You will know me, p.17
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       You Will Know Me, p.17

           Megan Abbott
 
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  Will it still be there? she wondered. In the same cramped spot she’d found it the first time, two years ago, and again in February, the day after Devon got her first period.

  On all fours on the bed, she reached down into the wood-swollen crevice between bookshelf and mattress in the upper left corner.

  Feeling for the diary, fat and weighty. Its felt fabric cover. I Heart Everything.

  But her hand hit only cardboard. A box, and another. She lifted them out. Four of them. Four cardboard boxes of tampons, one for every month. Katie had bought them all for her. And now they were wedged between her mattress and the wall, unopened except the first box, all its tampons lined up like soldiers save one empty spot for the tampon she’d handed her daughter.

  Katie felt herself grow dizzy, collapsing slightly on the bed.

  But what about the diary entry she’d read? She tried to remember it; something about becoming a woman and that it hadn’t hurt and—had she said it had been beautiful?

  Pieces hurtling into place, it now seemed so clear: Devon hadn’t been writing about her first period. She’d never even had her period. She was writing about Ryan. Her first time with Ryan, scarlet marking the spot on the leotard Katie found in the wash.

  No one ever tells you there’ll be so much blood, Devon had said to Katie as they lay together on Katie’s bed. Her daughter deceiving her, lies upon lies.

  I made it happen, she’d said. And now it’s forever.

  And, too, Don’t tell Dad. Mom, don’t tell Dad.

  Katie tripped down the hall to the bathroom. Leaning over the toilet, sure she’d be sick, she waited. Then stood again.

  Staring into the vanity mirror, her hand over her mouth.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Face fretted from sun and years and fishing and puttering in his widower’s yard, he was the only neighbor still there since they first moved in. He’d been there for Devon’s accident, for Devon’s earliest backyard tumbling efforts (That trampoline sure looks fun, he’d said, watching Eric install it, but you might want to put some shock absorbers over those springs), for the time the Gazette came to take pictures of Devon swinging from the walnut tree’s branch.

  “Mr. Watts,” she asked, glancing at her watch, “can you keep an eye on Drew for a little while?”

  He straightened, looking at Drew.

  “I swear, he stopped being contagious two days ago.”

  “Had scarlatina when I was a kid, back in the fifties,” he said. “Out of school for a month. Read all the Hardy Boys stories. My favorite was The Melted Coins. A crazy sailor tries to tattoo Joe. That seemed much worse than hives.”

  What is it I plan to do? she asked herself over and over on the forty-five-minute drive.

  Where do I even begin?

  She wondered what Hailey knew. Had she found out about Ryan and Devon and then, with that same spike-rattling jealousy that had sent her to Devon’s muscled throat, done something appalling?

  An old country road, her purple bug of a car, a luscious grape, darting from the darkness and straight into her cheating lover.

  * * *

  A red swarm of tracksuits were gathering at the gym’s double doors, a few girls peering in the windows, the rest squirming and bouncing.

  Seeing them all in the brightness of the afternoon, out there in the wild, free from the carapace of glass and insulation and mats and padding and foam, Katie was struck. Everything looked vivid and strange.

  They were massing, half of them as brawny as footballers, their necks and waists thickened by muscle, the other half as delicate as sylphs, girls who seemed to consume only air, chalk dust. Chestless chests and the round behinds, the few with breasts seemed to treat them as vestigial burdens, their arms folded across them, their zippers pulled high above them.

  It was as if Katie were wearing glasses for the first time in her life, the world suddenly brought into sharp focus.

  The eleven- and twelve-year-olds bundled at the windows. Jaws locked, veins roped across temples, corded up the neck, they reminded her of baby birds, their heads tilted back, gullets unhinged, open, cries shrill and hungry for anything.

  Then there were the older ones, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. They were looking at their phones, or their moms, these hardened vets, biceps fist-thick, straight lines down to thighs powerful enough to anchor the world. None of them topping five feet three.

  See what it does to them. A comment Katie overheard once, a parent at Devon’s school, watching Devon walk across the parking lot.

  Check out Popeye, Katie had heard a man say at the mall, winking at his friend. Too bad those are pecs not tits.

  Devon, whose toes pointed out as she slept.

  Whose ankles cracked as she walked up the stairs.

  Who, before she performed, would, one by one, crack all her joints, fingers, knuckles, neck, toes, hips, and ankles. Pulling her thumbs so far back they rested on her wrists, like tongues.

  Once, she had to take Devon for an EKG and the nurse kept telling her, Relax all your muscles, and Devon kept saying, I am, I am. She’d looked down at Devon’s pointed toes, hard as screws. Like a ballerina, like a Chinese princess.

  Now, before the bolted BelStars entrance, here was five-year-old Ashlee Hargrove, cracking her spine into a back bend, her tiny body like a table, shoulders pushed out over hands.

  It came to Katie, that feeling. One she had known before, but it was so much stronger now. A nagging sense of some irrevocable wrong.

  What have we done to them?

  What have I done?

  Always there, like a flicker in the corner of her eye, she’d learned to ignore it. But now it was, quite suddenly, right in front of her. It was everywhere.

  She shut her eyes.

  “Katie! Katie, where’s Eric? Does he know about this?” Becca Plonski said, her hands pressing down on little Dominique’s shoulders. “Can you call Eric?”

  Everyone was assembled around the handwritten sign on the door.

  GYM CLOSED TODAY—NO PRACTICE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE—

  THE MGT

  “What do we do?” Cheyenne Chu asked. Her elfin fingers touched the sign as if it might give her a deeper knowledge. “What do we do?”

  “He might have given us some warning,” Kirsten Siefert said, chewing gum forcefully. “I cut a conference call short to get Jordan here.”

  “Unacceptable,” whispered Becca, just under her breath. “This is completely unacceptable.”

  “Even if Teddy can’t be here,” Kirsten said, more loudly, “does that mean the gym can’t run? We paid for that staff. We pay for those lights to be on.”

  Katie didn’t say anything, scanning the crowd for Devon.

  Devon, whom she hadn’t seen in three days.

  She felt a hand on her arm. Turning around, she saw the strained face of Molly Chu.

  “I didn’t think I’d see you here,” she said. “So where’s she getting her private lessons?”

  Katie stared at her a moment. “What do you mean?”

  “Come on. No one believes the scarlet fever thing and Hailey’s locked up, so why else would Devon keep missing practice?” Then, moving closer to Katie, lowering her voice. “But, listen, don’t be greedy. Just give me the coach’s name. I don’t want Cheyenne to lose the month before qualifiers either.”

  “Wait,” Katie said, “are you saying Devon hasn’t been at practice?”

  Molly scratched her brow nervously, just like Cheyenne on the beam, her torso shaking. Which was why Cheyenne would never go Elite.

  Molly wouldn’t say another word until they were nearly to Katie’s car, Cheyenne gazing after them forlornly, shivering in her nylon shorts by the gym’s doorway.

  “She hasn’t been to practice for the last three days,” Molly whispered, even though they were yards away from anyone.

  “Oh.”

  “Neither has Lacey, by the way. People were guessing Gwen hired a private coach for her. Do you think so? What does Eric say?”

/>   “She’s been staying with Gwen,” Katie said. “Devon has.”

  Molly’s face stiffened and she paused, as if calculating something.

  “I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding.”

  “I don’t think so,” Katie said, quick and pointed.

  “Well, it’s not like Gwen kidnapped her.”

  “Molly, you’re telling me you haven’t heard anything at all? You talk to Gwen twelve times a day. All of you do.”

  “All of who?” Molly said, tilting her head.

  “The booster klatch.”

  Molly looked at her, blinking. “I’ve told you what I know,” she said, her voice newly clipped. “And aren’t you part of the so-called booster klatch? Don’t we all want the same thing? No practice, not even open gym, this close to qualifiers is inexcusable.”

  “I don’t care about that right now,” Katie said, her own voice sounding so insistent, grinding up her throat. “I care about my daughter. I’m trying to find out why my daughter’s not here.”

  But something in Molly’s face had changed. A veil, a mask dropped over it.

  “We all know Devon’s the big gold dream,” she said coolly. “But there are other gymnasts here too. Other girls count too.”

  Katie recognized the tone. From school events—the college fair, the Mother’s Day fashion show. The other parents, their under-the-breath comments, the looks they exchanged if Katie or Eric asked a question—it only demonstrated how distinct and special Devon was. Long ago, she’d learned, Eric had shown her; you had to own it.

  “Well,” Katie said, finally. Jaw set. Voice steady. “Only one counts to me.”

  The man in the God’s Little Acre polo shirt and cap pushed the neon-yellow machine across the lawn, punching holes in the spongy grass.

  He was whistling as she walked swiftly past him, up the long curving drive studded with sacks of peat moss. Punch-punch-punch.

  Standing at the knotty-pine door, she clapped the dragonfly knocker, which didn’t seem to make any sound.

  She clapped it again. Punch-punch.

  “Don’t think anyone’s home,” the lawn man called out, turning off the aerator.

  The whirring stopped, the quiet swallowing everything.

  Somewhere a cicada thrummed.

  She thought she saw something move through a sliver of blurred glass at the top of the door. A flash on the front staircase, a ghost.

  From inside, she heard the beeping sound of an alarm system and the click of a bolt.

  Turning the brass knob, Katie pushed the door open.

  There, halfway up the spiral staircase, was little Lacey, legs matching its narrow white balusters, blending with them, as if all turned on a lathe by a master woodworker. Her hand clamped over one of the finials.

  “Hi, Mrs. Knox.”

  One socked foot lifted and rested on the step behind her, as if she were backing away.

  “Where’s Devon?” Katie asked. “Sorry.” She took a breath. “But where’s Devon?”

  Lacey’s hand loosened slightly on the finial, the shape of a cannonball.

  “They’re gone,” she said. “It’s just me.”

  Striding past the caramel stone walls, the flagstone floors, the vaulted ceilings of the grand house, they didn’t speak.

  Lacey, like some sly elf from a fairy tale, silently ushered her through a doorway with the sign Lacey’s Lair hanging over the frame.

  The room smelled strongly of lavender and sweet pea.

  On one wall the words Sweet Dreams! were painted in sprawling silver cursive, the exclamation point like a crisp command.

  On the opposite wall, behind the satin headboard, hung a yard-high black silhouette of Lacey, that tilted nose and bulbous forehead.

  A series of gymnast decals leaped and bounded and somersaulted over the vanity mirror. Beneath, a small banner read, in glittery ink, Concur Your Fears. No exclamation point.

  With a slightly weary wave of the hand, Lacey gestured to a button-tufted settee on which Katie was invited to sit.

  “Lacey,” Katie said, “you need to tell me. Where’s your mom? Where’s Devon?”

  But Lacey just stood in front of her mirrored vanity, lustered Deco-style, like a Shirley Temple movie, and began brushing her ponytail with great care and tenderness.

  Watching her in the beveled mirror, Katie was suddenly struck by what an unaccountably exquisite child Lacey was. So much time watching these girls, you looked at their bodies constantly but so rarely their faces. That white-blond hair, eyebrows that arched like a doll’s painted ones, a chin that came to a sharp point, and a gap between her two front teeth that made her look vaguely amorous, even though she was only eleven and had probably never even looked at a boy.

  “Honey,” she tried again, “where’s Devon? You need to tell me, okay?”

  The girl looked at her in the mirror, slowly setting down her hairbrush, frilled with her pale strands.

  “They’re not here. Grandma’s coming soon,” she said. “Riley left early. That’s why I’m by myself. But it doesn’t matter to me.”

  “Riley’s your babysitter?”

  “I don’t need a babysitter,” she said, pulling her socks off gently. “Riley’s giving me privates.”

  Katie looked at her.

  “Beam and vault,” Lacey added, eyes lifting.

  Ah, Katie thought, realizing. “How long have you been getting private lessons?”

  Lacey swirled her finger across the back of the hairbrush and said nothing.

  “And Devon?”

  Lacey’s fingers danced over to the vanity’s glass knobs, one hand on each side of the vanity. Twisting them.

  “Lacey, did your mom and Devon go on a trip today?”

  Lacey looked down at her bare, gnarled feet and lifted them, tiptoeing.

  The gesture was so Devon-like that Katie felt a rush of pity.

  “Lacey,” she said, leaning forward on the settee. “I’m sorry they left you by yourself. It isn’t very nice. Do you—”

  “They left you too,” Lacey said, “didn’t they?”

  She turned slowly to face Katie.

  “They’re at EmPower, which is far away. Mom takes Devon there for her privates. Mr. Ehlers thinks he can turn things around for her. It’s Coach T.’s fault Devon didn’t make Junior Elite. Coach T. can’t even control his own family. That’s what they said. I heard them.”

  Katie shifted, her fingernails snagging on the tufted cushion. “Heard who?”

  “Mom and Devon and Mr. Knox. They were all talking on the terrace this morning.” She pointed to her window. “You can hear everything people say out there. That’s where my mom goes to yell on the phone.”

  “Mr. Knox?” The smell in the room, the lavender, the feeling of the cushion beneath her tearing. “Lacey, has he been here before? Since Devon came?”

  “No,” she said, lifting her brush again. “But he was here this morning. And then Mom went inside and left Devon and him alone. He was crying.”

  “What? What did you say?”

  “I didn’t hear him, but Devon kept saying, Dad, Dad, Dad, don’t cry.”

  Katie felt her fingernail gouge into the tuft and rip loose. The only time she’d ever seen Eric cry was the accident. Devon’s accident.

  Lacey’s head lifted. She looked at Katie in the mirror.

  “My dad used to cry,” she said. “When he came to pick me up on weekends. My mom made him stay in his car until he pulled himself together. Do you cry?”

  Katie clenched her hand, tucking her wounded finger in the center.

  “Everybody cries, Lacey.”

  Lacey looked at her dubiously.

  “I wondered if it was just dads,” she said. “Mr. Knox, he kept saying he was sorry.”

  Katie felt something small and delicate unhook inside her.

  “Sorry about what?”

  Lacey shrugged, looking at Katie in the mirror.

  Sorry about what, what, what—

  “Blood,
Lacey said, turning.

  “What?”

  And they both looked down at the settee, its lilac satin daubed red.

  Lifting her hand, staring at her shorn nail, its red tip, Katie found herself almost laughing.

  Lacey walked her to the front door, her elfin feet now in flip-flops that gently slapped the stone floors, the sound echoing into the distant rafters like wings.

  “Is Hailey in a mental hospital?” she asked.

  “Not exactly,” Katie said. “Lacey, what if you called your mom for me?”

  “Why don’t you call her?”

  “I have. She isn’t answering. Maybe if you called…”

  Lacey looked at her, her fingers dancing up to the security panel on the wall.

  “I texted her,” she said, “when you got here. So she already knows.”

  Katie wondered if, behind her aura of mute surrender, the stupor of her eyes, like a drugged pixie, Lacey knew more about her mother, and everything, than anyone guessed.

  “She just leaves you alone with Riley? Does she know him well?” Katie blurted, not sure where it came from or why she was saying it.

  “Riley’s a girl,” Lacey said. “I already have a boyfriend.”

  “You do?”

  “We met at the county invitational. He works concessions. He has long sideburns and the keys to all the rooms at Lightning City.”

  Those pointy brows like butterfly antennae, and the stoned lips, numb and pink-jutted.

  “Lacey, when you say boyfriend, what does he—”

  “He has a big key ring and he said he’ll take me on a tour, but not till I’m in high school.”

  Katie squinted, trying to be sure she was understanding.

  “Don’t tell my mom, okay?” Lacey was saying, her head tilted against the front door. “About my boyfriend.”

  A crush of questions pushed into Katie’s brain, all for this candy sticklette of a girl.

 
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