That was all there was to the message. Just nine strained words, and a click.
Hailey's hands shook as she reached for the receiver, fluttering over the dial like moths batting around a porch light in the dark. Instinctively, she knew.
Will was dead.
For months, it didn't register. Will was murdered. Murdered in a senseless act of what the police called "random violence"—a mugging. Hailey's beloved fiancé had taken five shots, four to the head, one to the back, over his wallet containing thirty-five dollars, credit cards, driver's license, and a picture of her.
The credit cards were thrown to the ground beside his body.
Her world skidded to a halt.
Nothing mattered anymore; the days, weeks, months that followed melted and blurred, one into the other. Hailey wouldn't eat, couldn't sleep, went days without speaking. Then days turned into weeks.
The clocks in her parents' home were removed when the ticking drove her crazy, and the house stood completely quiet. It was as if time stopped along with the clocks. Her wedding dress hung in the closet and no one dared suggest she put it away. She wouldn't pack away his clothes, his letters. Even her notebook of wedding plans sat unmoved at her bedside with the blue pen on top, as if there were more to write.
The fresh-faced girl with the world waiting for her was dead. She died alongside the man she loved on a sunny spring after-noon. Eight months later, the first, thick package in plain wrapping arrived, jammed into the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
It was from the first law school that wrote her back, answering her query with an application. That single envelope started a trickle that swiftly became a torrent, triggering long nights typing essays, researching scholarships, ordering transcripts, lining up references.
Her original plans—to teach college psychology or counsel patients in a quiet carpeted office—were out of the question, no longer even a remote option. The anger, the rage, but most of all the pain, were simply too big to fit into an antiseptic lecture hall or a muted psychologist's office.
One year to the day after Will's murder and with little fanfare, Hailey loaded her belongings—including her wedding dress, delicately folded into a big white box—into her car and left her family standing in the driveway, waving good-bye until they were just a tiny snatch of color in the rearview mirror.
Hailey opened her eyes and saw LaSondra still staring back at her.
Stuffing the photos into the back of the trial folder, she went padding in stocking feet out of the overhead fluorescent glare and into the lamplight of her own office.
There she dialed by heart the number for Christian Brown, managing editor of the Atlanta Telegraph, on his private office phone at his faux–Italian rococo behemoth on West Paces Ferry. His wife had dreamed it up. No children, just lifestyle.
No way would Brown budge on headlines for the sake of one bereaved mother's feelings in South Atlanta, but there was more than one way to skin a cat.
"Christian, Hailey Dean. Problem." Brown knew her well, so they dispensed with polite hellos.
"What's up?" He sounded sleepy.
"Listen, I'm doing you a favor."
She reached down deep ... and lied. She lied for all she was worth and in great detail delivered the news of a lawsuit hatched by a few personal-injury lawyers just that afternoon after arraignments.