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Authors: Mary Downing Hahn

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BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
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"So when Teresa teased Claire," Dulcie went on, "I'd go along with her. I guess I wanted her to like me more than Claire. Not a good excuse, but I'm afraid that's how it was." She looked past me, at the darkness outside. "Your mother was right. I should never have come back here."

I clung to the edge of my chair with both hands. "What happened the day Sissy drowned?"

Dulcie picked up the photo, put it down, turned it over to hide the three faces. "It was a few days after Claire's birthday," she began. "Mom and Dad had gone shopping in Webster's Cove. Teresa came over and started teasing Claire. She grabbed Edith and ran down the steps to the lake. I dashed after her, laughing. Claire followed me, crying for the doll."

She paused to take a sip of coffee, made a face, and put the mug down. "Cold."

"What happened next?" I asked.

"Teresa got in Dad's canoe," Dulcie said. "It was against the rules to go anywhere in that canoe without one of our parents, but I jumped in after her."

Dulcie shook her head. "But not Claire. Even then she was scared of water. She stood on the dock, threatening to tell. Teresa said if Claire didn't come with us, she'd take Edith home and keep her."

The wind had picked up, and it moaned in the pines the way it had in the cemetery. It seemed as if all the sadness in the world had been sucked up into that sound.

"Claire finally got in the canoe," Dulcie went on, "and Teresa pushed off. We hadn't gotten very far when the fog rolled in. We couldn't see the shore. It was like being lost in a cloud. Kind of magical and scary at the same time."

She started pacing around the kitchen. "Teresa tossed Edith to me. I threw her to Teresa. Claire lunged back and forth, rocking the canoe, trying to catch her doll. A game of keep-away—that's how it started. Kids play it all the time. But it wasn't a game to Claire. She begged me to give her the doll. She kept saying, 'You're my sister, Dulcie, you're my sister!'"

Dulcie stopped pacing and poured herself more coffee, hot this time. "Suddenly, I got sick of the whole thing. Sick of Teresa. Sick of Claire. Sick of the stupid doll. When Teresa tossed it to me, I threw it in the lake. I grabbed the paddle from Teresa and started to turn around. I figured that was the end of it:
Nobody
would have the doll."

She went to the window and peered out into the windy night. "But things didn't go the way I planned. Claire sat there crying, like she always did, but Teresa was stubborn. She wanted that doll so badly she jumped into the lake after it. The canoe tipped over then, and Claire and I went in, too. I got Claire to the canoe, and we hung on to the sides. But Teresa swam after the doll. I yelled at her to come back. She ignored me. And then she was gone. Just like that. In the water with us one minute, lost in the fog the next. Claire and I shouted till we were hoarse, but Teresa didn't answer."

I watched my aunt go from one window to the next as if she were still looking for Teresa. "The canoe floated to shore, where the rocks are. We left it there and ran all the way home. I told Claire it was a trick. Teresa had fooled us somehow. She'd be waiting for us on the porch. I think I believed it myself." Dulcie glanced at me. "But she wasn't there."

She picked up a sponge and wiped away a spot on the counter. "Claire started crying again. So did I. Teresa was dead—we knew she was. And it was my fault. I'd thrown the doll in the lake. I thought I'd be charged with murder, arrested, sent to jail. I was just a child—what did I know about the law, or what could happen to me?" Her voice rose. She was breathing hard, talking fast, as if the police might arrive at any moment, sirens howling, lights flashing.

"I made Claire promise not to tell anyone we'd gone out in the canoe. We'd been in the house all day. We hadn't seen Teresa."

Dulcie sat down across from me. "When our parents came home, we were sitting right here at the kitchen table, drawing pictures, doing our best to act like nothing was wrong. A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Mrs. Abbott. Mom turned to us and asked if we'd seen Teresa. We lied and said no. After that, we couldn't stop lying. We lied to the Abbotts, to the police, to everyone. Even ourselves. It was horrible. Horrible. I didn't mean for Teresa to die, I didn't—it was an accident."

Dulcie covered her face with her hands and began to cry. "I'd give anything to go back in time and undo what I did."

I sat there, a silent lump of misery, too shocked to say anything. My mother and my aunt had lied.
Lied.
And all these years, they'd gone on lying. And Sissy had lain alone in the lake, waiting for them to come back. Waiting for them to tell the truth.

Finally, Dulcie reached for the tissue box. Her face was pale, her eyes red rimmed and puffy.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Go back to New York." She blew her nose. "We'll leave tomorrow."

"But what about Sissy?"

"Sissy?" Dulcie stared at me as if I'd lost my mind.

"Teresa, I mean." It was hard to call Sissy anything but Sissy. "I told you what she said. You have to tell the truth—or you'll be sorry."

Dulcie jumped up and went to the window again. The glass streamed with rain. "Who can I tell? Mr. and Mrs. Abbott are dead. I don't know where her sister, Linda, is."

I followed my aunt and rested my head against her shoulder. "How about the police?"

"They wouldn't be interested after all these years." Dulcie peered into the rainy night. "Besides, it was an accident. I didn't know Teresa would jump out of the canoe. I didn't know she'd drown." Her voice wavered and grew stronger. "I was scared. For God's sake, I was only ten years old!"

Tippety-tap, tippety-tap.
The branch whipped back and forth in the wind, rapping against the glass again.

Suddenly, Dulcie closed the curtains and moved away from the window. "I can't talk about this," she said. "I'm going to bed."

I watched her walk toward Emma's room. I stayed where I was, my back to the window. A few moments later, Dulcie carried Emma down the hall to her bedroom. Emma was sound asleep, limp and relaxed in her mother's arms. Dulcie didn't look at me or say anything. In the silence, I heard the door close behind them.

Reluctantly, I climbed the stairs to my room. Never had I felt so sad or so totally and completely alone. Why hadn't Dulcie invited me to sleep with her and Emma? Didn't she think I needed company, too?

At the top of the steps, a cold draft rushed out to meet me, circling my ankles, chilling me from the knees down. My window was wide open, and the rain had blown inside, soaking the floor and the magazines on top of my bookcase. I rushed to the casement and struggled with the crank, fighting the wind to close it.

As I reached for the light, a cold hand grabbed my wrist. "Don't bother," Sissy whispered. "I'm used to the dark." In her other hand, she clutched Edith the doll.

More startled than scared, I tried to pull away from her, but she held me tightly. The doll fell to the floor as we struggled. "What do you want?" I whispered.

"Did you tell Dulcie what happened today?"

"Yes." I peered at Sissy's thin, pointed face. "And she told me what happened to you."

Sissy kept her icy grip on my wrist. "So she remembers after all. Is she going to confess what she did?"

"It was an accident, Sissy," I said slowly. "Dulcie didn't mean for you to drown. She didn't push you in the lake—you jumped."

Sissy tightened her hold on my wrist and scowled. "She knew I'd go after the doll. She hated me—just like you do. She planned the whole thing. She wanted me to drown."

I heard the anger in her voice, and I saw the anguish in her eyes. "Dulcie didn't want you to die," I said. "She didn't hate you. And neither do I."

Sissy let go of me and rescued Edith from a puddle of rainwater on the floor. "You used to hate me," she muttered, hugging the doll to her skinny chest. "Now you just feel sorry for me. You don't really like me. Nobody does."

I rubbed my wrist to take the chill of Sissy's hands away. She stood by the window, holding the doll tightly, her face filled with misery.

"You're cold." I took a spare blanket from the closet and wrapped it around her. Then I dried her hair with a T-shirt, rubbing her scalp hard to warm her. It was strange—she felt solid but somehow insubstantial, boneless, as if she could melt away at any moment.

"Will you comb my hair?" she asked.

I sat her down on the edge of the bed and worked a comb through her tangles. No one had done anything about her hair for a long time. But even though I was sure I must be hurting her, she sat still and didn't complain.

When her hair was smooth, she ran her fingers through it. Allowing herself a small smile, she said, "Prove you don't hate me. Let me sleep in your bed tonight. I'm so tired of the dark and the cold."

I got into bed and reluctantly let Sissy curl up beside me. It was like lying next to a snow girl made on the coldest night of winter.

"Are you scared," she whispered, "to share your bed with me?"

"You're just a little girl," I said.

"Not an ordinary one."

"No, not ordinary. Not ordinary at all."

Sissy sat halfway up. "Do you know what I am?"

"Yes, I know."

"Did you suspect all along?"

"No. You seemed like a real girl, not a—"

"Shh." She pressed her cold hand against my mouth. "Don't say it. I hate that word."

"I didn't guess till I saw the sweatshirt in the angel's hand," I said. "And read your name on the stone."

She leaned over me, and I smelled the lake on her breath. Not exactly fresh, a bit musty, a little earthy. "Make Dulcie tell—not just you, but everybody. I've been waiting a long time for her to come back."

With that, she lay down again, a small hump under the covers, not quite as cold as she'd been before.

Too tense to sleep, I lay beside her, staring into the darkness. Dulcie
had
to tell the truth. Not just for Sissy's sake but for her own. And Mom's, too. Otherwise, none of them would ever be at peace.

19

In the morning, Sissy was gone. And so was the wind and the rain. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the air smelled like honeysuckle and roses. I lay still for a moment, wishing the world was as ordinary as it seemed. Sun shining, birds singing, no dark shadows, no secrets, no lies.

Downstairs, Emma was chattering away to her mother as if nothing had happened yesterday. If only that were true.

I pulled on shorts and a T-shirt and headed for the kitchen. Dulcie looked up from the stove. "Emma's feeling much better today," she said, trying hard to sound cheerful. "Her fever's gone, and she wants pancakes."

I sat down and stared at the plate Dulcie set in front of me. I wasn't hungry, but I didn't want to hurt my aunt's feelings. She wasn't often inspired to cook a real breakfast.

"Last night," I started to say but stopped myself. Why bring up Sissy? Dulcie's smile might change to a frown. Emma's laughter might change to tears.

"Last night," I told Dulcie, "I dreamed you fixed pancakes for breakfast, and you made so many it took us till Christmas to eat them all."

Emma laughed so hard, maple syrup dribbled out of her mouth and ran down her chin. That made Dulcie and me laugh.

After we'd eaten, Emma got out her drawing tablet and busied herself making a picture with black, purple, and blue crayons. All scribbles, very dark.

Dulcie drew me aside, signaling that Emma mustn't hear. "I've made an appointment to see a lawyer in Webster's Cove today. My parents knew him. I'll talk to him about Teresa's death."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"Not to the lawyer's. I thought you and Emma might enjoy browsing in shops, getting ice cream, strolling along the boardwalk." Dulcie glanced at Emma, who was still bent over her picture, totally absorbed. "She needs a day out. And so do you."

"Hey, Em," I called. "Better get dressed. We're going to town."

Emma laid her crayons down and ran to her room. While she was gone, Dulcie and I took a quick look at her picture. Dark and scribbly as it was, we could both make out a boat with two girls in it. A third girl was in the water, along with Edith the doll.

 

Cars crowded Webster's Cove's narrow streets, and vacationers thronged the boardwalk and the beach. Like me, they'd been here long enough to value sunshine, blue water, and warm air. It had rained yesterday and the day before, and most likely it would rain again tomorrow and the day after.

Dulcie left us at Smoochie's, telling Emma she had a few errands to run. "I'll meet you here at noon, and we'll have lunch somewhere."

Erin was busy scooping ice cream for three teenagers. When she'd finished, she smiled at Emma and me. "Long time no see. Where have you two been?"

"Playing at our beach," Emma said.

"With that girl Sissy?" Erin asked.

Emma toyed with the candy and gum display beside the cash register. "Sissy's gone, I think."

"Hey, Em," I said. "They have tutti-frutti today. It's yummy."

Erin held up a little white paper cup, the kind you use to rinse your mouth at the dentist's. "How about a sample?"

Emma took the cup, stuck her tongue into the ice cream, thought a moment, and handed it back. "Can I have chocolate instead? That's my most favorite kind of all."

While Erin packed two scoops of chocolate into a cone, Emma stood in the doorway and watched people stroll past. A display of faded Smoochie's T-shirts swayed in the breeze over her head. Such an ordinary day, such ordinary people. I wondered if any of them had ever seen a ghost. Would they believe me if I told them about Sissy?

Erin handed me Emma's cone. "What kind do you want?"

"Tutti-frutti, of course." With images of Sissy crowding my head, I felt like an actress playing the part of a normal girl.

Erin bent over the ice cream and struggled to fill the scoop. "It's always hard as a rock in the morning. By afternoon, it'll be like soup."

"Is that mine?" Emma reached for the chocolate cone. I gave it to her, and she wandered back to the door.

Erin went on scooping, her head down. "My mother told me she visited your aunt, but she said she wasn't very friendly. Your aunt got all bent out of shape when Mom mentioned Teresa Abbott."

BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
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