What we saw at night, p.19
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       What We Saw at Night, p.19

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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  I tried to shut off the squirming thoughts as I awaited my turn to speak. The uncles went first. Then her grandma, Rosa. Then the cousins. Then Rob.…

  I tried to remember Juliet, to conjure her up. Instead, my normal brain went on strike. It was Occupy Allie Kim for my normal brain. (Was there ever even a normal brain?) I thought of my outfit: a brand new short black dress Gina had bought for me as a gift and as condolence, as she knew I couldn’t go shopping. (Juliet would have dug its style.) I thought of how the whole thing seemed like a long prank, and that Juliet herself would leap out at any moment and yell, “Psych!”

  I blinked at Rob. I hadn’t even heard what he’d said. He held and released a fistful of the stony mix, like ash and shell. He turned to me, tears staining his cheeks.

  This was no prank, no hoax.

  Without thinking, I wet a finger and poked the gray matter, then dotted my tongue. Like the night sky above us. I hadn’t planned it, but Rob did the same. As long as we lived, Juliet would be part of us.

  It was my turn. I cleared my throat. I tried to remember what I’d prepared.

  “Juliet … there’s nothing to say except that I loved her. Part of what I loved most is that I never knew everything about her. People like us want a little privacy. A little mystery. It’s all we have. But I know this much. Juliet wanted everyone she loved to soar and be daring. So I’ll sleep well tomorrow … seriously. I will, knowing she is out there taking flight. Forever.”

  I blinked again. I found myself staring at the shadows of people who were here for my best friend. I thought about the kids who’d glimpsed us in the playground, years ago, who had no mechanism to deal with what we were.

  “I wanted to read a poem.” My throat caught. “These lines were written four hundred years ago, about a skylark:

  “Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

  Bird thou never wert—

  We look before and after,

  And pine for what is not:

  Our sincerest laughter

  With some pain is fraught;

  Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

  Rob took my arm. We turned and walked away then, from Ghost Lake, where we had laughed and fished and skinny-dipped and drank wine, where, I think, Juliet had spent some of the happiest nights of her life. We left her there.

  Neither Rob nor I ever went back.

  AROUND MIDNIGHT, AFTER Juliet’s funeral, I went home to cold-pack my head like a fresh fish. Rob had gone home. My mother had gone to the Sirocco house to be with the family. My sister had gone home with Gina. Maybe they all knew that I had to be alone. All I wanted was to hide from the grief and the hot, close pounding of the pain.

  Bonnie had graciously left me with a packet of a few knockout pills, not enough to put me in any danger.

  I took all five. They might as well have been M&M’s.

  When I finally slept, it was only for a few hours. I kept dreaming of her, asleep with her open palms next to her head. Hail to thee, blithe spirit.…

  It was silent when I awoke.

  I glanced at the phone at my bedside table. I had three new messages.

  My mouth was pasted thick with the debris of dreams, already fading. There are biological reasons that you have a sensation of spinning in the extremes of anxiety. You over-breathe or breathe too shallowly; your heart rate builds and your glands release the hormone flood that will let you run and scream or stand and fight. If you do neither, you can black out. I’m guessing I did. I’ve never fainted again and I’d never fainted before.

  But the last thing I recall was pressing the button to listen to the message, and then staring up at the blank ceiling Juliet and I had filled with hopes and dreams over a lifetime of lying next to each other.

  “ALLIE,” MY MOTHER was saying. “Alexis. Are you hurt? Don’t move, sweetie. Everything feels okay pulse-wise. Did you fall?”

  “I’m fine,” I said.

  “Don’t speak,” she said. “It’s just too much of too much. You’re sweating and it must be seventy in here.”

  My mother didn’t think it was so very strange. I hadn’t been eating or sleeping much; the pills might have made me groggy. I was not bruised, just sort of slumped in a gangly but not untidy heap near my bed.

  “Mom, I need some time alone,” I told her.

  “Alexis, you need a hot meal. That’s not a request. It’s almost four.”

  “Four in the morning?”

  She sighed. “Of course in the morning.”

  My heart began to thump, remembering I’d heard Juliet’s voice.

  First: “Allie. Call now. Hurry.”

  Then, weepy: “Bear! Call me. Call back right now!”

  Finally: “Allie-Bear. Don’t call. Don’t call until I tell you. Wait.”

  I began to blink rapidly. Juliet. Juliet.… Maybe she’d called long before she’d died, and her phone had been damaged so the calls hadn’t been received until now. The first call was time-stamped during her funeral. I’d called for her and she’d called back. But that was insane. It was sickening. I knew her phone hadn’t been found. But did that mean …?

  Madness, I know, is anesthetic: Garrett Tabor could have gotten the phone and forced her to prerecord a series of messages, just to torment me. First, she cries out, stubbornly, releasing a wail of pain only at the last blunt moment. Then she’s like a child, crying hard—not for me, for anyone. Then she’s collected. How could that be faked? It was her. It was Juliet. It was part of a plan, not coincidence. But a plan for what?

  My mother shook me. “Allie! Look at me!”

  “Just give me two seconds, Mom,” I said.

  She stood and marched to the door. “I want you downstairs, dressed, and at the kitchen table by 4:15 at the latest.”

  Hustling, I backed up my phone on my computer. I got dressed: sensible jeans, sensible sweatshirt. I didn’t want to freak out my mom any more than she already was. For the first time since Juliet had disappeared, I felt in the moment, invigorated, focused. I had to act now. If I had no proof that she was alive, at least I had proof that she had been alive long after even the autopsy suggested she was. These recordings and Garrett Tabor were connected in some way. She’d foiled his plan for her. It wasn’t evidence, but it was suspicious enough to mount an investigation. It could be put together in a chain that would be enough to indict him for something.

  I quickly tidied up in the mirror over my bureau.

  But then another thought occurred to me. If she was dead, then Garrett Tabor was pulling the strings. He’d somehow orchestrated this. He wanted to scare me so badly that I’d know: if I said a word, it would be the word that would pull the trigger on something even worse than the worst possible thing. That something-even-worse would really happen then—an apocalypse, and it would be my fault. Juliet would never be redeemed, and my own life would be nothing but ash. Still, if there was an off chance, literally a ghost of a chance.…

  I clung to this knowledge like an overfilled glass of water. It could tip and spill. I could tip it by telling Rob or my mother or Tommy. I could run to them now and say, take this glass from me. But they wouldn’t be able to take it. If I did not lose my mind then, I never would.

  I CAME DOWNSTAIRS to find my mom arguing with Deputy Sherriff Sonny Larsen.

  “No,” Mom was saying. “You can’t come in until I make sure that Alexis is properly dressed and has eaten.”

  “You’ll need to keep the door open then. This is a serious charge.”

  Thank you, universe! I thought, bounding down the stairs. Thank you, thank you! I hadn’t had to say a thing. He’d been caught and charged! Here were the Marines! The balance had been restored. The glass would not spill. They’d got him. Somehow, they’d put the pieces together themselves.

  “Allie,” my mother said, stepping aside. “Deputy Chief Larsen.…”

  “Miss Kim,” said Officer Larsen. Her sour smile almost looked like a sticker, pasted on her blocky face. “I have here a complaint a
gainst you for assault and battery.”

  I blinked at her. “I’m sorry?”

  “You and your mother need to come with me now.”

  “Is this a joke?” I asked, my heart hammering against my ribcage. I felt guilty, even though I knew I’d done nothing wrong. “What’s happening?”

  “Yes, please tell me what the hell is going on,” Mom demanded.

  “Garrett Tabor filed a complaint this morning after he was treated for serious burns to his neck at Divine Savior Hospital emergency room. He is still in the hospital, under care.”

  “What does that have to do with me?” I asked, even though I felt a flood of relief. Somebody had gotten to him.

  “We need you to come down to the station,” Officer Larsen said.

  “I’ll drive my daughter,” Mom said.

  “She’ll need to come in the squad car,” Officer Larsen said.

  “The hell with that!” Mom barked. “Call Tommy Sirocco!”

  “He’s been notified,” Officer Larsen said.

  I clung to my mom’s arm, feeling as if I were trapped in some waking nightmare. Would I wake up?

  “She’s not under arrest,” Jackie protested, pulling me close. “You arrest her, or I will drive my daughter. Now, I am going to call my friend Gina Ricci to take my daughter Angela to her house. Allie, sit down, and—”

  “I’ll let you make your arrangements,” Officer Larsen interrupted. “But I’ll follow you all the way. Running lights.”

  The ski mask.

  Even when Sonny Larsen placed it on the interrogation table in front of my mother and me, I wanted not to believe it.

  Panic turned to horror. It came to me in a flash, in my mind’s eye, like the police reports I’d studied for John Jay. The facts were cold and sequential. Juliet had tossed her brand new ski mask to me at Watching Rock, insisting that she wear mine instead. I’d given the ski mask back to her in the hospital room. And she’d never worn it.

  “Recognize this?” Officer Larsen asked.

  I shook my head, almost hyperventilating. “Yeah, but—”

  “Alexis, what’s going on?” my mother murmured.

  I couldn’t speak. Officer Larsen flipped open a laptop and pressed the pause button. I found myself in the very surreal position of watching Garrett Tabor, his face and neck blotchy with burns and blisters, accuse me of attacking him.

  His story was as follows:

  I’d broken into his penthouse. I’d been scoping for months; he had video to prove it. He also knew I babysat for a family there, though he’d prefer to leave them out of it, so he wasn’t mentioning their name. Upon breaking in the balcony, I’d lit the burner on the stove and doused him in his bed with scalding water. He’d managed to rip off my ski mask during the attack, but it was definitely me. He’d caught a glimpse of my face.

  I could feel the blood draining from my cheeks, from my chest, pooling at my feet. Garrett Tabor was beyond mad. He’d disfigured himself to frame me? He’d ingratiated himself with Sonny Larsen, which would only discredit Tommy Sirocco, his victim’s father? There truly was nothing he couldn’t do. And his claim would be impossible to refute.

  My mind whirled down a series of dead ends. Garrett Tabor had no doubt caught the three of us on surveillance cameras when we’d traced at Tabor Oaks. Plus, his tissue would be all over the outside of that ski mask; mine alone would be all over the inside. A DNA test would prove that beyond any shred of a doubt. He knew it, didn’t he? He knew that even if I protested, I’d be proved a liar.

  I hated myself, but my only thought was: Juliet, you didn’t set me up … did you?

  No. Of course she didn’t. But if she wasn’t dead now, she would be soon.

  “I know that Alexis’s grief is overpowering,” he continued on the tape, his eyes brimming with tears. “Mine is, too. I’ve spent my whole life working with kids. The problem is that this troubled girl doesn’t understand my relationship to Juliet. I loved her like a daughter. Juliet Sirocco endured physical and emotional pain most of us can’t even conceive of. I spent hours of my life trying to talk her out of committing suicide, trying to get her to go on. I also know that Alexis Kim thought I hadn’t done enough.…”

  I only caught snippets of the rest. Garrett Tabor said he had gone straight to the ER, where his friend, Dr. Lauren Wilenbrand, had treated him. She’d convinced him to make a formal complaint. It was she who’d pointed out that indeed, he’d been hurt, badly hurt. And if I could do so much damage to someone who was a relative stranger, what else could I do?

  Would he press charges? Would he try to intervene if the county pressed charges?

  He had no interest in punishing me. He just wanted to get back to Bolivia, back to the important work his family was doing. If I would agree to mandatory psychiatric treatment … perhaps he could see his way out of this. He knew that I was undone by grief. I had lost a great deal.

  I gaped at Officer Larsen, unbelieving.

  Garrett finished: “This town, Iron Harbor, where my family has devoted itself to helping others for four generations, has been through hell. It’s time for that hell to end.”

  WHEN I FINALLY was able to collect myself, I asked to take a lie-detector test. My mother had to pay for it, because I wasn’t formally charged with anything. The results showed that I was being truthful when I said that I believed that Garrett Tabor was responsible for Juliet Lee Sirocco’s death. When the operator submitted his report, however, he added that I was being truthful when I said that I was responsible for Juliet Lee Sirocco’s death. I was being truthful when I said I had nothing to do with Garrett Tabor’s injuries.

  A few days later, I received a letter from Iron County Social Services.

  If I would agree to twenty hours of community service, to be served over the winter holidays, there would be no formal charges. And an added bonus? The Cryer family would not be notified, either.

  LYING IN ROB’S arms that night, I cried and talked and cried. And he listened, until I talked myself into the understanding that to fight back, I would risk a felony blot on my record as an adult. Goodbye, career as an investigator. That would be the equivalent of handing Garrett Tabor my sword.

  But Rob insisted that he believed my version of events. Of course he did. No way would I have snuck out of my house to break into Tabor’s penthouse. My mother believed me, too. Angie believed me. They knew I’d been at home that night, even though they hadn’t seen me there. That was all that mattered. Now their eyes, too, were on Garrett Tabor.

  But I was not finished. I made arrangements for a confidential conference call with Barry Yashida, my advisor. He was a former FBI agent. I told him everything. My acceptance into John Jay still stood; I was not a convicted criminal. If he doubted me, he never let on. He told me that he admired my forthrightness. I made a recording of the phone messages for Dr. Yashida, and set up a phone conference. Then, with Rob and my mother present, he listened as I laid out my version of the events of the past six months.

  The process took three hours.

  Although my mother gasped and recoiled when I explained about the girl in the empty apartment and gave Juliet’s account of her relationship with Garrett Tabor, she did not speak of it or ask about it—then or later. Finally, I forwarded the videos we’d made of the Dark Stars, as they provided a sample of Juliet’s voice.

  Dr. Yashida called me back within the hour. The voice analyst could not be more than 75% sure that the voice on the phone messages matched the voice on the video. But 75% was hardly insignificant. Percentages far less had stood up in court. The only problem was determining the time of origin … and given the DNA results, the case appeared closed. I understood. I thanked him for his time.

  “I’m proud of you, Allie,” Mom kept telling me throughout the whole awful ordeal.

  I only hoped she meant it. This wasn’t over.

  A FEW NIGHTS later, I went to Tessa’s at Tabor Oaks for the last time, just to say goodbye. They were moving to a little lake town in W
isconsin; her mother, too, to a town where Tessa’s sister lived.

  NO PART OF their decisions linked to anything that had befallen me, but I rejoiced. Tessa made forlorn noises about my coming along, as a summer nanny. I was tempted. Tavish was adorable, and Tessa’s belly was enormous. She would pop at any moment. The idea of running away and caring for two innocent children … for a fleeting instant, I almost felt like Juliet. Break free. Soar. Live once.

  But no. I would never leave Rob, or my mother, or Angie. Not until I’d proven what had really happened. I couldn’t go away to college. I would go to John Jay, but online and by Skype, even if I got the chance to leave.

  “Allie, I hate to do this to you, but would you mind hanging out for a half hour while I just run to the store and grab some ice cream?” Tessa asked. Her tired eyes twinkled as she massaged her swollen tummy. “I’ll pay you double.”

  “Please. It’s on the house. Just save some ice cream for me.”

  “You’re a lifesaver,” Tessa breathed—and then was gone.

  Tavish, who had been running around all day like the toddler madman he was, was already conked out. I had the place to myself. A lifesaver. I walked to the window. If only that were true.… The early winter wind in the treetops was a doleful sigh, the waves stroked the shore: Now? Now?

  That’s when I spotted it.

  A dim light: bouncing, low to the ground, bobbing along the bluff. Every few moments, the light descended, disappeared and then reappeared, wobbling, side to side, closer, and then closer.

  Why had I thought he would stop? Logic? People like Garrett Tabor didn’t stop. They never stopped, until they were caught or eliminated everyone who stood in their way. They did not stop until they were forced. He had watched my shadow, alone in the apartment with Tavish. He had waited patiently, knowing that I would take his bait and step outside onto the balcony.

 
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