The Girls She Left Behind

BOOK: The Girls She Left Behind
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Girls She Left Behind
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Graves

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

and the
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Graves, Sarah

The girls she left behind : a Lizzie Snow novel / Sarah Graves.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-0-553-39043-8

eBook ISBN 978-0-553-39044-5

I. Title.

PS3557.R2897G57 2016

813'.54—dc23 2015029898

eBook ISBN 9780553390445

Book design by Jo Anne Metsch, adapted for eBook

Title page art: © Turner

Cover design: Susan Zucker




It wasn't even my idea. Nothing ever was, when my cousin Cam was around.

Come on,
she mouthed impatiently at me, rolling her heavily made-up eyes from the doorway of St. Anselm's basement meeting room in New Haven, Connecticut. Under the room's buzzing fluorescent lights, I sat on a hard metal folding chair pulled up to a long table with a dozen other teenage girls, all of us knitting industriously.

Cam spread her hands wide, making a face at me:
Well? Are you coming or not?

We'd just turned fifteen that summer and were often mistaken for sisters, both of us slim and fox-faced with wavy dark hair, brown eyes, and the kind of smooth, faintly olive-complected skin that never got pimples. Our mothers, who really were sisters, had looked alike too when they were young and, like us, had been raised to be sure that their necklines were modest, their skirts weren't too tight, and their hems always touched the floor when they knelt.

Not that Cam ever knelt much. That was the difference between us. I was the good girl, always agonizing over my sins, half dying with anxious guilt while I waited outside the gloomy confessional on Saturday mornings and floaty-feeling with relief afterward, only to feel the sly pinch of renewed temptation moments later, as if the devil liked a clean slate. I did all my homework and practiced my piano lessons religiously, too, the mocking image of unreachable perfection always spoiling any pleasure I might have taken in any of it, and for fun I read the gory parts of Butler's
Lives of the Saints.

Cam smoked stolen cigarettes and put on eyeliner and mascara the minute she left her house each day, and walked like she was dancing to the beat of some music I couldn't hear. Made up to look older, she snuck us both into a popular downtown club one Friday night by whispering something filthy to the guy checking IDs at the door. When somebody there reported us as underage she ran out the back exit laughing, dragging me along.

She was always getting the two of us into things like that, and though I loved her extravagantly I was a little scared of her, too: what she might do, what I might end up doing with her. Cam was very good at persuading me to try things I'd have never dared otherwise, and the night I lost her was no exception.

I'll go without you,
she warned me from the damp-smelling basement hallway, her dark eyes sparkling with mischief.
I mean it. Last chance.

I glanced nervously around at the other girls, all of us knitting with scratchy, mismatched yarn while our bottoms chilled on the metal folding chairs. Even in July it was cold down there, the old stone walls of the church sweating icy droplets that trickled down and puddled on the poured-concrete floor.

Hurry up,
Cam threatened, narrow-eyed, her lips tightening to a thin, mean line and her chin thrust out warningly in the same way that our mothers' did when they got mad at us.

I looked around again, shrugging.
I can't.
We were making warm hats for the little pagan babies in Africa; it was an article of our faith that pagan babies required clumsily knitted headgear, no matter the climate.

Cam sighed elaborately—
All right then, be that way, see if I care
—before she turned away and vanished back into the hall's musty gloom.

Quietly I placed my knitting needles on the table in front of me and got up. Most of the other girls had completed their hats and were working on the tassels, but I had done only four rows on account of having to rip out so many mistakes.

I wasn't friends with any of these girls, particularly, and I hadn't done anything to make anyone want to tell on me. So no one was watching me, and our group leader, Mrs. Hart, was leaning back in her chair with her chin on her chest, snoring. Probably they'd think I was just going to use the restroom, if they noticed me leaving at all.

Smelling of cigarettes, Cam grabbed me as soon as I reached the hall. “Cripes, what are you waiting for, d'you want Creepers to catch us?”

Creepers was what she called Father Crepinski, the pastor of St. Anselm's. And sure enough, just as she said it we both heard the heavy old wooden church door upstairs groan open and his dragging step—he'd had a leg permanently paralyzed by polio as a young child—start unevenly across the tiled vestibule and down the stairs toward us.

” Cam whispered urgently as she scurried toward the other stairwell. If I didn't want to get caught with her—Cam had already been banned permanently from parish youth activities for being a bad influence—I had to follow.

Five minutes later the two of us were hustling along Whalley Avenue as fast as we could. “What if someone notices I'm gone?” I worried.

“Oh, please,” Cam retorted, her voice full of scorn. “They'll just think you're upstairs in the chapel praying or something.”

At her words I cringed inwardly. It was the kind of soft, warm early evening when everything good seems possible; typical of me to be worrying about something bad, her tone said.

Besides, she was right about me and the chapel.

She lit another smoke, cupping the flame expertly. “Anyway, you actually think they'll miss you? One great thing about being boring like you,” she added, “is that no one notices if you're not around.”

She spewed an acrid gray plume from her lipsticked mouth. “Besides, they've got the Creepster down there with them now, probably he brought along his guitar and they'll all sing folk songs together. I mean if he's not too senile to remember them.”

I giggled reflexively, feeling a pang of sympathy for poor old Father Crepinski. Only the previous Sunday he'd confusedly begun saying the start of Mass in Latin the way he'd learned it in the seminary a hundred years or so ago, instead of in English.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison…
well, Greek for that part, actually, don't ask me why. Lord, have mercy, it meant, which I knew because I liked the old languages much better. They sounded mysterious to me, as it seemed that all things related to religion should, while the English version was more like someone trying to write poetry with a dull crayon, gripping it in a clumsy fist.

But I didn't say so to Cam. She didn't care about things like that. As far as she was concerned if you couldn't eat it, drink it, wear it, smoke it, dance to it, or (briefly, and only to tease the guy) make out with it, it didn't exist.

So instead: “Where did you tell them we were going?” I asked. When we went out like this, Cam handled the alibis.

She laughed carelessly, eyeing a cute guy in a convertible as he drove by us. “Well, first I told my mom that I was going over to your house for a sleepover, and then I went there and told your mom that I was picking you up at the church hall and taking you home to my house for the night.”

So no one would be waiting up for us, she meant. It was the other thing that Cam could do really well: make you believe her.

Around us the standard Whalley Avenue crush of early-Friday-evening traffic filled the oncoming night: cars full of kids our age or a little older, thumping with the bass notes of the music blaring inside. Exhaust fumes and oily restaurant aromas mingled with the cigarette smoke Cam exhaled, and above it all the stars were just now coming out one by one in the deepening blue sky.

She turned happily to me. “So we are free, free, free,” she sang, her dark eyes gleaming wickedly as she nudged me a little too hard with her elbow. “Come on, Janie, can't you smile even a little?”

I tried, but it couldn't have been very convincing. It was glorious to be out here at night on my own with no one telling me what to do or how to do it, I would admit that much. When I went out with my mother in the evening she was always terrified of everything, and every other word out of her mouth was about how I should be careful—did she really think that at my age I would get kidnapped, or hit by a car?—or that something I liked was an occasion of sin.

But by that summer I was starting to realize that you didn't just shrug off your whole upbringing so easily. It took work and dedication to be as free as Cam was, and I wasn't sure I was up to it. So I just trotted along silently with her until we reached the walkway leading into Edgewood Park.

Away from the street, the smells were of freshly cut grass, damp earth, and chlorine from the public swimming pool, closed now for the night. Along the white concrete path curving in among the trees the old-fashioned streetlights glowed hazily, making the park look magical. In the nearby shadows fireflies bobbed like tiny lanterns flickering.

There was a public dance being held at the tennis courts that night, and in the distance I heard the band tuning up; it all made my heart race happily but a little nervously, too, like something wonderful was about to happen.

Wonderful but scary. “Somebody got raped down there last week,” said Cam as we hurried along the path toward the music. She pointed into a secluded glade at the foot of a small hill, densely leafy and dark where the lights didn't reach.

“She was walking here all alone, late,” Cam added. “And I mean, really. I'm sorry for what happened to her and all, but can you imagine?”

Doing anything so stupid, she meant. It had already occurred to me that this was why Cam brought me along with her to places where guys might hit on her, so she wouldn't be alone. I could get help for her if she needed it, or she could use me for a handy excuse if somebody was a pest: She had to take care of her cousin.

I looked up into the night sky full of stars, feeling the air like warm lotion on my skin. “I don't know. I'll bet it's really nice being out here all alone late at night.”

Cam made a scornful sound. “Yeah, right. If you want to get
by some
And as if that wouldn't be bad enough, d'you know what they
to you if you get raped? After, I mean?”

Silhouetted by the headlights of cars heading down to the parking lot by the tennis courts, clusters of laughing young people flocked toward the music. “No, what?”

From her tone I could already tell she was about to drop some R-rated bombshell on me, something I probably didn't want to hear about and wouldn't like at all when I did; it might even give me nightmares.

But I was still curious. “Come on, Cam, what?”

She gave me a dark look. “They take you to the hospital and tie you to a bed and cut your clothes off.
” she emphasized, “your clothes.”

I stared at her, horrified. “Why would they do that?”

“So they can
you,” she replied, sounding gratified by my reaction. “With

She shuddered theatrically, and as we approached the tennis courts where the band was now playing she provided more details: the personal questions they asked, worse than anything I'd ever encountered in the confessional, and the restraints they used.

“Strapped in,” she emphasized, “they
you into them.”

How she might possibly have learned such a thing didn't even occur to me, much less that it might not be true. Cam was my go-to source for adult information, the certainty in her voice always making up for any small deficiencies in her actual knowledge.

“You know what I'd do to the guy, though, if I could? The guy who did it? I'd…”

She went on to tell me at length and in terrible detail what awful punishments she would inflict on the attacker.

“Anyway,” she finished authoritatively, “take my advice, you little dope, and just don't go to any dark places alone, and what happened to that girl won't ever happen to you.”

Now that she'd terrified me sufficiently to be sure I was hanging on her every word, she spun away from me, eager to join the throngs inside the tennis court fence. But I hung back.

“What's wrong?” she demanded, half turning to me again. From the tennis courts came the first twanging of a guitar solo, and it was as if her whole body was already in the grip of the music, the summer evening's unspoiled promise, her own innocence.

Despite her self-assured manner she had been brought up the same way I had: If you liked something, it must be wrong, and if you did it anyway something bad would happen to you because of it. But Cam had rejected all that, not stopping to wonder if any part of it might be true—that what you wanted could hurt you, whether or not it was a sin. So she was defenseless.

I just didn't realize it yet.

“Come on, Janie, don't be such a baby,” she said. “It's just a dance, for pete's sake. What do you think, there's going to be a rapist waiting for you in there, too, or something?”

Which was what I did think, actually, because the people around us looked friendly enough now, didn't they? All happy and laughing…

But I didn't know any of them, those dark shrubberies were very near, and—as my mother always liked to say—you never could tell what that stranger might be thinking.

“Come on, Jane,” Cam coaxed again. She might act impatient, but she was used to my being a chicken about everything at first. “We'll just go in for a little while, and if there's anything weird about it or if you don't think it's any fun then we'll both go home. Okay?”

She smiled into my face, so funny and pretty and most of all brave that I couldn't resist her. Cam would do anything, take any dare; once she'd climbed with some boys from school to the top of the water tower at East Rock and spray-painted her name up there, then took a picture of herself with the disposable camera she'd gotten for her twelfth birthday to prove it.

Later when school started a girl in her class called the photograph a fake. A few weeks after that, on a rainy day, the girl somehow ended up being pushed into the mud. All the way in. And when she was asked who did it, the girl wouldn't say.

BOOK: The Girls She Left Behind
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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