1. Emma EMMA
When Emma Walsh sat up in bed, the house still shook beneath her. Nuclear bomb. She was sure of it. Her eyes went to the panoramic window overlooking the woods, expecting to see a flash of blinding light. Ever since the nineties and the first Iraq war when some classmate had suggested that Saddam Hussein was going to smuggle a WMD—though no one was calling them that yet—into New York City and annihilate them all, this had been one of Emma’s deep-seated fears. It had reemerged to niggle at her after the second war in the Gulf, after 9/11, at various moments in time when the Russians or the North Koreans had started acting all crazy, and had been present in the back of her mind ever since ISIS had become a thing.
Now, as she awaited her own incineration, she tried to remember where her kids were. Hunter hadn’t been home when she went to bed. But Kelsey… what? God, how horrible was she that she couldn’t remember? In her room listening to show tunes? Watching Riverdale for the thousandth time? It was James’s fault that she couldn’t remember. Because he hadn’t shown up. He’d told her where to meet him and when, and she’d driven all the way into Manhattan to the Upper East Side and paid for parking and broken a sweat on the sidewalk and then she’d just sat there in the restaurant—alone. Full of adrenaline and righteous indignation—alone. So that when she finally came home she’d felt mind-bendingly idiotic and been so keyed up that she had to take an Ambien to fall asleep. Now, here she was, and the world was ending, and she couldn’t focus.
That was when Emma realized James wasn’t in their bed. She looked at the clock.
1:12 a.m. Well. This was a new low. Maybe this was the night he finally wouldn’t come home at all.
She’d never get used to Hunter’s deep, authoritative voice. Of course, at that moment, her son didn’t sound authoritative, but scared, and as her bedroom door swung open, she half expected to see him padding in wearing his SpongeBob pajamas, three-feet-nothing, thirty pounds soaking wet. It took a second for her eyes to travel up to his face along his six-foot-three frame. His dark hair stuck straight up from his head, and his skin was still tan from a summer of baseball tournaments, which had smoothly segued directly into the fall ball season. All baseball, all the time. He pulled a new Duke University T-shirt on over the chest that Emma still couldn’t quite understand belonged to her offspring. She’d never been that fit. James had never been that fit. She wondered for the millionth time where the hell Hunter had come from.
“Mom? Are you awake?”
“Of course I’m awake.” She was sitting up straight in bed, her heart trying to escape from her body by any means necessary. Thanks to the Ambien, her eyelids felt like tiny lead blankets, but she was slowly growing more alert. “Are you okay? Where’s Kelsey?”
“She’s sleeping over at Willow’s, remember?”
Emma blinked. That did sound vaguely familiar, Kelsey asking to sleep over at the older girl’s house, her cherubic face full of hope at the opportunity. But wasn’t that supposed to be next weekend?
There was another, smaller crash. Emma flicked the blankets off her legs.
“What was that? What’s going on?”
The idea of a nuclear blast was fading the longer she kept breathing. But that didn’t mean there hadn’t been a bomb. Or, shit, how close did they live to Indian Point again?
“I don’t know.” He adjusted the blinds on one of the back windows, which looked out over the patio and the pool, the vinyl cover socked in by fallen leaves. “I think something hit the house.”
“Something hit the house?” Emma was out of bed and yanking a sweatshirt on over her white LBI T-shirt and cotton pajama pants, even though she was sweating. She still slept in the same uniform she’d slept in as a college student at UVA. But she also slept braless and her son didn’t need to see that. “Like what? A meteor?”
Hunter glanced toward the door. He really did look younger right then. She noticed there was a scrape on his knee, a trickle of dried blood. “I don’t know.”
Glass shattered somewhere down below, and they locked eyes. Hunter crouched and pulled out the nine iron from under the bed where his father always kept it. The one James should have been wielding at that moment. Ire bubbled up inside her chest. Where the hell was the man of the house when the house needed protecting?
“Hunter, don’t. Let’s call the police.”
But even as she said it, something inside her told her no. No police. A knee-jerk thing. Her throat felt tight.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he said. “I got this. Just stay behind me.”
And Emma did. Because she was just that pathetic. She stayed behind her firstborn as they tiptoed down the long, carpeted hallway to the landing overlooking the foyer on one side, the living room on the other. The place was oddly silent, and even more strangely, nothing seemed amiss. The paintings still hung on the walls. The vase full of fresh seasonal mums she’d had delivered that afternoon still sat on the antique table at the center of the marble floor. No broken windows; not a knickknack out of place. Outside the wall of French doors off the living room, there wasn’t so much as a wayward doe poking its nose where it didn’t belong. The moonlight illuminated the empty flowerpots and tightly covered patio furniture. All the covers had been replaced after the recent hurricane—worse than Irene, not as bad as Sandy—and Emma had made sure the service had secured everything with top-of-the-line weights and ties this time, so that they wouldn’t wake up and find another chaise lounge in the center of the pool.
After a breath, Hunter started down the stairs, and again, Emma followed. He first peeked his head into the den; nothing. Feeling braver, Emma crossed to the game room and glanced inside herself. Nothing. Together, side-by-side now, they walked to the kitchen. Every pot hung from its hook, every plate sat in its slot in the custom cabinet. The drawers were closed, the canisters lined up by height, the mixer clean and covered. A place for everything and everything in its place. Everything except for the broken front window, cardboard-covered, the tape already starting to peel back.
Was it possible they’d imagined it? A mass delusion of two people? A shared nightmare? When Hunter was young, there had been times that Emma woke up from a bad dream seconds before he called out to her, and when she’d arrived in his room, both of them bleary eyed, she was sure she’d taken as much comfort from cuddling up in his bed with him as he had in having her there. Hunter never wanted to tell her what his nightmares were about, but she always wondered if they’d dreamt the same thing at the same time. If it was possible to be that connected to another person.
Standing next to him now, together in their unease, she marveled that she’d ever felt that close to him. They still had their things—a shared sarcastic sense of humor, the ability to inhale entire pints of Häagen-Dazs while watching bad horror movies, yearly debates over which Christmas special is the greatest of all time—but in so many ways he was an enigma to her now. A grown man, practically. He was a good kid—good grades, glowing reports from coaches and teachers, nary a scandal about him in a private school with its share of scandals—but she barely knew him beyond that. He moved through the house with his own agenda—practice, school, workout, party, study, rinse, repeat.
Emma caught her ghostly reflection in one of the glass-fronted cabinets. Her skin looked pale, and she could see the bruise-like circles under her eyes. Her blond hair was a tangle at the back of her head.
Something groaned and the glasses in the cabinets tinkled. They looked at the door to the garage.
“Mom?” Hunter said.
This time, Emma went first, silently cursing James with every shaky step. Her feet were cold and clammy against the ceramic tiles and her hand shook as she reached for the doorknob. The door swung open soundlessly, but the garbled, gurgling, gaspy noise that issued from her throat was so odd it startled her.
For a long moment, Emma’s brain couldn’t process what her eyes were seeing. James’s car—his brand-new, sleek, black, midlife-crisis BMW convertible—was in its spot in the garage, but it had been crushed. It was covered in brick and plaster and dust and random gardening tools—a rake, a shovel, a hose. Half the back wall of the garage was gone, collapsed over the vehicle, a massive hole lending a jagged view of the stars in the autumn sky.
The engine was still running. The headlights glowing softly from behind plaster shards. And her husband’s leg—his pressed pants cuff, his Ralph Lauren sock, his shiny brown shoe—hung out the open driver’s-side door.