At the top of the stairs, I pause outside Ree's door for my final good-night check. I carefully crack open the door and peer in. Mr. Smith's golden eyes gaze back at me. He doesn't get up, and I can't blame him: It's a cozy scene, Ree curled in a ball under the pink-and-green flowered covers, sucking her thumb, a tousle of dark curls peeking up from above the sheets. She looks small again, like the baby I swear I had only yesterday, yet somehow it's four years later and she dresses herself and feeds herself and keeps us informed of all the opinions she has on life.
I think I love her.
I think love is not an adequate word to express the emotion I feel in my chest.
I close the door very quietly, and I ease into my own bedroom, slipping beneath the blue-and-green wedding quilt.
The door is cracked for Ree. The hallway light on for Jason.
The evening ritual is complete. All is as it should be.
I lie on my side, pillow between my knees, hand splayed on my hip. I am staring at everything and nothing at all. I am thinking that I am tired, and that I've screwed up and that I wish Jason was home and yet I am grateful that he is gone, and that I've got to figure out something except I have no idea what.
I love my child. I love my husband.
I am an idiot.
And I remember something, something I have not thought about for months now. The fragment is not so much a memory as it is a scent: rose petals, crushed, decaying, simmering outside my bedroom window in the Georgia heat. While Mama's voice floats down the darkened hall, "I know something you don't know. . . ."
"Shhh, shhh, shhh," I whisper now. My hand curves around my stomach and I think too much of things I have spent most of my life trying to forget.
"Shhh, shhh, shhh," I try again.
And then, a sound from the base of the stairs . . .
In the last moments of the world as I know it, I wish I could tell you I heard an owl hoot out in the darkness. Or saw a black cat leap over the fence. Or felt the hairs tingle on the nape of my neck.
I wish I could tell you I saw the danger, that I put up one helluva fight. After all, I, of all people, should understand just how easily love can turn to hate, desire to obsession. I, of all people, should have seen it coming.
But I didn't. I honestly didn't.
And God help me, when his face materialized in the shadow of my doorway, my first thought was that he was just as handsome now as when we first met, and that I still wished I could trace the line of his jaw, run my fingers through the waves of his hair. . . .
Then I thought, looking at what was down at his side, that I mustn't scream. I must protect my daughter, my precious daughter still sleeping down the hall.
He stepped into the room. Raised both of his arms.
I swear to you I didn't make a sound.
Excerpted from "The Neighbor," by Lisa Gardner Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.