Authors: Karen M. McManus
Katrin gives her a speculative look. “Didn’t realize you’d noticed, Brooke.”
My head swivels, looking for Malcolm, and I spot him sitting with that girl Mia from the hallway, and my brother. I’m not surprised; Ezra has a knack for inserting himself into whatever social group he’s decided to join. At least I’ll have another lunch option when I don’t get invited back to Katrin’s table.
Viv snorts. “Cute, my ass,” she says flatly. “Declan should be in jail.”
“You think he killed Lacey Kilduff?” I ask, and she nods.
Katrin cocks her head, confused. “But weren’t you just saying that whoever killed Lacey is leaving those threats around town?” she asks. “Declan lives in another state.”
Viv leans an elbow on the table, staring at her friend, eyes wide. “You live with the Kellys and you seriously don’t know?”
Katrin frowns. “Know what?”
Viv waits a few beats for maximum impact, then smirks. “Declan Kelly is back in town.”
Monday, September 9
Echo Ridge has one bar, which technically is only half in town because it sits right on the border of neighboring Solsbury. Unlike most Echo Ridge businesses, Bukowski’s Tavern has a reputation for leaving people alone. They won’t serve minors, but they don’t card at the door. So that’s where I meet Declan on Monday afternoon, after spending the first day back at school pretending that
yeah, sure, I knew my brother was around.
Bukowski’s doesn’t look like it belongs in Echo Ridge. It’s small and dark, with a long bar at the front, a few scarred tables scattered around the room, and a dartboard and pool table in the back. The only thing on the walls is a neon Budweiser sign with a flickering
There’s nothing cute or quaint about it.
“You couldn’t give me a heads-up you were in town?” I ask when I slide into a seat across from Declan. I mean to say it like a joke, but it doesn’t come out that way.
“Hello to you too, little brother,” Declan says. I saw him less than a week ago, but he looks bigger here than he did in Aunt Lynne’s basement apartment. Maybe because Declan was always larger than life in Echo Ridge. Not that the two of us ever hung out at Bukowski’s before. Or anywhere, really. Back in grade school, when my dad was trying to make me and football happen, Declan would occasionally deign to play with me. He’d get bored fast, though, and the more I missed, the harder he’d throw. After a while I’d give up trying to catch the ball and just put my hands up to protect my head.
What’s your problem?
I’m not trying to hit you. Trust me, would you?
He’d say that as if he’d ever done anything to earn it.
“You want something to drink?” Declan asks.
“Coke, I guess.”
Declan raises his hand to an elderly waitress in a faded red T-shirt cleaning beer taps behind the bar. “Two Cokes, please,” he says when she arrives at our table. She nods without much interest.
I wait until she leaves to ask, “What are you doing here?”
A muscle twitches in Declan’s jaw. “You say it like I’m violating some kind of restraining order. It’s a free country.”
“Yeah, but …” I trail off as the waitress returns, placing cocktail napkins and tall glasses of Coke with ice in front of us. My phone exploded during lunch once word got out that Declan was in Echo Ridge. And he
that. He knows exactly the kind of reaction this would get.
Declan leans forward, resting his forearms on the table. They’re almost twice the size of mine. He works construction jobs when he’s not taking classes, and it keeps him in better shape than football did in high school. He lowers his voice, even though the only other people in Bukowski’s are two old guys wearing baseball caps at the end of the bar. “I’m sick of being treated like a criminal, Mal.
I didn’t do anything.
Remember?” He rubs a hand over his face. “Or do you not believe that anymore? Did you ever?”
“Of course I did. Do.” I stab at the ice in my drink with my straw. “But why now? First Daisy’s back and now you. What’s going on?”
The ghost of a frown flits across Declan’s face when I mention Daisy, so quick I almost miss it. “I’m not
Mal. I still live in New Hampshire. I’m here to see someone, that’s all.”
Declan heaves an exasperated sigh. “Why are you so hung up on Daisy? Do you still have a thing for her?”
“No. I’m just trying to figure this out. I saw you
and you never said you were coming.” Declan shrugs and takes a sip of Coke, avoiding my eyes. “And it’s kind of shitty timing, you know. With all the crap going on around town.”
“What does that have to do with me?” He breaks into a scowl when I don’t respond right away. “Wait. Are you kidding me? People think I had something to do with that? What’s next? Am I responsible for global warming now, too? Fucking hell, Mal.” One of the old guys at the bar looks over his shoulder, and Declan slumps back against the chair, glowering. “For the record. Just so we’re clear. I didn’t come here to write creepy-ass slogans on signs and walls or whatever.”
“Graves,” I correct.
Declan grits out, low and dangerous.
I believe him. There’s no possible universe in which my hotheaded, testosterone-fueled brother dresses a trio of dolls up like homecoming queens and ties them to a mausoleum. It’s easier to imagine him placing his hands around Lacey’s throat and squeezing the life out of her.
My hand shakes as I pick up my glass, rattling the ice in it. I can’t believe I just thought that. I take a sip and swallow hard. “Then why
you come? And how long are you staying?”
Declan drains his Coke and signals for the waitress. “Jack and Coke this time,” he says when she arrives.
Her lips thin as she glances between us. “ID first.”
Declan reaches for his wallet, then hesitates. “You know what? Forget it. Just another Coke.” She shrugs and walks away. Declan shakes his head like he’s disgusted with himself. “See what I did there? Decided not to get a drink, even though I wanted one, because I don’t feel like showing my name to some woman I don’t even know. That’s my fucking life.”
“Even in New Hampshire?” I ask. One of the old guys at the bar keeps glancing our way. I can’t tell whether it’s because I’m so obviously underage or … because.
“Everywhere,” Declan says. He goes silent again as the waitress brings a Coke, then raises the glass to me in a toast. “You know, you and Mom have a good thing going here, Mal. Peter likes to pretend I don’t exist, but he’s solid with you guys. You might even get college out of the deal.”
He’s right. I might. Which makes me feel guilty, so I say, “Peter says he’s talking to Mr. Coates about a job for you.” Since Ben Coates was the mayor of Echo Ridge when Lacey died, he got interviewed a few times about what he thought might have happened.
A tragic, random act of violence,
he always said.
Some depraved individual passing through.
Declan laughs darkly. “I guarantee you that’s bullshit.”
“No, they got together Labor Day weekend, and—”
“I’m sure they did. And they might even have mentioned me. Probably along the lines of how it’d be career suicide to hire me. It is what it is, Mal, and I won’t be a pain in Peter’s ass about it. I’m not trying to drive a wedge between him and Mom. Or you. I’ll stay out of your way.”
“I don’t want you to stay out of my way. I just want to know why you’re here.”
Declan doesn’t answer right away. When he does, he sounds less angry and more tired. “You know what happened with me and Lacey, before she died? We outgrew each other. But we didn’t know that, because we were a couple of dumb kids who’d been together forever and thought we were supposed to stay that way. If we were regular people, we would’ve eventually figured out how to break up and that would have been that. We’d have moved on. Wound up with someone else.” His voice dips lower. “That’s how things should’ve ended.”
The guy at the bar who’s been staring at us gets up and starts moving our way. When he’s crossed half the room I realize he’s not as old as I thought he was: early fifties, maybe, with thick arms and a barrel chest. Declan doesn’t turn around, but gets up abruptly and pulls out his wallet. “I gotta go,” he says, dropping a ten on the table. “Don’t worry, all right? Everything’s fine.”
He brushes past the guy, who half turns to call after him, “Hey. You Declan Kelly?” Declan continues toward the door, and the guy raises his voice. “
I’m talking to you.”
Declan grasps the doorknob and leans against the door, shouldering it open. “I’m nobody,” he says, and disappears outside.
I’m not sure what the guy’s going to do—keep coming toward me, maybe, or follow Declan outside—but he just shrugs and heads for to the bar, settling himself back onto his stool. His friend leans toward him, muttering something, and they both laugh.
It hits me, as I finish my Coke in silence, that Declan’s life is a lot shittier up close than it seems from a state away.
Half an hour later I’m dragging my ass home, because it didn’t occur to my brother before making his dramatic exit to ask if I might need a ride. I’m rounding the bend toward Lacey’s old house when I spot someone a few feet ahead of me on the road, wheeling an oversized suitcase behind her.
“Hey,” I call when I get close enough to tell who it is. “Leaving town already?”
Ellery Corcoran turns just as her suitcase wheels hit a rock on the ground, almost jerking the luggage out of her hand. She pauses and balances it carefully next to her. While she’s waiting for me to catch up, she pulls her hair back and knots it into some kind of twist, so quickly I barely see her hands move. It’s kind of mesmerizing. “The airline lost my luggage more than a week ago, and they just delivered it.” She rolls her eyes. “To our
“That sucks. At least it showed up, though.” I gesture to the suitcase. “You need help with that?”
“No thanks. It’s easy to roll. And my grandmother’s house is right there.”
A breeze stirs, sending stray tendrils of hair across Ellery’s face. She’s so pale, with sharp cheekbones and a stubborn chin, that she’d look severe if it weren’t for her eyes. They’re inky black, huge and a little bit tilted at the edges, with eyelashes so long they look fake. I don’t realize I’m staring until she says, “What?”
I shove my hands into my pockets. “I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve been meaning to thank you for the other night. At the fund-raiser? For not, you know, assuming I was the … perpetrator.”
A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. “I don’t know a lot of vandals, but I have to imagine most of them don’t look quite so horrified by their own handiwork.”
“Yeah. Well. It would be easy to assume. Most people here do. And that would’ve been … not great for me.”
“Because your brother was a suspect in Lacey’s murder,” she says. Matter-of-factly, like we’re talking about the weather.
“Right.” We start walking again, and I have this weird impulse to tell her about my meeting with Declan. I’ve been out of sorts about it since I left Bukowski’s Tavern. But that would be oversharing, to say the least. Instead, I clear my throat and say, “I, um, met your mother. When she came back for Lacey’s funeral. She was … really nice.”
isn’t the right word. Sadie Corcoran was like this bolt of energy that swept through town and electrified everybody, even in the middle of mourning. I got the sense that she considered Echo Ridge one big stage, but I didn’t mind watching the performance. We all needed the distraction.
Ellery squints into the distance. “It’s funny how everyone remembers Sadie here. I’m pretty sure I could visit every town I’ve ever lived in and nobody would notice.”
“I doubt that.” I shoot her a sideways glance. “You call your mom by her first name?”
“Yeah. She used to have us pretend she was our older sister when she went on auditions, and it stuck,” Ellery says in that same matter-of-fact tone. She shrugs when I raise my brows. “Mothers of preschoolers aren’t considered particularly sexy in Hollywood.”
An engine roars behind us—faintly at first, then so loud that we both turn. Headlights flash, coming way too fast, and I grab Ellery’s arm to yank her out of the road. She loses her grip on the suitcase and yelps as it topples into the path of the oncoming car. Brakes squeal, and the bright-red BMW’s wheels stop inches in front of the handle.
The driver’s side window lowers, and Katrin pokes her head out. She’s in her purple Echo Ridge cheerleading jacket; Brooke is in the passenger seat. Katrin’s eyes drop to the suitcase as I grab it off the ground and haul it back to safety. “Are you going somewhere?” she asks.
“Christ, Katrin. You almost ran us over!”
“I did not,” she scoffs. She arches a brow as Ellery takes the suitcase handle from me. “Is that yours, Ellery? You’re not moving again, are you?”
“No. Long story.” Ellery starts rolling the oversized suitcase toward the grassy knoll in front of her grandmother’s house. “I’m almost home, so … I’ll catch you guys later.”
“See you tomorrow,” I say, as Katrin waves and utters a lazy “Byeeeee.” Then she raps her palm against the car door and narrows her eyes at me. “You’ve been keeping secrets. You didn’t tell me Declan was back in town.”
“I had no idea until today,” I say.
Katrin shoots me a look of pure skepticism. Brooke leans forward in her seat, pulling the sleeves of her purple cheerleading jacket over her hands as if she’s cold. Her eyes dart between Katrin and me as Katrin asks, “You expect me to believe that?”
I feel my temper flare. “I don’t care if you believe it or not. It’s the truth.”
My stepsister and my brother have nothing to do with one another. Declan didn’t come to our mom’s wedding to Peter and doesn’t visit. Katrin hasn’t mentioned his name once in the entire four months we’ve been living together.
She looks unconvinced, but jerks her head toward the backseat. “Come on, we’ll give you a ride.” She turns toward Brooke and adds, just loud enough for me to hear, “You’re welcome.”