You will know me, p.24
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       You Will Know Me, p.24

           Megan Abbott
 
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  Arrayed on the dirt road, spilling onto the shoulder, were a series of small fluorescent flags, mud-splattered, bending in the wind.

  Each flag had a number, marking something. Maybe a gouge in the dirt, glass fragments, a heel print. They looked so festive, like miniature versions of the scoring flags judges flashed at meets, or the parade of flags at the Olympics.

  A few cars sped by, jolting her as she walked along the shoulder, the dirt beneath her, dusting up the sides of her shoes. Hairpin turn. That’s what everyone always said, but it was just a sharp one, and not blind at all.

  Her sneakers, half untied like a sloppy teenager’s, slid on the shoulder, the dirt sandy, almost like silk. The edge was so steep you could imagine at night, with streetlamps several spans away, getting turned around, getting lost inside yourself.

  Off the shoulder, there was a drop, and a shallow ditch heavy with old rain, filmy pools of motor oil floating on top. One lone flag lay flat in the water, spinning like a propeller, like those whirlybird seeds that fell from the maples.

  This was where Ryan fell. His body knocked, hurled, jettisoned.

  There were no skid marks on the road, the reporter said. Whoever the driver was, he never even set his foot on the brake.

  The silver car never stopped.

  The shallow ravine looked scraped clean, long rake grooves thatched across, combed for evidence, for glass, for paint. As the slope cantered down, it was like the earth folded up upon itself, a green swoop, a pelt of foliage at its center.

  Even though it was daylight, just shy of noon, it was the darkest place she’d ever seen, a cut in the earth.

  I saw one of his shoes.

  That was what Eric had said, nearly asleep and holding her arm, stroking it, the night after they heard the news, after he’d been to Ash Road.

  She thought about Ryan’s shoe tumbling down, one lace spinning like a whirligig.

  I saw it, Eric had told her. His voice mournful, lost.

  Now the words sounded different. Meant something different.

  I saw it. Because he was there when it happened.

  “Why did Ryan have a picture of the place he died right on his refrigerator?” Drew said, standing next to the car.

  Katie didn’t say anything for a moment.

  “Maybe it was his favorite place to walk,” she tried, finally.

  Drew looked around doubtfully.

  “Maybe if you didn’t want anyone to see you,” Katie said, thinking.

  “Maybe.”

  “Or something else.”

  A meeting place, a lovers’ rendezvous point.

  One that sentimental Ryan kept a photo of on his refrigerator door.

  Now Katie could see it.

  There’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you. That was Eric’s doomful warning to Devon.

  Amid the balloons and banners of Lacey Weaver’s party, had Devon gotten a call, a text, not from Hailey but from Ryan?

  Meet me at the turn in Ash Road. You know the spot.

  He must have. There’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you. And he wouldn’t let it, wouldn’t let her. Did Eric find out?

  “Why are you going down there, Mom?”

  “Just to see.”

  She eased down into the shallow ravine.

  Drew was looking down at her, eyes black under the overcast sky.

  A wind glittered up glass and leaves as she eased down, as she saw.

  Paint, glass; there were hundreds of chips, fragments, specks, shards.

  And Ryan had fallen down here. And there were a million flecks of ephemera that could have pressed into the folds of his clothing, scattered through his hair.

  She realized it in a flash: The police will never know who hit him, not for sure. Not with all this. So much glitter, a mad confetti. From a decade or more of bottles lobbed from car windows, from battered fenders, a car hood into a tree stump, teens stalking the woods, forties in hand, in pursuit of magic and mayhem.

  Like the time she and Eric, that first wild summer, got caught trespassing in the woods behind the church. Running from the security guard, laughing and huffing in cold air, then Eric trying to boost her over a wire fence and her sandal caught in one of the zig hooks. Trapped at the top, she couldn’t shake it loose, her chest pressed against the chain mesh, laughing so hard and crying so hard she couldn’t move.

  The fence left diamonds on her chest for days.

  The most brilliant of tattoos—a lifetime of good luck, Eric promised. Diamonds are forever, right?

  Like hog rings, her mother said when she saw them, shaking her head. And that guy’s never going to marry you.

  But then he did. He did.

  Devon inside her already, waiting. He did.

  At the end of the summer she told herself she loved him so much she would rather die than lose him. And she still felt it. Because there’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you but there’s no end to the ways love can.

  Walking back up the slope, she heard something, a branch cracking, and she could feel her ankle turning, her body starting to pitch forward, and suddenly Drew appeared, his hand grabbing for her, trying to hold on to her.

  “Mom!”

  She caught herself, dug her heel hard into the mud, steadied them both.

  “Thanks, sweetie,” she said. “I’m okay.”

  But there was a look on Drew’s face she’d never seen, his hands gripping her impossibly hard, as if she were still falling.

  “Mom, I want to go home,” Drew whispered. “I wanted to for the longest time.”

  Chapter Twenty

  He didn’t say anything during the short drive, but when she pulled into the garage, Drew grabbed her arm, the seat belt straining.

  “Mom, why did you leave me by myself?”

  She unfastened her belt, turned and faced him.

  “Drew, I’m sorry. I had to see Teddy. A lot is happening now. Things I need to take care of.”

  “Why do you always leave me by myself?” He said it louder, with startling firmness.

  “Honey, I don’t. And I’m sor—”

  “I’m always by myself.”

  She looked at him, those coffee-bean eyes, and put her hand to his forehead.

  “Did you get spooked, honey?”

  “I thought maybe I’d get in trouble. For leaving. But I had to. Because Dad was so weird.”

  “No,” she said. “You’re not in trouble. And I’m so sorry.”

  He nodded, vaguely. That was when she noticed it, perched on the utility shelf: the two-liter bottle studded with rock salt, clouded pink. The remnants of Drew’s science project, abandoned due to illness. The second failed attempt.

  “Drew,” she said. “The brine shrimp in the oil. What happened the first time?”

  He paused, throat clicking.

  “Remember? I had to throw them away.”

  “Why?”

  “You know. They spilled. That’s why I put them up higher this time. But then I got sick.”

  “How did they spill?” She only remembered Drew telling her. The night after they found out about Ryan. The night after Ryan died.

  Drew looked at her, and Katie was alarmed to see his chin shaking.

  “Maybe she didn’t want me to win the science fair.”

  “What?”

  “Maybe that’s why she did it. She never won a science fair.”

  “Who?”

  “Devon. You told me to put the container in the garage while they hatched. And she knocked it over with Dad’s car. So they all died.”

  “What?” she said again, kept saying. Something throbbing in her head. “Devon doesn’t drive by herself. She doesn’t even have her license.”

  “I kept telling you she was. You said I was dreaming. I’d hear her in the garage at night. I told Dad.”

  Katie looked up at the garage ceiling, Drew’s room right above it.

  “I told him a long time ago. Like when it was Easter. I said Devon sometimes took his car after we all went to sl
eep. Or early, before the newspaper came.”

  “Drew.”

  Sneaking in the garage, sneaking the car out. The constant rumble and traffic of their home. The garage door open most of the time. Was it possible?

  “I guess Dad finally caught her. I heard them in here. I went to check on the shrimp and I saw them through the door crack. She was crying. She was crying and he couldn’t get her to come out of the car. And she kept holding the wheel except the car wasn’t on anymore. She was holding it tight like you are now.”

  Katie looked down at her hands, shaking.

  “He kept telling her she needed to be quiet,” Drew said. “That Mom would hear.”

  Katie nodded.

  “She was crying and she wouldn’t stop. She sounded funny. I never saw her cry. And then Dad stopped yelling. He told her he would fix things.”

  “Drew,” she said, looking down at him, “this was a week ago Saturday, wasn’t it? The night Ryan died.”

  He didn’t say anything, breathing softly.

  “Drew.”

  He nodded.

  As if in some silent agreement, they both opened their car doors, stepped out.

  When she tried to reach for him, he moved away, pointing down at the floor. Not looking at her.

  “I went in after,” he said. “The plastic bottle was stuck under the tire. I couldn’t pull it loose. She knocked all the water out and all the eggs too. They died before they were real.”

  “They weren’t real yet, Drew. I promise.”

  “But they were going to die anyway,” he said. “Once I put the oil in.” He paused. “Maybe Devon didn’t want me to win.”

  “Drew.” Taking a breath, Katie reached for his arm. “You know this is about more than your experiment, don’t you?”

  He paused and in that pause Katie saw his little face age ten years.

  Then he nodded.

  “Oh, Drew,” she said, her hand on his arm tighter now, “why didn’t you tell me?”

  He didn’t say anything, plucking at the peeling skin on his temple.

  “You know what you’re telling me, right? About your sister?”

  He nodded.

  “You’ve known all along.”

  He looked at her, eyes glassy and bottomless, and said, “Yeah, Mom.”

  Rummaging through the recycling, she couldn’t find an empty two-liter. Three doors down, she lifted the lid on the biggest bin on the block and took two.

  She had decided it was to be their lost hour.

  An amnesia. An hour free from everything else that had happened, was happening.

  Maybe it was a kind of madness, but it was the least she owed him.

  Drew rinsed the bottles, then she took the bread knife and sliced off the tops. Together, they filled them with water and salt. They marked the waterline with a Sharpie to monitor evaporation, and then Drew sprinkled the eggs inside.

  Katie cleared everything from the highest shelf in the TV room. All of Devon’s trophies, three BelStars albums. She dumped them on the sofa, dust gusting.

  “It’ll be safe here,” she said, setting the two-liters down on the swollen wood.

  “Yeah.” Drew nodded.

  “They hatch in two days?”

  “Then we add the motor oil. And check under the microscope every ten minutes for an hour. To see if they’re still kicking.”

  “Okay.”

  Drew looked up at the plastic containers, the cloudy water, the shrimp far too small to see.

  “I don’t want to add it, really,” he said. “It seems mean.”

  “It’s not mean,” she said. “It’s nature.”

  The phone call came just as they finished.

  “Devon,” Katie answered, her voice shaking. “Devon.”

  “Mom!” Devon’s voice, like a claw over Katie’s heart. “Guess what? Everything’s back. Coach T. is holding practice today. Can you believe it? Mrs. Chu’s here at school. She’s going to drive me and Cheyenne.”

  She sounded so buoyant, as buoyant as Katie had heard her in months.

  “Devon, no,” she said. “I’m coming to get you right now. I’m taking you home. We need to talk.”

  “I can’t hear you, Mom,” she said, Cheyenne’s squeals in the background, the sound of doors slamming, an engine starting, and Molly Chu’s excitable voice, Hurry up, girls. There’s bound to be traf—

  “Devon, wait!” she said, but Devon didn’t hear.

  When Katie tried to call back, she got voice mail. When she called Molly, she got voice mail. As she set the phone down, it rang again.

  “Kirsten.”

  “Did you hear? Coach T. is back. That sly dog, he must’ve known his days were numbered. Listen, can you take Jordan? I’m at work and—”

  “Devon’s on her way with Molly.”

  “Goddamn it,” Kirsten said. “Goddamn it.”

  “So she misses today.”

  “I bet you’d like that.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “I’m sorry,” Kirsten said quickly. Then she sighed, her voice wobbly. “But I have a career—”

  “We all work,” Katie said. “All of us.”

  “—I have clients. Sometimes I think I’m just working to keep Jordan in those goddamned two-hundred-dollar leotards. Don’t you ever get tired?”

  “I’m tired all the time,” Katie replied, her hand covering her face, the smell of the salt under her fingernails. “Kirsten, I have to go—”

  “You and Eric just never miss a beat. The gym in the basement, the library of Olympics DVDs. When Devon’s down on the floor, you and Eric in your matching BelStars shirts doing the counts with her, moving when she moves. God, I just don’t have that kind of time,” Kirsten said, sighing. “And Jordan blames me for it. I know she does.”

  “Kirsten,” Katie said, a voice coming from somewhere, a voice hard and cool. “I know you wish Jordan were half the athlete Devon is. And I know you wish that the difference was just a matter of you having more time to devote to her. And it’s not because you don’t commit like we commit. It’s because Jordan isn’t that good. She’s ordinary.”

  “Jesus, Katie—”

  “And when you have an extraordinary child,” Katie said, a heat under her eyes, “you’ll do anything for her.”

  “This is the last time, Mr. Watts,” she said, opening the screen door for him. “I promise.”

  The hush the antibiotics brought on, Drew was sound asleep in his bed, his hands still sticky from salt too.

  “I just have to get Devon. And I’ll be back.”

  “You don’t have to explain,” Mr. Watts said, stepping inside. “You never did.”

  Three miles into the twenty-eight-mile drive to BelStars, she caught sight of the original Weaver’s Wagon, the only one where the wheels on the sign really turned. Where Ryan had been a line cook, and where Gwen had her office, her fancy leather-bound checkbook binder, her sterling-silver check-signing pen.

  The truck in front of her slowed and turned into its lot.

  Night Owl Distributors

  Beer ♦ Fine Wine ♦ Distilled Spirits

  Its orange logo was a pair of owl eyes, one winking tipsily. It looked familiar. Where had she seen it before?

  Then it came to her. Just a few days ago, the doodle on Eric’s notepad as he talked to Gwen. A pair of slanty eyes, a V between them, like a cartoon owl.

  Behind the wheel, the driver wore a cap with the same logo.

  He looked familiar too.

  She watched as he drove through the lot to the restaurant’s loading area.

  And she followed.

  Iced coffee in hand, Gwen stood on the loading dock as the men emptied the Night Owl truck and another one, a side of beef painted blistering pink on the side, pulled up.

  The driver walked over to her, clipboard outstretched. Squinting, Katie watched him, his dewlapped face and the ambling way he moved.

  Tugging at his cap, he looked just like he had when Katie had first seen him at the
police station, holding the door for Helen Beck, tipping his brim at her.

  Did you see his hat? Drew had asked Katie when they spotted him in the parking lot of the police station. It had two eyes on it. And one was droopy. It made his face look droopy.

  He held Gwen’s coffee while she signed the form. Rocking foot to foot just like Uncle Don.

  Here’s a fella, been arrested twice for drinking Jack Daniel’s while under the influence of driving…Used to deliver for Gwen Weaver and she fired his sorry ass.

  Gwen handed him the clipboard and he saluted her and climbed leisurely into the truck’s cab.

  Lifting her coffee, she seemed to salute him back.

  Slamming her car door, Katie bolted across the parking lot toward Gwen. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she was doing it.

  “Who is he?” she shouted, jabbing her finger at the truck. “Who is he? You know him, don’t you?”

  Gwen’s mouth twitched slightly, but she covered it with her coffee, then smiled.

  “Paul? Sure. I own six restaurants, three with liquor licenses. I know all the Night Owl guys.”

  “I saw him, Gwen. At the police station. He’s the witness, isn’t he? The trucker who said he saw a purple car?”

  Gwen beckoned her inside, through the kitchen, with its squall of clanging pots, chugging machines, through the swinging double doors, into the empty quiet of the dining area, lunch service cleared save one remaining tub of dishes slithering with grease.

  “Katie,” she said quietly, looking down into the bin for a moment, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You seem upset. You seem upset a lot lately. Very dramatic and interesting. What is it today? Diphtheria? Smoke inhalation? I heard you conducted a little Olympic torch ritual in your backyard.”

  “How did you know about—goddamn it, Gwen,” Katie said. “I talked to the Belfours. That guy’s the witness who claimed he saw Hailey, right? The one who got it all wrong. And he used to work for you. And now he does again.”

  She squinted at Katie, cocked her head. “I’m a firm believer in second chances,” she said, just as she’d said about Ryan. “It’s the American way.”

 
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