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Authors: Jodi Picoult,Jennifer Finney Boylan

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BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
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It all happens so quickly. The deputy steps forward and grasps Asher’s arm, drawing him away from the defense table. Asher seems to realize at the same time I do that he is not leaving with us. “Uncle Jordan?” he says, his voice shaking. “
Mom?

“Let’s go,” the deputy says as Asher struggles. Jordan tries to speak over this. “I’ll see you in jail, Asher,” he vows as Asher is dragged out of the courtroom. “I can’t come through the same door as you, but I will be there as soon as possible.”

But Asher is not paying attention to him. His eyes are locked on mine with a look that I can’t place, but that I’ve seen before. Like he is both haunted by these accusations and hurt by the fact that someone could think so poorly of him.

“I didn’t do it!” he explodes. “Mom, I didn’t do it. I
loved
her.”

It isn’t until he is gone that I discover tears are streaming down my cheeks, and that Jordan is by my side. And it isn’t until we leave the courtroom that I remember where I’ve seen that expression on Asher’s face before.

On his father.


AS SOON AS
Braden actually started making money as an attending, he wanted to spend it. I couldn’t fault him—being a resident had not been lucrative—but I also recognized that he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. He wanted to buy a house in tony Concord, Massachusetts—I convinced him not to by saying that I wasn’t sure I liked the school district, and we settled in Natick instead. He surfed the internet for luxury vacations; I said I couldn’t leave the bees. So I wasn’t surprised when one day, he drove up to our home in a new Audi.

It was deep forest green, with tan leather seats. It had a sunroof. He showed me this, encouraging me to try out the button on my own. He radiated excitement. Surely, I told myself, we could handle
this expense if it made Braden so happy. When he was happy, I could be, too.

His delight lasted exactly six days. On the seventh, he left for work as usual. I was washing dishes in the sink, watching the rain strike the window. A moment later Braden was back, fuming. “There’s six inches of water on the floor of the Audi.”

“What? How?”

“That’s what happens when you leave the sunroof open and it pours all night.”

“You didn’t pull it into the garage?”

Braden stared at me, as if he were shocked that I’d place the blame at his feet. “No,” he said tightly. “I did not.”

“Will insurance cover the damage?” I asked gently.

He grabbed the sponge from my hand and hurled it at the window behind me. “You idiot,” he yelled. “
You
ruined the car.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t even form a reply.

“But I—I didn’t drive the car,” I managed.

“You came home from grocery shopping and left it in the driveway. Or are you too fucking stupid to remember?”

I rubbed my damp hand across my forehead. I had gone grocery shopping, but that was two days ago, wasn’t it? And I was positive that I’d pulled the car inside the townhouse garage instead of leaving it in the driveway, because there were pine trees and I didn’t want any sap to drip on the hood. But had I just
imagined
I’d done that? Had I gotten sidetracked, and forgotten?

Maybe Braden was right, and this was all my fault.

Reluctantly, I made myself look him in the eye. “I…got distracted,” I said, swallowing. “It was an accident. I’m sorry.”

His eyes were stains of spilled ink. His hands framed my shoulders. For a moment—a blessed, hopeful moment—I thought he would forgive me. “Sorry isn’t going to undo this,” Braden said, and he threw me against the wall.


I CAN’T FIND
my voice until we clear the double doors of the courtroom. “A million dollars?” I choke out.

Jordan, who is holding on to my arm, squeezes. “We will figure this out,” he says calmly.

We turn a corner and are suddenly surrounded by reporters.
A swarm of bees,
I think.
A shiver of sharks. A bask of crocodiles
.

A tenacity of reporters.

Their questions are a tangle of sentences that trip me. Jordan steps forward. “Our thoughts go out to poor Lily and her family,” he says gravely. “That said, Asher Fields has done nothing wrong, and we intend to show that his arrest was a misguided attempt to pin blame on an innocent person. It is understandable that when someone as young as Lily passes, the need for answers is overwhelming—but to ruin another teenage life in the process is inexcusable.”

He unerringly steers me into the parking lot. This time, he holds out his hand for the keys and gets in the driver’s seat. He drives down the divided highway for about four hundred yards before turning and parking in a cul-de-sac. “You okay?” he asks, and I nod. “Good. Then tell me what the fuck this case is about.”

“I don’t know,” I say, feeling my throat coat with tears again. “I don’t get it. I was with Asher when the police questioned him. He wasn’t a suspect—he was just there to help them figure out what had happened to Lily. He
wanted
to talk to them.”

“He was questioned once?”

“Twice,” I correct. “After he found Lily…he was asked to give a statement. The second time was after her funeral. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Jordan,” I say. “And now he’s being blamed for it.”

Jordan considers this for a moment. “Prosecutors don’t charge first-degree murder unless there’s a reason.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“In New Hampshire, you’re guilty of first-degree murder if you purposely cause someone else’s death. If that act was done deliberately, with premeditation.”

“He went over to Lily’s house to get her to talk to him, because they had a fight.” When Jordan’s brows rise, I shake my head. “To
talk,
” I repeat. “He wasn’t planning to kill her.”

“That’s not what premeditation is. It could be a half a second. A thought that crossed his mind.”

I stiffen. “My son does not think about killing people.”

Jordan turns his attention to the wheel again and puts the car in drive. “Good. I’ll drop you off, and then go to the jail to talk to him.”

“No way. I’m coming with you.”

He turns. “Liv. If you want me to be his attorney, you have to let me be his attorney.”

“Then you have to let me be his mother, Jordan,” I plead. “You saw him. He’s scared.” Jordan drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “If something happened to Sam,” I ask, “would you tell Selena to sit on the sidelines?”

I can tell the moment he softens, because I’ve seen it before—when he babysat me and I begged him to let me stay up an extra hour; when I called him from college after totaling my car and asked him to lend me money for repairs so I didn’t have to tell our parents; when I showed up on his doorstep with a garbage bag full of clothes and a six-year-old hoping to crash for a little while. “If I’m Asher’s attorney,” Jordan says, “I listen to him. Not you. He’s my client and you aren’t. When I’m discussing the case with him or making recommendations or weighing strategies, I will listen to
him
.” He looks me directly in the eye. “If you start telling me what to do, you’re out.”

“Understood.”

“And if he ever wants to talk to me privately, Liv,” Jordan adds, “you have to leave.”

I nod. “Deal,” I say.


ASHER IS BEING
held in West Stewartstown, at the Coös County House of Corrections, but when we arrive, we are told we cannot see him. As a new inmate, he has to be processed, and he has to put our
names on a visitation list, which then has to be approved by the administration—all of which will take forty-eight hours. While Jordan argues with the correctional officer, I stand in the waiting area, watching little kids run around their mothers, waiting to visit their fathers. The CO shrugs when Jordan says this is ludicrous. “Maybe so,” he agrees, “but it’s the rules.”

The building is square and white and utilitarian, and the sounds of buzzing and locking doors set my jaw on edge. I try to picture Asher behind those doors, and I fail. Jordan has to drag me back to the car. “Two whole days before we can see him?”

“Liv, we don’t have a choice.”

“Do you know what could happen to him?”

Jordan looks at me. “Do
you
?”

I type on my phone, scrolling through pictures of metal bunk beds with thin mattresses, of tiered hallways with cells separated by doors. “Inmate found hanging in cell at Coös County Jail,” I say, holding up the screen.

“What?” Jordan turns, seriously shocked.

“A year ago.”

He rubs his hand over his face. “This is not ideal. But Asher is a smart kid. He will stay out of trouble.”

“What if it
finds
him?” I ask. I do not have to add that this has already happened, once.

“Stop letting your imagination run wild.” Jordan presses a piece of paper into my hand, one he got from the correctional officer. “If you want Asher out,
do
something.”

I read the top line.
Bail Bondsmen—NH.
Then a list of phone numbers.

When we pull up to the farmhouse, I almost expect there to be reporters on the front lawn. But it is quiet; the bitter wind jumps from tree to tree like a rumor. Jordan follows me into the house. His suitcase is sitting where he left it when he entered a few hours ago. “I’ll make myself at home,” he says, and he carries it upstairs.

I walk into the kitchen, pour myself a glass of water, and then abandon it on the counter.

In the sink is a bowl Asher used last night. There are still grains of Rice Krispies stuck to the sides. He likes it with chocolate milk from a local dairy farm. I trade them honey for it.

I touch my finger to one rice puff.

What will they feed him, in there?

Will he even be able to eat, or will his stomach be too knotted up for that?

Does he know I tried to visit? Will he think Jordan lied, about coming to see him?

Will he think that his own mother has given up on him?

I would trade my freedom for his, in a heartbeat. I would sleep on a metal bunk, starve, waste away, if it meant he could be home in my place. But the next thought crowding that is Jordan’s:
Prosecutors don’t charge first-degree murder unless there’s a reason
.

And the voice of the assistant attorney general herself:
They were in a volatile relationship. It spiraled out of control.

There are so many euphemisms for hurting someone you love.

Asher is a perfectionist—in his hockey skills, in his schoolwork, in his art.

How does he act if something isn’t perfect?

I think about the hole in his bedroom wall.

Almost desperately, I grab my phone and dial the first number on the bail bondsmen list. “Hello,” I say, “I, um, have a few questions.”

I am sure that the answers I’m getting must be wrong. Jordan walks in after I’ve hung up from the fourth call. “I took over Asher’s room,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep in Mom and Dad’s old bed, that’s just gross.” He shudders. “Obviously, I’ll move when—” His voice breaks off, seeing my face. “What?”

“I can get a million-dollar bail bond,” I tell him, “if I pay somewhere between a hundred and a hundred fifty thousand dollars. I won’t ever get the money back, no matter what—not if the case is dismissed, not if Asher’s innocent, nothing.”

Jordan rocks back on his heels, slipping his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “I could have told you that,” he says quietly.

My jaw drops. “Why
didn’t
you?”

He doesn’t answer. Instead, he asks, “What else did they say?”

“That the money needs to be personal collateral, or that I have to have someone cosign on the bond.”

Jordan nods. “That’s why I didn’t tell you.”

“I’d pay you back—”

“Liv. That’s not the issue,” he says gently. “I can’t cosign for you, because I’m defending Asher. It’s a conflict of interest. If I weren’t, I’d bail him out for you in a heartbeat.”

All my breath seizes in my chest.

“You want Asher out of jail, I get that,” Jordan continues. “You’re thinking of the short term. But if you want Asher free permanently, you have to think of the long term. That said, if you want, I will step down. We can get him a public defender and have him home for dinner.”

“No,” I manage. “No, you have to represent him.” Because I trust Jordan. Because Asher isn’t just some client. He’s his blood.

Jordan looks at me. “There’s someone else who—”

“Absolutely not,” I interrupt. I know one other person who has enough money to bail Asher out, but to do that, I’d have to tell his father that he is in jail.

I’d have to talk to Braden.

“Don’t you think you owe it to him to—”

“No,” I say flatly. “I think all my debts have been paid.”

Asher has been mine, all mine, for twelve years. Jordan made damn sure during the divorce that my lawyer would get me full custody without visitation. It turns out that getting a restraining order is enough to make someone with a reputation to uphold settle quickly and quietly. Now, Braden lives hours away with his new family. He has had nothing to do with Asher’s upbringing, with making him into the young man he has become.

In my mind, I once again picture the hole Asher punched in his wall.

I stare down at the notes I made while I was on the phone calls. I only have $17,483 in savings. If I can’t pay a bail bondsman the ludicrous fee in cash, I can use a property bond that is equal to or greater
than the bail amount. “How much do you think this house is worth?” I ask.

“You can’t.”

“It’s mine.” It was left to me, in my mother’s will. She had let it fall apart around her, because she didn’t have the money for repairs. Neither did I, till I sold off more fields, and paid for a new roof and septic system, replaced the rotting porch, and rewired the house to code.

What matters is if Asher can come home, not whether he has a home to come to. I’ll figure that part out.

“Jordan,” I say, “are you coming with me to the bank or not?”


THE MORNING AFTER
Asher’s arraignment, I walk down the long driveway to get the paper. Asher is on the front page, above the fold, of
The Berlin Sun
. He has been in the newspaper before. They cover his hockey games. Sometimes, he is pictured in action in the Sports section, with a special nod to a hat trick.

BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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