He’ll Be Waiting by Liz Alterman

About the Book

What would you do to remember? What would you give to forget?

When Tess Porter agrees to pick up her boyfriend's college pal at the airport on a snowy December night, she has no idea she's about to embark on the most dangerous ride of her life. Two days later, the 17-year-old wakes up in a hospital with broken bones, unable to remember how she got there. Her parents are acting strange, and neither James, her boyfriend, nor her best friend, Izzy, has visited. As she struggles to physically recover, Tess wrestles with haunting questions: What happened? Will her memory ever return? And what if she's better off not recalling any of it?

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Saturday, December 16, mid-afternoon

“The forecast is ominous,” Mom says, slipping her arms inside the sleeves of the coat Dad holds out for her. “Promise me you won’t go anywhere. The roads will be treacherous.”

“What if I run out of beer or biscotti?” I ask without turning around to see her reaction.

I’m watching The Great British Baking Show and wishing they’d leave already. My heart beats so hard and fast with anticipation, I’m surprised they can’t hear it above the television and the snowplows, which seem to scrape the street every thirty seconds making that irritating krrrrrrr, krrrrrr, krrrrrrr sound. But nothing can bother me today—and I need those roads clear, or at least passable.

James should be here by seven—eight o’clock at the latest. I have a ton to do between now and then. It’s already 3 p.m. the clock on the mantel tells me. I’ve waited for this day for months, each minute stretching out like a decade. But now that it’s here, everything seems sped up, and I want more time to get ready.

“I’m serious, Tess. If your father hadn’t bought these tickets for I-don’t-want-to-know-how-much money, I’d be right there curled up on the couch with you,” she says, knotting the belt of her coat.

No doubt with a glass of wine in your hand, I want to say, but I’ve been snarky enough lately, so I keep this one to myself.

“Tess, listen to your mother,” Dad adds, like the puppet he’s become over the last few months. He’ll say and do anything in an attempt to raise her spirits, make her normal again—if such a state still exists for her. “We’re taking the train in and leaving the car at the station.”

“We’re having an early dinner somewhere on the Upper West Side,” Mom says as if I haven’t heard this information ten times already this week.

“It’s a surprise!” Dad raises his eyebrows and puts on his coat with an exaggerated flourish like he’s a master magician and not a middle-aged man with a dinner reservation and hopefully-not-fake Hamilton tickets.

“Our cell phones will be on the whole time, or at least until the show starts at eight,” Mom says. “Then we’ll be at the hotel after that if you need us. Call us—Tess, are you listening? Call us if you need anything.”

“She’ll be fine, Carolyn.”

Dad lifts their overnight bags. I know without turning around that Mom’s is twice the size of his.

Since Mr. Miller’s accident back in September, Dad will do anything—including buying overpriced seats to a Broadway musical on some third-party vendor site—to make Mom smile. He’s trying so hard. If there were an Olympic event dedicated to willing someone else to be happy, he’d medal in it. I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s a lost cause.

“What time is Izzy coming over?” Mom asks. “I hate to think of you sitting here all alone."

“I think she said around four o’clock,” I lie. Izzy isn’t coming. She’s been my best friend since fourth grade, but we’ve barely spoken this week. It’s Izzy’s birthday. Not that Mom, in her distracted state, will remember.

“The temperature is supposed to keep dropping, so turn up the heat if you get chilly. And, please, Tess, don’t fool around with the fireplace. You know what happened last time,” Mom says. Her tone has lost all its old playfulness. She’s forty percent stress and sixty percent worry now. Twenty-four-seven.

And, okay, I’ll admit it. There was a small “episode” last month when Izzy and I tried to make s’mores in the fireplace, and I forgot to open the flue. Smoke filled the entire downstairs and scared the crap out of Mom, who came home to the fire alarms shrieking. She’d been out for one of her “walks” again. The smell’s nearly gone, but it’s taken weeks.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I won’t touch it,” I lie again. I’m totally starting a fire. I sound like a total sap, but, honestly, is there anything more romantic than a roaring fire?

“We love you,” Dad says, kissing the top of my head.

“Can I get a hug?” Mom asks. Her neediness is spectacularly unattractive, but I know she won’t leave until I get up and give her one.


About the Author

Liz Alterman is the author of a domestic suspense novel, The Perfect Neighborhood, a young adult thriller, He’ll Be Waiting, and a memoir, Sad Sacked. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, and other outlets. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three sons, and two cats, and spends most days microwaving the same cup of coffee and looking up synonyms. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading.

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