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The Last Flight


John F. Kennedy Airport, New York
Tuesday, February 22
The Day of the Crash

Terminal 4 swarms with people, the smell of wet wool and jet fuel thick around me. I wait for her, just inside the sliding glass doors, the frigid winter wind slamming into me whenever they open, and instead force myself to visualize a balmy Puerto Rican breeze, laced with the scent of hibiscus and sea salt. The soft, accented Spanish swirling around me like a warm bath, blotting out the person I was before.

The air outside rumbles as planes lift into the sky, while inside garbled announcements blare over the loudspeaker. Somewhere behind me, an older woman speaks in sharp, staccato Italian. But I don’t look away from the curb, my eyes trained on the crowded sidewalk outside the terminal, searching for her, anchoring my belief—and my entire future—on the fact that she will come.

I know only three things about her: her name, what she looks like, and that her flight departs this morning. My advantage—she doesn’t know anything about me. I fight down panic that I might have missed her somehow. That she might already be gone, and with her, the opportunity for me to slip out of this life and into a new one.

People disappear every day. The man standing in line at Starbucks, buying his last cup of coffee before he gets into his car and drives into a new life, leaving behind a family who will always wonder what happened. Or the woman sitting in the last row of a Greyhound bus, staring out the window as the wind blows strands of hair across her face, wiping away a history too heavy to carry. You might be shoulder to shoulder with someone living their last moments as themselves and never know it.

But very few people actually stop to consider how difficult it is to truly vanish. The level of detail needed to eliminate even the tiniest trace. Because there’s always something. A small thread, a seed of truth, a mistake. It only takes a tiny pinprick of circumstance to unravel it all. A phone call at the moment of departure. A fender bender three blocks before the freeway on-ramp. A canceled flight.

A last-minute change of itinerary.

Through the plate glass window, fogged with condensation, I see a black town car glide to the curb and I know it’s her, even before the door opens and she steps out. When she does, she doesn’t say goodbye to whoever is in the back seat with her. Instead, she scurries across the pavement and through the sliding doors, so close her pink cashmere sweater brushes against my arm, soft and inviting. Her shoulders are hunched, as if waiting for the next blow, the next attack. This is a woman who knows how easily a fifty-thousand-dollar rug can shred the skin from her cheek. I let her pass and take a deep breath, exhaling my tension. She’s here. I can begin.

I lift the strap of my bag over my shoulder and follow, slipping into the security line directly in front of her, knowing that people on the run only look behind them, never ahead. I listen, and wait for my opening.

She doesn’t know it yet, but soon, she will become one of the vanished. And I will fade, like a wisp of smoke into the sky, and disappear.



Monday, February 21
The Day before the Crash

“Danielle,” I say, entering the small office that sits adjacent to our living room. “Please let Mr. Cook know I’m going to the gym.”

She looks up from her computer, and I see her gaze snag on the bruise along the base of my throat, concealed with a thin layer of makeup. I automatically adjust my scarf to cover it, knowing she won’t mention it. She never does.

“We have a meeting at Center Street Literacy at four,” she says. “You’ll be late again.” Danielle keeps track of my calendar and my missteps, and I’ve pegged her as the one most likely to report when I don’t arrive on time to meetings, or when I cancel appointments that my husband, Rory, deems important. If I’m going to run for Senate, we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes, Claire.

“Thank you, Danielle. I can read the calendar as well as you can. Please have my notes from the last meeting uploaded and ready to go. I’ll meet you there.” As I leave the room, I hear her pick up the phone and my step falters, knowing this might draw attention at a time when I can’t afford it.

People always ask what it’s like being married into the Cook family, a political dynasty second only to the Kennedys. I deflect with information about our foundation, trained to keep my focus on the work instead of the rumors. On our third-world literacy and water initiatives, the inner-city mentoring programs, the cancer research.

What I can’t tell them is that it’s a constant battle to find any privacy. Even inside our home, people are there at all hours. Assistants. Household staff who cook and clean for us. I have to fight for every spare minute and every square inch to call my own. There is nowhere that’s safe from the eyes of Rory’s staff, all of them devoted Cook employees. Even after ten years of marriage, I’m still the interloper. The outsider who needs to be watched.

I’ve learned how to make sure there’s nothing to see.

The gym is one of the few places Danielle doesn’t follow, trailing after me with her lists and schedules. It’s where I meet Petra, the only friend I have left from my life before Rory, and the only one Rory hasn’t forced me to abandon.

Because as far as Rory knows, Petra doesn’t exist.


When I arrive at the gym, Petra is already there. I change in the locker room, and when I climb the stairs to the rows of treadmills, she’s on the landing, taking a clean towel from the stack. Our eyes meet for a moment, and then she looks away as I help myself to a towel.

“Are you nervous?” she whispers.

“Terrified,” I say, turning and walking away.

I run for an hour, my eyes on the clock, and when I step into the sauna at exactly two thirty with a towel wrapped around my body, my muscles ache with exhaustion. The air is thick with steam, and I smile at Petra, who sits alone on the top row, her face red with heat.

“Do you remember Mrs. Morris?” she asks when I sit down next to her.

I smile, grateful to think of something from a simpler time. Mrs. Morris was our government teacher in the twelfth grade, and Petra almost failed the class.

“You studied with me every afternoon for a month,” she continues. “When none of the other kids would come near me or Nico because of who our father was, you stepped up and made sure I graduated.”

I turn on the wooden bench to face her. “You make it sound like you and Nico were pariahs. You had friends.”

Petra shakes her head. “People being nice to you because your father is the Russian version of Al Capone doesn’t make them friends.” We’d attended an elite school in Pennsylvania, where the children and grandchildren of old money viewed Petra and her brother, Nico, as a novelty, sliding up to them, as if on a dare, to see how close they could get, but never letting either of them all the way in.

And so we’d formed a trio of outcasts. Petra and Nico made sure no one made fun of my secondhand uniform or the beat-up Honda my mother used to pick me up in, rattling its way to the curb, belching exhaust in its wake. They made sure I didn’t eat alone and dragged me to school events I’d have skipped otherwise. They put themselves between me and the other kids, the ones who made cruel, cutting remarks about how I was merely a day student on scholarship, too poor, too common to truly be one of them. Petra and Nico were friends to me at a time when I had none.


It felt like fate, the day I walked into the gym two years ago and saw Petra, an apparition from my past. But I wasn’t the same person Petra would remember from high school. Too much had changed. Too much I’d have to explain about my life and what I’d lost along the way. And so I’d kept my gaze averted, while Petra’s stare drilled into me, willing me to look up. To acknowledge her.

When my workout was over, I made my way to the locker room, hoping to hide out in the sauna until after Petra had left. But when I’d entered, she was there. As if that had been our plan all along.

“Claire Taylor,” she said.

Hearing her say my old name made me smile despite myself. Memories came rushing back, found in the tone and cadence of Petra’s voice that still carried a trace of the Russian she spoke at home. In an instant, I had felt like my old self, not the persona I’d cultivated over the years as Rory’s wife, glossy and unknowable, burying her secrets beneath a hard surface.

We started slowly, making small talk that quickly turned personal as we caught up on the years since we’d last seen each other. Petra had never married. Instead, she drifted through life, supported by her brother, who now ran the family organization.

“And you,” she said, gesturing toward my left hand. “You’re married?”

I studied her through the steam, surprised she didn’t know. “I married Rory Cook.”

“Impressive,” Petra said.

I looked away, waiting for her to ask what people always asked—what really happened to Maggie Moretti, the name that will forever be linked to my husband’s, the girl who’d catapulted from anonymity to infamy simply because, long ago, she’d once loved Rory.

But Petra just leaned back on her bench and said, “I saw that interview he did with Kate Lane on CNN. The work he’s done with the foundation is remarkable.”

“Rory is very passionate.” A response that conveyed truth, if anyone cared to dig deeper.

“How are your mom and sister? Violet must be done with college by now.”

I’d been dreading that question. Even after so many years, the loss of them was still sharp. “They died in a car accident fourteen years ago. Violet had just turned eleven.” I kept my explanation brief. A rainy Friday night. A drunk driver who ran a stop sign. A collision in which they both died instantly.

“Oh, Claire,” Petra had said. She didn’t offer platitudes or force me to rehash things. Instead she sat with me, letting the silence hold my grief, knowing there was nothing that could be said that would make it hurt less.


It became our routine, to meet in the sauna every day after our workouts. Petra understood that because of who her family was, we couldn’t be seen talking in public. Even before we knew what I was going to eventually do, we’d been cautious, rarely communicating by phone and never by email. But in the sauna, we resurrected our friendship, rebuilding the trust we used to share, remembering the alliance that had gotten us both through high school.

It didn’t take long for Petra to also see what I was hiding. “You need to leave him, you know,” she’d said one afternoon, several months after we’d first met. She was looking at a bruise on my upper left arm, the remnant of an argument Rory and I’d had two nights earlier. Despite my efforts to hide the evidence—a towel pulled higher around my chest, hung around my neck, or draped across my shoulders—Petra had silently watched the progression of Rory’s rage across my skin. “That’s not the first one of those I’ve seen on you.”

I covered the bruise with my towel, not wanting her pity. “I tried to, once. About five years ago.” I’d believed it was possible to leave my marriage. I’d prepared myself for a fight, knowing it would be messy and expensive, but I’d use his abuse as leverage. Give me what I want and I’ll stay silent about the kind of man you are.

But it hadn’t happened that way at all. “Turns out, the woman I’d confided in, who’d tried to help me, was married to an old fraternity brother of Rory’s. And when Rory showed up, her husband opened the door and let him in, old boy-ing himself right alongside Rory, secret handshake and all. Rory told them I was struggling with depression, working with a psychiatrist, and that maybe it was time for something inpatient.”

“He was going to have you committed?”

“He was letting me know that things could get a lot worse.” I didn’t tell Petra the rest. Like how, when we’d gotten home, he’d shoved me so hard into the marble counter in our kitchen, I’d cracked two ribs. Your selfishness astonishes me. That you’d be willing to destroy all I’ve worked to build—my mother’s legacy—because we argue. All couples argue, Claire. He’d gestured around the room, to the high-end appliances, the expensive countertops, and said, Look around you. What more could you possibly want? No one is going to feel sorry for you. No one will even believe you.

Which was true. People wanted Rory to be who they thought he was—the charismatic son of the progressive and beloved Senator Marjorie Cook. I could never tell anyone what he did to me, because no matter what I’d say or how loudly I’d say it, my words would be buried beneath the love everyone felt for Marjorie Cook’s only child.

“People will never see what I see,” I finally said.

“You really believe that?”

“Do you think if Carolyn Bessette came forward accusing JFK Junior of hitting her, the country would have rushed to support her?”

Petra’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? This is the #MeToo era. I think people would be falling all over themselves to believe her. They’d probably create new Fox and CNN shows just to talk about it.”

I gave a hollow laugh. “In a perfect world, I’d hold Rory accountable. But I don’t have it in me to take on a fight like that. One that would go on for years, that would seep into every corner of my life and tarnish anything good that might come afterward. I just want to be free of it. Of him.”

To speak out against Rory would be like stepping into an abyss and trusting that I’d be caught by the generosity and kindness of others. And I’d lived too many years with people happily watching me free fall if it meant they could be close to Rory. In this world, money and power were equivalent to immunity.

I took a long breath and felt the steam reach down into my deepest corners. “If I left him, I’d have to do it in a way where he could never find me. Look what happened to Maggie Moretti.”

The edges of Petra’s face were blurry through the steam that billowed between us, but I could see her gaze sharpen. “Do you think he had something to do with that?”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” I answered.


Over the next year, Petra and I assembled a plan, choreographing my disappearance more carefully than a ballet. A sequence of events so perfectly timed, there could be no room for error, and now I sit, hours away from executing it. The hiss of steam clouds the air around us, Petra just a faint shadow on the cedar bench next to me. “Did you mail everything this morning?” I ask her.

“FedEx, addressed to you, labeled ‘Personal.’ It should arrive at the hotel first thing tomorrow.”

I couldn’t risk hiding all I’d gathered at my house, where anyone—the maids, or worse, Danielle—might find it. So Petra kept everything—forty thousand dollars of Rory’s money and a brand new identity, thanks to Nico.

“The new government technology is making it harder to make these,” he’d said, the afternoon I’d driven out to see him. We were sitting at his dining room table in his large home on Long Island. He’d grown into a handsome man, with a wife and three kids. And bodyguards—two posted at his gated driveway and another two at his front door. It occurred to me that Rory and Nico were not so different. Each of them the chosen son, pushed to carry the family into the twenty-first century, with new rules and regulations. Both expected to do more than the last generation—or at the very least, not lose everything.

Nico slid a fat envelope toward me, and I opened it, pulling out a pristine Michigan driver’s license and a passport with my face and the name Amanda Burns. I flipped through the rest—a social security card, a birth certificate, and a credit card.

“You’ll be able to do anything with these,” Nico said, picking up the driver’s license and tilting it under the light so I could see the hologram embossed on the surface. “Vote. Pay taxes. Fill out a W-2 form. This is high-level stuff, and my guy is the best. There’s only one other person who can make a full package this good, and he lives in Miami.” Nico handed me the credit card—a Citibank account with my new name on it. “Petra opened this last week, and the statements will be sent to her address. When you get settled, you can change it. Or toss this card and open a new one. Just be careful. You don’t want someone to steal your identity.”

He laughed at his joke, and I could see the boy he used to be flash across his face, sitting next to Petra and me at lunch, eating his sandwich while doing his math homework, the weight of who he was expected to become already bearing down on him.

“Thanks, Nico.” I passed him the envelope containing ten thousand dollars, a small fraction of the money I’d managed to siphon off and squirrel away over the past six months. One hundred dollars here. Another two hundred there. Cash back whenever I could, slipping the money into Petra’s gym locker every day so she could hold it until I was ready.

His expression grew serious. “I need you to know that if something goes wrong, I can’t help you. Petra can’t help you. Your husband has resources that would put me, my livelihood—and Petra’s—at risk.”

“I understand,” I told him. “You’ve done more than enough, and I’m grateful.”

“I’m serious. All it takes is one tiny thread connecting your new life to your old one and it’ll all fall apart.” His dark eyes latched onto mine and held. “You can never go back. Not once. Not in any way, ever.”


“Rory’s scheduled the plane to leave around ten,” I tell Petra now. “Did you remember to include my letter? I don’t want to have to rewrite it on hotel stationery ten minutes before I leave.”

She nods. “In with the rest of it. Addressed and stamped, ready to be mailed from Detroit. What did you say?”

I think about the hours I’d spent, the many versions I’d shredded, drafting a letter that would close the door on any possibility that Rory might try to follow me. “I told him I was leaving, and that this time, he would never find me. That he should announce our separation publicly, tell them it was amicable and that I was not going to be giving any public statements or media interviews about it.”

“One week before he announces his run for Senate.”

I give her a smirk. “Should I have waited until after?”

Once I’d saved enough money to carry me into a new life, I began to look for the perfect opening to leave. I studied our Google calendar of upcoming events, searching for a trip I’d be taking alone, focusing on cities near the Canadian or Mexican borders. I found it in the Detroit trip. I’m scheduled to visit Citizens of the World, a social justice charter school funded by the Cook Family Foundation. An afternoon school tour followed by an evening dinner with donors.

I lean back on the bench behind me and stare up at the ceiling, obscured by a layer of steam, and run through the rest of the plan. “We land around noon. The school event starts at two, so I’ll make sure we go to the hotel first so I can get the package and put it somewhere safe.”

“I called the car rental place. They’re expecting a Ms. Amanda Burns to pick up a compact around midnight tonight. Will you be able to get a cab?”

“There’s a Hilton just down the road from where I’m staying. I’ll catch one from there.”

“I worry about someone seeing you leave with a suitcase in the middle of the night. Following you. Calling Rory.”

“I’m not taking it. I bought a backpack big enough for a couple changes of clothes and my money. I’m leaving everything else—including my purse and wallet—behind.”

Petra nods. “If you need it, I booked a room with the credit card at the W in Toronto. They’re expecting you.”

I close my eyes, the heat making me woozy. Or perhaps it’s the pressure of having to get every detail exactly right. There’s no room for even the tiniest mistake.

I feel the minutes slipping away. Pushing me toward the moment when I’ll take the first step in a series of steps that will be irrevocable. A part of me wants to forget it all. Go to Detroit, visit the school, and come home. Have more days in the sauna talking to Petra. But this is my chance to finally get out. Whatever options I have now will narrow to nothing once Rory announces his run for the Senate.

“Time to go.” Petra’s voice is soft, and my eyes open again.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” I tell her.

“You were my only friend all those years ago. You don’t have to thank me. This is me, thanking you,” she says. “It’s your turn to be happy.” She tightens her towel around her body, and I can see the flash of her smile through the steam.

I can’t believe this is the last time we’ll sit here. The last time we’ll talk. This room has been like a sanctuary, dark and quiet, with just our whispered voices, plotting my escape. Who will sit here tomorrow with her? Or the day after that?

I feel the finality of my departure looming, how absolute that ending will be, and I wonder if it’ll be worth it. If it’ll be better. Soon, Claire Cook will cease to exist, the shiny pieces of her facade cracked and discarded. I have no idea what I’ll find underneath it all.

Thirty-three hours until I’m gone.



Monday, February 21
The Day before the Crash

I meet Danielle outside the Center Street Literacy offices, fifteen minutes late. “Not a word,” I warn her, though I know she’s probably already texted Rory three times.

She trails me through the doors and into the large common area they use for book talks and writing workshops. The room is busy at this hour, filled with students and tutors. I imagine how different it would be if Rory were passing through, the wave of excited murmuring, starting at the front and rippling backward as he made his way into the space. But no one gives me a second look. Without Rory, I’m just another face, there and gone. Unremarkable. Which will be my advantage very soon.

I pass through and up a set of stairs to the second floor, which houses the Center Street administrative offices, and into the small conference room where everyone is already assembled.

“So nice to see you, Mrs. Cook,” the director says with a warm smile.

“You too, Anita. Shall we get started?” I take my seat, Danielle directly behind me. The meeting begins with a discussion of the annual fundraiser coming up in eight months’ time. I can barely bring myself to feign enthusiasm for an event that will occur long after my disappearance. I amuse myself by imagining what the next meeting will be like. Quiet talk about how I left Rory, how I never let on there was any trouble, that I smiled through this meeting and then vanished. Where did she go? A person doesn’t just walk out of her life and disappear. Why can’t anyone find her? Which one of them will be the first to bring up Maggie Moretti? To whisper the question that every single one of them will wonder, if only for a moment: Do you think she really left him, or do you think something happened to her?


Rory had told me about Maggie Moretti on our third date.

“Everyone always asks me what happened,” he’d said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. “It was a tragedy, from beginning to end, and I still don’t think I’m completely over it.” He picked up his wine and swirled it in the glass before taking a sip. “We’d been fighting nonstop, and Maggie wanted us to get away for a quiet weekend. To reconnect and really talk without the distractions of the city. But nothing was different there; we were just rehashing the same old stuff, except in a new location.” His voice had grown quieter, the sounds of the restaurant receding. The way he spoke—the emotion in his voice—felt so raw and real. It didn’t occur to me at the time that he could possibly be lying. “Finally, I got fed up and left. I jumped into my car and drove back to Manhattan. Several hours later, our neighbors upstate called 911 and reported the house was on fire. They found her crumpled at the base of a staircase. I had no idea anything had happened until the police contacted me the following morning. It wasn’t in the papers at the time, but the coroner found smoke in her lungs, which meant she was alive when the fire started. I’ll never forgive myself for leaving when I did. I could have saved her.”

“Why did they think you’d been involved?”

He’d shrugged. “It makes for a better story. I get it, and I don’t begrudge the media, although my father never forgave the New York Times. It was a blessing my mother wasn’t alive to see it, to worry about what it would do to her polling numbers.” His bitterness surprised me, but he covered it quickly. “The real shame is what it did to Maggie’s memory. Because of me, the whole world knows her name for all the wrong reasons. For how she died, not for who she was.” He looked out the window next to us, lost in regret. Beyond it, the New York street sparkled in a soft drizzle, the lights glittering like jewels in the dark. Then he pulled himself back and drained his glass. “I don’t resent the police for doing their job. I understand they did what they felt they had to do. I was lucky that justice prevailed, because it doesn’t always. But the experience shook me.”

The waiter had approached, clearly waiting for a break in the conversation to slip the black sleeve containing the bill in front of Rory, who'd smiled that warm, charming smile that cracked my heart in half, wanting more than anything for him to feel for me what he once felt for Maggie Moretti.


“Mrs. Cook, would you be willing to chair the silent auction again this year?” Anita Reynolds, the director of Center Street Literacy, looks down the long table at me.

“Absolutely,” I say. “Let’s meet on Friday and figure out who we can start approaching for donations. I’ve got a quick trip to Detroit, but I’ll be back by then. Two o’clock?” She nods and I enter the appointment in the shared Google calendar, knowing it will pop up on Danielle’s iPad right behind me and Rory’s computer at home. These are the details I have to remember—scheduling appointments, ordering flowers, making plans for a future I won’t be living. Details that will cover my tracks and keep everyone believing I’m a devoted wife, committed to the many important causes championed by the Cook Family Foundation.

Thirty-one hours.


When I return home, I head upstairs to change my clothes and see that Danielle has repacked my bag while I was at the gym. Gone are the trendy clothes that I prefer, replaced with the more conservative suits and three-inch heels Rory likes me to wear.

I lock the bedroom door and step into my closet, reaching into a tall pair of boots and pulling out the nylon backpack I paid cash for at a sporting goods store last week. Flattening it, I slip it beneath the zippered lining of my suitcase. One piece at a time, I remove the clothes I plan to take with me from their hiding places and pack them. A form-fitted down jacket, several long-sleeved T-shirts, and an NYU baseball cap I bought the other day to hide my face from hotel lobby security cameras. I pull my favorite pair of jeans from their place on the shelf and slide everything beneath what Danielle packed for the event. Just enough to get me through the next day or two. Not enough for anyone to notice items missing from my drawers or closet. I zip the bag closed and place it by the door and sit down on the bed, relishing the solitude of a locked room.

It still amazes me how I ended up here. So far from home, from the person I once thought I’d become. I have a summa cum laude from Vassar with a degree in art history. I landed a coveted job at Christie’s.

But those years had been hard and lonely. I'd been numb, struggling to stay afloat since my mother and Violet had died, and falling in love with Rory felt like waking up. He understood what I’d lost, because he carried his own grief. He was someone who understood the way memories could creep up on you and squeeze until you had no breath. No words. When the only thing you could do was wait for the pain to subside, like a tide, allowing you to move again.


Outside my locked bedroom door, I hear people in the hallway, their voices a low murmur I can’t make out. I tense, waiting to see if they’ll try to enter, bracing myself for another lecture about locked doors. They can’t do their jobs, Claire, if you insist on locking yourself in every room. Downstairs, the front door closes and Rory’s voice floats up to me. I smooth my hair and count to ten, trying to wipe the anxiety and nerves from my face. I have one night left, and I have to play the part perfectly.

“Claire!” he calls from the hallway. “Are you home?”

I take a deep breath and open the bedroom door. “Yes,” I call.

Twenty-eight hours.


“How is Joshua doing this semester?” Rory asks our chef, Norma, as she pours our wine at dinner.

Norma smiles and sets the bottle on the table next to Rory. “Very well, though I don’t hear from him as much as I’d like to.”

Rory laughs and takes a small sip, nodding his approval. “That’s how it’s supposed to be, I’m afraid. Tell him I’m hoping for another semester on the dean’s list.”

“I will, sir. Thank you. We’re so grateful.”

Rory waves her words away. “I’m happy to do it.”

Many years ago, Rory decided to pay college tuition for every child or grandchild of his household staff. As a result, they are fiercely loyal to him. Willing to look the other way when our arguments grow loud, or when they hear me crying in the bathroom.

“Claire, try this wine. It’s incredible.”

I know better than to disagree with him. Once, early in our marriage, I’d said, “It tastes like fermented grapes to me.”

Rory’s expression had remained impassive, as if my words hadn’t registered. But he’d lifted my glass from the table, held it in an outstretched hand, and then dropped it to the floor where it shattered, red wine puddling on the hardwood and rolling toward the expensive rug underneath the table. Norma had come running from the kitchen at the sound of breaking glass.

“Claire is so clumsy,” he’d said, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand. “It’s one of the things I love about her.”

Norma, who was crouched down cleaning up the mess, looked up at me, confused about how my glass had ended up on the floor three feet away from the table. I’d been mute, unable to say anything as Rory calmly began eating his dinner.

Norma carried the soggy towels into the kitchen, then returned with another wineglass and poured me more. When she’d gone, Rory set down his fork and said, “This is a four-hundred-dollar bottle of wine. You need to try harder.”

Now, as Rory stares at me, waiting, I take a tiny sip from my glass, trying and failing to find oak undertones or the hint of vanilla Rory claims are there. “Delicious,” I say.

After tomorrow, I’m only drinking beer.


When we’re done eating, we move into Rory’s office to go over a few talking points for the speech I’m giving at tomorrow night’s dinner. We sit, facing each other across his desk, me with my laptop balanced on my knees, my speech pulled up in a shared Google doc. This is Rory’s preferred platform. He uses it for everything, since it allows him to access anything any of us is working on, at any moment. I’ll be working on something and suddenly I’ll see his icon pop up on my screen and I’ll know he is there, watching me.

It’s also how he and his long-time personal assistant, Bruce, communicate without documenting anything. In a shared doc, they can say things to each other that they might not want to put into an email or text message, or say over the phone. I’ve only seen and heard little snippets over the years. I left you a note about that in the Doc. Or Check the Doc, I put an update in there you’re going to want to read. The Doc is where they’ll discuss my disappearance, hypothesize about where I went, and perhaps outline their plan to track me down. It’s like a private room that only Rory and Bruce can access, where they can speak freely about things that no one else can know about.

I bring my attention back, asking several questions about the group I’ll be speaking to, focusing my energy on the success of the event. Bruce huddles in his corner of the office, taking notes on his laptop, adding our comments into the speech as we speak, and I watch him on my own screen, a cursor with his name attached to it, the words appearing as if by magic. As he types away, I wonder how much he knows about what Rory does to me. Bruce is the keeper of all Rory’s secrets. I can’t imagine he doesn’t know this one as well.

When we’re done, Rory says to me, “They’re going to ask you about next week’s press conference. Don’t answer any questions. Just smile and bring the conversation back around to the foundation.”

The buildup to announcing Rory’s candidacy has been excruciating. Leaked rumors every few days, tons of media speculation about Rory picking up where his mother left off.

Marjorie Cook had been famous for her bipartisan negotiating skills, her ability to swing the most difficult and conservative senators toward more moderate policy. There had been quiet talk of a presidential run, long before Hillary or even Geraldine Ferraro. But Marjorie had died of colon cancer Rory’s freshman year of college, forever leaving a mother-shaped hole that filled with a potent combination of insecurity and resentment that often bubbled over, burning those who dared to keep his mother in the foreground when discussing his political future.

“You haven’t given me any details about the press conference to share,” I tell them, watching Bruce pack up his desk for the night, tracking his movements from the corner of my eye. Pens in the top drawer. Laptop into its case, then into his bag to take home.

After Bruce leaves, Rory sits back and crosses his legs. “How was your day?”

“Good.” My left foot jiggles, the only indication of my nerves. Rory’s gaze lands on it, eyebrows raised, and I press my heel into the carpet, willing myself to be still.

“It was Center Street Literacy, right?” He steeples his fingers, his tie loose around his neck. I watch him, as if from a great distance, this man I once loved. The lines around his eyes are evidence of laughter, of happiness that we shared. But those same lines have been deepened by rage as well. A dark violence that has blotted out everything good I once saw in him.

“Yes. Their annual fundraiser is coming up in eight months. Danielle should be transcribing the notes and will get them to you tomorrow. I’ll be taking on the silent auction again.”

“Anything else?” he asks. His voice is neutral, but something in the set of his shoulders grabs my attention. My instincts—finely tuned after years of reading the subtext of Rory’s tone and expressions—are screaming at me to be careful.

“Not that I can think of.”

“I see,” he says, and then takes a deep, meditative breath, as if he’s trying to center himself. “Can you please close the door?”

I stand, my legs feeling weak beneath me as I walk slowly to the door, terrified he’s somehow figured out what I’m about to do. I take my time, measuring my pace, trying not to panic yet. When I sit again, I’ve wiped the fear from my face, replacing it with neutral curiosity. When he doesn’t speak right away, I prompt him. “Is everything okay?”

His gaze is cold. “You must think I’m stupid.”

I’m unable to speak, or even blink. I’ve lost before I’ve even begun. My thoughts race, trying to find a foothold, trying to compose myself, to explain away whatever he’s discovered—the clothes, the money I’ve been siphoning off, my meetings with Petra. I fight the urge to throw open the door and run, giving up whatever I’ve gained. I look toward the darkened windows, reflecting the room back to us, and manage to say, “What are you talking about?”

“I heard you were late again today. May I ask why?”

I let out a slow breath, all my nerves loosening. “I was at the gym.”

“The gym is less than half a mile from the Center Street offices.” Rory pulls his glasses off and leans back in his desk chair. His face slips out of the puddle of light cast from his desk lamp and into darkness. “What are you not telling me?”

I suffuse my voice with a warmth I don’t feel, desperate to allay his fears before they take over. “Nothing,” I insist. “I decided to stay for a spin class that started at two thirty.”

“With whom?”

“What do you mean, like who was the instructor?”

“Don’t be obtuse,” he snaps. “You’re constantly either heading off to the gym, or coming back from it. It’s every day now. Is it your trainer? That would be a pathetic cliché.”

“I don’t have a trainer,” I tell him, my mouth suddenly dry and sticky. “I lift weights. Run on the treadmill, or take spin classes. I was sore after my workout, so I spent some time in the sauna and lost track of time. That’s all.” I fight to keep my face blank, but my hands betray me, gripping the arms of the chair as if bracing for a blow. Rory’s gaze catches on them, and I force myself to relax. He stands and walks around his desk and sits in the chair next to mine.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead, Claire,” he says, taking another sip of whiskey. “Starting next week, all eyes will be on us. There cannot be a trace of scandal.”

I have to dig deep to deliver my line convincingly, one last time. “You don’t need to worry.”

Rory leans over and brushes a soft kiss across my lips and whispers, “I’m glad to hear it.”


When Rory finally climbs into bed around eleven, I pretend to be asleep, listening to the sound of his breathing settle and slow, waiting. When the clock reads one, I ease out of bed, eager to get the final piece I need before I leave, swiping Rory’s cell phone from the charger on his nightstand before I slip into the darkened hall. I can’t risk his phone buzzing with a call or text, waking him up.

Our townhouse reeks of old money. Dark wood, thick rugs plush beneath my bare feet. I’m no stranger to middle-of-the-night wandering. It’s the only time our home feels like mine. I move through the rooms unobserved, and as I take my final late-night stroll, I feel a sense of sadness. Not for the townhouse, which has been nothing more than a luxurious prison, but for myself.

It’s a complicated grief, not just the loss of my name and identity, but also the life I once hoped I’d have. The death of any dream deserves to be mourned, all its intricate facets touched one last time.

I pass through the living room with its large windows that look down onto Fifth Avenue, glancing at the door that leads to Danielle’s office, and wonder what she’ll think when I go. If she’ll be blamed somehow, for failing to keep track of me. Or if she’ll feel bad that she didn’t do more to help me when she had the chance.

I head down the narrow hall that leads to my office, a small room dominated by a heavy mahogany desk and a Turkish rug that probably costs more than what my mother’s Pennsylvania house was worth. I look forward to creating a home with furniture that isn’t worth six figures. I want color on the walls and plants I have to remember to water. I want mismatched plates, and glasses that don’t require a complicated reordering process to replace if they break.

I glance over my shoulder, as if I expect someone to catch me in my own office in the middle of the night, reading my thoughts, knowing what I’m about to do. I listen hard, the silence a loud rush in my ears, straining to hear the hint of footsteps two floors above me. But the doorway remains empty, and the only sound is the pounding of my heart.

From my top desk drawer, I pull out the small thumb drive I used before Rory insisted everyone work in shared docs. My gaze catches on a photograph of my mother and my sister, Violet, hanging on the wall. It was taken before I left for college, before I met Rory and changed the trajectory of my life.

“We’re going on a picnic,” my mother had announced from the doorway of the kitchen one Saturday afternoon. Violet and I had been on the couch, watching TV. Neither of us wanted to go. We were in the middle of a Twilight Zone marathon. But my mother had insisted. “We don’t have too many weekends left before Claire leaves,” she’d said. Violet had glared at me, still angry that I’d chosen to go to Vassar instead of the local state school. “I want to spend the day outside with my girls.”

Three years later, they were gone.

I’d been on the phone with my mother less than an hour before it had happened. We’d only chatted briefly, but I can still hear her voice across the line, telling me she couldn’t talk, that she and Violet were headed out the door for pizza and she’d call me when they got home. In the years since it happened, I’ve often wondered if they’d still be alive if I had kept her on the phone longer. Or perhaps, if I hadn’t called at all, they might have been through the intersection and gone by the time that drunk driver flew through it.

In my dreams, I find myself there with them, the thump-thump of the windshield wipers, the two of them laughing together in the car, my mother singing along with the radio and Violet begging her to stop. And then a sudden screech of tires, the sound of breaking glass, the crush of metal on metal, the hiss of steam. Then silence.


My eyes linger now on the image of Violet, caught mid-laugh, my mother just a blurred figure in the background, and I ache to take it off the wall, to slip it between the layers of clothes in my suitcase and bring it with me, like a talisman. But I can’t. And it nearly destroys my resolve to have to leave it behind.

I tear my gaze from my sister’s smiling face, forever frozen at age eight, with only a few more years ahead of her, and make my way to Rory’s spacious office. Lined with wood paneling topped with bookshelves, his enormous desk dominates the room. His computer sits on top of it, dark and silent, and I walk past it to a section of the bookshelves behind. I pull the red book from its spot and set it down, reaching my hand into the empty space, feeling around for the small button hidden there and pressing it. The paneling that lines the wall below the shelves pops open with a tiny click.

Danielle isn’t the only one who’s been taking notes.

I pull it open and slip Rory’s second laptop from its hiding place. Rory doesn’t keep hard copies of anything. Not receipts. Not personal notes. Not even photographs. Hard copies are too easy to lose track of. Too hard to control, he’d once explained to me. This machine is where everything hides. I don’t know exactly what’s on it, but I don’t need to. No one keeps a secret laptop unless he’s hiding something big. Perhaps there are financial records that outline undoctored foundation accounts or money he’s siphoned off and redirected offshore. If I can get a copy of the hard drive, I’ll be able to leverage it if Rory ever gets too close.

Because despite what I’ve directed him to do in my letter, I have no doubt Rory will go to great lengths to find me. Petra and I discussed the possibility of faking my death. An accident where the body couldn’t be recovered. But Nico had warned us off that plan. “It would be all over the national news, which would make your job harder. Better to make it look like you’ve left him. You’ll get a little bit of attention in the tabloids, but it’ll fade fast.”

As expected, when I open the laptop, I’m asked for a password. And while Rory has all of mine, I don’t know any of his. What I do know, however, is that Rory cannot be troubled by details such as maintaining passwords. That’s a job for Bruce, who keeps them in a small notebook in his desk.

I’ve been watching Bruce for weeks now, my eyes tracking the green notebook as he’d riffle through it, punching in passwords whenever Rory needed them. I arranged flowers on the table just outside Rory’s office or searched through my purse in the doorway, tracking where Bruce kept the notebook during the workday and where it went at night.

I cross the room to Bruce’s desk and run my hand along the far side, engaging the lever that releases a small drawer, the notebook nestled inside. I flip through it quickly, past account numbers and passwords to various services—Netflix, HBO, Amazon—my fingers shaking, knowing every minute, every second counts.

Finally, I find what I’m looking for near the back. MacBook. I type the series of numbers and letters into the computer, and I’m in. The time at the top of the screen reads one thirty as I slip the thumb drive into the USB port and start dragging files onto it, the icon showing a number in the thousands, slowly counting down. I glance at the door again, imagining all my plans coming to a halt in Rory’s office, copying his secret hard drive in my pajamas, and try not to picture what he would do if he caught me. The rage I’d see in his eyes, the four quick strides he’d take until he could grab me, shoving me or dragging me out of his office, up the stairs to the privacy of our bedroom. I swallow hard.

A creak from somewhere above me—a footstep or floorboard settling—sends my heart pounding against my chest and a thin sheen of sweat to break out on my forehead. I creep into the hall and listen, holding my breath, trying to hear past the rush of panic flooding through me. But all is silent. After a few minutes I return to the computer, staring at the screen, urging it to go faster.

But then my eyes fall on Bruce’s notebook again, filled with passwords that would allow me to look into every corner of Rory’s life. His calendars. His email. The Doc. If I had access to that, I’d be able to keep an eye on them. To know what they’re saying about my disappearance, to know if they’re looking for me, and where. I’d be able to stay one step ahead of them.

With another glance at the empty hallway, I flip through the notebook, back several pages, until I find Rory’s email password, and grab a yellow Post-it Note off Bruce’s desk, copying it just as the computer finishes with the files. The clock in the downstairs entry chimes two, and I pull the thumb drive from the port and slide his computer back into its hiding place. I close the drawer with a small click and replace the red book on the shelf, return Bruce’s notebook to its hiding place, and check the room for any signs that I’ve been there.

When I’m satisfied, I make my way back to my office. There’s only one thing left to do.

I slide onto my chair, the leather cold against the backs of my legs, and open my laptop, my Detroit speech still on the screen. I close the window, knowing my icon will disappear from the top of everyone else’s version, and log out of my email. When I’m back to the Gmail homepage, I sit for a minute, letting the silence of the house and the faint ticking of the hall clock wash over me. I take a deep breath and let it out, and then another, trying to steady my nerves. Trying to think through every contingency, every little thing that might go wrong. I glance at the clock again, reminding myself that at two in the morning, no one will be awake. Not Bruce. Not Danielle. Definitely not Rory. For the millionth time, I wish for a smaller house. One where the walls weren’t so solid. Where the carpets didn’t absorb people’s footsteps so well, where I could reassure myself with the sound of Rory’s soft snoring. But he’s two floors above me, and I need to get this done.

I enter his email address and squint at the Post-it, carefully entering the password. Then I press return. Immediately, Rory’s phone buzzes on the desk next to me, an alert lighting up the screen. Your account has been accessed by a new device. I swipe left to clear it, then turn to my computer, Rory’s inbox in front of me. At the top of a long string of unread messages is the alert. I delete it, quickly toggling over to his trash, and delete it from there too.

My eyes scan his homepage, looking at the various folders, before clicking over to the Doc. They’ve labeled it Meeting Notes. I open it, holding my breath, wondering what I might find, but it’s empty. Waiting for tomorrow. I imagine myself holed up late at night somewhere in Canada, a silent observer as Rory and Bruce deconstruct my disappearance, trying to figure out what happened. But more than that, I’ll be privy to everything Rory and Bruce say to each other, every conversation they think is private.

At the top, it reads Last edit made by Bruce Corcoran five hours ago. I click on it, wondering what the edit history might show, and a long list pops up on the right-hand side of the screen. 3:53 Rory Cook added a comment. 3:55 Bruce Corcoran added a comment. But no specifics. My eyes travel down the long list to the bottom of the window, where a box that says Show Changes is unchecked. I hover my cursor over it, tempted, but I leave it unchecked. I’m logged in, and that’s all that matters.

I click over to my computer settings, where I change my own password, making sure I’m the only one who can access it.

When I’m done, I close it and head up the stairs and back into our bedroom, where Rory still sleeps. After returning his phone to the charger, I take the thumb drive and the Post-it with his password into the master bathroom. I pull the long plastic tube of my travel toothbrush from my packed toiletry bag and twist it open, tossing the cheap toothbrush into the trash and wrapping the Post-it around the thumb drive. Then I drop them both into the tube and twist it closed again, burying it underneath my face lotion and cosmetics. With the bag zipped, I look at myself in the mirror, surrounded by the luxury Rory’s money has given me. The marble counters, the deep soaking tub and shower the size of a compact car. So different from the tiny bathroom I grew up using. Violet and I used to argue about who got to use it first in the mornings, until my mother disabled the lock. “We don’t have time for privacy,” she’d say. I used to dream about the day when I could lock the bathroom door and spend as much time in there as I wanted. I’d give anything to go back to how it used to be, the three of us in and out, squeezing past each other in the tight space, brushing teeth, putting on makeup, drying our hair.

I won’t miss any of this.

I flip off the light and make my way back into the bedroom, where I slip into bed next to my husband for the very last time.

Twenty-two hours.

The Last Flight
by by Julie Clark