She opened the French doors that led to the sunroom. It was her favorite spot in the house. She could sit in the wicker chair by the corner and look out the large windows across their deck into the backyard. She liked to watch the sun set in the afternoon sky as it scraped the edges of the trees and glistened on the small pond off their backyard.
Sunroom. Massive deck. Full play set. Pond in the backyard. Thirty-two hundred square feet and this was the house they had been "reduced" to after the trial. Four bedrooms, three and a half baths, partially finished basement, and purchased for $770,000. That was downsizing by their standards. The house they'd been forced to leave after the settlement had sold for $1.5 million. All but two hundred thousand of that had sifted through their fingers like sand. They had put 20 percent down on this purchase. After all was said and done, they had fourteen thousand dollars left in their checking account. It was the smallest amount of money they'd had since she was twenty-five years old. Most people would kill her for the incredibly small violin she played.
She sat down and sipped the tea. As usual, Sarah was precariously climbing along the top of the play set as Ruth and Elijah pushed Sadie on the swing. When Eli started squawking like a goose, Sadie asked for help down. Ruth lowered her. Sarah swung down like Tarzan and they started running around the backyard flapping their arms.
Andrea watched them a few minutes longer, which was just enough time for her to get angry again. She struggled to lift herself out of the chair. She opened the sliding door that led to the deck and shouted, "Eli, stop picking up the goose doody and throwing it at your sisters!"
They giggled and chanted, "Goose doody!"
Andrea sat back down. She sipped her tea.
She closed her eyes.
She was back at the crime scene.
Everything was locked in place, including an image of her holding Sadie, but a second image of her was able to walk in and around the frozen figures. She pictured the blood spatter on the front of the pump and the position of the body and the gas nozzle. She pictured the wet stain on the ground and on the victim's pants. She had gotten a clean-enough look at his face to recognize him as the youngest worker at the station. In his early twenties, and painfully shy. He didn't speak English well. She thought the obvious: robbery. Her second thought was just as obvious: hate crime.
In her mind, the blood spatter that had hit the top of the gas pump freeze-framed. Some of it sprayed behind to the other side of the island. Close range and at a sharp upward angle. She looked at the strikes on the building behind the island. Elevated, not as steeply angled.
She walked past the small cashier stand, noting its unremarkable details. Register: closed. Can of Pepsi: opened. A battered iPhone: facedown. A ratty cushion on the stool that looked about as comfortable as simply using the stool as an enema. The bullet strikes were wildly scattered, but every bullet had hit above the height of the doors.
She took a step back and surveyed the scene.
Then she opened her eyes and sipped her tea. She thought about Morana. It had been months since she'd done that. There was nothing about this situation that should have linked the two together, except for the fact that this was the first time Andrea had felt alive since Morana.
Annoyed with herself, she got up and rinsed her mug out. She opened the JennAir stainless steel refrigerator and took out a box of Thick & Fluffy Eggos. She put four of them in the toaster oven. Anticipating the inevitable whining over who wanted what, she took out butter, peanut butter, cream cheese, jelly, and syrup. She grabbed from the fridge a Tupperware container filled with green grapes. Not the purple ones because Sadie hated those. And no seeds either, because Ruth hated those. And forget about Eli and Sarah, because they hated fruit no matter what form it came in, unless it was a maraschino cherry nestled on a bed of whipped cream.
She wondered if she should offer to help the police. What would Jeff say? He wouldn't want her getting involved. Morana had almost ended their relationship. It was a torrid affair that, for fourteen months, had ruined his life and ignited hers.
Andrea missed that excitement, that insanity. She craved that kind of relationship again, as twisted as it had been. Intellectual, thought-provoking, alluring, and dangerous. Where would she be now if she hadn't gotten pregnant with Ruth? How many other Moranas might be in prison if she hadn't chosen to keep the baby over her career?
It was unlikely anyone in the West Windsor Police Department had ever investigated a homicide. She'd had more experience by the time she'd turned twenty-three than all of them combined had now.
Her cell phone rang. Not even seven thirty in the morning.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book That Summer by Jennifer Weiner.