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Such a Good Wife
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 10, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Melanie Hale is a devoted mother to her two children, a diligent caregiver to her ailing mother-in-law and a trusted neighbor in their wealthy Louisiana community. Above all, she’s a loving partner to her wonderful husband, Collin.
Then there are the parts of herself that Mel keeps hidden. She’s exhausted, worried and unfulfilled. So much so that one night, after a writers’ group meeting, Mel begins an affair with a successful local author named Luke. Suddenly she’s transformed into a role she doesn’t recognize–a woman who deceives with unseemly ease. A woman who might be capable of just about anything.
When Mel finds Luke’s dead body in his lavish rented house, she realizes just how high the stakes have become. Not only does she have to keep her affair a secret in order to preserve her marriage, but she desperately needs to avoid being implicated in Luke’s death. But who would want to kill him? Who else in her life is keeping secrets? And most terrifying of all, how far will they–and she–go to keep those secrets hidden?
Don’t miss Seraphina’s upcoming novel, The Vanishing Hour. You won’t be able to put it down!
Other thrillers from Seraphina to keep you up all night:
- The Vanishing Hour
- On a Quiet Street
- Someone’s Listening
THE AUGUST HEAT HANGS heavy in the wet air. I try to keep Bennett occupied in a way that doesn't involve a screen, so we sit barefoot on the back steps behind the deck, peeling muddy red potatoes and snipping green bean ends, discarding them into the rusty buckets we hold between our knees. He loves this. The ritual of plucking off each knotted end soothes him. Inside, I see Rachel and her friend from school eating strawberries over the sink, throwing the green tops into a soggy pile in the drain; she rolls her eyes when I call in to tell her to run the disposal and pull the chicken out to defrost. It's only a few weeks until school starts back up, and I'm using the advent calendar leftover from Christmas to count down the days. Bennett helped me tape cutout images of book bags and rulers over the old Santas and stuffed stockings.
He starts a new school in September, one he's been on a waiting list to attend because his doctor says it's the best for kids on the spectrum. He should have started in kindergarten, and now, as he goes into the second grade, I try to curb my resentment at the bougie place for keeping us waiting that long, even after a hefty donation we made two years ago. But I'm hopeful the new school might be a better fit for him because it specifically caters to neurodivergent kids. He can be rigid and set in his ways. He can also be easily agitated and this school is the best in the area. I've read every book, I've gone to every specialist, and still feel like I'm failing him when I struggle to understand what he's feeling.
Ben gets the little chocolate Santa out of the pocket taped over with a cutout of colored pencils, and we cheer in anticipation of the exciting first big day (only eighteen days left), and I get a secret reward of my own. I'm a day closer to a few minutes of peace and quiet. I swell with love for him as he opens the foil around the chocolate with the care and precision of a surgeon. He is my joy, but I'm so very tired these last weeks.
The heat is getting to him—making him irritable. I can tell because he loses interest in counting each green bean end, and stares off.
"There's a firefly!" He begins chasing it along the bushes near the fence. "Did you know they're bioluminescent?"
"Pretty cool," I say.
"And they eat each other. Does that make them cannonballs?"
"Cannibals," I correct him.
"What's the difference?" He has come back over to the deck after losing the insect, now genuinely interested in the answer.
"Well, a cannonball is when you jump in the pool and splash everyone, and cannibal is the thing you said." I decide on this explanation rather than going into descriptions of weaponry.
"They eat each other!"
"Cool, can I see if they like ice cream? I can leave some out for them."
"Mom!" Rachel yells from inside the sliding glass door she's cracked open, "I don't see any chicken!" All I have to do is give her a warning look and she shuts the door and goes back inside, muttering "whatever" under her breath. She knows yelling will almost always set Ben into a panic. As recent as last year, she'd be immediately remorseful if she did anything to upset him, but now that she's headed into junior high, the arm crossing and annoyed sighing is a constant. The unkindness of puberty has changed her. Now, when we drive past the Davises' house down the street, and their boys are out front playing in the drive (or "hanging" in the drive because, as she points out, kids don't "play" anymore), one of them will shoot a basket or tackle another boy at that very moment—like birds of paradise, putting on a show—a primitive mating ritual. Rachel always giggles and avoids eye contact with me. It's maddening. She's just thirteen.
"Bennett," I say, smiling, "I think there's some mint chip I hid in the back of the freezer." I pat his back gently and his eyes light up. He bolts inside before I can change my mind.
I pile the buckets of beans and potatoes on the patio table and step my feet into the pool. I sit on the edge and close my eyes, letting the cool water caress my feet and whisper around my ankles. It's momentarily quiet, so I allow myself to think of him for just a few minutes—just a small indulgence before bringing Claire her medication and starting to make dinner.
He's practically a stranger. It's so shameful. I think about the way we tumbled in his door and didn't even make it to the couch. He pushed me, gently, against the entryway wall and pulled my shirt over my head. The flutter in my stomach is quickly extinguished by the crushing guilt I feel, and I try to push away the thoughts.
"Mom!" Rachel calls from the kitchen.
"Dad's on the phone!" She walks out holding her phone, and hands it to me with an annoyed sigh. My hands tremble a little. It feels as if he overheard my thoughts and interrupted them on purpose. Rachel notices my hands.
"What's up with you?" she asks, standing with a hand on a hip, waiting for her phone back.
"You just startled me. I'm fine. And stop yelling."
"He's in the living room," she says defensively, glancing in the screen door to make sure Ben is truly out of earshot. She sits in the patio chair and twirls while I talk to Collin.
"Hi, honey. Honey? Hello? Collin?" There is no response. My eyes prick with tears. It's totally irrational, but suddenly, I imagine he knows what I've done and he's too angry to speak. Someone's seen us and told him. I sit, weak-kneed, and strain to hear. "Collin?"
"Sorry, hon. I was in an elevator for a sec," he says, upbeat. The ding of an elevator and muffled voices can be heard in the background.
"Oh. Why are you calling on Rachel's phone?" I ask.
"I tried you a few times. I wanted to see if you needed me to pick up dinner. I'm on my way home."
"Oh, I must have left mine inside. I was in the yard with Ben. Um...no that's okay, I've already got things prepped, but thanks." I wonder if my voice sounds guilty or different somehow. I never leave my phone, not with Bennett's condition and Collin's ill mother living with us. So, that seems out of character. He's too kind to say anything, but I'm sure it struck him as odd. It's a pact between us as we juggle all the health issues and crisis calls from school. Both of us will stay available. As a high-profile real estate agent, it doesn't bode well for Collin to have his phone ping during a showing or a big meeting, but he won't let me carry all the weight of this myself. It's his gesture of solidarity, I suppose. The same way he stopped drinking beer when I was pregnant, both times. If I couldn't have my wine, he would suffer with me. That's just the way he is.
My face is flushed with shame. I can feel it. I turn away from Rachel slightly.
"Roast chicken and potatoes. Ben helped," I say with a forced smile in my voice.
"Sounds great. See you in a bit, then."
When we hang up, Rachel snatches her phone back. She crosses her long legs and hooks a foot inside the opposite ankle. It looks like they could wrap around each other endlessly. She's always been thin. Her kneecaps practically bulge compared to the rest of her threadlike legs, which seem to dangle loosely inside her too-short shorts. I don't say anything about them, choosing my battles today.
On my way inside, I stop to smooth her hair and kiss the top of her head. As if each good, motherly thing I do is a tiny bit of atonement for my sins. She smells like sickly sweet Taylor Swift body spray, and doesn't look up at me, just scrolls on her phone.
Dinner is quiet, but when Collin tells Rachel "no phones at the table," she fires back.
"You haven't looked up from yours since we sat down."
"That's different. It's work and it's urgent." He gives her a twirly gesture with his hand to put her phone away. It's true, Collin almost never uses his phone during dinner, but I know he's working on a huge commercial sale and lately all he can talk about is how a train track is too close to a hospital they invested in and it's causing the building to vibrate. I pour a little more wine into my glass than I usually would, but take advantage of his distraction. He wouldn't say anything if I drank the whole bottle, but sometimes that's worse—wondering if someone harbors quiet disappointment in you, but is too kind to ever point it out.
"How's Mom?" he asks.
Jesus Christ. I can't believe I forgot Claire.
"I poked my head in before dinner, but she was asleep. Should I bring her a plate?" he asks.
I never brought her her 4 p.m. medicine. Shit. I'm so distracted. I leave my phone, I forget important medication. I try to cover quickly.
"I told her I'd bring her something later. She wanted to sleep awhile," I lie.
"You're a saint." He smiles and kisses me.
"Barf. Can I go now?" Rachel doesn't wait for an answer; she gets up, scrapes her plate in the sink, and leaves, too much homework being her staple excuse for getting out of dish duty, which is fine. I usually revel in the quiet kitchen after Collin is parked in front of the TV, and the kids are in homework mode.
"Why don't you let me get this?" Collin playfully hip-checks me and takes the plates from my hands.
Recently, he feels like he's burdened me beyond reason by asking to have his ailing mother come to live in the guest room last month. Of course I said yes to her staying. Not just because of how much I love and would do anything for Collin, but because I cannot imagine myself in her position. She's suffered years with atrial fibrillation, and now lung cancer and dementia. Isn't that what we should do, take her in? Isn't that what makes us shudder—the thought of being old, sitting alone at a care facility that smells of stale urine and casserole. Spending your days staring out at an Arby's parking lot outside the small window of an institutional room, or sitting in a floral housecoat in the common area, watching reruns of The Price Is Right while putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower.
Maybe it's human nature to care because it's a reflection of ourselves—what we can't let happen to someone else for fear of it happening to us someday—or maybe it's compassion, but I could never let Claire be cast off and feel alone in a place like that. Even though having her dying in the back bedroom is breath stealing and unsettling, and very hard to explain to your children.
I let Collin take the dishes so I can bring Claire a plate and her pills. I pad down the long hall to her room, carrying a drab-looking tray with chicken cut up so fine it looks like baby food. I tap lightly on her door even though I know she won't answer. When I enter, I resist the urge to cover my nose so I don't hurt her feelings, but the air is stagnant and the odor is hard to describe. It's vinegary and acrid, like soured milk and decay.
"Evening, darlin', I have some dinner for you."
The light is dim, but I don't switch on the overhead because she complains of the headaches it gives her. My heart speeds up when I don't see her shape under the blankets.
"Claire?" The room is hot and a box fan hums at the end of her bed, propped on a chair. The smell and humidity make me lose my breath a moment, and I notice she's opened a window. No wonder it's so unbearably hot. August in Louisiana and she opens a window. Shit. I should have checked on her at four. I close the window and cover my nose with my arm. When I turn back around, I can see Rachel down the hall, and her expression is enough to betray Claire's whereabouts. Rachel stares, frozen with tears in her eyes, looking at Grandma Claire standing, exposed, in an unbuttoned robe without her wig. She's been sick on the bathroom floor, and stands in the hallway, hairless and breasts bared, disoriented, looking for her room.
"Honey," I try to say to Rachel before I help Claire back to her bed, but she's run off, crying, traumatized by what she saw. I should have fucking checked on Claire at four. What I've done—my distraction—now it's hurting my kids and poor Claire. I need to pull it together.
I help Claire to bed and switch on a rerun of Frasier, her favorite. I leave her a tray and give her her pills, then I clean up the vomit on the bathroom floor without telling Collin about what's happened. He'd worry and he'd want to help, but this is my negligence, so I'm glad he has a work disaster of some sort and is drinking a beer out on the patio, making calls.
Rachel has her door closed when I finish, and I hear an angsty, acoustic, festival-sounding song turned up loudly in the background, so decide to leave it until tomorrow.
In the living room, Bennett is sitting at the coffee table, coloring. My sweet baby. I wish so desperately that I could wrap him up in my arms and kiss and hug him, tickle him, and joke with him, but he's the most sensitive soul I've ever known, so I pour myself a little more wine and sit by his side, hoping he lets me have a moment with him. He doesn't say anything for a minute and then...
"You wanna color the Big Bird? You can't have the Transformers page 'cause it's mine, but you can have this one." He pushes a ripped-out page across the table. It's Big Bird with one yellow leg colored in. "It's for babies, so you might not want to," he continues.
"I still like Big Bird. I guess that makes me kinda babyish, huh?"
"He's not real, he's just a guy in a suit."
"Right." I smile, taking the page and finding a crayon to use.
"Adults can still like that stuff though. Mr. Mancini at school calls it nostalgia," he says. I stifle a laugh.
"That's very true."
"Is Mr. Mancini in the Mafia?" he asks, without taking focus off his Transformer. I don't let my expression show my confused amusement.
"Pretty sure he's not. Why?" I say, matter-of-factly.
"'Cause his name is Mancini, like Vincent Mancini."
"You know. The Godfather."
"You watched The Godfather?" I ask, wondering when he would have seen it.
"It's only the best movie ever written."
"Says who?" I laugh.
"Uh. The internet." He looks at me, hoping that I agree.
"Oh, well, that's a good point. But I don't think he's any relation."
"That's good," he says, the topic apparently resolved.
"Yeah," I agree, coloring the rest of Big Bird. I'm so incredibly in love with my son in this moment. The times I see the true Ben come out, and he's totally himself, are breathtaking.
When the kids are asleep, I take my time before getting into bed. I gaze past myself in the mirror, removing eyeliner with a makeup wipe and closing my eyes against the intrusive heat I feel between my legs at the thought of him. I push the thought away and undress, pulling on a T-shirt and clean underwear. In bed, Collin is on his laptop, but he closes it when I sit down.
"Hey. Everything okay with work?" I ask, knowing the answer.
"Eh. It will be. Sorry I got busy there." He puts his readers away and shakes his head.
"The hospital project?" I feel obliged to ask.
"Can you imagine having a spinal fusion and a goddamn train full of Amazon Prime packages paralyzes you? It's unfathomable." He says this like I'm hearing this for the first time. I smile at him.
"Sorry," he says, holding his hands up in surrender. "No work talk in the bedroom. I promised."
"It's okay." I pull the down comforter over my legs and rub lotion into my hands and up my arms.
"No. It's a sanctuary. Who said that? Someone wise, I think." He always pokes fun at me and my insistence that no TV, work or arguing belong in the bedroom. He pulls me over to him and kisses me. So comfortable, so innocent. I breathe into that familiar, faded scent of Dolce & Gabbana left on his neck, the feel of his sharp whiskers, grown out from this morning's shave, sandy against my skin, and I want to cry.
All I see are threads of memory strung together from the other night. The ride home I should have refused, a benign acquaintance turned more, his mouth on mine, the keys unlocking his door, every time I said yes, never trying to stop it. I can't bear it. As tears run down the sides of my face, I push them away quickly before they fall on Collin's bare skin. Sweet Collin, kissing down my neck, his discarded reading glasses about to tip off the side of the nightstand in front of a photo of Ben and Rachel.
What have I done to us?
I CAN PINPOINT THE DAY that set everything in motion. Gillian Baker, one block over, holds a book club at her house once a week. Reluctantly, and at her insistence, I finally decided to join. I squeezed a cylinder of cookie dough out of its plastic tube, cut it into disks and put a tray of the artificial-tasting dough in the oven so I had something to bring and pass off as my own. Collin thought the book club idea was great and might inspire me. I told him it's just a kid-free night for the neighborhood wives so they can drink wine and make vapid, uninformed comments on great literature, but he still thought I would be in my element and should give it a try.
I was going to be a scholar once upon a time, but I dropped out of my master's program when we learned about Bennett's condition. I wasn't forced to stay home, but we decided it made sense. It was for the best, and even better than a degree, because I could write books from home and still pursue that dream. What a gift! All the time in the world to write the great American novel. Except I haven't written any books, have I? What the hell do I really have to say anyway? Life has gone out of its way to ignore me in many regards. Shelby Fitch two doors down was in the peace corps in freaking Guatemala for two years before she married into this neighborhood. She should write the book.
What will my topics be? "Mom cleans up kid's barf during car pool."
"Mom waits half a day for dishwasher repair guy, and guess what? He never shows."
"Mom tries a Peppa Pig cake recipe from Pinterest, but it looks like deranged farm swine with a phallic nose and makes son cry." I have nothing to say. The other day I thought I'd get serious again and try to really sit and brainstorm some ideas. I ended up watching videos of people getting hurt on backyard trampolines and a solid hour of baby goats jumping around in onesies. So, I guess maybe at least getting my mind back into the literary world can't hurt.
At my dressing table, I pulled my hair back and slipped on some dangly earrings. It was my first time out of yoga pants that week, and it felt nice. I applied lip gloss and pressed my lips together; I could hear the chaos begin in the background. The oven was beeping nonstop, beckoning Collin to take out the premade dinner he'd been heating up for the kids, but he was arguing with Ben about a video game he refused to turn off. He still had to make a plate for Claire and help the kids with homework after dinner, and Ralph, our elderly basset hound, was barking excessively at something outside, raising the tension in the room. I felt guilty leaving, but when I appeared in the front hall in a sundress, Collin lit up and gave me a kiss, telling me he had it under control. I knew he ultimately did. It's not rocket science, it's just exhausting and emotionally bloodsucking, and he'd already had a twelve-hour day of anxiety at work.
I kissed the top of Ben's head and said goodbye to Rachel, who was paying no attention, and then I walked out the front door. I carried the plate of cookies and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye as I walked across the street. They were trying too hard, trying to be literary. Why not just choose Fifty Shades or a cozy mystery? When Rachel had to read this book for English, she called it a turd with covers. I, on the other hand, spent hours making meticulous notes so I could be sure to make comments that were sharp and poignant. I rehearse them in my head as I walk.
I was the last to arrive; there were a few other moms from the block already there. We all did the obligatory cheek kisses. Gillian's living room looked like she was hosting a dinner party rather than a book club. Chardonnay was chilling in ice on the kitchen island next to a spread of food that could have come from a Vegas buffet. I wished I could hide my pathetic tube cookies.
"Wow, Gill. Did you do all this?" I asked, impressed.
"Oh, hell no. Are you kidding? It's catered, silly."
I can't believe she's had her book club catered. Everyone has wine and something fancy on a toothpick in their hands. She put my sad cookies next to the beautiful chiffon cake on the island, and I was mortified. There was cling wrap over them for God's sake—on a Spider-Man paper plate left over from Ben's last birthday. Kill me.
She poured me a glass, pretending not to think anything of my trashy offering, and I walked carefully over her white rug as we made our way into the sitting room. Of course she has a "sitting room." It's a bright space in the front of the house with vaulted ceilings and a blingy chandelier. We all perched on the edges of pale furniture. I never did quite know how to feel about these women. They've welcomed me so warmly, but they sometimes seem like a foreign species to me. Yes, I live in this neighborhood too, but it's because of Collin's success, not anything I've done. I guess they can probably say the same. I still feel sort of like an imposter. I don't lean into it the way they seem to.
I didn't intend to stay home, of course, but I still feel like I was destined for a career, never dependent on anyone else. It's not that I feel dependent on Collin. That's not the right word. What we have is ours. The way I contribute is something he could never handle, but I guess I don't take it for granted the way they seem to. Gillian was constantly remodeling her house and upgrading things that you'd think it impossible to upgrade. She had a stunning outdoor kitchen next to a pool that appears damn near Olympic-sized. It was even highlighted in the local home tour magazine. One day she gutted the whole thing because she wanted the pool to be teardrop-shaped instead. And here I am using Groupons for my facials.
Even that sounds indulgent. Facials. I grew up in a double-wide trailer in Lafayette with a mother who worked the night shift at the hospital and an alcoholic father who spent his days quiet and glassy-eyed on the front porch, staring at some invisible thing, lost in another time. It will never feel right to buy five-hundred-dollar shoes or drive a luxury car, although I'd never want to lose the safety of it and I'm grateful my children will never have to struggle the way I did. This comfort is for them. This safety is for them. That's the bottom line, so I brushed away the negative thoughts.
Tammy commented on Gillian's bracelet. She held Gillian's wrist, examining it. Everyone oohed and aahed as Gillian explained that it was an early birthday gift from Robert and she had to get it insured. I have never understood charm bracelets. An ugly soccer ball hangs off of her silver chain, but I made my face look delighted along with the others. After we settled in, I assumed the small talk was over and we'd dig into a great piece of literature. Kid-free, wine-lubricated, I was ready.
"Oh my God, you guys, did you see Bethany Burena at Leah's wedding?" Karen asked. There was mocking laughter. I'd been at that wedding, but I didn't know what they were referring to, so I stayed quiet. Liz chimed in.
"God, it looked like someone stuffed a couple honey-baked hams into the back of her dress."
"And the worst part is she did that on purpose," Tammy said, placing her glass of wine on an end table so she could use her hands to talk. "That ain't too much buttercream, y'all!" Then she held her hands to her mouth and pretended to whisper sideways. "Although did you see her shoveling it in at the cake table?"
"She had those babies implanted," Karen agreed.
"No!" Gillian gasped.
"Yep. Ass implants. Ass-plants." Everyone roared with laughter. I forced a chuckle so I didn't stand out. I hated these people, I realized right in that moment. I longed to leave. I could fake a headache, or check in at home and say there's a problem with Ben, I thought. Why didn't I? Why do I need their approval? Karen kept the gossip going.
"That's not as bad as Alice. She brought the guy who cleans her pool to the wedding!"
"What do you mean?" Liz asked.
"As a date."
"Scandal much?" Tammy was delighted she had everyone in hysterics.
"Alice Berg?" I asked, not understanding the social sin she'd committed. "Isn't she single—like, divorced, I thought."
"Yeah, but she brought The. Pool. Guy. Sad."
"So sad," Karen echoed.
"Desperate," Liz added. She noticed the book in my hands. "What's that?"
"What do you mean? It's the book," I said with a lighthearted scoff.
"Oh, Mel. I'm so sorry I didn't mention it. I guess I thought everyone just sort of got it—especially since the book was something so random," Gillian said.
"We don't, like, read it. We just need an excuse to get rid of the kids and hubbies for one night. I think we deserve at least that?" she said, glancing around for allies.
"Damn right we do." Liz held her wine up and gulped it down, a sort of toast to herself. "You didn't read it, did you?" I didn't answer. I felt like an idiot. I was joking when I said it was an excuse to drink and have a night away. I was at least half joking. I thought that I may have found a few kindred spirits, perhaps—that they were at least making a half-assed attempt at self-betterment.
"I just skimmed it," I said.
- On Sale
- Aug 10, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Book Group