Authors: Teresa Toten
“Yes, well, certainly. I agree, but if”—he flipped out a card—“if anything comes to mind, or if he tries to contact—”
She started to tremble.
“Look, the kid’s a wreck and you just gave her another shock. Get out of here. And take those uniforms out of my ICU. We’ll keep an eye out for your predator. They’re both safe here. Nobody gets by me.”
And then Maureen, a warrior queen if there ever was one, practically carried her back into the room, sat her down and produced a pillow. “Don’t you worry, honey. If that detective or the sicko comes anywhere near this floor, I’ll stick him with a hypodermic.”
Olivia tracked the green lines on the monitor. They were wavier now. That was good, she was sure of it. She reached for Kate’s hand, careful of the wires.
“I told you, didn’t I?” she leaned over to whisper. “The cops are gone, and so is Mark. God only knows where he’ll wash up or when, but they’re onto him. It’s why that detective was here. Not for us! We did it Kate—we’re bulletproof.”
Olivia scanned the room as if checking for cameras or audio devices. She exhaled. “Can you hear me? You can hear me, right? I know you can hear me. Squeeze my hand.”
“Kate, come on, come on…” Olivia would have cried, but she was running on empty. “Please squeeze my hand. I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. Squeeze, damn it, squeeze!”
And as if by magic, she did. Kate O’Brien squeezed Olivia’s hand.
“That’s it! That’s my girl.” The relief was dizzying. She should call in Maureen. No, that could wait.
“Don’t worry about a thing, Kate. We’re clear with the accident, the car and in Rockland. They’re after Mark,
us. There’s actually a warrant out for his arrest! They think he’s done a runner. Ha!”
Another squeeze, a stronger one.
“Yes!” Olivia’s heart was going to break out of her chest. “Daddy will be here in a couple of hours.
dad—we’re sisters under the skin, after all. Anyway, he’ll take care of everything. He always does. You just get better, okay? You’ve got the ultimate in care here. My mom’s people practically built this place, and I made sure they knew who I was. Maureen, she runs the ICU, well, she says that you’ll be right back to normal…eventually.”
She gripped Kate’s hand tighter. “We pulled it off! Two kids!” Olivia laughed then. She still had laughter left. “That pervert will never scar anyone again. Who’s of
no consequence now,
Mark? How dare he?”
Kate squeezed again.
“You’re right, let’s not dwell. On a brighter note…” With her free hand, Olivia reached into her pocket for Kate’s phone and started scrolling. “So I checked, and your Johnny has been calling, texting, emailing, everything nonstop. I’d say he’s got it bad.” Olivia paused. “And I’ll allow you that one. Maybe. What do you always say? We’ll table that for later, shall we?”
She squeezed Kate’s hand. There was no squeeze in response. Olivia glanced at the monitor. Kate must be tiring. That was it.
“I still have to figure out what to do with your phone. It’s got the recording on it, of course. The phone either sinks us or saves us, doesn’t it? Depends on the circumstance. But it is an
in either case. Us together, Kate. Forever.”
Olivia stared at Kate’s motionless body.
“I agree. I’ll just hang on to it. I went through all your stuff, by the way. Got to change your password from ‘Bruce123,’ ” she tsked. “I had no idea that you’d kept texting with Serena. S’okay.” She patted Kate’s hand. “Water under the bridge. But you won’t ever keep things from me again, will you?”
Was Kate paler?
“Oh, and the most important thing of all! I was keeping this until I knew you could hear me, and I
you can hear me. I got into your Yale portal. It’s official. You’re in! We’re both in! Yale, here we come! You made the cut. I
you. How could anyone turn you down?
wants you, but you’re only
Again, she didn’t feel Kate squeeze. She should have—Yale was everything. So Olivia squeezed Kate’s hand, hard. Then harder.
“That’s right. We’ll room together in a dorm for first year.” Olivia began to smooth the sheets. She did so with great tenderness. “Then Daddy will get us a condo or we’ll stay on campus. We’ll see. It’ll be better than ever. We’ll dazzle them. I know you want that as much as I do.”
Kate’s hand went limp in hers.
want that, don’t you?”
“Look,” Olivia flared, “it may be true that you can’t kill a cockroach, but let’s do remember that it was
The only way you got to your damn prize was because of
because of the kind of life
gave you.” She brushed stray wisps of hair off Kate’s bandaged forehead and whispered, “I own you.”
Kate’s eyes flicked open. They seemed to stare unseeing at Olivia and then shut. But for a second, maybe less than a second, she did see. Their eyes, blue on blue, locked and they saw. Olivia was sure of it.
“That’s right,” she sighed, “I knew we were alike from the first time we talked in English class, remember? I knew it deep in my bones. I’d already been watching you, of course. I guess all the girls had, but not like me, not the way I did.” Olivia raised her feet and placed them at an angle on the bed. She did this cautiously, so as not to disturb her friend. “You’ll realize that you don’t need Serena or the Wonders, or Johnny. And certainly not that old bitch, Mrs. Chen. You just need me.”
Kate’s hand clenched and moved. Olivia took it as a sign of approval.
“Mark almost ruined it, almost stole you, but I showed him, didn’t I? Still, I owe that deviant one thing. The meds, remember? Of course you do. He did switch them out, but that’s okay! It’s better, Katie. I’m much, much better. I don’t need the risperidone. It ruins everything. I’ve never been clearer in my life. Don’t you agree?” The green line was on the move. The waves broke deeper, climbed higher. “I knew you would.” Olivia sighed deeply as she slid the phone back into her pocket. “I’m going to take care of you. I can do that. I’m the strong one now. And I’ll hold your secrets too.
of them, all the dirty secrets.”
Maureen popped her head in. “Any change?”
“No, but we’re good. I’m right with her.” And she squeezed Kate’s hand.
When the door closed, Olivia crossed her arms and relaxed into the chair. Secrets can weigh you down. They crawl around your guts, demanding exposure to light and air. When they don’t get it, they burrow in and change you. Olivia was a practiced secret keeper.
In fact, Olivia thrived on secrets.
This novel spent much of its life as an amorphous thing, bristling with scattered ideas and a creepy spark of fear. Then Beverly Horowitz and Amy Black got ahold of it. Never was a writer better served. Amy held me steady throughout and gave me the courage to write what I needed to write. Then Beverly exploded my head with what was possible. I’m grateful beyond measure for their support, guidance and keen insights. My sincere thanks as well to Rebecca Gudelis, Janice Weaver and Melanie Flaherty for saving me from myself time and time again.
I can’t begin to express enough gratitude to my family and critical first readers Nikki, Sasha and especially Ken Toten, who did some very heavy lifting this time around. Thank you, Marie Campbell, for tirelessly championing the work and the author. Thanks to Susan Adach, Nancy Hartry, Ann Goldring and Loris Lesynski for their patience and advice. Detective Darren Brennan was invaluable for all things criminal and police procedural. Any mistakes in either were mine alone.
This book and its theme represent a departure for me. Just over ten years ago, I wrote a short story for a collection titled
In my story, “Father’s Day,” a little girl tries to survive a visit from her father. For years, I wondered whatever happened to her. It nagged and clawed until I finally started to write. How could she have grown up to be anyone but my Katie in this story? Despite the darkness of the material, this novel has been an absolute joy from the first word to the last. A large measure of that is directly due to the inspiration and creativity of everyone who touched both it and this very grateful writer.
TERESA TOTEN won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada for
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B.
She is the author of the acclaimed Blondes series, as well as
The Game, The Onlyhouse,
and, with Eric Walters,
Teresa lives in Toronto. Visit her online at
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