Widow Kelly Carlsen has been through a lot since the death of her husband three years ago. Reported to the police for murder by her vindictive mother-in-law, she was suspected of poisoning her husband, jailed away from her son, and nearly went to prison before an autopsy proved her husband died of an undiagnosed nut allergy. Traumatized by the experience, she and her son Dan have become very close while also dealing with tension from the emotional scars left by the experience. She keeps a close eye on him—and not just because of what’s happened to her—she has reasons that are more genetic than environmental. Dan, like his grandmother, is a sociopath: manipulative, impulsive, and almost remorseless. Intensive therapy has helped him and his mother a great deal, but she has always worried that he is a ticking time bomb whose impulsiveness and lack of empathy will lead him straight to jail. So when Dan’s girlfriend goes missing after the two get blackout drunk on a date and Dan believes he may have killed her, Kelly scrambles to cover for him. But his vindictive grandmother has other plans and no qualms about lying to get what she wants. Now, a desperate mother willing to take any steps to protect her son must face a grandmother with no conscience—and be prepared to suffer the consequences.
Release date: November 3, 2021
Print pages: 333
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What She Witnessed
Life in a quiet part of Binghamton, New York, owning a small, family bookshop with her husband, and having a beautiful baby boy sounded like a dream. For a while, for years that passed like the blink of an eye, Kelly lived that dream until it turned into a nightmare. To not get her wrong, life was, if not perfect to her, it got pretty damn close, although not without troubles, difficulties.
Certainly, Kelly and her husband had issues, like any other married couples. Crazy in-laws, bills that wouldn't stop pilling, not enough alone time, and a teenage son that liked to act out. However, despite all that, life was good, and she was happy.
Unfortunately, unlike those novels that Kelly liked to read her story did not have a happy ending.
During one of many sleepless nights, as she lay awake, staring at the ceiling, trying to see past the concrete and steel, Kelly tried to pinpoint the exact place, the precise moment in time when her life, the life of her family turned to shit. It wasn't that hard to do something like that, she even knew the date.
It was when a new restaurant opened just around the corner from their bookshop. It was a Thursday afternoon, and her husband David was trying to convince her to go there with him on a date.
"Come on, Kelly, it’s been ages since we went on a date, shared a meal just the two of us," he pleaded.
She made a face in return. "What do you mean? We eat together all the time," she replied. She wasn't argumentative simply stating facts.
It was his turn to make a face. "Sharing a tuna fish sandwich in here," he gestured around them, "behind the counter, in the bookstore doesn't count."
"Point well taken," she replied with a small smile. It was true most of their lunches were done in a store, while they worked. The business was slow, and they couldn't afford to close the doors during business hours for even a little while.
Looking around, making sure they were alone, sadly they were, he approached her, wrapping his arms around her. After all this time, being married to him, her body still responded with earnestness.
"We deserve a break," he stated, leaning down toward her. "We deserve someone else preparing a meal for us. To sit at a table without having a sulking teenager glaring at us every time I try to do this," he finished with a kiss.
That was a really great move on his part.
"We love that sulky teenager, remember," she said in amusement, without breaking a kiss.
David did eventually, nodding. "He usually has a good sense of humor, which is why we keep him." he deadpanned and they both laughed.
David kissed her again. "What do you say?"
What was the question again? It has been a while since the two of them were together. Their schedules were pretty hectic, and besides the store, housework, and Dan, their son, Kelly was chronically exhausted.
"Will you be my date this Saturday? I will even buy you a dessert."
"Yes," she replied with a big smile.
If only I'd said no, Kelly thought now, remembering that day, that happy moment, a speck in time, shared between two people who loved each other. It brought her nothing but pain now.
The door opening was what snapped Kelly from her reverie.
"It's time to go," the police guard informed her.
Kelly nodded, getting up from her bed.
My bed, she thought humorously. How eerie that sounded. She hated how homie she'd become with this place. Kelly allowed herself to feel at home in this small cell that had no windows or furniture that wasn't bolted to the floor. She had to banish that feeling since this was not the place, she belonged in.
Are you sure? She banished that immediately.
They allowed her to change into her own clothes, a pair of black slacks and a white shirt, before escorting her to the courthouse. Kelly had been held in jail for weeks. The police arrested her for murder, and now her day in court had finally arrived.
"Mrs. Carlsen," her lawyer Brian Morrison greeted her. "How are you holding up?"
"All right I guess, considering." Truth be told she was on pins and needles while looking about the courtroom. A lot of people she didn't know came to watch the spectacle. And this was a spectacle since the charges were ridiculous, preposterous, and she was innocent, of course.
The problem was a rather vicious, powerful, and of course wealthy woman had a serious grudge against her and would stop at nothing in her quest to destroy Kelly's life.
"I believe I found something that will be favorable to your case," he shared.
A normal person would ask, why. Why was this happening? Why did that woman hate her that much? In reality, Kelly stopped asking herself that question simply to preserve her sanity.
Kelly sighed with relief when she spotted her son, sitting in one of the back rows. She noted he looked good, if not a bit gaunt. That was understandable considering all that was happening. She waved at him, offering a big, reassuring smile and he nodded in return. That troubled her. At least he is here.
She didn't have time to dwell on her son because the bailiff started speaking, stating the honorable judge's name as he entered the courtroom. Judge Conners settled in his chair. A deadly silence fell upon the room as the officer continued to speak, stating her case, her crime.
Brian Morrison, her lawyer, a man in his fifties, was the only person who looked worse than she did, in that entire courtroom, Kelly noted as he greeted the judge, introducing himself. Which could only mean he was living a very stressful life, skipping meals, sleeping less than he should. Kelly mused it wouldn't be easy, having the knowledge that a life depended on how good he was at his job. Her life now certainly depended on him.
When all this ordeal started, and Kelly got arrested to her utmost shock, a dear friend reached out to her and recommended Mr. Morrison and so far, Kelly felt like she'd made the right decision trusting him.
She could barely afford him, however, since it was imperative to be proven innocent and be reunited with her son there was no money she would spare to achieve that.
The court allowed them a second autopsy to be performed by an independent third-party and Mr. Morrison looked confident as he shared the new evidence with the court.
"As you can see in this report, David Carlsen was not only allergic to nuts, but shellfish as well."
The story went like this. Kelly, unsatisfied with her marriage, decided to poison her husband, and knowing he had a deadly allergy to nuts gave him some causing him to go into anaphylactic shock and die. The fact they found no traces of nuts in his stomach didn't stop them from arresting her.
She tried to reason with them, point out he felt sick after insisting on eating in that new seafood restaurant, yet no one listened to her. They were all so convinced, all the detectives, the prosecutor that they found their culprit that nobody believed her. And Kelly knew why. Because Mona made sure of it. David's mother hated her with a passion, always had.
And poor David died in Kelly's arms. Usually, he always had an EpiPen with him, especially when visiting new places, but this time he didn't have it. They were so short on money he failed to buy a new one. And it cost him his life. Kelly cursed the day she agreed to that date. She would gladly starve for her entire life if it meant having David back in her life.
Kelly was now equally surprised like the rest, learning that David had an additional allergy. He never told her of it. Did he know? She had to wonder. He was always very careful with his food; it was logical to assume that if he'd known, he would have avoided eating a seafood risotto. She could still picture him, taking the shellfish out of his meal with disgust.
He didn't like the shellfishes, was revolted by their look. Was that the reason he didn't know he was allergic to them since he'd never tried them? Kelly was horrified realizing that. Poor David.
Kelly expected they would throw out the case since it was clearly an accident. They didn't.
It was really hard for her to listen to the District Attorney painting a bad guy out of her. She was sure it was hard on Dan to listen to that as well. Her son had lost his father, and now these people were trying to take his mother from him as well. At some point, she even ended up on the stand.
"Mrs. Carlsen, why did you go to the seafood restaurant if your husband was deadly allergic to shellfish?"
"I didn't know," she replied simply.
He made a face of utter disapproval. "Are you really expecting me to believe you were married for twenty years and didn't know about it?" he challenged.
Kelly frowned. "If he didn't know then how could I?" she pointed out.
"So, you say," he commented.
"Objection," her lawyer intertwined.
Kelly could barely contain herself. This man was infuriating. Beforehand her lawyer had advised her to remain calm and be curt with her replies, never try to justify herself no matter what, yet it was hard.
"You and your husband own a small business?" the District Attorney continued with his questioning.
"Yes, a bookstore called The Open Book."
"And how was business lately?"
Kelly shrugged. "Like everywhere, I suppose, good and bad."
"You were struggling," he stated.
"We were managing," she stood her ground.
The District Attorney walked to his desk gathering a few sheets of paper. He looked at them before returning his glance at her. "I have to applaud your optimism because with two mortgages that you were falling behind on payments and numerous other debts, I would describe your situation differently."
"Objection, your Honor. Does Mr. Jacko have a question?" Mr. Morrison noted.
Kelly couldn't understand where the District Attorney was going with this.
"Please, Mrs. Carlsen, answer the question truthfully about your business affairs," the district attorney insisted.
"We had a few bad months; that is true."
With the internet and the expansion of e-books, regular books were reserved for the minority. All the same, they were usually bought for holidays, and in such quantity, it was enough to make up the difference for all the bad months. She said as much.
"Your husband had a life insurance policy in his name that you are a beneficiary to?"
And just like that Kelly understood everything. "I did not kill my husband for the money," she exclaimed not being able to stop herself. How dare he.
"Mrs. Carlsen, only answer the questions asked by me," he countered sternly.
She felt like punching him in the face. Kelly looked at her lawyer and he gave a slight nod. Calm yourself. "Yes, David and I both have them."
The District Attorney didn't look pleased she pointed that out and she was glad. He continued to bombard her with all kinds of questions, showing plausible motives for her actions and that made Kelly extremely agitated, unable to calm down.
Looking at the faces of the jury with the corner of her eye she could see how suspicious of her they all were. Did she really look like the type of person who would poison her husband for money?
When her lawyer's turn came to ask follow-up questions, he did his best to show the other side of her, and her marriage with David.
"It was true we were struggling financially, but we were happy."
"And you have a son?"
"A sixteen-year-old," Kelly couldn't help smiling looking at her boy, despite everything. She loved him more than anything else in this world. "He asked for drums for Christmas. That was not a good decision on our part, because now we need soundproof walls as well." Too late she realized she was making a joke in a place like this, and in a situation like this one, and sobered up.
Overall, she could not decide how successful she was in proving her innocence to the jury. Apparently, the truth had many sides in this courtroom and varied from person to person speaking.
After lunch, Kelly was not surprised to see her mother-in-law on the stand. She would use any excuse to be in the spotlight. She looked absolutely radiant.
Although she was David's mother, they were never close, estranged at best. David ran away from her as soon as he got a chance.
Mona was a sociopath with money, who liked to rule over people like a dictator, a tyrant. No wonder David ran away to live with his father's younger brother after his own father committed suicide. David insisted his own mother drove that kind man into death. That was his ultimate escape from her.
Mona Carlsen was a vicious woman and being the way she was, she never forgave David for leaving. The reason she hated Kelly was not that clear, however she always suspected the other woman hated her simply for existing in her son's life. Not that Kelly cared much. As long as she had David by her side, his love, respect, the support, she couldn't care less about Mona and her petty schemes.
This is far from a petty scheme.
Over the years she tried in a lot of ways to make their lives miserable, up to the point where Kelly wanted them to leave town. David was the one who had pleaded for them to stay. For some inexplicable reason, he loved their neighborhood, their store, and wanted to grow old in this town despite his sociopathic mother.
At the moment it was more than obvious Mona was jumping for joy at the opportunity to spread her hate toward Kelly. The fact her son actually died did not appear to phase her one bit or stop her from wearing a perfectly tailored gray with vibrant red details suit.
The District Attorney let her share her opinion of Kelly and her marriage with David. The fact she never shared a meal with them or was never invited to their home was a minor detail she failed to mention.
Kelly screamed in a lawyer’s ear, she's lying, so many times, she was sure she caused the poor man permanent hearing damage. One thing did come up as interesting. Mona confirmed to the court that David indeed had those two allergies, to nuts and shellfish, because she had the same ones as well.
But he didn't know about the shellfish, she argued inside her head.
"I am sure Kelly killed him for the money, because she never loved him."
"Objection," Mr. Morrison yelled.
"I am sure she's angry I haven’t croaked yet, too," she continued to speak unbothered.
"Objection, your Honor."
Kelly hoped there was a special circle of Hell reserved for Mona because she deserved special treatment, even with the devil.
Although David rarely spoke of his mother, his childhood in general, there were times, especially after Dan was born, when he opened his heart, shared his demons with her. Kelly knew firsthand, what type of a mother, if one could even call that woman that, Mona truly was. Her act couldn't fool Kelly.
Mona tormented her son for years, physically and emotionally, and drove her husband into suicide. Now it made Kelly's blood boil seeing that woman, trying to make a villain out of her, looking down on her as though she'd already won.
I am not letting her have my son. Dan had suffered enough already so Kelly would do everything in her power to win this, so she could protect her son.
When it was her attorney's turn to speak with that snake, Kelly held her breath, waiting to see what would happen next. She really hoped her lawyer knew what he was doing because Mona was a special case.
Brian Morrison was all smiles while speaking with Mona, she liked that. At first, Mona played along, underestimating the other man, however after a while her attitude, and her tone started to change as she realized Kelly's lawyer was no dummy, and his questioning insightful, revealing the real truth.
"Is it true you had no contact whatsoever with your son and his family?"
"She made him banish me from his life," Mona said all theatrically while pointing a finger at Kelly.
Kelly looked defiantly back at her mother-in-law.
"He lived with Mathew Carlsen, your late husband's brother from the age of fifteen on," her lawyer stated. "Is that correct?"
Mona gritted her teeth. "Yes, but I needed time to mourn, I was distraught after my husband passed away," she said looking at the jury.
And she appeared so emotional that Kelly felt like handing her an Oscar for her performance then and there.
Her lawyer was not impressed though. "He went from his uncle's house straight to college."
"And your point, Mr. Morrison," she said all sweetly.
"He ran away from you."
The District Attorney tried to object, however, Mr. Morrison was quicker.
"I have a signed statement," he showed papers to the court, "from Mathew Carlsen, of the state David was in when he arrived to live with him after his father's passing."
"Hearsay, your Honor."
The judge allowed it since Mr. Morrison promised a point.
"Mathew turned him against me," Mona tried to defend herself. "I was stricken in grief and he used that against me."
"I have reports showing David tried to run away from home numerous times, even before the age of fifteen."
Mona made a face. "That doesn't make me a bad mother. David was simply a rebellious boy. I tried disciplining him, but my husband, Stan was always too soft with him."
"As far as I can see he was an honorary student, finished college in four years, without causing any problems. How do you explain that?"
"He did all that out of spite."
"Could you clarify that?"
"I gave him everything and he abandoned me, David was ungrateful like his father," she practically spat.
Oh no she didn't. Kelly practically cheered inside her head.
"Did you share your family's allergies with your son?" Mr. Morrison asked a good one.
"Of course not, why would I? If he didn't care about me, I certainly wouldn't care about him."
Kelly was sure they could all hear a needle dropping after that delightful comment. Kelly couldn't believe Mona had just said that. Apparently, too late Mona realized what she did, yet the damage was done. She tried to recant what she'd said but it didn't work. The murmur of disapproval spread through the room and the honorable judge had to call for order. Shortly after Mr. Morrison thanked her for answering his questions. If a look could kill, Kelly's lawyer would be dead on the spot.
Sitting down in his chair beside her, Mr. Morrison shared his optimism that the temperature in the room had changed, tides were finally turned in her favor.
Kelly was only partially listening to what was happening around her, a few days later, when the time for the closing arguments came. She was too stressed out, worrying about the verdict to fully commit.
"We showed to the court that the two had no previous knowledge of the allergy. This was a tragedy, ladies and gentlemen, not a crime, and I implore you, do not turn it into an even bigger one by sentencing this woman to life in prison for something she had no control of," Mr. Morrison said to the members of the jury.
After that, they waited in a small room for them to make up their mind. Lunch was provided to her, yet Kelly was too nervous to eat anything.
"What do you think will happen?"
"I am very optimistic about the outcome, Mrs. Carlsen."
About an hour later they were asked to return to the courtroom. Unlike before, Kelly was hyper-aware of everything that was happening now. The most important thing was that a foreperson read how she was not guilty.
Kelly felt like jumping from her seat, cheering with joy, eventually, she hugged her lawyer not being able to help herself.
Hearing the judge declare her a free woman was music to her ears.
"Thank you, Mr. Morrison, for everything."
The lawyer nodded in return.
"I need to find Dan," she added looking about. He was in the courtroom during the trial, however now he was nowhere to be seen. She didn't like that one bit.
"Maybe he went outside," he provided.
Kelly, with her lawyer in tow, found Mona and Dan in the parking lot. It was obvious they were arguing.
"Dan," Kelly called out for him.
He turned and walked toward her. "Mom." They embraced.
"You're coming home with me," she reassured, releasing him, somewhat reluctantly. She missed her baby boy so much. Did he lose some weight?
"Over my dead body," Mona argued trying to pull Dan away from Kelly.
"I want to go with Mom!" Dan jerked free.
"Of course, you are," Kelly countered.
Mona narrowed her eyes, approaching Kelly. The other woman was much taller than her, especially in those heels she insisted on wearing even at her age. "You might fool those idiots inside, but I will not allow my grandson to live with a murderer."
Yeah, now you care, Kelly thought sarcastically and was about to say something similar out loud, yet her son beat her to a punch.
"Better to live with her than with a psychopath like you."
"What did you say to me, boy?"
Brian Morrison, the lawyer excellence, came between them.
"Please, Mrs. Carlsen," he said looking at Mona, "stop causing a scene. My client was found innocent and she has every right to be reunited with her son."
"And I won't let you have him, ever," Kelly added for good measure.
"We'll see about that," Mona huffed in return, as she started to walk toward her car.
Kelly hated that woman. Despite her parting words, Kelly was simply too happy to let that old bitch ruin her mood. She was free and reunited with her son, life was good.
"Come on, I'll take you both, home," Mr. Morrison offered and Kelly simply nodded in return.
Home. She really liked the sound of that
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