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Authors: Jodi Picoult,Jennifer Finney Boylan

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BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
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All at once it’s like Asher has left the room, totally withdrawn somewhere inside himself.

“Fuck,” he mutters.

“Ash?” I say, and I move closer to him. “Hey.”

But he just sits there bent over, his head buried in his folded arms.

“Fuck,” he says again, even more quietly.

I slide an arm around him. Asher’s head falls on my shoulder. He’s breathing hard, like he’s run a mile.

For a while we just sit like that. Then he lifts his head, his eyes wet. “What if I’m like him?” he asks.

“You’re not, Asher,” I say. “Look at me. You’re not.”

He shakes his head. “But I could be.” His voice is really quiet, but
there’s an intensity I’ve never heard before. “There are times I am so fucking angry.”

I think of how tender he is with me. Of his slow-motion movements with the bees. How he’s always the first to smile, to tease, to interrupt two teammates who are about to come to blows.

But then I also remember that time we had breakfast with his dad, and how cruel Asher was to me in the car afterward, when we were driving home. How I saw something in him that day that scared me.

“Asher,” I tell him. “You’re the one who gets to decide who you’re going to be. You don’t have to be like your father.”

He tilts his head, looking at me. “You’re so…fierce.” He reaches for my wrist, his hand skating lightly over my scars. “You’re the bravest person I know.”

“I’m not brave,” I tell him.

“You’re brave enough to tell the truth,” he says.

Now it’s my turn to feel ashamed.

“What?” he asks. “Is this the thing about your father?”

“He’s not actually dead,” I confess. “I barely knew you at all when I told you that.”

“You mean I didn’t know
you
.”

“He’s not dead,” I continue. “But I wish he was.” I pull my hands away from Asher and fold them across my middle. “My mom and I left him when I was eleven. We drove off in the middle of the night. To get away from him.”

“Did he—hurt your mom?”

“No,” I tell him. “He hurt me.”

“See, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Asher says. “That someday—I could hurt you, too.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I’ve
already
hurt you,” says Asher, and we both remember that day in the car.
You don’t know everything, Lily,
he’d snarled.
There’s some shit that’s so dark you can’t possibly imagine it, ever!

“That was an accident,” I reply. “You didn’t mean to.”

He looks haunted. “
That,
” he murmurs, “is what I remember about my father, when I was little. It’s what my mother used to say to him.”

I take his hand and squeeze it,
hard
. “You’re the most gentle boy I’ve ever known.” I lean forward and kiss him. I fall into him, until the only air I’m breathing is what he’s giving me.

“If you wanted”—he says softly—“I could be gentle—some more.”

He starts to unbutton my shirt. The whole time he’s looking me in the eye, like we are the only two people in the world. Up here in the tree house, it’s easy to believe this is true.

I remember how on Sunday it made me sad that I’d never get to be in the tree house again until spring—but here we are, and the warm spell continues.

My shirt flutters onto the floor.

Asher watches it fall, then he looks up at the rafters. “Wait,” he says, and then he goes over to the side of the tree house where the hammock is, and opens a wooden box that lies beside a pile of board games. He roots around in the box, and when he comes back to me, he is holding a knife.

For a second my heart stops. My wrists throb.

“Lily,” he says, handing me the blade. “Carve your initials.”

I clear my throat. “You know…they don’t call it a Swiss Army knife…in Switzerland.”

I go over to the rafter where Asher’s initials are carved, and chip by chip cut out my own. It takes longer than I thought it would. But he waits, patient, this tortured boy who thinks he has a hurricane brewing under his skin.

When I’m finally finished, Asher traps me in the circle of his arms. The knife drops out of my hand and lands on the floor with a clunk.

“So where
does
the name come from?” he asks.

“It was American”—Asher kisses me—“soldiers who”—he kisses me again—“couldn’t pronounce”—and again. This one goes on and on—“
Offiziersmesser
”—and on—“which is the German word for—”

I never do finish that sentence.

When Asher is braced above me, when his hips are flush to mine, I wish I could make him understand that there’s nothing inside him I would not welcome inside me. How even if there are broken parts of him and broken parts of me, together we still make a whole.

After, we lie on the blanket, keeping each other warm. We’ve accidentally scattered the bones from our meal. My bra is hanging off the ship’s wheel. “Happy Fieldsgiving, Lily,” Asher says, stroking my hair away from my face. He nuzzles that space between my jaw and my shoulder. “Mine,” he murmurs.

Being known,
I think. This
is what I am thankful for
.

OLIVIA
3

DECEMBER 13, 2018

Six days after

In my nightmare, I am hiding.

I can taste my own heartbeat, even as I tell myself that staying overnight at my parents’ house was the right thing. I’d come to take care of the bees, but heavy rainstorms blew in, and I couldn’t risk my toddler’s safety by driving home. There were news reports of cars hydroplaning on highways, of fatal accidents. But now that we are back in Massachusetts, Braden thinks this is just a flimsy excuse. He hammers at the door I’ve locked between us.
You were leaving me,
he says.

I wouldn’t,
I tell him.
Ever.

That’s funny. Because I’m pretty damn sure you weren’t here last night.

He keeps banging, and I sit down on the edge of our bed. Is he right? On some subconscious level is that why I’d stayed the extra night? Because I knew coming home would be like this?

Bang bang bang bang
.

Did you see him?

I have no idea who he is talking about. My father has been dead for years.

Did you let him touch you, you slut?

Did he take
my son
on a tour of the fucking police station?

This is about Mike? We haven’t seen him for months. I haven’t thought about him or talked about him.

Braden,
I say evenly,
all I did was check the bees.

There is another heavy knock, like he’s fallen against the door.
You’re killing me, Liv. You know that, right? You’d probably love it if I died. You’d be free.

Shivering, I turn the knob. I open my arms to him.

When you’re gone, all I can think about is that you’re not coming back,
Braden says.
If I didn’t love you so much,
I wouldn’t be so crazy
.

We sit on the bed, me holding him, even though my heart is still racing and my mouth is dry. Yet even with Braden on this side of the door, the hammering hasn’t stopped.


I ROLL OVER
in bed, drenched in sweat, blinking into the darkness. Someone is still pounding downstairs. I glance at my phone: 12:24 
a.m
.

I pull on a sweatshirt and flannel pants and hurry to the front door. When I open it, Mike is standing there, along with two uniformed officers—one male and one female. It has been only hours since we left the station. Instinctively, I think:
When the police come to your door in the middle of the night, it is never good news
.

“I have a warrant for Asher’s arrest,” Mike says quietly.

As if he has been summoned, I hear Asher’s voice behind me. “Mom?”

He is wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants; his hair is sticking up. He looks like he is tangled in the net of a dream. I put my body between the stairs and the detective.

Mike moves past me. The other two officers are pulled in his wake. I try to make eye contact with the female officer, hoping to see a glimmer of sympathy, but she is already at Asher’s side.

“Asher Fields,” Mike says, “you are under arrest for the murder of Lily Campanello. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney—”

An attorney. Jordan is on his way, on the first flight he could get out of Dublin. He would know what to do, but he isn’t here, and won’t be until morning.

Mike keeps reciting Asher’s rights. “Mom?” Asher says, his voice quivering.

“Mike, this is a mistake—”

“Please turn around and put your hands behind your back,” Mike continues, talking over me as if I haven’t spoken.

“There has to be a better way. I’ll bring him in later. I’ll—”

The female officer firmly pivots Asher. The male officer, more roughly, jerks his wrists into handcuffs.

“We also have a warrant to seize and search the contents of your cellphone and computer,” Mike says. “Where are they?”

“In my room,” Asher says quietly, and the female officer climbs the stairs.

I push forward. “Why do you need them?”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Asher says. “I have nothing to hide.”

“This is a mistake,” I repeat.

Finally, Mike turns to me and meets my gaze. “This is routine, Liv. Nothing unusual. We’d be remiss if we didn’t secure the electronics.”

The female officer clatters down the stairs, holding Asher’s phone and laptop and a pair of sneakers. She tosses them onto the floor in front of Asher.

But he is handcuffed.

I kneel down in front of him, slipping one shoe on at a time, tying the laces. The last time I did this, he was five.

“Let’s go,” Mike says.

With one uniformed officer on either side of my son, they follow Mike out the front door. Asher doesn’t have a coat; he is in short sleeves; he will freeze. “Wait,” I say, but then realize a jacket is the least of the problems. “Where are you taking him?”

I follow them outside and watch them open the rear door of the police car and duck Asher into the seat. He perches awkwardly, his hands still caught behind his back, his face close to the cage that separates him from the front of the squad car.
You definitely want to be up front,
I think, hearing Mike’s voice from a lifetime ago.

I turn to him, standing on the driveway beside his unmarked car. “I’ll just grab my keys.”

“Go back inside, Liv,” Mike says gently. “He’s going to the station. You can’t come.” He hesitates. “Don’t make this worse than it already is.”

Don’t let him see you cry,
I think.

I haven’t thought that for a long time. I can barely force a reply through my throat. “What do I do?”

Mike’s gaze is soft. “Your attorney will know,” he answers.

I watch the police car until I cannot see the taillights, like the crimson blink of the creature you once thought lived under the bed or in the closet, the thing that scared you most.


I TRY TO
call Jordan, but of course, he’s on a plane and not answering. It takes me ten minutes to realize that I am going to ignore Mike, and another ten to get to the police station. Even though it is the middle of the night, there is a desk sergeant behind the Plexiglas, who looks at me with a bored expression.

“My son was brought in here. Asher Fields. He was arrested.” The words dissolve on my tongue, bitter as almonds. “I would like to see him.”

“Well, you can’t.”

“I’m his mother.”

“And he’s legally an adult,” the sergeant says. Something in my expression must dig at him, though, because he offers me a crumb of information. “Look. He’s getting booked. Fingerprints, photograph, searched, pockets emptied. He’ll be in a cell for the night. You can see him first thing in the morning—”

I glance at my watch; six hours till sunrise…

“—in superior court,” the sergeant finishes.

In a daze I drive back home. I put on a kettle to make coffee, because there’s no way I’m going to get any sleep. But while the water is heating, I find myself wandering into Asher’s room.

The sheets are mussed and musky with sleep. A bag of pretzels
sits on his nightstand, half-empty. The charger of his cellphone curls shyly under the bed. On his desk is a stack of textbooks and the empty space where his laptop usually rests. There’s a plastic laundry basket of neatly folded clothes that he has been living out of, instead of bothering to put them away into his dresser.

I sit on the bed and turn on the lamp on the nightstand. Then I pick up the pillow. It smells like Asher.

I have a brief, panicked thought that he might not ever be in this room again.

On the heels of that thought, I wonder if Ava Campanello is sitting in her daughter’s bedroom, thinking the same thing. And how much worse it would be to live with the reality of that, instead of simply the possibility.

I quickly place the pillow back against its mate.

I should call Braden,
I think. He deserves to know what is happening.

But at the same time, Braden and I do not speak for good reason. I have spent twelve years excising him cleanly from my life and Asher’s.

To call Braden is to invite him to take control again, and I don’t know if I could survive that.

Maybe I won’t need to tell Braden anything. Maybe this will be over and done with in a day, a misunderstanding realized, and we will all get back to our lives.

My gaze catches on the wall directly across from the bed.

There is a framed, signed Bobby Orr photo I got Asher for his birthday when he was fourteen, and a sketch he did once of my old Ford truck. Between them is a hole in the sheetrock.

Asher put it there about a month and a half ago. He’d been in a foul temper, snarling like a bear with a thorn in his paw. I had heard the noise and had run upstairs to find him, red-faced and chagrined, holding his fist. I looked from the smashed wall to my normally stoic son, my mind tamping down the dormant memories of Braden.
Well,
I said,
I hope whatever’s pissed you off is worth what you’re going to spend on repairing that
. He swore he’d plaster it up and repaint. I assumed
it had something to do with hockey—not making the starting line, or disagreeing with a ref’s call.

But now, thinking of the timing, I realize that maybe it happened when he and Lily had a fight. When she stopped answering his calls and his texts.

But they had made up.

Hadn’t they?

I spend the rest of the night sitting on Asher’s bed, waiting for the sun to rise just so I can be sure it will.


IT TAKES A
lot of work to make honey. Nectar collected by bees is a runny liquid that has to be processed by worker bees, swallowed, spit up, and swallowed some more. Each time the liquid is exposed to the air, it dries a little bit, until the water content is approximately twenty percent. Meanwhile, bees fan their wings over the comb, an HVAC system to dry it even more.

It takes an equal amount of work to
harvest
honey. The bees aren’t happy about it—you’re taking away the fruits of their labors, after all—so you have to be smart about the process. For this reason, Asher always helps me during the two honey harvests. This past September, so did Lily.

“How do you know it’s ready?” she asked, watching as I blew a stream of smoke over the top of the super, and used my hive tool— a tiny crowbar—to unstick one side of a frame. Beekeeping is gooey, and as if the honey and nectar aren’t bad enough, bees also make propolis, which stretches like taffy when it’s hot and acts like superglue when it dries. I repeated this on the other side of the frame and slid the wood out, holding the rectangle of comb between my thumb and forefinger as bees rippled over it. “If it’s ripe, the cells are capped with wax. If you see a lot of liquid, it’s not time yet.”

I don’t use gloves when I work—most beekeepers don’t, because if you move slowly and gently, the bees generally ignore you. Except, of course, when you’re literally stealing their honey, and then they get pissy. This is the only time of the season when I actually wear a
complete bee suit. Mine was a set of white coveralls. Asher, too, was fully suited up in heavy white canvas, with a netted hood zipped into the neck of the jacket. Lily smiled at him. “You look like you’re going to the moon.”

“Is that sexy?” he asked, grinning.

Lily’s eyes lit. “Wait,” she said. “Please tell me your mother told you about the birds and the bees by describing actual bees.”

I raised a brow. “Please tell me he doesn’t need a refresher course.”

She laughed. “Birds, bees. It’s so…coded.”

“Science is less messy than emotion,” I mused. I met Asher’s eye. “You ready?”

You have to move quickly when you harvest—bees will swarm the combs you remove. Asher removed the cover from an empty hive box about twenty feet away, then came back to me. I pulled out the first frame at the edge of the box—when making honey, bees tend to work from the outside in, as opposed to how they raise brood, which is from the center outward. The frame was gorgeous—heavy, ripe with a uniform capping of comb.

Asher held the frame in a pair of pincers that looked like miniature antique ice tongs, and we each went to work clearing the frame of bees. There are ways to do it with chemicals, or even a leaf blower, but I prefer to take a bee brush and gently push off the workers, who fall into the box. The bees, who had been calmly buzzing, began to growl—a different, angrier pitch. They whipped around us in a frenzy, landing on my veil and sleeves, a cyclone of indignation. While Asher carried that frame to the waiting hive box, quickly setting it inside and covering it, I pulled the next frame. We’d do this until all the honey-filled frames in this super had been removed to the extra box, and hope that the bees didn’t follow us back to the barn, where we did the extraction.

Many McAfees ago, the barn had been used for livestock, but now it just housed an old tractor. The rest of the cool, dark area was filled with the tools of my trade. I had two workbenches, one of which I’d covered with butcher paper; a plugged-in electric hot knife sat heating on top of it, as well as a honey fork. The second bench was lower, and Asher set the heavy hive box on it. There was a big plastic
tub with a grate set in the bottom and a valve where material could be drawn off. And of course, there was an extractor, a barrel-shaped machine that removed the honey by centrifugal force.

BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
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