Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry... That something is really, really wrong with me.
Maddie and Ian's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
The benefit for the Red Cross was “dinner and a show” in a ramshackle tavern perched precariously on waterlogged wooden beams, hanging over the muddy edge of a lake. Joanna worked with women and children in refugee camps around Macedonia. Her boss, Elaine, in Washington, DC, had asked her to attend the charity event and given her two tickets. She’d begged me to come visit for the weekend and go as her “plus one.”
Jo had a habit of plaiting her hair when she was bored or nervous. Now she was hunched over her vodka tonic, fingers weaving, her hazel eyes on the handful of mousy intellectuals milling around the communal dinner tables trying to decide where they should sit. “And to think,” she said, “we could be somewhere else watching paint dry and having so much more fun.”
“Free drinks,” I answered. I was indifferent.
“Should we just leave?” she asked, sitting up bright-eyed and suddenly enthusiastic.
“If you won’t get in trouble,” I answered, openly encouraging a runner.
She wilted. “I might, though. If you help me kiss a few of the more important asses, I think it would be okay to leave in an hour.”
At that moment three men walked in, one of whom was very tall and, at least from a distance, shockingly handsome. I leaned in to whisper, “Is he on the list? I might be willing to volunteer.”
Jo leaned back and laughed. “Uh, no. I can guarantee you I’ve never seen that man before in my entire life.”
“Wait,” I said, noticing the man’s companions. “Isn’t that your friend Hillbilly Buck? From the American Embassy?”
“Holy shit, yes, it is,” Joanna answered, standing up and waving the trio over to our table.
Hillbilly Buck was our name for Mr. Buck Snyder, the whiskery, rabbit-toothed military attaché to the American Embassy who Joanna sometimes called to discuss the security of her refugee camps. We had christened him with the nickname Hillbilly Buck one night after he’d spent a long drunken dinner bragging in his Southern twang that, “All these Balkan women, man, they don’t care. You can say anything. Man, you can do whatever. If you’re riding with big blue you’re still gonna get your dick wet.” “Big blue” was Hillbilly Buck’s name for his American passport.
As we pretended not to be watching their every move, Joanna and I waited to see if the men would actually come sit with us. Jo reached over, touched my arm and said, “Thank you for coming. I’m so glad I’m not here alone.”
I’d been slightly reluctant to get on that horrible bus on this particular occasion. A clash between Macedonia’s Christian majority and the growing Muslim minority had resulted in a recent escalation of violence, and like everywhere else in the region, a fog of hatred and fury hovered over the quaint mountain villages like an industrial cloud. Macedonia was no longer safe for anyone.
However, Joanna hadn’t exactly twisted my arm to get me to come. I really loved visiting her and felt lucky that we had both ended up living in Eastern Europe after graduate school. It was, however, an uncomfortable five- to eight-hour bus ride for me, depending on how long I was detained at the border separating our two countries. Also, I was tired from work.
I was at the tail end of a fourteen-month Fulbright Scholarship in Bulgaria that involved teaching English classes at the University of Sofia while working on a nonfiction book. My days were comprised of writing, travel and teaching, and I was mostly happy.
I’d met Joanna Jasinski when we were both high school students on a summer exchange program in Spain. We’d had a shared interest in linguistics, making out with Spanish boys at discos, Russian and German philosophers and The Cure. At the time we met, we had both wanted to “grow up” to be interpreters, and we often spoke to one another in a hodgepodge of the various languages we were studying, infuriating and alienating others. For a long time, we were one another’s only friend.
She majored in international studies and became an aid worker, and I went into journalism. We were eventually both drawn to work and study in the former Soviet Bloc where we could put our Slavic language training to use, and over the past year we had visited each other more than a dozen times. We kept the wolves of loneliness growling just outside the gate.
After stopping to speak to a few people, Hillbilly Buck and the other two men began crossing the restaurant. I was able to get a better look at them as they moved out of the shadowy entrance and toward our table. Hillbilly Buck was never a handsome man, but next to these two he looked positively rodent-like. They were tall, broad at the top and slim in the hips. One was blond and angelic, with curls and cartoonishly huge blue eyes. The other man was the one Joanna and I had both noticed at once. He was strikingly shaped, with a cleft chin and shoulders like rolling hills. He walked with his eyes on the view of the lake outside, lost in thought or as if he were alone. Unafraid.
His brown hair was short on the sides and tousled on top, and he wore dark, neatly pressed jeans. His chest. I paused there for a second. His chest. It was a showstopper even beneath that horrible apricot-colored dress shirt. There was something boyish about his outfit, like a kid dressed up for his school musical. His classic features were more suited to a black-and-white photo, him seated at an outdoor French café with an espresso. His youthful attire looked wrong on him, and I remember thinking that if he showed up in my hometown of Meadowlark, Kansas, dressed in that apricot getup, he would be beaten to a pastel pulp just for walking in the door.
Annie’s sophomore novel and first psychological thriller BEAUTIFUL BAD will be published by Harper Collins/Park Row books in March, 2019.
Annie received a BA in English Lit with an emphasis in Creative Writing from UCLA and an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. While studying at AFI, she sold her first short screenplay to MTV/ BFCS Productions. Starring Adam Scott, STRANGE HABIT became a Grand Jury Award Winner at the Aspen Film Festival and a Sundance Festival Official Selection.
After film school, Annie moved to Eastern Europe to work for Fodor Travel Guides, covering regions of Spain and Bulgaria. She remained in Bulgaria for five years spanning a civilian uprising and government overthrow. The novel THE MAKING OF JUNE, which Annie wrote with the Bulgarian revolution and Balkan crisis as its backdrop was sold to Penguin Putnam and published to critical acclaim in 2002.
During Annie’s five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency.
She lives in Kansas City, Kansas with her family.