Gone for Good Page 26


I turned and when I saw her, I felt my blood turn to ice. The clothes were different—hip-hugging jeans, circa-seventies clogs, a too-tight too-short shirt that revealed a flat, albeit pierced, belly—but the face and the hair . . . It felt like I was falling. I looked away for a moment, in the direction of the soccer field, and I could have sworn I saw Julie out there.

“I know,” Katy Miller said. “Like seeing a ghost, right?”

I turned back to her.

“My dad,” she said, jamming her tiny hands into the tight jean pockets. “He still can’t look at me straight on without crying.”

I did not know what to say to that. She came closer to me. We both faced the high school. “You went here, right?” I asked.

“Graduated last month.”

“Like it?”

She shrugged. “Glad to get out.”

The sun shone, making the building a cold silhouette, and for a moment, it looked a bit like a prison. High school is like that. I was fairly popular in high school. I was vice president of the student council. I was co-captain of the tennis team. I had friends. But as I tried to dig up a pleasant memory, none came. They were all tainted with the insecurity that marks those years. In hindsight, high school—adolescence, if you will—feels a little like protracted combat. You just need to survive, get through it, come out of it okay. I wasn’t happy in high school. I’m not sure you’re supposed to be.

“I’m sorry about your mother,” Katy said.

“Thank you.”

She took a pack of cigarettes out of her back pocket and offered me one. I shook her off. I watched her light up and resisted the urge to lecture. Katy’s eyes took in everything but me. “I was an accident, you know. I came late. Julie was already in high school. My parents were told they couldn’t have more children. Then . . .” She shrugged again. “So they weren’t expecting me.”

“It’s not like the rest of us are well planned,” I said.

She laughed a little at that, and the sound echoed deep inside me. It was Julie’s laugh, even the way it faded away.

“Sorry about my dad,” Katy said. “He just freaked when he saw you.”

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

She took too long a drag and tilted her head. “Why did you?”

I thought about the answer. “I don’t know,” I said.

“I saw you. From the moment you turned the corner. It was weird, you know. I remember as a little kid watching you walk from your house. My bedroom. I mean, I’m still in the same bedroom, so it’s like I was watching the past or something. It felt weird.”

I looked to my right. The drive was empty now, but during the school year, that was where the parents sat in cars and waited for their kids. Maybe my high school memories are not all good, but I remember my mom picking me up there in her old red Volkswagen. She’d be reading a magazine and the bell would ring and I’d walk toward her and when she’d spot me, when she first raised her head and sensed that I was coming near, her smile, that Sunny smile, would burst forth from deep in her heart, that blinding smile of unconditional love, and I realized now with a hard thud that nobody would ever smile at me that way again.

Too much, I thought. Being here. The visual echo of Julie on Katy’s face. The memories. It was all too much.

“You hungry?” I asked her.

“Sure, I guess.”

She had a car, an old Honda Civic. Trinkets, lots of them, hung from the rearview mirror. The car smelled of bubble gum and fruity shampoo. I didn’t recognize the music blaring from the speakers, but I didn’t mind it either.

We drove to a classic New Jersey diner on Route 10 without speaking. There were autographed photographs of local anchormen behind the counter. Each booth had a mini-jukebox. The menu was slightly longer than a Tom Clancy novel.

A man with a heavy beard and heavier deodorant asked us how many. We told him that we were two. Katy added that we wanted a smoking table. I didn’t know smoking sections still existed, but apparently big diners are throwbacks. As soon as we sat, she pulled the ashtray toward her, almost as if for protection.

“After you came by the house,” she said, “I went to the graveyard.”

The water boy filled our glasses. She inhaled on the cigarette and did that lean-back-and-up blowout. “I haven’t gone in years. But after I saw you, I don’t know, I felt like I should.”

She still would not look at me. I find this a lot with the kids at the shelter. They avoid your eyes. I let them. It does not mean anything. I try to hold their gaze, but I’ve learned that eye contact is overrated.

“I barely remember Julie anymore. I see the pictures and I don’t know if my memories are real or something I made up myself. I think, oh I remember when we went on the teacups at Great Adventure and then I’ll see the picture and I won’t know if I really remember it or if I just remember the picture. You know what I mean?”

“I think so, yes.”

“And after you came by, I mean, I had to get out of the house. My dad was raging. My mom was crying. I just had to get out.”

“I didn’t mean to upset anyone,” I said.

She waved my words away. “It’s okay. It’s good for them in a weird way. Most of the time we tiptoe around it, you know. It’s creepy. Sometimes I wish . . . I wish I could just scream, ‘She’s dead.’ ” Katy leaned forward. “You want to hear something totally freaky?”

I gestured for her to go ahead.

“We haven’t changed the basement. That old couch and TV. That ratty carpet. That old trunk I used to hide behind. They’re all still there. Nobody uses them. But they’re there. And our laundry room is still down there. We have to walk through that room to get to it. You understand what I’m saying? That’s how we live. We tiptoe around upstairs, you know, like we’re living on ice and we’re afraid the floor is going to crack and we’re all going to fall down into that basement.”

She stopped and sucked on the cigarette as if it were an air hose. I sat back. Like I said before: I’d never really thought about Katy Miller, about what the murder of her sister had done to her. I thought about her parents, of course. I thought about the devastation. I often wondered why they’d stay in the house, but then again, I never really understood why my parents had not moved either. I mentioned before the link between comfort and self-inflicted pain, the desire to hold on because suffering was preferable to forgetting. Staying in that house had to be the ultimate example.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies