Long Bright River

—Why would they lie? she says. Why would they lie about something like this? That doesn’t make sense. Everyone in the whole neighborhood has the same idea.

A thought is beginning to occur to me. That old sensation: holding a puzzle piece I know will fit precisely.

—Kacey, I say. Kacey. What were their exact words.

—God, Mick, I don’t know, says Kacey.

—Please try to remember, I say. Do you remember anything?

Kacey exhales.

—Something like, she says. Something like, Everyone in Kensington knows about your sister’s partner. You think your sister doesn’t know it too?

I fall silent.

—What, says Kacey.

—Truman hasn’t been my partner since last spring, I say.

—He hasn’t? says Kacey. Who has?

The huge quantity of information that I know about Eddie Lafferty now seems to me, very improbably, like a blessing.

We were only partnered for a month, and I mainly spent that month listening to him as he talked about himself, at length, in the passenger’s seat.

But recently, I’ve heard nothing at all about him.

After I asked Ahearn not to partner us anymore, I generally avoided him. And since my suspension, I’ve been even more out of the loop.

The person I want most in the world to talk to about this is Truman. Right now, unfortunately, I don’t think he’s an option.

Instead, I give Kacey Lafferty’s name, and she goes quiet for a long time.

—That sounds familiar, she says. I feel like I’ve heard that name before.

—Give me a second, she says, just give me a second.

But when I reply, I find she’s already hung up on me.

* * *

At home, Thomas is lying on the sofa, a glass of water on the table before him. He’s watching a show he likes on TV. He looks pale, but otherwise all right.

—I puked, he announces.

—I heard, I say.

I put a hand to his forehead, testing for fever. It’s cool.

—How many times? I say.

He holds up one hand, dramatically, all five fingers extended. Then he raises the other hand into the air too. Ten.

Subtly, across the room, Mrs. Mahon shakes her head.

—He feels better now, she says. Don’t you, Thomas?

—No, says Thomas.

He is looking at me, worried.

—I still feel sick, he says.

Mrs. Mahon opens her mouth. Closes it. Then nods, with her head, toward the back of the apartment.

I follow her.

In my bedroom, Mrs. Mahon gently closes the door.

—I hate to butt in, she says. But I’m not sure how else to say it. I think Thomas might be worried about you.

—What do you mean? I say.

Mrs. Mahon hesitates. I think he’s fine, she says. He did throw up, once, in the early morning. But since then, I think he’s been faking. He runs into the bathroom, runs the water, makes some noise, and flushes. Then comes out, says he’s been sick. I caught on after a couple of episodes. I think, says Mrs. Mahon, that he might just need some attention.

—I’ve been home with him all week, I say. All week, until yesterday.

—Children are very perceptive, says Mrs. Mahon. He can tell that something’s not right with you, I think. Maybe he thinks you’re in danger.

—Hah, I say.

—He’ll be fine, says Mrs. Mahon. He’s a good boy. Very polite.

—Thank you, I say.

Mrs. Mahon smiles.

—Well, she says. I’ll get going. Leave you two to catch up.

—Thank you, I say again.

* * *

I do as instructed. I spend the day with Thomas, curled up on the couch. He sinks into me gratefully. I keep waiting for Kacey to call me back. She never does.

When, at bedtime, he falls asleep on me, I keep holding him. Like I’m applying pressure to a wound. Keeping the blood inside him. His small body softens and relaxes. I don’t let go. I should do research on Lafferty. I should call somebody. I should do my job, I think. Instead, I hold my son, and gaze at the miracle of his face, which is a small version of Kacey’s, a constellation of tissues, perfectly arranged.

—Don’t go anyplace, he says suddenly, startling himself awake.

—I won’t, I say. I promise.

At nine o’clock in the evening, I hear the distinct sound of a car in the driveway. I don’t believe Mrs. Mahon has left her house since she went downstairs, and I am certainly not expecting anybody.

Gently, trying not to wake Thomas, I wriggle out from under him and stand.

I turn off all the lights in my apartment. I leave on only the outdoor light: all the better for viewing whoever might approach. I slide the chain lock into place.

Then I regard Thomas, out cold on the sofa. I don’t like having him so close to the front door. Abruptly, I scoop him up, bring him into his bedroom, and tuck him into his bed.

I want him out of sight.

Back in my darkened living room, I stand, frozen, listening. In a moment, I hear footsteps walking slowly up my wooden stairs. Outside my door, the visitor pauses. Doesn’t knock.

I wish I still had my weapon on me. I consider going back to the linen closet to remove it from the lockbox.

I crawl instead on my hands and knees to the front door, then kneel next to it. I raise my head to the window and move the bottom of the sheer curtain a fraction of an inch.

It’s Kacey.

I stand up and unlock the door. I crack it open. Cold air from outside hits my face.

—What are you doing here, I whisper.

—I have to show you something, she says. It can’t wait.

* * *

I step aside awkwardly, turn on the lights, and let her into the apartment. She looks around appraisingly.

—This is nice, she says, kindly.

—Yes, well, I say.

I pause. She pauses.

—How did you find this place? I say.

—Dad gave me the address.

I look at her. You told him what’s happening? I say.

She nods seriously. I tell him everything, she says. It’s the only way to stay sober that I know of. Total honesty. Otherwise I start lying about little things and then.

She trails off. Turns her hand into an airplane and mimes a nosedive.

—Can I call him, actually? she says. I promised I would call him when I got here.

* * *

Once she’s finished, she turns to me and says, Do you have a laptop?

* * *

In my bedroom, we sit side by side on the bed. Kacey is holding the computer.

She navigates it expertly. She opens Facebook and enters, as a search term, Edward Lafferty.

* * *

Together, we look at the screen. Of the seven Edward Laffertys who appear in the results, one of them seems to be him. There he is, wearing sunglasses, his bald head uncovered. He’s grinning and he has an arm wrapped around a dog that looks like a pit mix, which I can recall him talking about.

Before I can point him out, Kacey touches a finger to his face, on the screen.

—That’s him, she says.

It’s not a question.

I nod. That’s him.

—He’s Connor’s friend, she says. I’ve met him before, she says.

Connor. It takes me a second to process.

—Dock? I say, without thinking, and Kacey says, How do you know that name?

—I know that, I say, because I was looking for you, and I came across him. Unfortunately.

Kacey nods.

—Yeah, she says. Yeah, he’s tough.

—Tough? I say. That’s one way to say it.

Kacey twitches suddenly, straightens up on the bed, puts both hands on her belly. Oh, she says softly.

—What’s wrong, I say.

—She’s kicking, says Kacey.

—She, I say.

Kacey shrugs. She looks as if she wishes she hadn’t said anything. Again, she hugs her stomach. Protecting it.

—Maybe I better start from the beginning, she says.

Last summer, says Kacey, I started seeing this guy. Connor. That was his name. People call him Dock but I never did. He was nice to me. First boyfriend I’d had in a long time. Came from a good family. I never met them but he told me stories about them. Told me he missed them. We were gonna get clean together, he told me, and I wanted that too.

Of course it never happened. We’d get clean together and then one of us would cave, me or him, and we’d bring the other one down with us.

* * *

—You don’t want to be alone, is the thing, she says. Whether you’re clean or you’re sober, whichever one you are, you want the person you love to be there with you too. So we couldn’t stay straight.

* * *

—In September, says Kacey, I realized I hadn’t had my period in a while. Now, I don’t know how long, because I wasn’t keeping track of stuff like that. I tried to use condoms until I got together with Connor, and then we just slipped up, you know. It happens. So all of a sudden I notice it’s been a while, and I go to the free clinic, and I get a pregnancy test. They do an ultrasound right there. And there’s a shape in me, I could see it on the screen. The second time in my life that I’d seen something like that. That’s your baby, they said.

* * *

    Kacey is starting to cry. She wipes her nose on her sleeve. Tucks her hair behind her ears with both hands, just as she did when she was a child. I have the sudden urge to comfort her. I don’t.

* * *