I never thought I would be attending Andy’s wake.
Of all the ways I thought this would end, I never truly believed it would end with Andy being dead. I knew in my heart I didn’t have the nerve to kill him, and even if I tried, he seemed immortal. He seemed like one of those people who would just never die. Even now, as I look down at his handsome face in the open maple wood casket, his lips pressed closed to hide the four missing teeth Millie forced him to pull from his gums, I’m certain that his eyes will pop open as he comes back to life for one final scare.
You really thought I was dead? Well, surprise, surprise—
I’m not! Up to the attic you go, Nina.
No. I won’t. Never again.
“Nina.” A hand drops onto my shoulder. “How are you doing?”
I lift my eyes. It’s Suzanne. My former best friend. The woman who delivered me right back to Andy, when I told her what a monster he was.
“I’m hanging in there,” I say. I clutch the tissues in my right hand, which are mainly just for show. I’ve only squeezed out a single tear the entire day, and that was when I saw Cecelia dressed in a simple black dress I bought her for the funeral. She’s sitting beside me in that
same dress, her blond hair mussed. Andy would have hated it.
“It was such a shock.” Suzanne scoops my hand into her own, and it takes a lot of self-restraint not to pull away. “Such a terrible accident.”
There is sympathy and pity in her eyes. She’s glad it was my husband and not her own. Poor, Nina, what bad luck she has. She has no idea.
“Terrible,” I murmur.
Suzanne gives Andy one last look, then she moves on. From the casket and with her life. I suspect that the funeral tomorrow might be one of the last times I ever see her. And it doesn’t make me even the slightest bit sad.
I stare down at my simple black pumps, drinking in the quiet of the viewing room. I hate talking to mourners, accepting their sympathy, pretending I’m devastated that this monster is dead. I can’t wait for this to be over so I can move on with my life. Tomorrow will be the last time I’ll have to play the part of the sad widow.
I look up at the sounds of footsteps at the door. Enzo casts a long shadow through the doorway, and his steps sound like gunshots in the quiet funeral parlor. He’s wearing a dark suit, and as handsome as he was working in my yard, he looks about a hundred times better in the suit. His dark, moist eyes meet mine.
“I’m so sorry,” he says quietly. “I can’t.”
My heart sinks. He isn’t telling me he’s sorry because of Andy. Neither of us are sorry about that. He’s sorry because yesterday I asked him if when this is all over, he might come with me to live across the country on the west coast—far away from here. I never expected him to say yes, but his decline of my offer still makes me sad. This man helped save my life—he’s my hero. Him and Millie.
“You will have fresh start.” A small crease forms between his eyebrows. “Better this way.”
“Yes,” I say.
He’s right. There are too many terrible memories between the two of us. It’s better to start fresh. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss him. And I will never, ever forget what he did for me.
“Keep an eye on Millie, okay?” I say. He nods. “I will. I promise.”
He reaches out to touch my hand one last time. Like Suzanne, I’ll probably never see him again. I’ve already put the house Andy and I shared on the market. Cece and I have been staying at a hotel because I can’t bear to walk into that place. I’m about eighty percent sure our old house is haunted.
I look over at Cecelia, who is squirming in a seat a few feet away from me. We slept in the hotel room last night, sharing a queen-size bed, her skinny body pressed against mine. I could’ve gotten an extra bed for the room, but she wants to be close to me. She still doesn’t quite understand what happened to the man she called her father and she hasn’t asked. She’s just relieved he’s gone.
“Enzo,” I say, “would you take Cece? She’s been here a long time and she’s probably hungry. Maybe take her to get some food.”
He nods and holds out a hand to my daughter. “Come, Cece. We get chicken nuggets and milkshakes.”
Cecelia hops out of her seat instantly—she doesn’t need to be asked twice. She’s been good about sitting with me here, but she’s still a young girl. I should handle this by myself.
A few minutes after Enzo leaves with Cece, the doors to the funeral parlor swing open once again. I instinctively take a step back when I see who is standing at the door.
It’s the Winchesters.
I hold my breath as Evelyn and Robert Winchester enter the room. It’s the first time I’ve seen them since Andy’s death, but I knew this moment was coming. They had come back from Florida for the summer only a few weeks earlier,
but Evelyn hadn’t stopped by yet. I spoke to her only once when she called me to ask if I needed help organizing the funeral. I told her I didn’t.
Except the real truth was I wasn’t excited to talk to her after being responsible for the death of her only son.
Detective Connors made good on all his promises. Andy’s death was ruled an accident, and neither I nor Millie was ever investigated. The story was that Andy accidentally got locked in the attic while I was away and died from dehydration. None of that explains the bruises and the missing teeth though. Detective Connors had friends in the coroner’s office, but the Winchesters are one of the most powerful and influential families in the state.
Do they know? Do they have any idea I’m responsible for his death?
Evelyn and Robert stride across the room, in the direction of the casket. I hardly know Robert, who is handsome like his son and wearing a dark suit today. Evelyn is also dressed in black, which contrasts sharply with the white of her hair, and also her white pumps. Robert’s eyes are puffy, but Evelyn looks immaculate, like she just had a spa treatment.
I drop my eyes as they approach me. I only look up when Robert clears his throat. “Nina,” he says in his deep, scratchy voice.
I swallow. “Robert…”
“Nina.” He clears his throat. “I want you to know…”
We know you killed our son. We know what you did, Nina. And we won’t rest until you spend the rest of your life rotting in prison.
“I want you to know that Evelyn and I are always there for you,” he says. “We know you’re all alone, and anything you need—you and Cecelia—you just have to ask.”
“Thank you, Robert.” My eyes well up just a little bit. Robert was always a nice enough man, if not the greatest father of all time. From what Andy told me about him, he
wasn’t around that much when he was a kid. Mostly worked while Evelyn raised him. “I appreciate that.”
Robert reaches out and gently touches his son’s shoulder. I wonder if he had any idea what a monster Andy was. He had to have some idea. Or maybe Andy was just that good at hiding it. After all, I had no idea until I was scraping my fingernails against the wood of the attic door.
Robert claps a hand over his mouth. He shakes his head and grunts “Excuse me” to his wife, then he hurries out of the room. Leaving me alone with Evelyn.
Of all the people I wouldn’t want to be alone with today, Evelyn tops the list. Evelyn isn’t dumb. She must have known the problems I had in my marriage. Like Robert, she might not have known what he did to me, but she must have sensed the friction between us.
She must have sensed how I really felt about him. “Nina,” she says drily.
“Evelyn,” I say.
She looks down at Andy’s face. I try to read her expression, but it’s hard. I don’t know if it’s all the Botox or if she always looked that way.
“You know,” she says, “I spoke to an old friend at the police station about Andy.”
My stomach clenches. According to Detective Connors, the case is closed. Andy always taunted me about an alleged letter to the station police that would be sent over in case of his death, but no letter ever materialized. I was never sure if it was because there never was a letter or if the detective got rid of it.
“Oh?” is all I can manage.
“Yes,” she murmurs. “They told me how he looked when they found him.” Her shrewd eyes bore into me. “They told me about his missing teeth.”
Oh God. She knows.
She definitely knows. Anyone aware of the state of Andy’s mouth when the police found him had to know that
his death was not accidental. Nobody yanks their own teeth out with pliers. Not willingly.
It’s all over. When I walk out of this funeral home, the police will probably be waiting for me. They will snap handcuffs on my wrists and read me my rights. And then I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison.
I won’t tell anyone about Millie though. She doesn’t deserve to be dragged down too. She gave me a chance to be free. I’m going to leave her out of it.
“Evelyn,” I choke out. “I… I don’t…”
Her eyes drift back to her son’s face, at his long eyelashes, closed forever. She purses her lips. “I always told him,” she says, “how important dental hygiene is. I told him he had to brush every night, and when he didn’t, there would be a punishment. There’s always a punishment when you break the rules.”
What? What is she saying? “Evelyn…”
“If you don’t take care of your teeth,” she continues, “then you lose the privilege to have teeth.”
“Andy knew that. He knew that was my rule.” She lifts her eyes. “When I pulled out one of his baby teeth with pliers, I thought he understood.”
I stare at her, too afraid to speak. Too afraid of the next words that will leave her mouth. And when they finally come, it takes my breath away:
“It’s such a shame,” she says, “that he never really learned. I’m glad you stepped up and taught him a lesson.”
My jaw is hanging open as Evelyn makes one last adjustment to her son’s white shirt collar. Then she walks out of the funeral home, leaving me behind.