You will know me, p.21
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       You Will Know Me, p.21

           Megan Abbott
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  She never would have answered if it weren’t for the detectives, their starchy blue shirts and thick-soled shoes. The squinting of their eyes and the leaning closer. She needed some space, some time. To think.

  “Katie,” Gwen was saying, already mid-harangue, “I’d like you to reconsider your position here. Even if you want Devon home that doesn’t mean she can’t continue her sessions at EmPower—”

  “That’s not going to happen. And I can’t talk.”

  “—because in a month, your daughter will step out onto that competition floor and have what could be her last chance at qualifying for Elite after the catastrophe of two years ago.”

  “I’m not discussing this with you,” Katie said, her hands on the sink, sticky from something—soap, last night’s noxious whiskey. “This has nothing to do with you.”

  “Well, that’s just false. I’m the treasurer of this entire operation. Devon’s success or failure will have a major impact on the finances of this gym.”

  “I don’t care about the gym’s goddamn finances.” Trying to keep her voice low. The silence from downstairs—those detectives, could they hear?

  “The boosters have invested a great deal in Devon,” Gwen continued. “And her fate affects our daughters too. Do you see what I’m saying?”

  Leaning against the peeling vanity, Katie turned on the water so they couldn’t hear. The old mold-thick vents might just muffle the telltale heart. Those detectives down there, surely Hailey had told them about Devon and Ryan? And if she hadn’t told before, what would stop her from telling now? And then they would talk to Eric. And want to see Eric’s car. And—

  “Katie, do you see? Are you there? I can hear your anxious little breaths.”

  “I’m hanging up.”

  “Katie, were you an athlete?”

  “No,” she said, wanting to scream at Gwen and fearing the detectives could hear, imagining them both leaning forward, craning necks. Who is she talking to? Is it her daughter? Her husband?

  “Of course you weren’t. I don’t know what you wanted at Devon’s age, Katie, but I’d bet my daughter’s college fund you couldn’t name it then or now. But Devon is different. She knows what she wants. She’s not like the rest of us, Katie.”

  “Who the hell do you think you are?” Katie whispered, her mouth pressed against the phone. “Slinking into our lives with your snakeskin shoes and your big checkbook and your—”

  “You wanted that checkbook, didn’t you?” she said icily.

  Downstairs, Katie thought she heard footsteps. She thought about the door to the garage. About what else might be in there. Glass fragments, the microscopic residue of paint—flakes and chips too small for the eye to see. But they would see.

  “This isn’t about your maternal vanity,” Gwen was saying. “It’s about your daughter.”

  In her head, Katie was screaming.

  The water running, she leaned down as close to the rush of it as she could and said through gritted teeth, “Go to hell. You go to hell.”

  But nothing ever touched Gwen.

  “Because, Katie, there’s nothing on God’s green earth I wouldn’t do for my child,” Gwen said, the bastioned fortress in the center of an impassable moat. “That is something Eric and I agree on. Don’t you? What kind of mother wouldn’t?”

  What kind of mother. To say that to Katie, who had given every waking hour and every sleeping hour to her daughter. Who sat in that gym every day, spent hundreds of hours in backless bleachers, elbows perpetually rubbed raw from all the bleacher leaning. Who drove as many as thirty hours a week, who spent hours hunting for lost grips or a favorite leotard, every leotard costing more than any item of clothing Katie had. Who hadn’t had a professional haircut in four years, who’d never been on a trip alone with her husband at all, her only vacations consisting of free hours torn from tournament weekends, her shoulder bag filled with water bottles and ibuprofen and gluey hair gel and sharp bobby pins and lucky grips and the right kind of energy bars you could only get online and the right kind of athletic tape and the lucky socks and the lucky hairbrush and Devon’s inhaler and her backup inhaler, her hands resting on Devon’s weary shoulders as they tromped through the museum, the science center, the amusement park in the forty-five minutes they had before prac—

  “I refuse to deprive my daughter of the opportunity to achieve her dreams,” Gwen continued, unrelenting. “I will not give up on her. Will you give up on Devon?”

  “You’re lucky I didn’t call the goddamned police,” Katie said instead, jaw grinding. “You took my daughter.”

  “The police?” There was a brief pause, then Gwen’s voice returned, grim and precise. “You don’t want to call the police.”

  Something in her tone. Something with portent. Whatever it meant, Katie could not hear it now.

  “I’ll do whatever I need to do to protect my daughter,” Katie said, and hung up.

  Walking down the stairs, she dragged down the hems of the capris, smoothed her hair.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, returning to the living room, blood high and with new purpose, “but it’s not a good time.”

  The detectives looked up at her, half rising, then sitting again.

  “We get that a lot,” Renton said, trying for a smile.

  Instead of sitting, Katie rested her hands on the back of the wing chair, hiding her shaking legs behind it.

  “We already told Officer Crandall everything we know. And we’re a sick house.”

  We’re a sick house. Her words sounded funny to her, but they seemed to have weight, impact. That big way of talking, she’d never tried it before. Nothing on God’s green earth I wouldn’t do for my child.

  “Mrs. Knox,” Furey said, his neck less pink now, expression oddly tender, “we do understand. We’re here to help you.”

  She felt very tall, the detectives slunk so low on the ancient Sears sofa. She straightened her back. She would be ready this time.

  “We reviewed security-camera footage of the gym lobby,” Renton said. “And you can clearly see Miss Belfour following your daughter into the locker room.”

  “She was hunting her,” Katie said, “like my daughter was some kind of animal.”

  “But you should know Miss Belfour’s injuries far outweighed your daughter’s,” Renton added.

  “My daughter’s strong. She knows how to defend herself. Thank God.”

  Her spine tight and taut, nothing they said touched her. It was like the rival gym parents at the meets, the way they would talk, trying to diminish Devon’s achievements, cast doubt. Noting the extra time Coach T. gave her, the special privileges. You had to be above all of that. Or trample it under your feet.

  “And you,” Furey said, lifting his pen in the air, pointing it in her direction. “You too, Mrs. Knox. You defended yourself. Are those from Miss Belfour too?”

  She followed his pen to her forearm, bare. The brown serrations etching that fish-hook scratch, elbow to wrist. Conscious of the gaping armholes of Eric’s shirt, air hitting skin, their eyes on her. Her marks.

  “Of course they are. You see what Hailey’s capable of, then,” she said, discreetly displaying her forearm. Furey looked at it, noted it.

  “Mrs. Knox,” Renton said, “have your daughter and Miss Belfour been involved in any back-and-forth? A kind of feud? There was talk of texts exchanged. Girls can—”

  “No. Absolutely not. And, by the way, Hailey’s not a girl. She’s the adult who attacked my child. A minor. That’s what we’re talking about, right?”


  “And she’s the adult whose car was seen at the site of her boyfriend’s deadly accident, correct?”

  “That’s a separate investigation, Mrs. Knox.”

  “And as for talking to my husband, he wasn’t there when my daughter was assaulted. I was. And I will tell you again what you already know. What a dozen people saw.”

  She felt something stirring powerfully in her, and the words just came, her finge
r poking at them like Coach on the floor, To stick it, you gotta grind those baby-girl heels of yours, hand on the vault punching every word. When it hurts you know you’ve landed it right.

  “That twenty-three-year-old woman, half a foot taller with at least thirty pounds on my child, a woman with a history of instability and juvenile delinquency, tackled her, pounded her head into the floor. Wrapped her hands around my baby’s throat. That’s what matters. And that is why you’re here, isn’t it? Because we don’t live in a place where adults are allowed to beat on children.”

  Watching her, Detective Renton jiggled a pen on his knee. One of their radios crackled.

  It didn’t matter that there’d been no head pounding, no hands to throat. Not like some of the fights she’d seen, long ago, waiting tables at the Magic Stick the summer after high school, or that woman who’d bushwhacked her mom in the parking lot for giving her phone number to her husband. Her keys had been between her fingers, ready to pounce.

  With Hailey and Devon, it was more chaotic, all elbows and knees and squeaking sneaker soles. It was blood and nails and teeth. But Devon knew how to take hits, had been taking them most of her life, chin to beam, knee to mat. The red marks from Hailey’s hoodie cord embedded in her palm were no worse than any day’s gym rips, than anything that might happen to Devon, whose body was so constantly tested, battered, shocked.

  “You should know that Hailey Belfour has always been jealous of my daughter,” she went on, her voice gaining still more energy. Hands gripping the back of that ridiculous chair, still smelling of Gwen’s tuberose. Gwen was everywhere. “Of Devon’s talents, the attention she receives from Hailey’s uncle, from everyone. You see, Hailey was never a real gymnast herself. She was too big, too graceless. Maybe she watched my daughter and saw what might have been ten years ago. If she’d been a less troubled girl. If she’d had the discipline but also the innate talent. The thing Devon has that makes her exceptional.”

  “Mrs. Knox, I—”

  “A grown woman so jealous of a child that she physically attacks her. Can you imagine the rage inside? What do you think a woman like that is capable of?”

  She looked at them, they looked at her.

  “But this is something we’ve dealt with Devon’s entire life. The envy of others.”

  Chapter Eighteen

  The detectives were still standing in her driveway, talking.

  She watched from the window, watched how closely they stood, and how near the garage. Furey was nodding at everything Renton was saying, his mouth moving ceaselessly.

  Then she saw them looking across her lawn.

  To Mr. Watts’s fading ranch house. The driveway. Mr. Watts was there, the hood of his green Impala open, doing one of his endless repairs.

  They walked over to him. They said something to him and he looked up, his old aviators flashing.

  She imagined what he might say:

  On the garage floor, Detective. The boy thought they were silverfish.

  Yes, I showed them to Mrs. Knox.

  Later I thought, Oh, paint from her husband’s car. Yes, it’s that color exactly.

  She must’ve thought the same thing.

  She watched as Mr. Watts shook his head, then shook it again.

  Then they left.

  “Mr. Watts,” she said, her feet still bare, soles sunk in dew, “were they bothering you?”

  “Nope,” he said, wiping his hands with an oil-soft rag. “Were they bothering you?”

  “But what did they ask you?”

  He paused, looking at her, those aviators reflecting herself back in both mirrored teardrops.

  “If I had a permit for my RV,” he said. “What’d they ask you?”

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “Someone’s been harassing Devon. It’s very upsetting and I’m…very upset.”

  He nodded, folding his arms. “That is upsetting,” he said. “I hope they’re helping you. Your daughter’s in the paper so much now. That brings out the crazy.”

  “Yes,” Katie said, catching a glimpse of her drawn face in his sunglasses. “It does.”

  “I always try to keep an eye out for all of you. I still think about Devon’s accident. Things like that can do bad things to a family.”

  Katie nodded. It had happened soon after they’d moved in, and they barely knew Mr. Watts. But he’d run over to help. Leaning down, he’d tried to talk to little Devon, What’s your favorite ice cream, anything to distract her from the blood and chaos. The smell of gas, the shrieking lawn mower.

  “I’ll never forget seeing you at the screen door before it happened,” he said now, pointing up the driveway. “I was out there in my garage and saw you watching her run out to her daddy.”

  “Standing at the door?” The way she remembered it, she went to the door only after hearing Devon’s screech, like a cat caught in a hunting trap.

  “What a thing,” he said. “It was like you were frozen. Like ice.”

  The sexy, slashing violin thrusts.

  Her phone again, those opening jabs of “Assassin’s Tango.”

  That song, the one from the spring invitational, Devon performing her floor routine to its slinks and jabs, the day Ryan died.

  The slippery magenta of her leotard, her buttocks high, those hard-hewn legs, muscles grooved and bronzed. Undulating under her leotard with every move. The staccato march of her colt legs, the sharpness of the foot flick, the haughtiness of the head snap. The slow glides.

  There had been something different in it, in that performance. At the time, Katie hadn’t been able to put her finger on it. Now it seemed so clear.

  That hip swing, slow and mesmerizing. Then down on the mat, lolling and rolling, the straddle. Thump, thump, whip, snap, the purr of her feet. Earthy, carnal.

  My God, how had she missed it? All the clues right there.

  Before, Devon had always been so intent on her performance—the physics of it, the aerodynamic logic of it—it never even seemed like she heard the music at all.

  But that day, Katie realized, it was as if Devon really heard it, moved with it and in it. And her body was no longer a machine, a tool, a weapon, but a body. Moving. Taking pleasure in itself, in its power. Seducing.

  Had Eric seen it too? How could he not?

  The exultation as she landed her last dizzying run, her feet bolting to the floor, face piped pink and exultant. Radiant under the fluorescent lights.

  The look on her face as they all walked to the car after the meet had been a look Katie had never seen, nearly prurient. I finally got it. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like. It was almost too much for Katie. But Eric couldn’t even look at his daughter, averting his eyes, dropping his keys, walking faster.

  “Teddy, you just called?”

  “Katie, I know you don’t want to talk to me,” he said, his voice scratchy like after a long coaching day.

  But she did want to talk to him. She needed to. Before the detectives. She had to be first.

  “I hope you heard about the paint chips.” He sounded like he’d aged twenty years in a few days. “We knew the truth had to come out. That eyewitness was a liar or a fool. Here’s a fella, been arrested twice for drinking Jack Daniel’s while under the influence of driving. Nearly lost his commercial license. Get this—turns out he used to deliver for Gwen Weaver and she fired his sorry ass.”

  “Teddy, why did you call me?”

  “Katie, we’ve brought Hailey home to us.”

  She bowed her head, trying to concentrate, to think it through.

  “I see,” she said carefully. “Because she’s all better. Just like that.”

  He cleared his throat, a roar in her ear. “Katie, dear, we were hoping you and Eric might come over. That we all might talk.”

  “Eric’s not here.”

  “I know Hailey has some things she’d like to say.”

  “Teddy,” she said, “I don’t want to hear anything she has to say.”

  “We’d really like you here,” he
said, his tone unreadable. “The silver paint changes everything. I think you’ll both want to hear what we have to say. We’ll be waiting.”

  Chapter Nineteen

  “Drew, I have to go out for a little while.”

  In the den, her son’s body was rooted deep into the springless furrows of the sofa, his pajama-clad arms swathed around a book.

  “Okay,” he said. “I wonder who won.”

  “Won what?” she said, tying her shoes briskly, thinking.

  “The science fair,” Drew said, a clicking from his throat as if it still pained him. “Last night.”

  The science fair. She felt a pang in her chest, like pliers squeezing.

  “I’m sorry, Drew. It’s rotten being sick, isn’t it?”

  “You can throw it all away,” he said. “The shrimp must be all dead. Like I said.”

  “Honey,” she said, “we’ll get you back to school in a few days. There’ll be another fair soon, right?”

  But he just returned to his book.

  She looked at him, his head bent, the rosy crook of his neck, the slightly damp curls pressed there, reminding herself the scarlet fever wasn’t her fault, but it felt like her fault, everything did.

  Kneeling down behind the sofa back, her fingers reaching for his shoulder, she leaned over, glanced at the sentence next to his thumb, pink from the pressure, which meant he loved the book: “I’ll tattoo you if it’s the last thing I do! I’ll do it for nothing!”

  “Is that the one Mr. Watts gave you?”

  “Yeah. The Melted Coins,” he said. “It smells funny, but it’s good. A pirate named Needles Ned tries to tattoo Joe.”

  “Drew,” she tried, “I need a favor.”

  Turning the page back, he began reading aloud: “‘Then he reached down and ripped open the boy’s shirt. “Give me the needle, Lopez!” ’”

  Katie heard her phone again. Ringing again.

  “‘Joe felt a stab of pain,’” Drew continued, “‘as the tattoo artist crouched over him and the needle pricked the skin on his chest.’”

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