The grownup, p.4
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       The Grownup, p.4

          
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  “Call your dad,” I said.

  “My dad’s in Africa.”

  The rain was clattering against my tinny rooftop. Susan Burke (that magnificent con artist!) had infused me with such a fear of the house, I’d been insensible. Now I could think: A successful woman marries a rich man. They have a baby who’s a real charmer. The life is good except for one thing: the weirdo stepson. I believed her when she said Miles had always been cold to her. I’m sure she was always cold to Miles. I’m sure she tried to get rid of him from the start. Someone as calculating as Susan Burke wouldn’t want to raise the oddball, awkward kid of another woman. Susan and Mike muddle along, but soon her cruelty toward his firstborn infects their relationship. He turns away from her. Her touch chills him. He comes to see me. And keeps seeing me. We have just enough in common, with the books, he can trick himself into thinking it’s a relationship of some sort. Things with Susan continue to disintegrate. He moves out. He leaves Miles behind because he’s traveling overseas—as soon as he returns, he’ll make arrangements. (This was pure guess, but the Mike I knew, who giggled when he came, he seemed like a guy who’d retrieve his kid.) Unfortunately, Susan discovers his secret and blames me for the destruction of her marriage. Imagine the rage, that a lowdown woman like me was handling her husband. And now she was stuck with a creepy kid she hated and a house she didn’t like. How to solve the problem? She begins to plot. She lures me in. Miles warns me in his elliptical way, toying with me, enjoying the game for a bit. Susan tells the neighbors something vague—that I’m here to help poor little Miles—so that when the truth comes out—that I’m a former hooker and current grifter—she will seem wretched, pitiful, pathetic. And I will seem ruinous. It’s the perfect way to commit murder.

  Miles looked over at me with his huge moon face and smiled.

  “You know you’re basically now a kidnapper,” he said.

  “I guess we need to go to the police.”

  “We need to go to Chattanooga, Tennessee,” he said, somewhat impatiently, as if I were backing out of a long-standing plan. “Bloodwillow is there this year. It’s always overseas—this is the first time it’s been in the United States since 1978.”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

  “It’s only the biggest supernatural convention in the world. Susan said I couldn’t go. So you can take me. I thought you’d be happy—you love ghost stories. You can hit the highway if you take a left at the third light up there.”

  “I’m not taking you to Chattanooga.”

  “You’d better take me. I’m in charge now.”

  “You are delusional, little boy.”

  “And you are a thief and a kidnapper.”

  “I’m neither.”

  “Susan didn’t call 911 because she was about to kill you.” He laughed. “She called 911 because I told her I caught you stealing. She’s been missing jewelry, you see.” He patted the pockets of his blazer. I heard a jangle inside.

  “By now she has come back upstairs and found her troubled stepson kidnapped by a fortune-telling hooker-thief. So we’ll have to lie low for a few days. Which is fine, Bloodwillow doesn’t start till Thursday.”

  “Susan wanted to kill me because she found out about me and your dad.”

  “You can say hand job, you know,” he said. “It doesn’t offend me.”

  “Susan found out.”

  “Susan found out nothing. She’s an incredibly intelligent idiot. I figured it out. I borrow my dad’s books all the time. I found your business card, I found your notes in the margins. I went to your place of work and figured it out. Part of what Susan said is true: She does think I’m weird. When we moved here—after I told her I didn’t want to; I was very clear that I didn’t want to—I started making things happen, in the house. Just to screw with her. I made up that website. Me. I made up the story of the Carterhooks. I sent her to you, just to see if she would finally freakin’ figure it out and leave. She didn’t, she fell for your bullshit.”

  “So Susan was telling the truth, about all the scary things in the house. You really did threaten to kill your brother?”

  “It says more about her that she believed me than it does about me that I said it.”

  “You really did throw your sitter down the stairs?”

  “Please, she fell. I’m not violent, I’m just smart.”

  “That day, with the vomit in my purse and the fit you had upstairs and the doll hanging from the light?”

  “The vomit was me because you weren’t listening to me. You weren’t leaving. The doll too. Also the razor-blade tip in the floorboard that sliced your finger. That’s actually an idea inspired by ancient Roman warfare. Have you ever read—”

  “No. The screaming you did? You sounded so furious.”

  “Oh, that was real. Susan had cut up my credit card and left it on my desk. She was trying to wall me in. But then I realized you were my way out of that stupid house. I need a grown-up to do anything, really: drive a car, get a hotel room. I’m too little for my age. I’m fifteen but I look like I’m twelve. I need someone like you to really get around. All I had to do was get you to take me out of the house, and you were done. Because you know you’re not going to show up at the cops. I assume someone like you has a criminal record.”

  Miles was right. People like me didn’t go to the police, ever, because it never turned out well for us.

  “Turn left up here to catch the freeway,” he said.

  I turned left.

  I took in his story, turned it over, and inspected it. Wait, wait.

  “Wait. Susan said you cut off your cat’s tail. You told me it was a manx…”

  He smiled then.

  “Ha! Good point. So someone’s lying to you. I guess you’ll have to decide which story to believe. Do you want to believe Susan is a nutjob or that I’m a nutjob? Which would make you feel more comfortable? At first, I thought it’d be better if you thought Susan was the crazy—that you’d be sympathetic to my plight, and we’d be friends. Road-trip buddies. But then I thought: Maybe it’s better if you think I’m the evil one. Maybe then you’re more likely to understand I’m in charge here…what do you think?”

  We drove in silence as I viewed my options.

  Miles interrupted me. “I mean, I really think it’s a win-win-win here. If Susan is the nutjob and she wants us gone, we’re gone.”

  “What will she tell your dad when he gets home?”

  “That depends on what story you want to believe.”

  “Is your dad really even in Africa?”

  “I don’t think my dad is a factor you need to worry about in your decision-making.”

  “OK, so what if you’re the nutjob, Miles? Your mom will have the cops on us.”

  “Pull over at that parking lot, the church.”

  I looked him up and down for a weapon. I didn’t want to be a body dumped in an abandoned church lot.

  “Just do it, OK?” Miles snapped.

  I pulled into a shuttered church parking lot just off the highway entrance. Miles leapt out in the rain and ran up the stairs and under the eaves. He pulled his cell from his blazer and made a call, his back to me. He was on the phone for a minute. Then he smashed the phone to the ground, stomped on it a few times, and ran back to the car. He smelled disturbingly springlike.

  “OK, I just called my nervous little stepmom. I told her you freaked me out, I’m sick of the house and all her weirdness—her habit of bringing in such unsavory people—and so I ran off and I’m staying at my dad’s place. He just got back from Africa and so I’ll stay there. She never calls my dad.”

  And he smashed the phone so I couldn’t see if he really called Susan or if he was just playacting again.

  “And what will you tell your dad?”

  “Let’s just remember that when you have two parents who hate each other and are always working or traveling and would like you out of their lives anyway, you can say a lot of things. You have a lot of room to work with. So you really don’t need to worry. Get to the highway and then there’s a motel about three hours on. Cable TV and a restaurant.”

  I got on the highway. The kid was sharper at fifteen than I was at twice his age. I was starting to think this whole going legit, thinking-of-others, benevolent thing was fer the berds. I was starting to think this kid might be a good partner. This tiny teen needed a grown-up to move in the world, and there was nothing a con girl could use more than a great con kid. “What do you do?” people would ask, and I’d say, “I’m a mom.” Think of what I could get away with, the scams I could pull, if people thought I was a sweet little mom.

  Plus that Bloodwillow convention sounded really cool.

  We pulled into the motel three hours later, just as Miles had projected. We got adjoining rooms.

  “Sleep tight,” Miles said. “Don’t leave in the night, or I’ll call the cops and go back to the kidnap story. I promise that’s the last time I’ll threaten you, I don’t want to be an asshole. But we’ve got to get to Chattanooga! We’re going to have so much fun, I swear. I can’t believe I’m going. I’ve wanted to go since I was seven!” He did a strange little dance of excitement and went into his room.

  The kid was kind of likable. Also a possible sociopath, but very likable. I had a good feeling about him. I was going with a smart kid to a place where everyone wanted to talk about books. I was finally going to leave town for the first time in my life, and I had the whole new “mommy” angle to work. I decided not to worry: I may never know the truth about the happenings at Carterhook Manor (how’s that for a great line?). But I was either screwed or not screwed, so I chose to believe I wasn’t. I had convinced so many people of so many things over my life, but this would be my greatest feat: convincing myself what I was doing was reasonable. Not decent, but reasonable.

  I got in bed and watched the door of the adjoining room. Checked the lock. Turned off the light. Stared at the ceiling. Stared at the adjoining door.

  Pulled the dresser in front of the door.

  Nothing to worry about at all.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Thanks to George R. R. Martin, who asked me to write him a story.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Gillian Flynn is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl and the New York Times bestsellers Dark Places and Sharp Objects. A former writer and critic for Entertainment Weekly, she lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

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  Gillian Flynn, The Grownup

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Comments 1

mizgriz 15 October 2018 22:02
0
why are all flynn's stories chock full of sociopaths????
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