Sneak Peek of 14 Days to Die

14 Days to Die by A.B. Whelan
14 Days to Die
Release date: Jan 13, 2016
Dive into this sneak peek of this highly anticipated psychological thriller, written in the spirit of "The War of the Roses" and with the twisted mind of "Gone Girl". 


"High praises for 14 Days To Die! This book lives up to everything a psychological thriller lover looks for in a book. When you think you have the ending figured out, you'll be wrong!!! A must read!!!"—Violet (★★★★★ Goodreads Review)

"This was my first book by A.B. Whelan and it was the Bomb!! Great book with so much twist and turns that I dare you to try and guess the ending!!"—Annie (★★★★★ Goodreads Review) 

"Whoa...I was not prepared for this. This is a gripping thriller full of twists and turns."—Michelle Only Wants to Read (★★★★★ Netgalley Review) 

"I have never read a book quite like it but hope Ms. Whelan has more psychological thrillers up her sleeves. I think she has found her niche with this book. I recommend this book highly. I think Gillian Flynn may have to move over to make room for Ms. Whelan."—Vicky (★★★★★ Goodreads Review)

"Not since Gone Girl or Girl on the Train have I been so hooked on a book. I loved it from start to finish!"—BeeGee (★★★★★ Goodreads Review) 

“From lies and betrayals to jealousy and adultery, this book has it all and then some. It made me gasp, made me angry, sad, and even laugh as I rooted for the underdog. The twists and turns came like punches-I just wasn't prepared for what was coming.”—Jan (★★★★ Netgalley Review)

Wow! This book's amazing! Being a mother & a wife for 10 years, I can relate to Sarah's moments….I devoured each page & congratulated myself when I finished it within 3 hours!—Elsie (★★★★★ Goodreads Review)

“And I didn't come close to figuring out how this book would end. Frigging awesome!”—Shelby *trains flying monkeys* (★★★★ Netgalley Review) 

‘A debut psychological gripping thriller with many twists and turns that keeps you guessing until the very last page. And I never guessed the brilliant ending! I loved this book!”—Sue (★★★★ Netgalley Review)

“(this book) is like peeking in the windows of your neighbor's house ... you just can't turn your eyes away.”—Linda (★★★★ Netgalley Review)

“Talk about a fantastic plot and premise for a thriller! Not only was this one fast paced, it had exceptional character development…” —Chelsea (★★★★★ Netgalley Review) 

“The story builds its drama word by word and the very prologue is so engaging, so genuine and understandable, despite its hilarious picturization, you fall headlong in sympathy for this woman called Sarah.” —Purvi (★★★★ Goodreads Review)

“If you are after an adrenaline rush and a rollercoaster of a read then look no further than this intriguing thriller, the first by YA writer A.B.Whelan. This book is so unlike anything else I have read recently and it was a real treat for me to follow a plot that constantly surprised me with its twist and turns. It was a modern day War of The Roses crossed with Mr and Mrs Smith!” —Joanne (★★★★ Netgalley Review)

Read over 50 pre-release reviews on Goodreads: Click here!

(the first 40 pages)

My mother used to tell me that being a mother is the most underappreciated job in the world. I never really understood what she meant until I gave birth to my first child.

It was a fine winter day that eighth of February when I decided to kill my husband. When I come to think of it, I mean really think of it, it wasn’t the first time I had considered erasing him from the face of the Earth. But let’s be honest here; what wife, after a day of emotional abuse, hasn’t found solace in the thought of getting rid of her husband? Sometimes when Mike came to bed drunk, yelling at me and cussing me out, I imagined putting a pillow over his face and keeping it there until he stopped moving and—more importantly—talking. I could never go through with it, though. I am not a psychopath.
There was always the possibility of leaving him and starting a new life, but our marriage wasn’t all bad. We managed to balance it out. My husband is a good man. He is just not great at handling his own frustrations. Near forty, he evaluates his life quite often, and the result gives him more grief than he is able to handle. I’m good at terrorizing myself emotionally, so I’ve become resilient to the emotional terror he inflicts on me. So our marriage works—more or less.
We don’t have millions of dollars in the bank or a private yacht anchored in the bay at Newport Beach, but we have two beautiful and fantastic children, and we have each other. I thought that ought to count for something. But I was wrong. My husband loved money and himself more than he ever loved me. To my dismay, I had to find it out in the most twisted and heartbreaking way.

Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: How would you describe your marriage, Mrs. Johnson?
Sarah Johnson: Happy. Stable.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: What happened then?
Sarah Johnson: Something went terribly wrong.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: What went wrong?
Sarah Johnson: Everything.


14 Days to Die

In the morning, sun penetrates our double kitchen window that overlooks our mediocre backyard. The light brings out the splash marks and food particles on the glass that the kids and Mike manage to sprinkle all over the window when they come to use the sink. Usually I’d grab a cloth, wet it and clean the grime off, then polish the glass to perfection. But I won’t do it now. This morning, I turn around and lean against the sink with my back to the window instead, watching Mike eat his sunny-side up eggs in the breakfast nook. His fingers are folded loosely around the fork’s handle, a piece of egg white stuck between the fork’s teeth. He’s working on his breakfast absentmindedly, almost like a robot that is programmed to do the same routine every day. His iPhone is tucked in his left hand like an extended limb. On the screen, his thumb jumps around as if involuntary spasms control it. I know he’s texting. I’m standing only a few feet away from him. The man has no shame.
I’d like to find out who invented smartphones and lock him up for the rest of his life in a room with nothing but his own phone, and an internet connection. I’ve always believed that the human race is emotionally wired. We need everyday social interaction in person—not via electronics. Maybe my lack of social interaction is to blame for how my life turned out.
Mike wasn’t always so addicted to the screen. We used to eat breakfast together sitting around the dining table. I’d make all kinds of fancy dishes with eggs like omelets loaded with veggies, scrambled eggs with spinach and Parmesan cheese, frittata I learned to make while we were living in Italy. Up until a few years ago, we would clink glasses before drinking our fresh-squeezed orange juice and wink, sending air kisses to each other. My father used to say that I had so much pride in my work that it wouldn’t matter what I did or who I was—a corporate director, baker, or housewife—I’d always achieve perfection. I still make fancy breakfasts, but now I eat alone.
 Mike’s cell beeps again. I recognize the alarm sound his phone makes when a new text message arrives. He smiles. I frown, wanting to rip the phone out of his hand, smash it on the floor, and stomp on it until it becomes nothing more than a pile of glass and metal pieces.
I feel anger rising in my chest. I lead my eyes away, but not too far. No. This morning Mike has my undivided attention, and neither the broken eggshells on the counter nor the dirty skillet on the stove can draw it away.
I analyze his outfit, the way he hunches over his plate, his hair—shaved and combed to the side like the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo’s. Oh, for crying out loud, you’re almost forty I want to tell him.
When he got home from the barber’s a month ago showing me his new hairstyle I actually liked it. It made him look younger, more stylish. But since I found out that he didn’t update his style for me, I just want to take scissors to his hair.
A cup of hot coffee steams next to Mike’s plate—black with a hint of vanilla-flavored nature bliss coffee creamer. The smile still lingers on his face as he sets his phone down and sips at the coffee. Maybe it’s that cute, sexy half-smile that ignites a spark lighting up the stacked-up logs of bitterness in my mind, I don’t know, but as I witness his joyful reaction to the message, a fire starts in my head—a fire that I won’t be able to quench until I follow through with my plan. I should have known. Wives always do, so I have heard.
The image of the three monkeys—one holding its ears, the other its eyes, the third its mouth—comes alive in my mind. I’ve been a fool. The bitter recognition rushes blood to my temples making me dizzy.
Only yesterday I was going through family photos from our three years in Italy. I organized them by trips we took: Pisa, Firenze, Rome, London, and Croatia. I convinced myself that in spite of the occasional yelling and blaming, we were a happy family. We had it better than most people did.
I clench my teeth, take the broken eggshells from the counter, and dump them into the trash. I desperately want to hold onto those memories—of me feeling happy about the pictures—but the harder I try, the more they slip away. That was yesterday. Today is a new day. Today I have to take matters into my own hands, or soon I will be six feet under with nothing but regrets.
Mike drains the orange juice—not fresh squeezed but store bought. He’s lucky I even made him breakfast.
I stare at his glass for a while, some old memory or perhaps just a thought swirls inside the recesses of my mind. I pick up the container that is half full with country-style orange juice. Based on statistics most women choose poison as a murder weapon. Sounds appealing to me too. There would be no blood. I wouldn’t have to watch Mike’s eyes as his soul leaves his body when I plunge a knife deep into his chest.
I shudder. The thought of murdering my husband bothers me because I’ve been living a clean and humble life for over a decade. But I’m aware of the darkness is somewhere still inside me. I only need to find it and bring it to the surface. I need my old friend, madness, if I want to execute such an unforgivable sin, or I will fail. It won’t be easy I know. I married Mike because I loved him. He’s the father of my children . . . but he gives me no choice. No one that despicable deserves to live.
The awakening winter sunlight pours through the open window and touches my bare shoulders. The warmth embeds a pleasant feeling in me. I step away from the sun. When you’re plotting to kill your husband, pleasant feelings aren’t the ones you need. I have to keep my head clear and my mind focused. After fourteen long years of marriage I won’t end up in prison spending the rest of my life trading toothbrushes for candy bars. Patience, I tell myself, is the one thing that separates the smart criminals from the lousy ones. Mike will leave in twenty minutes to play a pick-up soccer game with his buddies (so he told me) and I’ll have the entire morning to surf the Internet for ideas.
“Is there any more coffee?” Mike asks, pushing his empty mug towards me without looking up from his phone. There was a time when he used to say please at the end of every request. I can’t even recall when he stopped using pleasantries with me.
I wipe my hands on a kitchen towel and take his cup. I pour him coffee from the pot then I add a special ingredient. No, it’s not love. A good splash of creamer disguises my foamy spit. The cup overflows.
“Whoa!” he snaps. “Watch what you’re doing!”
I don’t respond to that. “When did you say your game was?” I ask.
“I told you like five times already. It’s at eight thirty.” He scoops up the remaining morsels of his eggs, shoves them into his mouth and pushes the plate toward me. Then he takes a big gulp of his coffee. My face remains expressionless while amusement rattles my insides. So that’s how it feels to have the upper hand. I used to be good at this game. Though that was long time ago.
“Why? You have plans for this morning?” he adds unkindly as if I don’t feel like a useless accessory to his fun life already.
“No, I’ll be home.” I always am.
I take his plate and drop it into the sink instead of placing it in the dishwasher.
His phone beeps again. I want to claw the walls.
I watch him leave the kitchen with his nose buried in the screen of that stupid iPhone.
I should leave the kitchen, too, take a nice hot bath with candles on the side and rose petals floating around in the water. I should stop worrying about my chores and enjoy the remainder of whatever life I have left. But the mess in the kitchen bothers me more than I can handle. I try to suppress the urge to clean up, but I fail. I don’t have OCD; I just hate clutter.
With a sigh of defeat, I load the dishwasher, wash the skillet in the sink, wipe the stove and clean up the countertops. The kids will be up in half an hour, hungry and demanding, and I’ll have to start the whole process all over again. According to my husband that’s my job. But if I do have a job, why don’t I get paid? Why don’t I earn retirement? Why don’t I have health benefits? Why do I have to listen to my husband reminding me every day to get a real job?
I’m in the family room gathering the kids’ backpacks when my husband runs down the stairs sports bag in his hand, dragging a trail of Calvin Klein after him.
“Wish me luck,” he says, and kisses my forehead.
Fuck you I think but say “good luck” instead.
He storms through the laundry room and leaves the door open as always. I hear the garage door roll up and the sound of the engine idling in his brand new Porsche. He had been driving a Prius for five years to save on gas, but five months ago—just after we moved back to the States—he traded his energy-wise ride in for this new sports car. I was always under the impression that we couldn’t afford living luxuriantly, but I was also under the impression that despite our problems we had a good marriage and that my husband loved me. It turns out that I was wrong on both accounts. I should never have married a Gemini, a two-faced manipulator.
As I step in to close the laundry room door and keep the heat inside the house, my eyes get stuck on a pair of shin guards on the top of the washing machine. I snatch them up and burst into the garage to catch Mike in time. I don’t know why I even care what happens to his shins during a soccer game when I’m about to end his life, but I guess old habits die hard.
When he spots me framed in the garage door, he rolls the window down. I hand him his forgotten-yet-necessary set of gear. “Oh, thanks, Honey. I love you,” he says blissfully.
His breath smells of mouthwash.
My stomach constricts.
As he rolls onto the street in our quiet suburban neighborhood, I wave goodbye. Then I close the garage; a bitter taste lingers in my mouth.
Since the kids are still sleeping, the upstairs is ghostly silent. In my room I sit down in front of the old hand-me-down Apple computer I inherited from my husband when he bought himself a new laptop. Now its software is outdated and its memory too slow. It also stores all of our music, pictures, and documents. If I want to save a new file, I literarily have to delete an old one to make room on the hard drive. Every year around Christmastime I start dropping hints about how I need a new, faster computer for my blogging, but my husband never picks up on them no matter how obvious they are. His gifts to me are always the same: jewelry. Not the kind you can wear to soccer practices or school pick-ups, but the ones you keep in your jewelry box for a wedding or anniversary dinner. None of which we ever go to together. Sometimes I play with the idea of taking all my jewelry to a pawnshop and using the money to buy a laptop for myself. Unfortunately, my collection has only sentimental value, not monetary.
While I wait for the system to boot up, a terrible feeling of betrayal and depression comes over me. I pull off my wedding ring and put it on the table. I stare at it for a while, until my eyes sting.
The computer rattles on, and I look out the window. From the bedroom slash office we have a view of the surrounding mountains. Their silhouettes are stark against the pale blue sky. Despite being winter, the landscape is picturesque. Here in Southern California the weather is hardly ever gloomy.
I strain my brain to remember the name of the mountains. Idyllwild? I’m not sure. We have been back in the States for only five months, and my smallest problem was bigger than finding out the names of all the landmarks around us. I had to sign the kids up for school, find them soccer teams, a physician, a dentist; get familiar with the local grocery stores, post office, and gas stations; find an internet, phone and TV provider; manage the re-carpeting of the house and the delivery of our furniture; then put everything away, clean out all the boxes, wash all the windows, clean up the backyard, get our dog settled in; and in the meantime, fight with my husband over why I haven’t gone on any job interviews yet.
A surging anger rushes into my heart. My pulse beats out of control, and I have to take a few deep breaths before I’m able to start typing words into the search engine.
I use Google Chrome. I like the look of it. Just like I use Google Search.
My fingers are cold as I type out best criminal TV shows.
A list of web pages pops up on my screen. The second title is the one I’m most familiar with: CSI. Under the picture of the cast it says that the show has been on since the year 2000. I used to be a fan back when I had the time to follow many TV shows.
For a moment I consider searching for ways to kill someone humanely, but I think better of it. Searches like that can be traced back to a specific computer. I’ve already established that I’m not going to prison. Orange is not my color.
As I take a few calming breaths and blow warm air onto my cold hands, I hear my daughter calling me. She peed her bed again. She needs me to clean it up.
I rise from my chair and walk down the hallway leading to her room. My son is already up reading a children’s mystery novel by James Patterson. This year he picked the master of crime novels as his favorite author. I like to believe that my son inherited his love of reading from me. I usually read during soccer practices. Actually, I read or run. Mostly read because I hate running in the cold. According to my husband it’s just another excuse for me to be lazy. He might be right. I used to be a runner. I was very athletic. I also used to work 12-hour jobs. But I gave up my career long ago when I got married to an Air Force man who dragged me all over the world on a moment’s notice.
I don’t only read. I also manage a blog with reviews and giveaways. But I don’t like to talk about that because according to my husband it’s a waste of time. He might be right. I scarcely make a few hundred bucks a month from advertising fees. I keep thinking I could develop my blog into something big: team up with other reviewers, run literary award contests, and lots more, but to make those dreams come true you need confidence. My self-esteem has hit an all time low.
I nod at my son, who responds with a half-hearted good morning, and slip into my daughter’s room. She’s six years old but still wets the bed a few times a month. I blame the constant changes in her environment along with the scary animated movies available for children nowadays as the cause of her irregular bedwetting. If I can bring myself to wake up in the middle of the night, I take her to the bathroom, but most nights I’m too exhausted to wake up. My husband doesn’t understand why I’m so tired all the time. “I wish my job was to stay home and play with my kids all day,” he never stops reminding me.
I strip the bed of the protective pad and the sheets. I find the mattress cover soaked with urine. I have a homemade remedy for getting rid of the stain so I’m not mad. I already have four piles of laundry waiting in my room, but this takes priority. I should tell my daughter that it’s okay; can happen to anyone, but I’m not in a very compassionate mood today.
While the washing machine is running, I return to the kitchen to make breakfast for my kids. I remember that I haven’t eaten anything yet, but I just don’t have an appetite. I pour myself a second cup of coffee and add milk. My son wants oatmeal with cinnamon and honey while my daughter is begging for pancakes. I tell them it’s not a restaurant but fix both foods anyway.
My phone rings and makes me jump. From the unknown number I know it’s a stranger calling.
“Aren’t you gonna get that?” my son asks, taking apart the Lego spaceship I just put together for him last week for the third time. Why can’t he just keep his Lego sets together? Next time he asks for more Lego, I’m going to buy him a bucket of mixed pieces on eBay for half the money. I’ve gone crazy. Why am I worrying about toys when my life is hanging by a thread?
“Aren’t you going to get that?” I correct him while my eyes can’t let go of the number.
It could be the police calling, letting me know that my husband got into an accident and died. But I’m not that lucky. Never have been.
I answer it, my heart in my throat. “Yes.” The sound comes out weak and vulnerable. I clear my throat and move away from my children. “Sarah speaking.” I say more confidently.
“Do you have an answer for me?” the man asks in a low monotone with a notable European accent. The same guy who called me last night and told me that my husband hired him to kill me.
I rub my forehead the same way as I do when I negotiate deals with Mike or my son’s coach. “I don’t have the kind of money you’re asking for.”
“Do you want to die?” he asks me flatly as if reading a message from a note.
What a stupid question. I growl inside. How could Mike put me in a situation like this? After all I’ve done for him and for this family. My hatred for him sits intensely in my chest. I feel as if every cell in my body wants to burst. I’m not taking this guy seriously enough. Where is the fear? The panic?
“What I meant was that I don’t have the money you’re asking for right now, but I can get it in a month.” My hand is moist and the phone almost slips from my grasp. I press it harder to my ear.
“That’s a long time. You get one week.”
“Three,” I negotiate. Before giving up my independence for a man, I used to run my own medical company. I know a thing or two about how to cut a deal.
“Fine. You get two weeks, but not a day more. After that, I’m coming for you. And don’t forget, one word to the police, and I’ll make you watch your children die before I finish you.” He hangs up on me without a farewell. I hold the phone to my ear for a while, seeing stars in blank spaces. I have to use a dining room chair for support to keep me from falling.
“Are you okay?” My daughter’s sweet voice penetrates the darkness in my head.
My eyes come back to focus, and I see her cherubic face staring at me. My son is by my side in a heartbeat and tries holding me up by my elbow. My knees buckle and I manage to steady myself.
“I’m fine,” I say, caressing his thick blond hair. He’s the most achieving little kid I have ever known. He deserves to grow up in a happy family. For a moment I consider the option of letting the hit man kill me and having my children live a wealthy and happy life with a new younger mom. Then I think better of it. That young Italian girl who’s got my husband completely wrapped around her little finger will never be the mother of my children. What could she teach them other than how to steal someone else’s husband . . . how to ruin a family?
If my husband thinks badly enough of me to hire someone to kill me, maybe I am bad. I can be bad—that I know. I will show him just how bad.
My fingers roll into tight fists. “Finish your breakfasts. Mommy needs to take care of something.”

*     *     *     *     *

Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: What was your impression about the Johnson’s when they first moved in?
Carol: To be honest, Tom—can I call you Tom? You just have this Lenny Kravitz thing going on, and I feel like I know you. Anyway, so yeah, you know I looked up how much they paid for the house on Zillow dot com because I knew it was a foreclosure. And I won’t lie, yes. It made me mad. Most of us here struggle with our high mortgage payments while they snatched this beautiful home for almost nothing. Then they started doing all that remodeling. I know for a fact that many people in our cul-de-sac were very upset about that. Like they were rubbing our noses in their money.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: Were any of them mad enough to kill?
Carol: Oh, no, I didn’t mean to imply that at all. God, no! We are peaceful people here. Everybody is so loving. That’s terrible what happened. Those poor kids! I heard they are getting millions of dollars from the insurance company. Is that true?
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: I can’t share that information.
*     *     *     *     *

After a good ten-minute search, I find the family iPad under the covers of my son’s bed. The battery is only at two percent. Most likely, instead of sleeping he played silly pointless games on it last night. Mike bought it on a whim three years ago. I had no use for yet another smart device especially when I could have updated my closet with the money it cost. I’m still wearing the same jeans I bought years ago. They fit, so either I’m not as fat as I’m told, or I was never skinny.
It takes another few minutes to find the charger under his desk buried in the clutter. At last, I sit down on my bed and search for the CSI TV show on Amazon Instant Video. An episode costs a buck ninety-nine. Mike won’t be suspicious if I buy one or two yet I hesitate to click. I do it sometimes to catch up on shows I started watching. I own all the episodes of The 100 and the first two seasons of The Walking Dead. Neither of those shows will be any help for me to find a way to kill my husband and make it look like an accident. If I plan to commit the perfect crime and get away with it, I need to educate myself about forensics, science, maybe even chemistry. As the word chemistry imprints itself on my brain, I remember hearing or seeing somewhere that most of the poisons that are strong enough to kill leave a trace in the body. There are also untraceable chemical elements in the periodic table that are deadly enough to kill humans. I don’t remember their names. I only have this faint image somewhere in the back of my mind.
I start fixing my bed, running the ideas through my head. The more I entertain the idea of poisoning Mike the more I like it. I mean, what other options do I really have? We don’t own a gun. I wouldn’t even know where to buy one. I could tamper with his new car, but tools leave marks. I also learned that watching CSI.
I notice my breathing accelerate. I grab hold of the footboard of the bed before I faint. I can’t believe I’m planning to kill my husband. What’s gotten into me? I’m a respectable homemaker and mother. If a vendor at a farmers market makes a mistake and hands me too much change, I give the extra back. If we go to the community pool, I tell my kids to take quick showers because I don’t want to waste the community water.
A silver-framed picture of Mike and me standing in each other’s arms under the canopy of a huge olive tree rests on the top of the dresser at eye level. We look happy and so in love—as if we were newlyweds. The photo was taken in Volterra, Italy. It was a surprise trip from Mike since he knew how much I loved the Twilight movies. Though we didn’t find any vampires, we did find love again. We ate gelato while sitting on the ancient stonewall of the city overlooking the vineyards of rolling hills. We tasted each other’s ice cream. We hugged. We kissed . . .
The coffee acid swirls in my stomach, and I barely make it to the toilet. I hurl into the bowl like a drunken college student.
My son appears behind me and pats my back. I tell him that I’m okay, and I’ll be done in a second. He snatches the iPad from my bed and leaves. And here I was thinking that he was worried about me.
I step into the shower. I need cold water to become alert. A spider sits in the corner where the tile meets the wall. It’s in the same spot as it has been for the past few days, watching me wash up. I’m scared of spiders but I’m not scared of this little buddy. She reminds me of Charlotte from White’s classic tale. Lately she’s been the closest thing I have to a friend.
“What am I going to do? Tell me little guy,” I babble to the spider. It doesn’t move.
Through the cascades of water washing over my face, I hear my cell phone ring. My heart begins to race. I burst out of the shower taking the curtain with me. I skid on the wet tile and go down on a knee. The impact is hard and sharp. Hissing, I rip a towel off its hanger and fight my way out of my room. Half-way down the stairs I meet my son. The phone in his hand is stretched toward me.
“Who was it?” I ask with a rush of panic.
“Some dude. He asked me to tell you tick tock tick tock.” He raises an eyebrow.
I can’t breathe. “Gimme that.”
“You mean give me that?” he corrects. I yank the phone out of his hand. He looks at me, confused.
“I’m sorry. I’m not having a good day.”
“Awright,” he says.
“Please don’t answer my phone. I believe I’ve asked you that a million times already.”
“I heard you were in the shower. I thought it might be import—”
“Just don’t. Okay?” I interrupt. I turn around and make it back to my room.
This was the third time Hit man had called me in twelve hours. Yesterday I didn’t even know he existed. Now he’s managed to turn my entire world upside down.
The first call came in last night. After I had put the kids to bed, I sat down in front of my computer to edit a blog post when my cell started buzzing next to me. Unknown caller id at nine o’clock at night—had to be a telemarketer, I thought. I answered it anyway, just to stop the ringing.
“Sarah Johnson?”
“Yes,” I snapped. I finally had time today to sit down and work on my blog. The last thing I was in the mood for was to listen to a telemarketer from Asia telling me that I won the grand prize for a vacation resort I’d never heard of.
“I need you to open your Facebook account.”
Now that request earned my attention. “What?”
“I know you are sitting at your computer, so just do as I say.”
A buzzing started in my chest. It had to be a prank; Mike’s trying to give me the creeps.
“Mike? Is that you? Cut it out! It’s not funny.”
“No, I’m not your husband, but this is about him. Just open up your Facebook.”
It was already open—always is—I just had to click on the tab.
“Good. Now search for you friend Kristen Miller . . . Good. Now check her wall.”
The caller seemed to know exactly what I was doing. I looked behind me at the dark wardrobe. I could feel a vein pulsating in my temples as I pushed the chair back, got up, and set my eyes on the hangers. The sight of the eerie rows of jackets and lines of shoes chilled my blood. Any of them could have been a person. I flipped the switch and light spilled over the clothes. None of the hanging jackets had a man in it. I turned the light off, closed the door quietly, and took my place in the chair at my desk, my heart hammering in my chest.
I lifted the phone to my ear. “Who are you? How can you see me?”
“You don’t have to worry about that now. I posted something on Kristen’s wall you need to see.”
Kristen Miller and I went to the same school—Temecula Valley High. She befriended me on Facebook a few days ago. I accepted her request though we hadn’t been in touch for over a decade. We weren’t exactly besties at school either.
With deliberate speed that would test anybody’s patience, her wall loaded. I noticed for the first time that she only had a handful of friends and no pictures. I should have noticed that it was a fake profile. I didn’t linger over her list of friends long because my eyes were drawn to a photo of Mike taking a petite young woman from behind, his bare butt cheeks flexing. Strangely the first thing I noticed was how white his butt was, like a big round peach that wasn’t ripe yet. But as my eyes swept over the image the shock came fast and hard. As if someone had sucked all the air out of the room I started hyperventilating. The striped comforter hanging off the bed looked like the kind hotels use. I could swear I’ve seen it before. The wallpaper was familiar, too. Without question, the photo had been taken in our room in Hotel Signorini near Pisa, Italy, where we spent a family vacation. Four happy and beautiful days. Mike’s libido was at an all time high. He made love to me every night till I was raw. There was no way Mike could have hooked up with someone when the kids and I were right beside him at all times . . . when he was so gentle and caring towards me.
My head began throbbing as if someone had taken a hammer to my brain.
“It’s fake,” I whispered to myself. “Photoshopped.” To prove my theory, I should have analyzed the photo thoroughly, but I couldn’t see past the aggressive doggie pose as Mike plastered himself onto the woman’s back, holding her hair back in a violent way that had to be painful. A memory crawled into the spotlight. Afternoon naps. Every day Mike asked me to stay on the beach with the kids for an hour or two so he could take a nap in the room undisturbed. He needed rest owing to a long and exhausting month at work.
“Who are you?” I asked breathlessly.
“That’s not important.”
“What do you want from me?” My index finger hovered over the button on the mouse, ready to click download on the picture options menu bar.
“Your husband wants to get rid of you and start a new life without you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You saw the picture?”
“This doesn’t prove anything. Looks like a summer fling to me.”
“She’s here in California. He brought her here.”
I felt the blood drain from my face.
“Don’t faint now,” the man on the other end of the line said.
He was watching me—saw my face. I put my thumb over the camera of my computer.
“Clever girl,” the voice complimented, almost admiringly. “Now remove your finger and listen to me, because I’ll only say this once. I’m the person people hire when they want to get rid of somebody. Your husband wants you dead. But I’m not a fan of killing women, especially mothers, so I’m offering you a deal. If you double the price your coward husband offered to pay me, I’ll let you disappear.”
“Wait!” I stopped him with a wry laugh. “You expect me to believe that Mike hired you to kill me? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”
“Look, Sarah.” I grunted when he called me by my first name as if we were friends. “It won’t be so ridiculous when I put a bullet in your head.” His deep, ominous voice made my blood curdle.
“If he’s in love with someone else, why doesn’t he ask for a divorce like normal people do?”
“Maybe a divorce is too expensive. Maybe he wants your life insurance. How the hell should I know? Ask your husband about it. But what I do know is I’m really good at getting the job done. So what do you say, Mrs. Johnson? Do we have a deal?”
“I need some time to think.”
“Unfortunately I need your answer right now.”
My blood pressure was skyrocketing. It made my eyes bulge. I couldn’t form a serious thought. “How much is my husband paying you?”
“Fifty large. You’ll hafta double that.”
“A hundred thousand dollars!” I blurted out. I would never be able to scrape together ten percent of that. Who does this man think we are?
“Do you have any more pictures?”
A long silence. “Refresh the page.”
I did. The naked photo was gone. I missed my chance to download it. The new photo was of Mike and seemingly the same woman. It was hard to say because she was dressed and had her back to me. The photo had been taken from my office somewhere, from the same spot where I was sitting looking at it, and at very close range. Although I couldn’t see Mike’s face, I recognized him. After fourteen years of marriage you can recognize your husband from every angle. They were standing on our master bedroom’s balcony, checking out our view.
I’m always home? When could he bring a woman here? Then suddenly I knew. Mike got me a facial treatment and a sixty-minute body massage on an ordinary day not even my birthday. As I took the envelope from his hand my love for him soared to incredible heights. No husband is that nice to his wife. Finding out the real reason why he bought me the spa-day surprise shattered my whole world.
I pressed download on the photo. The file burned onto my hard drive. In the days ahead, I would need to look at that photo when I was drowning in uncertainty.
“I’ll get you the money. I just have to figure out how,” I said through clenched teeth.
“I need you to say we have a deal.”
“We have a . . .” I started, but Hit man stopped me.
“Ah-ah. Don’t rush into it. I need you to understand that once you make a deal with me, there is no turning back. No police. No games. Nothing. You give me the hundred thousand, and I let you disappear.”
“I understand.”
“You sure? Because if you try to run, I’ll hunt you down and kill you. I won’t even charge your husband for it.”
“I understand. We have a deal.”
“I’ll call you in the morning. And don’t forget. No games. I’ll know.”
I didn’t sleep that night. Like a corpse, I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling and thinking of the life I had with Mike. How could we have ended up here?

*     *     *     *     *

Stacy: You know, I wouldn’t say we were friends. I mean, we talked during soccer practices. I took my kids to their community pool a few times. We also went to see a movie with the kids in the cheap theater—you know by Kmart—but, no, I wouldn’t say we were friends.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: Alright. So in those times when you did talk, did she ever mention anything about her marriage? Any problems? Abuse?
Stacy: You know, she might have mentioned that she was upset with Mike a few times, but you have to understand that I went through a nasty divorce recently, and my ex is a complete jerk. So mostly I was the one bashing him, and Sarah just listened. You know, he owes me a bunch of money, and I’m drowning in credit card debt. My life is a complete disaster.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Tom Long: Who owes you money? Mr. Johnson?
Stacy: No. My ex. I’m sorry. I’m being very insensitive here. Mike? What a pig! He was a paramedic or firefighter or something like that. Seemed like a nice guy. Someone who helps people. What a liar. Sounds like my ex.

*     *     *     *     *

Wrapped in a towel, I’m on my back on my bed. So much to do. So much to think about. But I’m useless. I’ve been feeling low for a while. I’ve been a pillar for everybody in my family while forgetting to take care of myself. My husband’s career skyrocketed in the past ten years. I helped him make decisions. I supported him while he was gone for weeks doing trainings, taking courses, and acquiring new certificates. I did his laundry, ironed his uniforms, cleaned up after him, cooked his favorite meals, baked to keep his sweet tooth satisfied, did everything humanly possible to create a peaceful home environment. And now my husband’s fallen crazy in love with someone else, and simply leaving me isn’t enough for him. He wants to get rid of me completely and irreversibly. Is it punishment time? I thought I already paid the price for the mistakes I made in college.
I stare at the corner of the wall without blinking and barely even breathing because I can’t wrap my mind around my situation. Mike and I have had our problems. Who doesn’t after fourteen years of marriage? But we have been pulling through. I had been upset with him for uprooting the family whenever it suited him and planting us in a new country, on a new continent wherever a promotion was waiting for him. But I found my way everywhere. I made friends. We had money. We got by. If there were signs of our marriage being in trouble, I didn’t notice.
Since our return from Italy, Mike seemed to be stressed out all the time. I wrote off his behavior as a side effect of starting a new life once again. His sexual appetite died out, but I thought it was because he had so much on his plate. Actually, I didn’t mind that he left me alone most nights. My own passions had ebbed. For years we only had sex to have an orgasm anyway. Most times the few seconds of pleasure weren’t even worth the hassle. I accepted that. I learned to live with it. Besides, what wife can remain passionate and romantic when her husband stresses her out about money day in day out? Every fight we had was like a broken record.
Mike always dragged his coworkers’ marriages into our conversations. According to him, everybody else’s wife was working but me, or they came from rich families or inherited huge mansions or trust funds. But when I asked him who would take care of our kids if I worked full time while he was gone for days or weeks, he said I could figure it out like everybody else does.
Truth is that Mike was right. I should have gone back to work, and I could have figured it out, but after twelve years of staying away from real life, I was too scared to go back to work. Life had passed me by like a silver-bullet train while I stayed at the station. A fresh, younger generation of smart people had entered the work force. They were eager, hungry, and talented. Who would hire me? A sour, boring housewife? I used to be hungry too. I knew how to play men. I had assets, and I knew how to put them to work. I lost my mojo years ago. This family—this marriage—sucked the magic right out of me. But I guess that wasn’t enough for Mike. Now he wants to suck the life out of me completely.
I try to remember our last big fight. About two weeks ago Mike went through our family budget, and when the numbers didn’t turn out as he expected them to be, he came looking for me.
“So let me get this straight,” I told him after listening to his yelling about how much I’d spent on groceries. “You want to eat steak and salmon. You want me to buy organic food for the kids, but you don’t want me to spend money.”
“Stop being so dramatic. Of course you can spend money but not as much as you do.”
“Just for the record, I never spend more than a hundred bucks on a grocery trip, while when you hit the stores for all your booze, sodas, spices, and delicacies you burn through three-hundred easily.”
“So you’re saying that it’s me who spends all the money on food?”
“Whatever. You know what? Why don’t you do the grocery shopping, and I’ll cook with whatever you bring me.”
“Shopping is your job. Or you want me to do that too?”
“Interesting. I thought I didn’t have a job.”
“You don’t have one that makes money.”
“Do you pay a babysitter?”
“What are you talking about?”
“When you hire a babysitter, do you have to pay her?”
“Of course,” he snapped.
“How about a cleaning lady? Do you have to pay her?”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that I do dozens of jobs which I’m not getting paid for. But forget the money. I don’t even get credit for what I do. You know how sick I am of listening to you bitching at me all the time?”
“Then leave.”
“I should. And I would if we hadn’t had children together.”
“So what you’re saying is that you’re only staying with me because of the kids?”
“What else is here to stay for?”
“You’re a spoiled bitch, you know that? You’ve lived in places other people just dream about. You haven’t had a job for over a decade. And you complain?”
“You have a very short memory. As I recall, when I met you I was a successful businesswoman. You had nothing. I supported you through school.”
“Oh, here we go again. Bringing up the past. Let’s talk about what’s happening now. The fact is we live off one salary and the only reason we get by is because I’m good with money.”
“I agree. You’re good with money. Now. You weren’t when I met you.”
“Oh, shut up. You think you can hurt me by telling me what a big loser I was before I met you? Why did you marry me then?”
“Not for your money, that’s for sure.”
“If I’m such a bad husband, why don’t you leave me? Find yourself a nice rich guy and suck his blood for a few decades.”
“You’re an asshole, you know that? I don’t suck your blood. I have a full-time job taking care of your children and our house and you. The only job you have is to bring money home. I do my part. Now leave me alone and you do yours.”
He let out an exasperated sigh. “So when are you gonna get a job?”
“I had a job. Remember the medical business? It was just starting to pick up when I had to leave it behind to follow you to that fucking country again.”
“You gonna cry over that for the rest of your life or are you gonna find a new job?”
“Leave me alone. I’m so sick of you and your mouth.”
“So what’s your plan? Sit here and cry?”
“No, I’ve been working on my blog. I’ll earn my living with it one day.”
“I won’t hold my breath.”
“You never support me with anything I do. Whenever I ask your help with something you always say the same thing. I know you can do it. You’re just lazy.
“I’ve been supporting your ass for over a decade.”
“I made some money too. You just don’t look at it like a contribution to the family. You consider it . . . I don’t know . . . like a down payment on the money I owe you for living with you.”
“Stop being so dramatic, Sarah. We’re not on Broadway.”
“You know, my mother told me once that being a hardworking mom is the most underappreciated job in the world. After her nasty divorce from my father, I promised myself never to fall for a guy and give up my ambitions and independence. And look at me now. I fell into the same stupid trap she did. But you wanna know why I put up with your bad mouthing? Because my kids know what I do for them, and they always will. And that’s all that matters to me. I don’t care about having a big career. Been there, done that. And from all the impressive things I’ve done in my life, giving birth to my children was the most important of all. And you won’t take that away from me. Or from them. So fuck off!”

*     *     *     *     *

Carol: They were fighting. I heard Sarah yelling. She had this hoarse voice. It was so annoying. Now that I know why, I regret being upset with her voice. It’s just so sad. Oh, those poor children. At least they don’t have to listen to their parents fighting anymore. And the money that dropped into their laps will be enough for them to build a happy life. Do you know who their guardians will be? Just asking.
Grace: Whenever something like this happens, the media and the police always blame the mother. I have nothing to do with how Mike turned out. He was eighteen when he moved out. If you want to blame someone, find that crowd he hung out with after that. Not me. I’m sorry, but my puppies are hungry. It’s feeding time.

*     *     *     *     *

The memory of our sadistic conversation unsettles me further. Getting started on my day seems like it might be the hardest thing I have ever done. The sound of Mike’s goofing around with the kids downstairs is the only thing that makes me crawl out of bed. I check the time. This was the longest soccer game he ever played. I’m dressed by the time he makes it upstairs to see me. I can’t even look him in the eye. I take the dog for a long walk. I order pizza for dinner. I say I’m not feeling well and go to bed early.
I listen to the ambient noises coming from the TV downstairs. I focus hard to make out words and recognize the movie Mike is watching because this exercise is the only thing that helps me block out the images of the naked bodies of Mike and the Brunette. Usually when I don’t find sleep due to the heat or a day at home without exercise, I toss and turn for hours. Now, I lie on my back heavy and dead like a log buried in the forest floor. I can almost feel vines wrapping around my body and roots growing into my organs. The pain is real, but I don’t resist it. I imagine shame would feel the same way. How will the world react when they find out that my husband hated me so much he hired someone to kill me? His mother would probably be happy at the news of my demise. She never took my side. At our wedding ceremony she sat down beside me, holding one of her stupid little dogs in her arms after I specifically asked Mike to tell his mother not to bring dogs to the restaurant. When she showed up wearing white and toting three of her babies, I confronted Mike. He swore to me that he passed on my message. I believed him then, but I’m sure now that he was lying then just as he’s been lying into my eyes daily ever since. I entered this marriage to redeem myself—my heart laden with secrets. I guess I wasn’t the only one hiding my true self. Mike played his part the same way.
I try to take a deep breath but my lungs don’t seem to have the capacity to hold all that air. My chest starts shaking. My breathing is choppy and broken. I don’t know what to do, how to get out of this unreal situation, and I’m not in the state of mind right now to think of a plausible solution.
The TV goes silent. I hear Mike filling up a glass with water from the refrigerator. His footsteps are soft on the carpeted stairs. Like a paralyzed patient, I watch him enter the room from the corner of my eyes. He slips under the covers as he would any other day. I picture my fingers wrapped around his neck, my thumbs pushing down on his Adam’s apple, harder and harder until his face turns from red to blue. It’s a good thing he can’t read minds because he wouldn’t dare shut his eyes so fast if he knew what I was thinking.
I watch my husband in his sleep. The curtains are drawn in front of the window next to my side of the bed. Darkness conceals me, but a sliver of diamond light forms a bridge over his face. Light from the full moon shines through the blinds on the French doors that lead to a balcony we never use. The doors are old and worn, in sharp contrast to the rest of the house which we remodeled three months ago. All the hard work fell on my shoulders. I searched for contractors. I asked for bids. I negotiated the prices, but my dear husband picked the style for everything. If I had only known that he didn’t spend all the money to make our home look better for us. He fooled me into preparing the house for his new bride. The combination of rising anger and disappointment nearly blinds me.
When we were at Lowes picking out the color for the carpet Mike wanted, I tried to argue the benefits of laminate, but Mike would have none of it. Now I know why he wasn’t so gung ho about pleasing me. Soon I’d be lying six feet under, sharing a tight coffin with maggots and beetles and the lingering souls of dead people while my husband would be sprawled out on the soft carpet with his new wife, my kids and their kids playing Go Fish.
I shudder and feel my neck twitch. Requires all my strength to remain still.
The red 11:11 flashes on the clock next to my husband’s head. He is so peaceful in his sleep, handsome even. One would think that hiring an assassin to kill the mother of your children would cause a few sleepless nights. Not for my husband. His face is smooth, his eyelids unmoving as he probably dreams about making love to his young, new wife. In his dream he’s lying there on the bed, his head propped up on the down-filled pillow I bought for him at T.J. Maxx, and he’s watching the pair of hard tits bouncing around as she rides him. Her slender weight pins down his hips, while she moans and claws his chest. How narcissistic can a man be?
We used to have sex like that too, when we were younger, no kids, no mortgage. We spent our entire honeymoon in bed. We attempted to lie on the exotic beaches of Kauai and soak up the sunshine with strawberry margaritas in hand, but the gentle caress of the wind, the warm touch of the fine white sand, and the buzz from the alcohol made us horny. The tickling sensation of the waves as the salty water slipped between our legs, the cries of the seagulls, the sexually-laced music from a beach bar nearby . . . all were there to trigger our senses. There was this burning desire in us that couldn’t be quenched. Like a drug addiction, it kept us seeking a new high.
I hear a muffled fart that just slips into the night. My husband turns to the other side. The moonlight highlights the strains of gray in his hair. I feel as if those years of youth, love, and happiness never existed. I wonder when the last time was that I actually felt sexually aroused. I can’t remember. We do have sex sometimes, but neither of us is there emotionally. It’s only our bodies trying to hold onto something that isn’t there anymore. I’m expected to do my conjugal duties—ten minutes sex or one hour yelling. Usually I go with option number one. Pull the curtains, make it as dark as possible, jump under the covers, “yes, I’m ready.” Stripping down to Eve’s costume is only fun when you have the perfect body. It’s hard to concentrate on working up to an orgasm when my eyes get stuck on my belly fat or the orange skin around my thighs. It’s hard to let my mind swim in amour when I know that I forgot to shave my legs and that Mike must have felt the spikes as he ran his hand over my legs. Or when my feet are on his shoulders, and I see the peeling nail polish. Instead of giving way to the feelings, all I can think of is that I should have redone my toenails days ago. Or whenever Mike buries his face in my hair. I wonder if it reeks of the chicken soup or garlic pork I made earlier in the day. I touch his face but pull my hands away quickly as I remember that an hour before he pinned me to the bed, I cleaned the toilets with Clorox wipes and the smell of bleach must still linger on my skin. Sex during the day can be a disaster.
Going at each other at night is not that exciting anymore either. We have to be quiet not to wake the kids. My husband used to hear his foster parents moaning. His stories are imbedded in my mind. My kids won’t lie in bed with hands over their ears.
I’m good at staying quiet, and if Mike lets out a sound, I just cup his mouth, hoping that the lotion I put on my hand didn’t mix with the dishwasher soap smell but eliminated it.
Despite needing to stay quiet, I prefer having sex in the dark. Although I’m usually tired and Mike is not at a hundred percent either, at least I don’t have to worry about how I look. I’m braver at night. I roll on top and ride him like in old times, grateful that Mike can’t see my sagging boobs. He tells me sometimes to get a boob job, jokingly, but we don’t have money for it, so I don’t bother to spend the time researching how much it would cost. Maybe he wasn’t joking. Gravity is a bitch!
I touch my breasts. Yes, they could be firmer and perched higher on my chest but they could be worse. Well, Mike doesn’t have to worry about touching them anymore. I bet his girlfriend’s boobs will never sag. What an idiot you are, Mike!
Since we got back from Italy, we rarely had sex. I didn’t pay much attention to Mike’s lack of interest. To be honest, I think I was actually happy about it. Yet, now that I’m confronted with the fact that he has a young girlfriend, I feel a deep gnawing jealously. Mike’s interest in sex hadn’t diminished; only his interest in me.
I have to take a few deep breaths to calm myself. I don’t want to wake Mike. I put my hand over my mouth and nose, muffling the sounds that are aggressively trying to break out of me. For a moment I consider putting my hand over Mike’s mouth and nose instead, but I know that I don’t have the guts to do something like that. As soon as he woke up struggling for air, I’d let go of his mouth.
My fingers grasp my pillow. I sit up and pull it to my chest. It’s king size, thick, dense with feathers. I press it against my face and try to breathe. It’s difficult. I can put the pillow over Mike’s face and hold it down. I think of how long it would take to suffocate him. Two minutes? Three? Would the pressure of my hands as I hold the pillow down leave a bruise on his face? I think I saw on CSI that bruises can show up postmortem on a body just in time for the autopsy. I put the pillow back against the headboard. It’s too much of a hassle, and I’m not a cold-blooded killer.
I lean back, fully awake and thoroughly disturbed. A couple of days ago my biggest problem was picking lunchmeat for the kids and deciding between fried chicken and meat loaf for dinner. Now I’m thinking of ways to kill my husband before he kills me. A short chuckle escapes my mouth. Why am I even taking that phone call seriously? My husband doesn’t have a secret affair. In spite of his tantrums he wouldn’t hurt a fly. This is madness.
Mike moves again. This time he rolls toward me, his eyes are open.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“I can’t sleep. I think I’m gonna go downstairs and read for a while.”
“Are you ok?”
You hired somebody to fucking kill me. No I’m not ok, I think, but nod instead.
Mike gets out of the bed and scrambles over to the bathroom. He should really get his prostate checked out.
I slip out of the bed. My head is so confused that I prefer not to face him when he gets back. I can’t risk giving away what I know about his plan.
I shuffle my way to the kids and check on them. Mason is on his tummy. His bedcovers are crumpled up in the corner. I re-arrange them on him as carefully as possible, but he isn’t deeply asleep. He starts banging his hand on the pillow as he falls back to sleep, the same way he’s been doing since he was a baby. Some say it’s because Mike and I had sex while I was pregnant with him; others say it’s because I used to rock him when he was a baby; most likely his head is so full with new information that his brain has a hard time shutting down, and he uses this method to put himself to sleep. I don’t think it matters.
I caress his face with the tip of my fingers and shush him. He goes back to sleep.
Tammy is sleeping like an angel, her blanket clutched in her hand, her thumb in her mouth. I’m tempted to pull her hand away. A callus has already developed on her skin. But I stop myself.
I close her door and slip downstairs. I have bigger worries to deal with tonight.
I pour myself a glass of water. It’s very cold and goes down like sharp icicles. What am I supposed to do now? What’s the wisest thing to do here?
The junk drawer is on my right. I pull out a notebook and rip a sheet out. I get a pen from the cup on the dining table where I do homework with the kids. I decide to sit down, write out my options, and go from there.

Mike has an Italian girlfriend (I’m almost 100 % sure she is Italian. From Pisa)
The hit man offered me two weeks to come up with the money
I will be dead in 14 days if I can’t find a way to pay him off
Questions to work out:
1) How could Mike meet someone while we were in Italy?
2) How come I didn’t notice his changed behavior?
3) How did he bring her to the US?
4) Why does he want me dead?
5) Why is a divorce not good enough for him?
6) What am I supposed to do now?

I lean back on the chair, the end of the pen wedged between my teeth. I go back three years and six months, to the day when Mike called to let me know that he received an assignment in Italy. The image is as clear as if it happened yesterday. I’d just gotten back from a successful meeting with the assistant of an orthopedic surgeon. Her boss operated on three to five knees a week and prescribed CPM units for the patients at least half the time. That meant one to three setups a week that he was going to use my company. It was the third time I visited that same office. First I brought cookies to the assistant. Then I took her out for lunch. My prices were better. I was local. My CPM devices were more up to date. She couldn’t possibly have a reason not to use my services instead of that San Diego company’s they’d been hiring. The only bridge we needed to build was trust. Once the assistant realized that I was just a hardworking soccer mom like she was, she arranged a meeting with the doctor in the office. He offered me a chance. If my services pleased them, they would hire me as their prime vendor. With that contract I could make a decent income while my schedule remained flexible. I could still take care of the kids, the house, and earn good money. Sounded like a dream.
Feeling glorious after my meeting, I burst into the kitchen and dropped the grocery bags on the table when my phone rang. I answered it and pinched my cell between my ear and shoulder so I would be able to put the food away in the same time.
“Are you sitting?” Mike asked, his voice laced with excitement.
“No. I’m putting groceries away. What’s up?”
“Well, you need to sit down, because I have great news.”
I put the milk container in the refrigerator, shut the door, and leaned against the cabinet. “I’m sitting. Go ahead.”
“We’re going to Italy!”
“What? When?”
“I don’t know. A few months I assume.”
“Where is this coming from? Can we even afford it?”
“That’s the best part. I’ll get paid to live there.”
My back against the cabinet, I slipped down to the floor. “I didn’t know you were asking for a new assignment.”
“I didn’t want to tell you until it was sure.”
“We just moved back a few years ago. Why do you want to go again?”
I heard a sigh. “I thought you’d be happy.”
“Yeah. Uhm. Italy? It’s cool. But Mason just started school. And I just got my first contract today.”
“Oh, your meeting. How’d it go?”
“It went really well. They will start sending me referrals.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. In Italy our house and everything will be paid for. Plus, we get to travel Europe. How awesome is that?”
When I married an airman, I was aware that we’d have to move wherever the Air Force sent him. But we just got back to the States. Mike promised me we’d stay in one place for a few years. Apparently he wasn’t in the position to make such promises.
“I don’t know, Mike. I think we need to talk about this in person. Not over the phone.”
“Why do you always have to be like that? You always bring me down. Can’t you just be happy for my success?”
“Don’t start that again. Of course I’m happy for your success. But moving again? This will affect all of us. Not just you. We need to talk about this. I’m not sure the kids will want to go to the other side of the world again.”
“Well, they need to go where I’m going. It’s a huge opportunity, and I’m not going to let you spoil it.”
The line went dead. The phone fell onto my lap. Once the orders picked up, it would be pretty good pay, and we could afford to put Tammy in a pre-school as we planned. But after four months, Mike became very impatient with me. He urged me to find a real day job and find it fast. But with his own inconsistent work schedule, I had to think of the kids, too. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I knew that even if I worked full time Mike wouldn’t help me with chores. This medical associate position was perfect. Once I got at least four or five setups a week, I would earn a full time wage without the full-time hours. All I needed was for Mike to be patient with me. Unfortunately, patience isn’t one of his virtues.
My eyes swept over the worn linoleum. I knew Mike wanted to replace it, along with a million other things in the house. I wanted to update our house, too, but I was completely unaware that instead of trusting me and giving me some time to generate a second income he had been asking his superior for an overseas assignment. Again.
My stomach was in knots all day knowing that if I didn’t support the move, Mike would never forgive me; but if I didn’t put up a fight against the move, then the kids would never forgive me. Over the past decade or so, Mike moved us to a new country five times. I knew full well what living in Italy meant for us.
Mike was working a forty-eight-hour shift that week, so I had plenty of time to feel sorry for myself. My initial enthusiasm over my new contract evaporated. Instead of making business calls and talking to my friends, I sat on the couch and watched TV all day. When Mike called, I lied about what I was doing. I made it sound like I had been busy. In reality, I didn’t leave the couch all day. I didn’t even do the dishes after breakfast. I dropped the kids off at school and plunked myself down in front of the USA daytime shows.
Days passed before I recovered from my disappointment.
It took six months for all the paperwork to come through to get us on that damn plane and fly to Italy. That half of a year was the worst period of my life. The kids continually acted out their anger and frustration. The ink was still fresh on my contract with the doctor’s office when I had to cancel it. Then I had to listen to my husband complaining that I wasn’t making any money. Forever reminding me how he knew this whole medical business idea was a failed plan—like I didn’t feel low enough.
“Well, thank God for you. Without you, none of us in this family would survive,” I told him after the umpteenth time he cried about the bills he had to pay without any help from me.
“Well, thank God for this opportunity in Italy because without it we would go bankrupt.”
“I could have earned money with my new business.”
“Yeah, could have, should have. But you didn’t. So stop bringing it up.”
“I only needed some time. I had a contract with a doctor.”
“And where is he now?”
“We are going to Italy. How could I run a business like that?”
“Whatever. We won’t have money problems in Italy. You can stay at home or get a job, I don’t care.”
“I don’t speak Italian. What kind of job am I gonna get?”
“I don’t know. You’re not a child. You just have to figure it out.”
“I have a masters in business management; I won’t flip burgers.”
He rolled his eyes and plumped down on a bar stool in front of his open laptop. “You always shove your fancy education in my face, but I’m the one who puts food on the table. So what’s your education good for? I gotta go to work tomorrow. Are you gonna get me something to eat, or do I have to do that too?” There is a full gourmet kitchen at the Fire Station and a grocery store nearby. Between gym time and afternoon coffee break he would have plenty of time to pick up some food for himself. But he enjoys making me feel like I’m here to serve him.
On days like that, when the man I married for love puts me down, I always wish I had chosen career instead of family. As a mother, I work seventy hours a week; without pay, without sick leave, without vacation. As a corporate manager, I would work less, enjoy the benefits, and get paid. But I made the decision twelve years ego when my son was born and now I have to live with it. Like my mother would say, you reap what you sow.
The funny thing is that the idea of my staying at home with Mason originated from Mike. I grew up in a solid family, but Mike had a harsh life as a foster kid. When I got pregnant, we made a pact that we would never let our kids suffer. As a woman and mother, it wasn’t a question whether I should stay home or not. It just felt right. I didn’t realize how much I was giving up. Then my daughter was born, and one day I realized that being at home for a decade made me forget how to be anything but a mother. I blew all my job interviews, because I had no faith in myself. Who would hire a dull woman who’s not up to date on daily economics and politics; who may know where the best deals for fresh vegetables and meat are in town, but knows nothing about the latest apps; who can schedule a whole family’s activities seamlessly and manage to get everyone to their appointments on time, but has no experience on a conference call.
Kona, our dog puts his head on my lap in the dark. I jump from fright. I’m off balance. More than usual.
As I pat him, I lean over to my notes.

How could Mike meet anyone while we were in Italy?

Simple. He used to initiate dozens of fights at home. Then with the statement, “I work all day, but I can’t get any peace at home,” he would leave the house and not come back for hours. I’d wait up till he got home, blaming myself for not being a more understanding wife. After all, Italy was beautiful. My son got to play soccer for a local team. My daughter joined the swim team at Palladio Sport. They even picked up the language and made friends with the locals. I only found one friend while working out at the gym, but Mike couldn’t stand her husband so that friendship died out fast. I always figured Mike didn’t have any friends because he never introduced me to anybody. When we went on a trip it was always just us—the family. Apparently he had found a close friend. Close enough to bring her back to the US, ruin our family—everything we had built together—and even hire someone to kill me for the sake of keeping their friendship. It didn’t sound like Mike at all. Or maybe you just think you know a person, but you don’t.
I jotted down: He met her in a bar in Aviano one of those nights when we had a fight, and he left.
Or wait a second. There was another American base near Pisa somewhere. Mike came home one day from work, informing me that the station was short on men, and he would have to go down there for two weeks at a time each month and help out. He started that new job only seven months before we came back to the States. I remember being suspicious, because I offered to drive down with the kids and visit him a few times, but he always turned me down. He said the roads between Bologna and Florence were treacherous and there was no point for me to put the kids’ lives in danger. Later on, when I ran into the wife of one of Mike’s coworkers and complained about how much time Mike spent away, she said that it wasn’t mandatory. In order to be assigned, he had to volunteer. I confronted Mike about what she said, and he didn’t deny it. “I’m doing it for the extra money,” he said, pulling a small jewelry box out of his back pocket. He opened it and showed me a necklace with a pendant. “Take a look. It’s made of Murrano glass.”
With a forced smile, I took it from his hand and put it on, wishing that instead of another piece of jewelry I’d never wear he would give me more of his time.
I crossed out what I wrote about Mike’s meeting the girl in a bar. He must have met her in Pisa.
My jaws clenched painfully, and the pen fell from my hand. While I was at home with the kids, making sure they adjusted well to their new school and kept up with homework, Mike was being welcomed cordially at his new foreign sports clubs and was romping around with a young chick on the sandy beaches.
A surge of anger erupts in my stomach that I almost puke onto the table. I run to the bathroom and fall to my knees in front of the toilet bowl. I gag and spit but nothing emerges from my stomach. I feel sick to the bone, like a cancer patient after chemotherapy. Maybe I wasn’t the perfect wife. Maybe I should have lost those few extra pounds that stayed on after giving birth to Tammy. Maybe if I had a well-paying job. Maybe if I had been more active in bed. Maybe if I were nicer to my husband, then he wouldn’t have gone looking for someone else.
My eyes well up. I hear footsteps. Someone is descending on the stairs. The thuds are heavy. It has to be Mike. The door opens behind me. I don’t look but I can sense him.
“Are you ok?” he asks me in a mere whisper.
“No, I’m not ok,” I roar with enough harshness in my voice to cause Mike’s eyes to enlarge.
I do get mad sometimes. I lose my cool when the kids fight all day long on rainy weekends. Indoor activities are not cheap, and I don’t want to hear Mike’s bitching about money, so I try to keep them busy inside of our house. By Sunday evening we’re all ready to lose it. But other than those rare occasions, I’m pretty good at keeping my cool.
I rip off a piece of toilet paper and wipe my mouth. I brush by Mike. He reaches after me, wrapping his fingers around my forearm.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asks a lot louder now.
I snap my eyes toward the stairs, indicating that he needs to remain quiet. The kids have school tomorrow.
“I feel sick. I think you poisoned me.” I spit the words into his face. I’m losing my cool; I can feel it.
He steps back, his face ashen. “What the hell are you talking about?”
I look into his face, at length and with disgust wondering if he suspects what I know. “Relax. I’m joking.”
He gives me a glass of ginger ale . . . very uncharacteristic of Mike. He’s being way too kind to me. My suspicion over his secret life grows with each kind word he utters. His behavior has always bordered on the bipolar—a real Gemini. Super sweet one minute. Stark raving mad the next. I learned to live with it, though. I’m not perfect either. Nobody is. I never tried to change him. But somehow, now he’s going overboard with honey. I feel like I’m going to puke—for real this time. I glance at the black handle of the butcher knife in the wooden case. I picture it poking out of his chest, blood dripping, his face losing color.
“Go back to sleep,” I say. Before I stab you.
How many nights when the kids were sick with fever, or diarrhea, he would never get out of bed and help me. It was my job to tend to the children. His job was to go to work the next morning. Tomorrow he’ll have to work, so what the hell is he doing down here with me?
He yawns, rubbing his small eyes. “Ok, but wake me if you need anything.”
How can he be so calm? My fingers curve into tight balls. I can feel the nails cutting into my palms. I watch him climbing the stairs. I think of standing on the top and pushing him down. Bad idea. He might only break a leg, or worse, fracture his neck or spine, and I’d have to tend to him for the rest of his life.
I open the refrigerator and stuff my face with everything I can get my hands on, including meatballs and a container of chocolate ice cream, the kind that has no added coloring or flavor. I’ve been worrying about my family’s health while my husband’s been plotting to kill me. I’ll be the healthiest corpse in the cemetery.
I wash down the meatballs with the ice cream. My stomach wants to burst. Since my lifestyle lacks exercise, I try to stay away from late-night dinners and snacking. I stop eating at six. Now it’s almost one o’clock in the morning.
As I return the container of ice cream to the freezer, I think of the note I wrote earlier. Cold sweeps through me as I realize that I left it on the table in plain sight.
A few long leaps take me to the table. The paper is still there. I’m as disappointed as I am glad. Would the outcome of my marriage change if I told Mike what I knew?
I don’t sit down as I pick up the paper. The first question is answered for me. My husband met an Italian woman in Pisa, and they spent two weeks every month for seven months, making out and spending our money. I put a check mark in front of the question and my eyes slip over question number two. The words blur on the paper. I’m too tired to think clearly. If I want to find the right answers, I need some shut-eye. I don’t go back to the bedroom where my cheating husband’s having dreams about his new life. I toss myself onto the bed in the downstairs guestroom instead. It smells like my mother-in-law. She just left two days ago after a short visit. She didn’t care for Mike when she fostered him, but she cares to visit us now. When she is here, I hate how she gets in my way in the kitchen. She doesn’t cook, doesn’t clean. She is just a busy body—a master of criticizing those who actually do something.
I close my eyes, but sleep doesn’t come. All I see in the dark are imaginary home videos of my husband with his new family. They are a lot like our home videos from happier times. I have to run to the toilet four more times before I hear sounds from upstairs. Mike is up, taking a shower. I hear the coffee maker grinding the coffee. Soon the warm pleasant scent oozes into my room. Usually it’s the scent of coffee that wakes me up in the morning. This time it puts me to sleep.

*     *     *     *     *

Stacy: Look I’m not like Sarah, okay. I wouldn’t put up with anybody’s shit like that. She was always carrying her kids’ stuff—the chairs, the umbrella, the bags—like a mule. I told her to fuck it. Make them carry their own shit, but she said she didn’t mind. If you ask me, Mike should have come more often to games and practices to help her out. My ex tried to pull the same bullshit on me, but I kicked him out before he could get comfortable. I’m nobody’s slave.

14 Days to Die

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