You will know me, p.11
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       You Will Know Me, p.11

           Megan Abbott
 
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  “It was on your bed, flashing.” The lie came easily.

  “Oh. And you started looking through it?”

  “No,” Katie said, noticing something in Devon’s expression, a sense of the breach. It was unfair, to feel like an invader. She, who sewed cotton gussets into the crotch of Devon’s competition leotards if they were cut too high for underwear. She, who, like every gymnast mom, was so acutely attuned to her daughter’s body, hands on her thighs, massaging a groin pull, that sometimes she felt it was her own.

  “I just saw the missed calls. That’s not the point, Devon. Why is she calling you?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t answer.”

  “You have no idea?” Katie wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t believe her.

  “I guess she’s sad and calling a bunch of people. Everyone said she was acting funny at the funeral. I didn’t answer. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

  “I’m sure she’d appreciate whatever you had to say,” Katie said. It made sense, her daughter’s life so blessedly untouched by the loss of a grandparent, or even a pet. By the time Katie was Devon’s age, her uncle had died in a fall, her mom had burned through two marriages, she’d moved six times. “But you and she—you aren’t close. Why you?”

  “I don’t know. She probably won’t call again. There’s lots of people who know her better than me. Like you.”

  “What? I’m not close—Devon, if she calls again, you tell me,” Katie said, but Devon had already slid her headphones back on and started running again.

  Katie sat at the kitchen table, waiting for that morning’s tarry coffee to heat. Gwen had finally released Eric, but now he was upstairs checking on Drew.

  The vinyl place mat bore the imprint of Eric’s jottings, the ballpoint pressed so hard. Rows and rows of numbers, mysterious hieroglyphics (Eric’s perpetual vault-table doodle), and something that had been crossed out vigorously, over and over again.

  She held it up to the light without knowing why. All she could see was a doodle, a pair of slanty eyes, a V between them, like a cartoon owl.

  “Poor kid, his throat looked like a slab of raw beef.” Eric’s voice startled her, her hand dropping the place mat quickly, face flushing. “What’re you doing?”

  What had she been doing?

  Before she could answer, Eric’s phone lit up once more.

  They both looked down and saw the name: Gwen.

  Exchanged looks.

  “Not a chance,” Eric said, hands in the air.

  The phone stopped, but seconds later, Katie’s leaped to life.

  Gwen.

  “It might be important,” Eric said gently.

  “Things are happening here. Did you know Hailey’s been calling our daughter over and over?”

  “What?” he said, his face very still.

  They both watched as the phone finally stopped.

  Then the text message came:

  There’s a witness.

  “Gwen, it’s really late,” Eric said into the phone.

  “Put her on speaker,” Katie whispered.

  He set the phone down, and Gwen’s voice filled the kitchen.

  “Somebody saw the car. A trucker. Apparently he called the day after the accident, but he’d been on the road. He finally showed up at the station yesterday to make a statement. He didn’t see it happen, but he saw a car speeding past. Up by the highway, just before the turnoff to Ash Road.”

  “So have they found the driver?” Eric asked, standing up and walking to the sink.

  “No. But the guy said it was a woman. He didn’t get a good look at her, but she was driving very fast. Like she had someplace she needed to be.”

  “Gwen, how do you know all this?” Katie asked.

  “You don’t own six restaurants and ten parking lots in a town as small as this without having friends at the district attorney’s office.”

  “Well,” Katie said, “for the Belfours’ sake, I hope this leads to something.”

  “But here’s the kicker,” Gwen said, the speaker crackling as her voice rose. “He said the car was purple.”

  Katie looked at Eric, who turned around slowly, eyes on the phone.

  Hailey? he mouthed.

  “No way,” Katie said, looking at him and then looking at the phone. “No, Gwen.”

  “I’m sure there’s other purple cars,” Gwen said, her voice breathier now, like she was right there in the room with them. Her excitement palpable. “We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions.”

  They couldn’t find anything on the Internet except the news article from the day before.

  “It doesn’t make any sense,” Katie said. “Five days later he suddenly remembers this?”

  “Gwen said he called the next day,” Eric reminded her. His eyes were on the screen, the photo of a spotlit Ash Road, the crimped guardrail, the dark earth massy below.

  “The police called Hailey in for more questions,” Katie said. “And Helen. I dropped her off at the police station. She’s not staying with the Belfours anymore.”

  “Well,” he said, “I guess we know why.”

  “You don’t believe this, do you?” Katie said. “Because some guy says he saw a purple car near Ash Road that night, it has to be Hailey? And so she must have run over her own boyfriend?”

  The words themselves seemed to startle them both.

  He looked at her. “No,” he said softly. “I don’t believe it.”

  She told him about the missed calls on Devon’s phone and tried again to explain about Hailey after the funeral. Hailey through the sliding glass door.

  She tried to tell him, but it all felt cryptic, the whisper of a story rather than a story.

  “She kept pounding on the door,” Katie said. “She told me she knew what was happening.”

  “Knew what was happening?” Eric asked, leaning forward.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Katie, I think we need to keep out of all this,” Eric said. “This is something Teddy has to deal with. It’s not our business. Our business is Devon.”

  Our business is Devon. She knew what he meant, but it reminded her of something one of Devon’s teachers once said to her: You may be in the Devon Knox business, but I’m in the education business.

  “She’s under so much pressure right now,” he said, his face strained and weary.

  She thought, as she had many times, of how it must feel for Devon, everyone’s hopes pinned to her, the gym’s reputation waiting for her burnishing. The Gazette calling her the town’s “brightest star.” How heavy it must feel, all the time.

  But there was something in Eric’s eyes, a jittery urgency. “Molly told me she was struggling with her Yurchenko again. A few months ago, she was nearing the Amânar, now she can’t even get her second twist. Amelise said she looked disoriented in the air. Devon told her she just got lost up there.”

  The words scissored through her. That’s how necks get broken, Teddy always said. She couldn’t help but think of Devon’s first accident, the thump of the mower.

  “Maybe she shouldn’t be practicing at all,” Katie said. “Not until things settle down.”

  “She needs practice. It’s what grounds her,” he said. “It’s just that gym. Right now, it’s not the safe place it used to be.”

  “Okay, but if the gym isn’t a good place, maybe we should just—”

  “We need to keep her out of all this,” Eric interrupted, so loud Katie flinched.

  “Yes,” she said, tightly. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

  He looked at her. “I know you are.”

  Arm darting, he reached for her hand, but she pulled it back without knowing why.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, returning her hand to his. “You surprised me.”

  Chapter Nine

  “Mom.”

  The nicotine-graded voice of a fifty-year-old, pack-a-day woman.

  “Mom. Mom!”

  Two forty-five, the clock read.

  Stumblin
g down the hall, her feet catching on a humidifier cord, a stray tennis shoe.

  Drew’s room was unbearably hot, his glass of water untouched, film around its rim.

  “Honey,” she said, “what is it? What do you need?”

  “Devon jumped off the roof.”

  “What? What?”

  Sitting straight up in bed, he looked at her, face red as a candy fireball.

  “She had wings. White wings, like a gypsy moth.”

  “Oh, honey, you’re dreaming again.”

  She looked inside his throat, scarlet and pulsing, webbed white. It did look like beef, she thought, with thick striations.

  “She jumped off the roof and into the car. Then she drove away.”

  “Oh, honey.”

  “And you,” he said, pupils widening, boring right through her. “You had scales over your eyes, like a snake.”

  “Lie back down,” she said, “try to rest. You and Devon, your crazy dreams.”

  His hands on hers, sticky and hot.

  “Mom,” he said, “you can’t go anywhere.”

  “I’m not going anywhere,” she said, hand to his face.

  “You’ll miss everything,” he said. “Mom, you’ll miss what’s happening.”

  Just after five, she felt Eric’s body lift from the mattress. For a second, she forgot about everything that had happened in recent days and just watched him in the blue morning light.

  Watched that familiar span of shoulders, the way his hair curled up his neck, his hand there, that early-morning piano-key dance he did with his fingers, prodding at kinks from days spent leaning over the soundboard or toward the glaring computer screens.

  Watched him walk across the room, rolling his shoulders, yawning.

  Watched him emerge from the bathroom, the shower’s fog, the smell of soap and shaving cream shuddering from him as he moved.

  Watched as he took his phone from the dresser. The steady thrum of texts, e-mails rippling from it, his head curled down, reading them, all of them under his fingertips.

  There were furtive thoughts she tried never to linger over. Like maybe Eric never would have married her if she hadn’t gotten pregnant (the night it happened, drunk on a softball victory, the company team, and three jubilant hours at Rizzo’s Tavern with everyone toasting his grand slam, Eric had been the one sweet-talking her into the back of the SoundMasters van. The one who promised her it would be okay, promised her everything). Or the other thought: that he never would have stayed married to her if it weren’t for Devon.

  It’s just, he’d said once, that shaky first year, Devon swaddled to Katie’s chest, I don’t need you the same way.

  But, thank God, everything was different later, and had been ever since.

  Before he left, that kiss on her cheek, his breath tanged with mouthwash—she loved him so much.

  Then the last week sharp-kneed its way back into her brain.

  The shower still warm, she stood under the water a long time.

  Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

  The sentence came to her, dizzy from the steam. What was that thing Teddy always said during practice? Don’t let me see it hurt. Everything’s beautiful, nothing hurts.

  Dreams and waking mingling all night, purple cars and whey-faced strangers, and poor Ryan slipping into her half-conscious state, she felt like she hadn’t slept at all.

  He would always find the lonely person in every room…

  That’s when the memory came. A few months ago, Ryan in the gym’s lobby—he’d caught her as she tried to change the bottle in the watercooler, the cold, wet thing slipping perilously from her arms, like a wriggling child.

  That’s bigger than you are, Ryan had said, reaching out for her, saving her.

  Rubbing her wrists, she watched him, forearms clamping the bottle, the cuts, scars, and puckered burns of a line cook.

  As he leaned over, turning the water bottle, she spotted a worn paperback gaping from his back pocket.

  It tumbled to the floor, resting on Katie’s shoe.

  Picking it up, she touched the book’s fading red cover, soft as felt.

  I missed a lot in high school, he said, screwing the glistening bottle into the stand. I’m taking classes at JCC. Making up for lost time.

  She didn’t know the book.

  You shouldn’t be lifting things like that, he said, shaking his head.

  The bottle left his shirtfront damp.

  Maybe not, she said, her face warm and her hands still slippery.

  Now, your daughter’s another story, Ryan said. Small as a peanut, strong as a tiger.

  Oh, Katie said. Her shoulders slumped a little. Yes. Yes, she is.

  He smiled, filling a cup of water for her, and it felt—

  Of all the moms, he said, winking, you’re the nicest.

  Stepping from the shower, she heard the trill of her ringtone.

  The opening thumps of “Assassin’s Tango.”

  A number she didn’t know.

  “Hello?”

  “Mrs. Knox.” The voice was brittle and low and she didn’t recognize it. She wasn’t even sure if it was male or female. “Why won’t your daughter talk to me?”

  “Who is this?”

  “You can tell her for me that I know everything.”

  “Hailey,” Katie said, just realizing it. “Hailey, what are you—”

  “You can tell her I’m watching her. I know all about her. She can’t hide from me.”

  “Hey, calm down,” Katie said, trying to keep in mind what Tina had said about her niece, all the medication.

  “I won’t calm down,” she said, that surly tone, clenched jaw. “People have been telling me my whole life to calm down.”

  “Hailey, you’re going through a lot right now.”

  “I am, Mrs. Knox. I’m going through a lot, and thanks to that stunted freak daughter of yours, that little monkey—”

  A lurch in her chest, her voice rising. “Don’t you dare talk about—”

  “I thought you were my friend.” Her voice hard, hammering. “I thought you were a decent person. Maybe you are. But I’m telling you this: you have no clue about that thing under your roof.”

  “Jesus, Hailey, what do you—”

  “Your daughter’s a fucking animal.”

  There was a click, and silence.

  Seated on the edge of the bed, Katie stared at her feet on the bedroom carpet, trying to catch her breath, trying to control herself, fists clenched.

  There were all kinds of troubling ways grief could work on people. Probing with hard fingers, scraping underneath old scars. Maybe Hailey needed a focus, she told herself. A gathering point. Though why she had landed on Devon, Katie couldn’t guess.

  Except she could. There were many things she’d had to get used to as Devon’s mother, a competing gymnast calling her daughter Boulder Shoulders, Bitchface, Ice Dyke, or when that science teacher accused her of cheating: “No one who misses that much school could score this high on a test.”

  But those remarks were easy to dismiss, the anger fleeting, a hot wave that came over her and settled, Eric calming her, reminding her that some people would always be jealous of Devon, the way they were jealous of all beautiful and brilliant things.

  From Hailey, though, it was different. Those words, the sharp thwack of them—they were words she’d never heard Hailey use. It was like a Disney princess hurling foul epithets, oozing dirty talk. And the words made no sense. They seemed to spin from some far-off place and now latched hard in the center of her.

  “Mom?”

  Jolted, Katie looked up to see Devon in the doorway, showered, ponytail wet and sleek.

  “Why were you yelling?”

  “Was I?” she said.

  “Who was that on the phone? I thought I heard you say ‘Hailey.’”

  “No. Yes.”

  “Why were you yelling at her?” Devon asked, her fingers running slow down her ponytail and landing at the bottom. “What did she w
ant?”

  “I don’t know,” Katie said. “She wasn’t making any sense.”

  Everything felt backward. Katie was seated, still in her bathrobe, dripping all over the bedspread, as Devon loomed in the doorway, T-shirt straining over her muscled arms. Questioning her. And Katie was lying.

  “Mom,” Devon said, eyes downcast, “what about the purple car that guy saw?”

  Katie looked at her, not sure what to say. “Who told you about the car?”

  Devon didn’t say anything.

  “Did your dad tell you?”

  Devon paused, then shook her head. “Everyone knows. Everyone’s texting about it.”

  “Honey,” she said, “all we know for sure is that Hailey’s not herself right now.”

  “Kind of like Grandma?” The last few visits with Katie’s mom had spooked Devon. Once, she forgot Devon’s name and called her Marie, and then another time, which alarmed them all, she thought a leaf on the sidewalk was shrieking at her. Accusing her of things. It says I steal!

  “If she calls you again,” Katie said, “tell me right away.”

  “She can’t,” Devon said. “I blocked her.”

  “Good, Devon.”

  “Dad told me to.”

  This sensible, sensible girl. A girl who knew how to protect herself. Never a daredevil, never stunting without a safety mat, without spotters. A girl for whom instability was the ultimate enemy. Who’d never known divorce or slamming doors or slamming fists. A girl whose home was a peaceful sanctum, even the basement padded. A life that had to be made safe because of the risks she put her body through. She was the most dangerous thing in her own life. Her body, the only dangerous thing.

  Katie looked at her. Of course he did. “When?”

  “This morning, before he left. He said to block her.”

  “Teddy, I’m calling about Hailey.” She didn’t even know what she was going to say, but she couldn’t stop herself. The minute she dropped Devon off at school, she pressed the number.

 
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