From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult comes a compelling and disturbing novel about a prep school teacher accused of rape by a group of young girls, the woman who stands by him, and the repercussions of the case in a small, New England town where the past is only a heartbeat away.
Love can redeem a man...but secrets and lies can condemn him.
A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: Once a teacher at a girls’ prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets—and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him.
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Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-one novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
On the second worst day of Addie Peabody's life, her refrigerator and dishwasher both died, like long-term lovers who could not conceive of existing without each other. This would have been a trial for anyone, but as she was the owner of the Do-Or-Diner, it blossomed into a catas-trophe of enormous proportions. Addie stood with her hands pressed to the stainless steel door of the Sub-Zero walk-in, as if she might jump-start its heart by faith healing.
It was hard to decide what was more devastating: the health violations or the loss of potential income. Twenty pounds of dry ice, the most the medical supply store had to offer, wasn't doing the job. Within hours, Addie would have to throw away the gallon buckets of gravy, stew, and chicken soup made that morning. "I think," she said after a moment, "I'm going to build a snowman."
"Now?" asked Delilah, the cook, her crossed arms as thick as a blacksmith's. She frowned. "You know, Addie, I never believed it when folks around here called you crazy, but -- "
"I'll stick it in the fridge. Maybe it'll save the food until the repairman gets here."
"Snowmen melt," Delilah said, but Addie could tell that she was turning the idea over in her mind.
"Then we'll mop up and make more."
"And I suppose you're just gonna let the customers fend for themselves?"
"No," Addie said. "I'm going to get them to help. Will you get Chloe's boots?"
The diner was not crowded for 10 A.M. Of the six booths, two were occupied: one by a mother and her toddler, the other by a businessman brushing muffin crumbs off his laptop. A couple of elderly regulars, Stuart and Wallace, slouched at the counter drinking coffee while they argued over the local paper's headlines.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Addie proclaimed. "I'm pleased to announce the start of the Do-or-Diner's winter carnival. The first event is going to be a snow-sculpture contest, and if you'd all just come out back for a moment, we can get started -- "
"It's freezing out there!" cried Wallace.
"Well, of course it is. Otherwise we'd be having a summer carnival. Winner of the contest gets...a month of breakfast on the house."
Stuart and Wallace shrugged, a good sign. The toddler bounced on the banquette like popcorn in a skillet. Only the businessman seemed unconvinced. As the others shuffled through the door, Addie approached his table. "Look," the businessman said. "I don't want to build a snowman, all right? All I came here for was some breakfast."
"Well, we're not serving now. We're sculpting." She gave him her brightest smile.
The man seemed nonplussed. He tossed a handful of change on the table, gathered his coat and computer, and stood up to leave. "You're nuts."
Addie watched him leave. "Yes," she murmured. "That's what they say."
Outside, Stuart and Wallace were huffing through their scarves, crafting a respectable armadillo. Delilah had fashioned a snow chicken, a leg of lamb, pole beans. The toddler, stuffed into a snowsuit the color of a storm, lay on her back making angels.
Once Chloe had asked: Is Heaven above or below the place where snow comes from?
"You got the Devil's own luck," Delilah told Addie. "What if there was no snow?"
"Since when has there been no snow here in March? And besides, this isn't luck. Luck is finding out the repairman could come a day early."
As if Addie had conjured it, a man's voice called out. "Anybody home?"
"We're back here." Addie was faintly disappointed to see a young cop, instead of an appliance repairman, rounding the corner. "Hi, Orren. You here for a cup of coffee?"
"Uh, no, Addie. I'm here on official business."
Her head swam. Could the accountant have reported them to the board of health so quickly? Did a law enforcement officer have the power to make her close her doors? But before she could voice her doubts, the policeman spoke again.
"It's your father," Orren explained, blushing. "He's been arrested."
Addie stormed into the police department with such force that the double doors slammed back on their hinges, letting in a gust of cold wind. "Jeez Louise," said the dispatch sergeant. "Hope Courtemanche found himself a good hiding place."
"Where is he?" Addie demanded.
"My best guess? Maybe in the men's room, in a stall. Or squeezed into one of the empty lockers in the squad room." The officer scratched his jaw. "Come to think of it, I once hid in the trunk of a cruiser when my wife was on the warpath."
"I'm not talking about Officer Courtemanche," Addie said through clenched teeth. "I meant my father."
"Oh, Roy's in the lockup." He winced, remembering something. "But if you're here to spring him, you're gonna have to talk to Wes anyway, since it was his arrest." He picked up the phone. "You can take a seat, Addie. I'll let you know when Wes is free."
Addie scowled. "I'm sure I'll know. You always smell a skunk before you see it."
"Why, Addie, is that any way to speak to the man who saved your father's life?"
In his blue uniform, his badge glinting like a third eye, Wes Courtemanche was handsome enough to make women in Salem Falls dream about committing crimes. Addie, however, took one look at him and thought -- not for the first time -- that some men ought to come with an expiration date.
"Arresting a sixty-five-year-old man isn't my idea of saving his life," she huffed.
Wes took her elbow and led her gently down the hall, away from the dispatch sergeant's eyes and ears. "Your father was driving under the influence again, Addie."
Heat rose to her cheeks. Roy Peabody's drinking wasn't any secret in Salem Falls, but he'd gone one step too far last month, wrapping his car around the town's statue of Giles Corey, the only man who'd been a casualty of the Puritan witch hunts. Roy's license had been revoked. For his own safety, Addie had junked the car. And her own Mazda was safely parked at the diner. What vehicle could he have used?
As if he could read her mind, Wes said, "He was in the breakdown lane of Route 10, on his ride-on mower."
"His ride-on mower," Addie repeated. "Wes, that thing can't go more than five miles an hour."
"Fifteen, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, he doesn't have a license. And you need one if you're gonna operate any self-propelled vehicle on the street."
"Maybe it was an emergency..."
"Guess it was, Addie. We confiscated a brand-new fifth of vodka from him, too." Wes paused. "He was on his way home from the liquor store in North Haverhill." He watched Addie knead her temples. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I think you've done enough, Wes. I mean, gosh, you arrested a man joyriding on a lawn mower. Surely they'll give you a Purple Heart or something for going to such extremes to ensure public safety."
"Now, just a second. I was ensuring safety...Roy's. What if a truck cut the curve too tight and ran him down? What if he fell asleep at the wheel?"
"Can I just take him home now?"
Wes regarded her thoughtfully. It made Addie feel like he was sorting through her mind, opening up certain ideas and shuffling aside others. She closed her eyes.
"Sure," Wes said. "Follow me."
He led her down a hallway to a room at the back of the police department. There was a wide desk manned by another officer, a high counter with ink pads for fingerprinting, and in the shadowy distance, a trio of tiny cells. Wes touched her forearm. "I'm not going to write him up, Addie."
"You're a real prince."
He laughed and walked off. She heard the barred door slide open like a sword being pulled from its scabbard. "Guess who's waiting for you out there, Roy?"
Her father's voice now, pouring slow as honey: "My Margaret?"
" 'Fraid not. Margaret's been gone about five years now."
They turned the corner, Wes bearing the brunt of her father's weight. Roy Peabody was a charmer of a man, with hair as white and thick as the inner wing of a dove and blue eyes that always swam with a secret. "Addie!" he crowed, seeing her. "Happy birthday!"
He lunged for her, and Addie staggered. "Come on, Dad. We'll get you home."
Wes hooked his thumb on his belt. "You want a hand getting him out to your car?"
"No, thanks. We can manage." At that moment, her father felt slighter and more insubstantial than Chloe. They walked awkwardly, like contestants in a three-legged race.
Wes held open the door. "Well, shoot, Addie. I'm sorry I had to call you down for this on your birthday."
She did not break stride. "It's not my birthday," she said, and guided her father out.
At 6:30 that morning, Gillian Duncan had lit a match and waved a thermometer through it, spiking a temperature that made her father believe she truly was too sick to go to school. She spent the morning in her bedroom instead, listening to Alanis Morissette, braiding her long red hair, and painting her fingernails and toenails electric blue. In spite of the fact that she was seventeen years old and could fend for herself, her father had taken the day off from work to be with her. It raised her hackles and secretly pleased her all at once. As the owner of Duncan Pharmaceuticals, the biggest employer in Salem Falls, Amos Duncan was generally re-garded as one of its richest and busiest citizens. But then, he had always had time to take care of her; he'd been doing it since Gilly was eight and her mother had died.
She was going crazy in her room and was about to do something really drastic, like pick up a textbook, when the doorbell rang. Listening closely, Gilly heard the voices of her friends downstairs. "Hi, Mr. D," said Meg. "How's Gillian?"
f0 Before he could respond, Whitney interrupted. "We brought her jellybeans. My mom says they soak up a fever, and if they don't, they taste so good you don't care."
"We brought her homework, too," Chelsea added. Painfully tall, self-conscious, and shy, she was one of Gilly's newest friends.
"Well, thank God you're all here," her father said. "I have a hard time recognizing Gilly unless she's glued to the three of you. Just let me see if she's awake."
Gilly dove beneath the covers, trying desperately to look sick. Her father cracked open the door and peered inside. "You up for company, Gilly?"
Rubbing her eyes, Gillian sat up. "Maybe for a little while."
He nodded, then called out to the girls. Meg led the charge up to Gillian's room, a hail of Skechers pounding up the stairs. "I think my whole home could fit in this room," Chelsea breathed, stepping inside.
"Oh, that's right..." Whitney said. "This is the first time you've been to the manor."
Gillian slanted a look at her father. It was a common joke in town that the reason the Duncan home sat to the east whereas all the other roads and developments sat to the west was because Amos had wanted a palace separate and apart for his kingdom.
"Yes," Amos said, with a straight face. "We're putting in a drawbridge this spring."
Chelsea's eyes widened. "For real?"
Whitney laughed. She liked Gillian's dad; they all did. He knew how to make a teenager feel perfectly welcome.
"If you guys tire her out," Amos said, "I'll make you dig the moat." He winked at Chelsea, then pulled the door closed behind him.
The girls wilted onto the carpet, lilies floating on a pond. "So?" Meg asked. "Did you watch Passions?"
Meg Saxton had been Gilly's first best friend. Even as she'd grown up, she hadn't lost her baby fat, and her brown hair flew away from her face in a riot of curls.
"I didn't watch any soaps. I took a nap."
"A nap? I thought you were faking."
Gillian shrugged. "I'm not faking; I'm method-acting."
"Well, FYI, the trig test sucked," Whitney said. The only child of one of the town selectmen, Whitney O'Neill was nothing short of a knockout. She'd opened the bag of jellybeans to help herself. "Why can't we write a spell to get A's?"
Chelsea looked nervously at the large, lovely bedroom, then at Gillian. "Are you sure we can do magick here, with your father right downstairs?"
Of course they could -- and would -- do magick. They had been students of the Craft for nearly a year now; it was why they had gathered this afternoon. "I wouldn't have invited you if I didn't think it was okay," Gillian said, withdrawing a black-and-white composition notebook from between the mattress and box spring. Written in bubble letters, with smiley-face O's, was its title: Book of Shadows. She got out of bed and padded into the large adjoining bathroom. The others could hear her turning on the faucet, and then she returned with an eight-ounce glass of water. "Here," she said, handing it to Whitney. "Drink."
Whitney took a sip, then spat on the floor. "This is disgusting! It's salt water!"
"So?" Gillian said. As she spoke, she walked around her friends, sprinkling more salt onto the carpet. "Would you rather waste time taking a bath? Or maybe you've got a better way to purify yourself?"
Grimacing, Whitney drank again, and then passed it to the others. "Let's do something quick today," Meg suggested. "My mom will kill me if I'm not home by four-thirty." She scooted into position, across from Gillian on the floor, as Whitney and Chelsea made up the other corners of their square. Gillian reached for Whitney's hand, and a cold draft snaked in through a crack in the window. As Whitney's palm skimmed over Meg's, the lamp on the nightstand dimmed. The pages of the notebook fluttered as Meg reached for Chelsea. And when Chelsea clasped Gillian's hand, the air grew too thick to breathe.
"What color is your circle?" Gillian asked Chelsea.
Meg's eyes drifted shut. "Pink."
"Mine's silver," Whitney murmured.
"Pure gold," Gillian said. All of their eyes were closed now, but they had learned over the course of the past year that you did not need them open to see. The girls sat, their minds winnowed to this point of power; as one snake of color after another surrounded them, plaited into a thick ring, and sealed them inside.
"Not again," Delilah said with a sigh, as Addie hauled Roy Peabody into the kitchen.
"I don't need this from you now." Addie gritted her teeth as her father stumbled heavily on the arch of her foot.
"Is that Delilah?" Roy crowed, craning his neck. "Prettiest cook in New Hampshire."
Addie managed to push her father into a narrow stairwell that led upstairs to his apartment. "Did Chloe give you any trouble?" she called back over her shoulder.
"No, honey," Delilah sighed. "No trouble whatsoever."
Through sheer will, Addie and Roy made it upstairs. "Why don't you sit down, Daddy?" she said softly, guiding him to the frayed armchair that had stood in that spot all of Addie's life.
She could smell the stew that Delilah had prepared for the lunch rush rising through the floor and the weave of the carpet -- carrots, beef base, thyme. As a child, she had believed that breathing in the diner had rooted it in her system, making it as much as part of her as her blood or her bones. Her father had been like that, too, once. But it had been seven years since he'd voluntarily set foot behind the stove. She wondered if it caused him the same phantom pain that came from losing a vital limb -- if he drank to dull the ache of it.
Addie crouched down beside his chair. "Daddy," she whispered.
Roy blinked. "My girl."
Tears sprang to her eyes. "I need you ...
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