Authors: Karen M. McManus
I snicker, just as my grandmother hollers, “Stop!” in such a commanding voice that both Ezra and I jump. For a split second, I think she has supersonic hearing and is annoyed at our snarking. Then Melanie slams on the brakes, stopping the car so abruptly that I’m pitched forward against my seat belt.
“What the—?” Ezra and I both ask at the same time, but Melanie and Nana have already unbuckled and scrambled out of the car. We exchange confused glances and follow suit. The ground is covered with puddles of half-melted hail, and I pick my way around them toward my grandmother. Nana is standing in front of Melanie’s car, her gaze fixed on the patch of road bathed in bright headlights.
And on the still figure lying right in the middle of it. Covered in blood, with his neck bent at a horribly wrong angle and his eyes wide open, staring at nothing.
Saturday, August 31
The sun wakes me up, burning through blinds that clearly weren’t purchased for their room-darkening properties. But I stay immobile under the covers—a thin crocheted bedspread and petal-soft sheets—until a low knock sounds on the door.
“Yeah?” I sit up, futilely trying to push hair out of my eyes, as Ezra enters. The silver-plated clock on the nightstand reads 9:50, but since I’m still on West Coast time I don’t feel as though I’ve slept nearly enough.
“Hey,” Ezra says. “Nana said to wake you up. A police officer is on his way over. He wants to talk to us about last night.”
We stayed with the man in the road, crouching next to him between dark pools of blood, until an ambulance came. I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face at first, but once I did I couldn’t look away. He was so
No older than thirty, dressed in athletic clothes and sneakers. Melanie, who’s a nurse, performed CPR until the EMTs arrived, but more like she was praying for a miracle than because she thought it would do any good. She told us when we got back into Nana’s car that he was dead before we arrived.
“Jason Bowman,” she’d said in a shaking voice. “He’s—he
—one of the science teachers at Echo Ridge High. Helped out with marching band, too. Really popular with the kids. You would have … you
have … met him next week.”
Ezra, who’s fully dressed, hair damp from a recent shower, tosses a small plastic pack onto the bed, bringing me back to the present. “Also, she said to give you these.”
The unopened package has the Hanes logo on the front, along with a picture of a smiling blond woman wearing a sports bra and underpants that come halfway up her waist. “Oh no.”
“Oh yes. Those are
granny panties. Nana says she bought a couple sizes too small by mistake and forgot to return them. Now they’re yours.”
“Fantastic,” I mutter, swinging my legs out of bed. I’m wearing the T-shirt I had layered under my sweater yesterday, plus a rolled-up pair of Ezra’s sweatpants. When I learned I’d be moving to Echo Ridge, I went through my entire closet and ruthlessly donated anything I hadn’t worn in the past few months. I pared my wardrobe down so much that everything, except for a few coats and shoes that I shipped last week, fit into a single suitcase. At the time, it felt like I was bringing order and control to at least one small part of my life.
Now, of course, all it means is that I have nothing to wear.
I pick my phone up from the nightstand, checking for a luggage-related text or voice mail. But there’s nothing. “Why are you up so early?” I ask Ezra.
He shrugs. “It’s not
early. I’ve been walking around the neighborhood. It’s pretty. Very leafy. I posted a couple of Insta stories. And made a playlist.”
I fold my arms. “Not another Michael playlist.”
“No,” Ezra says defensively. “It’s a musical tribute to the Northeast. You’d be surprised how many songs have a New England state in the title.”
“Mm-hmm.” Ezra’s boyfriend, Michael, broke up with him preemptively the week before we left because, he said, “long-distance relationships don’t ever work.” Ezra tries to act like he doesn’t care, but he’s created some seriously emo playlists since it happened.
“Don’t judge.” Ezra’s eyes drift toward the bookcase, where
In Cold Blood
is lined up neatly next to my Ann Rule collection,
Fatal Vision, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,
and the rest of my true-crime books. They’re the only things I unpacked last night from the boxes stacked in one corner of the room. “We all have our coping mechanisms.”
He retreats to his room, and I gaze around the unfamiliar space I’ll be living in for the next four months. When we arrived last night, Nana told me that I’d be sleeping in Sadie’s old room. I was both eager and nervous opening the door, wondering what echoes of my mother I’d find inside. But I walked into a standard guest bedroom without a scrap of personality. The furniture is dark wood, the walls a pale eggshell. There’s not much in the way of decor except for lacy curtains, a plaid area rug, and a framed print of a lighthouse. Everything smells faintly of lemon Pledge and cedar. When I try to imagine Sadie here—fixing her hair in the cloudy mirror over the dresser or doing her homework at the old-fashioned desk—the images won’t come.
Ezra’s room is the same. There’s no hint that a teenage girl ever lived in either of them.
I drop to the floor beside my moving boxes and root around in the nearest one until I come across plastic-wrapped picture frames. The first one I unwrap is a photo of Ezra and me standing on Santa Monica Pier last year, a perfect sunset behind us. The setting is gorgeous, but it’s not a flattering picture of me. I wasn’t ready for the shot, and my tense expression doesn’t match Ezra’s wide grin. I kept it, though, because it reminded me of another photo.
That’s the second one I pull out—grainy and much older, of two identical teenage girls with long, curly hair like mine, dressed in ’90s grungewear. One of them is smiling brightly, the other looks annoyed. My mother and her twin sister, Sarah. They were seventeen then, seniors at Echo Ridge High like Ezra and I are about to be. A few weeks after the photo was taken, Sarah disappeared.
It’s been twenty-three years and no one knows what happened to her. Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say that if anybody does know, they’re not telling.
I place the photos side by side on top of the bookcase, and think about Ezra’s words in the airport last night, after Andy overshared his origin story.
What a weird thing to grow up with, though, huh? Knowing how easily you could’ve been the wrong twin.
Sadie never liked talking about Sarah, no matter how hungry I was for information. There weren’t any pictures of her around our apartment; I had to steal this one off the Internet. My true-crime kick started in earnest with Lacey’s death, but ever since I was old enough to understand what happened to Sarah, I was obsessed with her disappearance. It was the worst thing I could imagine, to have your twin go missing and never come back.
Sadie’s smile in the photo is as blinding as Ezra’s. She was a star back then—the popular homecoming queen, just like Lacey. And she’s been trying to be a star ever since. I don’t know if Sadie would have done better than a handful of walk-on roles if she’d had her twin cheering her on. I
know there’s no possible way she can feel complete. When you come into the world with another person, they’re as much a part of you as your heartbeat.
There are lots of reasons my mother got addicted to painkillers—a strained shoulder, a bad breakup, another lost role, moving to our crappiest apartment yet on her fortieth birthday—but I can’t help but think it all started with the loss of that serious-faced girl in the photo.
The doorbell rings, and I almost drop the picture. I completely forgot I was supposed to be getting ready to meet a police officer. I glance at the mirror over the dresser, wincing at my reflection. My hair looks like a wig, and all my anti-frizz products are in my missing suitcase. I pull my curls into a ponytail, then twist and turn the thick strands until I can knot the ends together into a low bun without needing an elastic. It’s one of the first hair tricks Sadie ever taught me. When I was little we’d stand at the double sink in our bathroom, me watching her in the mirror so I could copy the quick, deft motion of her hands.
My eyes prick as Nana calls up the stairs. “Ellery? Ezra? Officer Rodriguez is here.”
Ezra’s already in the hall when I leave my room, and we head downstairs to Nana’s kitchen. A dark-haired man in a blue uniform, his back to us, takes the cup of coffee Nana holds toward him. She looks like she just stepped out of an L. L. Bean catalog in khakis, clogs and a boxy oxford shirt with horizontal stripes.
“Maybe the town will finally do something about that overpass,” Nana says, then catches my eye over the officer’s shoulder. “There you are. Ryan, this is my granddaughter and. grandson. Ellery and Ezra, meet Officer Ryan Rodriguez. He lives down the street and came by to ask us few questions about last night.”
The officer turns with a half smile that freezes as the coffee mug slips out of his hand and goes crashing to the floor. None of us react for a second, and then everybody leaps into action at once, grabbing at paper towels and picking thick pieces of ceramic mug off Nana’s black-and-white tiled floor.
“I’m so sorry,” Officer Rodriguez keeps repeating. He can’t be more than five years older than me and Ezra, and he looks as though even he’s not sure whether he’s an actual adult yet. “I have no idea how that happened. I’ll replace the mug.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Nana says crisply. “Those cost two dollars at Dalton’s. Sit down and I’ll get you another one. You too, Ellery and Ezra. There’s juice on the table if you want some.”
We all settle around the kitchen table, which is neatly set with three place mats, silverware, and glasses. Officer Rodriguez pulls a notepad from his front pocket and flips through it with a knitted brow. He has one of those hangdog faces that looks worried even now, when he’s not breaking my grandmother’s stuff. “Thanks for making time this morning. I just came from the Kilduffs’ house, and Melanie filled me in on what happened at the Fulkerson Street overpass last night. Which, I’m sorry to say, looks like it was a hit-and-run.” Nana hands him another cup of coffee before sitting down next to Ezra, and Officer Rodriguez takes a careful sip. “Thank you, Mrs. Corcoran. So, it would be helpful if all of you could tell me everything you observed, even if it doesn’t seem important.”
I straighten in my chair, and Ezra rolls his eyes. He knows exactly what’s going through my head. Even though last night was awful, I can’t
feel a slight thrill at being part of an actual police investigation. I’ve been waiting for this moment half my life.
Unfortunately I’m no help, because I hardly remember anything except Melanie trying to help Mr. Bowman. Ezra’s not much better. Nana is the only one who noticed little details, like the fact that there was an umbrella and a Tupperware container scattered on the street next to Mr. Bowman. And as far as investigating officers go, Ryan Rodriguez is disappointing. He keeps repeating the same questions, almost knocks over his fresh cup of coffee, and stumbles constantly over Melanie’s name. By the time he thanks us and Nana walks him to the front door, I’m convinced he needs a few more years of training before they let him out on his own again.
“That was kind of disorganized,” I say when Nana returns to the kitchen. “Do people take him seriously as a police officer around here?”
She takes a pan out from a cabinet next to the stove and places it on a front burner. “Ryan is perfectly capable,” she says matter-of-factly, crossing to the refrigerator and pulling out the butter dish. She sets it on the counter and slices off a huge chunk, dropping it into the pan. “He may be a little out of sorts. His father died a few months ago. Cancer. They were very close. And his mother passed the year before, so it’s been one thing after another for that family. Ryan is the youngest and the only one still at home. I imagine it’s been lonely.”
“He lived with his parents?” Ezra asks. “How old is he?” My brother is kind of judgy about adults who still live at home. He’ll be one of those people, like Sadie, who moves out as soon as the ink is dry on his diploma. He has a ten-year plan that involves taking a grunt job at a radio station while deejaying on the side, until he has enough experience to host his own show. I try not to panic whenever I imagine him leaving me behind to do … who even knows what.
“Twenty-two, I think? Or twenty-three,” Nana says. “All the Rodriguez kids lived at home during college. Ryan stayed once his father got sick.” Ezra hunches his shoulders guiltily as my ears prick up.
“Twenty-three?” I repeat. “Was he in Lacey Kilduff’s class?”
“I believe so,” Nana says as she cracks an egg into the now-sizzling pan.
I hesitate. I barely know my grandmother. We’ve never talked about my missing aunt on our awkward, infrequent Skype calls, and I have no idea if Lacey’s death is extra-painful for her because of what happened to Sarah. I should probably keep my mouth shut, but …