What we saw at night, p.6
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       What We Saw at Night, p.6
 

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  I froze. There.

  Blondie’s form hovered over a girl on a blanket. Was it the same girl? Short, dark hair? I spotted the lightning streak. The girl looked straight at me, her all-pupil eyes as motionless as a doll’s, her blue lips parted in a gasp. Her head was bent far to the left and forward. An unnatural position. You couldn’t have held your head that way, even lying down. And her neck.…

  I whirled and pushed against Rob’s legs, just above me.

  “Go back up!” I whispered. “Pull me!”

  “What?”

  “Go. Back. Up.”

  It took Rob a moment to get his bearings. Breathe, I thought, breathe. Rob grasped my wrists. They slipped out of his hands. I pulled the long sleeves of my jersey down over my hands and got up, crouched, on the railing of the balcony.

  Rob reached down for me again. “You have to face the door, so I can grab both of your arms,” he whispered.

  “It’s okay. I can pull myself up,” I whispered back.

  “Just give me your wrists, Allie.”

  I looked down.

  Blondie’s hands were pressed against the screen, his fingers splayed. And even though our eyes never met, he smiled.

  He’d seen me, too.

  I would have loved Rob, anyway. Even if he hadn’t thrown himself over the edge of the roof and then pulled himself and me, with my body almost dead weight, back up beside him and Juliet. (I still have little scars on my ribcage where he dragged me over the gutter.) I pushed myself to my feet, and there we all were: on the roof, the calm lake before us and the starry sky above us. But I was the only one hyperventilating. The things I’d seen tumbled from my cracked lips in a harsh whisper, until Juliet cut me off.

  “How do you know the girl was dead?” she demanded.

  “Juliet, her eyes were open!” I nearly shrieked. “Her neck was all covered with bruises and her face was all dirty or bruised. There was—”

  “We believe you,” Rob interrupted. “Wait. Wait a minute. We can’t go back the way we came.”

  “How do you know it was the same guy?” Juliet asked in the same monotone.

  I turned to Rob. “Will you hit her in the face? Are you kidding? We find the freaky guy with a naked dead girl once and we come back and you think there’s a different guy in a different apartment with a different dead girl? He saw my face, Juliet! He smiled at me!”

  Rob said, “Let’s just get down.”

  “Tavish!” I gasped. “Tessa and the baby. What if he gets them?” I fumbled for my cell phone in my fanny pack, sitting down hard. Mace (thank you, Mom!), a scream whistle (THANK you, paranoid Mom!) and finally my cell phone. I punched Tessa’s number. Before she picked up, I realized it was three in the morning and snapped the phone shut.

  Instantly, it rang.

  For a delusional moment, I thought it was Blondie. I couldn’t bear to look at the Caller ID.

  “Pick it up,” Juliet ordered.

  I opened the phone. “Hello?”

  It was Tessa. Of course it was. She was alive and well. She was twelve hours south with her husband and the baby, and not at all perturbed that I’d accidentally dialed her number. I wanted to sob for her to call 911, but instead I apologized for the “accidental dial” and told her I’d see her soon.

  Rob saw me start to shudder. He gently rested his arm around my shoulder. To Juliet, he said, “Call your dad.”

  She shrugged. “I’m thinking about it.”

  I pushed Rob’s arm away. “You’re thinking about it? Call him now!”

  “Chill, Allie,” she groaned. “Of course I want to call him. But I want us to get out of here first, because, if we don’t, I’ll never get out of my house again.”

  Juliet started to pace back and forth, and then spotted the fire escape and raised a finger over her lips.

  One by one, quiet as kittens, we descended the metal stairwell and alighted soundlessly on the gravel. Rob’s car was nearly hidden on Lakeshore Drive in a little grove of pine trees, off the road, in case anyone chanced to come by.

  I don’t know why I kept silent. Did Juliet have that much power over me?

  There is a moment in everyone’s life—and I guess I’d never had one—when everything stops. Time stops. Motion stops. That was the first time it happened to me. The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but the sprint to Rob’s Jeep might as well have been a million single steps through quicksand. I thought I’d fall. I thought I was being punished. For what? A life that wasn’t long enough to have piled up any serious sins, unless you counted the champagne and Mike’s Hard Ice Tea and the weed (only six times and once, respectively)? Then again, stuff happens to innocent people all the time. Just look at anyone with XP.

  Rob later said I’d sprinted like an Olympian.

  NONE OF US wanted to go home, Juliet included. Rob decided to take us up the old fire road to Ghost Lake—to our old hangout spot, down the shore from where we’d borrowed Mr. Callahan’s boat. I hadn’t been there in years. There was our phony metal sign, posted when we still had to bike everywhere; it claimed the property was protected by Sirocco Security. It cost us thirty bucks to make. But people stayed away, even kids drinking or screwing, figuring the alarm was connected directly to the police.

  If somebody peeked through one of the boarded windows, they would think slobs lived there instead of nobody. Not all the windows were even broken. Stacks of bottled water blocked most of the view, anyway. We could always stay overnight, not that I had. I’d like to think Rob and Juliet hadn’t, either. Nicola Burns once told me that some kids at Iron Harbor High still believed that this part of Ghost Lake really was haunted.

  We sat in the car, Juliet up front, me in the back.

  “Where did he go?” Rob asked over his shoulder. “That night you saw him?”

  “If I knew, I’d know,” I told him, exasperated. “He just disappeared.”

  “Maybe he ran to where we hid the car,” he said.

  “He ran in the other direction, toward the beach,” I stated.

  “He must have had a car hidden,” Juliet chimed in. “It would be easy to hide a sports car.”

  Had I told Juliet about the little red car that nearly creamed my mom’s mini-van? I couldn’t even remember, I was so freaked out.

  Rob suddenly burst out, “What are we doing? We’re sitting here chatting and that girl could still be alive!”

  “She’s not alive,” I said.

  “Lots of people who are in trauma recover,” Rob said. “People shot through the head recover. It’s been twenty five minutes now.”

  “How about we make something up,” Juliet suggested. “But I have to figure out how my call to 911 won’t be from me.”

  Rob glared at her in a way that made me think he knew she was lying. “That’s easy. You dial 5-5 before and it blocks your number.”

  I poked my head through the front seats. Of course Juliet would have known that, but she hadn’t shared it with us. “I didn’t know that,” I said purposefully.

  “I read it somewhere, and not on the Internet,” he said, his eyes still on Juliet. “You know, reading? Books? It can be useful. You didn’t know that, either?”

  Juliet didn’t respond. We sat silently as Rob, cussing under his breath, dialed 5-5 and then 911 on Juliet’s phone. In a phony voice, he reported a woman who was injured in the penthouse of Tabor Oaks Condominiums on Lakeshore Road. No, he said, he wasn’t interested in leaving his name. No, he said, he wasn’t interested in any reward money. No, he couldn’t leave a number.

  He shut the phone and we waited. My skin writhed, as if my body were coated with stinging ants. We sat in the silence of his Jeep. We sat and sat.…

  Then we heard the sirens. Had it only been a couple of minutes since Rob had made the call? First a police car, and after that, an ambulance.…

  More than one car had been dispatched. The sirens blended in the kind of alternating shrieks and whoops that woke my mother up at night, making her cross hers
elf in panicked prayer: Lord, I beg that medics aren’t scraping my daughter and her dumb friends off the highway (although Juliet’s dad would have called her or shown up if that had been the case). The sirens stopped.

  Would there be shots?

  For an agonizing three minutes, we sat still together, barely breathing.

  Finally, Juliet broke the silence. “You think they have him by now?”

  Rob said, “Of course.”

  “So we can go down there and find out what happened,” she said.

  Rob glanced back at me. Neither of us had thought of that. “Wait just a minute. I don’t want it to look funny for us,” he said. “We can’t just come driving by.”

  “Of course we can!” Juliet exclaimed. “You’re an XP kid! I’m Tommy Sirocco’s daughter!”

  Rob turned back to the wheel. “True.”

  Just to be safe, we waited another interminable two minutes. One-one-thousand 120 times in a row. An MRI would have been preferable. Then Rob rattled down the hill. Leisurely, observing the speed limit, he proceeded back along Lakeshore Road. We almost overshot Tabor Oaks. There were lights, two on the third floor—but not on the top floor. There were no police cars, either, no sirens, no ambulance … no sign of life except for the cars we’d seen in the parking lot when we’d bolted.

  “What the hell is going on?” Rob said, as much to himself as us.

  Juliet one-dialed her dad. “What was all the excitement? It was like Law and Order down by Tabor Oaks. I didn’t see a fire truck.” She paused, listening to him speak. I held my breath, avoiding Rob’s eyes in the darkness. “Where were we? Up by Ghost Lake, fishing.… No. Nothing … shiners. I guess.” Juliet made big circles with her free hand, implying an ever-rolling spool of words. “No, Dad … no. We heard the sirens and came over to the new building.” Silence. “We thought someone lit a fire in it or something. Well, so, what did happen?”

  Juliet touched her finger to her lips and put the phone on speaker. Her father’s tinny voice filled the charged air of the Jeep: “… what they were talking about. Maybe somebody heard something. Sorry, darling. Just another big night in Mayberry!”

  Talking about Mayberry was a favorite joke of his, and we’d only recently figured out it referred to an old TV show. At times like these, it was clear that Tommy Sirocco missed his life as a detective down in the big city. (Listen to me. The big city! Minneapolis! Nicola once said she couldn’t die without seeing Paris. I would be lucky to see Chicago.) Officer Sirocco always maintained that he was happy, though, because there was happiness and safety for Juliet, and for his wife, Ginny, in Iron Harbor. But Juliet still managed to wander. With the state’s ski team, she traveled all over the region.

  “Dad, you didn’t see anybody?” she demanded. “Why did they send like, the Marine Corps?”

  “We have to send the whole crew if there’s a chance there was a victim. Fire truck. Ambulance. You know the drill, sweetie.”

  “So who was it?”

  “It was a prank call. We sort of knew it from the get-go. If I could get my hands on whatever punk’s ass it was.” He stopped. “Am I on speaker?”

  “No, Dad.”

  “You sound like you’re underwater.”

  “I am underwater.” She shot us a panicked smile, then clicked off the speaker and held it against her ear. “I’m glad it wasn’t real. Thanks, Dad. Bye. See you soon.”

  I held my breath. Then I shouted, “No!”

  One, loud shriek from the bottom of my feet. Now, looking back, I guess it seemed like high drama. But then, it felt as though if I didn’t let loose with something ear-splitting, my guts would boil through my flesh. “I saw him! You saw him, too, Rob. Didn’t you?”

  He stared at the steering wheel. He wanted to say he had. But he hadn’t. I had pushed Rob back up onto the roof too fast for him to see anything below except me.

  “I’m going back there now,” I said. “I’m going to search—”

  “Allie,” Rob gently murmured. “Allie-stair. The sun is going to be up in an hour.”

  “But I saw him. I saw that girl. Juliet, won’t your dad’s team search the carpet for hair and fiber evidence?”

  “That’s TV, Allie,” Juliet said. “There was nobody there.”

  “I want to talk to your dad. We could call in a sketch artist. Someone could draw her, from what I saw.”

  “But my dad was actually in there, Allie. He didn’t see anything.”

  I stared at her, pleading with my eyes, my belly filled with rage, my heart breaking. “You don’t believe me. You really don’t.”

  She shook her head. At the time, I was certain she truly doubted me. But she didn’t doubt me at all.

  “If you had a long life for sure, what would you do?”

  “Nobody has a long life for sure,” I told Rob. “Especially people who jump off buildings.”

  We’d had the what-if-you-weren’t-doomed-to-die conversation before, many times. But not recently, not since we’d started Parkour.

  We were sitting in the Jeep, on the top story of the parking garage in Duluth: the one that widened in big concentric loops until it filled an entire city block at the bottom. It was the same one that the cop’s son had been caught scaling. In fact, the cop had inadvertently given us the idea. The sky was a deep blue, the kind of blue it turns just before kids like us can begin unwrapping our scarves and hats and sunglasses. And the best part? The part I want to kill myself for admitting?

  Juliet wasn’t with us.

  Three days had passed since the incident. The whole ride home that night, she’d been on this weird campaign that was probably based on diluting her own fear: She’d tried to talk to me about the incident as though it hadn’t happened quite in the way I thought it had. She’d dropped dismissive hints. (“Maybe you were thinking of that other night, before, and you thought you saw something …”) I’d dismissed her dismissal: I knew she was shaken. Juliet was cool. And not in the slang sense. She never got agitated. She was cool like a pool hustler.

  The key to Parkour isn’t just strength, and it definitely isn’t daring. It’s absolute focus. From her ski jump days, Juliet was able to focus far better than Rob or I could. She’d applied that gift to Parkour, the gift for drilling straight down to the moment in front of her. Still, she was more challenged than we were, because even with contact lenses, her vision wasn’t 20-20 in either eye. Her poor vision was partly responsible for the bad fall that ended her fledgling ski career. Although she covered it up, she was losing a little more vision every couple of years. Dr. Andrew said that eventually laser surgery would correct the kind of loss she had, which was a complicated form of astigmatism. But no one would even try it until Juliet was eighteen.

  “If I could live a long time and be sure of it, I’d travel,” Rob said. “I’d … you know. Take a sabbatical. The way professors do.”

  Or Juliet, I answered silently. She’d gone on another “sabbatical” these past few days. Just up and disappeared. And I did hate myself for being relieved that I could spend time alone with Rob. The problem was that she could be so persuasive that there were moments I did doubt myself. The incident had been an adrenaline-drenched blur. Juliet’s excuse for her break from us was that she needed to “rest a little.” This would be like a promiscuous athlete who made $20 million a year announcing that he would spend the next few seasons as a Buddhist monk.

  But like I said: it gave Rob and me time to talk. And I was not hallucinating this much: we did talk differently when Juliet wasn’t around.

  We’d gone for sushi. We’d even tried out gruesome sounding combos, like Marching Dragon Tail. (It was awful.) Then we ran for the car—a sun below the horizon can still be dangerous—and Rob grabbed my hand without thinking to pull me along.

  Feelings change fast when you’re a teenager. Mom told me that it still amazed her that she would start a school year thinking about one boy constantly, relating every song and every bite of food and every glance in the mirror to complet
e absorption in him … and then, a few months later, be able to look at him with cold detachment, noticing his blackheads and his girl butt. But my feelings for Rob hadn’t changed, ever, except to grow stronger. I fantasized about explaining to him why we should get married when we were eighteen, because it corrected for our presumed lifespan.

  How could he not know? Or care? Being with Rob meant more to me than having a real grown-up life—whatever that even meant—in part because I didn’t think of my condition as really suited to having a big life, unless I could telecommute for everything. But I could have a home and a love. I could be happy. Eventually he would cave in and admit he was attracted to me.

  Two nights earlier, I had cut my hair in face-framing tendrils. Tonight, I’d even tried alluring cologne. (An oldie called Shalimar; my mother said that her mother had used it; but magazines said that it turned guys on because it smelled like vanilla—in other words, like something they could eat like a cookie.) Predictably, Rob didn’t try to eat me like a cookie. As always, he treated me like a kid sister. Worse: a kid brother.

  In the silence he said suddenly, “There are lots of places, like Paris, that are better at night. I’d keep a little room in some big city like LA, with just a Nerf basketball hoop and computers and my music and books. I wouldn’t even have a stove because I’d get takeout from a different place every night.”

  “Refrigerator?”

  “I’m not a barbarian.”

  “What else?”

  “A Murphy bed.”

  “What’s that?”

  “It’s a bed you pull down out of the wall. If you have one, you only need one big room. You know, with a table and a couch. A very big TV. Stands for the guitars. A Strat like Jimi Hendrix.”

  “You don’t play guitar. A what like Jimmy who?”

  “Never mind. I’m dreaming here.”

  Rob was the only guy I knew who shared the exact same musical tastes as his father. (True, I didn’t know many guys. But every guy in Iron Harbor our age listens to rap.) Both Dorn males insisted that “all great music was created between the years 1966 and 1974.”

 
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