Chapter no 28

A Flicker in the Dark

I wake up to the smell of popping bacon grease and the sound of Etta James’s earthy vocals traveling down the hall. I don’t remember falling asleep. I had been actively trying not to, the weight of Daniel’s arms draped across my torso constricting me like a body bag. But I suppose it was inevitable; I couldn’t fight it forever, especially after the tranquilizer cocktail I had downed just before he came home. I sit up in bed, trying to ignore the gentle pounding in my skull, the puffiness of my eyes constricting my vision to two crescent-shaped slits. I glance around the room—he’s not here. He’s downstairs, making me breakfast, the way he always does.

I slip out of the covers and creep down the stairs, listening for the sound of his humming. I hear it, confirming that he is, in fact, downstairs, probably hopping around in that gingham apron as he flips chocolate-chip pancakes with little drawings etched inside. A cat with whiskers drawn on with a toothpick, a smiling face, a bulging heart. I slink back up the stairs, back into the bedroom, and slide open our closet door.

The necklace I found last night belongs to Aubrey Gravino. I have no doubt in my mind. Not only did I see it in her MISSING picture, but I saw the matching earring. I held it in my hand, inspected the trinity of diamonds and the pearl apex. I start to push the laundry aside, my mind less hazy now that the wine and Xanax are fully out of my system. I think back to the list of people I recounted to Aaron. The people who would know about the jewelry my father took and stashed in the back of his closet.

My family. The police. The victims’ parents.

And Daniel. I had told Daniel. I had told him everything.

I didn’t even think to include Daniel … because why would I? Why would I have reason to suspect my own fiancé? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s one I need to find out.

I lift up the LSU sweatshirt I remember tossing over the box and reach my hand out to grab it … but it’s not there. The box isn’t there. I push aside

more laundry, grabbing heaps of clothes and throwing them to the side. I sweep my arms across the floor, hoping to feel it hiding beneath a pair of jeans or a tangled-up belt or a rogue shoe.

But I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. It’s not there.

I lean back onto my legs, a sinking feeling settling in my stomach. I know I saw it. I remember grabbing the box, holding it in my hands, opening the lid and seeing the necklace nestled inside … but I also remember hearing Daniel get up last night to close the closet door. Maybe he grabbed the box then, too. Hid it somewhere else. Or maybe he woke up early this morning and moved it when I was sleeping.

I exhale slowly, trying to formulate a plan. I need to find that necklace. I need to know what it’s doing in my houseThe thought of bringing this evidence to the police—the thought of bringing Daniel to the police— makes my stomach lurch. It’s almost laughable, how ridiculous it seems. But I can’t just ignore it. I can’t pretend that I didn’t see it. That I didn’t smell that perfume on Daniel last night, that I didn’t notice the way his collar was damp with sweat. Suddenly, another memory rises to the surface. My brother, last night, his weary eyes resting on that bottle of pills.

His briefcase is full of that shit.

I think back to Lacey’s autopsy, to the coroner poking at her rigid limbs.

We found heavy traces of Diazepam in her hair.

Daniel would have the drugs. Daniel would have the opportunity. He disappears for days on end, alone. I think back to all the times he has taken off on a business trip I didn’t know about or remember, and instead of questioning him, I had blamed myself for forgetting. I went to Detective Thomas yesterday with a tip about Bert Rhodes based on far less than this. It was a theory formed out of circumstance and suspicion and a hint of hysteria, if I’m being honest with myself. But this … this isn’t suspicion. This isn’t hysteria. This seems like proof. Solid, concrete proof that my fiancé is somehow involved in something he shouldn’t be. Something terrible.

I stand up, sliding the closet door shut and sitting on the edge of my bed. I hear the clatter of a skillet being lowered into the sink, the hiss of

steam as the faucet sprays water onto the hot surface. I need to know what’s going on. If not for myself, then for those girls. For Aubrey. For Lacey. For Lena. If I can’t find the necklace, I need to find something. Something that will lead me to answers.

I walk down the stairs again, ready to face Daniel. I turn the corner to find him standing in the kitchen, placing two plates of pancakes and bacon on our small breakfast-nook table. There are two mugs of coffee steaming on the kitchen island, a pitcher of orange juice with sweat dripping down the sides.

It was just one week ago when I thought that this was karma. The perfect fiancé in exchange for the worst possible father. Now I’m not so sure.

“Good morning,” I say, standing in the doorway. He looks up and flashes a smile. It seems genuine.

“Good morning,” he says, grabbing a mug. He walks over and hands it to me, kissing the top of my head. “Interesting night last night, huh?”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I say, scratching at the spot his lips just left. “I think I was kind of in shock, you know. Waking up to the alarm like that and not knowing it was you downstairs.”

“I know, I feel horrible,” he says, leaning against the island. “I must have scared you to death.”

“Yeah,” I say. “A little bit.”

“At least we know the alarm works.” I try to crack a smile. “Yeah.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled to find the words to say to Daniel, but usually it’s because nothing ever seems good enough to say. Nothing ever seems to convey how deep my feelings are, how absolutely I had fallen for him in such a short amount of time. But now, the reasons are so vastly different, it’s hard to wrap my mind around. It’s hard to believe that this is actually happening. For a split second, my eyes glance over at my purse on the counter, at the bottle of Xanax I know is tucked inside. I think about the pill I took before chasing it with two glasses of wine, the way I had sunken into the couch as if I had been falling through clouds, the memory-like dream I was experiencing just before the alarm screeched to

life. I think about college, the last time something like this happened. The last time I was mixing drugs with alcohol in such a reckless manner. I think about the way the police had stared at me then the same way Detective Thomas was staring at me in his office yesterday afternoon—the same way Cooper was staring—silently questioning the validity of my mind, my memories. Me.

I wonder, for a second, if maybe I imagined the necklace. If maybe it wasn’t there at all. If maybe I was just confused, conflating the past with the present, the way I have so many times before.

“You’re mad at me,” Daniel says, walking over to the table and taking a seat. He gestures to the chair across from him, and I follow, dropping my phone on the counter before sitting down and staring at the food below me. It looks good, but I’m not hungry. “And I don’t blame you. I’ve been gone … a lot. I’ve been leaving you here all by yourself in the middle of all of this.”

“In the middle of all what?” I ask, my eyes drilling into the chocolate chips poking out of the browned batter. I pick up my fork and stab one with a single prong, scraping it off with my teeth.

“The wedding,” he says. “Planning everything. And, you know, what’s been on the news.”

“It’s okay. I know you’ve been busy.”

“But not today,” he says, cutting into his breakfast and taking a bite. “Today, I’m not busy. Today, I’m yours. And we’ve got plans.”

“And what exactly are those plans?”

“It’s a surprise. Dress comfortably, we’re going to be outside. Can you be ready in twenty minutes?”

I hesitate for a second, wondering if it’s a good idea. I open my mouth, start to come up with an excuse, when I hear my phone vibrate on the kitchen counter.

“One second,” I say, pushing my chair back, grateful for the excuse to step away, to stop talking. I walk over to the counter and see Cooper’s name on the screen and suddenly our argument last night feels so trivial. Maybe Cooper was right. All this time, maybe he had seen something in Daniel that I couldn’t see. Maybe he’s been trying to warn me.

This relationship you’re in. It doesn’t seem healthy.

I swipe my finger across the screen, ducking into the living room. “Hey, Coop,” I say, my voice low. “I’m glad you called.”

“Yeah, me, too. Look, Chloe. I’m sorry about last night—” “It’s fine,” I say. “Really, I’m over it. I overreacted.”

The line is quiet and I can hear his breath. It sounds shaky, like he’s walking fast, his pounding feet on the pavement sending a vibration up his spine.

“Is everything okay?”

“No,” he says. “No, not really.” “What is it?”

“It’s Mom,” he says at last. “Riverside called me this morning, they said it was urgent.”

“What was urgent?”

“Apparently she’s been refusing to eat,” he says. “Chloe, they think she’s dying.”

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