The past has arrived uninvited at Jason Danvers’s door in the form of his younger sister, Hayden, a former addict who severed all contact with her family as her life spiraled out of control. Now she’s clean and sober but in need of a desperate favor—she asks Jason and his wife to take care of her teenage daughter for forty-eight hours while she handles some business in town.
But Hayden never returns.
Her disappearance brings up more unresolved problems from Jason’s past, including the abrupt departure of his best friend on the night of their high school graduation twenty-seven years earlier. When a body is discovered in the woods, the mysteries of his sister’s life—and possible death—deepen. One by one these events will shatter every expectation Jason has ever had about families, about the awful truths that bind them, and the secrets that should be taken to the grave.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
David Bell is a bestselling and award-winning author whose work has been translated into six languages. He’s currently an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He received an MA in creative writing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a PhD in American literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. His novels include Bring Her Home, Since She Went Away, Somebody I Used to Know, The Forgotten Girl, Never Come Back, The Hiding Place, and Cemetery Girl.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF DAVID BELL
ALSO BY DAVID BELL
The detective came into the room. He wore a sport coat and tie, the collar of his shirt open. He didn’t look at Jason. He tossed a small notebook onto the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down. He flipped the notebook open and scanned one of the pages.
“Can I go yet?” Jason asked. “You said this wouldn’t take long.”
“Easy,” the detective said.
“You said this would be a friendly chat, that I didn’t need a lawyer or my parents.”
The detective looked up. “Haven’t I been friendly?” He pointed to the empty Coke can on the table. “I got you a soda.” He flipped the notebook closed and smiled, but it looked forced. “We’re almost finished here. I just want to go over some things we talked about before. Now, you said you and your friend, Logan Shaw, fought pretty hard the other night. You told me you landed a couple of good ones against the side of his head.”
“One,” Jason said. “One good one.”
“One good one,” the detective said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes. And you were fighting over a girl?”
“Regan Maines.” The detective nodded. “So you two guys fight over a girl. Okay, no big deal, right? Boys will be boys and all that. And you end up clocking your friend pretty good. Again, no big deal. Who hasn’t gotten into a little dustup with one of their friends? Happens all the time, right?”
“I’ve never been in a fight before.”
The detective made a disapproving face. “Okay. Not all guys fight with their friends. Okay. So you fight with your friend, and you deck him, and then he goes off into the woods because he’s pissed at you. In fact, you said he was crying a little, right?”
“Were you crying too?” the detective asked, the corner of his mouth rising into a little sneer.
“I might have been. Yes.”
“And you’re eighteen?”
“I’d like to call my dad,” Jason said.
“Easy. We’re almost finished here. I know your old man. He’s a good guy.” The detective scratched his head. “Okay, all of this stuff you’ve done seems pretty normal to me, except maybe for the crying. But after that, after your friend goes off into the woods and you don’t see him anymore, that’s where it gets tricky for me. You see, here’s what I don’t understand. Your friend disappears after you have a fight with him, and you know everyone’s looking for him. By the way, his father, Mr. Shaw, he’s very upset about his son being missing. Very upset.”
“He didn’t care much about Logan when he was here.”
“Hey,” the detective said. “Don’t be smart. That man’s a good father. He’s a pillar of this community. He always does the right thing. And speaking of the right thing . . . you knew all these people were looking for Logan, the guy you punched upside the head, and yet, you didn’t tell us about that fight you had. Did you? Not the first time we talked to you. You said everything seemed normal when you last saw him. But then a few hours later, after we’d talked to some other people and came back to you again, you decided to tell us about this fight. Do you see why that doesn’t make sense to me?”
“I told you—I was angry with Logan.”
“That’s why you decked him. Because he wanted your girl—”
“No, that’s why I didn’t say anything about the fight the first time you came by the house. Logan can be . . .”
“What? Can be what?”
“Manipulative, I guess. He has moods. I figured he was just mad and wanted to take it out on all of us by going away for a while. He knew we’d worry eventually. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting to me. When you came back to my house, and I found out people were really worried . . . his dad, for example . . . that’s when I told you about the fight. It was only a few hours later. And nothing’s changed since then. My story’s the same now as it was three days ago.”
“Are you sure?”
Someone knocked. The detective stood up and opened the door, revealing a uniformed police officer. The two men whispered about something, and the detective nodded his head. “Tell them we’ll be right out. We’re finished here.” He closed the door and came back to the table. “Your old man’s here.”
“Before you go, I want to ask you one more thing. Where do you think Logan Shaw is?”
Jason sat back in his chair. He looked at the detective’s face, the skin heavily lined, the eyes tired. He almost—almost—felt sorry for the guy.
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “He always talked about leaving.”
“Would he really do it?” the detective asked. “His dad and mom are here. His friends. The family has a bunch of money. Would he run off and leave all of that?”
Jason thought about the question, then said, “Sometimes I think Logan is capable of just about anything.”
Through the thick plate-glass window of the restaurant, and blinded slightly by the bright noon sun, Jason thought he saw his sister, Hayden.
A quick glimpse, something he couldn’t really trust or believe. A flash of her face, her distinctive brisk walk. Brown hair, big eyes—and then she was gone from his view. But Jason continued to stare. He leaned his face closer to the restaurant window, trying to see through the passing flow of people—working people in their suits and skirts, families with children—and decide if it had really been his sister. He hadn’t seen her since—
The voice of his companion brought him back to the restaurant.
“Are you still with me?” the man asked.
The man. Colton Rivers. A high school classmate and now a successful lawyer in Ednaville. They were finishing their meals, their business, and Jason wasn’t sure what had been said to him. The sounds of the restaurant filled the space. Clashing silverware and murmured conversation. Someone laughed loudly at the next table.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“Something catch your eye out there?” Colton asked. “Or someone?” Colton winked.
“Sorry,” Jason said. “I was daydreaming, thinking about being a kid.” Jason looked out the window again, squinting against the light. People continued to walk around, carrying out their business. He didn’t see Hayden. He hadn’t seen her, he decided. Just another person, a woman about the same age with the same hair color. Hayden had no reason to be in Ednaville. He didn’t know where she was living, but it wasn’t in their hometown. “My parents used to like to eat here at O’Malley’s. We’d come as a family.”
“Mine too.” The waiter dropped the check on the table, and Colton reached for it. “I’ve got this. You’re doing me the favor, remember? The summer festival is a big deal in Ednaville, and with you designing the posters for the committee, we know they’re going to look good.”
“I’m glad I can help out,” Jason said. He tried not to sound as distracted as he felt. He forced himself not to look out the window again.
“How about a drink?” Colton asked. “Sometimes I have one before I go back to the office.”
Jason thought about it for a second. There was no strict provision against it in the America’s Best offices. Since he worked on the creative side of things, no one would really pay attention to what he did anyway.
“Sure,” he said.
Colton signaled the waiter again. He ordered a scotch, and Jason asked for an Old Fashioned. The drinks came, and Jason said, “Okay, Colton, you’ve built up enough suspense. What do you want to ask me? Do you have more work for the festival? Do you want me to sit in the dunking booth?”
Colton lifted his glass. “That’s good,” he said. He smacked his lips after putting the glass down. “You know my dad started our firm. He still comes in and piddles around. Gets in the way mostly.”
“I remember your dad.” The drink helped Jason. It brought an ease and a lightness to his mind. He hoped it would help him stop thinking about Hayden.
“Sure. A good man. He’s been handling wills and estates for a lot of families here in Ednaville for many, many years. Some of the biggest and richest families in town. He’s passed some of them on to me now. They deal with me, of course, but a lot of them, I can see the way they look at me. They’re thinking, ‘He’s not really as sharp as the old man, is he?’”
“I’m sure it’s tough in a town like this,” Jason said. He wanted to be sympathetic, but he couldn’t see where Colton was going. Jason’s drink was good, and he swallowed more of it, hoping it wouldn’t cause him to doze off at his desk in the middle of the afternoon.
“My dad passed one family off to me, and they’ve proven to be a little thorny. The father’s sick and old and getting ready to . . . well, you know. Move on.”
“The big move on,” Jason said.
“Exactly. He’s divorced, never remarried, and he only has one child. Everything is supposed to go to that child, but there are some complications.”
The liquor had loosened Jason up enough that he simply said, “Colton, what the heck does any of this have to do with me?”
Colton picked up his glass and rattled the ice, but he didn’t drink. He put it back down, then leaned forward and spoke with his voice lowered. “You understand I really shouldn’t be discussing this with you.”
Jason looked around the restaurant. The lunch crowd was starting to thin, and there was no one close by. Jason leaned in closer to Colton. “So don’t tell me, then.”
Colton smiled without showing his teeth. “You were always a little bit of a wiseass. Most creative people are.” His face grew serious. “I figure if I can get this sorted out, my old man will get off my back, the other clients will see that I can do the job, and my life will hum along just a little more smoothly. And that’s what we all want, right? A smoothly humming life?”
“Sure,” Jason said. He thought of Nora and the progress they were making on their marriage. “Sure.”
“My client, the old man who is sick and dying, is Peter Shaw. His son, the heir we can’t locate, is of course—”
Jason finished the sentence for him. “Logan.”
Colton was nodding. He finished the rest of his drink. “Logan Shaw. Your best friend from high school.”
Jason felt his face flush. Not from the drink, but from the unexpected surprise of hearing Logan’s name mentioned again. He hadn’t expected the conversation to end up at that place, but he understood that Colton had wanted it to go there all along, that the summer festival was really just a pretense to get him out to lunch. Jason swallowed what remained in the glass.
First Hayden? And then Logan?
“You want another?” Colton asked. He waved to the waiter. “Two more here.”
“No, I’m fine.”
Colton dismissed the waiter, then turned back to Jason. “I’m sorry to spring this on you.”
“No, you’re not,” Jason said, trying to give Colton a dirty look but also feeling the temptation to laugh at his brazenness.
Colton didn’t blink. “Okay, I’m not sorry. I hoped the subject would naturally come up while we ate. We’re talking about the summer festival and graduation and high school. I figured we’d get there, but when it didn’t . . .” He shrugged. “I had to go for it.”
“I don’t know what you want me to do for you,” Jason said. “You’re trying to find Logan, right?”
“He’s in line for a lot of money,” Colton said. “A lot of money.” Colton shook his head and licked his lips as though he could taste the paper currency and silver coins. “Well? Can you help me?”
“You want to know if I know where Logan is?”
“I know there was that unpleasantness between the two of you on our graduation night. I know you fought up there on the Bluff. It was over a girl, right? Regan . . . what was her name?”
“Regan Maines. Now she’s Regan Kreider.”
“Did she marry Tim Kreider?”
“I know the cops got after you a little when they couldn’t find Logan.”
“A little?” Jason asked. “Have you ever been a murder suspect?”
“You probably weren’t really a suspect,” Colton said. “You were questioned. You were one of the last people to see him.”
“A fine point, I guess. It wasn’t pleasant.”
“Anyway, I know you had that happen. But the two of you were best friends since grade school. Have you ever heard anything from him? Have you seen him? A letter? An e-mail? A Christmas card? I figure he’s got to be in touch with somebody from his old high school crowd.”
Jason leaned back in his seat and looked out the window again. The clouds shifted above, obscuring the sun and casting a portion of the square into shadow. Jason reached up and scratched the back of his neck, his movements causing the leather of the booth to creak.
“I haven’t seen him since that night, Colton. As far as I know, he kept his promise. He told Regan he was leaving town, and he did. He and I said some things to each other when we fought, things we shouldn’t have said. I can understand if he wanted to put that night in his rearview mirror. I wanted to.”
Colton looked at Jason with sympathy. Jason almost believed Colton regretted bringing it all up.
Jason said, “He always wanted to go out west. He didn’t really care about his dad’s money. He used it in school, but he wasn’t hung up on it.”
“Really?” Colton said.
“Did you have a different impression?” Jason asked.
“I didn’t know him very well.”
“You knew him better,” Colton said.
Jason decided he’d never know exactly what Colton meant, so he asked something else. “Couldn’t you just hire an investigator to track him down?”
“They’ve done that,” Colton said. “There were always a lot of rumors about what happened to him. You heard some of them, right?”
“Some. I went off to college.”
“People said the craziest stuff. That he joined a religious cult, for example. Others said he knocked a girl up, a poor girl in another county, and his father wouldn’t let them get married, so Logan ran off with her.” Colton shrugged. He lifted his glass and looked into the bottom wistfully as though he wished a drop of the scotch still remained. “Of course, some people just think he’s dead. Maybe he walked out to the highway and got picked up hitchhiking and whoever picked him up did him in. Maybe he got robbed and killed. You know, a rich kid might be a target. Maybe he had amnesia and wandered off. Lots of nonsense.”
“What happened when they hired an investigator?” Jason asked.
“The old man has done it a couple of times. Once, they got close. Must have been about fifteen years ago. Guy followed a trail to Arizona and then lost it across the border in Mexico. He found someone out there who swore she knew Logan, that some guy she dated told her the truth about leaving his hometown and his rich family and heading out west.”
“Really?” He felt hope rising, although he couldn’t have said why.
“The investigator could never pin anything down. He showed this girl a picture, and she couldn’t be certain it was Logan. Of course, time had passed. A photo of Logan at eighteen may not be what he looks like at thirty-five or so. And you never know with some investigators. They see an old guy with money desperate to find his son, and they figure they can string him along. It’s a gravy train. We’ll do it again if we have to. I just thought you could save us some time.”
“Sorry.” Jason looked at his watch. He had a meeting in thirty minutes, and the drink seemed to have settled in the back of his neck, creating a tightness there. “I have to be getting back.”
“Sure. Thanks for tolerating my questions.”
But Jason didn’t stand up. Thoughts of Hayden and Logan ran through his mind, two almost ghostly presences. He asked, “The family hasn’t heard from him at all over the years?”
“The old man’s gotten some cards and things from time to time. Nothing much. His parents split up when Logan was just a kid. I’m sure you remember that.”
“That was before I met him.”
“His mother doesn’t have much to say about it. She’s remarried and lives in Barker County. I’ve talked to her, but she says she hasn’t heard from Logan or Logan’s father, and she’s moved on. I’m sure she got a nice piece of the old man’s money when they split. So, other than those few cards in the mail, the family’s heard nothing.”
Jason slid to the end of the booth. “Well, if you do track him down, tell him I said . . .”
Jason paused, thinking it over. What would he say to Logan after all that time? Nothing came to mind. Nothing seemed adequate.
“I guess just tell him I said, ‘Hey.’”
* * *
Jason walked to his car, the keys in his right hand digging into his flesh. The sun had reemerged, and Jason slipped his sunglasses on. He scanned the faces he passed on the sidewalk, looking for Hayden again. A grimy guy with a long beard played guitar outside a coffee shop, and across the street, in the square itself, two mothers jogged while pushing strollers. He unlocked the door and tugged the handle, taking one more quick glance around.
He saw the woman again. Over in the square, momentarily obscured by the two jogging women. Jason took a step in that direction, moving away from his car, but two vehicles passed, forcing him to stop and wait. When the cars were gone, so was the woman who looked so much like Hayden.
* * *
Jason watched Nora cook. Two pots gurgled on the stove top, and Nora wielded a large knife, chopping vegetables with machinelike efficiency. Jason knew his role in the preparation of dinner—stay out of Nora’s way when she got going. He leaned back and absorbed the cooking aromas. The smell of onions . . . and maybe something tomato-based.
“How long have we lived here now?” Nora asked.
Jason knew she knew the answer. But she wanted him to say it. She was about to make a point, and again, Jason understood his role. He was the setup man, feeding her the lines she needed to complete her argument. He liked the ritual. It made him feel closer to his wife.
“Five and a half years,” he said.
“Five and a half years, right?” she said, continuing to chop. “And I still can’t get used to the people asking me if I have children. Today it was the woman in the bank. I’m forty-two, I’m married, but no, I don’t have children. It’s a choice some people make. Some people put their careers first, right? Is that so hard to understand? Why do people feel like they can ask such things?”
“You want me to explain the social customs of small-town Ohio?” Jason asked. “Again?”
“It’s like the religion thing,” Nora said, ignoring him. “Why do people still try to get us to go to church with them? We don’t go to church, right? Big deal. Was the town like this when you were growing up?”
“Do people ask you these questions?” she asked.
“It’s because I’m a woman, right? They think they can ask me these things because I’m a woman.”
“You’re an idealist,” Jason said.
“You’re an idealist,” he said again. “You think people will change for the better and act reasonable if you just talk to them enough.”
“So? Is that wrong?”
“I like that about you,” he said.
“Don’t jerk my chain.”
“I mean it. I like that quality.”
She threw several things into one of the pots and wiped her hands on a towel. Jason continued to watch her. She still looked good, better than he did, in his opinion. Only a few rogue strands of gray had invaded her red hair, and those were only visible on close inspection. Her fair, freckled skin remained wrinkle-free. She kept in shape, ate well, worked at the public library. He wondered if she’d ever get used to the fact that they lived in Ednaville, Ohio, instead of New York City, where they’d met.
“What about you?” Nora asked. “Did anything interesting happen to you today?”
Jason swallowed his beer. He wasn’t going to mention Hayden. He’d thought about it all afternoon, sifting through his memories of what he saw on the square. He decided it wasn’t her, that his mind ran away from him when he saw a woman who happened to look like his sister. No need to stir things up.
Nora sat at the table and took his hand. “Hey? What’s on your mind?”
“You did ask me about my day, didn’t you?” He squeezed her hand back. Her skin felt cold, probably from handling produce.
“I did. It’s what married couples do. They talk. Open lines of communication.”
“You sound like that marriage counselor in New York.”
“You wanted to see her as much as me.”
“I know,” Jason said. He squeezed her hand again. “No complaints from me.” He swallowed more beer. “You asked about my day. Well, I got complimented. I went to that meeting with Colton, the guy from the festival committee, and he told me I’d hardly changed since high school. Looks-wise, that is.”
“Well, that should make your day,” Nora said, squeezing his hand back. “Is this Colton guy handsome?”
“No, he’s fat and bald.”
“Well, we take our compliments where we can find them. Are you doing the work for him?”
Jason nodded. “He’s thrilled. He thinks he’s getting a big-time New York advertising guy to make the poster for the summer festival.”
“He is, isn’t he?”
“Just like the Ednaville Public Library is getting a former supervisor from the New York Public Library system to work at their circulation desk?”
“It’s your hometown. We could have moved anywhere.”
“I know,” Jason said.
“You regret coming back?”
“When I see all these people I knew growing up, I start to think Anchorage sounds nice.”
“We all do what we have to do, don’t we?” Nora laughed and let go of his hand. She went back to the stove and stirred both of the pots. “I was thinking maybe we should go away the weekend of the festival this year. Between that and high school graduation, the town gets so overrun. And Rick and Sheila have been begging us to come back to the city for a visit.”
“We haven’t been back in three years.”
Jason finished his beer. He started picking at the label.
“Rick says the economy is doing well there. People are really hiring again—”
“I’ve been out of that game a long time,” Jason said. He knew he sounded short, and he regretted it.
“Not that long,” Nora said.
“It’s been almost seven years since I got laid off,” Jason said. “Rick didn’t say it, but I bet all the people they’re hiring are twenty-two. I look young here in Ohio but not in New York.”
“Well,” Nora said. “It was just a thought. I know getting laid off still stings. You’ve done good work for America’s Best, and we have a lot of friends in the city.”
“People come and go,” he said.
“Jason, listen, this was supposed to be a temporary move. Remember? Until we got our feet back on the ground financially. And we both thought if we came here, if we were away from the craziness of the city, we’d get closer too. Our marriage would get stronger. And it has, hasn’t it?”
“It has,” he said, softening his tone. “And you’re right. If I promise to think about it . . . can we eat? I’m hungry. And everything smells so good.”
Nora turned the burners off, her movements quick and confident. “Sure,” she said. “We’ll talk about it another time.”
Jason met his high school friend Regan Maines Kreider in Burroughs’ Coffee Shop. He needed the midafternoon jolt of caffeine—and he needed to talk to her. He’d slept poorly, his dreams full of images of Logan. Logan on Thompson Bluff the night of their high school graduation. Logan drunk and emotional, lashing out, ready to fight. And the two of them coming to blows, wrestling each other to the ground and swinging their fists, both of them angry and verging on tears.
Jason could still feel the last blow, the one he delivered to the side of Logan’s head, the one that put him on the ground and ended the fight. He flexed his hand under the table.
Regan settled in across from him a few minutes later. She sipped her coffee, her eyes watching Jason over the rim of the mug. Regan had had two children and worked full-time in the mortgage department of Farmers’ Bank and Credit. They met this way, maybe once a month, and talked about their lives—job worries, movies they’d seen, the changing face of the town.
“Well,” she said, “you’ve got me curious. Normally we just shoot the shit, but now, out of the blue, it sounds like you have something serious on your mind. I’ve spent the morning wondering what it could be.”
“I didn’t mean to be mysterious,” Jason said.
“It’s okay. I’m a divorced mom of two. My life could use some mystery. What’s on your mind?”
“The past,” Jason said.
“The past?” Regan said. She looked around the room. “Do they serve whiskey in this place?”
Jason laughed. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Do you remember Colton Rivers from school?”
“Colton Rivers.” Her voice was a little mocking. “The guy who’s been running for city council since the day he was born. Who could forget him? He does those awful TV commercials for his law practice.”
“Exactly. I have his phone number memorized I’ve seen the commercials so many times. Well, I saw him in person yesterday. He invited me to lunch because he wants me to design posters for the summer festival.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’m guessing there’s more to the story than that.”
“Yes. The thing is,” he said, “Colton didn’t really want to talk to me about the poster very much. He was using me for something else. Get this—he’s trying to find Logan.”
Regan’s expression didn’t change, but something did leave her face. The animation that had been residing there, the energy and life that was so readily apparent in her eyes, faded.
“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “I know we’ve never really talked about that night.”
“You left for school early,” Regan said. “You were gone as fast as you could go.”
Her words stung a little. He suspected they were meant to. She was right—Jason couldn’t wait to get away from Ednaville and start a new life in college. He found a summer program and started taking classes early. He hadn’t looked back. He hadn’t wanted to.
He almost apologized to Regan right there in Burroughs’, but decided that would be too awkward. Instead he said, “Colton wanted to know if I had heard from Logan over the years. If I knew of an address or anything for him.”
“Why?” Regan’s voice sounded tight and clipped. “What could he possibly want with Logan now?”
“His dad is dying. Did you know that?”
Regan nodded. “I’ve heard. I know he’s . . .” Using her index finger, she made a circular motion around her temple. “I think he sits in that big house with a team of nurses and watches the time tick away.”
“Logan’s the sole heir. Colton wants to find him and make sure he knows he’s got a boatload of money coming to him.”
“He knew that. He always knew that.”
Jason noticed Regan’s right hand, the one that was holding her drink. Her thumb swished back and forth across the mug, smearing a small drop of coffee around on the surface. Someone ordered an espresso, and the machine hissed while the drink was created.
“You haven’t heard from him, have you?” Jason asked.
“Of course not,” Regan said.
Jason waited for her to say more, but when she didn’t, he said, “What exactly did he say before he left that night?”
Regan’s thumb stopped moving. She let go of the mug and leaned back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest. “I thought I told you.”
“You told me a little back then. That was twenty-seven years ago.” Jason leaned forward. “Look, I’m not trying to upset you. It seems like me bringing this up is bothering you, and that’s not what I wanted to do.”
“I just haven’t thought of it in a long time. I didn’t really expect this to come up today. I thought we were just . . . having coffee. Old friends catching up like we usually do.”
“I didn’t expect it to come up with Colton. When he asked me about Logan . . . shit, it just came out of nowhere. But I’ve been back in Ednaville for five years. I can’t help but think of it from time to time. He was my best friend. The three of us, we were the best of friends. It all changed that night. So much changed. . . .”
He left the thought unfinished, but they both understood. He and Regan had become closer the summer they were eighteen. Before that, they had spent a great deal of time together, doing all the things kids their ages did. Seeing movies, attending parties, sneaking cigarettes and liquor while trying not to cough. He and Regan had a ritual of walking home from school together on Fridays, slow, wandering walks during which they talked about . . . everything they could think of. School, parents, their hopes and dreams and fears. That summer after graduation, the two of them circled each other like the scared kids they were. Enjoying the flirtation, and both of them probably secretly terrified that it would come to fruition, that the whole friendship would be laid on the line with an infinite array of complications.
What Jason knew then, and Regan barely suspected before graduation night, was that Logan felt the same way about her. And when they all went to the Bluff to celebrate graduation, Logan decided to tell Regan how he felt, how much she meant to him. When Regan let Logan down, telling one friend that she only had feelings for the other, Logan sought Jason out, and Jason ended up in the only real fistfight of his life.
Regan took a drink. She said, “He just told me he was leaving Ednaville. He said he was done with all of it, done with all of us. I don’t know. . . . He said the town was too small, that his dad was an asshole. That was pretty much it.”
“I wonder if he ever went to college.”
“He didn’t care about college. He didn’t need to go. He had money.”
“He intended to go. He was accepted to some good schools.”
“That was all for show. Sure, he would have gone. But you know how he was in school. He got by on charm and his family name. And when that didn’t work, he pressured people. Teachers and classmates. This is a small town. Everyone knew he had money. He got by on that. It wouldn’t work in college.”
“You seem angrier than I would have expected.”
“We had to grind it out in life. He didn’t.”
“That’s true.” Jason waited, then said, “I thought you’d feel a little . . . sad. Or nostalgic thinking of him.”
“Maybe I’m getting too old for that,” she said.
“I know Logan could be difficult. Believe me, I know that.”
“I’m glad you see him a little more clearly now than you did back then.”
“I saw him clearly,” Jason said. “I knew him better than anybody else.”
“You hero-worshipped him,” Regan said. “That’s different from knowing somebody. Do you want a refill?”
Jason pushed his mug across the table, and while Regan went back to the counter, he stared at the tabletop, alone with his thoughts. Ice cubes tumbled into a glass somewhere, and Regan and the barista made murmured small talk. Regan was right—Jason had looked up to Logan more than he liked to admit. But Logan was one of those guys everyone looked up to. He was confident, outgoing, daring. And he came from money. The status of his family gave his every action, his every gesture, a quality that seemed to a teenager’s eyes almost superhuman. Logan seemed untouchable.
Jason wondered, on more than one occasion over the years, why Logan ever showed an interest in him. In grade school, Jason was a quiet kid, smaller than the other boys and more interested in studying than anything else. On a few occasions, he helped Logan with math problems, and after that, Logan started including Jason in things. Invitations to birthday and pool parties came Jason’s way as well as a coveted seat at Logan’s lunch table. It always felt to Jason like Logan saw something in him that others didn’t, that there was an untapped potential inside Jason, something waiting to bloom that slowly did as the years went by. It was hard for Jason to not see Logan as playing a role in bringing Jason’s real, more confident self out.
Regan came back and put the steaming mug before him. She didn’t say anything and seemed to have closed something off from Jason, to have withdrawn from the conversation a few degrees. There was none of the lightness that usually existed between them, the comforting ease of old friends who shared a long history.
“I guess I feel like I should go and see his dad,” Jason said.
“I hate the thought of the old man dying alone. He’s divorced, no other kids. I knew him fairly well. As well as you could know the workaholic, emotionally distant father of your best friend.”
“He probably won’t remember who you are now.”
“I understand that. But his son isn’t showing up, I guess.”
“You’re right that Logan should be doing it.”
“But he isn’t. Would it hurt anything to go see the old man? I wasn’t really here when my parents were slipping away. Maybe it’s silly.”
Regan leaned forward, smiling. Some of the warmth returned to her face. “It’s sweet that you want to do that. I didn’t know his father at all really. When we used to go to Logan’s house, his dad just used to grunt at me. I got the feeling he didn’t have much use for girls. It’s probably lucky Logan didn’t have any sisters. His mother was always kind, but Mr. Shaw? Bleh.”
“You remember his mother?”
“Sure. Don’t you?”
“Barely. She never seemed to be around when we were kids.”
“They were divorced.” Regan smiled as she remembered something. “Mrs. Shaw was in some kind of women’s club with my mom when we were growing up. She’d come to our house from time to time. She always asked about me and how I was doing. Was I planning to go to college? Was I thinking about a career? She talked to me like I was an adult, not the usual bullshit.”
“Hmm. I guess I never really talked to her.”
“You were a boy,” Regan said. “But you should go see his dad if you want. It can’t hurt anything—you’re right.” Regan looked at her watch. “I have to be getting back to the bank. Every fifteen minutes I’m gone, I get one hundred e-mails to respond to.”
“I understand. Try working for a big company. We get e-mails telling us how much toilet paper to use in the bathroom.”
“That’s adulthood, I guess.” She stood up and gathered her keys and her phone.
“What do you think he’s doing now?” Jason asked. “Logan, I mean. Is he a beach bum? Is he a businessman? Did he get married and have kids?” Jason shook his head. “What on earth would he be doing?”
“It’s probably best not to indulge ourselves with a lot of what-ifs,” Regan said.
Jason got the feeling she was talking about more than just Logan.
Jason and Nora were getting ready for bed when their front doorbell rang. They’d already done the dishes and turned out the lights on the first floor, leaving just a lone bulb burning on the front porch. It was past ten. Jason held his toothbrush, and Nora looked startled.
“Who the hell is that?” she asked.
Jason rinsed his mouth and, wearing just shorts and a T-shirt, started down the stairs to the front door. Halfway to the bottom, Nora called after him.
“Are you sure it’s safe? Maybe you shouldn’t answer.”
“Safer than New York, I would hope,” he said. He didn’t know if she heard him. He slowed his pace as he approached the front door. No one ever just showed up at their house, especially late at night. He figured it was probably kids playing a prank, ringing the bell and running off. Jason leaned over and peered through the narrow window that ran parallel to the door. What he saw brought him up short.
The person on the porch who stood with her back to him looked familiar. So familiar that her posture, the shape of her body, struck a chord inside him, one that hadn’t been struck in years.
“Who is it?” Nora called.
But Jason didn’t say anything. His hands felt sweaty as he undid the two locks and the chain and pulled the door open. She turned around as the door came open, and there, in the sickly pale glow of the porch light, Jason came face-to-face with his sister, Hayden, for the first time in five years.
“Hey, big brother,” she said through the screen.
Jason was surprised by what he saw. Hayden looked . . . clean. Her hair, her clothes, her hands. All clean. She wore black slacks and black shoes and a neatly pressed blue button-down shirt. One hand rested on the sleek leather purse she wore over her shoulder and the other held a smartphone. She had always been tiny, almost frail. In the years since high school, when her drinking was at its worst and she was likely consuming most of her calories in the form of alcohol, Hayden always appeared fragile, her skin nearly translucent. She looked like that the last time he saw her, the time that caused the five-year break. When Jason hugged her or touched her during her longest benders, it felt as though her bones might snap beneath his touch. Like she was a bird.
But the version of Hayden on the front porch looked healthy and trim. Her cheeks were full and carried a trace of color.
“I bet you wish this was the pizza guy, right?” she said.
Jason still hadn’t spoken. “No,” he said finally. “I don’t.”
He couldn’t think of anything else. He stared at his sister through the screen as june bugs and moths dipped and dived in the space between them.
Hayden raised her eyebrows. “Am I allowed to come in?” she asked. “I understand if after last time . . .”
Jason undid the lock on the screen door and pushed it open. “Come in,” he said, stepping back. “Of course you can come in. Jesus, Hayden, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to just stand here.”
Hayden slipped past him and through the foyer, trailing the faint scent of cigarette smoke. Jason didn’t know what to do. He flipped on the lights in the living room and let his sister go ahead of him.
Nora asked again from the top of the stairs, “Jason? Who was it?”
Jason looked at Hayden, who had taken a seat on the sofa. Then he said loudly, “It’s my sister. It’s Hayden.”
“What?” Nora said. “Really?”
Before anyone could say anything else, Nora was coming down the stairs, her bare feet slapping against the hardwood. She wore a modest, knee-length nightgown and brushed past Jason as though he weren’t there. Hayden rose from the couch when she saw her sister-in-law.
“Hey, girl,” Hayden said.
“Oh, Hayden. Look at you.”
The two women hugged in the living room. They held on to each other and swayed side to side. Then they stepped back, and Nora gave Hayden a long appraisal.
“You look great,” Nora said.
“You look . . .”
“Sober?” Hayden said.
Nora nodded. “Yes, you do. Healthy, I guess I was going to say. But sober works.” The two women sat next to each other on the sofa and Nora asked, “What on earth are you doing here? Are you moving back to town?”
Hayden looked up at Jason. He remained standing, his hand resting on the back of a chair. A tension hovered between the two siblings, something unspoken. As always, Hayden was the one most ready, most eager to give it voice.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome back,” she said.
“Of course you are,” Nora said. “Right, Jason?”
“Sure,” Jason said, but he still didn’t take a seat. “I’m just kind of blown away. You’re the last person I expected to see on the porch.”
Hayden maneuvered the purse around to her lap and undid the clasp. “I wanted to give you something,” she said. She dug inside and extracted a plain white envelope. She held it out toward Jason. “Here,” she said.
“No,” Jason said.
“It’s five hundred dollars,” Hayden said. “I know the car cost more—”
“Oh, no,” Nora said. “Jason, tell her. We don’t want it.”
“I want to give it to you,” Hayden said. “I’m working now. I’ve saved this money. I saved it to give to you. Please, Jason. Just take it. It will make me feel so much better knowing that you took it, that you let me off the hook just a little bit.”
Jason came around the chair and sat down. He waved away the envelope that Hayden still held in the air between them. He crossed his legs and studied his sister. She looked good. She looked cleaned up and straightened out. But Jason also knew that meant nothing when it came to Hayden and her drinking. How many times had she been through rehab? How many times had she quit only to start again with greater intensity?
“Are you here alone?” Jason asked. “Where’s Sierra?”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Hayden said.
“What is it?” Jason asked. “What’s wrong?”
Hayden brought the envelope back down to her lap. She stared at it for a moment, then looked back up at her brother.
“I do need something,” she said. “A favor. And I know I don’t have a leg to stand on with either one of you. But this is different. It really is.”
Jason looked over at Nora. Her eyes widened, her head nodded ever so slightly. Go on, she was saying with the look. Go on. She’s your sister.
Jason looked back at Hayden. An image from their childhood flashed into his mind. It was involuntary. Hayden . . . a little brown-haired girl in a sandbox, holding a plastic bucket with one hand, the index finger of the other stuck into her mouth. She tottered, lost her balance, and fell back on her butt, spilling the sand. Before she could cry, Jason, a year older and bigger, was there, helping her up. Receiving praise from their parents for his act of brotherly protection.
He had to help her. He wanted to help her.
“What is it, Hayden?” he asked. “Why don’t you tell us all about it?”
Hayden still held the envelope clutched between her fingers. She looked at both of them.
“The first thing I want to do, need to do really, is apologize to the two of you for my behavior the last time I was here.”
Nora made a gesture with her hand like she was smoothing something across a flat surface. “There’s no need to do that.”
“Actually, yes, there is. I was a bad sister, and I took advantage of your trust and hospitality. I just want you both to know I’m sorry for that.”
Shortly after Jason and Nora moved back to Ednaville, Hayden had come to visit. She was drinking then, heavily drinking. She showed up at their door with her hair matted and her clothes dirty. She smelled like she hadn’t bathed in a week. Jason remembered similar times with Hayden when they were in high school, and the tough love their parents eventually began to practice. Jason was still in that mode, because he initially was reluctant to let Hayden stay, but Nora convinced him. She said family was family, and they were obligated to let her in.
For two days, all went well. Hayden didn’t drink in front of them. She showered and washed her clothes. On the third morning, Jason and Nora woke up to a police officer on their doorstep. Hayden had taken the keys to one of their cars during the night and, after drinking at Apollo’s, a local bar, drove it into a tree. The police arrested her, and later that day Jason and Nora found four hundred dollars missing from a drawer in their house. They never saw Hayden after that. She never called or wrote or came by.
Everyone remained silent. Hayden looked at Jason as though she expected him to say something.
“Are you apologizing as part of some twelve-step program?” Jason asked.
“Jason,” Nora said.
“That sounded harsh, Hayden, but I want to know,” Jason said. “You’ve apologized to me before, so I really want the reason behind this one. Is a shrink making you do it? A minister? It’s not Mom and Dad this time because they’re dead.”
“It’s okay,” Hayden said. “I know why you feel that way. Yes, this is part of a program. And I understand that you think I’ve done this before, and it’s okay if you’re suspicious. I’d be suspicious of me too. All I can say is that while I have apologized to you before, I never meant it before. I mean it this time. All of this is going to stick. The sobriety, everything. This is real. It’s who I am now.”
Nora jumped in. “I think it’s fabulous. Really.”
Jason wished he had kept his mouth shut, that he had let Hayden say her piece without interjecting his own comment into it. So much of his life had been spent accommodating his sister, so much time had been spent walking on eggshells and blithely encouraging her in every struggle—both real and imagined—she engaged in, that he no longer felt he could listen to her talk without challenging her assertions. But he had to admit Hayden looked different. And she did seem different. For the first time, the language she used about her recovery matched the reality she seemed to be existing in. And he couldn’t ignore the feeling he had when he saw her silhouetted on the porch. The hope that sprang into his chest, the simple, deeply rooted desire to see his sister again.
“Okay,” Jason said. “Apology accepted. It’s long over anyway. Everybody’s moved on.”
Nora said, “And we’re sorry we didn’t help you more back then. Maybe we could have, I don’t know, been more understanding of where you were.”
“I understand,” Hayden said. “You don’t need to apologize.” Hayden raised the envelope toward Jason again. “So,” she said, “will you accept this as the beginning of restitution for the car and the money I took?”
Jason shook his head. “Just keep it,” he said. “Please. You can use it to start a new life or whatever you need it for. You can use it for— Well, that brings me back to the question I asked you before. Where exactly is Sierra? Is she . . . ?” A multitude of scenarios sprang into his mind. Had something happened to his niece? Had Hayden lost custody or contact with her daughter?
Hayden must have sensed Jason’s concern because she said, “She’s fine. In fact, she’s here, with me.”
“Where?” Nora asked.
“She’s in the car, waiting for me to give her the all clear.”
“Bring her in,” Nora said. “My God, we haven’t seen her in so long.”
“Just a minute,” Hayden said. “You see, I wanted to talk to the two of you alone before I brought her in.”
“You mentioned a favor,” Jason said. “Is that what you wanted to talk about before Sierra came in?”
Hayden nodded. She took the envelope, which had become wrinkled under the pressure of her grip, and stuffed it back into her purse. Her hand shook a little as she adjusted the clasp. When Hayden looked up again, Jason pretended not to have noticed the shaking.
Hayden said, “I have something I need to do here in town. I can’t really tell you what it is, and I know that makes me look bad. I’m sure that’s a huge red flag, and you may just tell me no. But I don’t want you to. I really don’t want you to.”
“Is this thing you have to do part of your . . . recovery?” Jason asked, trying to be delicate.
“It is.” Hayden ran her hands over the tops of her thighs, back and forth like that, the skin making a light swishing sound against the material. When she resumed speaking, Jason detected a thin edge of anxiety in her voice, the sense that she wasn’t really in control of everything swirling around her. It was rare to hear that tone from Hayden. She was always cool, always assured. Even when she was at her worst and in the depths of her deepest struggles, she managed to sound as though she could handle whatever came her way. Jason knew Nora may not have noticed that edge in her voice, but Jason did. He’d heard it a few times in his life and understood what it meant. “I don’t want to downplay the apology I owed to you guys because it was and is very important to me. But this is much more important in a way. It affects . . . Well, I don’t want to say a lot more than what I’ve already said.”
“So you’re not going to tell us what this thing you’re doing is,” Jason said.
“I can’t. Not because it’s really a secret or anything, although I guess it is. But more because . . . I don’t really know if it’s going to work. I don’t know what the end result is going to be, and some other people are involved.” She shifted her concentration directly to Jason as she spoke, boring in on him in a way that seemed to signal something he couldn’t quite understand. “A lot of people are involved. It’s delicate.”
“People we know?” Nora asked.
Hayden ignored the question. She kept her eyes on Jason, as though she was waiting for something.
Jason didn’t know what she needed. “What’s the favor, then?” he asked. “If we don’t know what you’re doing, how can we help you?”
Hayden shifted her attention back to both of them. “It’s Sierra,” she said. “I need the two of you to keep an eye on her while I’m taking care of this. It might be a day. It might be two. I’m not sure.”
“We’d love to,” Nora said. “Right, Jason?”
“Isn’t she in school?” he asked.
“She is,” Hayden said. “She has a week to go in her junior year. But I took her out. I told the school we had a family emergency. They gave her some assignments and things to do and let her go. It’s fine. Sierra was born here, remember? She lived here when she was a kid. She knows Ednaville. She likes it here. And I know she’ll be safe with the two of you.”
“Safe?” Jason asked. “Are you doing something dangerous?”
“No, not like that. I just mean . . . I can trust you both. You’re family.”
“You know, some questions have been running through my head. Some basics. Where are you living now, Hayden?” Jason asked. “We don’t know anything about what’s going on in your life. We don’t have an address or a phone number. What is happening with you?”
“Right. Of course. You deserve to know those things. That’s totally cool. I’m living over in Smithfield. Redman County. It’s just an hour away. That’s where Sierra is going to school. Redman Consolidated. I’m working for a dentist’s office over there. I guess I’m like the office manager. It was a stroke of luck to get the job. The dentist is in AA with me, and he needed someone to help. I’ve been working there for a year. I’ve got benefits and everything.”
“The last time you were here, though, you didn’t have Sierra with you,” Jason said. “She was with Derrick, right?”
“She was. Mostly with Derrick’s mom.”
“And she still sees Derrick?” Jason asked.
Jason sensed the conversation was hitting a wall with Hayden. He said, “She can stay, but we’re both working, you know? We won’t be around all day.”
“That’s fine,” Hayden said. “Sierra can take care of herself. She’s not a baby. I just don’t want her alone all the time.”
“It’s okay, Jason,” Nora said. “We can work something out so we can see a lot of her. I have some flexibility.”
“You really don’t mind?” Hayden said. She patted her purse. “I could leave this money for Sierra. She’s a teenager. She’s seventeen. She eats a lot and uses a lot of water.”
“No,” Nora said. “Don’t be silly. But for God’s sake, bring her in. She’s sitting out there in the car all alone.”
“Okay,” Hayden said. “I’ll text her and tell her to come in.” Her thumbs flew over the phone. “Done.” Hayden stood up. “She’s going to look so different to you guys. I guess you haven’t seen her since when?”
“Six or seven years probably,” Nora said, standing up. “I’ll get the door.”
Jason stood up as well, although he wasn’t sure why. Nora slipped away to the foyer, and Jason found himself standing face-to-face with Hayden.
“I saw you on the square yesterday,” he said. “Why didn’t you talk to me then?”
“I was working up my courage. I used to get that out of a bottle. I’m still learning to do difficult things when I’m sober.” Hayden shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I guess you still see Regan, right?”
“Why are you bringing her up?” Jason asked, his voice lowered. It was classic Hayden. Somehow, some way, she knew how to change the subject and throw Jason off-balance.
“You always had a thing for her,” Hayden said. “I just figured since you were back in town and all, you’d be seeing her. Obviously, I was right.”
“I see her from time to time. We catch up,” Jason said. “We’re old friends. And just friends.”
“I know,” Hayden said. Her voice dropped even lower than Jason’s. “I’m sure . . . Well, I’m glad the two of you are friends. I’m sure it’s good for her. That’s all I’ll say.”
“What does that even mean?” Jason asked. “Hayden, what are you up to?”
He didn’t get an answer. Jason heard Nora squeal at the front door and knew that Sierra had arrived in their house. He took one quick glance at his sister, and Hayden met his gaze. But he wasn’t sure what he saw there when they locked eyes. A plea? Fear?
Something he’d never understand?
Nora led Sierra into the living room, where Jason and Hayden were waiting. Nora stood by the girl’s side, her arm around her shoulders, presenting her as though she were the prize on a game show.
“Look who’s here, Jason,” she said.
Jason took in the sight of his niece and the difference between the little girl he had last seen and the young woman who stood before him. Sierra appeared to be several inches taller than Nora, and her long hair, a lighter shade of brown than her mother’s, reached just past her shoulders. She carried a duffel bag in one hand and wore a backpack. She shrugged her shoulders as the scrutiny of the three adults continued, and when she arched her eyebrows and smiled, Jason saw the strong resemblance between his niece and his sister. Except for the height, he could easily have been looking at a replica of Hayden when she was in high school. Although Jason quickly realized, based on a moment’s observation, that Sierra exuded a clear-eyed calm and maturity that his sister never possessed at that age.
“Hi, Uncle Jason,” she said. She wore jeans and an Ohio State University hoodie.
“Hi, Sierra.” He considered stepping forward and hugging his niece, but thought better of it. Would she want to be hugged by an uncle she hadn’t seen in years?
Sierra was looking at the floor near her feet. “Do you mind?” she asked, raising the duffel bag.
“Sure,” Nora said, her arm still on the girl’s shoulders. “You can put it down right there.”
Sierra lowered the duffel bag to the floor with a soft thump and then slipped out of her backpack. “I’m sorry we’re just barging in on you like this. I told Mom to call first, but she wouldn’t. It’s kind of rude, I know.”
“It’s fine,” Nora said. “But it’s a little chilly outside. Maybe I should put a robe on.”
“You see, Mom,” Sierra said. “We’re catching people in their pajamas.”
“It’s fine, honey,” Hayden said. “My brother is used to it from me. We’re family.”
Jason turned to Hayden. “Yeah, what’s that they say? Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in?”
“That’s Robert Frost,” Sierra said. All the adults turned to look at her. “Sorry. I’m studying for the AP English exam. There’s a lot of Robert Frost.”
“We should all sit,” Nora said. “But I’m going to run and get a robe. Jason, why don’t you put water on for tea? Or would either of you prefer coffee, even though it’s so late?”
Nora started for the stairs, but Hayden’s voice stopped her. “Actually,” she said, “I need to get going.”
“Already?” Jason asked. “It’s so late. I thought you’d be staying here tonight at least. We have the room.”
“I know,” Hayden said. “And I’d love to stay the night. But I have some things to get started on.”
“You mean . . . the thing you were talking about?” Jason asked.
Hayden looked somewhat uncomfortable, and the two siblings turned their attention to Sierra, who looked at Nora and said, “I think this is the part of the conversation where I’m supposed to leave the room.”
Nora said, “Why don’t I show you up to the guest room? You’ve never been here before, have you?”
“I guess I haven’t,” Sierra said, bending down to pick up her bags.
“Wait,” Hayden said. She walked the ten feet across the room to where her daughter stood. “I’m just going to go while you’re upstairs with Nora. Okay?”
“Okay, Mom. I know you don’t like good-byes.”
“Just come up when you’re ready, Sierra,” Nora said, moving toward the stairs. She cleared her throat and jerked her head, a not so subtle way of telling Jason that he needed to leave the room as well and give the mother and daughter privacy. Jason nodded to indicate that he understood and announced that he would put the water on in the kitchen, even though no one had said they wanted it.
Hayden started talking before Jason left. She didn’t seem to care if anyone heard what she was saying to her daughter, and Jason listened as he walked out of the room.
“I know I’m turning your life a little upside down again, kiddo,” Hayden said. “But this is the last time. I promise.”
“It’s fine, Mom.”
“It’s not fine. Really.” Hayden laughed a little. “Sometimes I wonder how you turned out so well.”
Excerpted from "The Forgotten Girl"
Copyright © 2014 David Bell.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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