I’d stuck keys in my pocket, and now I unlock the door, which still has old crime scene seals on it. I use the keys to rake that seal apart, then push in. No lights, and when I try the switch, no power, either. Oh, and also, no alarm. The pad is dark when I look at it.
I shut the door, lock it, and the smell hits me. Gross, God, what is that? Is it a dead body? For a second, stranded in the living room with only the dim light coming in from the crooked, flapping blinds, I imagine one hanging in the hallway from a rope, and if I hadn’t just locked the door, I’d have been out of it in the next second.
Don’t be an idiot; there’s no dead body in here, I tell myself. I look around. The living room isn’t really disturbed, except for the brick that came through the front window. Well, and some creative spray painting on the walls. The TV is gone, along with the game console, and most of the games. They came in to do some damage, but they got distracted with stuff to steal.
The stench gets worse when I go in the kitchen, and I see the mess in there. More scrawls of red spray paint, dripping like fresh blood, but whoever did it wasn’t good enough with a paint can to make it readable. I think it might say bitch, but only if I squint.
The kitchen is the reason for the smell. Someone’s opened up the fridge and thrown food all over the floor; it’s a molding mess, crawling with flies even in the cold. I want to throw up, but I grab the broom and dustpan and trash bags, and I scoop up as much as I can. The garbage still in the can stinks, too; we never had time to empty it before we left.
Somehow, I never thought I’d be inviting Dahlia into a crime scene. I do my best to get it cleaned up before she arrives.
I bag it all up and take it out back to throw it in the big metal locking bin that’s supposed to keep bears away, not that I’ve ever seen a bear up here. It keeps raccoons frustrated, at least.
I’m shutting the lock on it when a shadow falls, and I realize that there’s someone right behind me. I turn and get ready to scream and jam keys between my knuckles just like mom taught . . .
But it’s her.
“Hey,” she says, flipping her hair back out of her eyes. Dahlia, just like I remember, except her hair’s gotten a little longer. God, she’s pretty. Prettier than I’ll ever be. I want to cry because it’s so good to see her, and at the same time, I want to hug her, but I’m not sure I should. “So, you kind of vanished on me, bitch. What’s up with your crazy ass?”
She hitches up onto the picnic table that’s on the back deck, the one Mom and I built but never really got to enjoy, and I go up and sit beside her, close enough our thighs touch along the side. My heart’s racing. I’m not supposed to be seen by anybody at all, certainly not someone who knows me. I’ve broken all the safe rules.
But this feels so right. So very right. The emptiness inside of me is gone, and right now, in this moment, I have peace.
“I had to go,” I say. “I’m sorry. I wanted to call you, but things got crazy. And then people were kind of out to get us. You heard, right?”
“Yeah,” she says quietly. “Is it true you killed Lancel Graham?”
Graham was dead all right. But it was a shock to hear my friend thought I’d done it. “What? No! God! Who even said that?”
“Everybody,” she says and shrugs. “Well, they buried him, so it kind of sounded true, right? And you’re badass. They said he was some fucked-up killer. And so was your dad . . . ?” It’s kind of a half-ass question, and I don’t want to answer it. At all. It’s such a quiet question, and it feels larger than the whole world. I’d never told Dahlia about Dad. Not that I hadn’t wanted to, but there were rules. Mom’s rules.
Screw Mom. Mom’s made a career out of lying—to us, maybe even to herself. But I don’t want to lie to Dahlia, ever again. Sitting here with her in the sun, feeling something real even if I don’t quite know what it is . . . that means something.
I reach out and brush her fingers with mine. She doesn’t look at me, exactly, but she turns her hand, and our fingers twine together. My pulse jumps, because this feels strong. It feels right. We used to hold hands like this, sometimes. I thought it was because we were just BFFs.
But now I think it’s something else.
I can trust Dahlia. I have to trust her, because if I don’t, I’m just like Mom. A liar.
“My dad is a monster,” I tell her. “It’s all true. He raped and tortured and killed girls just a little older than we are.”
She turns to look at me, wide-eyed. “God. That’s shit. Weren’t you scared?”
I shrug a little. “I didn’t know. To us, he was just . . . you know, Dad. He’d lose his temper sometimes, but he never hit us or anything. He just liked his rules.”
She bites her lip, a habit she has when she’s nervous. I can see the half-hidden flash of her teeth. “I heard he did stuff in your house.”
“Not in the house. In the garage,” I say. “He kept it locked.”
“Yeah,” I say quietly. “I know. It’s pretty screwed up.”
It feels like I’m dropping boulders off my back, telling her this. It makes me dizzy how light I feel. How safe.
Dahlia is still holding my hand, and I can feel every ridge of her fingerprints, every beat of her pulse. I’m hot in the sun, and lazy, and for the first time in a long time, all the chaos stops.
“Hey,” I say. “You still failing Spanish?”
“So much fail,” she says, and then she laughs—not because it’s funny, but out of relief that we’re changing the subject. “No se habla, for reals.” But the laughter dies quick, and she gives me a look from under her thick, velvety lashes. Dahlia’s eyelashes are lush and soft, not spiky like mine when I apply mascara. I don’t have any makeup at all on today, and now I feel naked. Dahlia’s got blue eyes, very clear, the color of the lake in the heat of summer. Just a hint of green at the center. She’s wearing a thick sweater and a hoodie over that, with fingerless black gloves, and her blonde hair is streaked with deep strokes of green that start out emerald and fade before they reach the tips. She looks like a punk mermaid.
“So,” she says. “I texted you about a trillion times. Stalker-texted. You never answered.”
“Couldn’t,” I tell her. “We had to throw all our phones away and get new ones.”
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