In the breathtaking new thriller from David Bell, bestselling author of Since She Went Away and Somebody I Used to Know, the fate of two missing teenage girls becomes a father’s worst nightmare....
Just a year and a half after the tragic death of his wife, Bill Price’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend, Haley, disappear. Days later, the girls are found in a city park. Haley is dead at the scene, while Summer is left beaten beyond recognition and clinging to life.
As Bill holds vigil over Summer’s bandaged body, the only sound the unconscious girl can make is one cryptic and chilling word: No. And the more time Bill spends with Summer, the more he wonders what happened to her. Or if the injured girl in the hospital bed is really his daughter at all.
When troubling new questions about Summer’s life surface, Bill is not prepared for the aftershocks. He’ll soon discover that both the living and the dead have secrets. And that searching for the truth will tear open old wounds that pierce straight to the heart of his family...
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Bring Her Home
Bill Price stepped into the whirling chaos of the emergency room.
To the left, he saw a woman holding a red-faced, crying baby. The child’s eyes were pools of tears, its mouth contorted into a wailing “O.” The mother made calming shushing noises, but the baby didn’t seem to hear them. Ahead of Bill, a teenage girl with a nose ring and a neck tattoo tried to calm a man holding a bloody rag against his shaven head. The man appeared agitated, waving his free hand around as though orating to a crowd.
Bill looked to his right. He saw a small crowd gathered but no one he recognized.
He felt overwhelmed. Alone.
A nurse sat behind the admitting desk. She held a metal clipboard and wore half-moon glasses perched on the end of her nose. The glasses aged her, made her look ten years older than she probably was.
Bill approached her, a knot of tension growing in his chest.
“Excuse me,” Bill said.
“Just a minute.” The woman turned and stood up, walking away from Bill and going through a door behind her.
“Hello?” Bill said, his voice low.
He tapped his finger on the Formica desk.
She’s here. Somewhere. She’s here.
Should I just go find her?
“Hey,” he said, his voice louder.
But the nurse didn’t return. And no one else came out of the room to help him.
It felt like one of those dreams, the kind he’d been having too often lately. In the dreams, he’d open his mouth to scream but could make no sound. And the very act of trying to force words out made his throat feel as if he’d swallowed broken glass.
Bill looked around, hoping to see a familiar face. He saw only misery. The people in the room—the bleeders and the criers and the scared—were all his companions in misery.
She is here. She too is one of them. . . .
The admitting nurse appeared again. She still carried the clipboard. She went out of her way not to make eye contact with Bill. She focused on the desktop, coming over and reaching for a piece of paper.
“Excuse me,” Bill said. “I’m here because—”
“One second, hon,” she said.
The nurse lifted the paper, studying it through her glasses. Her hair was streaked with gray, her pink smock decorated with a small mustard stain.
“My daughter—,” Bill said.
The woman raised her index finger in the air, requesting silence. She turned again, disappearing back behind the door through which she’d just emerged.
“Wait,” Bill said.
But she was gone.
Bill craned his neck, rising up on tiptoes to try to see into the room. He couldn’t.
“Hey!” he said, his voice rising.
The nurse stuck her head out the door, her face creased with agitation. “Sir, we’re backed up now. I’ll be right there.”
Echoing off the walls and the tiled floor, the single word cut through the room, bringing everyone to a halt. Bill sensed their anticipation, their fear, and, yes, their glee. They might get to witness a scene.
Some guy went apeshit in the ER. . . .
The nurse stood up. She looked angry as she walked toward him.
“My daughter is here,” Bill said. “Summer Price. Summer Price is my daughter.”
And then the nurse’s features softened. She understood.
She recognized the name. Everyone in the room probably did.
“Oh,” she said, removing her glasses. “I know who to call.”
A minute passed, maybe less, and then someone came through another door and into the emergency room, a familiar face above a coat and tie.
Bill felt the smallest measure of relief. “Detective Hawkins,” he said. “Where is she? Where’s Summer? Someone called. They said you were here—”
Hawkins wiggled his fingers, his hand in the air. “This way, okay? This way.”
Bill followed the detective as Hawkins stepped over to a plain brown door and turned the knob. It looked like a janitor’s closet, and Bill wondered why he was being led where mops and buckets were stored.
But then he saw it was a consultation room, one of those places where doctors took families to give them bad news. Bill had been in one of them before, almost a year and a half earlier. Nothing good ever happened in one of those rooms.
He stopped in his tracks even as Hawkins reached for him, trying to guide Bill along.
“Where is she?” Bill asked. “Just tell me something.”
“Inside, Bill. Please? We can talk in there.”
“Is she alive?” Bill felt anger laced with fear building in his chest, the heat and pressure at his core like lava waiting to burst forth. He gritted his teeth. “Just tell me the truth. On the phone they said she’s alive. Is Summer alive?”
Hawkins stared directly into Bill’s eyes. “She’s alive, Bill. Summer is alive.”
Bill closed his eyes, as though bracing for a blow. He felt a slight cooling in his body, a tiny sliver of relief. Okay, he thought. Alive. She’s alive.
“When can I see her?” he asked, opening his eyes.
“She’s alive, Bill,” Hawkins said. “But—we should talk inside.”
Bill’s hands shook as he sat in the consultation room.
The space was small, confining. The papered walls were brown, earth tones, something meant to be soothing. The furniture felt stiff and unforgiving. Some well-meaning soul had placed a vase full of artificial flowers on the coffee table, an attempt to cheer the uncheerable. Bill stared at them, wishing his eyes were lasers that could destroy.
Hawkins sat down across from him. He looked to be in his early fifties, about ten years older than Bill. His salt-and-pepper hair was messy, as if he’d just come inside out of a stiff wind. He wore a sport coat and no tie, his graying chest hair reaching up from the open-neck shirt like spiders’ legs.
Bill tried to keep his voice steady, to not shout at or berate the public servant before him. “Tell me what’s going on, Detective. Tell me when I can see Summer. I want to see her.”
The room felt too familiar. Hell, it might have been the same one he sat in when Julia died. He feared he would be getting horrible news from Detective Hawkins.
“Summer is alive, but she’s critically injured. She’s been stabilized, and they’re moving her to Intensive Care. You can see her in a moment once they have her settled in up there.”
“What happened to her? How was she injured? Wait a minute—where the hell was she? She’s been gone for almost two days. Where? Tell me something.”
“They were found in Dunlap Park.” Hawkins spoke with a soothing Kentucky accent, his words rolling out like a gentle stream. Bill tried to reconcile the awful message with the sweet sound of the messenger. “Early this morning, we received an anonymous call at the station. Not a nine-one-one call—just the general line. The caller told the officer who answered that two girls could be found in Dunlap Park.”
“Dunlap Park?” Bill looked down and saw the flowers again. He lifted his head.
“Did Summer hang out there?” Hawkins asked.
“No,” Bill said before the question was even finished. “I told her to stay away from that park. You know what it’s like there.”
When Bill and Julia moved to town eight years earlier, brought there by Bill’s job, the park was a notorious gay cruising ground. A math teacher from Jakesville High, a meek man with a wife and two children, was arrested in a park restroom after soliciting a male undercover cop. Just a few years earlier, a Jakesville town councilman was caught there having sex with a county auditor, a woman who was not his wife.
“All I hear about these days are the drugs out there. Heroin even,” Bill said. “Right?”
“There have been some problems with that, yes. Also a homeless issue. People living in tents and other makeshift shelters. I’m not saying they are responsible for all of the crime, but it doesn’t help.”
“Some problems? No, I told Summer to never go there. Never.” Bill shifted forward in his uncomfortable chair, moving his body closer to the edge so that he almost slid onto the floor. He felt control slipping away as the angry part of him asserted itself, almost like another man who lived inside of him and jumped out in situations like the one in the hospital. “Who made this call? Do you know?”
“We don’t. It was a man, speaking with a deeper voice, possibly disguised. The call was too short to trace, and we don’t record the calls that come in on that line. But the tip proved to be accurate, so we’re going to do what we can to find out who called.”
“You haven’t told me what happened to her. What are her injuries? Hold it—are we talking about . . . Did somebody . . .”
“She’s being checked for everything, including sexual assault. There’s no obvious sign of sexual trauma, but some of her clothes were torn when she was found. We’re lucky it’s above freezing today, or exposure could have been an issue. She might have been out there for a number of hours.”
Bill folded his hands and lowered his head. He wanted to close his eyes and make the whole situation go away. And he understood he was one of a long line of people to sit in a room like this and wish more than anything they could be somewhere else.
“The problem right now is that Summer has been severely beaten. She has extensive wounds to her head and torso. And a lot of swelling. They need to do X-rays and CAT scans and all of that to see how bad it is inside. But her injuries are quite severe, and you need to brace yourself for the likelihood that she’ll need surgery and possibly extensive rehabilitation. Whoever did this wanted to hurt her, and they did. Very badly.”
“I just want to see her. I don’t want her lying somewhere alone while she goes through this. Can you do that for me, please?”
Hawkins said, “Of course. I just wanted you to understand where we stood before you saw her.”
“She’s my daughter,” Bill said. “I can handle anything that has to do with her.”
He hoped he could. He had to do it alone.
The two men stood up. Hawkins was larger than Bill, barrel-chested, but with a gentle manner that seemed in contrast with the probing intensity of his blue-gray eyes. Bill wondered if they assigned Hawkins to Summer’s case for a reason, if they believed that the detective’s soothing tones and intimidating size would somehow placate, or short of that, corral Bill and keep him calm.
Before Hawkins opened the door, Bill grabbed the detective’s arm. It felt like taking hold of a tree trunk.
“Wait a minute,” Bill said. “Them. You said they were found. You mean Summer and Haley. I didn’t think to ask, but how is Haley doing?”
Hawkins hesitated for the briefest of seconds. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Bill, but Haley was deceased at the scene. She’d been beaten more severely than Summer. Her injuries were too extensive for anyone to survive.”
The room tilted. Bill reached out and braced himself against the wall. Hawkins placed his rocklike hand on Bill’s shoulder, steadying him.
“Are you going to pass out?” he asked. “Do you want some water?”
Bill stood still for a moment. Images of the ever inseparable Haley and Summer flashed across his mind. The two skinny, blond girls running through a sprinkler on a summer day when they were ten. The two girls giggling over a silly movie when they were twelve. The two girls leaving his house together on Saturday afternoon . . .
“Her mother? She lives with her mother,” Bill asked.
“She’s been informed.” Hawkins’s voice conveyed the pain of that conversation, the necessary but awful duty he probably performed himself. “Would you like to sit down?”
He felt sick. Physically sick. His body seemed to have turned to ice.
But he shook his head. He needed to go on.
His daughter needed him. Desperately.
But before he left the room, he needed to do one thing. He took two steps to the coffee table, took hold of the offending vase, and hurled it against the wall—screaming as he did so—where it shattered into hundreds of fragments.
Bill’s breathing was fast, his heart thumping.
He really didn’t feel any better. He turned to Hawkins, who wore an impassive look on his face.
“I’m okay,” Bill said. “I want to see Summer. Now.”
A doctor waited outside the door to Summer’s room.
She looked young, not much older than Summer to Bill’s eyes. She wore blue scrubs and a white lab coat. At some point in the day she’d put a pencil in her hair to hold it up in a messy bun.
“I’m Dr. Renee Davis,” she said, cutting to the chase. “Summer’s injuries are severe. She has two broken ribs, one of which punctured her lung, causing it to collapse. She also has a hairline fracture of the skull as well as a fracture of her eye socket. And a number of cuts and abrasions, some of which required stitches. She doesn’t need surgery right now, but we can’t rule that out. It’s too early to tell whether she’ll have any long-term damage from these injuries.”
An annoying beeping sound came from Dr. Davis’s pocket. She reached in and pressed a button, making it stop. But she didn’t say anything else. She looked at Bill as though she expected him to say something. He felt like an actor on a stage who didn’t know his lines.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Long-term damage. What does that mean?”
He looked from the doctor to the detective and back again, unsure who would provide the answer.
“It means we don’t know if her vision will be affected,” Davis said. “Or if there is any brain damage. We’re encouraged because there doesn’t appear to be any bleeding or swelling in the brain. But we’ll have to watch her closely for the next forty-eight hours.”
Brain damage. Vision loss.
The nightmare might never end. It might continue on and on for the rest of Summer’s life. The very essence of who she was could be shattered. Her laugh. Her intelligence. Her sarcastic humor.
But she was alive. Bill reminded himself of that.
Life. That mattered.
“I just want to see her,” he said. “Even if she’s not awake, I don’t want her to be alone.”
“Her injuries are quite severe,” Davis said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat this, Mr. Price, but we have to watch her very carefully. She’s gravely injured.”
“I heard that already.”
“Because of the swelling in her face, she looks . . .”
“Bad?” Bill said. “Is seeing that worse than not knowing where she was all weekend?”
“She’s not going to look like the girl who left your house two days ago,” Davis said.
Bill stepped past the doctor.
“Bill?” It was Detective Hawkins’s voice.
Bill stopped and looked at the two professionals.
Hawkins turned to Davis as though they both knew something, and then Hawkins said, “Her hands are bandaged. She had a number of injuries to them.”
“Are her hands permanently damaged?” Bill asked.
“It means she resisted, Bill,” Hawkins said, his voice tinged with a paternal pride he seemed to want Bill to experience as well. “They’re injuries consistent with someone who put up a very good fight.”
Bill knew the detective was trying to make him feel better, but the information came as no surprise. Bill already knew Summer would resist. He knew she’d fight. He’d fought with Summer enough since Julia died.
But even as a child, she’d fought. Resisting bedtimes. Resisting foods.
Stubbornly independent. Bill quickly learned one of parenting’s hardest lessons—you’re going to see yourself, warts and all, in your kid.
“I hope she kicked his nuts up into his throat,” Bill said.
The two of them just nodded, indicating agreement with the statement.
Bill said, “Doctor, the detective mentioned something about . . . checking for sexual assault. I was just . . . How long does that take to know?”
“Given her condition, we didn’t conduct a full examination. Much of it is invasive. . . . But we’ll hand everything over to the police.”
“She didn’t ever say anything, did she?” Bill asked. “Anything at all?”
Davis looked disappointed she couldn’t deliver better news to Bill. “No, she didn’t. But please let me know if you have any questions. We’ll all be keeping a close eye on her.”
“Thanks,” Bill said.
“When you come out, Bill, I’ll have some more questions for you,” Hawkins said. “I know you need to be in there now, but we have some more work to do out here.”
Bill took a deep breath, one that seemed to come from the center of his being, and pushed open the door to Summer’s room.
The lights above were so bright.
Bill stood with his back to the door as it eased shut, staring at the indistinct lump beneath the covers on the bed.
A monitor beeped a steady rhythm. His daughter’s heartbeat. When Summer was a baby, Bill used to slip into the nursery and stand over the crib, just making sure her tiny heart continued to beat. She was so small then, so helpless, the life inside her seemed nearly impossible to sustain. A flickering candle in a strong wind.
Bill stepped over to the bed.
Her hands were wrapped in gauze. The blankets neatly tucked under her armpits.
Her face, though, the left side . . . Swollen like a balloon and badly bruised. Her eyes swollen as well. A gauze wrap of some kind covered the top of her head, obscuring most of Summer’s blond hair.
Bill knew he was biased—but she was a naturally beautiful girl. When she smiled, which wasn’t as often since Julia died, she lit up so much, she could probably be used as a power source. Just like her mother. Whenever Bill looked at Summer’s face, he saw Julia. Bill occasionally compared snapshots of Julia and Summer at the same age, and they were like twins. The bright blue of their eyes, the freckles that appeared when the weather turned warm.
Bill felt somewhat relieved to see there were no tubes down her throat or up her nose. She breathed on her own. An IV line dripped a clear fluid into the crook of her elbow.
Bill wanted to climb into the bed with her, to pull her close and keep her warm and safe. But he feared that placing any weight on or near her body would disturb her or cause her pain. He dragged a stool over to the side of the bed and sat down, and then placed his hand gently, ever so gently, on Summer’s left forearm, the only area of her body not covered by injuries or blankets or bandages.
He stroked the soft, downy hair, felt the smoothness of her skin. Like a baby still. She looked as vulnerable and weak as that tiny infant in her crib fifteen years ago. Her arm looked even smaller than he remembered, bony like a child’s.
“Oh, honey, what have they done to you?” he whispered. “Who did this to you?”
No response came. Summer’s lips looked parched and cracked. Painfully so. Bill checked for a pitcher of water, for a rag he could dab against her lips, but there was none. He wanted to do something. To act.
But there was nothing for him to do.
“Are you okay, Summer? I’m here. It’s Dad, and I’m going to be right here the whole time you get better.”
Bill irrationally hoped for something. A grunt. A moan. A movement. But nothing came.
He continued to stroke her arm. “I’m torn, honey. Part of me wishes your mom were here to help us through this. And part of me is glad she isn’t here to see you in this condition.”
Bill’s lower lip quivered, and he swallowed, biting back on the tears. He took several deep breaths and tried to make sense of how his life went from being so normal a few days earlier to utterly out of control and disastrous in the hospital. He looked back over the chain of events. Summer said she was going out with Haley on Saturday afternoon. Bill said yes because why wouldn’t he? The girls did everything together. Except for the accident of being born into different families, they might very well have been siblings. And then by late Saturday evening, the girls were nowhere to be found. No responses to calls or texts. No sign of either one of them.
And nothing until that morning when the police called, waking Bill out of a restless, paper-thin sleep to say Summer had been found and to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Bill hated the helplessness he felt, the sense of being paralyzed and impotent in the face of his daughter’s injuries. In the face of what had been done to her. By someone.
Someone out there had committed this atrocity.
The door clicked open behind him. Bill didn’t turn or acknowledge whoever it was. He kept his eyes trained on Summer, the gentle rising and falling of her chest as she breathed. The horrible swelling in her face. He replayed the doctor’s words about long-term damage and wondered how anyone could recover from wounds like these. Would it be possible for her young body to heal?
And then what about the psychological scars? What if the tests they were doing for rape came back positive?
What if. . .?
He refused to let every “what if” into his mind. One would lead to another, and then a tidal wave would roar through his brain.
“Bill?” The detective eased over and gently placed his hand on Bill’s shoulder. “I think you and I need to talk a little more.”
“Can’t we do it here?” Bill asked. “I don’t want to leave her.”
“I think it’s best if we talk in private,” Hawkins said, his homey whisper allowing no room for discussion. He knew what was best, and he intended to see it done. “A nurse is on her way in to check on Summer. We should get out of the way.”
“I want to stay close.”
“You can, bud. But let’s go find a private spot. The sooner you answer the questions I have, the better our chances of finding out who did this to Summer.”
Bill continued to stare at Summer. His only child. His baby. That vibrant, bright life.
“It won’t take long?” he asked.
“Not too long,” Hawkins said.
Bill bent down and kissed her arm. “I love you, Summer. I’ll be right back. It’s Dad.”
When he spoke those words, his daughter’s cracked lips twitched, and she made a very low, very slight groaning sound deep in her throat.
She’s in there, Bill thought. She’s in there, and she heard me.
Hawkins led Bill out to a small leather couch in the hallway. Nurses and technicians streamed past them, and Bill couldn’t stop turning his head to look back at the door to Summer’s room. He wanted to know whether anyone was coming or going from there, whether there were any hints of an emergency or a deepening crisis.
“Is there someone you want to call?” Hawkins asked, his big hands resting on his knees. “Family or friends?”
“My sister’s coming today. She lives in Ohio.”
“Good. You don’t have other family in Jakesville, right?”
“You know neither Julia nor I was born here.”
Hawkins got down to business by changing the direction of the conversation. “I wanted to bring you up-to-date on the investigation.”
“I’ve been wondering about something,” Bill said. “Has this ever happened here? I can’t remember any crimes like this in Jakesville.”
Hawkins pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Not recently, no. Nothing like a kidnapping. You know what it’s like here, Bill. We don’t have crimes like this. It’s a safe community.” He brought out a small notebook. “Bill, we’re trying our best to piece together where those girls were and what they were doing on Saturday. You said you didn’t know where they were going when they left your house.”
“I assumed they were going to Haley’s house.”
“Right.” Hawkins didn’t say more, but Bill knew what he was thinking. What everyone would be thinking.
“Yeah, yeah. I didn’t ask. I’m the clueless dad. They’re both fifteen, Detective. They’re going to be driving soon. Some of their friends already drive. I can’t know everything they do. And, like you said, what could happen to them in Jakesville? It was daylight when they left.”
“Sure.” Hawkins nodded, his face encouraging and calm. His demeanor said, No judgment here. He cleared his throat. “The problem is only a couple of people saw them walking together that afternoon. Someone saw them heading down Anderson Road, right by your house and on the way to Haley’s. So they could have been going that way.” Hawkins frowned. “And then another witness claims to have seen Summer walking in the opposite direction on Anderson Road. Back toward your house.”
“What does that mean?”
“We don’t know.” He held his hands out, pleading for patience. “This witness was an eighty-eight-year-old man who was driving by. And he had his license taken away by his kids because his eyesight is so bad. He saw a girl walking there. She may not have been Summer. And according to Haley’s mother, they never came to her house. We’re assuming they disappeared somewhere during that walk, but since we don’t know exactly where they were going . . .”
“So someone just took them,” Bill said. “A maniac pulled over and grabbed them. That happens, doesn’t it?”
“It happens, yes,” Hawkins said. “But it’s rare. We’re not ruling anything out at this point.”
Bill closed his eyes. He told himself it was foolish to keep hoping for a break, but he couldn’t turn his mind off. It worked to make him believe, to dangle possibilities, if only as a means of keeping his spirits up and his will strong. Don’t forget, he told himself, you just got the biggest break of all. She’s here. She’s alive.
“That has to be it,” Bill said. “Someone just grabbed them, threw them in the back of a van or something.”
“I wanted to follow up on some of Summer’s other friends,” Hawkins said. “You told me that there were a few boys in her extended social circle. Maybe two or three of them.”
Hawkins checked the notebook again, holding the pad at arm’s length so he could read the writing. “We’re talking about Clinton Fields, Todd Stone, and Brandon Cooke. Right?”
“Yeah, that’s them. I guess. You have to understand that Julia knew more about Summer’s friends than I did. She talked to Summer more, you know? Mother and daughter stuff.”
“So how was your relationship with Summer? You said on Saturday that things could be tense between the two of you, but you never really told me why. Have you thought about that more?”
Bill lifted his hands, then let them fall back into his lap. He knew he seemed exasperated. He couldn’t hide it. “Look, she’s a teenage girl. I’m her middle-aged dad. I just didn’t always know if I was teaching her the things she needed to be taught. You know how teenagers are.”
“My kids are grown now, so it’s been a while. Enlighten me.”
“Okay, they’re a little contemptuous of their parents. Summer seemed that way with me.” Bill hoped that was the end, but the detective seemed to expect more. “We had tensions between us. Normal stuff, I guess. Shit, try being a man raising a woman. Her mother died a year and a half ago. It was just—” Something caught in his throat, and he paused, taking a deep breath. “It was Julia’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. Would have been her birthday. Still is, I guess. But . . .”
“It’s been hard for Summer,” Hawkins said, prompting Bill. “Losing her mother.”
“Yeah. It’s hard enough just being a teenager. Ever since Julia died, Summer’s been more rebellious, more mouthy. Standoffish to me. I thought we’d get closer because Julia died, and in some ways we have. We’ve cried together. Reminisced. But Summer is really hurting, I know that. She’s like me. When she hurts, she gets angry. Defensive. And she’s had a wall up since her mom died.”
A nurse walked past, her pace quicker than anyone else’s, and Bill turned his head to follow her. But she passed Summer’s room, her white shoes squeaking against the tile floor.
“I understand. A young girl needs and wants her mother.” Hawkins’s voice pulled Bill back. “You never really answered the question of whether Summer was sexually active.”
Bill turned all the way around, his eyes fixing on the detective, his teeth grinding together again at the back of his mouth. “I did answer that.”
Hawkins sounded more assertive, more determined. Some of the Kentucky charm dropped from his voice. “You actually said you didn’t want to talk about it. But now I think it’s imperative that we know everything there is to know about Summer.”
“She’s fifteen. She’s not sexually active. Why are you asking me this?”
Hawkins kept his blue-gray eyes trained on Bill, the scrutiny slicing in like sleet. “We have to understand every aspect of Summer’s life if we’re going to figure out who did this to her.” He pointed theatrically at the door of Summer’s room, conjuring the picture of the battered girl into Bill’s mind. “We’re looking into everything in this town. Her online communications. Her friends and teachers at school. Local sex offenders. You’re our best resource about Summer.”
Bill felt unnerved by where Hawkins was going. The conversation was causing a small pain to grow in the pit of his stomach. “Is there something I need to know?”
“Was she sexually active?” Hawkins asked. “Did she spend a lot of time with these boys from school? Or any boys that you know of?”
“Sure, they were friends.” Bill chewed on a piece of loose skin near his thumbnail. “They’ve been to the house. Hell, Summer’s known some of them since they were in grade school, so I’ve seen those kids the whole time they were growing up.” Bill shifted in his seat, trying to articulate his thoughts about the boys Hawkins had mentioned. “They seemed like pretty normal kids. I know what boys want from girls. I know how pretty Summer and Haley both are. I thought I’d be dealing with this a little later. And I always thought I’d be dealing with it with Julia’s help. Not on my own.”
“And that’s it about them?”
“She went to a dance with the Stone kid, but she told me they were just friends. Hanging out, I think she said. He and Summer went to junior high together. The other one, Cooke? Isn’t he on the cross-country team at school?”
“He’s a good runner, yes. He might go to states this year as a sophomore.”
“And so the other one is Clinton Fields, right?” Bill asked. “Yeah, he’s in their extended social circle. Kind of a jerky kid.”
“Why do you say that?” Hawkins asked.
“I don’t know. He’s arrogant, snotty. Sure, he’s polite to my face when he comes around, and he’s a smart kid, a good student. But there’s a hint of aggression and disrespect beneath everything he says. I can imagine him walking out the door and badmouthing me. High schools are full of those kinds of guys.”
“Was he dating Summer?” Hawkins asked.
“They’d all been spending time together the past few months. They were always with a group of kids, but I guess that’s how they date now. Groups of kids.”
“Is that it?”
“Is there something else I need to know about any of them?” Bill asked. “Did I miss something?”
“Remember, I’m investigating. Everything is on the table. And everyone.”
“Where were they when Summer and Haley disappeared?”
“We’re checking their alibis. We’re checking everyone’s alibis. They’re kids. They weren’t punching a clock at work or anything like that, but they say they were at the Fields house, playing video games. The parents weren’t there.”
Bill felt a jagged pressure growing behind his right eye, a pulsing sensation that made him squirm in his seat. “Just arrest them,” he said. “Bring them in and get them to talk.”
“It doesn’t work quite that way, Bill.”
“Do you think I care about their fucking civil liberties? You shouldn’t either. Not when my daughter is in a coma and another girl is dead.”
“Has Summer been in more trouble lately?” Hawkins asked. “Anything? You said the two of you weren’t getting along, that it’s been tough since your wife died.”
Bill thought back over the past year and a half, the series of ups and downs, arguments, and strained silences between Summer and him. “I told you already. It’s been hard on her. And she’s been pushing my buttons a little. Missing some curfews, not answering my texts when she’s out, that kind of thing.”
“I wanted to ask you about—”
“Wait,” Bill said. “That Fields kid. Wasn’t he into something a couple of years ago?”
An alarm started ringing overhead. An insistent beeping that probed at the headache growing behind Bill’s right eye.
Two nurses rushed by, and Bill watched them.
They dashed into Summer’s room.
“Jesus,” Bill said. “No.”
He followed in their wake and was cut off by Dr. Davis, who went in ahead of him. When Bill entered the room, he heard one phrase that stuck in his mind like a driven nail.
Her oxygen level’s dropping.
Bill watched the medical team swarm around Summer.
They called out terms and numbers Bill didn’t understand. It was like hearing another language.
Her voice calm and steady, Dr. Davis said, “We’re going to have to put in a chest tube.”
Bill stepped forward as Dr. Davis pulled on a pair of surgical gloves. They snapped into place against her wrists. She reached toward a silver tray and lifted a shining scalpel, something that looked sharp enough to cut through a tree trunk.
“You have to go, Mr. Price,” Davis said.
A nurse started removing Summer’s gown, exposing her breast. Another nurse used alcohol to sterilize the skin where the doctor intended to cut. Bill didn’t like the way they manhandled her, strangers treating her body as if it were a piece of meat.
Someone stepped in front of him, a pudgy young man in scrubs, his thinning hair a stringy mess. “Why don’t you just step outside, sir?”
“I want to stay.”
“You can’t be in here, sir.”
The man placed his hand on Bill’s chest and applied gentle but firm pressure, moving him backward and toward the door. Bill went along, but he said, “You can’t be in there either. I don’t want some strange man—”
But he was out the door and into the hallway, and the man in the scrubs disappeared inside the room again. Bill took a step forward, intending to go back in, but he stopped himself.
The doctor was right. He didn’t want to see that.
When Summer was little and receiving a new vaccine every other month, it was Julia who went with her. Julia held her hand and told her to look the other way. Bill either didn’t make trips to the doctor, or he stayed in the waiting room reading out-of-date magazines while Julia took their daughter back.
He saw that shining, brutally sharp scalpel in his mind again. A device made to puncture and slice and penetrate. He’d watched enough TV shows to know they’d be slipping a rubber tube through the incision. The images nauseated him.
He stepped back from the door and turned around.
Detective Hawkins waited just outside the door. He placed one of his ham-hock hands on Bill’s shoulder and made a gesture with his head, indicating that Bill should return to his seat on the couch where they had been talking. Bill happily obliged. It felt good to sit, and the nausea subsided once he was on the couch.
Hawkins wandered off for a moment and came back with a paper cup full of water. “Drink this,” he said.
Bill swallowed the cool water and smacked his lips. “Thank you.”
“You’re sure there’s no one you want to call?” Hawkins asked. “What about your neighbor? Mr. Fleetwood?”
“Right. You’re good friends with him. Do you want to call him to come sit with you?”
“I’ll talk to him soon. He might be working.” Bill used a shaking hand to reach into his pants pocket. He pulled out his phone and checked the screen. A text. “My sister. Paige. She’s coming. Tomorrow, I think.”
Bill struggled to type a response, his hands shaking like a ninety-year-old man’s. He marveled at the way Summer and Haley composed texts at lightning speed, almost like machines trained to do so.
“How about work? Do you need to check in there?”
“I’m an IT guy at a small college,” Bill said. “They can live without me for a while. They’ll probably miss me the most when I can’t go to Trivia Tuesday at the Tenth Inning.”
Hawkins stared at him blankly.
“The sports bar. A group of us from work plays trivia there.”
“Right, I hear you,” Hawkins said. He looked at the closed door to Summer’s room and then back at Bill. The detective’s hands rested on his hips, the skin of his thick ring finger swallowing the gold band.
“What about that stuff you were asking me?” Bill asked, his voice shaky. “Summer’s behavior. I’m confused by all of this right now. I don’t know what to think.”
“I understand completely,” Hawkins said. “I’ll come back and check on you later.”
“That Fields kid, Clinton,” Bill said. “There was something about him, something that happened a year or two ago. What was it?”
Hawkins took a moment before he answered. “He got in a fight at school with another kid.”
Bill waited for more. “That’s it? I thought there was more—” Then it came back to Bill. The story made the local news for a couple of days. Everybody with kids at the high school heard about it and talked about it. “Oh, I remember. Not just a fight, Detective.” Bill felt sweat forming at his hairline, a sticky, cloying liquid. “He hurt that kid. Put him in the hospital, right?”
“He did, Bill. Clinton Fields got in a fight at the bus stop almost two years ago, when he was fourteen. Broke the other boy’s jaw.”
“Oh, no.” Bill’s hand went to his face involuntarily to rub his own jawline. “He’s a thug—that’s what you’re telling me. A true menace. And you don’t want to arrest him yet?”
“Did Summer ever mention him being violent? Or threatening violence?”
“No. But what does that matter? You’ve got to talk to him. Arrest him.”
“I will, Bill. We’re well aware of all of this. In fact, I’m on my way to check into it more right now.”
“Will you tell me what you find?”
“Of course. Will you call me if you need anything? And let me know how Summer is.” He started to walk away and stopped, his big body showing surprising grace. “I had a collapsed lung once. When I was in college. I collided with another guy during a basketball game. That was enough to do it. I had to have the whole chest-tube thing in to relieve the pressure. The worst part was in the beginning. They said I’d feel a little discomfort, and then they put that tube in.” Hawkins winced, and the exaggerated face looked comical on the big man. “But then I could breathe again.”
Bill didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Thanks.”
“My point is, a collapsed lung isn’t as scary as it looks.”
“That’s one thing that isn’t, I guess,” Bill said.
Bill jumped off the couch when Dr. Davis came out of Summer’s room.
She looked slightly winded, like a jogger after a good, solid run. She told Bill that everything had gone according to plan. “We reinflated the lung, and her oxygen levels are returning to normal. We’ll continue to keep an eye on everything else. Our goal here is to make sure she’s stable. When she is, we’ll transfer her to our rehab wing.”
“I’m going to go back in and sit with her.”
“Give them a few minutes to get everything cleaned up.”
Bill imagined a room swimming in his daughter’s blood, the stained scalpel tossed on the floor amid soiled bandages. They needed to put her gown back on the proper way, to cover Summer up so everyone in the world wouldn’t just walk in and see her breast exposed. His daughter had been handed over to strangers for the past two days. First when she was kidnapped and beaten and who knew what else. And again in the hospital where her body had been probed and prodded and sliced.
And people, kids, maybe strangers, were commenting on her on the Internet. Judging her . . .
“I can contact the hospital social worker if you’d like,” Davis said. “Or the chaplain. I imagine people will want to come by and see Summer. Friends from school. Family. It might get complicated.”
“No, thanks,” Bill said. “I’m good.”
Davis considered him for a moment, then said, “The nurses will let you know when you can go back in.”
Bill returned to the couch and waited. The headache that had started forming when he was speaking with Hawkins seemed to have eased. He heard back from Paige. She told him, via text, that she intended to come directly to the hospital when she reached Jakesville the next day.
He hadn’t seen his younger sister in six months. They spoke on the phone from time to time, but mostly they communicated through texts and Facebook messages. They shared an irreverent sense of humor, and each tried to top the other by sending the most bizarre news stories or links to weird Web sites. On more than one occasion, Bill ended up chuckling to himself at work or at home over one of Paige’s messages.
Bill found himself looking forward to her arrival. He and Paige grew close the summer before he left for college when they spent a week driving around the country seeing R.E.M. in concert five times. Bill had never said it out loud, but he wished they’d grown closer sooner instead of right before he moved away. He always seemed to figure things out when it was too late. It was like a curse.
Someone said his name just then, and he looked up.
“There he is.”
Bill saw two figures approaching him from down the hallway. It took a moment, but then he saw who one of them was. Candy Rodgers, Haley’s mom. An older man with steel gray hair walked by her side. He wore a polo shirt and khaki pants with a cell phone clipped to the belt.
Bill stood up. Candy came directly toward Bill, her arms open for a hug. She wore black pants and a pink shirt, and a gold bracelet jangled from her wrist as she and Bill embraced. He caught a whiff of something floral, a shampoo or perfume.
“I’m so sorry, Candy.”
“I’m sorry too.”
They held each other longer than Bill was expecting. He’d never hugged Candy Rodgers before, didn’t even know her very well. He did know Haley’s parents were divorced—apparently a nasty split—and her father lived out west and had little contact with the family. Bill wondered if the man with Candy was a relative or a new love interest.
“This is our pastor,” Candy said, nodding at the man in the khaki pants. “Caleb Blankenship.”
The minister, who looked to be about sixty, gave Bill a firm handshake and a sympathetic look. Candy dabbed at her eyes with a balled-up tissue. She looked older than Bill remembered, but that may have been because she wasn’t wearing makeup. Her unnaturally blond hair hung limp and loose around her shoulders.
“I don’t know what to say, Candy,” Bill said. “I’m just so sorry about Haley. My God. She was such a wonderful, beautiful young girl.”
“I asked where you were, where Summer was, and they told us. I couldn’t leave the hospital without coming up here and seeing her.” She gestured widely, her hand holding a crumpled tissue. “The police have been asking a lot of questions, of course, and Caleb was kind enough to come with me while I . . . It turns out I couldn’t really make an identification. I mean, Haley, her body . . . It’s in bad shape.” Her voice sounded on the edge of breaking, but she held it together, impressing Bill with her poise. “We’re going to the funeral home next.”
“Oh, my God,” Bill said. “I can’t imagine.”
“How is Summer?” Candy asked. “They didn’t say much to us except that she was critically injured.”
Bill tried to explain what he knew of Summer’s condition. He managed to talk about the collapsed lung, but the rest of the words jumbled in his brain, and he found himself verbally flailing until Candy placed her hand on his elbow.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s all too complicated.”
Bill felt calmed by seeing Candy’s familiar face. He had little in common with Haley’s family and didn’t really travel in the same circles they did, with the exception of attending the same events at the school and picking up and dropping the girls off at each other’s houses. If it hadn’t been for the kids’ friendship—which started when they were in the first grade and never stopped—he wouldn’t know much about Candy at all. But Candy’s was the first familiar, friendly face he’d seen all morning, and he found the tension in his chest, the grinding of his back molars against each other, easing in her presence.
“Do you know anything about this, Candy?” Bill asked. “Do you know what the girls were doing or how they ended up out in that park? Or who might have tipped off the police?”
“I don’t know anything,” Candy said. “The police don’t sound like they know very much either. Nobody does. They said you thought they were coming to our house, but they never showed up. I was home. I would have seen them. Haley told me she was going to your house.”
“We have a lot of unanswered questions now,” Caleb, the pastor, said.
Bill gave him a quick look. “The police are hinting at all kinds of things.”
“Let’s not delve into these complicated matters in a time of grief,” Caleb said. “Candy has to go—”
“Candy, do you know something about these boys? Do you think they’re involved? Detective Hawkins was asking me about them.”
“It’s okay, Caleb,” she said. Her lip quivered for a long moment, and she lifted her hand to her chest while she suppressed a deep sob. Collected again, she turned to Bill. “The police have been asking me about everything, but I don’t know what I can tell them. Haley’s sex life.” She shivered. “All kinds of things. I mean, I’m no dummy. I know what kids do. But I can’t imagine who would do this.” She made a vague gesture in the direction of Summer’s room.
“I don’t know anything either,” Bill said, studying Candy’s face. He wanted her to say something, anything, to convince him none of it was real. Candy was a mother. She must know more than he did. “He was asking me about Clinton Fields and those other kids. Remember he beat that kid up a couple of years ago? Beat him up bad—”
But then Bill remembered himself. The woman standing before him had just lost her daughter. Lost. Gone forever. He dialed back on his own zealousness. He knew Candy was experiencing the same things he was experiencing. But multiplied to an infinite degree.
“I’m sorry, Candy,” he said. “I shouldn’t be pushing about these things. Haley was a wonderful girl. She and Summer . . . They were such good friends. My God . . . since first grade. All those trips to the mall, the sleepovers. Girl Scouts . . .”
“They were great friends, yes.”
“Maybe . . .” He didn’t know if completing the thought would bring any comfort to anyone. But Candy gave him an expectant look, so he finished by saying, “Well, at least they weren’t alone. They were together when this happened.”
Candy considered the statement for a moment, her face distant, her eyes red with grief. “That is a good thought.”
A young nurse with long red hair tied in a ponytail emerged from Summer’s room and approached Bill. She told him that he could go back in and sit with his daughter whenever he wanted, that she was resting comfortably and breathing normally.
“I should get back inside there,” Bill said. “I don’t want her to be alone.”
“Of course.” She looked at Caleb. “I think I have to be the one to call Rich.” Bill knew Rich was Haley’s father. Candy’s voice held steady. “He’s going to be shocked. I don’t know what other word to use.”
Bill looked to the pastor for help and, finding none, said, “Can you tell Rich . . . tell him how sorry I am? I don’t know what else to say right now.”
But Candy’s eyes drifted past Bill in the direction of Summer’s room. Bill looked back, expecting to see something, but there was nothing going on. Nothing he could see.
“What is it?” he asked.
“We were wondering about something,” Candy said, looking over at Caleb.
“We were wondering if we could step inside and pray for Summer,” Caleb said.
“I don’t . . .”
Candy reached out and took Bill’s hand. Her skin felt hot, almost feverish. “I know you haven’t been attending a church, not since Julia died.” She looked over at Caleb as though seeking encouragement. “We thought maybe prayers would help right now as Summer heals.”
Bill looked down to where their hands were joined, felt the pressure she exerted against his skin. It seemed like a form of pleading, a way of begging Bill to let them into Summer’s room. And while he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the religious display, he also couldn’t say no to a mother who had just lost her daughter in such a horrible way.
“Okay,” Bill said. “Sure.”
Candy squeezed even harder. “Good. I think you’ll see God can do a lot of good in Summer’s life. It’s never too late for that to happen.”
The three of them entered Summer’s room. Bill made sure he went in first, and he checked her left side where the chest tube had been inserted. The tube remained in place, its rubber length snaking out from under her hospital gown and reaching a portable machine by the side of the bed. Summer’s gown was mostly back in place over her chest, so Bill waved Candy and the pastor forward.
Candy gasped when she saw Summer. Bill remembered Candy’s comment from moments before about not being able to identify Haley’s body due to the damage inflicted. He shuddered.
The pastor moved to the left side of the bed, his face solemn, and Candy moved next to him. Bill moved to the other side—across Summer’s body and opposite them—and watched as they both bowed their heads and closed their eyes.
Bill and Julia had been married in the Catholic Church. They’d both attended their whole lives, and when Summer was born, they raised her in the church as well. Baptism, First Communion, Sunday school. They did it all. He could summon the feel of the heavy wooden pews, the sickeningly sweet aroma of incense. Bill never would have described himself as a man of great faith or a true believer, but he liked the structure the church provided in his life, the sense that there were boundaries and end lines and a promise of order amid the chaos.
Candy leaned close. “Oh, Summer, you sweet girl. I’m so sorry, baby.”
Summer’s lips moved. One side of her mouth turned down in an agitated frown.
“It’s okay, Summer. I know you’re in there.”
She made the face again, even more agitated. Candy smiled without showing her teeth.
“Father above,” Caleb said. “We come to you today . . .”
Bill kept his eyes open, watching his daughter. When Julia died suddenly and unexpectedly, Bill couldn’t summon any desire to set foot inside a church again. Something streamed out of him that day, like dry ground sucking down a puddle of water. He bristled at the cruelty of some unseen being who ruled the universe and randomly struck down his wife at such a young age. But Julia’s death also led to an intense questioning of himself. Bill couldn’t see a path forward—not through any church, at least—that would allow him to forgive himself for not being there when Julia died. Instead, he lived with the image of Julia falling off the ladder to the kitchen floor—alone, scared, and in pain—as she suffered her fatal injury. And Bill wasn’t even the first to find her. Summer came home from school and found her dead mother on the cold linoleum like a beached fish.
“We ask this all in the name of Jesus, who saves us. Amen.”
“Amen,” Candy said.
A silence settled over the room, the gentle hisses and beeps of the machines the only noises as both of them looked at Bill. He ignored their appraisal and kept his mouth shut, refusing to join in the amen chorus.
Candy looked wounded by Bill’s silence, and he wished he’d gone along, wished he’d done whatever he could for the grieving woman in the room. She stepped forward and bent down, placing her hand on Summer’s arm and giving it a gentle squeeze.
“We’re praying for you, Summer. We’re all behind you, honey.”
A moment passed, and rather than making the frowning face, Summer’s lips parted and smacked together a few times. Bill moved closer, watching, fearing that something was wrong, but the girl continued to work her lips that way for about ten seconds as though trying to form a word. An ‘M’ sound or an ‘O.’ When that effort failed, she simply emitted a very low and brief groan. And then silence.
Candy smiled, her body still bent toward the bed. “We know you’re in there,” she said. “We hear you.”
“She did that earlier when I was talking to her,” Bill said, fully aware that the movement of Summer’s lips as Candy spoke outpaced anything she had done at the sound of Bill’s voice. But maybe she felt better, more energetic, with a reinflated lung.
The same red-haired nurse slipped through the door, her shoes making no sound, as though she walked on air. “We might want to limit our visits,” she said. “Immediate family only and not too long.”
“We were just going,” Caleb said, offering the calming, pastoral smile.
“We’ll come back and see you, Summer,” Candy said.
And again the same movement of Summer’s lips, although briefer and with less energy.
When the three of them were out in the hall, Bill kept his distance as Candy started to lean in for a hug.
“I felt something in there, Bill,” she said. “I felt . . . I don’t know.”
“What did you mean by saying it’s not too late for God to come into Summer’s life?” he asked.
Candy didn’t answer, so Caleb said, “It’s been an extremely long morning for everyone.” He placed his hand on the small of Candy’s back and tried to gently guide her away from Bill and the entrance to Summer’s room.
“Are you saying if Summer went to church on a regular basis, this wouldn’t have happened to her?” Bill asked, stopping them. “Both of our daughters were out there. They both were hurt.”
Candy moved away from Caleb’s touch and faced Bill. Her eyes were filled with tears, and Bill saw deep lines etched at the corners of her mouth. “You know as well as I do that Haley worshipped Summer. She did everything Summer did. The clothes, the hair, the music. Summer was the leader, the dominant one.”
“Summer is strong-willed,” Bill said. “That’s a good quality.”
“I remember the time they stole that tube of lipstick from Walgreens. Haley came home, and she told me, ‘Mom, Summer pushed me into doing it.’”
“You’re talking about the lipstick they stole when they were twelve?”
“And the missed curfews lately. The back talk. That’s not my daughter. Summer strolls into my house and talks to me like I’m her peer, like we’re both adults. She’s fifteen going on thirty-five.”
“She’s mature,” Bill said. “She’s an only child.”
“Haley was just so . . . good-natured.” Candy’s face crumpled with grief. “Who do you think followed who . . . whatever they were doing?”
Bill wanted to say more, but he didn’t as Caleb led Candy away.
When Bill turned around, the red-haired nurse stood in his way. She held a small bottle, something Bill didn’t recognize. She seemed to want to say something to him but didn’t. He couldn’t identify the source of the expectant look on her face.
“Were we talking too loud?” Bill asked. He realized his hands were clenched into fists in the aftermath of his exchange with Candy, and it required a conscious effort to relax them. His heart thumped, and he knew if he’d been at home, he would have thrown something in frustration.
“No,” the nurse said. “Not at all. I just wanted to tell you I’m going in to take care of something with Summer. Something quick.”
“There’s no problem.” The nurse again looked like she wanted to say more. Her eyes almost appeared mischievous, like she possessed a secret. “Why don’t you come in and I’ll show you?”
Bill followed her through the door and watched as she gently moved the covers down Summer’s body. Bill held his hand out. “Wait. What is this?”
“It’s okay,” she said, and continued on. The covers now down, she took great care lifting Summer’s gown. Bill felt like he shouldn’t be looking, but the nurse nodded to Summer’s stomach.
First he saw the bruise. About the size of an orange, or someone’s fist, it sat just above her belly button. And his daughter looked even thinner than he remembered. Had she been losing weight? Dieting? Or just getting taller and losing her baby fat?
Then he saw what the nurse must have wanted him to notice.
“What’s that?” he asked, although he knew. A half-inch-wide hoop was stuck into the soft flesh, the skin around the post red and tender. “Who did that to her?”
“Somebody who didn’t know to sterilize first,” the nurse said. “We’re pumping her full of antibiotics through the IV, but I thought I’d give it a cleaning as well.”
“She didn’t have that—” But Bill stopped himself. How did he know what she’d done to her body? He hadn’t seen his daughter naked since she was three. And the piercing fit with her recent defiant, rebellious attitude. She probably would have loved to see the look on Bill’s face when he discovered it.
He also remembered Hawkins’s questions about her sex life, the things people were saying about her on social media. She was fifteen, living on the border between girl and woman.
“I guess I don’t know much of anything,” Bill said, somewhat defeated.
The nurse nodded as she worked, applying a solution to a piece of gauze. She carefully wiped the red skin around the piercing, her thin fingers as gentle and steady as a surgeon’s.
“I figure I just did Summer a favor,” she said while she worked. “When she wakes up, you’ll be so happy to see her, you won’t care about a little thing like a piercing she got without your permission. It’s not a big deal to have one. Some of us got them in college.” She chuckled softly.
Bill sensed that he was being manipulated, that just like Hawkins saying the collapsed lung wasn’t as bad as it seemed, the nurse was not so subtly reminding him of his priorities.
He didn’t need to be reminded, even though the sight of the piercing made his skin crawl. Not knowing how much Summer could hear or understand, he moved to the head of the bed and leaned down close.
“I don’t care about the piercing,” he said. “All I care about is your getting better.”
Summer started moving her lips, again like she wanted to form a word. Bill looked to the nurse, who shrugged lightly, the bottle of alcohol and the swab still in her hand.
“Do you want to say something, Summer? It’s Dad.”
And the puckering grew more rapid, accompanied by a low clucking sound in her mouth, the intensity of the movement increasing. Her head twitched once, to the left and then back to the right.
“Did you want to say something to me?” Bill asked. “Do you want something from me?”
Bill leaned in even closer. And he heard the word she seemed to be saying.
“No. No. No. No. No. No.”
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Bill alludes to difficulties he had with Summer before she disappeared. Do you think this was typical teenage rebellion, or was it exacerbated by her mother’s death?
2. The reader learns that Bill once grabbed Summer, leading her to call the police. Do you think the police made the right decision when they chose not to press charges? Did finding this out about Bill make you feel differently about him?
3. Bill thinks of Adam as one of his closest friends. Why do you think Bill was so drawn to Adam?
4. Bill turns to his sister, Paige, in times of crisis, even though their relationship is sometimes contentious. Do you think their sibling relationship is typical?
5. Taylor has a difficult time turning over her daughter’s dental X-rays to the police. Do you understand why she hesitated to learn the truth?
6. Candy seems to imply that Summer was a bad influence on her daughter, Haley. Do you think this is true? Is it normal in a teenage friendship for one kid to be more of a leader than the other?
7.Bill and Julia were having difficulties in their marriage. Do you think their marriage would have survived had Julia lived?
8. Do you believe Doug when he says that he would never have hurt Emily and only wanted to help solve the crimes?
9. Were you surprised to learn that Adam had been in the house on the day Julia died? Do you understand why Summer kept that a secret from her dad?
10. Do you think Bill and Summer made the right choice to have Julia’s body exhumed for an autopsy? If it was your mother or spouse or sister, would you have wanted to know the truth?
11. Teena and Brandon, while not as deeply involved in the crimes as the other teenagers, still kept secrets and showed poor judgment. Would you want to see them prosecuted for their roles in the crimes?
12. At the end of the novel, Bill briefly contemplates destroying the recordings of Julia’s voice from the day she died. Why do you think he thought about that? Do you think he made the right choice in keeping them?