You will know me, p.12
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       You Will Know Me, p.12

           Megan Abbott
 
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  “Katie, dear,” answered Teddy, his voice gruff and creaky, wind whining in the background. “Don’t listen to what you might hear, okay? Or read.”

  “Teddy, this isn’t about that eyewitness. It’s Hailey.”

  “I can’t talk now,” he said. “I’m waiting for Ron.”

  “Ron Wrigley? The gym attorney?”

  “I think that’s him pulling up now.”

  There was a rustle and then he hung up.

  All day the picture kept returning, the picture of Hailey as Katie had always known her. That thick mane of yellow hair pushed back as she grasped those tumbling seven-year-olds by the waist, guiding all their landings. That sunny, capable smile of hers.

  Each time the picture returned it became stranger.

  To imagine a darkness at the center of that bright-lit, summer-skinned, effortless girl was very hard. But she’d seen it, the contorted face on the other side of the patio door. And now she’d heard it too.

  Of all the girls she’d guess to have a secret self inside, Hailey would have been the last, or close.

  “That’s what you get for owning a purple car,” Gwen said when she called Katie, just before noon. Katie could almost hear the tapping of her nails through the phone.

  Not even Gwen seemed to know much. She knew Teddy had retained Ron Wrigley, that Hailey was still cooperating with police, and that no other eyewitnesses had come forward.

  There was an article in the Gazette about dozens of reports of damaged purple cars and suspicious paint and repair jobs coming in from across the county. An unidentified man with a plum Toyota had been questioned but released after it was determined that his torn bumper came from running over a dog. Another man claimed the new paint job on his magenta Sentra was due to a rancid egging by a deranged ex. “She called in the tip,” he told the Gazette. “She thinks I stole her stereo and poisoned her cat. She wants to destroy me.”

  It was upsetting, like the seam of something had been torn, ever so slightly.

  But the boosters were all focused on Hailey.

  “The more you think about it, the weirder Hailey’s story is.” Calling during her lunch hour, Molly spoke breathily between what sounded like long tugs on a straw. “Ryan drives her home and leaves her car there? Why not drive himself home? And let me ask you this: Who walks two miles at eleven o’clock at night? On that road? I hope they’re testing for drugs.”

  “Maybe Ryan had dealings that came back to haunt him,” Kirsten Siefert whispered, calling Katie from the ladies’ room at BelStars, her voice echoing high. “You saw that mug shot. Who knows what kind of life he led?”

  And there were questions no one could get the answer to: What really happened between Hailey and Ryan at that dinner? Were they engaged? (No ring had been spotted on Hailey’s hand at the funeral.)

  They were questions you couldn’t ask anyone but Hailey, and now, with Ron Wrigley on retainer, word was she wasn’t talking to anyone.

  Except Katie didn’t really believe she would stay silent. The girl she’d heard on the phone that morning seemed unready for muzzling. She seemed to have so much to tell that her throat might burst.

  In the laundry room, the dryer knocking sneakers violently beside her, Katie loaded the washer with everything Drew had touched in the past three days. She almost didn’t hear the phone.

  It was Eric, saying something had come up, he wouldn’t be home for dinner, he’d explain later. And Devon was getting a ride home with the Chus, and he’d explain about that later too.

  “Eric, I’ve been trying to call you all day. Hailey called me.”

  “What?”

  She told him about Hailey’s call, a version of it. She couldn’t quite bring herself to use Hailey’s exact words. They were a blur anyway.

  “God,” Eric said, after a pause, “she sounds completely unstable.”

  “She wasn’t herself. She was so…angry. The things she called Devon…” As she spoke, a thought fluttered in the back of her brain, something Hailey said: You can tell her for me that I know everything.

  “Well, look at her history,” Eric said, impatience edging into his voice. “Her own mother couldn’t handle her.”

  “That was ten years ago,” Katie said. “She was a teenager. Didn’t you do things when you were young that seem impossible now?”

  “Maybe it’s still in her,” he said, not answering her question. “Maybe that’s why she was dating someone with a rap sheet.”

  “Eric,” she said, surprised. “You know Ryan was a good kid. He was—”

  “You’re just like him.”

  That’s what she thought she heard him say, the line crackling.

  “What? What did you say?”

  “You just liked him,” he said. Which was not the same, even remotely. “We all did. We all liked both of them. But we don’t know what this is, do we? All we know is we don’t want her bothering Devon again.”

  Katie didn’t say anything for a moment.

  And she couldn’t account for how upset she felt, her face hotly throbbing with it.

  “I tried to talk to Teddy.”

  “Don’t talk to Teddy,” he said. “I’m going to talk to him. I don’t want her calling us again.”

  “Okay,” Katie said.

  “And Katie, whatever you do,” he said, “don’t tell Devon that Hailey called.”

  “Why not?”

  “She has enough pressure. She doesn’t need to know this.”

  The pause that followed felt very important. It was one of those moments in a marriage when you have to make a critical decision with alarming speed and the consequences could last a long time, even forever.

  The words almost came out: I already told her.

  But they didn’t.

  “Right,” she said. “Whatever you say.”

  The house felt small and sweaty and polluted.

  Devon came home, rubbing her hands with antibacterial cleanser. Hovering at her brother’s door, she looked at Drew, asleep again, only his shuttered eyes visible above the swoop of the comforter.

  A cup of melting ice chips in her hand, Katie asked her how practice had gone.

  “He’s so red,” she said. “Look at him.”

  He was, a little flame curling from beneath the covers.

  “He’s not contagious anymore.”

  And Devon, backing away, nearly covering her face with her hand, hiding it. “Everyone’s counting on me.”

  Chapter Ten

  Their tracksuits were shining in the night as they marched up the driveway.

  “Didn’t you tell them about the strep?” Katie asked, peeking through the curtain.

  Eric nodded wearily. “They promised they wouldn’t come inside.”

  It was after ten, and the boosters had arrived.

  Maybe it was all those arched backs, those manicured nails gripping water bottles, their glossy manes, the high, whinnying sounds they made, their beady eyes. It reminded her of the hyenas in Drew’s favorite animal book. They have excellent nighttime vision and hearing. True. They have powerful jaws and sharp teeth that they use to break open bones so they can feed. Also possibly true.

  “It’s time to take matters into our own hands,” Gwen was saying. “Every day they don’t practice, our girls descend into mediocrity. Our responsibility is to our kids and their performance at qualifiers. Not this tabloid drama.”

  Katie watched them from the upstairs window. Drew long asleep, Devon was holed up in her bedroom, studying for an exam. Katie hoped she couldn’t hear them.

  They were all arrayed on the patio. Gwen, Kirsten, Molly, with husband, Jim, in tow, gnawing on an energy bar as if he were straight off a run. The former college track star. And in the center now, Eric. Always.

  She’d never really gotten used to it. To sharing him with all those antic mothers, their clicking heels and clucking heads and private confidences about their own homemade sorrows: absent husband, nefarious sisters-in-law. Molly’s breathless hugs, breas
ts seeming to draw circles on Eric’s chest. Kirsten’s late-night calls whenever she opened the Drambuie in the minibar on one of her business trips and wanted to settle in for a “chat about the gym’s future and Jordan’s place in it.” Becca Plonski’s birthday gifts, which last year included a pair of boxer shorts that read Boost This! And Gwen, always Gwen, who sometimes unclamped her talons at the booster parties, donning her skyscraping snakeskin heels and singing “Delta Dawn” on karaoke after tequila shooters with Eric and Jim Chu. (What Katie remembered: how she said, that night, pounding on a tabletop, Mark my goddamn words, Eric Knox, we will ride your daughter all the way to Olympic bronze, silver, and gold!)

  “Can I get anyone anything?” Katie asked, finally stepping outside. “Coffee? Vitamin C?”

  All their heads lifted, their bodies straining from their perches on the rusty lawn chairs, the same squeaky ones she’d meant to replace last summer. Gwen’s had a center of fraying slats, tendrils ready to snap. Behind her sat her daughter, Lacey, hoodie-hunched in a ball, her short, sinewy legs thick as banister knobs, and that face. The face of a cartoon dog, soulful eyes and slight jowls and the general aura of sorrow.

  But no one was listening to Katie, all eyes returning to Gwen’s laptop, laid forth on the patio table like a holy book. A competition video played, the floor-music score chirping, katydidding in the night air.

  “Lacey,” Katie said, touching the girl’s shoulder, sharp as an arrowhead, “would you like some juice?”

  “Orange juice has twenty-four grams of sugar,” Lacey replied, looking up. As if it had been a test, and she was passing it.

  “John’s done terrific work with those girls,” Gwen interrupted, “but, entre nous, he is not happy. He’s talked about opening a new gym right over in Indian Springs.”

  “Who’s John?” Katie asked, feeling Eric’s eyes on her.

  “John Ehlers,” Molly said. “At EmPower.”

  EmPower. An Olympic training gym two hours away in Hartswood, a woody, lush community near the water. The kind of place Katie and Eric had always dreamed of vacationing—canoes, paddleboats, cracked crab on the water—before the second mortgage and the most recent round of competition fees. And it was the place that, in the past five years, had propelled a half dozen girls to the national level, girls who, rumor had it, still had their baby teeth at twelve.

  “Why are you talking about EmPower?” Katie asked, moving closer. “That’s where they do daily weigh-ins. Girls work out with broken toes. At regionals, we saw an EmPower girl compete with a leg brace.”

  And the thing Katie didn’t say: that EmPower parents paid eighteen thousand dollars a year, which might be manageable for the banker, the married attorneys, the dominating business owner seated around her. But not for the Knoxes, with their debt and their sagging roof and their creosote-lined chimney and the spidery foundation cracks their neighbor Mr. Watts kept pointing out, poking with a screwdriver and shaking his head.

  Gwen paused the video. Behind her, Lacey rocked nervously, her bare legs goose-prickled in the night air.

  “Katie, we need to be prepared,” Jim said. “All we have now are Teddy’s skill coaches—minus the one possibly under suspicion by the police—and none of them are competition material.”

  “Teddy’s always hired from the heart, not the head.” Molly sighed.

  “Teddy hires from the wallet,” Gwen said. “Why pay for a good tumbling coach when you can get your unstable, possibly criminal niece to do it for pin money?”

  “Jesus,” Katie said, “you guys don’t waste much time, do you?” Looking over at Eric, waiting for him to join her.

  “Teddy is focused on his family,” Gwen said, “and it’s up to us to focus on ours.”

  “Without a high-level coach in place now, we don’t achieve,” Jim said, punching the words with military rigor. “Each day we lose before next month’s qualifiers we risk full collapse.”

  “Thirty-five days,” Molly said, nodding vigorously. “We have three girls going for Junior Elite, and I’m not just saying that because Cheyenne is one of them. But she is. And Devon, of course, for Senior Elite.”

  Everyone looked at Katie and Eric, both of whom crossed their arms.

  “Forget Cheyenne, forget our daughters,” Gwen added more quietly, reaching down and smoothing Lacey’s braids. She looked at Katie, eyes fixed. “We know who this matters most for. Devon. She is our star. And we all know this may be her last chance.”

  Katie counted to ten in her head.

  Several seconds of awkward quiet, Lacey digging energetically at the callus on her palm.

  “Devon’s ready,” Eric said coolly. “She will be ready, she will be flawless and she will dominate.”

  Katie looked at him, surprised. They never talked that way outside of the family. Or even inside it. There’d never been any need to assert anything before the foot bobble two years ago, but all this reminded her of some of the chatter that had followed: That Coach had skimped on equipment, failing to invest in good skill coaches. That he counted on the boosters to pick up the slack while he expanded his swimming pool, added the cedar deck. And the part that was only whispered: that Teddy might be squandering Devon’s remarkable talent, and on her talent the gym’s prospects rode. The rising tide lifts all boats, Gwen once told Eric, and I just hope Teddy’s not a sinker.

  No one ever said anything directly to Katie, only to Eric. Occasionally, she’d wonder if Eric had doubts too. But she always reminded herself that he loved Teddy and, most of all, Devon did. Mom, she’d once said to her. Thank you for finding him for me.

  She’d thought, but didn’t say, Honey, he’d have found you anywhere.

  “I have no doubt about Devon,” Gwen was saying. “My doubts are with Teddy’s attentions right now. They need to be on BelStars, not on his hysterical niece and her doomed romances.”

  “Hey,” Katie said, looking around at them, “we all owe Teddy a lot. You want someone like John Ehlers? Who says gymnasts are like scorpions in a jar, the one who crawls out is the winner? You think he’s going to care about your girls like Teddy does?”

  There were a few halfhearted nods, though Gwen’s eyes wandered back to the laptop screen. Lacey squeezed her sneaker toes anxiously.

  “Katie, I know you love Teddy,” Kirsten said, removing her Bluetooth and leaning forward in the squeaking chair, “because he has done nothing but shower your daughter with attention since the moment she landed on his doorstep. But your darling Coach T. was at the police station with Hailey for four hours today. And we need to get real.”

  Katie looked at Eric as he watched it all. Say something, she thought.

  “You want a gym exodus? That may be fine for you,” Katie said, “but I don’t feel ready to make any big decisions for Devon.”

  “That’s because you don’t have to,” Kirsten said icily. “Because your daughter’s a star.”

  There was a long beat, Kirsten glaring, her Bluetooth crackling in her palm.

  “Hey, everyone,” Katie said, rising. Someone needed to say something, and Eric stood there silently, almost as if he were one of them.

  Katie cleared her throat. “Let’s step back a second and remember a few things. Molly, how about the time he missed his own fiftieth-birthday party to visit Cheyenne at St. Joe’s after she dislocated her knee playing soccer? Or when he drove seventy miles on black ice to get Nikki Hargrove home from regionals before her PSATs?”

  She turned to each of them, softening her eyes as Eric always did.

  “And Kirsten, before State last year, when Jordan couldn’t find her good-luck grips, Teddy spent two hours looking before he found them at the bottom of the pit, under that mouse nest.”

  “Thigh-deep in the pit,” Molly said, with a small grin, “holding up those stinky grips, saying, Nothing I won’t do for my girls, our girls!”

  Katie could feel Eric watching her so closely. So intently it almost hurt. It felt like a heat on her.

  “And Gwen,” Kat
ie said, taking a few steps toward her, the screen saver on her laptop spattering blood sweat & chalk, “Lacey’s last coach, the one at that fancy gym we lured you from—he told you Lacey would never make it to Level Eight with her confidence issues. Teddy saw her potential.”

  Katie looked over at Lacey, who was staring fixedly at the bug zapper above.

  “He did,” Gwen said. “But that’s not helping any of us now. And no offense, Katie, but you’re not even a booster officer.”

  There was an anxious silence, and Katie looked over at Eric, filling her face with urgency.

  “For God’s sake, Kirsten, your daughter isn’t even a Level Ten yet, she—” Katie began, but Eric stepped forward, grabbing for Katie’s wrist, pulling her toward him and then behind him.

  “Can I say something?” he said, leaning against the edge of the tilting patio table. “Katie’s right. We need to slow down. Teddy’s concentrating on his family right now, which is what any of us would do. And a big disruption so close to qualifiers—the upheaval of changing gyms and coaches—is that good for our girls? Is that what they need?”

  All their eyes had turned to him, their faces filling with expectation. It was such a power, one she could never match. Even more good-looking as the years skipped by, his features settling on himself, the hot gaze of booster moms and dads transforming him, he was always able to convey the feeling that he believed firmly in all the right things. And, in ways magical and obscure, the way he looked seemed to confirm it.

  “So instead of talking exodus,” he continued, hooking his fingers around Katie’s wrist, “I think if we all pause here on this moment, we’ll remember we owe him more than poaching plans and knee-jerk second-guessing. We should be doing for him what’s he’s done for us: hold steady through the storm, steer with confidence, and be there for him. Because we’re lucky to have him.”

  There was a brief pause and then Molly and Jim nodded firmly, rising, and Jim shook Eric’s hand, Hear, hear, my friend. Kirsten sighed and tucked her Bluetooth back in her ear, its light pulsing jauntily. Gwen slid her tablet back into her purse.

 
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