You will know me, p.26
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       You Will Know Me, p.26

           Megan Abbott
 
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  “God,” Jim Chu muttered. “She’s like a machine. A perfect machine. Do you ever want to open up that head of hers and see what kind of wiring she has?”

  “My daughter’s not a machine,” Katie said. “She’s extraordinary.”

  “Where’d Dad go?” Drew whispered.

  Touching her ribs, the phantom bruise from Devon’s phantom kick, she peered out to the double doors, but Eric was gone.

  Back down on the floor, Devon was waving up at her, her face streaked white, those dark eyes. A face ghostly and exultant.

  Mom, she seemed to be calling out. Mom, I did it!

  She was smiling.

  “Twenty-seven years ago, when Tina and I opened BelStars,” Teddy began, assembling everyone at practice’s close, “it was basically a garage. We had to drag big fans across the concrete to keep the girls from fainting. Well, to keep me from fainting. Eventually, we moved to a church basement with a swamp cooler, then an old ballroom with warped wood, three floors in a warehouse. All before finally breaking ground a decade ago on what is now a state-of-the-art facility. And you may have noticed something about this facility. Look up.”

  All eyes lifted upward, to the suspended light banks and timber beams and far beyond.

  “You may think you see a ceiling,” Teddy said. “But your eyes deceive you, my friends. There is no ceiling. BelStars has no ceiling. No ceiling, no roof, no limits. Your dreams are ours. Our only limits are the skies. The heavens. Am I right?”

  The applause came fast and loud, ebullient, a hundred ripped palms slapping, a hundred pounding parent feet in the stands.

  “And look at us today,” he continued, turning toward Devon, beckoning her over. “Despite recent distractions—or perhaps because of them, as we return from them stronger, more committed—we are on a miraculous path. Because, after all, today we are in the presence of a future Olympian.”

  Head dazed and wobbling like a drunken sailor, Devon walked over to him, his bear arm encircling around her, usurping her, tucking her in his chest’s deep pocket.

  The claps and cheers and raised hands, they were everywhere, parents rising, draped jackets slipping from their arms, hats off, cheering and shouts, the girls on the floor yelling, twirling grip tape, unfurling wild streamers of it in the air, Jordan Siefert and Dominique Plonski bent down and hoisted arms full of foam cubes from the pit, hurling them in the air, a ticker-tape jubilee.

  That pit, that pit, which had brought Ryan into their world—

  And finally, the frenzy nearly at its peak, parents stomping in the stands till they shook, Lacey Weaver ran to the chalk bowl, plunging arms in, lifting them toward Devon, the chalk atomizing.

  Covering Devon like confetti, like snow.

  Screaming now, all of them crowding her, their hands white, their bodies too. Surrounding her, crushing her. Swallowing her whole.

  A panic in Devon’s eyes, Katie was sure she saw it before the swarm of arms and ponytails blocked her view.

  Devon, Devon, Devon.

  Devon, do it for us. Devon, we’re counting on you. Devon, do it.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  It was nearly nine o’clock when practice ended. Everyone else, all the boosters, all the girls, were decamping for a chili dinner at Teddy’s house. To mark his triumphant return.

  “Aren’t you coming?” Cheyenne Chu shouted at Devon from across the parking lot.

  “We’re going home,” Katie said, grabbing Devon’s shoulder. “Right away.”

  Devon looked at her, her face darkening.

  “What about Dad?”

  “Why isn’t Dad here?” Drew said when they got home, drive-through tacos seeping onto the kitchen table.

  “He’s not coming home,” Katie said, looking at Devon. They locked in a long, complicated gaze.

  “I’m not hungry,” Devon said, running up the stairs before Katie could stop her. “I’m taking a shower.”

  “Is it because of what I told you?” Drew asked. “Because Devon’s here. She’s allowed to be here. Because—”

  “No. That’s not why.”

  “Mom,” he said, “I’ll never tell again. I promise.”

  The graveness in his face: someone who’d witnessed horrors and miracles and knew how to endure them.

  “Drew,” Katie said, “I’m sorry.”

  “For what?”

  “For everything.”

  Everything before, everything to come.

  She knew Devon was talking to Eric on her phone. Katie could hear her through the bathroom door. She was in there a long time and Katie could hear her pacing, her voice high and inaudible.

  Finally, she came out.

  “Mom,” she said, her face marked where the phone had been. Like a stamp, a seal. “You don’t understand. You’ve got it wrong. About Dad. Whatever you think you’re wrong.”

  Katie looked at her, waited for more.

  Devon’s mouth was open, but she couldn’t seem to make the words come.

  As if to say it would mean she would turn to stone.

  Maybe they all would.

  We’re a sick house, Katie had warned the police. I have a sick house.

  “We’ll talk in the morning,” Katie said. Because she needed to think.

  Drew was lying flat on his bed, staring at the ceiling, the peeling nearly gone from his face. The new face was sneaking in, making its presence known.

  A different face, an older face.

  She gave him his antibiotics, with juice.

  “Good night, Mom,” he said, swallowing the pills, reaching for The Secret of the Caves. “I think I’ll be done tomorrow.”

  In the dream, she was sitting in the bleachers, and her stomach hurt. Eric’s hands were on it, rubbing it. But the pain got worse and worse. Pressing down, she could feel something inside, just beneath her navel.

  Eric’s head to her belly, he told her he heard something. A grunt. A snarl.

  And that’s when she felt a sharp tugging, like teeth. A tail flapping.

  Looking down, between her legs, she saw it.

  Tawny fur, black stripe. A tiger’s paw, claws unsheathed.

  Katie’s own voice woke her, a strangled cry. Her head jerking up, her body lifting, running from itself.

  There’s something in the bed.

  There’s something in me.

  Turning, she saw Devon standing in the doorway.

  “Mom.” Stepping inside the bedroom.

  Katie turned away. In the dark, her daughter’s face was like a black hood.

  Behind her, she heard the footfalls on the carpet, a shush of bedcovers lifting, Devon sliding in bed beside her, next to her, breathing quickly, her body shuddering as if with heat and horrors.

  “Have you ever done something so awful?” Devon asked.

  “Devon.”

  A moment passed, Katie listening to her breath, waiting.

  Finally: “I have to tell you, Mom.”

  “Tell me,” Katie said. “Just tell me.”

  She did love him, maybe. But she wasn’t sure what that meant, and did anyone ever know?

  She’d never had a boy even talk to her before.

  It was after a bad practice. Coach had yelled at her, everyone saw. She couldn’t make her body do the things it was supposed to do. Everything felt like it was falling apart. Ryan saw her hiding under the bleachers. He said, If you ever need someone to talk to. And explained he’d been a basketball player in high school, a good one. Everyone told him he’d get a scholarship. He didn’t. He liked pot, liked to party. He went to juvie instead. It’s hard, he told her, when everyone wants it so much but you’re the one who has to do it.

  The first time it happened was in the back of the restaurant, on the slumped sofa in the manager’s office. The huff of the oven, blazing from twelve hours of use, the spray and gush of the dishwasher, the hot-red blink of a voice mail on the manager’s phone.

  (“Mom,” she said now, “everyone tells you how much it’ll hurt. But it didn’t
hurt at all.”)

  She was so focused on her own body, on what she was doing, on what was happening to every muscle, every nerve, that she nearly missed the look on his face, the flush that came over him, his shoulders shaking.

  (“Mom, it was so exciting,” Devon said now, clutching her mom’s arm. “All of it.”

  “I know,” Katie said.)

  After, he covered his face in his hands. She thought he might be crying. He said he wasn’t, and turned away.

  She’d seen many men cry—Coach T. after a very good meet or a very bad one; a dozen dads, including Jim Chu, who’d cried when Cheyenne landed on her head during a tumbling run—even Bobby V., when he’d moved the uneven bars an inch without telling anyone and two girls fell.

  (And your dad, Katie thought. On the freshly sheared grass of the yard. But Devon couldn’t possibly remember.)

  It’s not because I’m sorry, Ryan said. It’s because I’m not.

  The next time Devon saw a man cry was six weeks later when her dad told her he’d found out. He wouldn’t say how he knew, but he said it was his job to warn her that she was throwing everything away.

  That Teddy would never forgive her, that everything would change.

  That the biggest mistake you can make in life is giving in to sex.

  All the things you do when you’re young seem temporary, but they’re all forever, he told her. And there’s a hundred ways sex can ruin you.

  That became the thought she couldn’t get out of her head.

  (“I felt sick all the time,” Devon said to Katie. “What Dad said made it seem different, feel different. Like I’d maybe ruined everything already. And qualifiers were coming.”)

  She had nightmares he was chasing her through thick woods. She could hear him breathing behind her, panting after her. He had long teeth like a vampire and wanted to drain her of all her blood.

  She dreamed he was choking her. She woke up panting for air.

  But she couldn’t figure out how to end things.

  (“I thought maybe I’d be in love like Hailey,” she said. “Like the girls at school. But it wasn’t ever like that. It was just a thing I was trying.”)

  The call came while she was at Lacey’s party, pedicures under way, rows of girls with their toes turned in, red and crackled and deformed.

  Skip the party, he’d said. Can you sneak the car out again?

  She’d said she couldn’t. She didn’t want to do that anymore. My dad knows, she kept telling him. I have to stop.

  It’s important, he said, and Devon crept into one of the Weaver bedrooms, Lacey’s party-favor wrappers strewn across the floor. It was hard to hear him because he was outside, he was walking on the road. I need to see you.

  And he told her he’d just broken up with Hailey. It wasn’t fair to her, what they were doing.

  It’s someone else, Hailey had said, and she was very angry and very loud.

  He’d told her no, but he didn’t think she believed him. He’d driven her home in her car, and now he was walking and he wondered if it was time to tell her the truth, tell everyone.

  That he and Devon were in love, and it was real, and they weren’t ashamed. (But I don’t love you, she thought, and it’s not real, and I am ashamed.) And that neither of them cared about the consequences.

  The panic in her chest, like a bird trapped there, flapping.

  But he said she was just scared and not to worry.

  Pick me up at our spot. Ash Road.

  A spot that mattered to him, the spot he’d seen her running that time and given her a ride. It’s dangerous here, he’d said. Jesus, you could die.

  Meet me, he said. It’ll all be okay.

  It was like his hands were closing around her neck.

  Everyone would know. Coach T. would never forgive her. Everything would be over.

  Slipping out of the Weaver house, past the laughing girls, half of them singing, voices lifting to the rafters, their feet tapping under tables, the pink pulsating karaoke machine humming at their painted feet, she was gone.

  She was gone, and no one saw.

  Running the mile home, her chest tight and punishing, she couldn’t get there fast enough.

  Except Drew was in the garage, doing something with his science project. And he was always trying to catch her.

  Hiding behind the tool bench, she waited until he left, then grabbed Dad’s keys on the hook just inside the kitchen door. She’d only done it three times before, and once she’d had to stop to figure out how to turn on the headlights.

  She wasn’t thinking as she drove there. She couldn’t make her brain stop whirring long enough to think.

  The sign seemed to jump out at her: Ash Road.

  They were both sitting up now, Devon taking little breaths.

  “Mom, it happened so fast,” she finally said, her voice small as when she was a child having a nightmare. The kind when even after Katie thought she’d wakened her she could tell Devon was still seeing it, her eyes dancing under her lids.

  “You can tell me,” Katie said, grabbing for her hand.

  “It was darker than it had ever been before,” Devon said, shaking her head. “I couldn’t tell where the road ended and the rest began. I didn’t know how to make the lights go bright enough.”

  “Oh, honey,” Katie said.

  Devon leaned against her arm, her mouth inches from her mother’s ear.

  “Suddenly, he was there,” Devon said. “And I didn’t turn the wheel fast enough.”

  A rush of feelings came, every feeling all at once, Katie’s stomach turning.

  “My foot never…it was so fast and then it was too late,” Devon said. “I don’t even remember getting home.”

  “Oh, Devon.”

  “Mom, I swear, it was darker than it had ever been.”

  They didn’t say anything, or even move, for what felt like a long time.

  “You were lying, then,” Katie said, finally. “About Hailey’s texts, her calls, the things she said. You let me believe your dad…”

  “I’m a murderer,” Devon said, the words so big neither of them could speak for a moment.

  Katie couldn’t order her thoughts. None of it seemed real, the comforter bunching in her hands. But she knew whatever she said next would decide the course of everything.

  “You’re not a murderer,” she said, the words soft in her mouth. “That’s not what it is.”

  “Mom, I am. I just kept going. I didn’t stop, I didn’t do anything. I froze. I—”

  “No,” Katie said, a growing force in her voice. “It was an accident. It was a terrible accident. There are accidents, and we can’t always stop them, and it’s no one’s fault,”

  “It is my fault. I’m a monster,” she said, turning, her face so old Katie didn’t recognize it. Small and stretched and old. “Because I’m not sorry enough. I missed him, but I’m free. He might have taken it all away. I—”

  “That’s not true,” Katie interrupted. “I know it’s complicated, but you really don’t—”

  “You never want to hear what it’s like being me,” she whispered.

  “What?” Katie asked. “What do you mean?”

  But Devon didn’t seem to be listening, her face in her hands now.

  They sat for a second, a draft nudging the door open. Katie could hear Drew’s deep, throaty breathing down the hall, the walls humming with it.

  And she looked back at Devon, cross-legged on the bed, and reached out to touch her cheek. As she did, Devon’s face seemed immediately to unlash itself, to grow tender and young and unruined. It was the face of a little girl sprawled on her bed, or the back lawn, her foot caught beneath her.

  “I’m a monster,” she repeated. “I am.”

  “No, Devon,” Katie said, pulling her close, her hands on her hair, smoothing it, “you’re my girl, you’re our girl. You’re mine.”

  There were so many things she and Eric had tried to buffer Devon from, the shocks and trauma of the world. Anything
that might distract her, hurt her.

  The gym and her home were both siloed tight, the floors padded, all the noises of the world sucked out.

  All so Devon could stand—beam, runway, corner of mat—and only hear the sound of her own breath, her own heart beating, only see the air, the ground, the air and ground again. Only worry about herself.

  Which is what all parents want to do for their children, after all.

  All of Devon’s life she’d been nestled in that amniotic swirl, the swirl she inhaled and exhaled. Nestled, smothered, choked. By her parents. Wasn’t that right?

  And the minute she’d forced her way out, kicking spastically at all corners, been sucked out by the grappling hands of that handsome boy, she hadn’t known what to do, how to live in this world. Everything had been too much.

  She hadn’t learned, no one had taught her—Katie and Eric hadn’t taught her—that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what you thought they’d be. But you’d still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.

  V

  I could hear thousands of eyes watching us.

  —Nadia Comaneci, Letters to a Young Gymnast

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  There were three things Devon would never tell her mother.

  The first was what Mrs. Weaver had said before she left Lacey’s birthday party that night. Sneaking out of one of the half dozen bedrooms, Devon felt a hand on her shoulder. There was Mrs. Weaver, and Devon knew she’d heard her on the phone with Ryan. Had heard everything.

  For a second, Devon thought it was all over, and in some way she was relieved. That everyone would know and it wouldn’t be hers anymore.

  But instead, Mrs. Weaver just shook her head and said, in the iciest of voices, “I hope your mother never has to know this.”

 
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