You will know me, p.16
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       You Will Know Me, p.16

           Megan Abbott
 
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  Sometimes even Lacey seemed hand-manufactured, face cast in porcelain, that tiny nose that tilted up at the end as if Gwen herself had pinched it daintily, like a piecrust, right down the center.

  * * *

  When the phone rang and Devon’s name flashed there, Katie’s body shook to life.

  “Mom,” Devon said, “I’m staying in one of the guest rooms. It’s bigger than our whole upstairs.”

  “Well,” Katie said. “I’m glad.”

  “The sheets smell funny, though,” she said. “Not like at home.”

  There was a brief silence.

  “Mom, it’s just a few days. I feel okay here. I do.”

  A pause.

  “Mom, are you there? Mom, I’m sorry.”

  Chapter Thirteen

  It’s in here. It’s in the bed with me. I see it.

  Hair and teeth against her ankles, something gnashing, something furred and champing. The rasping of hooves and nails.

  One of those night terrors she hadn’t had since she was six years old, sleeping on that pullout sofa with her mom.

  It’s here, it’s here. Help me, please, someone.

  Her mother always laughing at the someone, saying, How come you never ask for help from me?

  Devon used to have them too, back in kindergarten. Clutching her sherbet-striped comforter, distraught, inconsolable.

  Katie had nearly forgotten what they felt like until—

  I see it in the bed!

  —sheets torn away, her palms white and spread on the bare mattress.

  “Katie! Katie! Wake up.”

  It was Eric, leaning in the darkened doorway, beer bottle in hand, looking at her.

  “Wake up.”

  In the violet dark of two a.m., he remade the bed for her, yanking the sheets back across the rumpled mattress pad.

  “I can’t sleep,” he said. Then he went downstairs again.

  You were mysterious to him and he was mysterious to you.

  She could hear him walking, floors creaking, the refrigerator opening and closing.

  The chime from his laptop.

  The hiss of his phone.

  She swore she could hear everything.

  * * *

  Devon had been gone less than two days, and the house felt haunted, the decaying manse of a family quarantined by fever.

  Without car duty, practices, there was suddenly so much time, and Katie ended up spending far too long with Drew’s sickbed meals, fashioning a banana to look like a person with raisin eyes. Cutting his sandwich into angel wings.

  You really only learn your place, her mother once said, when you’re left in it.

  She had talked to Devon on the phone four times, each time a minute or less, Devon off to special air floors and ballet barres and the thirty-foot inflatable tumbling strip in Gwen’s home gym.

  Katie hadn’t talked to Eric at all.

  “Are you going to be mad at me forever?” Eric asked, coming up behind her as she dressed in the morning. He put his hands on her hips and ducked his head down against the top of her hair, and she felt an unexpected shiver.

  “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry.” But then he added, leaving for work, “Katie, it’s the right thing. I swear.”

  Something was wrong, wronger than it even seemed. She just wasn’t sure what it was.

  “I’m better, Mom,” Drew said, seven a.m., leaning over his terrarium, peering in the resin cave the salamander liked to hide in.

  “Okay,” she said, her hand on his forehead, no longer the little radiator of days before. “But better isn’t well.”

  “Remember when we watched that show about cavefish?” he asked, tapping on the resin with one red finger.

  “I think so.”

  “They have scars where their eyes should be.”

  “Right. Because of evolution. It’s always dark. They don’t need to see.”

  “Mrs. Teazer said it’s not true,” Drew said, lifting his hand from the terrarium, a slurpy snail curled on his wrist. “They did this experiment where they mated the fish with other fish from different caves and then the baby fish could see. Their eyes were bigger and they could see everything.”

  “Is that so?” she said. Sometimes she wondered how she’d gotten such a smart kid. And just how smart he might be.

  “Mom, it was the cave’s fault. Not the fish.” His voice shook slightly and she knew he must still be sick, emotional. “The cave made them that way.”

  “But it still doesn’t matter. They don’t need to see down there, baby,” she said, touching his forehead again. “There’s nothing to see.”

  “It must have been weird the first time they saw their parents,” he said, peering closely at the snail on his wrist, his eyes glassed. “But their parents still couldn’t see them.”

  “I think you still have a fever.”

  “Mom, what was Dad doing in the backyard?” he asked, coaxing the snail up his speckled forearm.

  She looked at him.

  “Dad? He just left for work.”

  “No, in the nighttime. Last night. Before the newspaper came.”

  “What was he doing?”

  He shrugged. “Talking on his phone. I saw the light on his cheek. He kept spinning around, talking. Who was he talking to?”

  The hydraulic drill of the landline startled her.

  “Katie? This is Helen Beck. Ryan’s mom.”

  “Oh, Helen. Yes. Are you okay?”

  “I’m so sorry. I heard about what happened. Between Hailey Belfour and your daughter.”

  “Yes,” Katie said. “Thank you. Devon’s okay.”

  “I’m at Ryan’s apartment. Taking care of things.” She let out a weighty sigh. “You should see how many T-shirts he has. They all smell like him.”

  And then she said, “Katie, I think you should come here.”

  “Pardon?”

  “Well, it’s…I think you should come over. If you can. Do you think you can do that? It’s easier in person.”

  There was a pause, Katie looking at Drew, who was drinking a tall glass of flat ginger ale with a leisurely grace.

  “Oh, I remember this one.” Helen’s voice came soft. “The gray ringer. He used to wear this back in high school whenever he played baseball.”

  “That’s three forty-six, Mom,” Drew croaked from the backseat, Post-it in his damp hand. “Is this where Ryan lived?”

  She stopped at the box-shaped low-rise buildings on the right, just past the Quik Mart. Concrete walls, two sets of balconies, a banner across the facade: Affordable Rentals Call Today!

  “Yes.”

  She’d gotten in the car within ten minutes of Helen’s call, had not stopped to think. Or even to ponder the wisdom of taking Drew outside.

  Helen met them at the door, the buzzer broken.

  “He was working really hard, saving up,” Helen said as they walked inside, the hallway’s linoleum cluttered with circulars, tented takeout menus, a waterlogged stack of aging Yellow Pages. “He would’ve been out of here soon.”

  “It looks fine,” Katie said.

  “Hey, devil boy,” Helen said, winking down at Drew. She looked over at Katie. “Ryan used to get funny rashes like that all the time when he was little. They always told me it was my detergent, no matter which one I used. They never believed me.”

  They climbed the staircase, Drew’s eyes jumping, his first time in an apartment building.

  “This is where Ryan lived?” Drew asked. Inside, it looked like anyone’s apartment, any young person living paycheck to paycheck. Small and sunstruck, everything in it beige and worn, with the same foam sofas, the microfiber shiny with age, the halogen torchiere, the set of acrylic bar stools along the kitchen counter that were in all furnished rentals, everywhere.

  But there were little things that made it personal, a gently broken-in baseball cap on the glass-topped coffee table, a Weaver’s Wagon apron hooked forlornly on a molded plastic coat stand. A windbreaker, faded red, hanging o
ver the back of the sofa. Katie had seen Ryan wear it a half dozen times. She didn’t see his jean jacket. She guessed why.

  “Their eyes have two thousand lenses,” Drew said, pointing toward a half-eaten blondie, its plastic wrap folded back, resting on the kitchen counter. “They can see everything.”

  “What, devil boy?” Helen asked, winking at Katie.

  They all watched as a cockroach scuttled across the counter and down the sink drain.

  “We only have one lens,” he said, a little wistfully.

  “Oh dear,” Helen said, walking over and squinting down the drain. “I saw a critter yesterday too. Well.”

  There was a brief pause, then Katie couldn’t wait any longer.

  “So, you wanted to talk?”

  “In the bedroom.” Helen looked over at Drew. “Maybe we can put the TV on for Big Red.”

  Later, many times, Katie would remember the room’s particular smell, sweat and must and forest pine from the Little Tree air freshener hanging from the blinds’ cord. And something else, something intimate, bodily.

  She looked down at the deep blue sheets coiled on the mattress, which sat on the floor exotically, summoning up bohemian memories of youth, a youth like Katie dreamed up as a girl, beaded-curtain doorways and those Technicolor saint candles in glass jars.

  There was no furniture other than that mattress and a table lamp on the floor, an open book beside it, its red cover bent back. She wondered if it was the novel he’d always kept in his back pocket. She found herself wanting to touch it.

  She hadn’t known him at all, really, but that made it sadder somehow.

  “He’d had his trouble,” Helen was saying, “but he was figuring things out. He finally had a steady job. Still couldn’t afford cable or a cell phone. You try to help, but they don’t want their moms’ help, do they? He had his own journey.”

  “This must be so hard.”

  Helen skittered her fingers along the window blinds, peeking through the dust-laced slats. “There’s a lot I’m trying to figure out now. Like that girl of his.”

  Katie looked over at her.

  “He always had a weakness for girls like that,” Helen continued. “Handfuls. I’d only met her twice, but I don’t think Ryan was too serious about her.”

  Katie hesitated, then finally said, “They were pretty serious. I heard he’d bought her an engagement ring.”

  Helen’s head jerked up. Then after a pause she sank down to the mattress, laughing a little, a kind of laughing.

  “Isn’t it a strange day,” she said, “when you realize you have no idea what’s going on in your kid’s head? One morning, you wake up and there’s this alien in your house. They look like your kid, sound a little like them, but they are not your kid. They’re something else that you don’t know. And they keep changing. They never stop changing on you.”

  Katie almost said something but stopped herself. She didn’t want to be one of those smug parents, like Gwen, like Molly, who claimed to read their daughters’ expressions with one hundred percent accuracy. But she could: the particular twist of Devon’s mouth that meant frustration. The shake of her elbow that meant her wrist was throbbing. The twitch over her left eye that meant she was afraid.

  “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” Katie said instead, touching the window blinds, warm in the sun. “Losing your—”

  “You keep losing them nonstop, don’t you?” Helen said. “Where’d you get that idea, anyway? About the ring?”

  “Someone saw him at Ahee Jewelers the week before.”

  Helen shook her head. “Ah, well, Katie, I don’t see him buying any ring. He couldn’t pay his water bill. He didn’t even have a credit card.”

  “Oh,” Katie said, not sure what else to say, and not sure why she was here. She peeped through the bedroom door, checking on Drew, his tiny head behind the sofa back, those little ears red as Swedish fish.

  Behind her, Helen was sliding open the closet door, a waft of fabric softener and old smoke. Bending down, she lifted something off the floor.

  “Here,” she said, handing it to Katie. “Here’s why I asked you to come.”

  It was a vinyl gym sack Katie recognized dimly, one of those tournament giveaways a few months back. Gingerly, she slid its pull string. The room dark, the navy bag dark, she couldn’t see anything except a flash of red.

  Her hand inside, the familiar feel of Lycra.

  A leotard. A competition one.

  Red and black, with a swirl scoop neck. A spray of crystals up one shoulder. They’d paid extra for the crystals. Eric said it would be worth it. The light would pick up the sparkle.

  Katie hadn’t seen it since the charity invitational in Inverness six weeks ago. They’d played “Eye of the Tiger” when she came out on the floor to take her medal.

  She looked inside the neck hole, and there it was: D. Knox, the same iron-on label she used with all Devon’s travel leotards.

  She held it for a second, something sick in her stomach.

  Helen’s fingers appeared on its edges, lifting it so the light caught it.

  And Katie could see the slight tear in the seam at the crotch and then, turning it, a pale, scaly stain on the back. Her stomach turned hotly, hand slapping over her mouth.

  “What did he do—” Her voice thundered from her, surprising her.

  “No,” Helen said loudly to match Katie’s sudden loudness. “That’s not what this is.”

  “I know what I’m seeing,” said Katie, trying to control herself but her voice whirling and whirring.

  “You know Ryan.”

  “I don’t. I don’t know him.” The words came out in sharp sputters. “Except I know that he’s been arrested. He had drug problems. He had a violent girlfriend. That’s what I know. And now I know he did something to my daughter.”

  Helen reached out and touched her arm lightly.

  “Listen, listen,” she said, “no one likes to imagine their daughter’s been—”

  “Stop it!” Katie said, or heard herself say, her face crowding with heat. “Stop it. I know my daughter.”

  “And I know Ryan,” Helen said, grabbing the leotard from Katie’s hands and turning it so Katie could see the inside.

  The words written in silver Sharpie: I ♥♥ U SO MUCH!!

  She knew the handwriting. Unmistakable. And the same silver Sharpie Devon used on her notebooks, in her diary.

  “My son’s had some problems in his life,” Helen was saying. “With substances. With direction. But he would never hurt a woman—”

  “Devon’s not a woman,” Katie said, a coldness lifting up through her body. “She’s a child. She’s never even had a date. This is crazy.”

  Helen leaned against the wall, watching the leotard dangling from Katie’s fingers.

  “You have to decide what you want to think. What you want to know. That’s on you. But I don’t think Ryan would have kept that if she hadn’t meant something to him.” She paused. “Everything meant a lot to him.”

  “Have the police seen this?” Katie asked, her mind clicking, ratcheting up speed.

  “I wanted to talk to you first,” Helen said. “Do you think Hailey found out about the two of them?”

  “No,” Katie said, quickly. “No. Helen, you can’t tell the police about this.”

  “Why not?”

  She couldn’t even think through all the reasons, or which ones mattered most.

  “Because,” Katie said, her voice breaking humiliatingly. “Think how Ryan would feel. Think about that. Everyone would find out. And everyone would know your son is a statutory rapist. Worse.”

  Helen lifted a hand so fast that, for a crazy second, Katie thought she might hit her.

  But instead, she covered her mouth with it, shaking her head.

  “I’m sorry,” Katie said. “I’m just …” She looked down at the scant leotard, like a doll’s costume in her hand. None of it was possible.

  “You’re worried about your girl,” Hel
en said with a new coldness. “People thinking things about your baby girl. Getting her caught up in this.”

  “I’m just asking for time. Mom to mom.”

  Helen nodded wearily, the back of her hand on her forehead.

  “No promises. But for now, okay.”

  “Mom,” she could hear Drew say from the other room. “Hey, Mom.”

  “I’m coming,” she said, moving past Helen, the leotard clutched to her chest. The smells of the room, the way Helen’s eyes looked, she had to leave.

  “None of you even cared about Ryan,” Helen said. “You just let him work for you, do things for you.”

  “That’s not true,” Katie said, embarrassed to feel heat rising to her eyes.

  “None of us know our kids,” Helen said, reaching for the leotard in Katie’s hand. “Haven’t you figured that out yet? You’re no different than the rest of us.”

  You’re wrong, something inside her said. About that, you couldn’t be more wrong.

  And Katie held on to the leotard. She held on so hard her nails left ugly furrows in her own skin that would last for hours. And the look on her face must have been something, because Helen let go. She let go.

  “C’mon,” Katie said, seeing Drew in Ryan’s kitchen, standing in front of the refrigerator. “Now.”

  “But look.” He was pointing to a photo taped on the fridge door. A blur of greenery, stippling moss, the muddy colors of a bad computer printer.

  “No time for nature, okay, kiddo?”

  “Okay.”

  Standing at the dining-room table, the lulling zip-zap from Drew’s cartoons in the other room, she punched at her phone. First, she called Eric. Then Devon. Then Eric again. No one was answering anywhere and she had no idea what words would come if someone did answer.

  For a very brief moment, she tried to sit still.

  Devon’s room was hot, always hot. All that energy, it stayed there.

  Katie hovered in the doorway a long minute, taking in all the symmetry and order. The organization so precise it felt mysterious. To Katie, her life always brim-high with chaos and distraction, Devon’s order was a mystery. And, for the first time, it felt suspect.

 
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