You will know me, p.23
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       You Will Know Me, p.23

           Megan Abbott
 
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  “Jesus,” Hailey said, holding her wrist. “Jesus.”

  But Katie had the necklace, and held it. Just like the leotard, she would not let it go.

  “Keep it,” Hailey said. “I don’t want it. It disgusts me. Maybe it’s made me lose my mind this last week. Maybe now it’ll stop.”

  “I think you should go back inside,” Katie said. “Now.”

  A look of revelation appeared on Hailey’s face. A knowing look that made Katie crazy.

  “I was so mad when I was younger,” she said. “And then you grow up and you think you’re not that girl anymore. The girl you were at fifteen, sixteen. Angry and nasty. Hungry for love—”

  “—I guess some girls are like that,” Katie said, coolly.

  “But the thing is, you’re always that girl,” Hailey said, stepping out of the car. “She never goes away. She’s inside you all the time. That girl is forever.”

  Hailey touched the violet half-circle under her eye, the bite mark. It was like Devon’s mouth was there, screaming.

  “Get out of here,” Katie said, turning the key in the ignition.

  On her lap, she saw it: Missed call. Eric.

  A prickling feeling around her temples, spreading hotly through her skull.

  “Mrs. Knox, one last thing,” Hailey was saying from the curb, hand still on the open door. “You know what I kept thinking when I saw you at the funeral?”

  “I don’t care, Hailey.”

  “I was thinking, I had it all wrong. That night after regionals in January. The tiki party. Remember?”

  “Yes,” Katie said, hand on the gear shift, a queasy feeling. Of course she remembered, all the women hoping to dance with Ryan, the air in the catering hall muzzy with mom perfume, rum, promise.

  “I had it all wrong,” Hailey said, fingers wrapped around the window edge. “I thought it was you I had to worry about. The way you danced with Ryan, your skirt inching up so he could see your tattoo. Sharing cigarettes in the back hallway, whispering in his ear.”

  “What? What?” Her face burning, her chest so hot, the heat in the car suddenly everywhere. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “But it turned out it was Devon, your little slut of a daughter. It wasn’t you he chose. It was Devon.”

  Katie looked at her, breathing, breathing.

  “It was never you,” said Hailey.

  And Katie lifted her foot from the brake.

  Hailey jolting backward, stumbling on the pavement, Katie said, the words from some deep well, and unstoppable:

  “You come near my daughter again, I’ll break your neck.”

  That tiki party, again.

  Always telescoping back to that night, months ago.

  An evening of heat and pleasures for all of them. For everyone.

  Everyone with their stolen moments, playful ones.

  Teddy, Kirsten, and Bobby V. flicking bottle caps for cash in the back alley. Molly and Jim Chu making out like teenagers.

  She’d seen Eric with his hand on the small of Gwen Weaver’s back.

  So what had been wrong about dancing with Ryan?

  And enjoying it, the feeling, the sureness with which she could feel his heart beating behind the laundry-worn cotton of his shirt.

  It wasn’t like Hailey said, none of it.

  Pulling over, she picked up her phone. Clicked.

  The BelStars Facebook page shimmered. Finger to screen, she scrolled through all the pictures, every meet, pool party, pancake breakfast. And, yes, the tiki party.

  The flare of the torches, Teddy limboing with Molly Chu, Devon beaming under a blaze of paper lanterns, under Eric’s proud gaze.

  Now that everyone had a camera in the palm of their hand, there were photos of everything. There were photos even when you thought no one else was there. Like the blurred one of the dance floor, Becca Plonski and Jim Chu leading some kind of conga line.

  Crouching over the phone, pushing her face close, she spotted Ryan and a woman in the background. In the hall by the restrooms. Such a grin on the woman’s face. No, on her own face.

  Oh, yes, that.

  She might not have remembered, ever, but for the photograph.

  But still, such a small thing.

  She had just been waiting for the restroom. And Ryan had been sneaking a smoke, the back door propped open. She hadn’t even known he smoked, but everyone was smoking that night.

  Can I have one? she’d asked, which meant she was drunk. She hadn’t smoked in twenty years.

  He’d smiled, nodded.

  It was so meaningless, she’d mostly forgotten all about it.

  She couldn’t recall how they’d started talking about the book in his pocket, the one with the soft cover, pages curled. But suddenly it was in Katie’s hand.

  Then he told her the same thing he’d told her before, about never reading as a kid and reading now, and how he loved the book so much and he didn’t know why.

  It made her sad, a little, that he didn’t remember telling her before.

  Let me show you, he said, moving close behind her, leaning over her, cracking the book’s many-cracked spine, forcing its pages open. They smelled like smoke.

  So much taller, his forearm thrust in front of her, nearly grazing her collarbone, or beneath it.

  And she thought there could be nothing more private than the inside of the forearm, the tenderest of skin, the push and throb of one blue vein.

  The way it arrowed to the soft center of his half-open palm.

  Resting her fingers on that skin, helping him keep the book open, she watched as he turned to the most dog-eared page, its corner folded down.

  She leaned close. It was dark, the hall was dark, the light covered with old kitchen grease like Vaseline gave everything a glow.

  On the page was a line drawing of a tombstone (But I don’t just like it because there’s pictures, he’d said, winking) with words printed on it. They said:

  Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

  What does it mean? she asked.

  But he just kept grinning, his arms turned out, open, the book splayed.

  Like your heart, inside out, splayed.

  Like he was saying, I’m giving you something. I’m giving you this.

  But instead he said, Your hands are hot.

  And she realized she was still touching both his arms, her fingertips resting on them, and she should have been embarrassed but wasn’t and didn’t know why.

  But it was just a moment. It was just a moment. That was all.

  And no one saw.

  (Could Devon have seen?)

  Later, as she was leaving, she spotted him one more time. He’d found Devon’s lei in the parking lot. She wanted to take it, but her arms were full of party favors.

  I know, he said.

  Nearly slipping on the glassy pavement, he draped it over Katie’s head.

  Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

  That was it, she realized now. She hadn’t put it together before, the contexts so distinct. The same words Katie had seen in Devon’s diary a month later. Like you write a boy’s favorite song lyric. The kind of thing you do in the first heat of infatuation. Or love. Or something.

  “Drew,” she said into the phone. “I’m heading home now. I’ll be there in less than a minute.”

  There was a noise on his end, like a seashell.

  She remembered Drew explaining it to her once, that you’re not just hearing air. Part of what you’re hearing is yourself.

  “Your blood even,” he’d said. “You’re hearing your own blood.”

  I’m hearing my blood, she thought now.

  “Drew, are you there? What’s all the noise? Are you outside?”

  “Yeah,” his voice came, “I can see you.”

  “What?” Her foot on the brakes, her eyes searched the road frantically.

  “I can see you by the tall trees.”

  And there he was, tramping up the low hill in front of her,
his hood pulled tight against his pink-thick face.

  He was breathing hard into the phone, pressed so close.

  I’m hearing my own blood, she thought, running out of the car. It’s roaring.

  “Don’t be mad, Mom,” he kept saying. “It’s only nine blocks, just like you said.”

  “Drew, that doesn’t matter,” she said, hands on his arms, her chest jerking. “You could’ve been run over. You could—”

  “But I had to tell you.”

  “Tell me what?”

  “Dad called.”

  “Why couldn’t you call or wait until I got back?”

  “You were gone a long time.”

  “I wasn’t gone a long time.”

  “You were gone for eighty minutes.”

  Eighty minutes. “Drew, something happened and—”

  “And Dad called twice and said he was at Devon’s school. He sounded really weird. I never heard him sound like that.”

  She looked at him.

  “Drew, what did Dad say to you exactly?”

  “He said they wouldn’t let him take Devon out of school and that it was your fault. And he wanted to know where you were.”

  “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

  “I said you were in the shower. But then you were away so long I thought he might call back. Or something.” He looked at her, a worried, almost paternal furrow in his brow. “So I thought I’d better find you.”

  She looked at him and thought her heart might burst.

  “Mom,” he said as she pulled him close, pressed him against her chest, the smell of Chloraseptic and panic, “are you okay?”

  The corridors were empty, but all the classroom doors were open, the June heat filling the old high school and stray sounds wafting, the chant of French verb conjugations, the squeak of moving chairs, one student’s lone protestation, I’m so hot, Mr. Manear. Can we have class outside?

  Drew kept wandering from her, staring up at the display cabinets, the team banners, the signs—Stay Strong, Jay Chong! and Seniors: Take The Pledge Today!—all so mysterious to Katie, who hadn’t been inside the school since parent-teacher conferences months ago.

  “Devon,” Drew said, and she turned quickly.

  But he was only pointing to a bulletin board: Tenth-Grade Writing Contest: “Dreams, Wishes, Goals.”

  Beneath it were the top three essays, and Devon’s was number one. Always number one.

  Katie walked closer. She’d never seen the essay and Devon hadn’t said anything about the contest.

  She started reading it, her eyes moving so fast the words seemed to smear.

  My Dream by Devon Emory Knox

  I have never had any desire to be ordinary, or normal. But to be extraordinary, one must learn to conquer weakness.

  I was three years old when I first set foot on the gymnastics beam.

  “You were fearless,” my parents tell me. They believed in me from the start.

  I was seven when I got my first rip, a flap of skin the size of a nickel torn from the center of my palm. I knew what it was. All gymnasts get them, from the friction of your hands on the bars all day long.

  And I rubbed chalk on it and went straight back to the bars.

  Same with the jammed fingers, the wrist sprains, the hamstring that cost me a year.

  All those years, all that work, I can’t believe I never got broken.

  Now I am almost sixteen and I have known fear, and failure.

  Two years ago, I had my crisis point. I faced a difficult vault. No, I did not fall. But I did fail. And it was because I was afraid and I was weak. I didn’t want it enough. Or I was afraid to want something so completely, as completely as my coach did, my parents do. They want everything for me.

  So, for many months, I became a slave to my weakness. I was afraid of falling. Of landing on my neck, my head. Of my bones breaking like wishbones. But most of all, of failing.

  I lived with that fear, saw it in the faces of others as they watched how close I came. To falling. To losing. The greatest of all fears and the one that can destroy you.

  My dad tried to fix it. He built me a landing pit, and he worked very hard to show me how important it was.

  But the day the pit was finished, I was afraid again. More afraid than ever.

  “What if I don’t want it enough?” I asked my dad.

  He looked at me. “Devon, I promise you do. It’s the reason you’re here. This,” he said, pointing to the vault, “is why you’re here.”

  He was right. Because my vault was perfect, I was fixed, and everyone loved me again.

  I learned that day that I must trample fear and I must own my desire. To be extraordinary.

  It has been hard. I had to learn how to go inside myself. Places no one could touch, or see.

  But I can say today that I am no longer afraid. I have learned to make fear my slave. Whenever I confront my own weaknesses, I look in the mirror and say, “You have taken things from me. You will take nothing more.”

  Now it is only desire that rules me. Desire to win, yes, but also to be the best. To be extraordinary.

  It was like a picture of your life from an angle you’d never seen before. And Katie didn’t know what to do with it, one hand pressing the paper, her other hand on her mouth.

  Then she saw it. Across the bottom of the page, scrawled in giant diagonal letters and paper-tearing tugs, was a word:

  Freak!!!!

  Underneath, someone had drawn a cartoon, lurid and X-rated, a girl whose head dwarfed her little naked body, doing a split, her hairless crotch exposed.

  “She’s in her history class right now,” said the principal, an earnest-jawed man named Mr. Waltham whom Katie had never met. “Room one twelve, if you’d like to check.”

  “I’m sorry about all this,” Katie said. “My husband is having some medical issues.”

  “He seemed very upset,” said the principal, who seemed upset himself. “He seemed to believe we were being deliberately obstructive.”

  His gaze falling, nervously, to Drew’s pink, gummy face, the way he kept scratching at his scaly skin.

  “It’s the medication talking. I’m very grateful,” Katie said, grabbing Drew’s hand. “I won’t bother you again.”

  “We don’t see too much of you two here,” Mr. Waltham said, hoisting a smile. “We’d been hoping to recruit Mr. Knox for the PTA, get him—both of you—involved more in school activities. I understand he’s a very successful fund-raiser—”

  “Absolutely, Mr. Waltham. I promise.”

  She moved with purpose through the musty halls, Drew’s hand, his delicate peeling fingers, in hers past all the classrooms until she found the right one.

  Seated in the far corner by the window was Devon. Pencil in hand, her warm-up jacket’s sleeves creeping over her gnarled gymnast hands, as if she wanted to hide them. Hair pulled into a bun hard as a walnut.

  It had been a while, more than a while, since she’d seen Devon among so many other girls her age. Non-gym girls. But, whether thick-bodied or willowy, with cat’s-eye glasses and braces, or thickly eyelinered and greasy-foreheaded, or donning Day-Glo nail polish and a do-rag, they all looked so much more like one another than like Devon.

  None of them looked anything like Devon.

  When had they all developed these bodies, whether hard little tennis balls or absurdly luxuriant breasts stretched beneath straining T-shirts? And hips, hips that seemed to sway and undulate even when they shifted in their seats, stretching across revealing ample, fleshy waists and downy hair.

  They were women, or close enough.

  And a few feet apart from them, in her quiet corner, her pencil moving, her eyes on the teacher, on the whiteboard, on something, sat her tiny, herculean daughter, stallion thighs stretched against the denim of her jeans, her face wan and small. Her feet, misshapen and scarred, hidden in her softest pair of sneakers. Nearly sixteen. Fearless. Extraordinary. Like no one else. Only like herself. Whoever that was.

 
; The bell rang, the door pushed open, and Katie retreated quickly into the crowd.

  Book bag swung over her shoulder, all the boys, most of the girls towering over her, Devon hurried out to her next class.

  “Hey, Baby Gap,” one jug-jawed boy called out, “can you carry my bag too?”

  “But look at those thighs,” another added, grinning, his teeth monstrous. “Wrap those thighs around my cock, Baby Gap.”

  “Watch out for her toes. They look like nutcrackers to me.”

  “I’d let her work my beam any day, but what do you hold on to except biceps?”

  Devon walking, and walking, never turning her head.

  * * *

  Back in the car, Drew didn’t ask what was going on with his dad, what had happened at the Belfours’, why the police had come to the house.

  It was as if he knew she wouldn’t be able to answer, the noise in her head so loud.

  They were driving on Sparrows Way when she noticed the turnoff, spotted the flutter of yellow tape through the trees. Ash Road.

  “That’s the spot,” Drew said, as if reading her mind.

  “Yes.” She decided in an instant, turning the wheel hard, the gears gnashing. “It is.”

  But the minute her tires landed on Ash Road’s soft asphalt she regretted it.

  “Except the picture’s from the other side,” Drew said.

  “What picture?” she asked, but something began sliding into place in her head.

  “Ryan’s picture.”

  Pulling the car onto the road shoulder, she stopped the engine, hand shaking on keys.

  “The one on his refrigerator,” she said, realizing it. The snapshot taped to Ryan’s fridge door. A blur of greenery, the swampy colors of a cheap printer. “This is the place.”

  “Yeah,” Drew said, almost a sigh.

  Looking at him, a revelation felt close, just beyond her grasp.

  The yellow tape twisted, held pockets of dew, rain.

  “Drew, go back in the car, okay?”

 
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