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Authors: Amy Tintera

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BOOK: Listen for the Lie
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The wooden stairs creak as I walk up to them, much worse now than when I was a kid. I'd have a hell of a time sneaking out these days.

I glance back at Dad as I go. He's in the kitchen, taking a breath so big I can see his shoulders rise with the effort. My presence makes many people uncomfortable, but none more so than my own father.

I think about Nathan, standing in the corner of his bedroom yesterday, rambling about work as he watched me pack. I could feel the nerves rolling off him.

Fuck, he reminds me of my father. Wonderful. My therapist is going to love this.

The master bedroom door is cracked and I can hear the sound of a humidifier coming from inside. I press my hand to the wood, nudging it open.

Mom sits on the bed, back propped up with pillows, legs stretched out in front of her, one in a giant white cast. Her blond (fake, she's brunette like me) hair is pulled up in a ponytail, and she's wearing a full face of makeup. I've rarely seen Mom without makeup. Plumpton is the sort of town where people drop by unexpectedly.

She spots me creeping at the door and smiles. “Lucy! I thought I heard you down there. Come here, hon.”

I step inside. The master bedroom used to have an elaborate
gallery wall over the bed of me growing up—at least a dozen pictures of me being cute as hell throughout the years—but there's a large blue and white quilt there now. It was probably handmade by Mom, but I'm still a little salty about being replaced by a blanket.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Come here and give me a hug. I know I look dreadful, but don't worry, I'm fine.”

She does not look dreadful. She does look older, though. Maybe that was what she meant by
. My mom, like her mom, is blessed with smooth, beautiful skin that has always made her look a good ten years younger than she really is. Now, at fifty-five, she's starting to actually look like she's in her fifties.

I inherited this great skin, but I look twenty-nine. I might look well into my thirties, on a bad day. Being accused of murder has aged me prematurely.

I walk to the bed and give her a quick hug. She smells like perfume. Probably expensive, but I wouldn't know. All perfume smells like flowery garbage to me.

“I'm so glad you came,” she says. “Your grandmother is being impossible about this party. The woman won't even let us take her out to dinner for most of her birthdays and now she suddenly wants a huge shindig with the entire family? And she tells me
two weeks
beforehand? I think she's trying to kill me just so she can brag about outliving her daughter.”

I don't argue, because that does sound like Grandma.

I perch on the edge of her bed. “How's the leg? Did they give you some good pain meds?”

“I don't need pain medication.” She waves her hand dismissively. Mom has more of a Texas accent than Dad or I do, and it makes everything she says sound friendly. She grew up here, in Plumpton, but Dad didn't move to Texas until college. I lost what little accent I had after a couple of years away. I'm not sad about it.

“How'd you even get up here?”

“I just used my crutches.” She flexes her biceps. “The doctor said it would be difficult, but it was a breeze. All those sessions with the personal trainer are paying off.”

“When did you become a gym rat?”

She wrinkles her nose. “I don't believe I like that term. But exercise is very important for older women. Do you still spend all those hours on the treadmill?”

“Yes.” Running until I can't think is the only way I stay sane, most days.

Well, relatively sane.

“Maybe they'll let you use my pass while I'm injured. I'll remind them that I'm not suing.”

“Very big of you.”

She pats my hand. “Now, I want you to feel free to go wherever while you're in town. I told several people that you're coming so that no one will be surprised. I'm sure it's spread all around town by now.”

“I'm sure.”

“I do hope you'll go out and see folks.” Her hand is still on mine, and she looks at me anxiously.

“No one wants to see me, Mom.”

“Sure they do. And I think it's best if you don't hide. You don't have anything to be ashamed of, do you?”

It's a genuine question, one that requires my response. Mom asks me constantly, in a million different ways, whether I murdered Savvy. Maybe she thinks that if she asks enough, I'll eventually let it slip that I did indeed bash my friend's brains in. I have to admire her persistence.

“No, I don't have anything to be ashamed of,” I lie.

“That's right, dear.” That's what she always says when she thinks I'm lying.

And my mom
thinks I'm lying about not remembering the night that Savvy died. She tried for years to get me to confess.

She pestered me to come back home after I left for L.A.—“
If you're back here, you might remember something. Or you might feel compelled to share something new. Have you seen the memorial they did for Savvy?

She tried the god approach—“
You need to confess and atone for your sins here if you want to be forgiven in the next life

She gave logic a whirl—“
You were the only one with Savvy that night, so I think that it's time to face facts

She went for guilt (by far her favorite)—“
Do you know what that family is going through? They need an explanation

There is nothing my mother wants more than for me to confess to killing Savvy. Not just because she thinks it's the right thing to do, but because she would excel as the mother of a murderer.

She'd be a star at church. She'd give long speeches about forgiveness. She'd write a book about overcoming the guilt she felt at raising a murderer. Sometimes I think that she's angrier about me depriving her of this than she is about me actually (maybe) murdering someone. Mom enjoys being the best at everything, and I've denied her the opportunity to be the best mother of a murderer. You can't be the best mother of a woman
suspected of
murder. That just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I stand, and her hand slips off mine. “Do you need anything?”

“No, I'm fine, hon.” She smiles up at me, and I head to the door. “By the way, I don't know if anyone told you, but that podcaster is back in town. Might want to keep an eye out.”

Listen for the Lie Podcast with Ben Owens


Savannah's mother, Ivy Harper, invites me to her home shortly after I arrive in Plumpton. It's the first of several conversations.

               Hi, Mrs. Harper?

:                 Ben! It's so nice to meet you, finally. Come in, come in. And please call me Ivy.

Ivy is a small woman, just barely over five feet tall, with blond hair that is neatly braided every time I see her. Savannah took after her mom, which I mention when I see the pictures of her hanging on the wall.

               Wow, how old is she here? She looks just like you.

:                 That's tenth grade, so about fifteen. We took these after services on Easter Sunday.

The Harper home is the same one that Savannah grew up in. It's a large, four-bedroom house that's sparsely furnished, making it seem even bigger. There are pictures of Savannah everywhere—on the walls, in picture frames on the tables, in the slideshow playing on the television.

Ivy and I sit at the round table in the breakfast nook, a bright room just off the kitchen, and she tells me about Savannah. Or Savvy, as everyone in her life called her.

:                 Savvy was so happy. Her whole life. Even as a teenager! She was the worst baby, just crying all the time, constantly, but about age two she just became as cheerful as could be, and that never let up. She had her days, I guess, but for the most part she was just a really joyful woman. Maybe

               How do you mean?

:                 Well, I used to tell her to calm down, to think things through. She'd just get so excited about something and want to do it immediately. She was so excited to experience new things, sometimes it was like she wanted to do everything all at once. I wanted her to slow down. I'd tell her she had her whole life. But I guess she knew that wasn't going to be long.

               Can you give me an example?

:                 When she was ten—or maybe eleven—and we were still living in New Orleans, she decided she wanted to try out for this local production of
Romeo and Juliet
. For the role of Juliet. And I said to her, “Savvy, that role isn't for a child. Only adults can audition for that role. Maybe a teenager could, but not a ten-year-old.” She was
mad at me. She begged me and begged me to go audition, and I said no, so she just hopped on a city bus after school one day, marched over there, and auditioned all by herself.

               Did she get it?

:                 No, but they gave her another small role. But, of course, she didn't want that one, she wanted Juliet. So she didn't do it. She did play Juliet eventually, when Plumpton High did a production. She was fifteen then. It was a big commotion when the role went to a sophomore.

               When did you move to Plumpton? You said you were in New Orleans when Savvy was ten.

:                 When she was twelve. Keaton—my oldest—was about to start high school, and Jerome and I had always planned to move back to Texas. I grew up in San Antonio, and we both love it here. They were building all these new homes back then for a really good price, so we jumped on it.

               Did Lucy and Savannah know each other in school?

:                 Oh, sure, of course. It's a pretty small town. All the kids knew each other, especially if they were the same age.

               But they weren't friends?

:                 No. They didn't have anything in common. Savvy was a cheerleader, she was on student council, she was homecoming queen. Lucy was … not … any of those things.

               When did they become friends?

:                 After Lucy moved back to town. Savvy was already here … well, you know. She'd been back in Plumpton for a couple years, after college didn't work out. She came over for Sunday dinner and she said, “Mom, you remember Lucy Chase?” I didn't, actually. She'd had to remind me. That
girl who once got suspended for punching a boy. That's how Lucy was known back then.

So, she says, “Yeah, she got married to a guy she met at UT”—that's the University of Texas in Austin, hon—“and they just moved back to town. We got to talking when she came by the Charles.” The Charles is this fancy restaurant downtown—Savvy used to bartend there.

               So they hit it off then?

:                 Yeah. Savvy said it was a little weird at first. Lucy immediately asks how Savvy had liked Tulane, and of course Savvy had to tell her that she left after her freshman year. She was … [
long sigh
]. Savvy was doing this thing then, where she was making light of it and sort of poking fun at herself. Making the joke before someone else can and all that. I didn't like it.

               What would she say?

:                 She would tell people things like, “I majored in partying,” or “I was a terrible college student, but a truly excellent sorority girl.” It just made her sound dumb, and she wasn't dumb. She'd gotten a scholarship to Tulane. She was her high school salutatorian, for god's sake! She was just too young. I know plenty of eighteen-year-olds do just fine leaving home, but she didn't. She was a sweet girl who just wasn't ready to be on her own. She was finally starting to get her feet under her again when Lucy moved back to town.

               And you said it was awkward at first? Because of the college thing?

:                 Savvy said that Lucy looked really uncomfortable at first, and Matt had to jump in and save her. Matt was always doing that. He's a real charmer. No idea what he saw in Lucy. But I guess Lucy and Savvy got to talking, and they decided to meet up for drinks the next day. I was turned off by the whole thing right away, honestly.


:                 It just sounded like Lucy was taking pity on Savvy. Lucy had moved back to town with her rich, handsome husband,
they'd bought this gorgeous old house, and she was helping her husband open this fancy brewery restaurant thing. And then she comes across the former homecoming queen, who has dropped out of college and is now a bartender? Please. It was so obvious that Lucy liked how the tables had turned.

               Did Savvy get that impression from Lucy?

:                 No. Not that she said, anyway. But that girl had blinders on when it came to Lucy. She didn't see the real woman. Not until it was too late.

BOOK: Listen for the Lie
11.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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