Nina was familiar with her new neighborhood because it was still in Seabury, New Hampshire, a few miles from where she had lived only this morning. Even so, she had no friends nearby, and maybe for that reason it felt foreign here, as though she'd moved clear across the country. She was used to living near her very dear friends Susanna Garston and Ginny Cowling, but pop-in visits would be less frequent now that they lived fifteen minutes across town. For whatever reason, it felt much farther than that. Of course she'd adjust, and eventually she'd be as comfortable here as she'd been in the place where she'd spent the last fifteen years raising her children. She understood it would take time and effort for things to feel normal for everyone, and that applied to her new relationship as much as to her new home.
But today it all felt eerily unsettling.
At the far edge of her lawn a splendid oak tree growing near her property line spread its thick branches from the neighbor's yard into hers, providing pockets of shade where a bold chipmunk escaped the August heat and observed the move with curious dark eyes.
Turning her head to the sound of scuffing footsteps, Nina watched nervously as her son, Connor, backed down the truck ramp clutching an oversize box in his outstretched arms.
"Careful, buddy. That looks pretty heavy," Simon said as Connor made a tricky pivot move at the bottom of the ramp that had heated to a steak-sizzling temperature under the unrelenting summer sun.
After deftly avoiding the family's five-year-old golden retriever, Daisy, who had splayed herself out at the foot of the ramp, Connor sent Simon a confident look that carried no resentment, but then again, he didn't share Maggie's unrealistic fantasies about their dad. He knew as well as Nina that Glen was gone, and gone for good.
Connor trotted the box up the wide front stairs with ease. Nina still could not get comfortable with how much he'd grown in the past few years. He towered over her and his younger sister. Not only was he tall for his age—sixteen going on twenty-six, judging by his attitude these days—but he was also well-muscled, thanks to his dedication to the football team. He was as handsome as a Disney prince, too, with a wavy head of jet-black hair and an irresistible dimpled smile. He'd gotten Nina's darker Italian coloring, and Glen, who was Irish through and through, had made plenty of milkman jokes over the years.
Inside, Nina caught Maggie, blue eyes brimming, surveying the empty rooms from the unfurnished foyer. The modest home was a good deal smaller than the one her daughter had lived in all her life, but square footage was not the reason for Maggie's distress. It was all about whom she'd be living with, not where.
It was all about Simon.
If somebody had told Nina a few years ago that she would end up living with the social studies teacher from her daughter's middle school, in a new house they had bought together, she would have broken into a fit of laughter.
In another eight months or so, the court most likely would grant Nina her divorce from Glen, after which she might feel ready to say yes to Simon's marriage proposal so he could officially become her new husband. New Hampshire law was quite specific: spousal abandonment had to last two years or longer and required a demonstrated, willful desire to desert and terminate the marital relationship. Clearly, Glen's actions met those criteria. Or maybe he really was dead. Without a body, Nina had no way of knowing, while Maggie continued to hold out hope that her dad would soon return to them.
Nina directed Connor, still lugging the box, down the hallway to the kitchen. At some point, she'd hang her framed family photographs on the bare white walls, just as she had decorated her last home—only this time Glen would not grace any of the images.
With the windows closed, the empty house had turned into a sauna. Sweat beaded up on Nina's arms, and the cotton of her loose-fitting gray T-shirt stuck to the small of her back. But a tickle of excitement at the prospect of nesting helped her ignore the discomfort. Without the previous owners' furniture, the rooms appeared smaller than Nina remembered, though it was easy to visualize where she would put her things. The living room curtains would have to be shortened, but first she'd have to find her sewing machine, hidden inside one of those moving boxes.
Returning to the front hall, Nina found Maggie, looking serious, standing in the middle of what would eventually be a small first-floor office. Perhaps she, too, was imagining what the room would look like with furniture in it, though she would have to picture it with Simon's furnishings in the mix—if she could remember what he owned. Maggie had been to Simon's house only a few times, even though he lived just on the other side of town.