Everything I Never Told You [CHAPTER-5]

 


CHAPTER-5

Hannah knows nothing about that summer, of her mother’s long-ago disappearance. For as long as she’s been alive, the family has never spoken of it, and even if they had, it would have changed nothing. She is furious with her sister for vanishing, bewildered that Lydia would leave them all behind; knowing would only have made her more furious, more bewildered. How could you, she would have thought, when you knew what it was like? As it is, imagining her sister sinking into the lake, all she can think now is: How? And: What was it like?


Tonight she will find out. Again it is two A.M. by her glow-in-the-dark clock; all night she has lain patiently, watching the numbers tick by. Today, June 1, should have been her last day of school; tomorrow Nath was supposed to walk across the stage in his blue robe and mortarboard and collect his diploma. But they’re not going to Nath’s commencement; neither of them has gone back to school since— Her mind silences the thought.


She takes the squeaky sixth stair on her toes; she skips the middle rosette in the front-hall carpet and the creaky floorboard beneath, landing cat-soft just at the door. Although upstairs Marilyn and James and Nath all lie awake, searching for sleep, no one hears: Hannah’s body knows all the secrets of silence. In the dark, her fingers slide back the bolt, then grasp the safety chain and unfasten it without rattling. This last is a new trick. Before the funeral, there was no chain.


She’s been practicing this for three weeks now, toying with the lock whenever her mother wasn’t looking. Now Hannah oozes her body around the door and steps barefoot onto the lawn, where Lydia must have been on her last night alive. Overhead, the moon hovers behind tree branches, and the yard and the walkway and the other houses slowly appear out of the grainy dark. This is what her sister would have seen that night: glints of moonlight reflected in Mrs. Allen’s windowpanes, the mailboxes all leaning slightly away. The faint glimmer of the streetlamp on the corner, where the main road loops around the lake.


At the edge of the lawn Hannah stops, toes on the sidewalk, heels still on the grass, and pictures that thin figure marching into the shadows. She had not looked afraid. So Hannah heads straight down the middle of the road too, where the yellow line would be if their street were busy enough to need one. Through the darkened windows, the pale linings of curtains glow. There are no lights anywhere on their street, except for Mrs. Allen’s front-door light, which she leaves on all the time, even during the day. When Hannah was younger, she had thought adults stayed up late every night, until two or three perhaps. She adds this to the list of things she’s learned are untrue.


At the corner she stops, but sees only darkness both ways, no cars. Her eyes are used to the dark now, and she darts across the main road and onto the grassy bank of the lake, but she still can’t see it. Only the slope of the ground tells her that she’s getting close. She passes a clump of birches, all holding their stiff arms above their heads as if in surrender. Then, suddenly, her toes find the water. Below the low thrum of a high-up airplane she hears it: a faint lapping against her ankles, soft as the sound of her own tongue in her mouth. If she looks very hard, she can see a faint shimmer, like silver tulle. Except for that, she would not have known that this was water.


“A beautiful location,” the realtor had told James and Marilyn when they had first moved to Middlewood. Hannah has heard this story many times. “Five minutes to the grocery store and the bank. And think of it, the lake practically at your doorstep.” He had glanced at Marilyn’s rounded belly. “You and the kiddos can swim all summer. Like having your own private beach.” James, charmed, had agreed. All her life, Hannah has loved this lake. Now it is a new place.


The dock, smoothed by years of use, is the same silvery-gray by moonlight that it is in the day. At the end one small lamp, set on a post, stretches its light over a thin circle of the water. She will set out in the boat, as Lydia must have. She will row to the middle of the lake, where her sister somehow ended up, and peer down into the water. Maybe then she’ll understand.


But the boat is gone. The city, belatedly cautious, has taken it away.


Hannah sinks back onto her heels and imagines her sister kneeling to unknot the rope, then pushing the boat away from the shore, so far out you couldn’t tell the water from the darkness around it. At last she lies down on the dock, rocking herself gently, looking up into the night sky. It is as close to her sister’s last night as she can get.


If this were another summer, the lake would still be a lovely place. Nath and Lydia would don swimsuits and spread towels across the grass. Lydia, gleaming with baby oil, would stretch out in the sun. If Hannah were very lucky, she would be allowed to rub a squirt of oil on her own arms, to retie the strings of Lydia’s bikini after she had tanned her back. Nath would cannonball off the dock, spraying a fine mist that would bead up on their skin like pearls. On the very best days—though those were very, very rare—their parents would come, too. Their father would practice his breaststroke and his Australian crawl, and if he was in a good mood, he’d take Hannah out over her head, steadying her as she kicked. Their mother, shaded by a huge sun hat, would look up from her New Yorker when Hannah returned to the towel and let her curl quietly against her shoulder to peep at the cartoons. These things happened only at the lake.


They won’t go to the lake this summer at all; they will never go again. She knows without having to ask. Her father has spent the past three weeks in his office, although the university had offered to have someone else finish out the term. Her mother has spent hours and hours in Lydia’s room, looking and looking at everything but touching nothing. Nath roams the house like a caged beast, opening cupboards and shutting them, picking up one book after another, then tossing them down again. Hannah doesn’t say a word. These are the new rules, which no one has outlined but which she already knows: Don’t talk about Lydia. Don’t talk about the lake. Don’t ask questions.


She lies still for a long time, picturing her sister on the lake bed. Her face would point straight up, like this, studying the underside of the water. Her arms would stretch out, like this, as if she were embracing the whole world. She would listen and listen, waiting for them to come and find her. We didn’t know, Hannah thinks. We would have come.


It doesn’t help. She still doesn’t understand.


Back home, Hannah tiptoes into Lydia’s room and shuts the door. Then she lifts the dust ruffle and pulls out the slim velvet box hidden beneath the bed. Under the tent of Lydia’s blanket, she opens the box and pulls out a silver locket. Their father had given it to Lydia for her birthday, but she had tucked it under her bed, letting the velvet grow shaggy with dust.


The necklace is broken now but, anyway, Hannah has promised Lydia that she will never put it on, and she does not break promises to people she loves. Even if they aren’t alive anymore. Instead she rubs the fine chain between her fingers like a rosary. The bed smells like her sister sleeping: a warm and musky and sharp smell—like a wild animal—that emerged only when she was deep in slumber. She can almost feel the imprint of her sister’s body in the mattress, wrapping her like a hug. In the morning, when the sunlight comes through the window, she remakes the bed and replaces the locket and returns to her room. Without thinking, she knows she will do this again the next night, and the next, and the next, smoothing the blanket when she wakes, stepping carefully over the scattered shoes and clothes as she makes her way to the door.

•   •   •


“It wasn’t unlocked. The bolt was on.” By the sharp little edges in his father’s voice, he can tell this conversation has been going on for some time.
At breakfast time, Nath comes downstairs to find his parents arguing, and he stops in the hallway just outside the kitchen. “Unlocked all night,” his mother is saying, “and you don’t even care.”


“Someone could have gotten in. I put that chain on for a reason.” Nath tiptoes into the doorway, but his parents—Marilyn bent over the sink, James hunched in his chair—don’t look up. On the far side of the table, Hannah squirms over her toast and milk. I’m sorry, she thinks, as hard as she can. I forgot the chain. I’m sorry I’m sorry. Her parents don’t notice. In fact, they act as if she isn’t even there.


Silence for a long moment. Then James says, “You really think a chain on the door would have changed anything?”


Marilyn clunks her teacup hard against the counter. “She would never have gone out on her own. I know she wouldn’t. Sneaking out in the middle of the night? My Lydia? Never.” She wrings the china with both hands. “Someone took her out there. Some nutcase.”


James sighs, a deep trembling sigh, as if he’s struggling to lift a very heavy weight. For the past three weeks Marilyn has been saying things like this. The morning after the funeral he woke up just after sunrise and everything came rushing back to him—the glossy casket, Louisa’s skin slick against his, the soft little moan she had made as he climbed atop her—and he suddenly felt grimy, as if he were caked with mud. He turned the shower on hot, so hot he couldn’t stand still beneath it and had to keep turning, like something on a spit, offering the steaming spray a new patch of flesh again and again. It hadn’t helped. And when he came out of the bathroom, a faint scratching noise led him to the bottom of the stairs, where Marilyn was installing the chain on the front door.


He had wanted to say what had been growing in his mind for days: what had happened to Lydia was nothing they could lock out or scare away. Then the look on Marilyn’s face stopped him: sad, and frightened, but angry too, as if he were to blame for something. For a moment she seemed like a different woman, a stranger. He had swallowed hard and touched his collar, buttoning it over his throat. “Well,” he said, “I’m going in to school. My summer class.” When he leaned in to kiss her, she flinched away as if his touch burned. On the front porch, the paperboy had deposited a newspaper. Local Family Lays Daughter to Rest.


He still has it locked in the bottom drawer of his desk. As one of only two Orientals at Middlewood High—the other being her brother, Nathan—Lee stood out in the halls. However, few seemed to have known her well. Every day since then, there have been more articles: any death is a sensation in a small town, but the death of a young girl is a journalistic gold mine. Police Still Searching for Clues in Girl’s Death. Suicide Likely Possibility, Investigators Say.Each time he sees one, he folds the newsprint over itself, as if wrapping up something rotten, before Marilyn or the children spot it. Only in the safety of his office does he unroll the paper to read it carefully. Then he adds it to the growing stack in the locked drawer.


Now he bows his head. “I don’t think that’s what happened.”


Marilyn bristles. “What are you suggesting?”


Before James can answer, the doorbell rings. It is the police, and as the two officers step into the kitchen, Nath and Hannah simultaneously let out their breaths. At last their parents will stop arguing.


“We just wanted to give you folks an update,” says the older one—Officer Fiske, Nath remembers. He pulls a notebook from his pocket and nudges his glasses up with a stubby finger. “Everyone at the station is truly sorry for your loss. We just want to find out what happened.”


“Of course, officer,” James murmurs.


“We’ve spoken to the people you listed.” Officer Fiske consults his notebook. “Karen Adler, Pam Saunders, Shelley Brierley—they all said they barely knew her.”


Hannah watches redness spread across her father’s face, like a rash.


“We’ve talked to a number of Lydia’s classmates and teachers as well. From what we can tell, she didn’t have many friends.” Officer Fiske looks up. “Would you say Lydia was a lonely girl?”


“Lonely?” James glances at his wife, then—for the first time that morning—at his son. As one of only two Orientals at Middlewood High—the other being her brother, Nathan—Lee stood out in the halls. He knows that feeling: all those faces, fish-pale and silent and staring. He had tried to tell himself that Lydia was different, that all those friends made her just one of the crowd. “Lonely,” he says again, slowly. “She did spend a lot of time alone.”


“She was so busy,” Marilyn interrupts. “She worked very hard in her classes. A lot of homework to do. A lot of studying.” She looks earnestly from one policeman to the other, as if afraid they won’t believe her. “She was very smart.”


“Did she seem sad at all, these past few weeks?” the younger officer asks. “Did she ever give any sign she might want to hurt herself? Or—”


Marilyn doesn’t even wait for him to finish. “Lydia was very happy. She loved school. She could have done anything. She’d never go out in that boat by herself.” Her hands start to shake, and she clutches the teacup again, trying to keep them steady—so tightly Hannah thinks she might squeeze it to pieces. “Why aren’t you looking for whoever took her out there?”


“There’s no evidence of anyone else in the boat with her,” says Officer Fiske. “Or on the dock.”


“How can you tell?” Marilyn insists. “My Lydia would never have gone out in a boat alone.” Tea sloshes onto the counter. “You just never know, these days, who’s waiting around the corner for you.”


“Marilyn,” James says.


“Read the paper. There are psychos everywhere these days, kidnapping people, shooting them. Raping them. What does it take for the police to start tracking them down?”


“Marilyn,” James says again, louder this time.


“We’re looking into all possibilities,” Officer Fiske says gently.


“We know you are,” says James. “You’re doing all you can. Thank you.” He glances at Marilyn. “We can’t ask for more than that.” Marilyn opens her mouth again, then closes it without a word.


The policemen glance at each other. Then the younger one says, “We’d like to ask Nathan a few more questions, if that’s okay. Alone.”


Five faces swivel toward Nath, and his cheeks go hot. “Me?”


“Just a couple of follow-ups,” says Officer Fiske. He puts his hand on Nath’s shoulder. “Maybe we can just step out onto the front porch.”


When Officer Fiske has shut the front door behind them, Nath props himself against the railing. Under his palms, a few shreds of paint work loose and flutter to the porch floor. He has been wrestling with the idea of calling the police himself, of telling them about Jack and how he must be responsible. In another town, or another time, they might have shared Nath’s suspicions already. Or if Lydia herself had been different: a Shelley Brierley, a Pam Saunders, a Karen Adler, a normal teenage girl, a girl they understood. The police might have looked at Jack more closely, pieced together a history of small complaints: teachers protesting graffitied desks and insolent remarks, other brothers taking umbrage at his liberties with their sisters. They might have listened to Nath’s complaints—after school all spring every day—and come to similar conclusions. A girl and a boy, so much time together, alone—it would not be so hard to understand, after all, why Nath eyed Jack so closely and bitterly. They, like Nath, might have found suspicious signs in everything Jack has ever said or done.


But they won’t. It complicates the story, and the story—as it emerges from the teachers and the kids at school—is so obvious. Lydia’s quietness, her lack of friends. Her recent sinking grades. And, in truth, the strangeness of her family. A family with no friends, a family of misfits. All this shines so brightly that, in the eyes of the police, Jack falls into shadow. A girl like that and a boy like him, who can have—does have—any girl he wants? It is impossible for them to imagine what Nath knows to be true, let alone what he himself imagines. To his men, Officer Fiske often says, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” Nath, they would have said, is only hysterical. Hearing zebras everywhere. Now, face-to-face with the police, Nath can see that there is no point in mentioning Jack at all: they have already decided who is to blame.


Officer Fiske settles himself against the railing too. “We just wanted to chat a little, Nathan, in private. Maybe you’ll think of something you forgot. Sometimes brothers and sisters know things about each other their parents don’t, you know?”


Nath tries to agree, but nothing comes out. He nods. Today, he suddenly remembers, should have been his graduation.


“Was Lydia in the habit of sneaking out alone?” Officer Fiske asks. “There’s no need to worry. You’re not in trouble. Just tell us what you know.” He keeps saying just, as if it’s a tiny favor he wants, a little offhand thing. Talk to us. Tell us her secrets. Tell us everything. Nath starts to tremble. He’s positive the policemen can see him shaking.


“Had she ever snuck out by herself before, at night?” the younger policeman asks. Nath swallows, tries to hold himself still.


“No,” he croaks. “No, never.”


The policemen glance at each other. Then the younger one perches on the railing beside Nath, like a kid leaning against a locker before school, as if they’re friends. This is his role, Nath realizes. To act like the buddy, to coax him to talk. His shoes are polished so bright they reflect the sun, a blurry smudge of light at each big toe.


“Did Lydia usually get along with your parents?” The policeman shifts his weight, and the railing creaks.


Maybe you should join some clubs, too, honey, meet some new people. Would you like to take a summer class? That could be fun.


“Our parents?” Nath says. He hardly recognizes the voice that comes out as his. “Sure she did.”


“Did you ever see either of them hit her?”


“Hit her?” Lydia, so fussed over, so carefully tended, like a prize flower. The one perpetually on their mother’s mind, even when she was reading, dog-earing pages of articles Lydia might like. The one their father kissed first, every night, when he came home. “My parents would never hit Lydia. They loved her.”


“Did she ever talk about hurting herself?”


The porch railing starts to blur. All he can do is shake his head, hard. No. No. No.


“Did she seem upset the night before she disappeared?”


Nath tries to think. He had wanted to tell her about college, the lush green leaves against the deep red brick, how much fun it was going to be. How for the first time in his life he’d stood up straight, how from that new angle the world had looked bigger, wider, brighter. Except she had been silent all dinner, and afterward she’d gone right up to her room. He had thought she was tired. He had thought: I’ll tell her tomorrow.


And suddenly, to his horror, he begins to cry: wet, messy tears that dribble down his nose and into the collar of his shirt.


Both policemen turn away then, and Officer Fiske closes his notebook and fishes in his pocket for a handkerchief. “Keep it,” he says, holding it out to Nath, and he squeezes him on the shoulder once, hard, and then they’re gone.

•   •   •


“That’s not what I meant.” James props his elbows on the table and rests his forehead on his hands. “You just can’t go making wild accusations. You can’t go berating the police.”
Inside, Marilyn says to James, “So I have to ask your permission now, to speak in company?”


“Who’s berating? I’m just asking questions.” Marilyn drops her teacup into the sink and turns on the water. An angry soap froth rises in the drain. “Looking into all possibilities? He didn’t even listen when I said it could be a stranger.”


“Because you’re acting hysterical. You hear one news report and you get all these ideas in your head. Let it go.” James still hasn’t lifted his head from his hands. “Marilyn, just let it go.


In the brief silence that follows, Hannah slips under the table and huddles there, hugging her knees to her chest. The tablecloth casts a half-moon shadow on the linoleum. As long as she stays inside it, she thinks, curling her toes in closer, her parents will forget she’s there. She has never heard her parents fight before. Sometimes they bicker over who forgot to screw the cap back onto the toothpaste, or who left the kitchen light on all night, but afterward her mother squeezes her father’s hand, or her father kisses her mother’s cheek, and all is well again. This time, everything is different.


“So I’m just a hysterical housewife?” Marilyn’s voice is cool and sharp now, like the edge of a steel blade, and under the table Hannah holds her breath. “Well, someone is responsible. If I have to find out what happened to her myself, I will.” She scrubs at the counter with the dish towel and tosses it down. “I would think you’d want to know, too. But listen to you. Of course, officer. Thank you, officer. We can’t ask for more, officer.” The foam chokes its way down the drain. “I know how to think for myself, you know. Unlike some people, I don’t just kowtow to the police.”


In the blur of her fury, Marilyn doesn’t think twice about what she’s said. To James, though, the word rifles from his wife’s mouth and lodges deep in his chest. From those two syllables—kowtow—explode bent-backed coolies in cone hats, pigtailed Chinamen with sandwiched palms. Squinty and servile. Bowing and belittled. He has long suspected that everyone sees him this way—Stanley Hewitt, the policemen, the checkout girl at the grocery store. But he had not thought that everyone included Marilyn.


He drops his crumpled napkin at his empty place and pushes his chair from the table with a screech. “I have class at ten,” he says. Below the hem of the tablecloth, Hannah watches her father’s stocking feet—a tiny hole just forming at one heel—retreat toward the garage stairs. There’s a pause as he slips on his shoes, and a moment later, the garage door rumbles open. Then, as the car starts, Marilyn snatches the teacup from the sink and hurls it to the floor. Shards of china skitter across the linoleum. Hannah stays absolutely still as her mother runs upstairs and slams her bedroom door, as her father’s car backs out of the driveway with a mechanical little whine and growls away. Only when everything is completely quiet does she dare to crawl out from under the tablecloth, to pick the fragments of porcelain from the puddle of soapy water.


The front door creaks open, and Nath reappears in the kitchen, his eyes and nose red. From this she knows he has been crying, but she pretends not to notice, keeping her head bent, stacking the pieces one by one in her cupped palm.


“What happened?”


“Mom and Dad had a fight.” She tips the broken cup into the garbage can and wipes her damp hands on the thighs of her bell-bottoms. The water, she decides, will dry on its own.


“A fight? About what?”


Hannah lowers her voice to a whisper. “I don’t know.” Although there is no sound from their parents’ bedroom overhead, she is antsy. “Let’s go outside.”


Outside, without discussing it, she and Nath both head for the same place: the lake. All the way down the block, she scans the street carefully, as if their father might still be around the corner, no longer angry, ready to come home. She sees nothing but a few parked cars.


Hannah’s instincts, however, are good. Pulling out of the driveway, James too had been drawn to the lake. He had made a loop around it, once, twice, Marilyn’s words echoing in his mind. Kowtowing to the police. Over and over he hears it, the palpable disgust in her voice, how little she thought of him. And he cannot blame her. How could Lydia have been happy? Lee stood out in the halls. Few seemed to have known her well. Suicide Likely Possibility. He passes the dock where Lydia would have climbed into the boat. Then their little dead-end street. Then the dock again. Somewhere in the center of this circle his daughter, friendless and alone, must have dived into the water in despair. Lydia was very happy, Marilyn had said. Someone is responsible. Someone, James thinks, and a deep spike carves its way down his throat. He cannot bear to see the lake again. And then he knows where he wants to be.


He has rehearsed in his mind what to say to Louisa so often that this morning, he awoke with it on his lips. This was a mistake. I love my wife. This must never happen again. Now, when she opens the door, what comes out of his mouth is: “Please.” And Louisa gently, generously, miraculously opens her arms.


In Louisa’s bed, he can stop thinking—about Lydia, about the headlines, about the lake. About what Marilyn must be doing at home. About who is responsible. He focuses on the curve of Louisa’s back and the pale silk of her thighs and the dark sweep of her hair, which brushes his face again and again and again. Afterward, Louisa wraps her arms around him from behind, as if he is a child, and says, “Stay.” And he does.

•   •   •


What Marilyn has been doing is pacing Lydia’s room, tingling with fury. It’s obvious what the police think, with all their hinting: No evidence of anyone in the boat with her. Would you say Lydia was a lonely girl? It’s obvious, too, that James agrees. But her daughter could not have been so unhappy. Her Lydia, always smiling, always so eager to please? Sure, Mom. I’d love to, Mom. To say she could have done such a thing to herself—no, she had loved them too much for that. Every single night, before she went up to bed, she found Marilyn wherever she was—in the kitchen, in the study, in the laundry room—and looked her full in the face: I love you, Mom. See you tomorrow.Even that last night she had said it—tomorrow—and Marilyn had given her a quick squeeze and a little smack on the shoulder and said, “Hurry up now, it’s late.” At this thought, Marilyn sinks to the carpet. If she had known, she’d have held Lydia a little longer. She would have kissed her. She would have put her arms around her daughter and never let go.


Lydia’s bookbag lies slouched against her desk, where the police had left it after they’d searched it, and Marilyn pulls it into her lap. It smells of rubber erasers, of pencil shavings, of spearmint gum—precious, schoolgirl smells. In her embrace, books and binders shift under the canvas like bones under skin. She cradles the bag, sliding the straps over her shoulders, letting its weight hug her tight.


Then, in the half-unzipped front pocket, she spots something: a flash of red and white. Hidden beneath Lydia’s pencil case and a bundle of index cards, a slit gapes in the lining of the bag. A small tear, small enough to slip by the busy policemen, intended to escape an even sharper eye: a mother’s. Marilyn works her hand inside and pulls out an open package of Marlboros. And, beneath that, she finds something else: an open box of condoms.


She drops both, as if she has found a snake, and pushes the bookbag out of her lap with a thud. They must belong to someone else, she thinks; they could not be Lydia’s. Her Lydia did not smoke. As for the condoms—


Inside, Marilyn cannot quite convince herself. That first afternoon, the police had asked, “Does Lydia have a boyfriend?” and she had answered, without hesitation, “She’s barely sixteen.” Now she looks down at the two tiny boxes, caught in the hammock of her skirt, and the outlines of Lydia’s life—so sharp and clear before—begin to waver. Dizzy, she rests her head against the side of Lydia’s desk. She will find out everything she doesn’t know. She will keep searching until she understands how this could have happened, until she understands her daughter completely.

•   •   •


At the lake, Nath and Hannah settle on the grass and stare out over the water in silence, hoping for the same enlightenment. On a normal summer day, at least half a dozen kids would be splashing in the water or jumping off the pier, but today, the lake is deserted. Maybe the kids are afraid to swim now, Nath thinks. What happened to bodies in the water? Did they dissolve, like tablets? He doesn’t know, and as he contemplates the possibilities, he is glad that his father allowed no one to see Lydia’s body but himself.


He stares out over the water, letting time tick away. Only when Hannah sits up and waves to someone does he emerge from his daze, his attention slowly centering on the street: Jack, in a faded blue T-shirt and jeans, walking home from graduation with a robe slung over his arm—as if it were just an ordinary day. Nath hasn’t seen him since the funeral, though he’s been peeking out at Jack’s house two or three times a day. As Jack spots Nath, his face changes. He looks away, quickly, as if pretending he hasn’t seen either of them, and walks faster. Nath pushes himself to his feet.


“Where are you going?”


“To talk to Jack.” In truth he’s not sure what he’s going to do. He’s never been in a fight before—he’s skinnier and shorter than most of the boys in his class—but he has vague visions of grabbing Jack by the front of his T-shirt and pinning him to a wall, of Jack suddenly admitting his culpability. It was my fault: I lured her, I persuaded her, I tempted her, I disappointed her. Hannah lunges forward and grabs his wrist.


“Don’t.”


“It’s because of him,” Nath says. “She never went wandering out in the middle of the night before he came along.”


Hannah yanks his arm, dragging him back to his knees, and Jack, almost jogging now, blue commencement robe fluttering behind him, reaches their street. He glances back at them over his shoulder and there’s no mistaking it: fear in the hunch of his shoulders, fear in the way his gaze flicks to Nath, then quickly away. Then he turns the corner and disappears. In a few seconds, Nath knows, Jack will climb the stairs of his porch and open the door and be out of reach. He tries to wrench himself free, but Hannah’s nails sink into his skin. He had not known a child could be so strong.


“Get off me—”


Both of them tumble back into the grass, and at last Hannah lets go. Nath sits up slowly, breathless. By now, he thinks, Jack is safe inside his house. Even if he rang the doorbell and banged on the door, Jack would never come out.


“What the hell did you do that for?”


With one hand, Hannah combs a dead leaf from her hair. “Don’t fight with him. Please.”


“You’re crazy.” Nath rubs his wrist, where her fingers have scratched five red welts. One of them has begun to bleed. “Jesus Christ. All I wanted was to talk to him.”


“Why are you so mad at him?”


Nath sighs. “You saw how weird he was at the funeral. And just now. Like there’s something he’s afraid I’ll find out.” His voice drops. “I know he had something to do with this. I can feel it.” He kneads his chest with his fist, just below his throat, and thoughts he has never voiced fight their way to the surface. “You know, Lydia fell in the lake once, when we were little,” he says, and his fingertips begin to quiver, as if he has said something taboo.


“I don’t remember that,” Hannah says.


“You weren’t born yet. I was only seven.”


Hannah, to his surprise, slides over to sit beside him. Gently, she puts her hand on his arm, where she’s scratched it, and leans her head against him. She has never dared sit so close to Nath before; he and Lydia and their mother and father are too quick to shrug her off or shoo her away. Hannah, I’m busy. I’m in the middle of something. Leave me alone. This time—she holds her breath—Nath lets her stay. Though he says nothing more, her silence tells him she is listening.








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