The Last Widow - Karin Slaughter Page 0,1
Michelle told her daughter, “I’ll handle the boss. Just lip gloss, though. Nothing else. Pick the one that makes you happy.”
And it did make her happy. So happy that Michelle felt herself smiling at the woman in the checkout line, who surely understood that the glittery tube of candy pink Sassafras Yo Ass! was not for the thirty-nine-year-old woman in running shorts with her sweaty hair scooped into a baseball cap.
“This—” Ashley was so gleeful she could barely speak. “This is so great, Mom. I love you so much, and I’ll be responsible. So responsible.”
Michelle’s smile must have shown the early stages of rigor mortis as she started to load up their purchases into cloth bags.
The iPhone. She had to make it about the iPhone, because they had agreed about that, too, but then all of Ashley’s friends had shown up at summer camp with one and the No absolutely not had turned into I couldn’t let her be the only kid without one while Michelle was away at a conference.
Ashley happily scooped up the bags and headed for the exit. Her iPhone was already out. Her thumb slid across the screen as she alerted her friends to the lip gloss, likely predicting that in a week’s time, she’d be sporting blue eyeshadow and doing that curve thing at the edges of her eyes that made girls look like cats.
Michelle felt herself start to catastrophize.
Ashley could get conjunctivitis or sties or blepharitis from sharing eye make-up. Herpes simplex virus or hep C from lip gloss and lip liner, not to mention she could scratch her cornea with a mascara wand. Didn’t some lipsticks contain heavy metals and lead? Staph, strep, E. coli. What the hell had Michelle been thinking? She could be poisoning her own daughter. There were hundreds of thousands of proven studies about surface contaminants as opposed to the relative handfuls positing the indirect correlation between brain tumors and cell phones.
Up ahead, Ashley laughed. Her friends were texting back. She swung the bags wildly as she crossed the parking lot. She was eleven, not twelve, and twelve was still terribly young, wasn’t it? Because make-up sent a signal. It telegraphed an interest in being interested in, which was a horribly non-feminist thing to say but this was the real world and her daughter was still a baby who knew nothing about rebuffing unwanted attention.
Michelle silently shook her head. Such a slippery slope. From lip gloss to MRSA to Phyllis Schlafly. She had to lock down her wild thoughts so that by the time she got home, she could present a reasoned explanation for buying Ashley make-up when they had made a solemn, parental vow not to.
As they had with the iPhone.
She reached into her purse to find her keys. It was dark outside. The overhead lights weren’t enough, or maybe she needed her glasses because she was getting old—was already old enough to have a daughter who wanted to send signals to boys. She could be a grandmother in a few years’ time. The thought made her stomach somersault into a vat of anxiety. Why hadn’t she bought wine?
She glanced up to make sure Ashley hadn’t bumped into a car or fallen off a cliff while she was texting.
Michelle felt her mouth drop open.
A van slid to a stop beside her daughter.
The side door rolled open.
A man jumped out.
Michelle gripped her keys. She bolted into a full-out run, cutting the distance between herself and her daughter.
She started to scream, but it was too late.
Ashley had run off, just like they had taught her to do.
Which was fine, because the man did not want Ashley.
He wanted Michelle.
ONE MONTH LATER
Sunday, August 4, 2019
Sunday, August 4, 1:37 p.m.
Sara Linton leaned back in her chair, mumbling a soft, “Yes, Mama.” She wondered if there would ever come a point in time when she was too old to be taken over her mother’s knee.
“Don’t give me that placating tone.” The miasma of Cathy’s anger hung above the kitchen table as she angrily snapped a pile of green beans over a newspaper. “You’re not like your sister. You don’t flit around. There was Steve in high school, then Mason for reasons I still can’t comprehend, then Jeffrey.” She glanced up over her glasses. “If you’ve settled on Will, then settle on him.”
Sara waited for her Aunt Bella to fill in a few missing men, but Bella just played with the string of pearls around her neck as she sipped her iced tea.
Cathy continued, “Your