Chapter no 30

A Flicker in the Dark

Daniel and I are in the car again, silent other than the gentle pounding of the wind as it rips through our open windows, giving me a much-needed breath of fresh air. I can’t stop thinking about my mother, about the conversation that just took place in her room.

“Do you think you could spell it?” I had stuttered, staring into her wide, watery eyes. Tears were stuck to her eyelashes like beads of dew on grass, quivering. I looked down at her fingers, convulsing against mine. “Give me one second.”

I walked back into the hallway, poking my head into the waiting room. Daniel and Cooper were sitting with a few chairs between them, silent and stiff, their backs facing my direction. Then I shuffled across the hall, toward the living area, riffling through the table filled with old books that smelled like mothballs, pages stained brown. I grabbed a random assortment of DVDs, the donated rejects that nobody wanted to watch, and pushed them aside until I reached the board games. Then I hurried back to my mother’s room, pulling a small, velvet bag from my pocket. Scrabble tiles.

“Okay,” I said, feeling self-conscious as I dumped them onto her comforter and started flipping them over, one by one, until we had a full alphabet, each letter facing up. I couldn’t imagine this possibly working, but I had to try. “I’m going to point to a letter. We’ll start simple: means yes, means no. Tap when I hit the one you want.”

I looked down at the rows of letters on her bed, the prospect of having an actual conversation with my mother for the first time in twenty years both exhilarating and mind-numbing. I took a deep breath, and then I started to talk.

“Do you understand how this is going to work?”

I pointed to the N—nothing. Then I pointed to the Y. Tap.

I exhaled, my heart beating faster. All these years, my mother knew. She understood. She was hearing me talk. I just never took the time to let

her talk back.

“Do you know something about these murdered girls?”

N—nothing. Ytap.

“Are these murders somehow related to Breaux Bridge?”

N—nothing. Ytap.

I stopped, thinking hard about my next question. I knew we didn’t have a lot of time; soon, Cooper or Daniel or Doctor Glenn would walk back in, and I didn’t want them to catch me like this. I looked back down at the tiles, then I asked my final question.

“How do I prove it?”

I had started with the A, my finger pointing to the tile in the top left corner—nothing. I moved on to B, then C. Finally, when I pointed at D, her fingers moved.



“Okay, first letter, D.

Then I started back at the beginning—A. Tap.

My heart lurched in my chest. “D-A?”


She was spelling Daniel. I blew the air through my pursed lips, slowly, trying to stay calm. I lifted my fingers and pointed to the N, my eyes drilling into her fingers … until a noise from the hallway jolted me into action.

“Chloe?” I could hear Cooper getting closer, feet from the open door. “Chloe, you doing okay?”

I swept my arm across the bedspread and collected the tiles, grabbing them all into my palm and turning around just as Cooper appeared in the doorway.

“I just wanted to check on you,” he said, his eyes moving from me to my mother. A gentle smile cracked across his lips as he moved toward us, sitting on the edge of the bed. “You got her eyes to open.”

“Yeah,” I said, the sweat from my palm making the tiles greasy, slipping against each other in my grip. “Yeah, I did.”

Daniel flips on his blinker now, and we pull into a gravel driveway, the sound of kicked-up pebbles flicking off the windshield forcing him to close the windows. I lift my head slowly, shaking myself from my memory, and realize that I no longer recognize our surroundings.

“Where are we?” I ask. We’re winding down dusty side roads now; I don’t know how long we’ve been driving, but I do know this is not the route back home.

“We’re almost there,” Daniel says, smiling at me. “Where is there?”

“You’ll see.”

Suddenly, it feels claustrophobic in here. I reach for the air-conditioning and push the knob all the way to the right, leaning into the blast of cold air.

“Daniel, I need to go home.”

“No,” he says. “No, Chloe, I am not letting you wallow in self-pity at home right now. I told you I had plans for us today, and we’re going to do them.”

I inhale deeply, turning to face my window, watching the trees fly past as we inch deeper into the woods. I think about my mother, spelling out Daniel’s name. How could she possibly know? How could she know who he is if they’ve never met? The uneasiness I felt this morning is quickly returning. I look down at my phone, at the single bar of service, appearing and disappearing as it struggles to find a signal. Here I am—miles from home, trapped in a car with a man in possession of a dead girl’s necklace, no way to call for help. Maybe he saw me holding it last night; maybe I didn’t stash it back into the closet as quickly as I thought I did. My feet graze my purse and I think about my pepper spray, dutifully tucked into the bottom. At least I have that.

Don’t be ridiculous, Chloe. He won’t hurt you. He won’t.

A shock wave jolts through my body, and I realize that I sound just like my mother. I am my mother. I am my mother sitting in Sheriff Dooley’s office, making rationalizations about my father despite the growing

mountain of evidence stacking up against him. My eyes sting as a pool of tears wells up inside, threatening to break free. I lift my hand and wipe at them quickly, careful not to let Daniel see.

I think of my mother, bed-bound back in Riverside, her life confined to the ever-shrinking walls of her own troubled mind. And I understand now. I understand why she did it. I always thought she went back to my father because she was weak; because she didn’t want to be alone. Because she didn’t know how to leave him—she didn’t want to leave him. But now, in this moment, I understand my mother more than I ever have before. I understand that she went back to him because she was desperately searching for any trace of evidence that would point in the opposite direction, a scrap of something she could cling to that proved she wasn’t in love with a monster. And when she couldn’t find it, she was forced to take a good hard look at herself. She was forced to ask herself the very questions that are now swirling in my own mind, constricting in the same way hers must have been.

She was forced to acknowledge the fact that she was in love with a monster. And if she was in love with a monster … what did that make her?

I feel the car start to roll to a stop. I glance out the window again and see that we’re deep in the woods, the only break in the trees a small, swampy stream, presumably the entrance to a larger body of water.

“We’re here,” he says, turning off the car and stuffing the keys in his pocket. “Now get out.”

“Where is here?” I ask again, trying to keep my voice light. “You’ll see.”

“Daniel,” I say, but he’s already out of the car, walking over to the passenger side and opening my door for me. What used to feel like a chivalrous act now feels more ominous, like he’s forcing me out against my will. I reluctantly take his hand and step out of the car, wincing as he slams the door shut behind me, my purse, phone, and pepper spray still inside.

“Close your eyes.” “Daniel—”

“Close them.”

I close my eyes, taking in the absolute silence around us. I wonder if this is where he took them, Aubrey and Lacey. I wonder if this is where he did it. It’s the perfect spot—isolated, hidden. He won’t hurt you. I hear the buzzing of mosquitos around us, the scamper of some animal rustling the leaves in the distance. He won’t. I hear footsteps, Daniel’s, walking back toward my car, unlocking the trunk, pulling something out. He won’t hurt you, Chloe. I hear a thud as whatever it is is yanked from inside and lands on the ground. He’s walking back toward me now, carrying something. I hear it scraping against the ground. The scraping of metal against dirt.

A shovel.

I swing around, ready to sprint into the woods and hide. Ready to scream at the top of my lungs, hoping against all odds that there is someone else out here. Someone to hear me. Someone to help. When I face Daniel, his eyes are wide. He wasn’t expecting me to turn around. He wasn’t expecting me to fight. I look down at his hands, at the long, slender thing he’s clutching in his palms. I raise my arms to block him from striking me with it when I get a good, hard look at it and realize … it’s not a shovel. Daniel isn’t holding a shovel.

It’s an oar.

“I thought we’d go kayaking,” he says, his eyes darting over to the water. I turn, looking at the small opening where the trees part and the swamp water peeks through. Next to it, partially hidden behind the foliage, is a wooden rack with four kayaks perched inside, covered in leaves and dirt and spiderwebs. I exhale.

“This place is pretty hidden, but it’s been here forever,” he says, holding the oar sheepishly in his hands. He steps closer and holds it out for me to take. I grab it, feeling the heaviness of it in my arms. “The kayaks are free to use, you just need to bring your own paddle. It wouldn’t fit in my car, so I took your keys and loaded it into your trunk this morning.”

I look at him, studying him closely. If he were planning on using this thing as a weapon, he wouldn’t have handed it to me. I look down at the paddle and then back to the kayaks, the stillness of the water, the cloudless sky. I glance over at the car—my only way out of here, I know. The keys

are in his pocket; I have no other way home. So I decide in this moment—if he can act, so can I.

“Daniel,” I say, dropping my head. “Daniel, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“You’re tense. And that’s completely understandable, Chloe. That’s why we’re here. So I can help you relax.”

I look at him, still unsure if I can trust him. I can’t ignore the flood of evidence over the last few hours. The necklace and the perfume, the way Cooper had glared at him at Riverside, as if he could sense something in him that I couldn’t—something evil, something dark. My mother’s warning. The way he had grabbed my wrist yesterday, pinning me to the couch; the way he had snapped at me this morning, dangling my keys just out of reach. But then there are the other things, too. He had a security system installed. He took me to Riverside to see my mother and threw a surprise party and planned a day for just us two. It’s exactly the type of romantic gesture that he has always done from the moment we first met, lifting that box out of my arms and hoisting it onto his shoulder. The type of gesture I was looking forward to enjoying for the rest of our lives. I can’t help but smile as I take in his self-conscious grin—habit, I suppose—and that’s when I make up my mind: Daniel may hurt people, but I don’t yet believe

that he would hurt me.

“Okay,” I say, nodding. “Okay, let’s go.”

Daniel’s smile grows wider, forging ahead to the kayak stand and lifting one down from the wooden pegs. He drags it across the forest floor and brushes off the debris, clearing out the cobwebs that have collected in the center before pushing it into the water.

“Ladies first,” he says, holding out his arm. I let him grab my hand and take a shaky first step into the boat before instinctively clutching his shoulder as he helps lower me down. He waits until I’m situated before he jumps into the seat behind me and pushes us off from the dirt, and I feel us floating away.

Once we pass the clearing, I can’t help but gasp at the beauty of this place. The bayou is wide and lazy, peppered with cypress trees emerging from the murky water, their knees breaking the surface like fingers reaching

for something to grab. There are curtains of Spanish moss cascading the sunlight into millions of twinkling pinpricks, a chorus of frogs croaking in unison with their wet, guttural sounds. Algae floats sluggishly along the surface, and out of the corner of my eye, I see the slow creep of an alligator, his beady eyes watching an egret before it lifts gracefully from its skinny legs and flaps into the safety of the trees.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Daniel is paddling quietly behind me, the sound of the sloshing water pushing past the kayak lulling me into a daze. My eyes stay on the alligator, on the way it lurks so silently, hidden in plain sight.

“Gorgeous,” I say. “It reminds me of…”

I stop, my unfinished thought hanging heavy in the air.

“It reminds me of home. But … in a good way. Cooper and I, we used to go to Lake Martin sometimes. Watch the alligators.”

“I’m sure your mother loved that.”

I smile, remembering. Remembering the way we would scream through the trees: See ya later, alligator! The way we would catch turtles with our bare hands, counting the rings on their shells to learn their age. The way we would slather our faces with mud like war paint, chasing each other through the brush before slamming through the front door of our home, getting scolded by our mother, snickering all the way to the bathroom before she scrubbed our skin until it was fleshy and raw. Pushing our nails into our mosquito bites, little Xs peppering our legs like human tic-tac-toe boards. Somehow, only Daniel could draw these memories from me. Only Daniel could coax them out of their hiding place, out of the hidden recesses of my mind, out of the secret room I had banished them to the moment I saw my father’s face on the television screen, crying not for the six lives he had taken, but because he had gotten caught. Only Daniel could force me to remember that it wasn’t all bad. I lean back into the kayak and close my eyes.

“This is my favorite part,” he says, pushing our boat around a corner. I

open my eyes, and there, in the distance, is Cypress Stables. “Only six more weeks.”

The property is even more breathtaking from the water, that large, white farmhouse looming over acres of perfectly manicured grass. The rounded columns holding up its triple wraparound porches, the rocking chairs still dancing in the breeze. I watch them sway, back and forth, back and forth. I imagine myself walking down those magnificent wooden steps, walking toward the water, toward Daniel.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Detective Thomas’s words start to echo across the water, disturbing my perfect reverie.

What exactly is your connection to Aubrey Gravino?

I don’t have one. I don’t know Aubrey Gravino. I try to silence the sound, but for some reason, I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t get her out of my head. Her liner-smudged eyes and ashy brown hair. Her long, skinny arms. Her youthfully tan skin.

“From the moment I saw it, I wanted it,” Daniel says from behind me. But I barely register his words. I’m too focused on those rocking chairs, swaying back and forth in the wind. They’re empty now, but they weren’t always empty. There was a girl before. A tan, skinny girl rocking lazily against the column in her leather riding boots, sun-bleached and worn.

That’s my granddaughter. This land has been in our family for generations.

I remember Daniel waving. The uncrossing of the legs and the pulling down of the dress. The self-conscious way she dipped her head before waving back. The sudden emptiness of the porch. The rocking chair slowing to a halt.

She likes to come here sometimes after school. Do her homework on the porch.

Until two weeks ago, when she didn’t make it.

You'll Also Like