Chapter no 34

A Flicker in the Dark

“Doctor Davis, can you answer the question, please?”

I look up at Detective Thomas and attempt to blink away the memory. I can still feel the stickiness on my hands from the spilt drinks on the counter, the tingling in my legs from sitting there, motionless, for so many hours. So deep in conversation. Oblivious to the world outside of that dilapidated old kitchen. The buzz of the party around us evaporating until suddenly, we were the last ones left. The quiet walk home in the dark, Ethan’s finger hooked gently around mine as the fall wind trickled through the trees on campus. The way he led me up the sidewalk to my apartment, waited on the street corner until I unlocked my front door and waved him good night.

“Yes,” I say quietly, the knot in my throat tightening. “Yes, I know Ethan Walker. But it sounds like you know that already.”

“What can you tell me about him?”

“He was my boyfriend in college. We dated for eight months.” “And why did you split up?”

“We were in college,” I repeat. “It wasn’t that serious. It just didn’t work out.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

I’m glaring at him now, a hatred boiling in my chest that momentarily startles me. Clearly, he knows the answer already. He just wants to hear me say it.

“Why don’t you tell me the whole story, in your words,” Detective Thomas says. “Start from the top.”

I sigh, glancing at the clock hanging above my office door. Fifteen minutes before my first appointment is supposed to arrive. I’ve told my version of this story a hundred times before—I know he can just look at the department records, probably listen to a recording of me recounting the exact same thing—but I desperately want this man out of my office by the time my appointment arrives.

“Ethan and I dated for eight months, like I said. He was my first real boyfriend, and we got close fast. Too fast for a couple of kids. He was over at our apartment all the time, almost every night. But at the start of that summer, right after classes ended, he started to distance himself. It was also right around that time that my roommate, Sarah, went missing.”

“Was it reported as a Missing Persons case?”

“No,” I say. “Sarah was spontaneous; a free spirit. She was known to take off on weekend trips and things of that nature, but something about it didn’t feel right to me. I hadn’t heard from her in three days, so I started to get concerned.”

“That seems normal,” Detective Thomas says. “Did you go to the police?”

“No,” I say again, knowing how it sounds. “You have to remember, this was in 2009. People weren’t attached to their cell phones like they are today. I tried to tell myself that maybe she just took a last-minute trip and left her phone behind, but then I noticed that Ethan was starting to act strange.”

“Strange how, exactly?”

“Every time I mentioned her name, he got flustered. Kind of rambled a little bit and changed the subject. He didn’t even seem concerned that she was gone—he just offered up vague ideas about where she could be. He would say something like, ‘It’s summer break, maybe she went home to visit her parents,’ but when I said I wanted to call them and make sure she was there, he told me I was overreacting and needed to stop inserting myself into other people’s business. I started to think that the way he was acting, it was like he didn’t want her to be found.”

Detective Thomas nods in my direction; I wonder if he really has heard this all before, from the recording at the police station, but his expression gives away nothing.

“I went into her room one day and started poking around, trying to see if I could find a clue or something as to where she had gone. Like a note or something, I don’t know.”

The memory is so vivid, pushing her bedroom door open with one finger, listening to it creak. Stepping inside, quiet, like I was breaking some

kind of unspoken rule. Like she could come barreling in at any moment, catch me digging through her laundry or reading her diary.

“I ripped her comforter off her bed and I noticed that there was a bloodstain on her mattress,” I continue. “A big one.”

I can still see it, so clearly. The blood. Sarah’s blood. The spot taking up almost the entire bottom half of her bed, no longer bright but a burnt, rusty red. I remember pushing my hand into it, feeling the moisture seep up from somewhere deep inside. Smears of scarlet on my finger pads, still wet. Still fresh.

“And I know this sounds strange, but I could smell Ethan on her bed,” I say. “He had a very … distinct smell.”

“Okay,” he says. “Surely, at that point, you went to the police.”

“No. No, I didn’t. I know I should have, but—” I stop, compose myself. I need to make sure I word this correctly. “I wanted to be absolutely certain that there was some kind of foul play involved before going to the police. I had just moved to Baton Rouge to escape my name, my past. I didn’t want the police dragging that back to the surface again. I didn’t want to lose the normalcy that I was finally starting to find.”

He nods, judgment in his eyes.

“But just like I had invited Lena into my house and introduced her to my father, I was starting to feel the same way about Sarah and Ethan,” I continue. “I had given him a key to our apartment. And now she was missing, and it was starting to feel like maybe she was in trouble, and if Ethan had something to do with it, I felt obligated to do everything I could to figure that out. I was starting to feel responsible.”

“Okay,” he says. “What happened next?”

“Ethan broke up with me that week. It came out of nowhere. I was blindsided, but the fact that this was happening right around the time of Sarah’s disappearance felt like proof to me. Proof that he was hiding something. He told me he was getting out of town for a few days, heading home to his parents’ house to work through everything. So I decided to break into his place.”

Detective Thomas raises his eyebrows, and I force myself to keep talking, to push on, before he can interrupt me again.

“I thought I could get some evidence to take to the police,” I say, my mind on the jewelry box in my father’s closet, the physical embodiment of undeniable proof. “I knew from my father’s murders that evidence was critical—without it, there’s just suspicion. Not enough to make an arrest or to even take an accusation seriously. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, exactly. Just something I could put my hands on. Something to make me feel like I wasn’t going crazy.”

I flinch slightly at my own choice of words—crazy—and continue.

“So I broke in through a window I knew he kept unlocked and started looking around. But pretty soon, I heard a noise coming from his bedroom, and I realized that he was home.”

“And what did you find when you went into his bedroom?”

“He was there,” I say, my cheeks flushing at the memory. “And so was Sarah.”

In that moment—standing in Ethan’s bedroom doorway, staring at him and Sarah tangled between his ratty sheets—I remembered their hug at that party, the night we met. I remembered the way she cupped her hand over her lips and leaned in close, whispering into his ear. Ethan and Sarah had known each other from class—that much was true. But I would later find out that wasn’t the extent of their relationship. They had hooked up the previous year, and after a few months of us dating, they started it back up again, behind my back. Turns out I had been right about Sarah. Always taking what I wanted. Introducing us had been a game to her, a way to dangle herself in front of Ethan and then swoop in and reclaim him, once again proving that she was better than me.

“And how did he react to you barging in like that? Breaking into his apartment?”

“Not well, obviously,” I say. “He started screaming at me, saying he had been trying to break up with me for months but I was being clingy. Refused to listen. He painted me as the crazy ex-girlfriend breaking into his apartment … and he took out a restraining order.”

“And the blood stain on Sarah’s mattress?”

“Apparently she had accidentally gotten pregnant,” I say in a matter-of-fact numbness. “But she had a miscarriage. She was pretty upset about it,

but she wanted to keep it a secret. For starters, she didn’t want anyone to know she had gotten pregnant, but she especially didn’t want them to know it had been with her roommate’s boyfriend. She had been holing up at Ethan’s apartment for the week, trying to work through it. That’s why Ethan didn’t want me to freak out about it and call her parents—or, God forbid, report her missing.”

Detective Thomas sighs, and I can’t help but feel stupid, like a teenager being scolded for trying to get drunk off mouthwash. I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. I wait for him to say something, anything, but instead, he just continues to stare in my direction, scrutinizing me with those questioning eyes.

“Why are you making me tell you this story?” I ask finally, my irritation from before creeping back in. “You obviously know it already. How is it relevant to this case at all?”

“Because I was hoping that recounting this memory would help you see what I see,” he says, taking a step closer to me. “You have been hurt in your life by people you loved. People you trusted. You have an inherent distrust in men, that much is clear—and who can blame you, after what your father did? But just because you don’t know where your boyfriend is every second of the day doesn’t mean that he’s a murderer. You learned that the hard way.”

I feel my throat constrict and I immediately think of Daniel—of my other boyfriend (no, fiancé) who I am now investigating on my own accord. Of the suspicions that have been piling up in my mind, of the plans I have for this weekend. Plans that are no different from breaking through Ethan’s apartment window, really. It’s an invasion of privacy. A proverbial snoop through the diary. My eyes flicker to the duffel bag at my feet, zipped and ready.

“And just because you have a distrust of Bert Rhodes doesn’t mean that he is capable of murder, either,” he continues. “This seems to be a pattern with you—injecting yourself into conflicts that don’t concern you, trying to solve the mystery and be the hero. I understand why you’re doing it—you were the hero who put your father behind bars. You feel like it’s your duty. But I’m here to tell you that it needs to stop.”

This is the second time I’ve heard those words in a week; the last was with Cooper, back in my kitchen, his eyes on my pills.

I know why you do it. I just wish you would stop.

“I’m not injecting myself into anything,” I say, my fingers digging deep into my palms. “I’m not trying to be the hero, whatever that means. I’m trying to be helpful. I’m trying to give you a lead.”

“False leads are worse than no leads at all,” Detective Thomas says. “We spent close to a week on this guy. A week we could have spent on someone else. Now, I don’t necessarily believe that you have malicious intentions here—I do believe that you were trying to do what you think is best—but if you ask my opinion, I think that you need to consider getting some help.”

Cooper’s voice, pleading.

Get some help.

“I’m a psychologist,” I say, my eyes trained on his, regurgitating the same words I had spit back at Cooper; the same words I have been reciting in my own mind my entire adult life. “I know how to help myself.”

A silence settles over the room, and I can almost hear Melissa’s breathing outside, her ear pushed against the closed door. Surely, she heard our entire conversation. As did my next patient, probably sitting outside in the waiting room now. I imagine her eyes widening as she overhears a detective telling her psychologist that she needs help.

“Ethan Walker’s restraining order, the one he filed after you broke into his apartment. He mentioned that you had some substance abuse problems in college. You were reckless with prescription Diazepam, mixing it with alcohol.”

“I don’t do that anymore,” I say, my pill drawer radiating against my


We found heavy traces of Diazepam in her hair.

“I’m sure you know that those drugs can have some pretty serious side

effects. Paranoia, confusion. It can be tough to separate reality from fantasy.”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to determine what’s real and what’s not.

“I don’t have a prescription for any drugs,” I say, not exactly a lie. “I’m not paranoid, I’m not confused. I’m just trying to help.”

“Okay.” Detective Thomas nods. I can tell he feels bad for me; he’s pitying me, which means he’s never again going to take me seriously. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more alone than I did before, but right now, I do. I feel completely alone. “Okay, well. I think that means we’re done here.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Thank you for your time,” he says, walking toward the door. He reaches for the handle and hesitates, turning around again. “Oh, one more thing.”

I raise my eyebrows, a silent cue for him to continue.

“If we see you at any more crime scenes, we will take the appropriate disciplinary actions. Tampering with evidence is a criminal offense.”

“What?” I ask, genuinely stunned. “What do you mean tampering with


I stop, mid-sentence, realizing what he’s talking about. Cypress

Cemetery. Aubrey’s earring. The officer plucking it out of my palm.

You look so familiar, and I can’t seem to place it. Have we met before?

“Officer Doyle recognized you from Aubrey Gravino’s crime scene the minute we stepped into your office. We were waiting to see if you would say anything to us. Mention that you were there. It’s a pretty big coincidence.”

I swallow, too stunned to move.

“But you never did. So when you came to the station because you had remembered something, that’s what I thought you were going to tell me,” he continues, shifting. “But instead, you had a theory about a copycat. Stolen jewelry. Bert Rhodes. Only, you told me that seeing Lacey’s body had been the catalyst of that theory. But I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that, because that was after Officer Doyle saw you holding that earring. It didn’t make sense.”

I think back to that afternoon in Detective Thomas’s office, to the way he had been looking at me, uneasy. Unbelieving.

“How would I have gotten Aubrey’s earring?” I ask. “If you genuinely think that I planted it there, that must mean you think that I…”

I stop, unable to speak the words. He can’t possibly think that I have something to do with all of this … can he?

“There are different theories floating around.” He digs a pinky nail into his teeth, inspects it. “But I can tell you that her DNA wasn’t on it. Anywhere. Only yours.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying we can’t prove how or why that earring got there. But the common thread binding all this together seems to be you. So don’t make yourself look any more suspicious than you already do.”

I realize now, even if I do find Aubrey’s necklace hidden somewhere in my home, that the police will never believe me. They clearly think that I’m planting evidence to point them in a certain direction, a desperate attempt to prove another one of my baseless ideas, placing the blame on yet another untrustworthy man in my life. Or worse, they think had something to do with it. Me, the last person to see Lacey alive. Me, the first person to find Aubrey’s earring. Me, the living, breathing DNA of Dick Davis. The spawn of a monster.

“Okay,” I say. There’s no point in fighting him on this one. No point in trying to explain. I watch Detective Thomas nod again, satisfied with my response, before turning around and disappearing behind my office door.

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