In a taut psychological thriller filled with breathtaking twists, Joseph Souza explores the tangle of betrayal and deception between two neighboring couples, and asks how well we can really know others—or ourselves.
It all seems so promising at the start . . .
When Leah and her husband, Clay, move from Seattle to Maine, she envisions a vibrant new neighborhood packed with families—playmates for her twins, new friends she can confide in and bond with. But while Clay works long hours to establish his brewery, Leah is left alone each day in a nearly deserted housing development where the only other occupants are aloof and standoffish.
Bored and adrift, Leah finds herself watching Clarissa and Russell Gaines next door, envying their stylishly decorated home and their university careers. But Leah’s obsession with the intriguing, elegant Clarissa grows until she’s not just spying from afar but sneaking into their house, taking small objects . . . reading Clarissa’s diary. It contains clues to a hidden turmoil Leah never guessed at—and a connection to a local college girl who’s disappeared.
The more Leah learns about Clarissa, the more questions emerge. Because behind every neighbor’s door there are secrets that could shatter lives forever . . .
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Monday, October 12, 8:12 a.m.
I finish the story I'm reading about the missing girl and place the paper down. Two weeks have passed and still nothing about her. She and her boyfriend were walking back to campus when the attack happened. The only thing he can remember, before passing out, is a vaguely recalled racial slur. The police are calling it a possible hate crime and I couldn't agree more.
The starlings are at it again, streaming in waves over the field behind my home. They rise and fall like a bedsheet drying in the wind. They keep me spellbound this morning as I sip coffee on the back deck. It's October and unseasonably warm. I watch their flights of fancy as Mr. Shady, our impetuous cockapoo, stares at me from behind the sliding glass door, paws brushing madly against the glass.
My neighbor walks out onto her deck, dressed impeccably in a matching blue skirt and blazer, leather briefcase in hand as if about to leave for work. Clarissa catches sight of the starlings and freezes to watch them. Although we've been neighbors for the last three months, we've barely gotten to know each other. I'm hoping that will soon change.
I raise my head up above the cedar railing, hoping she'll take notice of me. She seems completely mesmerized by the aerial display, and for a brief second I think I see the hint of a smile on her face. The transformation is dramatic and most welcome. But then her daughter comes running out, laughing and shouting, and it breaks her concentration. Clarissa spins around, in full maternal mode, and catches me staring at her. I lift my cup, unable to shake the queasy feeling that I've been caught doing something I shouldn't.
"Hello, Clarissa," I shout in a singsong voice. "Beautiful morning, isn't it?"
She gives me a tepid wave before ushering her daughter inside. Embarrassed, I sit back and watch as the murmuration disintegrates like one of those dying dust devils dancing across an Iowan cornfield.
I pick up the paper and read where a candlelight vigil is to be held tonight on the campus of Chadwick College. I dump the remainder of my coffee over the railing and stand with renewed purpose. My breakfast of egg whites and wheat toast sits uneaten on the plate, and so I toss it in the trash. It seems that every morning my breakfast sits untouched in the trash. I'm always so busy rushing around and taking care of everyone else's needs that I often neglect my own.
There's plenty to do before we attend the vigil tonight. I need to call and make sure Clay can sneak out of the brewery for a few hours. Then there's lining up a babysitter. Finishing the laundry. Getting dinner ready for the twins.
I go back inside and rinse out my coffee cup, happy that the kids are off to school. I relish the few hours of free time I have to myself. I stare at the Gaineses' property through the kitchen window. It's a decent view from here but not as good as the one I have from upstairs.
Our two houses are the only finished homes in this cul-de-sac. Theirs is slightly bigger than ours, with a larger lot and upgrades that we could have had but for the money. The builders completed it three months before our home was built, obviously taking more time for the sake of craftsmanship. Our house, on the other hand, lacks that finished touch and meticulous eye for detail.
I had high hopes when we bought it. I expected boatloads of families to be arriving soon after we moved in, filling the neighborhood with energy, youth, and vitality. But they never came. It feels strange being one of only two families living in this abandoned development. We're like reluctant college roommates forced by chance to get along.
So why no other families? There were rumors about shoddy construction, unsafe well water, and possible radon contamination. I overheard someone at the pharmacy say that the contractor had gone out of business. Clay examined the house up and down and from every angle. He had radon and well water tests done. Everything came back normal. Yet rumors started to spread about lawsuits from aggrieved buyers looking to reclaim their deposits.
I stare out the window, yearning for something better. People. Activity. Engagement. Three of the lots have only foundations. Two homes were framed, shingled, and then left to rot. The rest are just vacant, weedy parcels screaming for occupancy. It makes me sad to look out and see our unfinished neighborhood and realize what might have been. Maybe one day more families will come, but each day that passes makes that harder to envision. And selling this place is not an option. The neighborhood's tainted. We're like the Titanic: way under water.
The front door to the Gaineses' opens and Clarissa walks out holding her children's hands. I step back from the window so that she doesn't see me. Her kids are a few years younger than Zack and Zadie.
Clarissa glances over in my direction and I duck beneath the sink, panicked that she might have seen me. She's tall and striking and I find myself intrigued by her demeanor and form. Peeking over the sill, I can't decide if she's a raving beauty or merely interesting to look at. She's one of those people you can't take your eyes off. Despite being of African-American descent, she's light skinned and appears like an amalgam of the world's ethnicities rolled into one exotic species.
The hot water streams out of the faucet and scalds my hand, and I howl as I pull it back. Only then do I realize that I've been rinsing my cup out for the last minute. I shut the water off and continue to watch as she gathers the children into her Mercedes. The children are a handful this morning and Clarissa struggles to maintain control of them. Once she gets them seated and buckled, she slips behind the wheel and speeds off.
Sadly, I'm once again the only person left in this neighborhood. It's terrible to feel abandoned, adrift, as if I'm the last person on earth. It feels vaguely apocalyptic. It reminds me of what might happen someday if we continue to harm the planet.
Mr. Shady rises on his hind legs and rests his paws on my shin, reminding me that I'm not alone. He wants his morning walk, and if I forget, he gets anxious. In many ways, Mr. Shady has been a godsend to this household, even if he doesn't really like me. I try not to take this slight personally. After all, he's only a dog. The runt of the litter. But I get so lonely being in this house, day after day, staring over at the Gaineses', that it's nice to have another living thing around to keep me company.
He stares up at me when I converse with him, craning his neck this way and then that way and then this way again. Often, I think he understands what I'm saying. And sometimes I think I know what's in that doggy brain of his. It reminds me of the kind of relationship I had with my twin sister so many years ago.
Monday, October 12, 8:27 a.m.
Te starlings were the first omen of things to come. Leah's obsessed with them just like she is with that missing girl. She couldn't stop talking about those birds the first time she saw them, certain that they were communicating to her. Honestly, I think she moved us into this shitty neighborhood because of them. I had no say in the matter, which is another story altogether. Then again, I didn't really care where we lived or the style of house. One neighborhood was as good as the other in this small town. I moved her and the kids all the way cross-country only to allow her to sign away our lives on the basis of some birds.
So that's where we stand right now. Living in a broken neighborhood that no one wants to move into. No friends to speak of. Neighbors who want nothing to do with us. Upside down on the house. What a mess.
I can understand why she misses Seattle.
I was hoping our relationship would get better once we moved to Maine. A quieter life. Slower pace. Community and friends. Little to no crime (aside from that missing girl). Decent schools for the kids. I initially thought I wanted to live in Portland, Maine, because of the burgeoning beer scene. But then I realized that Portland was much like Seattle: crowded and overpriced. The land of hipster doofusville. After escaping from one urban environment, I thought it was time to try something different and move to a more rural area.
It must sound odd to people when I tell them that we moved from Seattle to Maine. Seattle's the place where everyone wants to live. Hiking and boating. Scenic vistas. Lots of coffee and beer scenes. But like any popular city, it grew too expensive. Traffic stagnates on every road and interstate. The craft beer market is oversaturated with brewers large and small. So I asked myself: why fight it? Why keep living in a shoe box when we can move to Maine and have a bigger house? Use the equity in our Seattle home and put a down payment on something nicer. Open my own brewery and sell beer to all the craft bars in Portland.
To be fair, Leah didn't want to move here. Her parents lived just outside of Seattle, and while she wasn't close to them, she did maintain occasional contact. It took weeks of convincing and cajoling before she reluctantly agreed to go to Maine. Then it was all a matter of execution.
I first laid eyes on Leah as we marched through downtown Seattle, protesting against Bush and the Iraq War. I was supposed to be meeting another girl there, hoping to start a relationship with her, but for whatever reason, it never materialized. It didn't matter. There were plenty of other cute girls in the crowd, as well as grizzled old Seattle hippies reliving their youth. But of all the thousands of people in attendance that day, I couldn't take my eyes off that one girl. Leah. She was chanting and holding up a protest sign, and because I didn't see any guys hovering around her, I made my move.
She was stunning back then, before the stress of marriage and kids took their toll. We made casual conversation, stopping every so often to chant antiwar slogans. Our eyes met and she smiled flirtatiously at me as we marched. By the time we reached Chinatown, I looked over and to my dismay she was gone. I was furious at myself for taking my eye off her and not getting her number. Someone was up on a podium and delivering a fiery speech mocking George Bush. I looked all around for Leah but couldn't find her. Just my dumb luck to connect with a cute girl and then lose her in the crowd.
Then, by chance, I was at the dog park a week later with my twelve-year-old black lab. I was about to leave when I saw her. What were the odds? It was Leah from the protest march. Her chocolate lab rushed up to Brewer and the two dogs began to sniff each other out. I waved to her and she waved back. We conversed for over an hour while our dogs wrestled and played in the park. That was the start of our courtship.
A few friends warned me about Leah when we first met, advising me in the gentlest way to cut my losses. To run like the wind. Who listens while in the throes of love? I do still love her. Or at least I think I do. And she still loves me. Or at least I think she does. I want a future here in Dearborn, Maine. We've talked about attending marriage counseling and about opening the lines of communication and being more honest with each other.
"Honesty": now, there's a loaded word.
I really would like to be honest with Leah and tell her the truth about certain things that I dislike in our marriage.
Like how I hate making love in the dark. Or how she insists on scheduling these sessions a month in advance, scribbling it down on the calendar in hieroglyphics. Oral sex is completely off the table, and that needs mentioning. Sure, part of that is my fault. But a lifetime ban?
I also hate when she obsesses about things. Like those damn birds. Can't get her mind off them. When we moved here, she sat for hours and watched the movers unpack all her china and silverware. Climate change too. She can't stop talking about it. The missing college girl — that's been a big obsession of hers lately. There's our black neighbors, whom she watches out the window. Who gives a shit if they don't want to be our friends?
But the biggest issue is that we've grown apart and we can't seem to communicate the problems our divide has caused. No longer do I care about politics and literature. Maybe I did once but not anymore. Maybe I'd convinced myself I cared in order to be with Leah. I'd never been all that suave with women up to that point, and I certainly didn't want to lose this stunning girl because of my perceived ignorance. But now being married all these years, with two children to support, I'm able to drop the pretense and embrace my true nature.
All of this has left us broken in a way I cannot fix. I know that I can't escape my marital problems by moving across the country. Something has to break. But what more can I do? I thought Leah would change once we settled here. She didn't. I thought that she'd be happier and more spontaneous. She isn't. Yes, she did change in certain ways, but she's changed for the worse.
Still, a man has his needs. Isn't that what they always say? That a man will start looking elsewhere if he's not getting his needs met at home. So I turned elsewhere. I'm ashamed to admit this. After moving my wife and kids three thousand miles away, I did the worst possible thing a husband could do. I broke my marriage vows. That I didn't intend it to happen says nothing about my moral culpability. I screwed up and I make no excuse for my behavior.
For that reason, I can't be totally honest with her.
I need to make sure that Leah never finds out. ...
That the girl I had an affair with is the same girl who went missing.
Monday, October 12, 10:56 a.m.
I need to find something more meaningful in my life besides being a mother and wife. There's only so much mindless laundry and housecleaning one can do. Most days I can barely wait for the kids to come home just so I can have someone to keep me company. Zack usually goes straight up to his room and buries his head in one of his science fiction books. At least Zadie still enjoys hanging out with me and giggling about silly little girl things.
The prospect of my first Maine autumn makes me giddy. I gaze out the window and see hills and mountains rolling across the landscape. Not like the majestic, snowcapped Cascade Mountains but nice all the same. The burgeoning foliage appears like the aftermath of an artist's brush. I grab the leash off the hook and Mr. Shady goes wild with excitement, spinning around and around as if chasing his own tail.
I gather up some paper bags and head out. Mr. Shady stops and sniffs at every leaf, rock, and twig he comes across. As we walk around, I envision this empty subdivision as if it were the last remnant of a lost civilization. On the opposite side of the street sits a grove of trees, thick and mossy. Mr. Shady stops to check out a scent along the path. Since moving here we've seen deer, eagles, turkeys, and even a young moose strutting through the fields behind our neighborhood. We must be careful though. The coyotes will snatch Mr. Shady up if we leave him outside for any length of time.
We pass one of the bare concrete foundations. How sad to see it like this. That the developers would leave these lots in such woeful condition depresses me.
I stop at our locked mailbox and pull out the contents. Three bills and an ordinary-looking letter with no return address. Now, who could that be from?
My mind traces back to the missing girl. What was she like? What were her hopes and dreams? They reported that she grew up in New York City. I think how devastated I'd be if something bad like that happened to Zack or Zadie. I'd spend the rest of my life searching for them. No way I could ever rest knowing that they might still be out there.
Mr. Shady leads me around the circle, pulling excitedly at the leash, wanting to take off into the nearby fields and chase squirrels and small varmints. Instead, I stop in front of the Gaineses' house and stare up at their farmer's porch. It's a lovely porch. It wraps around the house and gives them a nice view of the fields and nearby hills. No one is home and so I can stand here and admire it for as long as I like. I often think I could walk naked around this neighborhood and no one would notice. Or care.
I remember standing on their porch three months ago, after we'd just moved in, a homemade pie in one hand (I actually bought it at the local bakery) and a bottle of wine in the other. This, despite the fact that we were the new neighbors on the block. I thought it a nice gesture, especially since they hadn't yet approached us. I knocked on the door and Clarissa's husband appeared, looking dumbstruck at the sight of me. His face broke out in a warm smile and he graciously accepted the gifts proffered. But then he didn't invite me in. What the heck? Nor did he ask how we liked living in our new neighborhood. Or how our children were adjusting to their surroundings. His children were playing in the background and making quite a ruckus, so maybe it was a bad time for me to show up unannounced. But I wish Clarissa had come to the door instead. I often look back on that day and think that our families might have gotten off to a better start if she'd been the one to answer.
Excerpted from "The Neighbor"
Copyright © 2018 Joseph Souza.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 8:12 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 12, 8:27 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 10:56 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 12, 11:30 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 11:35 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 12, 12:07 p.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 2:47 p.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 12, 6:30 p.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 6:52 p.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 12, 8:37 p.m.,
LEAH - Tuesday, October 13, 7:45 a.m.,
CLAY - Tuesday, October 13, 10:13 a.m.,
LEAH - Tuesday, October 13, 11:08 p.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, October 14, 7:37 a.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, October 14, 11:59 a.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, October 14, 12:07 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 15, 7:42 a.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 15, 1:59 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 15, 6:14 p.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 15, 11:00 p.m.,
LEAH - Friday, October 16, 8:27 a.m.,
CLAY - Friday, October 16, 9:56 a.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, October 21, 9:03 a.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, October 21, 11:36 a.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, October 21, 7:12 p.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, October 21, 11:30 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 7:45 a.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 22, 10:34 a.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 1:27 p.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 22, 1:32 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 2:29 p.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 22, 2:47 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 3:30 p.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 22, 3:35 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 4:12 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 5:17 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 5:56 p.m.,
CLAY - Thursday, October 22, 6:04 p.m.,
LEAH - Thursday, October 22, 6:15 p.m.,
CLAY - Friday, October 23, 6:21 a.m.,
LEAH - Friday, October 23, 7:44 a.m.,
LEAH - Friday, October 23, 11:55 a.m.,
CLAY - Friday, October 23, 1:27 p.m.,
LEAH - Friday, October 23, 2:22 p.m.,
CLAY - Friday, October 23, 3:49 p.m.,
LEAH - Friday, October 23, 4:01 p.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 26, 6:46 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 26, 7:20 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 26, 9:58 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 26, 10:56 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 26, 10:48 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 26, 12:23 p.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 26, 3:03 p.m.,
LEAH - Monday, October 26, 4:17 p.m.,
CLAY - Monday, October 26, 5:44 p.m.,
LEAH - 10 Months Later Monday, August 17, 7:47 a.m.,
CLAY - Monday, August 17, 9:56 a.m.,
LEAH - Monday, August 24, 8:36 p.m.,
LEAH - Tuesday, August 25, 8:12 a.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, August 26, 9:56 a.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, August 26, 10:16 a.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, August 26, 11:44 a.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, August 26, 12:15 p.m.,
LEAH - Wednesday, August 26, 12:18 p.m.,
CLAY - Wednesday, August 26, 12:20 p.m.,