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Authors: Amy Tintera

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BOOK: Listen for the Lie
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CHAPTER THREE
LUCY

Nathan, as it turns out, has no balls.

We ate chicken. We drank wine. I played with the giant carving knife just to watch him sweat. He rambled on about work.

He did not ask whether I'm a murderer.

At this point, I'm curious how long this can go on for. He's clearly wanted to break up for a while, and now he's worried I'm going to murder him. Surely he will locate his balls and actually say the words “Please move out of my apartment and never contact me again” soon?

On the plus side, I have more time to look for a new place while I wait for the inevitable. Just this morning I found a very promising one-bedroom with no income requirements. It looks like a dump in the pictures, and the landlord asked to see a picture of my feet when I emailed, but, hey. It's cheap.

Sometimes I think about the fact that the twenty-two-year-old version of me would be absolutely horrified by almost-thirty me. That shiny, smug newlywed with a four-bedroom house was so certain that she had life figured out and it was all going her way.

Guess what, asshole?

I also halfheartedly applied for a couple of new jobs over the weekend, and already got a rejection from one. I'm really killing it lately (pun intended).

But I don't actually want a new job, if I'm being honest. I've published three romance novels under a pen name, and the third one is actually selling some copies. It's an unexpected turn of events, considering how few people bought my first two books, but it means I've had to work overtime on the next one, so I don't lose momentum.

And maybe, with a little luck, they'll start selling enough copies so that I don't have to worry about finding another mind-numbingly boring day job.

Of course, now I have to worry about a podcaster shining a very bright light on my past, and possibly someone finding out that it's actually a suspected murderer writing their new favorite rom-com. No one except my agent, my publisher, and my grandma knows about my career as a romance author, but I'm a favorite subject for the amateur internet sleuth.

The thought nags at me all weekend. Monday morning, I run extra miles on the treadmill in the gym at Nathan's complex, and then head to the grocery store because I need to tell my feelings to chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

The grocery stores are never empty in L.A., even on a weekday, because no one here has a real job. I maneuver around a woman at the entrance who is talking on her phone and wearing leggings that probably cost more than my entire outfit. They make her butt look great, though.

I turn my cart into the produce section. Maybe I'll get something to chop into tiny pieces in front of Nathan.

(A nicer person would just say, “Hey, you heard about the podcast, didn't you?” and put him out of his misery. I should try to be less of an asshole. Tomorrow, maybe.)

A slim blond woman is tapping a butternut squash with one finger, and I try very hard not to imagine smashing the squash against her head.

I fail. Squash, as it turns out, is a weakness of mine.

I wonder whether it would even hold up after being smashed against a human head. It would probably explode and you'd just end up with a headache and squash all over your face.

The woman looks up and notices me staring at her. I smile like I wasn't just imagining bludgeoning her to death. She walks away, casting an alarmed glance over her shoulder at me.

I really should try to be less of an asshole.

I don't
want
to think about murder, but I can't seem to stop it. I don't do it with everyone, but I've imagined killing a whole lot of people.

It started not long after Savvy died. Everyone said I was a murderer, and I couldn't say for sure that I wasn't, so I started thinking of all the different ways I
could
have killed her. I thought that if I went through enough options, I might actually land on something that sparked a memory.

So far, no luck. But maybe one day I'll stumble on it. I'll imagine killing a waitress with my empty milkshake glass and it will all come rushing back.
Ah yes! That's right! Savvy and I fought over whether strawberry or chocolate milkshakes were best and I flew into a rage and murdered her with my glass. Take me away, Officer!

I really wish the police had found the murder weapon. It would have spared me a lot of imaginary killings.

My phone buzzes. I glance down at the screen to see the word
Grandma
, which is unsurprising. Telemarketers and Grandma—the only people who use the phone in the way it was originally intended.

I accept the call and press the phone to my ear. “Hey, Grandma.”

The guy next to me gives me a small smile, like he approves of me talking to my grandma. I push my cart to the corner, in front of the cabbage.

“Lucy, honey! Hi. Are you busy? Am I interrupting?”

She always asks whether she's interrupting, like she thinks I have a packed social calendar. I don't even have any close friends. Just
some work acquaintances who will definitely never speak to me again.

“Nope, just grocery shopping,” I say.

“How's Nathan?”

“He's … you know. Nathan.”

“You always say that, and I don't know what you mean. I've never met the man.”

“He's fine.”

“I see.” She clears her throat. “Listen. I have a favor to ask.”

“What's that?”

“It's a small favor, really, and I'd like to remind you that I'm nearly dead.”

“You've been saying you're nearly dead for twenty years.”

“Well, then it stands to reason that I must really be getting close then!” She cackles.

“Are you drunk?”

“Lucy, it is two o'clock in the afternoon. Of course I'm not drunk.” She pauses. “I'm merely slightly tipsy.”

I bite back a laugh. “What's the favor?”

“I've decided to have a birthday party. A big one. It's the big eight-oh, you know.”

“I do know.”

I actually do. Grandma's birthday is the only one I can remember without the calendar reminder.

“You'll come, of course?” Her voice is hopeful.

Shit.

“I can't have it without my favorite grandchild there.” She's switched to guilt.

“You do know that it's tacky to tell me I'm your favorite when you have three grandchildren?”

“We both know that Ashley and Brian are assholes.”

“I think we're supposed to pretend to like them anyway.”

“Well. I can't have a birthday party with only the assholes.”

I would laugh if it weren't for the swiftly mounting dread.

“Do you think you could take some time off work?” she asks.

“I was fired.”

“Oh, perfect! I mean, I'm sorry,” she adds hurriedly.

“You know I didn't like that job anyway.”

“I retract my apology. Congratulations on being fired.”

“Thanks.”

“Since you have so much free time, maybe a longer visit? A week? I've already talked to your mom, and she says you can stay with them as long as you want.”

“A week?” I shriek the words so loudly that a passing woman looks very startled.

“Well, this is all very last-minute, and your mom has that broken leg … we would need some help getting everything together. I'd let you stay with me, but there's no room, of course.”

The prospect of spending one day in my hometown is bad enough, but
an entire week
?

Seven days in the place where I'd once been successful, and married, and had lots of friends who were jealous of my (fake) happiness.

It would be the opposite of a triumphant return. Five years later, I stumble back in, an unemployed divorcée with no friends. I can't even tell people I've published three books. I shiver as the produce mister turns on, spraying my arm as well as the cabbage. I inch away from it.

“Unless you'd rather bring Nathan and stay in a hotel? I'm sure your mom would understand you staying in a hotel if you bring him.”

I imagine, briefly, inviting Nathan to come to Plumpton, Texas, with me. I wonder whether that would be the thing that finally gets him to dump me. Visiting the scene of the crime is probably a bridge too far, even for him.

“You can say no.” I hear a clinking sound on the other end, like ice cubes against glass. “I know you must be very busy…”

“You know I'm never busy.”

“It's so weird how you always say that. People your age are usually so proud of being busy. One of the girls from church has told me at least a hundred times about how busy she is. I'm starting to wonder if it's a cry for help.”

“You talked to Dad too? About me staying with them?”

“Of course not; I try to avoid having conversations with your father whenever possible. But Kathleen talked to him. We wouldn't just spring you on him.”

“He never did like surprises.”

“No. Does that mean you'll come?”

I stare at the butternut squash and consider smashing it against my own head.

“Lucy?”

I blink. “Sorry. Squash.”

“Don't buy squash, you're coming to Texas!”

“Oh my god.”

“Right?” She's hopeful again.

I sigh. I can't say no to the only family member I like. One of the only
people
I like. “Yes. I'm coming to Texas.”

A soft voice, a voice I always try to ignore, whispers in my ear, “
Let's kill—

I grip the phone tighter and will the voice away.

“Oh, wonderful! Do you think Nathan will want to come?”

I take a shaky breath. The voice seems to be gone. “I don't think he can get off work.”

“Oh, sure. Well, I'll just buy you a plane ticket then. You okay to leave this weekend?”

“You don't have to do that.”

“Nonsense, I want to. I'll be dead soon anyway.”

We might all be dead soon, but that seems like too much to hope for.

“Sure, this weekend.” I reconsider her last statement. “Wait, are you sick?”

“Not that I know of, but my friends are dropping like flies, so really, it's only a matter of time.”

“That's the spirit.”

“Now, listen, I don't drive much anymore, but I can probably make it to Austin to pick you up. If my car starts. You never know these days.”

“Don't worry about it. I'll rent a car. And I'm getting a hotel.”

“Well, your mother won't like
that
.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose with my fingers.

“And Lucy?”

“Yeah?”

“You heard about that podcast, right? The one about you?”

CHAPTER FOUR
LUCY

I have to buy a suitcase because I never travel. I had a beautiful matching luggage set once, but I left my ex-husband with clothes stuffed into garbage bags.

Brewster greets me at the door when I come in, excitedly sniffing the new purple luggage. Nathan is home, still in the black pants and white button-up he wore to work. His face lights up when he sees the suitcase. Subtle, dude.

“Going somewhere?”

I drop the bag on the floor. “No, it's for a dead body.”

His lips part. He looks from me to the suitcase.

“What?” I glance down at it. “You think I should have gotten a bigger one?”

He stares at me for several seconds before letting out a long, annoyed breath. “Jesus Christ, Lucy.”

I lean down to pet Brewster. He licks my hand, oblivious to the tension in the room. Dogs don't know about murder podcasts. Lucky bastards.

“You weren't even going to pretend, huh?” I ask.

“What?” The tiny dent between his eyebrows appears. He has perfect L.A. eyebrows. Sculpted by a professional. I'd liked that he was the kind of guy who didn't feel his masculinity was tied to his beauty routine (or lack thereof).

Now I'm annoyed by those two immaculately plucked eyebrows.

“A lot of people pretend to think I didn't do it,” I say. “They act like they want to hear my side, like they haven't already made up their mind.”

“Oh. I, uh, I do want to hear your side…”

I roll my eyes. That was so insincere I don't bother responding to it.

Some guys actually like the suspected-murderer thing. The first couple of years after it happened, I'd get the occasional email with a flirty request for a date. Thrill seekers, I guess. Or they want to save me. I'm a real fixer-upper.

Not Nathan, apparently.

“You're … going somewhere?” he asks, after a long silence.

“Texas. My grandma is having a birthday party.”

“Oh.”

“She invited you too.”

He blinks. “I, um … I don't know if I can … you know, with work.”

“Sure.”

“When are you leaving?”

“Friday. I'll be gone about a week.”

He nods. I wait for him to suggest that I take all my stuff with me when I go. The only sound is Brewster's loud sniffs as he thoroughly examines the ends of my jeans.

“Are you going to tell me?” he finally asks.

“What?”

“Your side.”

For fuck's sake. Men are such babies. They're too scared to actually break up with you, so they just get mean or fade away until you get mad and dump them.

Risky move, making a suspected murderer angry enough to dump you.

“Would you believe me if I did?” I ask. My phone buzzes. I pull it out of my purse to see a text from my mom.

You're not staying at a hotel. I'm getting the guest room ready now.

I quickly type out a response.
I'm fine at a hotel.

I look up at Nathan to see that the answer to my question is clearly
no
.

“Yes,” he lies.

“I still have no memory of the night, but I never would have hurt Savvy.” The words tumble easily out of my mouth. I've said them a hundred times.

Nathan stares like he expects more. They always do.

My phone rings, my mom's name on the screen. I sigh and swipe to answer it.

“You're not staying at a hotel.” Her tone leaves no room for argument.

“Hi, Mom, how are you?” I ask dryly. Nathan is still staring at me as I step out onto the balcony.

“I'm fine. You're not staying at a hotel.”

“Grandma said you broke your leg.” I look down, watching as a woman on the street pushes a stroller down the sidewalk. A small pug pops his head out, tilting his smushed face up to the sun.

“Stop changing the subject.”

“I thought you liked it when I try to make small talk. Act like a normal person and all that.”


Lucy
.” She's already incredibly tired of me, and I haven't even arrived yet.

“Let one of my cousins have the room. They'll be in town, right?”

“Only for a night or two. You're staying with us. We have plenty of room. Besides, everyone will talk if you don't stay here.”

Ah. There's the only reason that matters.

I turn around and lean against the railing. Inside, Nathan is furiously texting. “God forbid people gossip about me. I can't imagine what that would be like.”

“The cheapest hotel in town is like eighty dollars a night anyway, and I doubt it's up to your standards.”

“Bold of you to assume I have standards.” Though, she has a point. Considering that I've just lost my job, I don't need to be spending several hundred dollars on a hotel room.

“Just stay with us, Lucy. Don't make things harder.”

She left off the “like you always do” at the end of that sentence. I guess it's implied.

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Oh.” She sounds surprised, like she didn't actually think she'd succeed. I'm going soft, I guess. “Good.”

“Seriously, how'd you break your leg?”

“I fell off the stair machine. You know the one at the gym, with the stairs that go round and round to nowhere? Well, it's quite high up, and I missed a step and … it was embarrassing, to say the least.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It was. Anyway, I'll let you go. Oh, and did your grandma tell you about that—”

“Yes, I know about the podcast.”

I've actually probably known about the podcast longer than anyone. I received the first email five months ago.

From: Ben Owens

Subject:
Listen for the Lie
Podcast

Hi Lucy,

My name is Ben Owens and I'm a journalist and the host of the podcast
Listen for the Lie
. I'm doing some research into the murder of Savannah Harper, and I'd love to sit down and talk with you. I actually live in Los Angeles too, so I'd be happy to come to you. Please feel free to email me or call at 323-555-8393.

Cheers,

Ben

I didn't reply.

My research turned up the first season of his podcast, and quite a few news articles that gave him decidedly mixed reviews.


Questionable ethics
,” one article said, “
but you can't argue with the results!

Another article described Ben as having “
boyish good looks
,” which had only made me hate him more. I've never liked men who can be described as having
boyish good looks
. They're always smug.

But I never reply to emails about Savvy, and I wasn't making an exception for this smug bastard, so I archived it and moved on.

Of course, most emails about Savvy don't require a response. They're usually some version of “
How do you live with yourself, you heartless bitch?
” or “
You're going to hell
,” except almost always with the wrong
your
, which is extremely distracting. An insult doesn't have the intended impact when spelled incorrectly. I'd reply to let them know, but, in my experience, dumbasses don't appreciate having their spelling corrected.

I sit down on the bed next to my open suitcase, scrolling through the emails that Ben sent me months ago. Brewster nudges the bag of jelly beans on the nightstand with his nose, and I shoo him away from it and pop one in my mouth.

A second email had arrived a few weeks after the first, asking again for a meeting. And then a third:

From: Ben Owens

Subject:
Listen for the Lie
Podcast

Hi Lucy,

One last email! I'd really love to interview you, and get your side of the story. I'm willing to meet on your terms. The podcast is really coming together, and I think it's important to hear your side of the story.

Cheers,

Ben.

Oh, sweet, naive Ben. No one gives a shit about my side of the story.

To be fair, my side of the story is “I don't remember anything,” so it's not exactly exciting. Or believable, apparently. I glance out the door at Nathan, who is drinking away his awkward feelings about his murderous girlfriend on the couch, the glow from the television flickering across his tense face.

I've tried to avoid thinking about just how popular this season of the podcast is, but now I can't stop myself. I google
Ben Owens Listen for the Lie
. A picture of him pops up. He looks very smug.

There are numerous articles about the podcast. The usual true crime websites have picked up the story, but it's splashed across national media as well.
Entertainment Weekly
and
Vanity Fair
and a dozen other places have articles with headlines like “This Small-Town Murder Will Be Your New True Crime Obsession” and “Come for the Murder, Stay for the Accents:
Listen for the Lie
Podcast Digs Up a Cold Case in Texas.” Twitter is having an absolute field day with theories.

People seemed to have formed teams, given that I keep seeing “Team Savvy” pop up. Logic dictates that there must also be a “Team Lucy,” though I don't see evidence of it.

Given the flurry of media attention, everyone in Plumpton is definitely listening to the stupid thing.

I look down at Brewster, wishing I'd come up with an excuse to avoid the whole trip. I should have pointed out to Grandma that my presence at her birthday will likely ruin the whole thing. I'm the relative that you tell everyone about at parties, when you're comparing fucked-up families. I make for a good story. You don't
invite
me to the party.

But my grandmother never asks me for anything, and I haven't seen her since I left Plumpton nearly five years ago. She's never been on a plane, and she's
sure as shit not starting now
, to use her words. She's also expressed concern, more than once, about being force-fed kale if she ever visits California.

Texans hate California. It's one of the reasons I made it my home.

Plus, my cousins really are assholes. Grandma is right—she can't have a party with just the assholes.

If I'm going to go, I might as well go armed with knowledge. I open my podcast app and find
Listen for the Lie
.

I put on the first episode as I pack.

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