“Exactly what you’re thinking,” he says.
What you’re thinking about are Vivian’s last words to you, when she knocked on Dogwood’s locked door.
Come on, Em. Let me in.
That’s what she had said.
Meaning that she was alone.
You hang up the phone with a queasy feeling in your gut. The conversation leaves you so stunned that you almost opt out of attending that night’s opening. Only Marc keeps you from backing out. He nudges you through the motions of getting ready. Shower. Slinky blue dress. Black heels with red soles.
At the gallery, you see that Randall has once again pulled out all the stops. You sip wine and watch shrimp canapés float by on silver trays as you talk to the guy from Christie’s, the lady from the Times, the television actress who helped set your career in motion. Sasha, Krystal, and Miranda attend. Marc takes a picture of the four of you standing in front of your largest painting, No. 6, which seems as massive as Lake Midnight itself.
Later that night, you’re at that very same work when a woman comes up beside you.
“This is lovely,” she says, her eyes on the painting. “So beautifully strange. Are you the artist?”
You glance her way, getting a glimpse of red hair, a striking frame, regal bearing. Her clothes are effortlessly cool. Black dress. Black gloves. Floppy black hat and a Burberry trench. You think she might be a model.
Then you recognize her pert nose and cruel smile, and your legs buckle.
She continues to stare at the painting, speaking in a calm whisper only the two of you can hear.
“Two Truths and a Lie, Emma,” she says. “You ready to play?”
You want to say no. You have to say yes.
“One: Allison and Natalie were with my sister the night she died,” she says. “They dared her to go out on that ice. They saw her fall in and drown. Yet they told no one. But I had my suspicions. I knew Katherine wouldn’t do something so dangerous unless she’d been coerced. So I befriended them, earned their trust, pretended to trust them in return. It’s how I learned the truth, teasing it out of them on the Fourth of July. They swore they tried to help Katherine. I knew they were lying. After all, I pretended to drown in front of everyone. As I flailed in that water, only Theo made a move to help me. Natalie and Allison did nothing. They simply watched, just as they had watched Katherine drown.”
You think about the day you came back to the cabin and found the girls fighting. You realize now that you had walked into their confession. And contrary to how friendly they had seemed afterward, nothing between them was fine.
“Two: Since I already suspected what Natalie and Allison had done, I spent a year researching and planning. I learned about the history of Lake Midnight. I found a place no one knew about—a flooded insane asylum. I placed a sweatshirt in the woods to confuse searchers. I fucked the groundskeeper and stole the key to his toolshed. Then I led Allison and Natalie to that secret spot on the lake where no one would ever look. I did to them what they had done to my sister.”
Now you understand that you misinterpreted her diary. She didn’t look for Peaceful Valley to expose its existence. She sought it out because it was the best place to hide her crime.
You think about the shovel stolen from the toolshed. You think about fractured skulls resting on the lake bed. You think about the locket, which you now know Vivian dropped into the water because just like you and your bracelet, she no longer needed it.
“Three: Vivian is dead.”
Your mouth is so dry with shock you’re not sure you can speak. But you do, managing to croak out, “The third one.”
“Wrong,” she says. “Vivian died fifteen years ago. Let her rest in peace, Em.”
She leaves the gallery quickly, her boots clicking against the floor. You follow her, much slower, your legs wobbly from shock. Out on the street, you see a town car streak away from the curb. Tinted windows deny you a good look. No one else is on the block. It’s just you and your palpitating heart.
Back in the gallery, you murmur your good-byes to Marc, Randall, all the others. You say you’re not feeling well. You blame it on the shrimp you haven’t even touched.
At home in your studio, you paint all night and into the dawn. You paint until garbage trucks rumble by and the sun peeks over the buildings on the other side of the street. When you stop, you stand before the finished canvas.
It’s a portrait of Vivian.
Not how she looked back then but how she looks now. Her nose. Her chin. Her eyes, which you’ve painted midnight blue. She stares back at you with a coy smile playing across her lips.
It’s the last time you’ll ever paint her. You know that with bone-deep certainty.
In a few hours, when the post office opens, you’ll ship the painting to Detective Flynn. You’ll include a note telling him that Vivian is alive and was last seen in Manhattan. You’ll ask that the painting be released to the media, who can use it any way they want.
You will expose who she is, how she looks, what she’s done.
You won’t hide her beneath layers of paint.
You will refuse to cover her up.
The time for lies is over.