You will know me, p.15
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       You Will Know Me, p.15

           Megan Abbott
 
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  There was a pause, Devon’s chin shaking slightly.

  “Oh, Mom,” she finally said, turning her face away. “The way she looked. Mom, she wanted to kill me.”

  It was a thing you never expect to hear from your child. They had a long moment where Katie wrapped her arm tightly around Devon’s hard, hewn shoulders and neither said anything.

  “What happens now?”

  “Your dad and I will take care of it. She will never get near you again.”

  “Should I have told the police?” Devon asked.

  Katie looked at her, the snarl of panic over her eye. “We’ll figure it out.”

  “I didn’t want to tell,” Devon said. “I mean, that’s Coach T.’s niece, you know?”

  “Oh, Devon,” Katie said, feeling a rush of heat under her eyes. “That’s very generous of you. After everything.”

  Sometimes, in the blur and burr of Devon’s extraordinary upbringing, she worried about how Devon would ever learn people skills, social skills, empathy even. But here it was. Devon thinking foremost of her beloved coach. Always thinking of the burdens of parents and parent figures everywhere.

  “But,” Katie said, taking a breath, “if anything goes further, we might have to talk to the police about it. This might be evidence.” Evidence. The word heavy on her tongue.

  But Devon just bit at her thumbnail like she did before a floor routine. She’d learned long ago how to beat down her fear.

  “Are you mad at me, Mom?”

  “No,” she said. “No, Devon. None of this is your fault.”

  Devon looked at her, big-eyed and immaculate, thumbnail still between her teeth, looking for all the world like Devon at age eight. Or like Devon at thirteen, still carrying that plush tiger in her travel bag, sleeping with it between her legs.

  “Mom,” she said, pressing her face against Katie’s shoulder, “I’m really glad we talked.”

  It was a full embrace like Devon hadn’t offered in years, not since four-year-old Drew had poured milk in her fish tank and killed all her angelfish, not since she’d left her first gym for BelStars.

  “But Mom,” she whispered, her head ducked down toward Katie’s chest. “Don’t tell Dad.”

  “What? Why not?”

  “Because it’s private,” she said, voice soft, plaintive. “It’s girl stuff. Stuff you share with your mom.”

  “Devon, I—”

  “And because,” Devon added, breathing in long and hard, “he’d get so mad. Sometimes, he gets so mad.”

  “He just wants to protect you,” Katie said, feeling something churning inside.

  “Yeah,” Devon said, eyes black, chewing on that nail again. “I know.”

  In bed later, everything batting around in her brain, she decided she wouldn’t tell Eric. Not yet, at least. Besides, it was something Devon had shared with her. Mothers and daughters shared things.

  III

  There is something bad here, growing. Day and night I watch it. Growing.

  —Sophocles, Electra

  Chapter Twelve

  “Oh my God, baby.”

  Marbled red, Drew’s skin felt like sandpaper under her hands.

  “It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “But it feels weird.”

  Pulling off his pajama top, she found dark red lines on his underarms, his elbows, any crease in his soft little body.

  Behind her, Eric was already on the phone with Dr. Kemper, his voice shaking and sleep-thick.

  “He’s just…it’s like someone took a paintbrush to him. What the hell did you dose him with?”

  “I’ll take him,” she said, Drew’s skin bright white under the pressure of her fingertips. “You stay with Devon.”

  For twenty minutes she sat with Drew in the car, the parking lot nearly empty, slicked clean from all the rain the night before.

  “The Knox I barely see.” Dr. Kemper winked at Drew as he unlocked the front door. “You finally figured out how to get my attention.”

  One look at Drew’s face under the exam room’s fluorescent lights was all he needed.

  “Don’t worry,” he warned Katie, “it sounds much worse than it is.”

  The only person she’d ever heard of getting it was Beth March in Little Women.

  As they hurried through the waiting room, Eric called.

  “Honey,” she whispered into the phone. “Um.”

  A bleary, streaky-nosed kid and his wan parents were staring at dappled Drew, his face like raw bacon.

  “It’s scarlet fever,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand. “It’s fine, but Drew has scarlet fever.”

  Both parents looked up, alarmed, the mother clutching her son closer to her chest.

  “Christ,” Eric said. “Isn’t that from the Civil War?”

  “It can come with strep. The strep releases a toxin—”

  “How could he get it when he’s already on antibiotics? I always knew that guy was a quack. Teddy’s doctor. All he knows are cortisone shots and horse pills.”

  “Who else do you know who sees patients on Sundays?” Katie said, voice low as she could make it. “He says it does happen. He increased the dosage and he says in twenty-four hours, the fever will go away and the rash will just—”

  “Let me talk to him.” That sharp rap again.

  “He’s with another patient. And Eric, you need to—”

  “I mean Drew,” he said, more softly now. “Can I talk to my son?”

  Katie said nothing, handing the phone to Drew.

  “Dad,” he chirped, “it’s like in The Velveteen Rabbit. Remember how they had to burn all the toys?”

  Katie rested her hand on the top of his head, trying to breathe.

  Devon was standing on the front lawn, gym bag in hand, when Katie pulled up the drive.

  “I’m going to the Y,” she said. “I’ll work the weights.”

  “You will not,” Katie said, jumping out of the car. “You’re not going anywhere after what happened yesterday.”

  “Dad said he’d take me,” she said, backing away from Drew, even from Katie. “Mom, I need to.”

  She wouldn’t even step into the garage, or look at her brother.

  “We’ll just do a few hours’ practice,” Eric said, pulling the covers over Drew, who slumped into face-squashing sleep in seconds. “I’ll be with her the whole time.”

  “Go, just go,” Katie said, not even looking at him. “Both of you. Go.”

  “After, I’ll take her to lunch. I’ll explain.”

  Katie was listening, but she wasn’t.

  Drew’s eyes fluttered like when he was a baby.

  The rest of the morning, taking care of Drew, scrubbing everything with bleach until her hands cracked, she had the feeling things were happening, but no one was calling her back, no one seemed to be anywhere they should be.

  Another load of laundry, the weight of the final basket branding her forearms, she fell asleep in the mamasan chair she’d dragged into Drew’s room. To watch him.

  She was dreaming when a sound woke her, dreaming of her hands digging into Hailey’s thick hair from behind and pulling it back to see Devon hunched beneath, teeth bared and pink, her feet like little claws.

  Her eyes opened to Drew sitting bolt straight in bed, mouth open, a flash of crimson that looked like a flame.

  “Someone’s here,” he lisped. “Someone with noisy shoes.”

  Katie leaned over and looked out the window.

  In the driveway, a familiar car gleamed like an oyster.

  Reaching the bottom stair, laundry bag still in hand, she stopped in the foyer and took a breath.

  There was Gwen, lodged firmly in the wing chair in the living room. It was the only fine piece of furniture they’d ever owned, a family heirloom presented, with tears and ceremony, by Eric’s mother for their tenth anniversary.

  Katie could remember sitting on it only once. Or she and Eric had together, the herringbone beneath her palm as she pushed hotly against his chest. A seized mome
nt, Devon away at regionals, news of her triumph freshly arrived. The knife-pleat skirt tickling her swinging ankle, the skidding sound of its ball-and-claw feet on the floor—claw away, claw up the floor, mark it.

  And there Gwen sat. Tangerine sheath dress just a shade too tight across her midriff, those tanned piston arms of hers bare because she was always warm. I run a few degrees shy of Hades, she told everyone, all the time, always have.

  Fingers tapping on her phone.

  And, now scraping along the wall-to-wall, were those noisy shoes. Pointy, soaring, python-skinned like they’d hiss.

  “Look who woke up. I ran into Eric and Devon at Pancake Palace. They’re upstairs.”

  “Thanks,” Katie said, looking at her watch. They’d been gone for four hours. “What can I do for you, Gwen?”

  “It’s really unbelievable, isn’t it? Thank God that demented girl is under lock and key.”

  “Yes,” Katie said, trying to smooth her sleep-rumpled hair. Trying to shove the detergent-speckled laundry bag behind her. “For now.”

  “You should have seen Devon at practice yesterday, Katie.” Her eyes shone, python heels rasping on the carpet beneath her. “Amplitude, perfect body alignment, and the prettiest toe point I’ve ever seen. But, listen, Katie, that double-twist Yurchenko is not what it was two weeks ago. The stress of this is telling on her.”

  “Worry about your own daughter,” Katie said, her eyes catching sight of Gwen’s car, the top of Lacey’s buttercup head inside. “Who’s apparently imprisoned in your car like an overheated collie.”

  Gwen sighed. “We got in some extra practice time today. She keeps saying to me, ‘Mom, I love gymnastics.’ But I tell her, ‘Just because you love it doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. There’s a whole gym out there of girls who love it and are useless at it.’”

  “But why is she in the car, Gwen?”

  “It’s hard enough to get her to practice without dosing her with scarlet fever too. And, circling back, Katie, to your question about why I’m here. I thought I’d extend the invitation to have Devon stay at my house a few nights. Until the quarantine has passed.”

  “There’s no quarantine. He’s on antibiotics. He’ll be fine.”

  “Katie, I know I’m prone to hyperbole. Or so my ex-husband said while he was raping me in the divorce proceedings. But, really, who gets scarlet fever these days? Between whatever criminal derangement has overtaken Hailey and the pestilence under your own roof…well, it’s getting pretty Greek here, isn’t it?”

  Katie took a long, long breath.

  I wish I had your balls, she once overheard a bourbon-brewed Jim Chu say to Gwen at a booster party, shooting pool. Gwen had smiled, rolling the eight ball between her fingers.

  “I appreciate your concern,” Katie said, lifting the laundry bag, trying to signal an end to things, “but I’m not letting Devon out of my sight again.”

  “Of course,” Gwen said, rising. “It’s a mother’s decision. Eric thought it was a good idea, but what do fathers know?”

  “You two already talked about it?” Katie felt the bag slide off her narrow, toneless shoulder and catch in the cradle of her bent arm.

  “He said he’d have to talk to you, but he’s up there now, helping her pack.”

  Feet pounding up the stairs, laundry sack swinging wildly from her forearm, Katie called out both their names.

  “What’s going on here?” she asked, pushing open the door to Devon’s room.

  Both of them, backs to her, were leaning over Devon’s duffel bag.

  When they turned around, their faces seemed to blur before her eyes, same deep-set eyes, same hewn cheekbones. The same grave expressions.

  “Mom,” Devon said, hand out as if to calm her, “I need to go. Mrs. Weaver said the bacteria lives for up to eight days, maybe longer. She called a specialist.”

  “Not with antibiotics,” Katie said, voice cresting. She knew Gwen could hear her, everyone could. “You are staying in this house with your parents and your sick brother. Have you even ducked your head in there? Have you even asked him how he is?”

  “But Mom,” Devon said, her hands shaking slightly, her fingers wrapping around her wrists like just before a vault run. “Dad set it all up. It’s the right thing.”

  Katie looked at Eric, who didn’t say a word.

  Their bedroom door shut, Eric began talking quietly, fervently.

  About how Gwen would escort Devon to and from practice with Lacey, and that not only was the Weaver house germ-free, it had a full workout room with a beam, a bar trainer, even a vault table. Devon could practice around the clock if she wanted—see? Gwen could take care of Devon, and they could take care of Drew.

  “It’s not just about Devon,” he added, husky-voiced. “It could spread through the whole squad. All those girls who are counting on doing their best next month. And it’s only for a few days.”

  “We need her here, Eric,” she said. “You didn’t see it. You didn’t see her on the floor of that locker room.”

  “Gwen’s house has a security system. It’s wired for everything—fire, carbon monoxide. It can even tell if someone opens the medicine cabinet.”

  “I don’t give a goddamn if it’s land-mine-tripped from basement to roof, Eric. She belongs with her family. She belongs with her mom and dad.”

  Her voice sounded high and childlike. Once, in the grocery store, piling the cart with energy bars and string cheese and a tilting stack of frozen dinners, a woman came inside and said, Whoever owns the blue Ford, you shouldn’t leave your child in the car like that, and she’d forgotten Drew, six months old and strapped in the car seat for close to a half hour and Katie crying the whole way home and so tired she snapped the wheel too hard on the final turn, hit a guardrail. What will Eric say, what will he say? But he’d said nothing.

  And then the fear spinning inside: What would he have said if that had been Devon?

  He would never say anything, though. He never did. But did he stow it away? Did they both have their little storage lockers of parental missteps and near catastrophes?

  “Katie,” he said now, with a hollow look in his eyes that rattled her, “this is the best thing. If something happened to Devon, you’d never forgive yourself.”

  It ended with the slamming of doors, and Katie shouting like she hadn’t since she was a teenager, a hoarse and howling thing.

  Eric kept shaking his head, shaking his head, his face white, eyes like two pinholes.

  “What makes you think you know better?” she finally asked, voice shredded. “You?”

  And the word itself like a charge. A long-buried indictment.

  But all he said was “Katie, I’m fixing things. I have to fix this.”

  “You can stay in here, Mom,” Drew said, his bed heavy with books. “I don’t mind.”

  So she sat with him while he read, stopping every few minutes to tell her things, until she warned him to rest his sweet voice.

  “‘Boy, at sunrise it must be like diving into cotton candy!’” Drew read. “Mom, didn’t you sell cotton candy when you were young?”

  “I did, yes. That’s how I met your dad.”

  At the Kiwanis fair. She’d sold him fried clams on a paper plate and a twist-tie bag of cotton candy and they spent that summer careening through back roads with sixers of Keystone. He loved to kiss the round scar on her eyebrow, the one from the time her stepdad caught her with the Wiffle bat he carried when he was drinking. Eric loved to run his hand along the Fight Like a Grrrl tattoo ringing her left thigh. A thousand years ago.

  The door open, she could hear the zipping and unzipping of duffel bags, the shushing of Velcro grips, Eric and Devon shuttling back and forth, grabbing wristbands, liquid-bandage spray, flip-flops, a jiggling pair of ankle braces, a tower of leotards. As if she were going to a major tournament rather than to Gwen’s pleasure palace a few blocks away.

  Devon stealing nervous glances at her through the doorway.

  From the upstairs
window, she watched as Devon walked outside, bag swung over her shoulder. Gwen was leaning against the car door, saying something to Eric, as Devon slipped into the front passenger seat.

  Lacey had already moved to the back.

  That night felt lonely in a way she hadn’t known since childhood, the endless chain of evenings with the TV tray and waxy sleeve of crackers, peanut butter jar, her mom working late.

  Drew asleep in his room, she and Eric passing each other silently. For most of the evening, he sat at his computer, working with headphones on.

  She couldn’t tell if he felt guilty or righteous.

  She missed Devon, and the energy around Devon being there, which felt elemental to everything. As if Devon’s presence, quiet and focused, generated everything. In some way powered the house, the family.

  She only realized it now, because everything else had stopped.

  Nearly nine o’clock, and she was drinking vinegary wine she’d found buried in the back of the refrigerator behind a jug of bubbling kefir.

  She tried to stop her mind from turning and overturning images of Gwen’s house. She had seen it at parties, a half dozen over the years.

  All the sconces and gilt and high ceilings of powder-blue plaster, the study’s lacquered walls, the curve-backed sofas, the fresh flowers fogging your mouth as you passed through. The marble-topped kitchen island where platters of food always sat, mounds of olives, impossibly green artichokes, dewy lemons, everything wet and ready, all the time.

  In the backyard, there was even a secret garden enclosed by pear trees latticed flat, candelabra-style, into a trellis, trained with the same rigor as Gwen trained Lacey’s hair, planting her daughter between her legs in the stands as she flattened that white-blond hair into the tight Dutch braid, smoothing the feather wisps at her hairline hourly during meets.

 
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