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Back in the Burbs
Author: Tracy Wolff

Chapter One


   How is my day going? Well, I’m thirty-five years old and hiding from my parents in the bathroom at the swanky offices of Lagget, Lagget, & Lagget, Attorneys at Law. So super, obviously.

   Sure, it’s a classy bathroom, with the wood stall doors that run all the way from the floor to the ceiling and the continual scent of jasmine in the air, but eventually Mom or Dad will find me. And shake their heads before insisting I go out there.

   I sigh and flush the unused toilet. So many metaphors for my own life come to mind as I watch the water spin around and around before going down the drain, but I’m not feeling especially witty today. Mainly because the out there I have to face is the stuffy office of Thaddeus P. Lagget IV—where my aunt Maggie’s will is about to be read.

   I pull the heavy stall door open and start to pat myself on the back for at least leaving the cubicle. No, I should probably reserve congratulations for after I work up the courage to leave the bathroom entirely.

   I sigh again. Ballsy, loud, and always in charge of her destiny, Maggie O’Malley would have never holed up in a fancy bathroom when there was business to be done. She would have blazed in there, rolled her eyes at the snarky comment my dad would inevitably say about the pink tips at the ends of her bone-white hair, and enjoyed the roller coaster of whatever came next.

   Then she would have laughed, a great booming sound that could be heard halfway across Penn Station and probably out in the parking lot. It’s been four weeks since she passed, and I still wake up every day missing that woman. But she wouldn’t want me to dwell. In fact, she’d be angry if she knew I wasted one moment regretting anything about her life—or her death.

   And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Aunt Maggie lived a life without regrets. And me? Well, I regret most everything.

   As I walk up to the granite bathroom counter, I go on autopilot and gather the crumpled towel someone left discarded on the counter and use it to wipe up the small puddle of water around the sink before tossing it into the nearby trash bin. Just typical me, cleaning up other people’s messes because it’s so much easier than dealing with my own.

   And what a mess I made.

   I’m out of work—note to self, spending the last decade working as the office manager for your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s law firm was not the brightest idea.

   My bank account needs CPR because not only have I always worked for pennies so more money could be funneled back into building the practice (worst decision ever), I also spent what meager savings I have on a cheap sublet in Hell’s Kitchen (yes, irony’s a bitch) as I tried to hunt for a new job. Of course, when your ex is your only job reference, well, like I said, worst decision ever…

   I finally gave up the ghost and slunk back to Jersey last week. And to my parents.

   Now I’m living in my childhood bedroom—because the upscale condo on the Upper East Side where I spent the entirety of my doomed marriage is listed as belonging to my ex’s law firm and apparently not a marital asset. Oh wait, no, that was my worst decision ever.

   My shoulders sink as I stare at my reflection and wonder for the hundredth time how I let this happen. Aunt Maggie would have never ended up in this position.

   If she’d found any one of her three husbands going down on his paralegal, she would have pulled some kind of dramatic, awe-inspiring act of vengeance that would probably have involved the bottle of hot honey she always seemed to have in her giant purse and fire ants she would have willed into existence simply from the power of her fury.

   Me? I shut the door quietly and waited until I got home to cry. Turns out more than three decades of lectures on the proper way for a Martin woman to behave was too much to overcome.

   It doesn’t matter. At this point in my life, I am who I am. Of course, I’m not sure exactly who that person is anymore.

   “Mallory.” Dad’s voice comes through the closed bathroom door, as low and loud as a foghorn and just as abrupt. “Stop being self-indulgent and get out here. Thad has a tee time.”

   Golf. One of the three sacred activities of Edward Christopher Martin, Esquire—really, that’s the way he’s introduced himself to others for my entire life, full name and “Esquire.” The only thing I could do that would lower myself further in his estimation after I told him about the upcoming divorce was to make a fellow attorney late for his golf game.

   Exhaling a shaky breath, I turn on the gold-plated faucet as if I’m just a hand wash away from being ready to come out. Then I take another thirty seconds to prep for saying goodbye to Aunt Maggie, because that’s what this really is.

   After the reading of the will, everything will be put back in its place, and any discussion of my great-aunt will be shushed with the admonishment not to make things uncomfortable for others. That isn’t just the Martin golden rule; it’s the one rule that can’t be broken—at least not by me.

   Especially never by me, which is why my pending divorce and return home is such a shameful thing. I’m making things uncomfortable.

   Unable to put it off any longer, I open the bathroom door and walk out. Dad is standing across the hall in a black suit, not a strand of his iron-gray hair out of place and with the permanently disappointed downturn to his lips on full display. Maybe it would have been different if I had a brother or sister, but as the lone child, I’m the sole person responsible for Dad’s many expectations and Mom’s many requirements.

   “About time, Mallory,” he says, then turns and walks into Thad’s office.

   A right turn and three steps will get me out onto the street and away from here. I can already feel the sunshine on my face and the summer breeze in my hair. Donello’s Ice Cream is barely a walk away—my aunt’s favorite place because they always gave her extra cherries on her rocky road double scoop.

   Aunt Maggie would have made that right turn.

   Me? I go left and follow my dad into Thad’s office.

   Yeah, I’m disappointed in myself, too.

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