You will know me, p.19
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       You Will Know Me, p.19

           Megan Abbott
 
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  She was so drunk.

  When he half carried her inside the house, they were both out of their minds, her foot banging against the door frame, cutting her ankle.

  Her ankle was bleeding and felt warm and cold at the same time, and they nearly fell on the stairs, her back hitting the handrail and his foot slipping on the carpeted steps.

  They were on the bed, barely.

  It was fast, and they might not even have shut the door.

  It was fast, and she could feel the blood from her ankle running down her leg, flung in the air.

  His face pressed so hard against her, teeth clicking, heads knocking each other, the sound that came from him only sometimes, once in a great while, a pressure so overwhelming and a relief so immense that his body racked and fevered, and she felt herself in the center of something ugly and breathtaking.

  Even as it was happening, she knew that in the morning she wouldn’t remember what they had done and if it had been different than ever before. All she’d remember was that she felt a shiver, a cold hush all through. And later, an unbearable heat that shamed her.

  Married a long time, you think there will never be any surprises again, at least not those kinds. But you are wrong.

  She pulled the sheets up over herself. Her chest was making a funny noise, and she couldn’t get anything in her lungs.

  Inhaling, exhaling, her palm on her chest.

  She hadn’t even felt him pull away, sit up.

  Turning her head, her neck still throbbing, her legs still shaking, she saw he was already sitting up on the edge of the bed. Looking out the window into the pitch-black backyard, the garage’s graying gable.

  “I’m just trying to protect her from all this,” he said. “From all these distractions.”

  “A boy died,” she started, her voice almost like a chant, “a boy died.”

  “Ryan,” he said, not turning around. “Ryan. I know you love to talk about Ryan.”

  “What?” Rubbing her face, trying to think. “Love to talk about—”

  “That kid,” he said. “That kid, the way everyone looked at him.”

  He turned around and faced her, leaning toward her.

  “The way you looked at him,” he said.

  “What?” Katie said, wondering if this was really happening, the whiskey soaking through her.

  “Fuck that kid,” he said. “Fuck that kid and his beautiful face. That’s Teddy’s problem. And that psychotic niece of his, that’s his problem too. Fuck that kid. Who cares about that kid?”

  A coldness dropped through her.

  “You know who cares?” She took a breath and said it. “Your daughter.” It excited her to say it. “Your daughter loved that boy. Your daughter was sleeping with that boy.”

  “What?” he said, so quiet she barely heard him. “What did you say?”

  “I said they were sleeping together. Hailey must have found out. They were sleeping together and that started all this.”

  He wouldn’t look at her, turning back to the window, to the yard’s depths, the open maw of the garage. The excitement in her chest twisted into something else.

  “Eric,” she said, “did you know about them?”

  He spun around slowly and looked at her like he had no idea what she was talking about.

  “No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, Katie. I swear.”

  That’s when she knew he was lying.

  And she said, “You either tell me everything or you leave now.”

  And then he was gone.

  “Katie, why are you calling me? It’s two o’clock in the morning.”

  But Gwen sounded awake. She probably never slept at all, like a bullfrog or a shark.

  “Go wake up my daughter, Gwen. She’s not answering her phone. Wake her up and tell her I’m coming to get her.”

  “You need to settle down, Katie. There’s no reason—”

  “Get her up. She’s coming home now.”

  Grabbing for her sneakers, one eye on Drew’s open bedroom door, Katie could hear him breathing deeply, his hanging solar system tilting above him. Styrofoam planets, Saturn’s rings coated in dust.

  “Katie,” Gwen was saying, “have you been drinking?”

  “I know what you’ve been doing with my daughter. Have her waiting on your front steps.”

  There was a brief pause.

  “Five minutes,” Gwen said, and hung up.

  The lights at the Weaver house all seemed to come on at once, the instant Katie’s car touched the foot of the long drive.

  At the glowing rectangle of the front door, Devon stood, poised.

  “Mom,” she called out, duffel bag in one hand and backpack in the other, both swinging, whipping around her as she skidded down the long slope, hair flying, flip-flops and her sleep shorts, a sweatshirt yanked over her bolt-tight frame, Thoroughbred legs gripping the blue carpet of the lawn.

  “I can’t talk about anything now.”

  They were still in the car, in the garage, and Katie’s voice was louder than she’d ever known it, louder than Coach T.’s, her own clamorous mother’s, anyone’s.

  “We are going to talk about it right now. You will tell me. About you and Ryan Beck.”

  “I don’t know what—”

  “Stop it. I know. His mother told me, Devon. Ryan’s mother told me.”

  “She’s lying,” Devon said. “I don’t even know her. She’s lying.”

  Oh, to see her daughter look at her, her face so composed, and lie so easily.

  “I saw your leotard, Devon.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mom. I don’t.”

  “Stop lying, Devon. Stop.” Her hand reaching out, grabbing Devon’s chin so tightly, clenching her fingers around her jaw. “Stop.”

  Like a pin pulled out, Devon’s face seemed to collapse, her whole body sinking into itself.

  “Devon. Devon.”

  She covered her face with one hand, turning away.

  It all felt unfair. There’d been no ramp-up to it. Her little girl, so unflappable, so self-possessed, never talked about boys, never seemed to look at a boy, and now, like a mask torn away in an instant.

  “I loved him, Mom. I loved him so much.”

  The words just like Hailey had said, her fist covered in ice, I got so mad I punched my own wall. I love him so much. But Katie recognized the feeling too. The unbearable push of feelings at that age. How she’d looked at Eric and would have done anything at all to have him forever, her own body feeling like it was spinning from her, unstoppable.

  You make me crazy, baby. You make me crazy. “I loved him,” Devon repeated, her body so still, her voice so small, “and he’s dead and what if it’s my fault?”

  “It’s not your fault, Devon,” Katie said. It seemed like she’d said it a hundred times in recent days.

  Devon’s hand fell from her face, a pale smudge in the dark of the garage. There was a long pause, like before a vault sometimes, that strange dead-eyed look, her breath slowed to silence. Breathing throws off your alignment, Teddy always told her. Don’t breathe.

  “Devon,” she said, “what is it? You know you can tell me.”

  But Devon couldn’t seem to speak, her hand on her chest, a nervous gesture Katie recognized as her own. It was as if something had been undone. All that talking, the saying of things out loud, made them real. When you say it aloud, it becomes real in fresh and horrible ways.

  “Devon—”

  “He knows, Mom,” she blurted, eyes panicked.

  “Who knows?”

  “Dad.”

  Katie took a breath, the heat of Devon, and the closeness of the car, the smell of exhaust and chemicals. “Tell me.”

  “It was a few weeks ago,” Devon said. Her hand on Katie’s arm, she was ready now. “We were driving home from practice. He made me get out of the car. He sat down with me and he was so upset, Mom. He said that he knew, and it didn’t matter how. He said I was throwing my life away.”

&
nbsp; Katie watched her daughter, watched her mouth moving, words coming out, but it was like Devon herself couldn’t believe each sentence until she’d uttered it. Her own words terrifying her.

  “And he said I needed to know the biggest mistake you can make in life is giving in to sex.”

  “He said that to you?” Katie pressed her fingers to her temples as if trying to hold her head in place.

  “I told him it was just for now,” Devon kept going. “That it wouldn’t change anything. And he said, ‘All the things you do at your age seem like they’re just for now. But they’re all forever. You live with those mistakes forever.’”

  She looked at Katie, her voice relentless, her eyes growing wider and wider.

  “And then he said, ‘Devon, there’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you.’”

  A bursting in Katie’s eyes, making her dizzy, her mouth thick with alcohol and exhaust.

  There’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you.

  Had he really said that? And all she could think was What did that mean, to him?

  “Devon. Devon, what else?” Because she knew there was more. And she had to get it, all of it.

  And then Devon was talking again. Devon wasn’t done at all.

  “The day of the funeral, Mom,” she said. “Dad showed up at practice even though I had a ride. And when we were in the car, he…he said this awful thing. I can’t get it out of my head.”

  Katie took another breath. She was thinking of him, his hands on her thighs not an hour ago, and wondering what was wrong with her.

  “What did he say, baby? Tell me.”

  Her head bobbing slightly, Devon turned, and Katie watched as her eyes fixed on the door from the garage into the house. She couldn’t tell what Devon was looking at, Drew’s two-liter bottle, Eric’s Gore-Tex jacket slung there on a hook, dark and swelling.

  “He said Ryan got what was coming to him,” Devon whispered, so close to Katie the words vibrated on her skin. “That’s what he said. And he said, ‘What made that kid think he had any right?’”

  They locked eyes with each other.

  “Devon,” Katie said. “Look at me.”

  But Devon couldn’t, and Katie found herself getting lost in her head too. It was as though the garage were this haunted place, the empty spot where Eric’s car usually sat like a stain beside them, like a black pit with no bottom.

  “Devon,” she said, forcing the words out, “do you think your father might have done something?”

  With unbearable slowness Devon turned.

  “Mom…I don’t know what he did,” she said, her face assembling into something grave and hopeless. “Do you?”

  One hand on her stomach, Katie felt something pierce her, everything spilling out. She couldn’t answer.

  Devon was saying, “Mom, I can’t go inside and see him. I can’t.”

  And here Katie was, still drunk on his whiskey, still feeling his hands on her, back to the mattress—what was wrong with her?—a red daub spreading across her collarbone where his hand had pressed, other things she wouldn’t let herself think about at all.

  Who was that man? Did she even know? You were mysterious to him and he was mysterious to you.

  She put a hand on either side of Devon’s face.

  “He’s gone,” she promised. “And you’re with me. And everything’s going to be okay.”

  Devon looked at her, jaw shaking between Katie’s fingers.

  “Mom,” she said, eyes filled with bright tears, “you always give me everything.”

  Three a.m., four, sleep never came, not really, her heart pounding, cymbals crashing inside.

  The photo on the bedside table, she and Eric in matching BelStars tracksuits, searing red, Eric smiling at the camera, Katie smiling up at him.

  Before she knew it, she was dragging her wedding album out from the closet, behind the boxes of baby clothes, Devon’s old leotards. The pictures, fading already, those disposable cameras people used to use, all the blurred, frantic shots that captured the feeling of life better than anything else.

  The small catering hall, a raucous and joyous crowd of forty, kegs of summer ale, the DJ with rainbow sunglasses, everyone dancing, their faces glazed with sweat—three of Eric’s old girlfriends came, one by one introducing themselves to Katie. He’s the greatest guy, they all said. The one that got away. A gentleman, a sweetheart, a knight in shining armor. And you did it, you got him, how did you?

  And she never knew, not really. Because yes, she was three months along by then, but that wasn’t the reason. She’d already gone for her consultation at the Options Women’s Center, listened to them describe how they would insert a tube, “a suction device that will gently empty your uterus.” But then Eric showed up the night before her appointment, saying he’d been driving around for hours and had come to important decisions about the things that mattered to him and it turned out that the life inside of her, which they’d created, was the Thing Itself, and he’d torn the pull tab from the Schlitz can and promised her everything, always and forever. This must be how life really happens, he’d said, you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, what your purpose is, and suddenly life tells you.

  The wedding night, she wasn’t supposed to drink at all, but she’d had three glasses of champagne, and Eric three times that, plus tequila and Mexican cigars, and they both smelled of sweat and crushed flowers and ended up having sex in the backseat of Eric’s car in the hotel parking structure, neither able to remember what they’d done with the key card and not wanting to wait one more second, his arm under her dress up to his shoulder and everything frenzied and luscious.

  And the truth was, arm hooked in his, tight, she did think:

  I’ve got him now.

  Now he is mine.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Just before five, in the purple dawn, she crept down the hall and checked on Devon sleeping, her head a dark mass on the pillow.

  Finally, she fell asleep herself.

  Now it was nearly seven, the clock radio droning with weather, traffic, weather, traffic, her face muffled in pillows. Drifting in and out. The tug of forgetting.

  The phone ringing. The landline again.

  “Did you hear?”

  “Hear what?” Katie said, her voice sleep-frogged. “Who is this?”

  “It’s Helen Beck. The police called late last night to tell me about the paint chips. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

  “What? Wait. Helen.” Sitting up now, her stomach churning with last night’s liquor.

  “They found some paint chips in Ryan’s clothes. Car paint. And guess what? They’re not purple.”

  “Oh,” Katie said, biting down on her finger, trying to wake herself.

  “They found just a few. Very tiny.”

  “What color, Helen?”

  “So I guess that witness was wrong.”

  “What color, Helen?” Katie said, head throbbing with the knowing.

  “Silver, they said. Or metallic gray.”

  “Silver,” Katie repeated.

  “I know. Doesn’t narrow things down much. The detective told me there’s more than six thousand silver or gray cars in this county alone.”

  “I see them everywhere,” Katie said, her mouth dry.

  Silver to match your eyes, she’d said when Eric first drove it home a half a dozen years ago. And he’d grinned. My eyes are gray. But the yellow ring around the center always made them glitter.

  “So what does this mean?” Katie asked. “What comes next?”

  “The state crime lab maybe can identify the make and model of the car from the samples. Sometimes they can do that.”

  “Make and model, that limits it a little, but—”

  “I’m optimistic. I have to be. He’s my boy,” she said. There was a pause, Katie already on her feet, the cord, wreathed with dust, tangling up her legs.

  “Katie, I bet we’re both sorry now about the other day.” Helen kept talking. “Mothers, you know. When they’re b
orn, we grow a new set of teeth. What’s that line, ‘There ought to be a law against a mother like that’?”

  “I have to go, Helen.”

  “I guess I’m glad to know it wasn’t his girlfriend,” she said, taking a breath. “It was just some random monster.”

  * * *

  Stumbling into the bathroom, Katie ducked her head under the sink faucet, gulping hungrily.

  Silver, gray, metallic, her head clunking and clanking from one image to the next, like coins jangling against each other.

  Silver, gray, metallic, like coins. Melted coins.

  Drew’s fever-streaked palm open before as they stood in the garage, and the three silver specks stippled in the center.

  She stood in the garage, barefoot and wearing only Eric’s old BelStars Booster T-shirt, eyes on the greasy blot where his car was usually parked.

  Kneeling, one hand holding back the bowing handle of the rusting lawn mower, its wheels turning, she used the light from her phone to look.

  Down on her knees, now, fingers spreading, she searched. Even in the crease between the concrete and the garage wall.

  There was nothing glinting.

  The greasy blot, though—she crawled over to it. At night, it had looked like a pit. Now she could smell something. Motor oil, and something else.

  “I saved them.”

  “Show me,” she said.

  He pointed to his window, to a piece of Scotch tape, a few inches long, sealed diagonally across the pane.

  It was only when she walked right up to the sill that she could see them: three hard sparkles, one as large as a dime, the sun perforating the center.

  Her arm stretched, she tore off the tape and crumpled it into her palm.

  “It’s not safe,” she said. “There’s lead in it.”

  He looked her.

  “Like in the school basement?” he asked after a few seconds. “They used a big vacuum cleaner. They wore these white space suits and big masks.”

 
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