Two Can Keep a Secret(3)

Her voice isn’t warm, exactly—I’m not sure warmth is possible for her—but it’s more animated than it’s been all night. Nana used to be a teacher, and she’s obviously a lot more comfortable in that role than that of Custodial Grandparent. Not that I blame her. She’s stuck with us during Sadie’s sixteen weeks of court-ordered rehab, and vice versa. The judge insisted we live with family, which severely limited our options. Our father was a one-night stand—a stuntman, or so he claimed during the whopping two hours he and Sadie spent together after meeting at an LA club. We don’t have aunts, uncles, or cousins. Not a single person, except for Nana, to take us in.

We sit in silence for a few minutes, watching hailstones bounce off the car hood, until the frequency tapers and finally stops altogether. Melanie pulls back onto the road, and I glance at the clock on the dashboard. It’s nearly eleven; I slept for almost an hour. I nudge Ezra and ask, “We must almost be there, right?”

“Almost,” Ezra says. He lowers his voice. “Place is hopping on a Friday night. We haven’t passed a building for miles.”

It’s pitch black outside, and even after rubbing my eyes a few times I can’t see much out the window except the shadowy blur of trees. I try, though, because I want to see the place Sadie couldn’t wait to leave. “It’s like living in a postcard,” she used to say. “Pretty, shiny, and closed in. Everyone who lives in Echo Ridge acts like you’ll vanish if you venture outside the border.”

The car goes over a bump, and my seat belt digs into my neck as the impact jolts me to one side. Ezra yawns so hard that his jaw cracks. I’m sure that once I crashed he felt obligated to stay awake and make conversation, even though neither of us has slept properly for days.

“We’re less than a mile from home.” Nana’s voice from the front seat startles us both. “We just passed the ‘Welcome to Echo Ridge’ sign, although it’s so poorly lit that I don’t suppose you even noticed.”

She’s right. I didn’t, though I’d made a mental note to look for it. The sign was one of the few things Sadie ever talked about related to Echo Ridge, usually after a few glasses of wine. “ ‘Population 4,935.’ Never changed the entire eighteen years I lived there,” she’d say with a smirk. “Apparently if you’re going to bring someone in, you have to take someone out first.”

“Here comes the overpass, Melanie.” Nana’s voice has a warning edge.

“I know,” Melanie says. The road curves sharply as we pass beneath an arch of gray stone, and Melanie slows to a crawl. There are no streetlights along this stretch, and Melanie switches on the high beams.

“Nana is the worst backseat driver ever,” Ezra whispers.

“Really?” I whisper back. “But Melanie’s so careful.”

“Unless we’re at a red light, we’re going too fast.”

I snicker, just as my grandmother hollers, “Stop!” in such a commanding voice that both Ezra and I jump. For a split second, I think she has supersonic hearing and is annoyed at our snarking. Then Melanie slams on the brakes, stopping the car so abruptly that I’m pitched forward against my seat belt.

“What the—?” Ezra and I both ask at the same time, but Melanie and Nana have already unbuckled and scrambled out of the car. We exchange confused glances and follow suit. The ground is covered with puddles of half-melted hail, and I pick my way around them toward my grandmother. Nana is standing in front of Melanie’s car, her gaze fixed on the patch of road bathed in bright headlights.

And on the still figure lying right in the middle of it. Covered in blood, with his neck bent at a horribly wrong angle and his eyes wide open, staring at nothing.



Saturday, August 31

The sun wakes me up, burning through blinds that clearly weren’t purchased for their room-darkening properties. But I stay immobile under the covers—a thin crocheted bedspread and petal-soft sheets—until a low knock sounds on the door.

“Yeah?” I sit up, futilely trying to push hair out of my eyes, as Ezra enters. The silver-plated clock on the nightstand reads 9:50, but since I’m still on West Coast time I don’t feel as though I’ve slept nearly enough.

“Hey,” Ezra says. “Nana said to wake you up. A police officer is on his way over. He wants to talk to us about last night.”

Last night. We stayed with the man in the road, crouching next to him between dark pools of blood, until an ambulance came. I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face at first, but once I did I couldn’t look away. He was so young. No older than thirty, dressed in athletic clothes and sneakers. Melanie, who’s a nurse, performed CPR until the EMTs arrived, but more like she was praying for a miracle than because she thought it would do any good. She told us when we got back into Nana’s car that he was dead before we arrived.

“Jason Bowman,” she’d said in a shaking voice. “He’s—he was—one of the science teachers at Echo Ridge High. Helped out with marching band, too. Really popular with the kids. You would have … you should have … met him next week.”

Ezra, who’s fully dressed, hair damp from a recent shower, tosses a small plastic pack onto the bed, bringing me back to the present. “Also, she said to give you these.”

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