Authors: Emily Bleeker
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Emily Bleeker
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Shasta O’Leary-Soudant / SOS CREATIVE LLC
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014916226
To my husband, Joe—You are my best friend, my confidant, and the one person I’d love to be stranded with on a deserted island.
Sometimes you have to lie. Sometimes it’s the only way to protect the ones you love.
Lillian replayed the phrase in her head, fiddling with her wedding ring. She’d said it every day for the last eight months. Maybe today she’d believe it.
The only way
, Lillian repeated, spinning the plain gold band around her finger, once for each lie that she’d told. Losing track for the third time in a row, she shoved her hand under her thigh to keep from counting again. If only it were harder to lie, maybe she could stop. But lying was easy. Well, easier than telling the truth.
And no crying
, she coached herself firmly. She’d had her fill of crying in front of total strangers. Today she was determined to show the world her strong side, not her ugly-cry face. No one wants to see that. Plus, crying would ruin the makeup coated all over her face. It was more than she’d worn in years, and a nice young lady named Jasmine was smearing on another layer.
When Jasmine pulled out a large pink aerosol can, spraying till Lillian’s hair could be labeled a fire hazard, it seemed she was finished. Stepping back to examine the final product, the girl shrugged her shoulders as if to say,
That’s as good as it’s gonna get
. Not exactly confidence boosting.
As the makeup girl bounced away, Lillian sat quietly, examining her manicured burgundy nails, feeling like she was playing dress-up. A tomboy as a kid and now a mother of two boys, she never thought much of makeovers, but she couldn’t deny the allure of pretending to be a whole new person. If she couldn’t be the old Lillian and she couldn’t stand her new self, then fake Lillian was probably the best option.
The house, like Lillian, had also been transformed in preparation for the film crew. After a week of cleaning on her own, Lillian finally gave up and hired a service that left the two-story colonial immaculate. Of course, it took a pair of production assistants less than five minutes to decide it was all wrong.
They’d burst through the front door just after sunrise. Too nervous to eat breakfast, Lillian watched in silence as one of the high-strung assistants, the one who smelled of coffee and tobacco, ran from room to room collecting every single family picture on display throughout the house. After moving the antique wingback chairs from the study to either side of the Lindens’ upright piano in the living room, they strategically placed the pictures across the piano’s lid.
Blowing a piece of crackly hair from her eyes, Lillian studied the photos’ final positions. The family portrait from the main hall replaced the floral canvas that used to hang above the piano, and the picture of Jerry and the boys from Josh’s nightstand nestled against the silver-framed picture of Lillian holding hands with two little boys wearing backpacks.
She looked like a stranger in that photo. How long had it been? Three, maybe four years? That long brown hair tumbling around her face and a real smile lending brightness to her emerald eyes. Her skin back then was creamy as buttermilk, with freckles tossed across her nose like cinnamon. If Lillian met that woman at a PTA meeting, she’d want to have her over for a playdate and ice cream. She looked happy.
Two frames over was a picture from the upstairs hall. It was taken several months ago when Jerry realized they hadn’t sat for a family portrait together since . . . since she came home. Jerry picked out the final prints because Lillian wanted to pass on it. They turned out horrible. The boys looked uncomfortable in their matching ties and Jerry’s arm seemed to hover around Lillian like he couldn’t bear to touch her. Now it was going to be on national television. Everyone would see the two Lillians, side by side, before and after. The “after” Lillian cut off her long hair and clipped her bangs away from her face. Her smile was tight, forced, and her eyes were no longer the color of emeralds but the pale green of jade.
Lillian imagined walking over to the piano and shoving every last one of those photos onto the floor. It would only take one sweep of her arm to get them all. They’d crash to the ground in a pile of glass and glossy paper. Biting her top lip, she held back an amused smile. Even visualizing it was so satisfying, but the last thing she wanted to do right now was draw more attention to herself.
To avoid further violent fantasies, Lillian shifted her gaze away from the line of frames filled with smiling faces and focused on searching the piano for dust. The mahogany surface was a magnet for dirt, and the smell of the orange oil she’d rubbed over it still hung in the air. Lillian loved that piano. Just before Josh was born, she’d practically forced Jerry to buy it. He laughed at her since neither of them could play a note, but she had insisted. The piano wasn’t for them; it was for the baby growing inside her, for Josh and then Daniel.
Lillian shook her head. No wonder that young mother in the pictures smiled so easily. She didn’t know yet that sometimes life makes different choices than you do. Stupid life.
The heavy oak front door banged open, making Lillian jump. A tall, fine-boned woman in a tan suit barged through as if she’d lived there her whole life. Lillian watched her with fascination. She’d recognize that face anywhere: the long, thin nose and high, hollow cheekbones, her blonde hair moving like a helmet of styled straw, and those eyes, so light blue they almost faded away. They all belonged, unmistakably, to Genevieve Randall from
. Lillian and Jerry used to watch the news program every Friday night, arguing playfully about the real-life sagas Ms. Randall narrated on the screen. She was even thinner in real life.
Great. The camera really does add ten pounds.
Lillian sucked her stomach roll behind her belt.
The crew snaked a mic through the back of the investigative reporter’s coat jacket and shirt, then clipped it discreetly on her lapel. Lillian was impressed at how well Genevieve Randall ignored the hands grasping around inside her blouse. She shuffled through a deck of notecards until they finished. Then, she straightened her suit coat, fluffing the white silk blouse that peeked out through the vee of her lapels. Snatching up a few more papers, she stacked them into a neat pile before resting her ghostly gaze on Lillian.
For a brief moment it felt as though the reporter was staring through her, or more like into her, like she could see all of the secrets lined up inside Lillian’s mind. It made Lillian want to wrap her arms around her body to ward off the X-ray eyes.
“Mrs. Linden,” Genevieve Randall called from across the room, her voice echoing in the two-story-high entryway. “It’s so good to see you in person. Thank you for agreeing to talk to us today.” Her red-soled stilettos clacked loudly on the wood floor as she crossed to the second wingback chair, across from Lillian.
How does Genevieve Randall know me?
Lillian wondered briefly. Then she remembered. Everyone knew who Lillian Linden was; her face had been all over the TV off and on for the past two and a half years. It was a fact that still took her by surprise.
Genevieve Randall sat down in the chair like a feather falling, immediately assuming the reporter position: back straight, shoulders relaxed, and a flashing smile on her face. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Linden,” the reporter said, extending a hand with long, thin fingers.
“Likewise,” Lillian whispered, pressing on a nervous smile, shaking the cold hand, hoping her lingering calluses didn’t scratch Ms. Randall’s baby-soft skin.
“I was excited when my producer green-lighted this project.” Ms. Randall folded her hands demurely over a stack of papers in her lap. “I’ve followed your story from the beginning. I can’t wait to hear it from your point of view.”
“Well, thank you for coming.” Lillian shifted in her seat.
“My pleasure. Now, we’ll get started in a few minutes. And please remember, when I’m interviewing you try to feel comfortable. Answer the questions like we’re friends sitting down for a cup of coffee. Okay?
“Remember that list of questions I sent you? I plan on sticking to those, so no surprises. All I need from you is to be as descriptive and accurate as possible in your responses. Does that seem manageable?” She smiled, her teeth whitened so often they bordered on see-through.
“I . . . I’ll do my best.” Sweat beaded on Lillian’s forehead, threatening to drip down and ruin her makeup mask.
understand that this is an exclusive interview? After signing our contract, you can’t accept any other offers.”
“I understand completely.” Lillian chewed on the inside of her cheek. The exclusivity clause in her contract was the only reason she’d agreed to an interview with
. That little phrase was her escape hatch out of the media circus that had become her life. If she could get through this one interview, she’d finally be safe.
“Okay. Had to get the legal stuff out of the way.” Genevieve glanced around. “Now, where’s your husband, Mrs. Linden? Jerry? I was hoping to talk to him once we’re finished.”
“He’s upstairs getting ready.” Lillian brought her thumb up to nibble on the nail but stopped when she remembered the shiny polish. “I told him he didn’t have to watch my whole interview. It’s easier for both of us that way.”