To my family: Harriet, Julia, and Owen,who are always there for me
I’d like to thank early readers of this novel for their encouragement and feedback: CarolineBarrett, Aurora DeMarco, Robert Jaffe, and Phyllis Jaffe. Stephen Maher advised me on legal andcriminal matters. David Haar offered insight into the pharmaceutical industry. Sam Russem andFred Edmunds inspired elements in this story. Michael Neff of the Algonkian Writer Conferenceshelped me position the novel. I learned how PTAs function from the folks at Elsmere ElementarySchool. I relied on the wonderful book Story by Robert McKee to help shape later drafts. Owen
and Julia taught me how children speak and think. And, of course, this book would not existwithout the support and efforts of my agent, Loretta Weingel-Fidel; my publisher, DianeSalvatore of Broadway Books; and my editor, Lorraine Glennon. Most important, thank you to my
wife, Harriet, who has stayed by my side every step of the way.
Title Page Dedication Acknowledgments Part 1 - She Took a Hit Chapter 1 - I’m Here to See Jude Chapter 2 - A Few Minutes to Relax Chapter 3 - A Growing Market Chapter 4 - Among the Cupcake Wrappers Chapter 5 - Is This a Daily Habit? Chapter 6 - On the Road to College Chapter 7 - The Man Who Died Chapter 8 - Off-Label Chapter 9 - The Montreal Connection Chapter 10 - Pain Management Chapter 11 - It’s Not Closure Chapter 12 - The Detective Joins the PTA Part 2 - Side Effects Chapter 13 - A Flawed Specimen Chapter 14 - Tell Us Where You Got It Chapter 15 - She Had to Get It Somewhere Chapter 16 - Miracle Drug Chapter 17 - A Sweet Deal Chapter 18 - Stakeout Chapter 19 - We Used to Get High Chapter 20 - The Shot Chapter 21 - First-Grade Breakfast Chapter 22 - The Task at Hand Chapter 23 - Noted Physician Raises Alarm Part 3 - Mother’s Little Helper Chapter 24 - Feeding the Lion Chapter 25 - I Didn’t Expect to See You Here Chapter 26 - Gone Fishing Chapter 27 - No Race for You Chapter 28 - Just a Friend Doing a Favor Chapter 29 - I Want Mommy Chapter 30 - Ticket to the Concert Chapter 31 - Sense of Direction Chapter 32 - Out to Catch Bad Guys Chapter 33 - It’s Hard to Kiss You While Driving
Chapter 34 - You Must Keep Moving
Chapter 35 - In a Spill of Blood
Chapter 36 - Putting Your Best Foot Forward
Chapter 37 - His Awful Mistake
Chapter 38 - Early Retirement
Chapter 39 - She Outran Him
Part 4 - Deal
Chapter 40 - Seeking Approval
Chapter 41 - Quiet and Busy
Chapter 42 - She’d Be More Careful
Reading Group Guide
part 1She Took a Hit
I’m Here to See Jude
Gwen arranged to meet Jude at ten, after dropping the kids at their morning camps. She’dalready delivered Nate to Nature’s Workshop, and now drove her daughter to the pool. It wasNora’s last day of swim camp and Gwen had baked a tray of cupcakes, vanilla with whipped creamfrosting and red, white, and blue sprinkles left over from July 4th.
Nora balanced the tray on her lap in the backseat, snitching frosting edges under the plasticwrap. Two cupcakes were missing, eaten by Nora and Nate in the car, wrappers discarded on thefloor, crumbs flattened into the seats.
“Honey, will you be able to carry the tray if I drop you off in front?”
Nora hesitated. “I might spill them.”
“Not if you’re careful.”
“Will you do it?”
Because she was anxious to get downtown, Gwen almost snapped back at Nora about being oldenough for this small responsibility. But she reminded herself that Nora was only seven, aloving, intelligent girl, tall and strong and for the most part capable, yet fearful of smallthings going wrong—such as dropping a tray of cupcakes. You had to accept your children werepeople, with their own quirks and limitations as well as talent and potential. Once yourealized you couldn’t mold them into robotic perfection, you could do a much better jobparenting; for instance, by carrying the cupcakes for your daughter who was afraid of spillingthem.
“Okay, sweetie. You carry your towel and backpack and I’ll carry the tray.”
Gwen parked in the drop-off zone in front of the pool complex, navigating a place between theother cars coming and going.
“Mom, you’re not supposed to park here, it’s for drop-off only,” Nora told her.
“It’s just for a minute—you want me to carry the cupcakes, don’t you?”
“You might get a ticket.”
Nobody issued tickets at the Morrissey town pool.
Gwen lifted the tray from Nora’s lap and waited while her daughter located her flip-flops,centered her backpack on her shoulders, got out of the car without her towel, and climbed backin to retrieve it after Gwen reminded her.
“Come on, honey,” Gwen urged her.
“I’m not late.”
“Mommy has a lot to do today,” Gwen said. “Remember, you’re going home with Abby. Mrs.Fitzgerald will drive you and I’ll come get you this afternoon.”
“And then we’re going up to the lake?”
“As soon as Daddy gets home.”
“I can’t wait to swim in the lake.”
And Gwen couldn’t wait for the getaway with her husband and family. Four entire days at theirhouse on Tear Lake, which they’d hardly been to this season because of camp schedules andBrian’s work. Four days of rest, relaxation, and love.
They walked to the entrance where Nora stopped to remove her backpack and look through twozipped compartments to find her pool ID card. Gwen explained to the desk attendant that she wasjust delivering cupcakes for her daughter’s camp party.
The party consisted of two picnic tables pinned with paper tablecloths on a grassy area betweenthe kids’ pool and the big pool. A breeze flapped the sides of the cloths and rippled thesurface of the water. Not a great day for swimming, not for Gwen anyway, who liked hot weatherand warm water. The pools would close for the season in another week, right after Labor Day.
She found a spot for the cupcakes on one of the tables and spent a few minutes thanking theinstructors—college kids home for the summer, heading back to school this weekend—and whenshe turned to leave she was waylaid first by Carly Eller asking Gwen which teacher Nora got forthird grade, and then by Heather John who reminded Gwen about their annual open house onSunday, one of the few adults-only social gatherings among their circle. Gwen apologized forhaving to miss out. If they were in town it would have been fun to go; the Johns played greatmusic and hosted a karaoke contest that commenced after everyone had spent an hour or twoloosening up at the patio bar.
“You won’t be there to defend your karaoke crown,” Heather said.
Last year, Gwen and Brian were voted karaoke king and queen for their Sonny and Cher duet,“I’ve Got You Babe.” In a silly rush of sentimentality, Gwen had felt tears when she sang,“So let them say your hair’s too long, ’cause I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong,”and Brian, sporting a fresh haircut, had answered, “Then put your little hand in mine, thereain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.” In her acceptance speech, margarita in hand, Gwenhad reminded everyone she’d played the role of Maria in her high school’s production of West
, sans the painted-on Hispanic tan that Natalie Wood sported in the movie version.Side Story
“Some other lucky talent will have to go home the winner this year,” Gwen said. Using talentin its loosest meaning.
“We’ll miss you guys,” Heather said.
A last check with Nora. Did she have the gift cards for her instructors? Her goggles?Hairbrush? Love you, sweetie. A final hug and Gwen made her way back to the car, stopping onceto dig a stone from her sandal, then driving downtown to meet Jude.
In the car she called Brian. He didn’t pick up—no surprise. Whenever he planned time offwork, the few days leading up to it were crazy. She knew he had a big presentation today. Whenshe got his voice mail she said, “Hi love, just wanted to wish you good luck again in yourmeeting. I dropped off the kids and am running errands, then going home to pack. I can’t waitfor the weekend. Love you.” Then she added, “Call me if you need anything.”
She parked in a metered spot across the street from Gull. She checked herself in the rearviewmirror and played with the flip in her hair, without success, then touched up her lips. Shefound two quarters in her purse to feed the meter, which gave her thirty minutes.
A neon sign with blue lettering hung perpendicular from the transom over the door to therestaurant, with the L’s in Gull tipped to the side to resemble a bird’s wingspan. A pair ofreal gulls, up from the river, circled overhead, screeching.
Gwen expected the restaurant to be empty—it didn’t open for lunch until 11:30—but she wasgreeted at the hostess stand by a short, dark woman with bangles running up and down bothwrists.
“Do you want to fill out an application?”
“Are you applying for the cocktail waitress job?”
“Oh, no. I’m here to see Jude.”
“Who should I say is asking?”
“Gwen Raine. He’s expecting me.”
“Why don’t you wait in the bar?” the hostess suggested. “I’ll find him for you.” Shereached for the phone next to the reservation book.
Gwen sat in the bar. Three women occupied other tables. They all appeared to be in their earlytwenties, long hair, each wearing at least one article of black clothing—miniskirt, cami withbra, spandex T-shirt—each with dark lipstick and piercings. They all displayed a degree ofcleavage.
The women were filling out job applications. Could Gwen really have been mistaken for apotential cocktail waitress? How could she—with her Eileen Fisher tee and khaki slacks andsandals—even if she had carefully picked out her clothes this morning and spent an extraminute in front of the mirror before coming in? And with the real giveaway: her crow’s-feetticking off time like the markings of a clock around her eyes.
Gwen had worked in a bar once, but that was almost nine years ago, during law school. She neverfinished law school, even the first year, but she’d had a blast working in the bar. It’swhere she first met Jude, who hired her, and later, Brian, who married her.
The woman at the table closest to Gwen tore her job application and shoved the pieces in herhandbag. She was the one with the miniskirt, and when she stood, Gwen got a look at her trim,tanned legs all the way up to where her skirt just covered the curve of her butt. Not an inkyvein or cellulite crease in sight. I was like that, Gwen thought, two kids ago, sigh, althoughshe never wore her hem that high.
The woman who ripped her application left the restaurant, averting her face from the hostess.
A moment later, Jude appeared from the dining area. He approached Gwen’s table, his pace slowand unhurried. Gwen remembered that even on the busiest nights at the Patriot, Jude neverrushed around, appearing calm and poised amid the chaos of the dinner crunch.
She stood and hugged him briefly, catching a drift of the same cologne he’d worn when sheworked for him. Whether it was Armani or Old Spice, she didn’t know: it was Jude. She’drecognized the scent a few times over the years, on a stranger standing nearby or walking pasther; every time it reminded her of Jude, and every time she looked around expecting to see him.
“You must have had a great summer, you’re so tan,” he said.
“A lot of pool time with the kids. One of the advantages of being a full-time mom.”
Gray flecks streaked Jude’s hair, along the temples and sideburns. He wore what Brian calledan executive cut—trimmed, parted, gelled into place. Except Jude had these long straightsideburns that tapered below the ear. On someone else they would have been a mistake.
“I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late. I had to get my daughter settled at her swim camp.”
Jude waved off her comment. “It’s fine. Can I get you a drink? Glass of wine? A BloodyMary?” He motioned to the bar.
“I’d have to take a nap, and it’s not even noon yet.”
The two remaining job applicants looked up, unsure whether Gwen had cut ahead of them in theinterview line.
“Coffee sounds good.”
“We’ll go to my office.” On the way through the dining room Jude stopped at a dish stationwhere a fresh pot of coffee sat on a burner. He lifted two cups down from the shelf and poured.
“You must be asking hard questions on your job application,” Gwen said. “I saw one womantear hers up and walk out.”
“We get a lot of response to our ads but it’s hard to find anyone who really wants to work.You ready to come back?”
“Your hostess thought so.”
“In your case I’ll waive the application.”
“I’m sure it would be fun, only now I’m in bed every night by eleven—about the same timethe bars get busy.”
Jude smiled. “So much for the good old days. Let’s see, coffee black, right?”
Jude carried both cups. They passed double doors with porthole windows and Gwen glimpsed thekitchen where two cooks performed prep work while listening to music.
At the end of the corridor they climbed a staircase, traversed a hallway, and ended up inJude’s office, which provided a second-floor view of the river, passing slow and gray in thedirection of New York City. Jude settled behind a glass desk that held nothing except a laptop.There wasn’t a surface in Gwen’s house that clean, despite her constantly picking up andputting away. The credenza behind him was a different story, brimming with papers and foldersand books—everything from novels to business books to cookbooks. Another shelf unit to theside held a stereo dock and a pile of restaurant magazines.
Gwen sat in a chair opposite the desk, holding her cup. She didn’t want to set it on thepristine desktop, although Jude had put his down. She turned to check that Jude had closed thedoor. This part made her tense, and she listened for footsteps, voices, anything to indicatesomeone approaching.
“You can relax, there’s no one else up here,” Jude told her.
“I’m fine,” Gwen said, her face heating. Was she that obvious? She sat up straighter, sether shoulders back.
“How are Brian and the kids?”
“They’re great. We’re going away this afternoon for a mini-vacation, so thank you for seeingme today. We have a house in the Adirondacks now. Tear Lake. I don’t think we had it last timeI saw you.”
“No kidding? I have a place up that way, too, just an old cabin; it was in Claire’s familyfor years. I’m also heading north this weekend because Dana’s starting her freshman year atSt. Lawrence.”
“Wow, that’s right. Be sure to tell her I said hi. I mean, if you want to. She probablydoesn’t remember me.”
There was a photograph of Jude and his daughter next to the stereo on the bookshelf. They woreskis. Their arms and ski poles were tangled around each other. It looked like a recent picture,Dana tall but still much shorter than Jude, with dark straight hair flowing from underneath aski hat. Her wide smile showed off dazzling teeth, the mark on her eye just a shadow from thiscamera angle.
“I’ve been thinking about you since last time,” Jude said. “I was wondering when you wouldcall again.”
She had visited Jude for the same purpose over the winter, and then in April when she had tocome downtown to serve jury duty. Gwen didn’t get picked for a jury, but she stopped at Gulland had lunch with Jude one day that week. Otherwise, she hadn’t seen him the past nine years,
and although she didn’t respond to Jude’s comment that he’d been thinking of her, she hadthought about him a few times as well. Not about their brief relationship years ago, but aboutJude’s life now. She wondered if he was the only unmarried man she knew, which didn’t saymuch about the diversity of her circle. He was the only one who didn’t have the look ofmarried men, like they were part of a whole, and when on their own came off as incomplete orinadequate, as if they hadn’t dressed quite right or had gotten a bad haircut. Gwen also knewhow married men looked at her, as if conducting a compare and contrast study: How did thiswoman stack up to my wife? Was she better looking, younger, smarter, thinner? Or justdifferent—which may be the best attribute of all? With Jude looking at her right now, shesensed his appraisal was based more on a clean slate than a weighted scale: Is she desirable? Aquestion that carried no qualifying conditions, just an eye of the beholder. A question whoseanswer made her fidgety. A question she’d rather not address because she also wondered if shemight be rekindling a friendship with Jude, if such a friendship were allowed, no matter howcasual—a married woman having an unmarried male friend, who also happened to be a formerlover. Not against the law, but likely against the rules. She doubted Brian would welcome thenews without suspicion.
“I thought you and Brian were coming in for dinner some night,” Jude said.
“We haven’t been out in months, he’s been so busy with work, but we will.”
A few seconds ticked off. “Or just come by yourself,” Jude said. “We’ll have lunch again.”
Gwen looked at the clock on Jude’s bookshelf. Ten minutes left on the meter.
“I meant some other time,” he added. “When it’s not business.”
“You don’t have to call ahead, just show up. That day you came in, it was a nice surprise.”
Another thing about having a male friend: it would probably be okay if he was unattractive or
un- didn’t apply. It definitely applied in her case,unavailable, but in Jude’s case the
though, at least the unavailable part. She was firmly married, entrenched, and fulfilled in herlife and role as mother, wife, and volunteer. Her days of messing up relationships were distantmemories, played out by her younger, less mature, and more experimental self.
Gwen reached into her purse and handed Jude a white business envelope, the flap unsealed. “Ireally appreciate this,” Gwen said.
“You’re one person I’m happy to make a call for.”
“Five hundred, right?” She was nervous and sure her voice betrayed her, although the riskseemed so low here with Jude.
“That’s perfect.” Jude placed the envelope on his laptop keyboard without looking in it. Heopened a desk drawer and took out a brown paper lunch bag and set it in front of Gwen.
“Do you want to try it first?”
The question surprised her; he hadn’t asked her this last time. It was tempting, like the olddays at the Patriot, but was Jude going to join her or leave her solo? Would she get stonedwith him now upstairs in his office? That wasn’t a good idea.
“Actually, I’d better go,” Gwen said. “I have to get packed for the weekend.”
Jude shrugged his shoulders. She put the bag in her purse.
“I should get your number,” Jude said. He unsnapped a phone from his belt. “You have mine, Ishould have yours—in case it’s me who needs a small favor next time.”
“Oh, sure, of course.” She gave him her cell number and he keyed it into his phone.
Then Jude stood up. “Have a great trip, Gwen. Come see me when you get back. You don’t haveto wait until you run out.”
He walked her downstairs and through the dining room, out to the bar and hostess area. A newapplicant sat at one of the bar tables, filling in blanks.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Jude said, leaning close and lowering his voice. “Don’t tellanyone. I’m only doing this for you.”
“I promise,” Gwen said.
“I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”
He pushed open the door for her. He followed Gwen outside and they were alone on the sidewalkin front. She turned for the good-bye hug but Jude reached for her, touched her chin and cheek,leaned in, and kissed her. Time slipped for the second or two that his lips found and pressedagainst hers, then pulled back and were gone. She hadn’t seen it coming. Her breathing halted,heart drummed. She stepped back and turned without meeting his eyes and walked quickly to hercar. By the time she dared a look, he’d gone back inside.
A Few Minutes to Relax
Gwen drove along Route 157, the road curving in and out along the ridgeline of the escarpment,until she came to the start of the Indian Falls trail in Thacher Park. She turned into the lotand parked in back where there were no cars.
That kiss. What was that kiss about. He’d caught her 100 percent off guard, although now thatshe thought about it, Jude definitely had been flirting with her. Thinking about her sincehe’d last seen her, he said. Suggesting she come back again for lunch, alone. Asking her tovisit him when she returned to town. That was his nature, she knew, and there was nothing wrongwith getting a few strokes, as long as she let it pass, which she did, as long as she didn’tstroke back, which she didn’t. But then he kissed her at the end and ruined it all.
Now she wouldn’t be able to visit Jude again, for any reason.
It was just a kiss, one she likely misinterpreted, and she should put behind her, the soonerthe better. This was her chance to relax. She had four hours of alone time before retrievingthe kids from Marlene’s, and only a few more errands on her list. Jude had included a sheaf ofrolling papers in the lunch bag, which also contained a plastic baggie holding four pungent,sticky, egg-sized buds with frosted purple hairs around the edges. Gwen held the bag to hernose and breathed in. Wow. She broke a piece off one of the buds and crumpled it inside thebag, then pinched the loose flakes between her fingers to roll a thin joint she put into astringed clutch along with her phone. She tucked the bag of remaining buds in the seat pocketbehind her. She hung the purse over her shoulder and carried her sweater and found a remotepicnic table along the fence near the edge of the cliff. The sun shone but a breeze blew andthe air felt a few degrees cooler up here than in the valley.
From the ridge in the park Gwen looked out across the valley, the few taller buildings downtownpoking up in the distance like toy blocks stuck in the ground. The sky blazed blue and shecould make out the swells of the Adirondack foothills on the northern horizon.
She lit the joint and took a few hits and lay back on the plank top of the picnic table and letthe sun warm her face. She closed her eyes. Hummed deep in her throat. Wet her lips. Four daysat the lake house, just her and Brian and the kids. Hiking, swimming, canoe rides, fires atnight. That’s how she imagined it would be: their family nested and spending every minutetogether. She and Brian had bought the house when Brian’s company was acquired, his stocktripled in value, and he received a bonus for staying on. But they’d hardly been up therebecause Brian had been too busy with work, long hours, traveling for days at a time. Shethought of this trip as promoting a new lifestyle—less hectic, more simple. Breakfast anddinner as a family. No television. A bottle of wine on the couch with Brian after the kids werein bed, a little pot to relax. A lot of lovemaking. When was the last time they did that.Hugging. There would have to be a lot of hugging and holding, among all of them. Cuddling withthe kids. They were still young and delicious and wanted to touch her. Nora would hold handswith her all day. Nate had stopped nursing but still wrapped himself around her, would curl inher arms and press his face against her like a baby.
A few more hours and they’d be going.
Gwen wasn’t a stoner. She didn’t laze around all day with a bong by her side and the TV andstereo both on, too mellow to get off the couch to wash the dishes or get dressed. She didn’torder takeout day after day. She’d known plenty of people who did live like that—mostly whenshe was in college or working at the Patriot—but even back then Gwen didn’t fit the profile.She would take a puff or two off someone’s joint or pipe and stayed away from other drugs,stuck with wine as her drink of choice unless a bartender knew how to make a good margarita.
She was sixteen the first time she got high, in her junior year, hanging around the park afterschool with her friends one day, when a joint appeared in someone’s hand. It got passed aroundand ended up with her boyfriend, Mark, a senior. She watched him take a long deep inhale andhold it, like he knew what he was doing. He offered it, and Gwen took the smallest poke. Itcame around again and this time she inhaled deeper. The next thing you know she and Mark weregoofing around on the kids’ playground, pumping on the swings, playing chase on the junglegym. It was a cold November day and they had the playground to themselves. Later, beforeleaving the park, she made out with Mark. The past month they’d been moving closer and closerto doing it, rubbing through their clothes, hands in each other’s pants, and that Saturdaynight she went to Mark’s house when his parents were out. He’d gotten a big joint for them tosmoke. She had sex for the first time and it wasn’t painful or scary like she’d been made tobelieve but exciting and sensual—maybe quicker than she’d expected, but they did it a fewtimes and she felt happy and full.
A few months later Mark broke up with her because she’d gone with someone else to the movies.He was too proprietary and she didn’t protest much. However, he’d been her source for pot andnow she stopped smoking, didn’t think of it again until college when suddenly everyone had it.Gwen got high at parties and on weekends—but not before or instead of classes or as a dailyritual like some of her suitemates did. If she happened to be going out with a guy who liked toget high, she’d join him. She loved to have sex when stoned; it managed to be both soothingand intense at the same time. She had great orgasms.
Brian preferred vodka. Maybe once in a while if he had drunk enough he’d take a hit or two,get paranoid, and shortly thereafter pass out. Therefore, Gwen never encouraged him. He had noobjections to Gwen getting high when they were dating, and then living together, and thenmarried, although for the first seven-plus years of marriage she didn’t smoke at all; up untillast year she’d been either pregnant or nursing the entire time. When Nate finallyweaned—Gwen was the only mother she knew nursing a four-year-old, making her a target forclucks and stares from some of the other Morrissey moms—what remained was a much less intimateroutine of shuttling, entertaining, managing school schedules, cleaning up after her kids, andcooking for her family. Chores and errands and bills. She hung out with other moms, volunteeredin the PTA, found babysitters on weekends so she and Brian could do more than pass each othercoming and going, and overall loved her life and her husband and children and wouldn’t tradeany part of it, knowing how lucky she was. And one day when the kids were in school and Brianat work and her to-do list crossed off, she experienced a nostalgic craving while watching thewind blow the empty swings in her backyard. She wondered where she could get a little pot, thatwould be fun; she didn’t know anyone like that now.
Then she thought of Jude. She had run into him over the winter when downtown with Brian and thekids for Winterfest. They had left the bonfire and jugglers at center square and were walkingalong Pearl Street toward the river to see the ice sculpting display when Nora announced shehad to pee. When Nora needed to pee, you called all hands on deck; it was a state of emergency.A two-minute drill began to find a bathroom; otherwise she’d wet her pants. The nearest placewith an open door was a restaurant called Gull, too elite-looking for family dining or kids,but they went in and three of them stood just inside the front door while Nora darted into thebathroom. Wait. Was that Jude Gates standing behind the bar? It was. The same Jude who managedthe Patriot when Gwen had worked there, who hung out with her after hours, who shared hisjoints and poured free drinks. Jude who she had partied with and slept with and almost fell inlove with, even though he had a wife in a rehab facility and a young daughter to care for. Long