Widows-in-Law

Widows-in-Law

by Michele W. Miller

Hardcover(Unabridged)

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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on February 26, 2019

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781538556917
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 02/26/2019
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

Michele W. Miller is the author of The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, a 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Quarter-Finalist. Married with two children, Michele is a lawyer practicing in New York City.


Nancy Wu has narrated audiobooks since 2004, winning three AudioFile Earphones Awards. A New York theater, television, and film actor, she has recorded in studios all over the world-from Italy to Switzerland to Thailand. Her credits include Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Hope & Faith, All My Children, Made for Each Other, and the Oscar-nominated film Frozen River.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8

Explosions burst from the big man's gun, the noise muffled and distant even though Jessica could see the flashes. Return fire ricocheted, heading toward her and Lauren where they'd flattened themselves against the plank floor. Splinters pierced the backs of Jessica's hands from a bullet that landed nearby. She cried out, hyperventilating, her ears still ringing from the blow to her head. She forced herself not to throw up, the floor spinning like Dorothy's bed leaving Kansas. It felt as if she'd been trapped for a million seconds, each one ticking, a whirling, off-kilter metronome.

Jessica felt Lauren grabbing her arm, yanking her toward a nearby window, a way out. Jessica followed. More blasts filled the room, one after the next. The women hit the floor again. The big man charged toward the door, shooting, shouting. He stopped suddenly, propelled backward. He took one stutter-step back, his gun firing wildly as he fell to the floor.

The room went mute, buzzing now. Dizziness and shock overtook Jessica, the air going brown. She sensed running nearby, Lauren's hand grasping her again, pulling her to get up now. Jessica followed, moving toward the window, a bright rectangle in the dim place. But Lauren suddenly froze and held her back. The attacker stood in the doorway, gun trained on them.

CHAPTER 2

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18

1

Brian usually called Lauren's office at night so he could avoid actually talking to her. Unless he wanted something. But mostly it was Lauren who wanted, needed, left messages, anxiety blooming in her chest like an innards-eating alien whenever Emily acted up or bills were overdue. Lauren hated being the nagging first wife and, more than anything, she hated that she needed Brian. It went against every grain of how she saw herself. That was what she was thinking as she walked from Family Court to her office, dodging an obstacle course of meandering tourists heading to their double-decker buses at City Hall.

In her office, the desk phone's red light flashed at her as if winking in confirmation of Lauren's thoughts. When it came to Brian, texting and emailing didn't work any better than calling. He was old school like that, a landline kind of guy, at least when it came to Lauren. Nubile, new ass probably received witty, solicitous texts at just the right moment ... unless Brian wanted to avoid incriminating evidence landing in Jessica's hands. Lauren didn't know whether Brian cheated on Jessica. Lauren didn't exactly wish it on her. But the idea that Jessica was somehow better than her, had tamed the savage beast that had once been Lauren's husband, picked the scab on Lauren's low self-esteem that only Brian still managed to scrape.

So, Lauren had gotten the glib thing down, calling Jessica her "wife-in-law," while always maintaining an innocent I'm-not-mad smile on her face. Wife-in-law was a term Lauren learned in family court. The first case she'd prosecuted. The City had charged a prostitute with neglect for leaving her children alone. The prostitute claimed she'd left the kids in the care of her stable-mate, her "wife-in-law." But after the mother had gone off to work, the pimp ended up assigning the wife-in-law to other duties and put a six-year-old boy in charge of three younger kids, including an infant. The boy's babysitting gig fell apart quickly after a rousing game of match-toss set the apartment on fire, luckily no one seriously hurt. All the kids ended up in foster care.

Lauren's days in her jet-speed, often heartbreaking, job at Family Court made her ex-wife drama seem bland as tofu — but it was her drama. So, she tended to refer to Jessica as her wife-in-law, mostly to avoid giving her the dignity of a name and — secretly — because she was sure it would annoy Jessica and Brian if Emily ever repeated it. Lauren tried to be grown up about Brian's remarriage and she didn't love him anymore, but she had an ocean of pettiness hiding under her adult self, just like she had low self-esteem floating under the confidence the world saw.

She perched an armload of files on a free corner of her City-issued gunmetal desk. Bathroom-sized and mildew-scented, the narrow office resembled a foxhole. The desk belonging to Lauren's office mate took up most of a wall near the door. Lauren's was next to a dirt-streaked window at the far end of the room. It wasn't a space worthy of hanging a framed law school diploma. All she'd put up on the wall was a calendar that Emily had made on snapfish.com, with photos of the two of them on vacation. Lauren sat and logged into her voicemail.

The female emcee spoke. "You have seven calls. Call number one from an external number, received yesterday at 9 P.M."

Brian. The beginning of their extended round of phone tag that usually ended with Lauren giving up and enlisting Brian's secretary for help. Some people still had secretaries in Brian's world, even though they called them admins or executive assistants now.

"Lauren, I'm in Miami for a couple of days," Brian said. "I'll take care of the check when I get back."

Out of town again. So much for the experiment in fatherhood. She would have to dig into savings to pay the maintenance and mortgage on the apartment. Still, she was lucky to get anything to supplement her low-paying job working for the City of New York. For the past five weeks, their sixteen-year-old, Emily, had been living in Westchester County with Brian and Jessica, not with Lauren. Always the shrewd lawyer, Brian had structured the divorce settlement so he'd pay Lauren alimony rather than child support and get a tax deduction for the payments. Lauren didn't receive an extravagant amount of money because Brian's career had only taken off after their divorce; but his monthly checks paid the mortgage on the Washington Heights apartment they'd bought together twelve years ago. At the time of their divorce, neither of them had imagined that Emily would live with him instead of Lauren and he'd still be stuck paying child support disguised as alimony.

But after a year of fighting with Emily about her going to school and getting home at a decent hour, and Lauren's gut-wrenching anxiety when she didn't, Emily had sauntered in at dawn one day, reeking of marijuana and tobacco, "too sleepy" to go to school. For a second that morning, Lauren had hoped that Emily smelled that way because she'd been around people smoking, but one look at her slit eyes, red as campfire embers, had slam-dunked Lauren's notion. It killed her to let go of Emily's daily presence in her life, but she'd called Brian and asked him to take her. He could control Emily in a way Lauren couldn't, no matter what she tried.

Lauren reassured herself that Brian's greater ability to put Emily in check wasn't about Lauren's maternal shortcomings. Emily was desperate for Brian's approval. She was just one more female in Brian's life who was obsessed with an unavailable man. But underneath that truth, Lauren couldn't help thinking that Brian's superior ability to control Emily was a statement about Lauren as a mother. Deep down, she finally believed Brian's criticism that she was too lax and didn't know how to parent a teenage girl.

It's not like she hadn't tried. She'd breastfed, taught Emily baby sign language before she could speak, watched useless Baby Einstein videos with her. She'd done all the PTA-mom things, including getting her into the best public schools, a melee in Manhattan where they lived, and volunteering at school auctions. But really, how would Lauren know how to parent a teenager? Lauren had basically missed her teenage years completely, her parents so coked up they'd barely noticed when she'd become a teenager. Lauren's teenage years made Emily's look like a Brady Bunch Holiday Special.

Still, Lauren was scared, terrified that Emily was on a path to end up like herself at Emily's age; only now, drugs were stronger and deadlier. Kids died if they didn't get turned around in time. Lauren had wide-awake nightmares of heroin, Fentanyl-laced pills, and synthetic marijuana, any of which could easily kill Emily or mentally scar her for life. And Emily's life had been painful in ways Lauren would have given a body part to prevent, making Emily more vulnerable to addiction.

When Lauren asked Brian to take Emily, she'd expected excuses: "I'm out of town too much, I've got a big trial coming up," that sort of thing. But he'd surprised her. "I'll find out about school registration up here." He'd paused, looking at the calendar on his phone. (Lauren knew him well enough to picture it.) "We'll move her this weekend, get her started in school Monday morning."

"Don't you want to talk to Jessica first?" It was clear he didn't, and despite the outward civility between Lauren and her wife-in-law, Lauren got a charge out it. She could imagine how Jessica would feel about the fulltime invasion of her kingdom. Her duties would now include cooking, shopping, and sundry childcare duties that Brian would be way too busy to do. Lauren wondered if it would fit in with Jessica's intention for her little life ("intention" — cue the creepy music). Lauren thought back to Jessica speaking politely to her through the window of Brian's Lexus during a post-visitation drop-off, recommending that Lauren check out the Law of Attraction. Lauren was sure Jessica was still bending over backwards trying to figure out how she'd attracted Emily, the teenage she-wolf.

"Emily's my daughter," Brian had said. "There's nothing to talk to Jessica about."

After that, Emily's daily calls often included complaints about the arguments between "Jessica Rabbit" and Brian. The tension had mounted in the idyllic Silverman household with the addition of the evil teen.

Lauren could count on Emily telling her all about that and anything else that might feed Lauren's doubts about sending her to live with her step-mother in the upscale Westchester town made famous by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Today, Emily had called before school, telling Lauren how the town was going crazy because they didn't want low-income housing built near the Metro-North train station. Emily had said, "Are you sure you want me to live in this town? Daddy's not even around, and she's bugging out again."

"Yes," Lauren tried not to snap, "Get ready for school or Jessica's going to have to drive you again."

Emily had been firing blanks. Jessica might be a self-absorbed one-percenter, overdose Emily on nail polish fumes, and teach Emily a hundred ways to charge a credit card to its limit, but anything was better than the weed-smoking delinquents Emily hung out with in the City.

Lauren scribbled notes as she listened to a couple of messages about her court cases, mostly scheduling issues.

"Call number seven, received today at three-thirty p.m."

"Hello ..." A strange voice came on the line, the woman's words strangled. Lauren knew the voice, but it was different. The choked whisper turned into a cough then words. "Lauren, this is Peggy." Brian's secretary. Huh? "Please call me ... Brian's been injured. Please call." Then silence.

Lauren jumped to her feet, gasping, all the air gone from her lungs. "Oh my God. No," she said aloud, frantically punching in the number to Brian's office.

2

"The burns are bad." Lauren laid her head back against the cool vinyl headrest of a mini-Prius.

Her anxious fingers twisted her hair into long curls over one shoulder. She felt as if an invisible hand were squeezing her heart, pumping blood at triple the normal rate. Above all else, she was so damn worried about Emily. After Lauren gave birth to Emily, she stopped eating for two but took on the pain of two. She still ached when Emily ached. Co-dependence is what the self-help books called it, although Lauren didn't put much stake in self-help books.

Lauren turned her head sideways to look at Constance in the driver's seat. "Brian was probably smoking in bed. I don't know how many times he ignored me about that. And here I am pissed about the same old shit and I don't even sleep with him anymore. On top of that, now I feel guilty for being pissed at him." Lauren shuddered, feeling queasy. "I hope he lost consciousness."

Dry heat hissed as it filled the air. A green and white sign hung over the right fork of the highway: "New York Airports." Constance steered to the right, over the RFK Bridge, then down onto the Grand Central Parkway. Lauren and Constance had become close, sharing an office for four years since they'd started working at the Administration for Children's Services, their first jobs after law school. Dreadlocks to the small of her back, Constance spoke with a crispness borne of private school education, "You don't have to worry about the Winston hearing. I've got your file and I know the case."

"This is too weird, traveling with Jessica."

"You're going for Emily. It has nothing to do with Brian or his wife."

"Right."

Two endless cement walls cradled the road as the car traveled below ground level through Astoria, Queens. They emerged and passed the remnants of the 1964 World's Fair at Flushing Meadow Park. Lauren stared at a huge metal globe in the flat park.

"How do you get along with her?" Constance asked.

"Jessica? Okay. Nothing overt ... although, between me and you, she's a total princess. She's into those wackos who think they only need to have an intention to magically manifest results they want. For her, I think it's just a fancy way to package self-obsession. Narcissistic personality disorder, disguised as a spiritual quest."

"That's a big diagnosis." Constance chuckled. "Narcissistic personality disorder. You've been reading the DSM for bedtime relaxation?"

"You've seen those parents in Family Court, the ones who name all ten of their kids after themselves, like George Forman, but their only claim to fame is a long rap sheet. And they still manage to feel superior. Luckily, I don't have to spend much time with Jessica. Really, I can't complain. She's good to my kid, as good as she knows how to be ... takes her shopping, that sort of thing. I've gotta be grateful for the effort. Brian has sole responsibility for screwing me over, and being with Brian is its own reward. Jessica will get whatever comes with the territory." Lauren shook her head, remembering the reality. "If he comes through okay."

"Well, the trip to Miami is only two hours and change. It shouldn't be too bad."

"She's a better woman for him than I was. She wants more of the things he wants — the country club, the material stuff. Did I ever tell you how they met?"

"No."

"She was an operating room nurse in Los Angeles until she witnessed an anesthesiologist leave the room just before the patient, a little kid, aspirated and died. I remember when Brian got the case. Back then, it was a big one for him, and he was really scared he'd lose it. No one who was in the operating room would talk about what happened. They were one big happy family — doctors and nurses sticking together. Then Jessica came forward and broke the case wide open. Brian was so excited when he called home from California to tell me about it. "

"Wow."

"So, Jessica was on the outs at the hospital after that, but she was on the ins with my husband, literally."

"Jeez."

"Our marriage was just a shell of itself by then anyway, and it wasn't his first affair. It was kind of a relief when he left. But before he did, he made sure I knew that it was Jessica's outstanding moral fiber that made their love inevitable."

"You would have come forward — quicker."

Lauren pushed aside the old pain of believing Brian at first, about how Jessica was somehow an amazing person that Lauren wasn't. During her lowest moments of depression, Brian had provided endless ammunition for her old self-hatred. "You can't help but question her valiant motives. She was husband shopping. He probably had on his wedding ring, but I can imagine him looking at her with a sick-puppy expression, that my-wife-is-for-shit look. She probably thought she'd attracted Brian to her because, together, they were going to get justice for that child's family, all wrapped up in a nice bow to make Jessica feel good about herself. To a person like Jessica, Brian's wedding ring was probably an engraved invitation. But, to hear him tell it, she was Mother Theresa ... a saint with big tits I guess." Lauren looked down at her own small chest. "I hate to be catty, but when I see a woman as thin as her with a chest that big, the thought of surgical implantation just flashes across my mind."

(Continues…)


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