Read Envy Online

Authors: Gregg Olsen

Tags: #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Mystery, #Thriller, #Crime

Envy (7 page)

BOOK: Envy
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“Shopping for herself,” Beth said. “Same as always. She wears club clothes to work, I guess.”

Taylor entered the room carrying a couple of Diet Cokes and a can of Ranch Pringles.

“Who wears club clothes to work?” she asked.

“Starla’s mom.”

“Did you talk to her?”

Beth took a second. “Not really. I pretended I didn’t see her, but she nabbed me by the checkout counter.”

“Did she say anything about Katelyn?” Hayley asked.

“Something about how she saw it coming. Katelyn was a sad girl. Whatever.”

Taylor looked upset. “‘Saw it coming?’”

Beth shrugged. “I didn’t ask. I wanted out of there. I was afraid she was going to corner me and force me to come in for a haircut.”

“If she saw something was wrong, if she saw it coming, then she should have done something about it,” Hayley said.

“I guess so. Can we talk about something else? All this talk about Katelyn is kind of boring me.”

Taylor looked at Hayley, her eyes popping. Neither one of them knew how it was that Beth Lee could possibly be their best friend.

But she was.

chapter 10

BEFORE LEAVING FOR WORK at the hospital, Valerie Ryan made cookies,
fresh
—not Christmas retreads that had been moved from platter to smaller plate as their numbers declined. She boxed them up in a Tupperware container for the girls to run over to the Berkley place. There was no bow or ribbon. It was a gesture, not a gift, to the family down the lane who’d suffered the cruelest blow in a season meant for joy and togetherness. Valerie watched a row of cars head down the highway that morning, looking for places to park as Harper and Sandra gathered in their grief with family members and close friends.

The girls planned on paying their respects at Katelyn’s memorial service later in the week, but their mom’s cookies needed delivery.

Bundled up in North Face jackets, Taylor and Hayley slipped out the back door to the alleyway that was the shortest route to the Berkleys. Taylor wore Aunt Jolene’s hand-knitted scarf, a sad-looking strip of yardage in search of a color palette that didn’t suggest—as Taylor aptly assessed it—“a color wheel of different kinds of barf.” The air was bone-chilling, with the added jolt of a damp wind blowing off the bay, coating the shrubbery in a glistening sheath of ice. The weatherman had blabbed about an ice storm coming, but since he was seldom on target with his forecasts, no one really prepared for it.

The girls noticed right off that Mrs. James’s hundred-year-old camellia was encased in ice.

“She’s going to be way disappointed when she gets back from Florida and sees that no one put a blanket over it,” Taylor said. “She’s so possessive of that dumb bush.”

Hayley looked over the shimmering emerald form of the shrub and said, “I think it’s pretty.”

“You think everything is pretty, Hay.”

“Well, not everything,” she clarified, pointedly indicating Aunt Jolene’s scarf. “But yeah, a lot of things can be pretty. You just have to look at things the right way to see their beauty.”

“Mrs. James doesn’t own that bush. Nothing in this town of renters belongs to anyone.”

“That could be said of anything, Taylor. Whether you rent and live in Port Gamble or buy and live in a house in Seattle, ultimately you’re just visiting.”

Taylor changed the subject. “This is stupid. Bringing cookies over to our dead friend’s house? Lame.”

“Yeah, but Mom wanted us to, so we’re doing it.”

“Right. Because she thought it was a good idea. Like we can’t come up with our own?”

“I think that’s the point. We wouldn’t be going to the Berkleys if Mom hadn’t made the cookies.”

“Natch,” Taylor had to agree.

SANDRA BERKLEY PULLED OPEN THE FRONT DOOR and faced the Ryan twins. It had been a while since they’d seen Mrs. Berkley outside of the family’s restaurant, the Timberline, a breakfast and burger place with good food and a sign over the counter:

Neither could be sure when the last time was they’d come over to visit. It might have been back in middle school. Katelyn had sort of slipped away insofar as their friendship was concerned. For most of Port Gamble Elementary, they had been in the same circle of happy little girls that once filled the front row of Ms. Paulson’s second-grade class. Mrs. Berkley had been their Daisy troop leader. She was different then, prettier, more serene. Watching her and the other moms of Port Gamble, Hayley and Taylor understood as well as any young girl that with beauty came power. This was before Disney princesses could get what they wanted without having to resort to kicking serious butt.

And yet, kicking butt, the Ryans knew from experience, definitely had its own set of empowering charms.

Mrs. Berkley, on the other hand, had let her strong points fade since the crash. Gossip all over town had it that she was a big drinker, and there was little in the way of excuses one could conjure to suggest otherwise.

When she opened the door, she didn’t speak for a moment. Her hair was a black octopus, her makeup was raccoon-smudged, and her bird legs shook under her crumbling frame. She was the sum of animal parts, like a mutant cross-breeding experiment gone completely haywire.

Hayley and Taylor, shivering on the doorstep, proffered the cookies.

“Come inside,” Sandra said, a sharp waft of booze emitting with her breath.

Hayley looked at Taylor, then back at Mrs. Berkley.

“We don’t want to be in the way,” she said, pushing the cookies at the dead girl’s mother once more.

Mrs. Berkley took the container and smiled faintly.

Was it wistful? A sad smile? A reaction to the kindness of Valerie Ryan?

“I was hoping some of her good friends would come by. Katelyn’s friends meant so much to her.”

The twins stepped into the house, and before they could say something about the fact that they hadn’t seen much of Katelyn lately, they were in the middle of a swarm of relatives and friends who had convened to support the family during the most difficult of circumstances.

“These are two of Katelyn’s best friends,” Sandra Berkley said to an older woman with thin lips and a wattle-neck whom the girls presumed to be Katelyn’s grandmother, Nancy.

“Hayley?” the grieving mom asked, pointing tentatively. “And Taylor, right?”

She was wrong, but it didn’t matter. After all, they were suddenly “best friends” of the girl they no longer really knew.

“They’ve brought some treats,” Sandra said.

“This isn’t a party.” The older woman sniffed.

Hayley didn’t know what to say. Even though she had agreed to bring them over, she had thought the cookies were a crappy idea in the first place.

“My mom made them,” Taylor said. “They were Katelyn’s favorite whenever she hung out at our place. Always had at least two.”

It was a good save. Taylor was like that. She could always be counted on to think fast on her feet. If Mrs. Berkley was so deluded as to think that she and her sister and Katelyn were the best of friends, she could go along with it.

“Katelyn never knew when to quit. If she hadn’t been eating all the time she would have made cheer,” the grandmother said.

“That’s enough, Mom,” Sandra said, shooting what had to have been a practiced glare in the direction of a woman who’d clearly been more interested in bitching about something than grieving.

And yes, both girls thought, Katelyn had put on a few pounds. She wasn’t mom-jeans fat, but she was a few cookie trays short of it.

“Really sorry about Katelyn,” Taylor said.

“Sorry doesn’t do much for a broken heart,” the grandmother said.

Hayley didn’t take the bait. Instead, she smiled at the older woman, took her sister by the arm, and mumbled something about wanting to talk to Mr. Berkley.

Hayley led her sister into the living room, where most of the people belonging to the cars with out-of-state license plates were talking in quiet, anguished tones. The dining room chairs had been pulled from the big mahogany table and were arranged along the wall to provide necessary, but awkward, seating. The table itself was covered with an array of bowls of pretzels, chips, and platters of pinwheel sandwiches Hayley recognized as a Costco deli product.

Costco? Wow, that’s really sad
, she thought. She hoped if she died her parents would at least have Subway cater a gathering in her memory.

Harper Berkley, it was clear, had been crying. He was a tall, balding man with caterpillar brows that could use a good waxing. His eyes were red-rimmed and his formidable presence had been Shrinky-Dinked by the circumstances. He looked so small, so sad. A woman neither girl recognized patted his shoulder.

“We’re very sorry about Katelyn,” Hayley said.

“We’re all in shock,” the woman said. “I’m Harper’s sister, Twyla. Katelyn’s aunt.”

As identical twins, the girls were genetic anomalies, not idiots. They knew that the dad’s sister would be Katelyn’s aunt. But now was probably not the time to point it out.

“These cookies were Katelyn’s faves. Just wanted to drop them off,” Taylor said.

“Yeah, she really liked our mom’s cooking,” Hayley echoed.

Harper thanked them with a quiet nod. To say anything was probably too painful. Sometimes one word can lead to a dam burst.

“Thank you for coming,” he finally choked out.

Taylor and Hayley stood there a second in uncomfortable silence before retreating toward the front door. Both wondered how it was that with the inevitability of death, no one really had anything to say about it. It was as if one of life’s pivotal moments—the final moment—was devoid of potential small talk. Death was a big, fat period to most people. Over and out. Dark and cold. A void.

By the staircase, Haley felt a tug.

Taylor whispered, “Gotta go up there.” She looked up the stairway’s too-narrow risers toward Katelyn’s bedroom.

Hayley shook her head emphatically. “No, we are most certainly
not
going up there. Aren’t you as creeped out by all of this as I am?”

“You mean the Costco sandwiches? Or that our supposed BFF is dead?”

Taylor started up the stairs, turning to her sister with one last look. “Hay, either you can come up with me, or you can make small talk with them.” She pointed back at the living area. “Remember the tugboat on the water? We’re supposed to ‘look.’ Well, we’re here. We might as well.”

“You win. I’m coming,” Hayley acquiesced as they crept up the uncarpeted wooden risers, careful not to make much noise. Old houses like that one did a fine job in the noise department all on their own. Downstairs, they could hear Katelyn’s grandmother complaining about something. A harsh, mean voice always travels like a slingshot.

Katelyn’s door was open a sliver. Taylor didn’t remark on it, but she noticed a faint black rectangle, an indicator of old adhesive residue on the door. She remembered how they’d made nameplates after touring a signage shop in Daisies. Katelyn’s, she remembered, was the standard issue of any preteen—
KATIE’S ROOM: BOY-FREE ZONE
!

Things had changed big-time since then.

They went inside, and Taylor closed the door behind them.

“What are we doing in here, anyway?” Hayley asked.

“Not sure,” Taylor said. “Why do you need a reason for everything?

Reason is something people say to make sense of things that don’t make sense.”

“Okay,” Hayley said, with a slight smile, “now
that
doesn’t make any sense.”

Taylor didn’t care. “Bite yourself,” she said.

The posters and color scheme had changed dramatically since they’d last stepped foot in Katelyn’s bedroom. Previously, Katelyn had surrounded herself with bright walls, purple bedding, and pictures of horses and orcas plastered everywhere. All of that was gone. The walls had been painted a dark, foreboding gray—a rebellion from Port Gamble’s newly enforced white interior décor edict for its historic homes. Katelyn’s animal posters had been replaced with images of wan, sad girls and ripped guys with Abercrombie abs. They were hot, hard, and probably without a single brainwave firing inside their bleached, tousled heads. Hayley and Taylor didn’t have any qualms about the way those guys looked, but like most girls in Kitsap County, they’d never seen one in the flesh.

Okay, maybe one. But Colton James wasn’t blond.

Without saying a word, they walked toward the bathroom.

Taylor knelt down next to the tub. It was a big old claw-foot, the exact same vintage as the tub in their house. It had not been re-enameled like the Ryans’, however. The surface of Katelyn’s was more cream than white, pitted in spots that made it appear dirty. Taylor could imagine Mrs. Berkley telling her daughter to “use some damn elbow grease!” when she told her to clean it.

Or was she imagining it? Sometimes she didn’t know where her thoughts came from. Other times, however, Taylor was absolutely sure they came from a source outside of herself.

Hayley left her sister alone. She was drawn toward a small desk next to Katelyn’s unmade bed. A lamp with a breaching orca as its base, some black markers, and a couple of small framed photos caught her eye, but she dismissed all of that. Even though those items had a definite personal connection with their dead friend, they didn’t beckon for her to touch them. Her fingertips were hot, moist. There was a feeling in her stomach, knotted like a bag of jump ropes, that made her feel queasy—not throwing-up sick, but the kind of feeling that comes just before the onset of the flu. She was a little light-headed too. Her heartbeat pushed inside her rib cage.

BOOK: Envy
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