After a year of making beautiful music together, Chloe Hatherly thinks she’s more than ready to make the age-old promise to her bandmate, Jon. In sickness and in health, for better or worse. When the sudden death of Jon’s father forces the couple to postpone their wedding in favor of a funeral, however, their relationship veers rapidly off course from the ever after they’d both envisioned. Now living in her intended father-in-law’s memory-steeped house and acting as round-the-clock caregiver for her fiancé’s worsening depression, Chloe finds herself afflicted with a songwriter’s block for which she’s only ever known one cure: leaving and writing a killer breakup song. Unlike the subjects of her past lyrical rants, Chloe can’t picture her life without Jon in it, and she begins to wonder if there’s a way to save the music she loves while keeping the vows she never had the chance to make — or if she and Jon have already been irrevocably parted by death, albeit not their own.
The Future Mrs. Brightside is an uncomfortably honest, sometimes hilarious, fiercely romantic prose ballad to the hideous beauty of love in good times and bad.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Several years ago, my father-in-law died unexpectedly. He and my husband were very close, and the grief and fallout rocked our lives and our marriage. This is easily the most grounded story I've ever written, because a great deal of it actually happened, although it's still fictionalized, condensed, and embellished for maximum effect.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The source of the story is real, and the same goes for many of the characters. Most aspects of Chloe that do not come directly from myself were inspired by the book cover, which I bought as a reference point before I wrote the book itself. The fictionalized parts of Jon are drawn from the least toxic male romantic figures I could think of, including the comics version of Green Arrow. Breanna is a composite of two close and fascinating friends of mine.
Chloe was on the verge of cracking the bridge of a wedding song she would never end up finishing when she received Jon’s call.
Or maybe she wasn’t. That was one of the things she’d envisioned herself doing with her Friday off, while her day job office was being fumigated. How close she ever got to that vision was one of the details she would end up losing somewhere in that day.
Other details would remain fairly distinct.
“Chloe, come quickly, I think my dad’s dead.”
That was all there was of the call. Chloe might or might not have squeezed in an “On my way, I love you” while the line was open.
Although it wouldn’t end up mattering, she had just enough wherewithal to save the sheet music file before shutting down her computer and lunging across the three-foot distance to her dresser. With one drawer open, she froze into a braless, pajama-bottomed statue, searching for some action that wouldn’t thwart either her wish to be at Jon’s side instantly, or her wish not to show up in either a cheerfully vintage sundress, a scratchy work shirt with a logo for Cheaper Care Solutions, or a holey t-shirt that said, “Musicians Know Their Fingering.”
She upended the drawer onto the fold-out bed and flew through her options, sorting between probably not and definitely not, until she settled on a hole-free and only slightly salt-stained Vegas gift shop shirt, which, being January, ended up exactly as invisible under her coat and turtleneck as the fingering shirt would have been if she hadn’t wasted her time rejecting it.
By the time she reached her car, she could almost be mistaken for a responsible adult, probably the responsible adult on call. Jon was going to be a mess, had every right and reason to be a mess, and there wasn’t much family left to speak of on his side to pick up the slack. That left Chloe, a prospect she tried not to find terrifying.
She set her phone in the jury-rigged dock wired into the tape deck, both out of habit and in case Jon needed to call again, thought about whether she should leave the sound system off, decided she was thinking too much and driving too little, and defaulted to her most recent Pandora station, registering nothing about any of the songs that followed.
It was probably one of those flavorless pockets of Coldplay she’d been unable to purge from the algorithm.
Chloe already knew that two of the eight words of Jon’s call were nothing but filler.
It was obvious from his voice that she wasn’t on her way to share in the relief of a false alarm. This four-and-a-half-mile drive would be her last taste of normal for a long time, and yet she rushed through every yellow light.
When she turned onto the quiet green street where Jon had grown up and pulled up to the curb, she found that the police had gotten there first. One officer was standing in the house’s open doorway, writing something on her notepad.
“I’m Chloe!” Chloe announced absurdly, as soon as she was close enough to be heard. “I’m his daughter-in-law!”
This explained her presence a little better than the truth and was only slightly removed from it. Chloe would have been Roger’s daughter-in-law in just over two weeks’ time. She and Jon already had the marriage license, and she was prepared to prove it in order to get to him — there had to be some way to bring it up on the registrar’s website — but from the way the officer looked at her while sidestepping out of her path, Chloe might as well have told her she was Roger’s diminutive loan shark coming to shake out his pockets, for all the business it was of hers.
There was no yellow tape, nothing to stop Chloe, or anyone else, from barging into the clean, cream-colored living room where she, Jon, and Roger had all exchanged Christmas presents a few weeks ago.
The decorations had since been taken down, with every bit of Roger’s standard meticulousness, leaving not one dry needle behind, but the retro pinup calendar Jon had half-jokingly rolled up in his stocking was hanging proudly over the TV.
“Jon?” Chloe called.
Jon stumbled into the home office doorway in response. His phone was pressed to his cheek, and he lowered and pocketed it as if he’d only just remembered it was there.
His usually exuberant face looked like a soufflé, puffy and too delicate to touch, and Chloe suddenly wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say, how to move, what to do with her hands. Jon had just lost the only parent he’d ever known, and still having both of hers, Chloe couldn’t know whether this was the kind of pain that required space, the kind that might make someone crumble or retreat from too much attention.
It was difficult to tell which of them was more relieved when Jon staggered into Chloe’s arms as if they were a warm bubble bath.
With the way he looked, it was an incredible comfort just to feel him continuing to exist in one whole, solid piece.
“I’m so sorry,” said Chloe.
“I thought we had years left.” Jon didn’t pretend not to cry, not even with the other officer standing in the kitchen behind him, tactfully pretending not to listen.
“What happened?” she asked.
“They don’t know. Heart attack, maybe.”
The last time Roger had mentioned anything about his health, he’d seemed genuinely content with the ten-year prognosis his doctor had given his early stage cancer, which would have lasted him into his eighties.
It had never seriously occurred to anyone that something else might kill him first. It had been hard to believe that he was sick at all.
The officer in the kitchen cleared his throat, and Chloe and Jon pulled apart just enough for both of them to look at him at the same time, with their arms still around each other.
“If you’ll be okay here, we’re going to get moving. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
It was a canned question, yet sincere at the same time.
“No,” said Jon. “Thank you.”
The officer nodded and produced a pair of business cards.
“You can follow up with us here if you think of anything else,” he tapped the number on the first one, then switched it with the second. “And if you can’t find those papers, this is a local place we recommend for affordable services.”
Jon squeezed his hand around the two cards, for the local police station and for Tranquil Waters Mortuary. “Thanks.”
The officers let themselves out.
“What can I do to help?” Chloe asked.
“I don’t… I…” Jon shook off the honest response about how nothing could help with this and opted for a practical nod toward the open home office, where the formerly tidy plastic tubs full of file folders had been shoved and tossed to all corners of the floor in frustration. “Pick a pile,” he said. “His instructions are in here somewhere.”
Chloe picked a pile.
This was good. Hugging and searching file folders. These were things she could do.
Five boxes each of tax returns, appliance warrantees, and personal correspondence later, it became clear that Jon was slowing down, and Chloe stopped too, ready to alternate back to hugging, if that would be more helpful, before noticing where his eyes had come to rest.
Under one of the antique writing desks, there was a fire lockbox.
“Think it’s in there?” Chloe asked.
“Do you know where he keeps the key?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I’ll get it. I just need a minute first.”
“I’ll go,” she offered.
Jon shook his head. “It’s upstairs.”
“In his room. I don’t want you to have to see that.”
It wasn’t until then that Chloe understood Roger’s body was still in the house. Somehow, she’d assumed that the police would have taken it with them after they’d done whatever it was they had to do with the scene. But there had been no ambulance out front, no hearse, no black vans, just a single squad car and a fire engine, which now gave her the perversely farcical image of those two officers carrying him out like a mattress and tossing him across the back seat.
“I’ll go,” she repeated.
“You sure?” Jon asked, in the same way he’d ask that same question whenever Chloe offered to watch a movie that he loved and she didn’t. He was always too polite to accept too readily.
“Completely,” she said.
She knew he was asking if she was sure she could handle it, and there was no way to be completely sure of that, but the more relevant question was which of the two of them would be less traumatized by the attempt. Given whose father Roger had been, the answer to that question was obvious.
“Top dresser drawer, far right,” said Jon.
“Be right back.”
Chloe strode down the hall and up the stairs with the confidence of a hardened action hero who’s seen too much of this shit. Then, once she was out of Jon’s earshot, she tiptoed into the bedroom like a child venturing into a dark basement on a dare, shoulders drawn up against the unknown ghouls and ghosts that might be lurking around every corner.
She located the out-of-place shape on the floor and kept it safely in her peripheral vision as she went for the drawers. The keys were right where Jon had said they’d be. No searching required. She had them. She could leave the same way she’d come.
Chloe held her breath, and just as she was beginning to decide against doing so, she turned and looked.
There was some morbid curiosity involved, certainly, along with a heavy dose of her old artistic hoarding instinct. People who spent enough time crafting things out of emotional memory tended to make a habit of tossing as much as possible of every experience into that well, not knowing what they might need to draw out of it later.
More than either of those reasons, however, Chloe felt she had to look, to banish those ghouls and ghosts and bar them from following her back downstairs. It was the only way to prove to herself that Roger’s body was just a body, not some ancient and spiritual entity that would turn her to stone, or turn her mind to pudding, with a glance.
It was just a body, and she didn’t turn into anything for looking.
Roger was lying facedown next to the bed, still in the shape of a person but with a strikingly obvious absence of personhood. With a thin streak of bloody drool blotching the clean carpet next to but slightly out of alignment with his face, he looked more like a river stone that had been pried loose and then dropped back onto, but not quite into, the muddy crater left behind it.
Jon had probably done that, in an effort to wake them both from the sudden nightmare of walking in to share a lunch hour and finding this.
Chloe’s stomach took a sympathetic chill at the reconstructed thought.
There was a paper bag smelling of fresh chicken sandwiches abandoned on the other side of the bed, too contaminated now to be eaten, by association rather than the actual microbes of rot.
There was no basement-like darkness to cover the scene. The window right next to Roger’s bed was bright with the afternoon sun, the fish splashing around merrily in the pond down in the garden.
They probably only looked merry, she realized. They were probably hungry and confused.
That too, Chloe could do something about.
Returning to her interpretation of a hardboiled movie cop, she marched back down to the office to deliver the keys.
Jon was flipping through yet another box of folders without really reading them, and when Chloe returned, he let them collapse back into the bottom of the box without saving his place, turning to the lockbox instead.
“Has anyone fed the fish today?” Chloe asked when she handed over the keys.
That sounded almost like she was accusing him of not having thought of that yet, among a hundred more obvious sub-problems to think of, so she overwrote the question instead of waiting for an answer.
“We should feed the fish.”
Scratch and overwrite.
“I’m going to go feed the fish.”
The urgency of this was easier to act on than explain. She knew that they were only fish, and that there was a dead human being upstairs, and that he had been alive to feed them as recently as yesterday, so they weren’t in any immediate danger, but the thought of them waiting to be fed was making her strangely sad.
Jon nodded, trying to maneuver the right key into the lockbox with the dexterity of a drunk sleepwalker.
“Can you start calling, I dunno, people who need to know?” he asked.
Chloe took both her phone and Jon’s out to the garden, along with a shaker of the flakes Roger had made time to treat the fish to twice a day, because they liked them better than the more substantial pellets.
She shook a layer of flakes out onto the surface of the water and watched the calico-colored shubunkin jump for them, while she scrolled through the phones’ contact folders, trying to keep the calls brief.
“No, it’s not a joke. I wish it were.”
“No, Jon definitely can’t come back in to work today.”
“No, Mom, we’re okay for right now. Yeah, I’ll let you know.”
Finally, she called Breanna, her favorite coworker, because she couldn’t face calling their boss directly just then. And because she wanted to call Breanna.
“Bree.” Chloe couldn’t quite make the jubilant exclamation point fit on her half of their customary greeting.
“Uh-oh, what happened?”
“Can you do me a favor and tell Armand I might not be in on Monday? Jon’s father died last night.”
There simply wasn’t a way to say it that didn’t sound either callously blunt or artificially euphemism-filled.
Chloe’s throat caught a little when she said it, which was ridiculous. She didn’t get to spend more time than not at odds with Roger while he was alive and then expect to be comforted when he was gone. Jon was the bereaved here; Chloe was the support crew.
The fish just looked so damn lonely.
“Oh my god,” said Breanna.
“Yeah. Will you tell him?”
“Dude. You’re not going to be in for a week, at least. Your father-in-law just died.”
“Fiancé’s father,” Chloe corrected, because lying to Armand was harder than lying to the police.
“Same thing. Don’t even worry. Do you want me to come over?”
Jon tapped at the frame of the back door, and Chloe turned to look at him. Theatrically, he tossed the opened lockbox over his shoulder — indoors, so that its still-critical contents could be salvaged at a less theatrical moment — and pounded his forehead against the doorframe.
No instructions, Chloe took it.
“I’m coming over, okay?” said the phone against her ear, loudly enough that Jon could probably hear it from where he stood.
Breanna, Chloe mouthed, pointing at it.
Jon shrugged, a shrug Chloe hoped was the same as an “are you sure?” — too polite to ask too readily for another person to subject herself to this mess.
She took the near subliminal flicker of warmth at the corner of his mouth for all the hint she was going to get.
“Yes, please,” she told Breanna.
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