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A Slow Ruin: A Gripping Literary Thriller Perfect for Book Clubs

A Slow Ruin: A Gripping Literary Thriller Perfect for Book Clubs

Автор Pamela Crane

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A Slow Ruin: A Gripping Literary Thriller Perfect for Book Clubs

Автор Pamela Crane

оценки:
3/5 (1 оценка)
Длина:
400 страниц
10 часов
Издатель:
Издано:
30 нояб. 2021 г.
ISBN:
9781940662206
Формат:
Книга

Описание

AN INSTANT BESTSELLER and BOOK CLUB PICK!

April 1910. Women’s rights activist Alvera Fields mysteriously vanishes from her home one night, leaving her newborn baby and husband behind, the case never solved.

April 2021. On the anniversary of her great-great-grandmother’s disappearance, Alvera’s namesake Vera Portman vanishes in an eerily similar manner.

Six months later, the police recover a girl’s body from the river. While the family waits in the horror of finding out if it’s Vera, Felicity Portman clings to hope that her missing teenage daughter is still alive. Despite all odds, Felicity senses a link between the decades-apart cases—a mother feels such things in her bones. But all suspicion points to the last person who saw Vera alive: Felicity’s sister-in-law, Marin.

Marin, with her troubled past.
Marin, the poor woman who married into the rich family.
Marin, the only one who knows Felicity’s darkest secret.

As Felicity makes a shocking discovery in Vera’s journal, she questions who her daughter really is. The deeper she digs, the more she’s ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed their ancestor in a terribly slow ruin.

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Little Deadly Secrets comes a page-turning psychological thriller that weaves an ancient family mystery with tense drama. A book club pick perfect for fans of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, Laura Dave's The Last Thing He Told Me, Lisa Jewell, and Ruth Ware.

“An emotionally charged mystery of how a mother must lose her daughter to find herself. Chilling from the first page, gripping until the last.” – reader review

Praise for Pamela Crane:

“It kept me on my toes the whole time I was reading it and trying to guess the twisty ending of what really happened. Fans of thrillers, suspense, and mystery novels will not be disappointed with this book.” – San Francisco Book Review

“You are not prepared for the twists…Pamela Crane has in store for you. Sure to have you at the edge of your seat.” – POPSUGAR

“Crane succeeds at painting families and friendships in vivid detail; women will see their tussles and triumphs in these pages, and will relish the twists and moments of brave camaraderie and bold revenge.” – Booklist
Издатель:
Издано:
30 нояб. 2021 г.
ISBN:
9781940662206
Формат:
Книга

Об авторе

PAMELA CRANE is a professional juggler. Not one who can toss flaming torches in the air (though how cool would that be?), but a juggler of four kids, a writing addiction, a horse rescuer, and a book editor by trade. Her USA Today best-selling books unravel flawed women—some she knows, some she creates—and you can find them at www.pamelacrane.com, and pick up a free book while you’re visiting!


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A Slow Ruin - Pamela Crane

The Pittsburg Press

Pittsburg, PA

Sunday, April 17, 1910

WOMAN’S SUFFRAGE VOLUNTEER AND MOTHER OF NEWBORN STRANGELY MISSING

No Limit to Reward, Husband States

Mrs. Alvera Fields, wife to millionaire Robert Fields and mother of three-month-old daughter Olivia Fields, disappeared from her home on the evening of April 16, and although a nationwide search has been made for the young woman, no trace of her has been found. She is thirty-two years old.

Through an announcement by her distracted husband, having hired private detectives and Pinkertons to aid in the search in vain, it was made known that Alvera disappeared mysteriously in the late hours after taking leave from the Fields Estate, heading into town. The private search exhausted every possible clue that the family could advance, and her husband has nearly given up hope in his wife’s return. Her disappearance was casual and apparently unpremeditated that the army of detectives working on the case decided that violence or enforced detention of some kind must be responsible for her absence.

On Saturday morning Mrs. Fields remarked to her husband that she would be going out that day to purchase a dress for an upcoming debutante party. When he offered to go with her, she said, It will be a bore for you. I’ll telephone you when I find the right dress.

Alvera left her house that evening at five o’clock wearing a tailor-made blue serge suit and black velvet hat, she wore low black shoes, black silk stockings, and a dark blue silk waist with a white jabot and tan walking gloves. She has not been seen since by her family or friends. She carried between $20 and $50 in her handbag and wore her usual jewelry, a diamond ring and plain gold earrings. In her hair she wore a shell comb, a carved barrette, and a dark blue hatpin with the head of a lapis-lazuli. Her hair was worn in a full pompadour. 

Mrs. Fields was last seen stopping at the Women’s Equal Franchise Federation, a women’s suffrage group she volunteered at until her daughter’s birth three months prior. Her last known whereabouts were at eight o’clock that evening, where Mrs. Fields spoke with a friend, Miss Cecile Cianfarra, who attested that Alvera showed no signs of distress.

Every known relative of the family was called upon, branches of the detective agencies were set to work upon the case, hospitals were searched, and trains and even steamships were watched, but to no avail. She had received from her husband a monthly allowance of $100 and had a small bank account. She withdrew $40 on April 14, but as the investigation showed similar withdrawals frequently, no significance was attached to that.

Her description was given to the police as follows: Thirty-two years old, 5 feet 6 inches in height, light brown hair, blue eyes, well developed, striking appearance, weighed about 150 pounds.

A handsome reward has been mentioned by her husband, a silk importer, who stated, Money is no object, and any information leading to my wife’s safe recovery will be greatly rewarded. I beg of my fellow Pittsburgers to help bring home my wife and my daughter’s mother.

Due to the family’s wealth, social status, and Mrs. Fields’ involvement in the women’s suffrage movement, detectives are considering the possibility of harm having befallen the missing woman for financial gain, or as a political statement.

Prologue

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Certain moments cleave a life in two, killing off one life in order to birth a new one. This labor and delivery sometimes creates a phoenix. Other times it creates a monster.

These pieces of myself I sorted into before and after. Before marriage I was an untethered version of myself. After the I do, I slipped on new flesh that resembled my husband, every decision captained by compromise. "Leave and cleave," my mother once told me. She never mentioned how painful the rip could be.

Then my firstborn child arrived. The most vicious tear, separating me from my husband, my sleep, my friends, my dreams, my life as I recognized it. Before the baby, my time was mine. My body was mine. My life was mine. After the baby, everything was hers, as this tiny suckling infant wrapped in perfect creamy skin owned my entire world. And I willingly let her take it.

These were the thoughts that had followed me across the backyard of a house that wasn’t mine. Then in through a creaky door that should have been locked but wasn’t. I stepped into an unfamiliar kitchen, with only the purr of the fridge and the dim light from the oven hood orienting me. I shouldn’t have been in that kitchen. I shouldn’t have brought that letter. It was that single ill-fated choice that cleaved my life for the last time:

Before, when my daughter was alive.

After I killed her.   

All it took was one ruinous secret, one deadly mistake to cut my life into pieces. The transgression was a scythe, and one swing of the sickle took everything away from me. The worst part? It was All. My. Fault.

The envelope holding my confession was still in my pocket when I flicked on the light, then slipped my way across the bloody floor to my daughter’s fallen body, her legs and arms splayed out between the sink and oven. Red smeared across the linoleum like a child’s fingerpainting. I dropped to my knees next to my daughter, coating my kneecaps with two crimson blossoms. She slumped in my arms, eyes fluttering closed like morning glories bidding farewell. Gently lifting her neck and head, I rested the weight of her on my lap, trying to figure out where the bleeding was coming from.

A stickiness seeped into my pants, staining my skin. Slowly working my hands across the back of her skull, my palm sank into a matted mess of wet hair. My fingers traced a gash where her skull should be, but instead gaped open. Trying to pull her upright against me, her body slid across the floor. So much blood. Too much. I hefted her up to my chest, cradling her as best I could, as our groans joined in unison. I felt my back pocket for my phone, feeling instead the thin crumple of the envelope. My reason for being here. The same reason my daughter was bleeding out.

Pain swept across my temples as the stress intensified. I needed to call 9-1-1 now. Where was my cell phone? Had I brought it with me? No, I couldn’t remember where I’d left it. The car I’d hidden down the street, maybe? I didn’t have time to run that far.

Slowly lowering her head to the cool floor, I rose high on my knees, my gaze darting across the room. Where was her phone? Nothing but a mess of dishes and countertops strewn with mail. My body thrummed with the pulse of terror. 

It frightened me that I didn’t know what to do. It frightened me more that my own child might die in my arms.

Her eyes flicked open, not registering me. Thank God she was conscious.

Where’s your cell phone? I need to call 9-1-1. I didn’t want to scare her, but the calm wouldn’t stay put in my voice.

She didn’t move. Didn’t blink. Then recognition dawned in her eyes. Her mouth cracked open.

Do you know what happened? I asked her.

She didn’t speak at first, then her mouth parted just enough to let a word escape. No.

Don’t close your eyes. Stay awake until an ambulance arrives. I need your phone!

Her body shivered with a weak breath, her face seemed to empty its color onto the floor, mixing with the blood that leached out more each second. 

Not…until I get answers. Her jaw clenched. I recognized the stubborn teen in her. 

I clucked in irritation. Of course she was going to make me barter for her life. Didn’t she realize she was dying? 

What do you want to know? 

Her chest rose with a breath. I want to know why. Why you lied. Why you did what you did.

The eternal question, one I asked myself daily for the past fifteen years. The question I couldn’t answer.

Tell me where your phone is first. You’re not looking good, honey. I need to call for help. Now, please!

No! A grunt slipped out with the effort of speaking. First tell me the truth.

Will an answer take it all back? Will it make everything better?

No… Her words were slowing, slurring. But maybe I’ll understand.

I reached into my back pocket and slid the envelope out, letting it hang between us.

Here, was all I could muster. This explains everything.

She weakly accepted my offering, then her arm dropped to the floor. A trickle of red ran down her nose, sliding over her top lip. She was drifting on the fringes of consciousness. I was running out of time. I searched her pockets, feeling for the hard case of a cell phone. Nothing. 

I stood and scanned the kitchen, finding a 1970s-avocado green landline phone hanging on the wall near where the kitchen poured into the dining room. I picked up the receiver and listened for a dial tone. Dead.

Your cell phone—where is it? I screamed, begging her to answer me, to save her own life.

Living room…table, she breathed.

I rushed through the dining room, blindly circling into the living room where the kitchen light couldn’t reach. The faint glow drifting from the hallway upstairs was enough to identify the shape of a lamp. I fumbled for the knob, fingers slipping until I heard a click. I found the cell phone, in a pink plastic case, next to the sofa and swiped up. It demanded a passcode.

I ran back into the kitchen, adrenalin-fueled panic pushing me. I need your passcode.

0509. 

I gasped. The significance of that number didn’t escape me. Only I knew what it meant, only I knew how it bound us together in chains.

I dropped to her side, punched the passcode on the screen, swiped until I found the green call icon, and dialed 9-1-1. Pressing my fingers to her wrist, the radial artery barely thrummed with a weak heartbeat. I hadn’t prayed in so long, but the entreaty poured out to whoever was listening as my child bled out, that for once in my pathetic life full of regrets, help me save her. With the phone to my ear, I glanced down at her ashen face. Peaceful. Sleepy. Dead?

No, she couldn’t die. I wouldn’t let her die. I felt her neck for a pulse and found nothing, not even a faint throb against my fingertips.

Don’t leave me! I cried as the phone line connected.

The operator calmly asked, What’s your emergency?

My fingers lost all feeling. The phone cracked against the floor. The screen went black. I saw my tear-stained reflection mouthing the word goodbye.

My daughter was dead.

We had loved each other through everything, through all the mistakes and broken promises. Through laughter and tears. Through fights, hugs, joyrides, and late-night movie marathons. Why couldn’t she have held on for me? We had even loved each other through murder.

After all, I’d already done it once before.

Chapter 1

Felicity Portman

OCTOBER

A good mother knows when she’s needed and starts running. But I was not a good mother. When a daughter needs you, when she’s in pain or struggling, a mother hears her cry and goes to her. Saves her. So why hadn’t I heard Vera’s cry for help the night she disappeared? Why couldn’t I save her?

This thought nudged me awake every morning from fitful sleep. It taunted me throughout each day when I passed Vera’s bedroom, or found strands of her blonde hair embedded in the sofa cushions. Every little thing reminded me of Vera. And it suffocated me every night when I lay restless in bed beside a snoring husband oblivious to my suffering. I shouldn’t have resented Oliver for that; it was to his credit that he was able to move on, where I couldn’t, over the past six months since Vera first vanished. But I hated him nonetheless. It wasn’t fair that I alone carried this burden of guilt. I alone hefted the what-ifs on my fragile shoulders. What if we hadn’t gone out that night? What if I had checked in more with Vera? What if…what if…what if.

That same thought pushed me into Vera’s bedroom when I was supposed to be getting Sydney a Band-Aid for her paper cut. While my three-year-old daughter wailed in the background, clutching a bloody tissue to her fingertip, I told Eliot to keep an eye on his little sister and continue cutting colorful construction paper ghosts and pumpkins to make Pappy Joe and Nana a Halloween card. Maybe I expected too much of an eight-year-old boy as I headed upstairs to the bathroom to grab a Paw Patrol Band-Aid. But I needed my fix.

I should have known better than to pause outside Vera’s room. The detours taken throughout the day to search her things for clues I blamed on my obsessive-compulsive brain. To smell her on the sheets. To sit in her space. Even now, six months gone, I knew there was something I hadn’t found. A secret I hadn’t unearthed. Secrets. I had them too.

My scattered thoughts weren’t anything new. Every morning I misplaced my half-drunk coffee cup, or forgot to finish my half-eaten breakfast. And this year I had neglected to buy Halloween costumes for the kids. With trick-or-treat quickly approaching, even Amazon two-day shipping couldn’t save me. So I handed the kids a bin full of costume oddments and told them to take their pick. This was probably why Sydney was dressed from the waist down as Snow White and the waist up as a ninja. Eliot always chose Iron Man. Vera would have posed with the little ones for a selfie and called them drippy, which was a compliment in Vera-speak. To me it sounded like an STD.

My stomach rumbled, my brain seized. What was I supposed to be doing?

Oh yes, the Band-Aid, then eat something. Had I even eaten yet today?

The forgetfulness predated Vera’s disappearance, first becoming noticeable when Vera was a baby. Back then it was new-mom sleep deprivation. But lately it had gotten worse, because I didn’t want to drink my coffee or eat my breakfast. The perpetual grip on my stomach made all food intolerable, as if my body wanted to die along with Vera’s.

No. Nix the word die.

I didn’t believe that Vera was dead, no matter what the Pittsburgh Police Special Victims Unit or Detective Courtney Montgomery said.

Idling in the doorway, I noted how Vera’s bedroom looked exactly like it had the day she disappeared, minus a few items after the police had rifled through it with tornado intensity, looking for clues. With the expectation that Vera would come home and accuse her siblings of destroying her bedroom, I had straightened her London-themed comforter splashed with turquoise and gray images of Big Ben and the London Bridge, closed dresser drawers, tidied the closet. Things I’d done for the past fifteen years of her life. Inspired by her love of all things British, we had planned a trip to the United Kingdom as her graduation gift. I even baked two dozen scones—cranberry and chocolate chip, her favorites, using Brit gourmand Mary Berry’s recipes—and stored them in the freezer, waiting for her return. Back then I had expected. Now I wondered. Would we ever see Big Ben or the bridge together? I could only cling to pale hope these days.

I stepped inside. The bedroom suffocated me with its emptiness. No dirty laundry overflowing from her basket. No stained Vans scattered across the floor. No scent of beachy coconut lotion. Outside her window hung clouds pregnant with rain, reminders of the gray, eerie April day she had disappeared. Any minute now the sky would crack open and weep with me.

I felt a strange sensation, like something under the bed trying to grab my ankle, and stepping backwards I gave a little cry. Looking down, I saw Meowzebub’s orange and white paw clawing at the carpet, and then she poked her pumpkin head out triumphantly as if to say gotcha! The long-haired calico cat had been Vera’s boon companion ever since the spring night she showed up on our doorstep after a torrential downpour, drenched and shivering. Usually I was the softie that couldn’t resist a stray critter, no matter how woebegone, but this time it was Vera who pleaded with Oliver to let her keep the kitty. Oliver was putty in her hands.

Under Vera’s care Meowzebub—so christened because of her bone-chilling yowl, akin to some netherworld denizen—was restored to robust health, and became a member of the family. Meowzebub possessed in spades the calico’s infamously temperamental nature. Vera preferred to say that Meowzebub simply had cattitude, which she regarded as a virtue. The mischievous cat was likely to turn up anywhere in the house, at any time, and loved to ambush unsuspecting victims. Oliver tolerated her, the dogs were terrified of her, the kids loved her, as did I; she was a living link to Vera.

Suddenly Meowzebub gave her trademark yowl from hell and darted out from under the bed, careening down the stairs at breakneck speed. The crazy cat often got the zoomies in the middle of the night, racing around the house until she was exhausted, but not before waking the entire family. Syd and Eliot found these antics hilarious. Oliver wanted to turn Meowzebub into an outdoor cat. Over my dead body!

Ambling to Vera’s desk, my gaze settled on a framed 1910 tintype of her great-great-grandmother Alvera Fields. We had found this photo when digging into the family archives for Vera’s school project on the women’s suffrage movement, in which Alvera had been a prominent and outspoken figure. In the yellowed photo, Alvera and her millionaire husband Robert were resplendent examples of Edwardian-era haute couture. Alvera looked smart in a dark twill suit with a hip-length jacket, lace gloves, and a whimsical hat bedecked with white roses and ostrich plumes, her arms wrapped around her newborn daughter, precious in a white lace gown and bonnet.

Robert was dapper in a cutaway morning coat with paisley vest and puff tie, walking cane in one hand, the other holding his top hat in the crook of his arm. Following the fashion of the day, the couple wore dour expressions, which had prompted Vera to joke that they looked like they had a hellacious case of hemorrhoids. But that was just teenage irreverence talking. Vera had in fact been named in honor of the pioneering suffragette, and the school project had sparked in Vera an obsession with her ancestor’s life…and eventual disappearance.

Alvera had vanished one fateful day without a trace, a baffling event chronicled in newspapers from coast to coast, and sparking countless theories from professionals and detectives alike as clues came to light. As a cause cèlebré, and to some a controversial and polarizing figure, it was widely believed Alvera died in service to the cause of establishing women’s right to vote, but no one knew the truth. Now, a hundred and eleven years later, my Vera had followed in the footsteps of the woman she revered—in the most tragically distressing way imaginable. A terrible coincidence, a family curse.

I traced my finger across the antique desk, smiling at her scribbles that marred the wood. A DIY project she had worked on with Oliver back when she was ten...back when she still craved her father’s attention. We had found the writing desk on a visit to the Fields Estate, a forlorn ancestral mansion whose designation by the state of Pennsylvania as an historical landmark had saved it from demolition. The home had belonged to Oliver’s great-grandfather Robert Fields, a silk importer tycoon, and Alvera, his wife. The couple’s only daughter, Olivia, had inherited the home, and while she had maintained its magnificence for many decades, in recent years it had fallen into disrepair after her death. Oliver and his brother Cody were hopeful of restoring the structure to its Edwardian era splendor—a mammoth physical and financial undertaking—and had secured an Historic Preservation Tax Credit for that purpose to honor Alvera Fields’ legacy.

The desk had been covered in dust, yet the bones solid. An intriguing piece, Vera had discovered a secret hollow leg that contained old letters, a fun find when they were restoring it. Together Vera and Oliver sanded and painted it in a rich white chalk paint. The project kindled a creative spark in her. Since then she’d collected and restored a four-poster bedframe, a dresser to match, and a stool that fit snugly under her desk. That winter I watched Vera and her father sweat and work their fingers raw in the freezing cold detached garage, warmed only by a single space heater while they created this bedroom, bonding over paint swatches and knob hardware. Vera had seemed so happy back then. What changed in my daughter that made her run away?

I cried this question daily.

I could never hear an answer through the sobs.

Up to 2.8 million teens in the United States run away from home each year. Ninety-nine percent of them return home safely. The stats were supposed to comfort me as Detective Montgomery delivered them by rote the first time we met on April 16, the blackest black-letter date of my life. Where was my 99 percent assuredness of my daughter’s safe return home? Because it had been six months and still no Vera.

We had scoured every inch of the Steel City, from the projects where crumbling brick townhomes decayed along with the desolate steel mills, to the money-soaked upper-middle-class neighborhoods like ours. But in a city of three hundred thousand faces, I couldn’t find my daughter’s. 

I admit the staggering number of missing children shocked me, but not as much as the possibility that Vera would willingly choose to leave her beautiful home, her parents who loved her, her siblings who adored her. She had everything. But believing Vera had chosen to leave was better than the alternative: that she’d been kidnapped or murdered, which the police told me was unlikely.

No body had been found. No evidence of an abduction. 

She was a straight-A student. Book nerd. No drugs. No shady friends. No deviant behavior—that I knew of. Private school. Affluent town with a keen neighborhood watch. No one saw a thing. Kidnapping didn’t fit the profile. I wanted to be glad for that…but my daughter was still missing. It had been too long. A mother can’t help but slip into worst-case scenarios as the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months tick by.

It didn’t make sense for a girl from a loving home to just up and leave. But it often happened, Detective Montgomery gently reminded me. So here we were, 184 days post-disappearance, with no clues as to where she had gone, or with whom, or why. The detective had searched every angle, interviewed every close friend, but sometimes there simply was no explanation for why an ambitious honor roll student from a good family decides to disappear. But as the detective told me again and again as the months dragged on, everyone is hiding something. Even my perfect fifteen-year-old daughter.

Pulling open the desk drawer, I didn’t expect to find anything new. The police had been through it at least once, and me a dozen times. With eight bedrooms and over 9,000 square feet in our home—dubbed the Execution Estate, after the horror that marred this house forever—endless hiding places and secrets lurked behind these walls and haunted every room. But every day I hoped, prayed that maybe, just maybe, we had missed something that would lead me to Vera. Something I hadn’t noticed before. Something with hidden meaning.

Beneath pages of scribbled notes, Vera’s women’s suffrage report remained unfinished. I picked up the same art notebook I had leafed through countless times. The pages were jammed front and back with original drawings displaying real talent and growing artistic maturity. Mostly manga-inspired cartoons, elves, with the occasional self-portrait or sketch of our imposing Victorian home, which always seemed to be just one coat of paint away from being declared Oakmont’s unofficial haunted house.

In one hilarious cartoon representing Vera at her irreverent best, she depicted the house as a popular retreat for a motley crew of horror icons. Psycho’s Norman Bates, in drag as his dead mother, sat in a rocking chair in an upstairs window. Edward Scissorhands was busy sculpting a topiary shaped like Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog that guarded Hades—and their heads looked suspiciously like our own three dogs. Demented author Jack Torrance from The Shining was busting down the front door with an axe. Vera had sprinkled our family into the drawing too, as the Addams Family. Eliot and Sydney as Pugsley and Wednesday were setting dynamite charges under the mansion’s foundation. Oliver, rakish in a pencil mustache and double-breasted striped suit, was Gomez, canoodling the arm of pasty-faced Morticia—representing none other than me—in a sprayed-on mourning dress with octopus tentacle hem. And in the foreground stood Vera clapping her hands to her ears like the spectral figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream, with a word balloon over her head saying It’s a madhouse! A maaaaadhouse! Luckily the detectives read no deeper meanings into the macabre masterpiece.

Flipping through the pages, I paused on a sketch of some sort of symbol. Celtic, maybe? I traced the image with my eyes, searching for something. But what? 

A crash split the silence somewhere in the house, followed by Eliot’s screams, but I couldn’t shift my attention. There was something significant about this drawing. A moment later the dogs erupted in a cacophony of barking; a loud wail echoed.

Mommy, help! Yelling reached my ears, but my focus was hooked on the image.

Yes, I knew this image. It was important; I could feel it in my bones.

While the noise intensified, the questions in my head shouted over it. Where had I seen it? On my phone, perhaps? Had Vera sent me a picture of this before? It felt urgently meaningful.

I pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket—it was always on me in case Vera called or, more likely, texted. I scrolled through my ancient texts from her, the most recent one six months ago. April 16. The cursed day. She had texted me shortly before she vanished. I should have seen the warning behind the green bubble of letters and abbreviated words. But I saw the hidden message now, tucked in between the text slang and the emojis:

Mom pls don’t be mad at me when u get home. but i need 2 clean up the mess.

Heat radiated up my neck, cooked my forehead. Her text hadn’t been about the dirty dishes cluttering the counter that she was supposed to put in the dishwasher. Or the toys scattered across the area rug that she was supposed to put in the toy box. The mess was our family. Vera had found out something she shouldn’t have. And if I didn’t find her soon, it could get her killed.

Panic stole my breath as I found myself slipping back in time, back to the day Vera disappeared…

Chapter 2

Felicity

APRIL

I think it’s time to tell the kids the truth. The truth. What a subjective word. These days, truth was a fog I wandered through. Impossible to grasp and as fleeting as a thought.

But the truth had been weighing on me a lot lately. Along with the half-truths that attached themselves to it.

What truth, Felicity? About Sydney? Evening sunlight darted across Oliver’s face, brightening the blue of his eyes. Other than fine lines that raked the edges, he hadn’t changed much since college. While time hit pause for him, for me it marched cruelly on. 

Yes, about Sydney. What else would I be talking about? Lately Sydney’s diagnosis was all we talked about. We never spoke about the other thing. 

His lips tightened in a crooked slash. Are you sure that’s a good idea? It will only upset them. It seems a bit premature to be discussing it with Vera before we talk to the doctors first.

I inhaled the moist air as seagulls squawked over the Allegheny River that flowed past the dock where we enjoyed dessert at one of our favorite taprooms in downtown Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Speedboats sped across the water, trailed by jets of spray and party music in a strange cacophony. The Allegheny River teemed with water lovers eager to let go of the long winter and embrace a warm spring. It had been a perfect night for outdoor riverside dining, a rare treat during April in Pennsylvania, but the scent of rain and a brooding sky portended a coming storm. The weather had held off long enough for us to get through dinner and half of my tiramisu, but now a chilly wind made me pull my sweater tight around my shoulders.

I reread the text that Marin had sent me after our Sisters Day Out earlier that afternoon, encouraging me to be strong after I told her the secret Oliver and I had been keeping from the whole family for months:

Thank you for entrusting me with your secret about Syd Squid. I know you’re scared, but I think you need to come clean to Vera. She’ll understand. I’m here for anything you need. You’re closer than blood to me, sis.

Although we were family by marriage, Marin was the closest thing to a sister I had, and loyal to a fault. Her husband, my brother-in-law Cody, often jokingly—or not so jokingly—reminded me of this when Marin put me before him.

Marin was my rock when motherhood tried to sink me. When Vera entered her tween rebellious stage, Marin stepped in to support me against Vera’s demand for an eyebrow piercing. When I needed extra help after opening Barkalicious Boutique, Marin groomed a dog or five when I was understaffed and overbooked. When Oliver’s promotion at his marketing firm enslaved him at the office, Marin delivered meals

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