Read The Last Thing He Told Me Online
Authors: Laura Dave
“The easy part,” he says. “Getting through this.”
“What's the hard part?”
“Owen's not who you think he is,” he says.
Then Grady Bradford is gone.
I go back into the house just long enough to grab Owen's laptop.
I'm not going to sit there thinking about what Grady said, and all the things he seemed to leave out, which are bothering me more. How did he know so much about Owen? Maybe Avett wasn't the only one who they've been following closely for the last year and change. Maybe Grady's nice guy actâhelping me with Bailey's custody, offering adviceâwas so I'd slip up and tell him something Owen wouldn't want him to know.
Did I slip up? I don't think so, even as I go back through our conversation. But I'm not going to risk doing it in the future, not with Grady, or with anyone else. I'm going to figure out what's going on with Owen first.
I take a left off the docks and head toward my workshop.
I need to make a stop first though at Owen's friend's house. It's a stop that I'm not particularly eager to make, but if anyone will have insight into what Owen is thinking, into what I might be missing, it's Carl.
Carl Conrad: Owen's closest friend in Sausalito. And one of the only people on whom Owen and I disagree. Owen thinks I don't give him a fair shake, and maybe that's true. He's funny and smart and totally embraced me from the minute I arrived in Sausalito. But he also habitually cheats on his wife, Patricia, and I don't like knowing that.
Owen doesn't like knowing that either, but he says he's able to separate it out in his mind because Carl has been such a good friend to him.
This is how Owen is. He values the first friend he made in Sausalito more than he judges him. I know that's how my husband works. But maybe he hasn't been judging Carl for other reasons. Maybe Owen doesn't judge him because Carl returns the favor, by not judging a secret Owen felt safe confiding in Carl.
Even if that theory is wrong, I still need to talk to him.
Because Carl's also the only lawyer I know in town.
I knock on the front door, but no one answers. Not Carl, not Patty.
It's odd because Carl works from home. He likes to be around for his kidsâhis two young kidsâwho usually nap at this time. Carl and Patty are sticklers for their children's schedule. Patty lectured me about it during our first night out together. Patty had just celebrated her twenty-eighth birthday, which made the lecture all the more enjoyable. If I was still able to have childrenâthat was how she said itâI was going to have to be careful not to let them rule the roost. I'd have to show them who was in charge. That meant a schedule. That meant, in her case, a 12:30
nap every day.
It's 12:45. If Carl isn't home, why isn't Patty?
Except that through the living room blinds, I see that Carl is home. I see him standing there, hiding behind those blinds, waiting for me to go.
I knock on the door again, pressing hard on the doorbell. I'm going to ring the doorbell for the rest of the afternoon until he lets me in. Kids' naps be damned.
Carl swings the door open. He is holding a beer; his hair is neatly combed. Those are the first indicators that something strange is going on. His hair is usually uncombed, which he thinks makes him look
sexy. And there is something in his eyesâa strange mix of agitation and fear and something else I can't name, probably because I'm so shocked that he hid from me.
“What the hell, Carl?” I say.
“Hannah, you need to go,” Carl says.
He's angry. Why is he angry?
“I just need a minute,” I say.
“Not now, I can't talk right now,” he says.
He moves to close the door, but I hold it open. My force surprises both of us, the door escaping his grasp, opening wider.
Which is when I see Patty. She stands in the living room doorway, holding her daughter Sarah in her arms, the two of them dressed in matching paisley dressesâtheir dark hair pulled back into soft braids. The identical attire and haircut only further highlight what Patty wants people to see when they look at Sarah: an equally presentable but smaller version of herself.
Behind themâfilling up the living roomâa dozen parents and toddlers watch a clown make balloon animals. A
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAH
banner hangs above their heads.
It's their daughter's second birthday party. I had totally forgotten about it. Owen and I were supposed to be here celebrating. Now Carl isn't even opening the door.
Patty offers a confused wave. “Hey thereâ¦” she says.
I wave back. “Hi.”
Carl turns back toward me, his voice controlled but firm. “We'll talk later,” he says.
“I forgot, Carl. I'm sorry.” I shake my head. “I didn't mean to show up during her party.”
“Forget it. Just go.”
“I will butâ¦ would you just please step outside and talk to me
for a couple of minutes? I wouldn't ask but it's urgent. I think I need a lawyer. Something's happened at The Shop.”
“Do you think I don't know that?” he says.
“So why won't you talk to me then?”
Before he can answer, Patty walks toward us and hands Sarah to Carl. Then she gives her husband a kiss on the cheek. A big show. For him. For me. For the party.
“Hi,” she says, kissing me on the cheek too. “Glad you could make it.”
I keep my voice down. “Patty, I'm sorry for walking in on the party, but something's happened to Owen.”
“Carl,” Patty says, “let's get everyone out back, okay? It's time for ice cream sundaes.”
She looks to the group and flashes her smile at them.
“Everyone head out back with Carl. You too, Mr. Silly,” she says to the clown. “It's ice cream time!”
Thenâand only thenâshe turns back toward me. “Let's talk out front, yeah?” she says.
I start to tell her that Carl is really who I need to speak with, Carl who is walking away with Sarah on his hip, but Patty is pushing me onto the front porch. She closes the thick red door and I am on the wrong side of it again.
This is when, on the privacy of her porch, Patty turns back to me, eyes blazing. Smile gone.
“How dare you show up here,” she says.
“I forgot about the party.”
“Screw the party,” she says. “Owen broke Carl's heart.”
“Broke his heartâ¦ how?” I say.
“Gee, I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with him stealing all our fucking money?”
“What are you talking about?” I say.
“Owen didn't tell you that he convinced us to go in on The Shop's IPO? He sold Carl on the software's potential, sold him on the enormous returns. Failed to mention that the software was dysfunctional.”
“So all of our money is now tied up in The Shop's stock. Actually, I should say, what's left of our money is tied up in stock, which on my last check was down to thirteen cents.”
“Our money was there too. If Owen had known, why would he do that?”
“Maybe he didn't think they'd get caught. Or maybe he's a freaking moron, I can't tell you that,” she says. “But I can promise you that if you don't leave my house, right now, I'm calling the cops. I'm not kidding. You're not welcome here.”
“I understand why you're upset with Owen. I do. But Carl may be able to help me find him and that is the fastest way to get this sorted out.”
“Unless you're here to pay for our kids' college, we have nothing to say to you.”
I'm not sure what to say to her, but I know I have to say something before she walks back inside. After seeing him in person, after seeing the look in his eyes, I can't shake the feeling that Carl may know something.
“Patty, can you take a breath please?” I say. “I'm in the dark here too. Just like you.”
“Your husband aided in a half-a-billion-dollar fraud, so I'm not so sure I believe you,” she says. “But if you're telling me the truth, you're the biggest fool in the world, not seeing who your husband really is.”
It doesn't seem like the greatest time to tell her that, in terms of playing the fool, she isn't avoiding it either. Her husband has been sleeping with his coworker on and off since Patty was pregnant with the child that Mr. Silly is entertaining in the backyard. Maybe we are all fools, one way or another, when it comes to seeing the totality of the people who love usâthe people we try to love.
“Do you really expect me to believe that you didn't know what was going on?” she says.
“Why would I be here looking for answers if I did?” I say.
She tilts her head, considers. Perhaps that penetrates, or perhaps she realizes she just doesn't care. But her face softens.
“Go home to Bailey,” she says. “Just go. She's going to need you.”
She starts to walk back inside. Then she turns back.
“Oh. And when you speak to Owen? Tell him to go fuck himself.”
With that, she closes the door.
On the walk to my workshop, I move fast.
I keep my eyes down as I turn onto Litho Street and pass LeAnn Sullivan's house. I clock that she and her husband are sitting on their front porch, drinking their afternoon lemonade. But I pretend to be busy on my phone. I don't stop the way I normally would to say hello to them. To join them for a glass.
My workshop is in a small craftsman house next door to their home. It is 2,800 square feet with an enormous backyardâthe kind of space I only dreamed of having when I was in New York, the kind of space I did dream about in New York every time I had to subway out to my friend's warehouse in the Bronx to work on pieces that wouldn't fit into my workshop on Greene Street.
I start to relax as soon as I walk through the front gate, closing
it behind myself. But instead of heading inside, I circle around to the backyard and the small deck where I like to do my paperwork. I take a seat at the small table and open Owen's laptop. I push Grady Bradford out of my mind. I push out Patty's wrath. And I ignore that Carl wouldn't even look at me, let alone provide any insight. It centers me, in a way, knowing I have to figure it out myself. And I feel calmer being among my things, my work. Being in my favorite place in Sausalito. It makes it almost feel normal that I'm hacking into my husband's personal computer.
Owen's laptop powers up and I key in his first password. Nothing pops out at me as unusual. I click open his
folder, which is essentially the Bailey bible. There are hundreds of photographs of her from elementary school and junior high, photographs from each and every birthday starting with her fifth birthday in Sausalito. I've seen these all many times. Owen loved narrating the parts of their life that I'd missed: Little Bailey playing in her first soccer game, which she was terrible in; Little Bailey performing in her first school play in second grade (
), which she was amazing in.
I don't find a lot of photographs of them from when Bailey was very little, back when they were still living in Seattle, at least not in the main folder.
So I click on a small subfolder labeled
This is the folder for Olivia Michaels. Owen's first wife. Bailey's mother.
Olivia Michaels nÃ©e Olivia Nelson: high school biology teacher, synchronized swimmer, Owen's fellow Princeton alum. There are only a handful of photographs in this folder tooâOwen said Olivia hated to be photographed. But the photographs he does have of her are beautiful, probably because she was beautiful. She was tall and
lean with long red hair that ran halfway down her back and an intense dimple that made her look permanently sixteen.
We don't look exactly alikeâshe was prettier, for starters, more interesting-looking. But, if you swapped out some of the details, it would be fair to say there is a similarity between us. The height, the long hair (mine is blond to her red), maybe even something in her smile. The first time Owen showed me a photograph of her, I commented on the similarity. But Owen said he didn't see it. He didn't get defensive, he just said if I actually saw his first wife in person, I wouldn't think we had much in common.
I wondered if the photographs were also misleading in how little Olivia seemed to resemble Baileyâwith the exception of my favorite photograph of Olivia. In that photograph, she is sitting on a pier in a pair of jeans, a white button-down shirt. She has her hand on her cheek and her head is thrown back as she laughs. The coloring is different, but there is something in that smile that may match her kid'sâthat I imagine matched Bailey in person. It pulls Olivia in as the missing piece, connecting Bailey to someone besides Owen.
I reach out and touch the screen. I want to ask her what I'm missing about her daughter, about our husband. She would most certainly know better than I doâI know that to be trueâwhich feels like its own kind of injury.
I take a breath in, and click on the folder labeled
It includes fifty-five documents all devoted to code and HTML programs. If there is a code hidden within the actual codes, I certainly won't find it. I make a note to find someone who can.
Oddly, there is a document in
MOST RECENT WILL
. I don't like that it is in there, especially considering what is going on, but I relax when I open it. The will is dated shortly after our wedding. He has shown me this will before. And nothing has
changed. Or almost nothing. I see a small note on the bottom of the last page of the will above Owen's signature. Was that there before and I didn't notice it? It names his conservator, someone I've never heard of. L. Paul. No address. No phone number.
L. Paul. Who is this personâand where have I seen his or her name before?
I'm making a note about L. Paul in my notebook when I hear a female voice behind me.
“Learn anything interesting?”
I turn to see an older woman standing at the edge of my backyard, a man standing next to her. She is put together in a navy pantsuit, her gray hair pulled back tight in a ponytail. The man is less put together, with heavy eyelids, a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt, and a thick beard that makes him look older than she is, even though I suspect he is closer to my age.