“Better beware, be canny and careful—”
I plucked the needle from the album and turned off the record player. I then stood there, completely still, wondering if it really was a dream and, if so, when it would finally end.
The sign outside the Two Pines Motor Lodge is already aglow when I pull into the parking lot, its neon trees casting a sickly green light that spreads across the asphalt like moss. When I enter the motel office, the clerk doesn’t look up from her magazine. A blessing, considering I’m sweaty, disheveled, and still coated with dust.
“A room is fifty a night,” she says.
I dig out my wallet and place two twenties and a ten on the front desk. I assume this isn’t the kind of place that requires a credit card. Proving me correct, the clerk takes the cash, grabs a key from the rack on the wall next to her, and slides it toward me.
“You’ll be in room four,” she says, still not making eye contact. “Vending machines are at the other end of the building. Checkout is at noon.”
I take the key, and a puff of dirt rises from my sleeve. Because the house was still crawling with cops when I left, I have no fresh change of clothes. Just a bag of travel-size sundries I bought at a convenience store on the way here.
“Um, are there any laundry facilities here?”
“Sorry, no.” The clerk finally looks at me, her expression slanted and bewildered. “But if you rinse all that in the sink now, it might be dry by morning. If not, there’s a hair dryer attached to the wall.”
I thank her and shuffle to my room. As I unlock the door, I wonder if it’s the same one my parents and I stayed in after fleeing Baneberry Hall. If so, I doubt much has changed between stays. The interior looks as though it hasn’t been updated in at least thirty years. Stepping inside feels like entering a time machine and being zapped straight back to the eighties.
I head to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and, still fully dressed, step under the spray. It seems easier than using the sink.
At first, it looks like the shower scene from Psycho—stained water circling the drain. When enough grime slides off my clothes for me to deem them salvageable in the short term, I take them off piece by piece.
It’s not until after all the clothes are off and draped over the shower curtain, dripping soapy water, that I plop down in the tub, knees to my chest, and begin to weep.
I end up crying for half an hour, too sad, angry, and confused to do anything else. I cry for Petra, mourning her even though I have no memories of meeting her. I cry for my father, trying to square the man I thought he was with the horrible thing he might have done.
Finally, I cry for all the versions of myself that have existed through the years. Confused five-year-old. Sullen child of divorce. Furious nine-year-old. Inquisitive me. Defiant me. Dutiful me. So many incarnations, each one seeking answers, leading me to right here, to right now, to a potential truth I have no idea how to handle.
I’d hoped the shower and crying jag would invigorate me—a cleansing blast of catharsis. Instead, it only leaves me weary and prune-fingered. Since I have nothing dry to wear, I wrap myself in a towel and use a comforter from one of the twin beds as a makeshift robe. Then I sit on the edge of the stripped bed and check my phone.
Allie called while I was in the shower. The voicemail she left is jarringly perky.
“Hey, handywoman. It dawned on me today that you’ve sent me exactly zero pictures of the interior of that house. Get on that, girl. I want details. Cornices. Friezes. Wainscoting. Don’t leave a bitch hanging.”
I want to call her back and tell her all that’s happened in the past twenty-four hours. I don’t, because I know exactly what she’ll say. That I should leave. That I should come back to Boston and forget all about Baneberry Hall.
But it’s too late for that. Even if I wanted to leave, I don’t think I can. Chief Alcott will surely have more questions for me. Then there are my own questions—a list a mile long, all of them still unanswered. Until I learn more about what really happened in that house, I’m not going anywhere.
I text Allie back, trying to match her in perk.
Sorry! Been too busy for pictures. I’ll try to send you sexy wainscoting snaps tomorrow.
That task over, I tackle a second—another call to my mother. Unlike the first one, this time I want her to pick up.
My hope is that my mother can shed more light on my father’s association with Petra. Brian Prince was right—the two of them did seem close in the Book. That doesn’t mean it’s true. Only my mother knows for sure. Only she’ll be able to assure me that my father is innocent.
For the first time in my life, I need her opinion.
Which is why my heart sinks when the call again goes straight to voicemail.
“Hi, Mom. It’s me. I’m still in Vermont, doing work at Baneberry Hall. And, um, we found something.” I pause, struck by the awfulness of the euphemism. Petra wasn’t a mere something. She was a person. A vibrant young woman. “We need to talk about it. As soon as possible. Call me back. Please.”
I end the call and survey the room.
It’s a dump.
The wood-paneled wall opposite the room’s sole window has been faded by the sun. A ceiling tile in the corner bears a stain worse than the one that was in Baneberry Hall’s kitchen, which doesn’t engender good thoughts. I look at the carpet. Orange shag.