Her world was broken into thirds.
Seven and seventeen and five.
Seven years before he came into her life.
Seventeen in-between years when she’d seen Josh almost every day.
Seventeen years of joy and fury and love and sex and marriage and heartache and happiness. Of prepubescent mating rituals, teenage angst, young-adult dawning realization, the inescapable knowledge that they couldn’t live without each other, culminating in a small wedding and three years of marital bliss.
Five years of After. Five years of wondering.
She thought they were happy. Late at night, in the After time, Aubrey would lie in their bed, still on her side, wearing one of his white oxford shirts she pretended held the lingering bits of his scent, and wonder: Weren’t we?
Weren’t we happy?
What was happiness? Where did it come from? How did you measure it? She’d always looked at the little things he did—from a sweet note in whatever book she was reading, to bringing her freshly-cut apples when she was vacuuming, or having a travel mug of hot Earl Grey tea waiting for her in the morning as she rushed out the door—as signs that he loved her. That he was happy, too.
But then he was gone, and she had to pick up the pieces of their once life, shattered like the reflective glass of a broken mirror on the floor.
Seven, and seventeen, and then five. Five years of emptiness, solitude, loneliness.
The State of Tennessee didn’t care about any of that.
All the state cared about were the cold hard facts: one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five days ago, Joshua David Hamilton disappeared from the face of the earth, and now enough time had passed that a stranger had declared him legally dead.