Two Can Keep a Secret(8)

Our house. Can’t get used to that.

Peter parallel parks on Manchester Street and we spill out of the car and onto the sidewalk. We’re right across the street from O’Neill’s Funeral Home, and Katrin heaves a sigh as we pass the pale-blue Victorian. “It’s too bad you were out of town for Mr. Bowman’s service,” she says. “It was really nice. The show choir sang ‘To Sir with Love’ and everybody lost it.”

My gut twists. Mr. Bowman was my favorite teacher at Echo Ridge High, by a lot. He had this quiet way of noticing what you were good at, and encouraging you to get better. After Declan moved away and my dad took off, when I had a lot of pissed-off energy and nowhere to put it, he was the one who suggested I take up the drums. It makes me sick that somebody mowed him down and left him to die in the middle of the road.

“Why was he even out in a hailstorm?” I ask, because it’s easier to fixate on that than to keep feeling like shit.

“They found a Tupperware container near him,” Peter says. “One of the teachers at the funeral thought he might have been collecting hail for a lesson he was planning on climate change. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.”

And now I feel worse, because I can picture it: Mr. Bowman leaving his house late at night with his umbrella and his plastic container, all enthusiastic because he was going to make science real. He said that kind of thing a lot.

After a couple of blocks, a gold-rimmed wooden sign welcomes us to the cultural center. It’s the most impressive of all the redbrick buildings, with a clock tower on top and wide steps leading to a carved wooden door. I reach for the door, but Peter’s faster. Always. You can’t out-gentleman that guy. Mom smiles gratefully at him as she steps through the entrance.

When we get inside, a woman directs us down a hallway to an open room that contains dozens of round tables. Some people are sitting down, but most of the crowd is still milling around and talking. A few turn toward us, and then, like human dominoes, they all do.

It’s the moment everyone in Echo Ridge has been waiting for: for the first time in five years, the Kellys have shown up at a night honoring Lacey Kilduff.

The girl who most people in town still believe my brother killed.

“Oh, there’s Theo,” Katrin murmurs, slipping away into the crowd toward her boyfriend. So much for solidarity. My mother licks her lips nervously. Peter folds her arm under his and pastes on a big, bright smile. For a second, I almost like the guy.

Declan and Lacey had been fighting for weeks before she died. Which wasn’t like them; Declan could be an arrogant ass a lot of the time, but not with his girlfriend. Then all of a sudden they were slamming doors, canceling dates, and sniping at each other over social media. Declan’s last, angry message on Lacey’s Instagram feed was the one that news stations showed over and over in the weeks after her body was found.

I’m so fucking done with you. DONE. You have no idea.

The crowd at the Echo Ridge Cultural Center is too quiet. Even Peter’s smile is getting a little fixed. The Nilsson armor is supposed to be more impenetrable than this. I’m about to say or do something desperate to cut the tension when a warm voice floats our way. “Hello, Peter. And Alicia! Malcolm! It’s good to see you both.”

It’s Lacey’s mom, Melanie Kilduff, coming toward us with a big smile. She hugs my mother first, then me, and when she pulls back nobody’s staring anymore.

“Thanks,” I mutter. I don’t know what Melanie thinks about Declan; she’s never said. But after Lacey died, when it felt like the entire world hated my family, Melanie always made a point to be nice to us. Thanks doesn’t feel like enough, but Melanie brushes my arm like it’s too much before turning toward Mom and Peter.

“Please, have a seat wherever you’d like,” she says, gesturing toward the dining area. “They’re about to start serving dinner.”

She leaves us, heading for a table with her family, her neighbor, and a couple of kids my age I’ve never seen before. Which is unusual enough in this town that I crane my neck for a better look. I can’t get a good glimpse of the guy, but the girl is hard to miss. She’s got wild curly hair that seems almost alive, and she’s wearing a weird flowered dress that looks like it came out of her grandmother’s closet. Maybe it’s retro, I don’t know. Katrin wouldn’t be caught dead in it. The girl meets my eyes, and I immediately look away. One thing I’ve learned from being Declan’s brother over the past five years: nobody likes it when a Kelly boy stares.

Peter starts toward the front of the room, but Katrin returns just then and tugs on his arm. “Can we sit at Theo’s table, Dad? There’s plenty of space.” He hesitates—Peter likes to lead, not follow—and Katrin puts on her most wheedling voice. “Please? I haven’t seen him all week, and his parents want to talk to you about that stoplight ordinance thing.”

She’s good. There’s nothing Peter likes better than in-depth discussions about town council crap that would bore anybody else to tears. He smiles indulgently and changes course.

Katrin’s boyfriend, Theo, and his parents are the only people sitting at the ten-person table when we approach. I’ve gone to school with Theo since kindergarten, but as usual he looks right through me as he waves to someone over my shoulder. “Yo, Kyle! Over here.”

Oh hell.

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