fifteen minutes later, the pasta is ready, but there is no sign of his wife. Tom leaves the pasta in the strainer in the sink, turns off the burner under the pot of tomato sauce, and wanders restlessly into the living room, his hunger forgotten. He looks out the large picture window across the lawn to the street beyond. Where the hell is she? He's starting to get anxious now. He calls her cell again and hears a faint vibration coming from behind him. He whips his head toward the sound and sees her cell phone, vibrating against the back of the sofa. Shit. She forgot her phone. How can he reach her now?

He starts looking around the house for clues as to where she might have gone. Upstairs, in their bedroom, he's surprised to find her bag sitting on her bedside table. He opens it with clumsy fingers, faintly guilty about going through his wife's purse. It feels private. But this is an emergency. He dumps the contents onto the middle of their neatly made bed. Her wallet is there, her change purse, lipstick, pen, a tissue packet-it's all there. Not an errand then. Maybe she stepped out to help a friend? An emergency of some kind? Still, she would have taken her purse with her if she was driving the car. And wouldn't she have called him by now if she could? She could borrow someone else's phone. It's not like her to be thoughtless.

Tom sits on the edge of the bed, quietly unraveling. His heart is beating too fast. Something is wrong. He thinks that maybe he should call the police. He considers how that might go. My wife went out and I don't know where she is. She left without her phone and her purse. She forgot to lock the door. It's completely unlike her. They probably won't take him seriously if she's been gone such a short time. He hasn't seen any sign of a struggle. Nothing is out of place.

Suddenly he gets up off the bed and rapidly searches the entire house. But he finds nothing alarming–no phone knocked off the hook, no broken window, no smear of blood on the floor. Even so, he's breathing as anxiously as if he had.

He hesitates. Perhaps the police will think they've had an argument. It won't matter if he tells them there was no argument, if he tells them they almost never argue. That theirs is an almost perfect marriage.

Instead of calling the police, he runs back into the kitchen, where Karen keeps a list of phone numbers, and starts calling her friends.

-

Looking at the wreckage in front of him, Officer Kirton shakes his head in resignation. People and cars. He's seen things to make his stomach empty itself on the spot. It wasn't that bad this time.

There'd been no identification on the crash victim, a woman, probably early thirties. No purse, no wallet. But the vehicle registration and insurance had been in the glove compartment. The car is registered to a Karen Krupp, at 24 Dogwood Drive. She'll have some explaining to do. And some charges to face. For now, she's been taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

As far as he can figure, and according to witnesses, she was traveling like a bat out of hell. She ran a red light and smashed the red Honda Civic right into a pole. It's a miracle no one else was hurt.

She was probably high, Kirton thinks. They would get a tox screen on her.

He wonders if the car was stolen. Easy enough to find out.

Thing was, she didn't look like a car thief or a druggie. She looked like a housewife. As far as he could tell through all that blood.

-

Tom Krupp has called the people he knows Karen sees most often. If they don't know where she might be, then he isn't waiting any longer. He's calling the police.

His hand trembles as he picks up the phone again. He feels sick with fear.

A voice comes on the line, "911. Where's your emergency?"

As soon as he opens the door and sees the cop on his doorstep, his face serious, Tom knows something very bad has happened. He is filled with a nauseating dread.

"I'm Officer Fleming," the cop says, showing his badge. "May I come in?" he asks respectfully, in a low voice.

"You got here fast," Tom says. "I just called 911 a few minutes ago." He feels as if he might be going into shock.

"I'm not here because of a 911 call," the officer says.

Tom leads him into the living room and collapses onto the large white sofa as if his legs have given out, not looking at the officer's face. He wants to delay the moment of truth for as long as possible.

But that moment has come. He finds that he can hardly breathe.

"Put your head down," Officer Fleming says, and places his hand gently on Tom's shoulder.

Tom leans his head toward his lap, feeling like he's going to pass out. He fears that his world is coming to an end. After a moment he looks up. He has no idea what's coming next, but he knows it can't be good.

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An Unwanted Guest
Excerpt

Saturday, 5:45 a.m.
 
Morning comes slowly, the sun obscured by thick cloud. Overnight, the falling snow, so peaceful, has turned to sleet, coating everything in brittle ice, making the landscape even more dangerous to navigate. It seems everything is about to snap. Inside the inn, there’s a distinct chill in the air.

Lauren rises early, freezing, even with the warmth of Ian pressed up beside her. Her neck is stiff. She gets out of bed, shivering, and hurries to put warm clothes on, wondering why it’s so damn cold. She slips on jeans, a T-shirt, a heavy sweater, warm socks. They hadn’t closed the drapes before they went to bed, and now she glances out the front window to the landscape below. Everything is covered in sparkling ice. It’s beautiful, as if the world is coated in diamonds. The branches of the huge tree in the front yard are bent, weighted down with ice. She sees where one of them has broken off; there’s a large, pale gash where it has been ripped from the trunk. The heavy limb lies broken in three separate pieces on the ground below.

She walks quietly into the bathroom, leaving the door open. She doesn’t want to turn on the  light—she doesn’t want to wake Ian. It’s damn cold. She brushes her hair quickly. Her illuminated watch face says it’s just before six. She wonders what time the staff gets up and starts their day.

She glances back at Ian snoring in their bed, only his head showing above the covers. He won’t be up for a while. She opens the door quietly. It’s dark in the corridor; the lights in the wall sconces are out. She slips out and walks down the third-floor hall to the main stairs in her thick socks. She doesn’t want to wake anyone. She turns toward the staircase to the lobby, wondering how long it will be before she can get a cup of coffee.
 
Saturday, 6:03 a.m.
 
Riley wakens suddenly, sitting up abruptly in bed, eyes wide open. She thinks she’s heard a scream—loud and piercing. Her heart is pounding, and she can feel the familiar adrenaline surging through her body. She glances quickly around the dim hotel room and remembers where she is. She turns to the other bed beside her, throwing aside the bedcovers, and is immediately accosted by the cold. Gwen is awake, too, and alert.

“What’s going on?” Gwen says. “I thought I heard something.” 

“I don’t know. I heard it, too.”

For a moment they remain perfectly still, listening. They hear a woman’s voice, shouting.

Riley throws her legs over the bed and pulls on her robe against the chill, while Gwen scrambles to do the same, saying, “Wait for me.”

Riley grabs the key as the two of them slip out the door. The third-floor corridor is unexpectedly dark, and they stop suddenly, disoriented. Riley remembers that she needs to talk to Gwen about last night, but now is not the time. She’s just grateful to have Gwen here with her. She doesn’t know what she would do if anything happened to Gwen.

“The power must be out,” Gwen says.

Riley and Gwen make their way to the grand staircase, barefoot. Holding on to the polished rail, they race down the stairs, as other footsteps can be heard running in the darkened hotel.

Then Riley stops abruptly. The dull light coming in through the front windows illuminates a ghastly sight below her. Dana lies sprawled at the bottom of the stairs, perfectly still, her limbs in an unnatural position beneath her navy satin robe. Her lovely, long dark hair spills all around her, but her face has an unmistakable pallor. She knows immediately that Dana is dead.

Lauren is kneeling on the floor beside her, leaning over her, her hand pressed against Dana’s neck, feeling for a pulse. She looks up at them, stricken. “I just found her.” Her voice is strained.

Riley continues slowly down the stairs until she is standing on the last step, right above the body. She can feel Gwen’s presence behind her, hears her broken sob.

“Was that you who screamed?” Riley asks.

Lauren nods, tearful.

Riley notices Bradley and his father, James, standing nearby. James is staring at the body of the dead woman at the bottom of his staircase, his face slack with shock. Bradley seems unable to look at Dana, staring at Lauren instead as she hovers over the body. Then James moves forward and reaches down hesitantly.

“She’s dead,” Lauren tells him.

He pulls his hand back, almost gratefully.
 
David hears the scream and jumps out of bed. He throws on a bathrobe, grabs his key, and leaves his room. At the top of the landing he pauses and looks down at the ragged little gathering below. He sees Dana—clearly dead—lying at the foot of the stairs in her bathrobe, Lauren beside her. Riley and Gwen have their backs to him. James is pale and Bradley looks suddenly much younger than he did last night. David hears a noise above him, glances up quickly, and sees Henry and Beverly coming behind him, also still in their pajamas, drawing their robes closed and tying them shut.

“What happened?” David says, hurrying down the stairs.

“We don’t know,” James says, his voice shaking. “It looks like she fell down the stairs.”

David comes closer.

“I couldn’t find a pulse,” Lauren says.

David squats down and studies the body without touching it, a grimness taking hold of him. Finally he says, “She’s been dead for a while. She must have fallen in the middle of the night.” He wonders aloud, “Why would she have been out of her room?” He’s noted the terrible gash on the side of her head, the blood on the edge of the bottom step. He takes it all in with a practiced eye, and feels unaccountably weary.

“Dear God,” Beverly whispers. “That poor girl.”

David looks up at the rest of them. Beverly has turned her face away, but Henry is staring solemnly at the body. David glances at Gwen— her face is tearstained, and her lower lip is trembling. He longs to comfort her, but he doesn’t. Riley’s staring at the dead woman as if she can’t tear her eyes away. He notices then that Matthew is missing.

“Someone has to tell Matthew,” he says, his heart sinking, knowing it will probably be him. He takes one more look at James and then at all the stricken faces now staring back at him as they remember Matthew. “I’ll do it.” Standing up, he adds, “We’d better call the police.”

“We can’t,” James says harshly. “The power’s out. And the phone. We can’t contact the police.”

“Then someone has to go get them,” David says.

“How?” Bradley asks. “Look outside. Everything is a sheet of ice.”

James shakes his head slowly. “The power lines must be down because of the ice storm. It’s hazardous out there. Nobody’s going anywhere.” He adds, his voice taking on an uncertain note, “It’s probably going to be a while before the police can get here.”
 
Candice’s alarm on her cell phone is set to go off promptly every morning at six thirty. She’s nothing if not disciplined. She is a light sleeper, however, and this morning, something wakes her before the alarm sounds. She’s not sure what. She hears footsteps running along the hall below her, raised voices.

She decides she’d better get up. Plus it’s goddamn cold. She flicks the light switch of the lamp on her bedside table, but it doesn’t go on. It’s very dark in the room. She crosses the floor, shivering in bare feet, to open the drapes to let in some light. She’s surprised by what she sees. Not the fluffy winter wonderland of last night— but the unleashed fury of an ice storm. Obviously the power is out. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She wonders how much battery she’s got left in her laptop. Maybe five hours, max. This is a disaster! She needs to find out when the power’s going back on. 
She quickly pulls on some warm clothes and heads cautiously downstairs in the dark.

As she rounds the landing and sees down the stairs into the lobby she stops abruptly. There’s a cluster of people at the bottom of the stairs and they all glance up toward her. Every one of their faces is drawn and uneasy. And then she sees why. There’s a woman lying at the bottom of the stairs, so still that she is clearly dead. It’s Dana Hart. The attorney is standing over her, his face serious. There’s no sign of Matthew.
 
David has volunteered to break the terrible news to Matthew, who as far as they know is still up in his room. Properly speaking, he supposes that it’s the duty of the owner of the hotel to inform Matthew. But James doesn’t look up to the task. This is what David tells himself as he treads back up. James accompanies him, obviously grateful that the attorney has offered. The others remain behind, standing in place, dumbly watching their quiet progress up the stairs.

“Which room is it?” David asks.

“Room 201,” James tells him in a distraught voice.

They stop outside the door. David pauses, preparing himself. He listens for any sounds within. But he hears nothing. He lifts his hand and knocks firmly.

There’s no response. David glances at James, who appears even more anxious. David knocks again, harder this time. He’s beginning to think about having James go fetch the key when he hears movement within. Finally the door swings open and David is face-to-face with the man he met over cocktails the night before. David suddenly feels a terrible pity for him. Matthew still looks half asleep. He’s clumsily pulling on a bathrobe.

“Yes?” he says, obviously surprised to find them at his door. Then he glances over his shoulder at the bed he’s just gotten out of, as if he’s missing something. He turns back and looks David in the eye and it registers all at once. Matthew’s eyes sharpen. “What is it?” He looks from David, to the visibly upset James, and back to the attorney. “What’s happened? Where’s Dana?”

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident,” David says, in his professional voice.

“What?” Matthew is clearly alarmed now.

“I’m so sorry,” David says quietly.

“Has something happened to Dana?” Matthew’s voice is full of panic.

“She’s fallen down the stairs,” David says.

“Is she okay?” But his face has gone white.

David shakes his head somberly and says the dreaded words again. “I’m so sorry.”

Matthew gasps, “I don’t believe it!” He looks ghastly. “I want to see her!”

There’s nothing to be done. He must see her. David leads him down to the landing where he stops, respectfully. Dana lies below them like a broken doll, thrown across a room by a petulant child. Matthew sees her, cries out, and stumbles past him in his rush to get to his beloved.

“Don’t touch her,” David advises.

Matthew collapses beside her and begins to sob as the others step back. He ignores David’s warning and strokes her too -pale face, runs his thumb along her bloodless lips, in disbelief. Then he buries his face in her neck, his shoulders heaving.

The others look away; it’s unbearable.

Finally, Matthew looks up. “How did this happen?” he cries, half crazed, at David, who has descended the stairs and has stopped above him on the second step. “Why would she even be out of our room?”

“You didn’t hear her go?” David asks.

Matthew shakes his head slowly in shock and misery. “No. I was asleep. I didn’t hear anything.” 
He covers his face with both hands and weeps wretchedly.

Bradley fetches a white sheet and they all stand by somberly as he and David settle it gently over Dana’s inert form.

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Happiness Economics

Happiness Economics

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Someone We Know
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Saturday, October 14

Olivia Sharpe sits in her kitchen drinking a cup of coffee, gazing blankly out the glass sliding doors to the backyard. It's mid-October, and the maple tree near the back fence is looking splendid in its reds and oranges and yellows. The grass is still green, but the rest of the garden has been prepared for winter; it won't be long before the first frost, she thinks. But for now, she enjoys the yellow sunlight filtering through her backyard and slanting across her spotless kitchen. Or she tries to. It's hard to enjoy anything when she is coming to a slow boil inside.

Her son, Raleigh, still isn't up. Yes, it's Saturday, and he's been in school all week, but it's two o'clock in the afternoon, and it drives her crazy that he's still asleep.

She puts down her coffee and trudges once again up the carpeted stairs to the second floor. She hesitates outside her son's bedroom door, reminds herself not to yell, and then knocks lightly and opens it. As she expected, he's sound asleep. His blanket is still over his head-he pulled it over his head the last time she came in, a half hour ago. She knows he hates it when she tells him to get up, but he doesn't do it on his own, and what is she supposed to do, let him sleep all day? On the weekends she likes to let him relax a little, but for Christ's sake, it's midafternoon.

"Raleigh, get up. It's after two o'clock." She hates the edge she hears in her voice, but she expends so much energy trying to get this boy out of bed every day, it's hard not to resent it.

He doesn't so much as twitch. She stands there looking down at him, feeling a complicated mix of love and frustration. He's a good boy. A smart but unmotivated student. Completely lovable. He's just lazy-not only will he not get out of bed on his own, but he doesn't do his homework, and he doesn't help with chores around the house without endless nagging. He tells her he hates her nagging. Well, she hates it, too. She tells him that if he did what she asked the first time, she wouldn't have to repeat herself, but he doesn't seem to get it. She puts it down to his being sixteen. Sixteen-year-old boys are murder. She hopes that by the time he's eighteen or nineteen, his prefrontal cortex will be more developed, and he will have better executive function and start being more responsible.

"Raleigh! Come on, get up." He still doesn't move, doesn't acknowledge her existence, not even with a grunt. She sees his cell phone lying faceup on his bedside table. If he won't get up, fine, she'll confiscate his cell phone. She imagines his hand flailing around, reaching for it before he even takes the covers off his head. She snatches the phone and leaves the room, slamming the door behind her. He'll be furious, but so is she.

She returns to the kitchen and puts his phone down on the counter. It pings. A text message has popped up. She has never snooped in her son's phone or computer. She doesn't know his passwords. And she completely trusts him. But this message is right there in front of her, and she looks at it.

Did you break in last night?

She freezes. What the hell does that mean?

Another ping. Get anything good?

Her stomach flips.

Text me when ur up

She picks up the phone and stares at it, waiting for another message, but nothing comes. She tries to open his phone, but, of course, it's password protected.

Her son was out last night. He said he'd gone to a movie. With a friend. He didn't say who.

She asks herself what she should do. Should she wait for his father to get back from the hardware store? Or should she confront her son first? She feels terribly uneasy. Is it possible Raleigh could be up to no good? She can't believe it. He's lazy, but he's not the kind of kid to get into trouble. He's never been in any trouble before. He has a good home, a comfortable life, and two parents who love him. He can't possibly . . .

If this is what it looks like, his father will be furious, too. Maybe she'd better talk to Raleigh first.

She climbs the stairs, the earlier love and frustration shoved abruptly aside by an even more complicated mix of rage and fear. She barges into his room with his phone in her fist and yanks the covers off his head. He opens his eyes blearily; he looks angry, like a wakened bear. But she's angry, too. She holds his cell phone in front of him.

"What were you up to last night, Raleigh? And don't say you were at the movies, because I'm not buying it. You'd better tell me everything before your father gets home." Her heart is pounding with anxiety. What has he done?

Raleigh looks up at his mom. SheÕs standing over him with his cell phone in her hand. What the hell is she doing with his cell phone? What is she blathering on about? He's annoyed, but heÕs still half asleep. He doesnÕt wake up just like that; it's an adjustment.

"What?" he manages to say. He's pissed off at her for barging in here when he's asleep. She's always trying to wake him up. She always wants everyone on her schedule. Everyone knows his mom's a bit of a control freak. She should learn to chill. But now she looks really mad. She's glaring at him in a way he's never seen before. He suddenly wonders what time it is. He turns to look at his clock radio. It's two fifteen. Big deal. Nobody died.

"What the hell have you been up to?" she demands, holding his phone out like an accusation.

His heart seems to skip a beat, and he holds his breath. What does she know? Has she gotten into his phone? But then he remembers that she doesn't know the passcode, and he starts to breathe again.

"I just happened to be glancing at your phone when a text came in," his mom says.

Raleigh struggles to sit up, his mind going blank. Shit. What did she see?

"Have a look," she says, and tosses the phone at him.

He thumbs the phone and sees the damning texts from Mark. He sits there staring at them, wondering how to spin this. He's afraid to look his mother in the face.

"Raleigh, look at me," she says.

She always says that when she's mad. Slowly he looks up at her. He's wide awake now.

"What do those texts mean?"

"What texts?" he says stupidly, playing for time. But he knows he's busted. The texts are pretty fucking clear. How could Mark be so stupid? He looks back down at the phone again; it's easier than looking at his mother's face. Did you break in last night? Get anything good?

He starts to panic. His brain can't come up with anything fast enough to satisfy his mother. All he can think of is a desperate, "It's not what it looks like!"

"Oh, that's good to hear," his mom says in her most sarcastic voice. "Because it looks like you've been up to a bit of breaking and entering!"

He sees an opening. "It's not like that. I wasn't stealing."

She gives him an enraged look and says, "You'd better tell me everything, Raleigh. No bullshit."

He knows he can't get out of this by denying it. He's caught like a rat in a trap, and now all he can do is damage control. "I did sneak into somebody's house, but I wasn't stealing. It was more like-just looking around," he mutters.

"You actually broke into someone's house last night?" his mother says, aghast. "I can't believe this! Raleigh, what were you thinking?" She throws her hands up. "Why on earth would you even do that?"

He sits there on his bed, speechless, because he doesn't know how to explain. He does it because it's a kick, a thrill. He likes to get into other people's houses and hack into their computers. He doesn't dare tell her that. She should be glad he's not doing drugs.

"Whose house was it?" she demands now.

His mind seizes. He can't answer that. If he tells her whose house he was in last night, she'll completely lose it. He can't bear to think of what the consequences of that might be.

"I don't know," he lies.

"Well, where was it?"

"I can't remember. What difference does it make? I didn't take anything! They won't even know I was there."

His mom leans her face in toward him and says, "Oh, they'll know all right."

He looks at her in fear. "What do you mean?"

"You're going to get dressed, and then you're going to show me the house you broke into, and then you're going to knock on the door and apologize."

"I can't," he says desperately.

"You can, and you will," she says. "Whether you want to or not."

He starts to sweat. "Mom, I can't. Please don't make me."

She looks at him shrewdly. "What else aren't you telling me?" she asks.

But at that moment, he hears the front door opening and his dad whistling as he drops his keys on the table in the hall. Raleigh's heart starts to pound, and he feels slightly sick. His mother he can handle, but his dad-he can't bear to think of how his dad's going to react. He didn't anticipate this; he never thought he'd get caught. Fucking Mark.

"Get up, now," his mother commands, ripping the rest of the covers off him. "We're going to talk to your father."

As he makes his way down the stairs in his pajamas, he's sweating. When they enter the kitchen, his dad looks up in surprise. He can obviously tell from their expressions that something's up.

The whistling stops abruptly. "What's going on?" his dad asks.

"Maybe we'd better all sit down," his mother says, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table. "Raleigh has something to tell you, and you're not going to like it."

They all sit. The sound of the chairs scraping against the floor rips at Raleigh's raw nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

He has to confess. He knows that. But he doesn't have to tell them everything. He's more awake now, better able to think. "Dad, I'm really sorry, and I know it was wrong," he begins. His voice is trembling, and he thinks it's a good start. But his dad's brow has darkened already, and Raleigh's afraid. He hesitates.

"What the hell have you done, Raleigh?" his father asks.

He stares back at his dad, but the words don't come. For a moment, he feels completely paralyzed.

"He broke into somebody's house," his mother says finally.

"What?"

There's no mistaking the shock and fury in his father's voice. Raleigh quickly averts his eyes and looks at the floor. He says, "I didn't break in. I snuck in."

"Why the hell did you do that?" his father demands.

Raleigh shrugs his shoulders, but doesn't answer. He's still staring at the floor.

"When?"

His mother prods him with a hand on his shoulder. "Raleigh?"

He finally raises his head and looks at his dad. "Last night."

His father looks back at him, his mouth hanging open. "You mean, while we were here having friends over for dinner, and you were supposed to be at a movie, you were actually out sneaking into someone else's house?" His voice has grown in volume until, by the end of the sentence, his father is shouting. For a moment, there's silence. The air vibrates with tension. "Were you alone, or were you with someone else?"

"Alone," he mumbles.

"So we can't even console ourselves with the idea that someone else led you into this completely unacceptable, criminal, behavior?"

Raleigh wants to put his hands over his ears to block out his dad's shouting, but he knows this will only incense his dad further. He knows it looks worse that he acted alone.

"Whose house was it?"

"I don't know."

"So what happened?" His dad glances at his mom, and then back at him. "Did you get caught?"

Raleigh shakes his head, and his mom says, "No. I saw a text on his cell phone. Raleigh, show your dad the texts."

Raleigh unlocks and hands over the phone, and his dad looks at the screen in disbelief. "Jesus, Raleigh! How could you? Have you done this before?"

This is the thing about his father-he knows what questions to ask. Things his mother, rattled by shock, didn't think to ask. Raleigh has done it before, a few times. "Just one other time," he lies, avoiding his father's eyes.

"So you've broken into two houses."

He nods.

"Does anyone know?"

Raleigh shakes his head. "Of course not."

"Of course not," his dad repeats sarcastically. His dad's sarcasm is worse than his mom's. "Your friend knows. Who's he?"

"Mark. From school."

"Anyone else?"

Raleigh shakes his head reluctantly.

"Is there any way you might get caught? Security cameras?"

Raleigh shakes his head again, and looks up at his dad. "There weren't any security cameras. I checked."

"Jesus. I can't believe you. Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"They don't even know I was there," Raleigh says defensively. "I was really careful. I told Mom-I never took anything. I didn't do any harm."

"Then what were you doing there?" his dad asks.

"I don't know. Just looking around, I guess."

"Just looking around, I guess," his dad repeats, and it makes Raleigh feel about six years old. "What were you looking at? Ladies' underwear?"

"No!" Raleigh shouts, flushing hotly with embarrassment. He's not some kind of a pervert. He mutters, "I was mostly looking in their computers."

"Dear God," his dad shouts, "you went into people's computers?"

Raleigh nods miserably.

His dad slams the table and gets up. He starts pacing around the kitchen, glaring back at Raleigh. "Don't people use passwords?"

"Sometimes I can get past them," he says, his voice quavering.

"And what did you do, when you were looking around in people's private computers?"

"Well . . ." and it all comes out in a rush. He feels his mouth twist as he tries not to cry. "All I did was write some prank emails from-from someone's email account." And then, uncharacteristically, he bursts into tears.

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The Couple Next Door
Excerpt

Anne reaches clumsily for her cell phone on the dining table and checks the time. It is almost one o’clock in the morning. She’d checked on the baby at midnight. Marco had gone to check on her at twelve thirty. Then he’d gone out for a cigarette on the back patio with Cynthia, while Anne and Graham sat rather awkwardly at the littered dining table, making stilted conversation. She should have gone out to the backyard with them; there might have been a breeze. But she hadn’t, because Graham didn’t like to be around cigarette smoke, and it would have been rude, or at least inconsiderate, to leave Graham there all alone at his own dinner party. So for reasons of propriety, she had stayed. Graham, a WASP like herself, is impeccably polite. Why he married a tart like Cynthia is a mystery. Cynthia and Marco had come back in from the patio a few minutes ago, and Anne desperately wants to leave, even if everyone else is still having fun.

She glances at the baby monitor sitting at the end of the table, its small red light glowing like the tip of a cigarette. The video screen is smashed—she’d dropped it a couple of days ago and Marco hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet—but the audio is still working. Suddenly she has doubts, feels the wrongness of it all. Who goes to a dinner party next door and leaves her baby alone in the house? What kind of mother does such a thing? She feels the familiar agony set
in—she is not a good mother.

So what if the sitter canceled? They should have brought Cora with them, put her in her portable playpen. But Cynthia had said no children. It was to be an adult evening, for Graham’s birthday. Which is another reason Anne has come to dislike Cynthia, who was once a good friend—Cynthia is not baby-friendly. Who says that a six-month-old baby isn’t welcome at a dinner party? How had Anne ever let Marco persuade her that it was okay? It was irresponsible. She wonders what the other mothers in her moms’ group would think if she ever told them. We left our six-month-old baby home alone and went to a party next door. She imagines all their jaws dropping in shock, the uncomfortable silence. But she will never tell them. She’d be shunned.
She and Marco had argued about it before the party. When the sitter called and canceled, Anne had offered to stay home with the baby—she hadn’t wanted to go to the dinner anyway. But Marco was having none of it.

“You can’t just stay home,” he insisted when they argued about it in their kitchen.

“I’m fine staying home,” she said, her voice lowered. She didn’t want Cynthia to hear them through the shared wall, arguing about going to her party.

“It will be good for you to get out,” Marco countered, lowering his own voice. And then he’d added, “You know what the doctor said.”

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Things Go Flying

Things Go Flying

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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