Chapter no 38

A Flicker in the Dark

“Chloe, what is that?”

Aaron’s voice sounds distant, like he’s calling to me from the other end of a tunnel. I can’t stop looking into my father’s eyes. Eyes I haven’t seen since I was a little girl, twelve years old, crouched on my living room floor, gazing into them through the static of a television screen. In this moment, I think back to the night I told Daniel about my father, the concern etched into his features as he listened to me detail his crimes in such gruesome specificity. The way he shook his head, claimed he had never heard, he had no idea.

But that was a lie. All of it, a lie. He already knew about my father. He knew about his crimes. He kept an article describing every detail tucked away in his childhood bedroom, hidden between the pages of a novel like a bookmark. He knew how he was able to take those girls and hide their bodies somewhere secret, somewhere never to be found.

Had Daniel done something similar to his sister, something terrible?

Had my father been his inspiration? Is he still? “Chloe?”

I look up at Aaron, my eyes wet with tears. Suddenly, I realize that if Daniel had known about my father, that means he had known about me, too. I think about the way we ran into each other at the hospital—a fateful coincidence, or the result of meticulous planning, being at the right place at the right time? It was common knowledge that I worked at that hospital; that article in the newspaper was proof of that. I think about the way he had looked at me, as if he had known me already. His eyes scanning my face, as though it were familiar. The way he had poked his head into the box of my belongings; the smile that snaked across his face when I told him my name. The way he seemed to fall for me instantly after that, gliding seamlessly into my life the way he’s somehow able to glide seamlessly into everything and everyone.

I just can’t believe I’m sitting here. With you.

I wonder if this was all a part of his plan. If I was a part of his plan.

Damaged Chloe, another one of his unsuspecting victims.

“We need to go,” I whisper, my shaking hands folding the clipping and tucking it into my back pocket. “I … I need to go.”

I walk quickly past Aaron, charge down the steps and back toward Daniel’s mother, still sitting on the living room couch, a distracted look in her eyes. When she sees us walking toward her, she looks up at us, smiles weakly.

“Find anything useful?”

I shake my head, feeling Aaron’s eyes glued to the side of my face, watching suspiciously. She nods gently, as though she were expecting as much.

“Didn’t think you would.”

Even after all these years, the disappointment in her voice is palpable. I understand what it’s like: always wondering, never being able to really let it go. But also, never wanting to admit it—that you still hold out hope that one day, you’ll know the truth. That you’ll understand. And that maybe, in the end, somehow, it will be worth the wait. Suddenly, I find myself drawn to this woman I barely even know. We’re connected, I realize. We’re connected in the same way my mother and I are connected. We love the same man, the same monster. I walk toward the couch, taking a seat on the edge of the cushion. Then I place my hand on hers.

“Thank you for talking to us,” I say, squeezing gently. “I’m sure that wasn’t easy.”

She nods, glances down at my hand clutching hers. Slowly, I see her head tilt gently to the side, as if she’s inspecting something. She flips her hand around and grabs mine, squeezing it tighter.

“Where did you get this?”

I look down and notice my engagement ring, Daniel’s family heirloom, glistening on my finger. Panic rises in my chest as she lifts my hand higher, inspecting it more closely.

“Where did you get this ring?” she asks again, her eyes now fastened on mine. “This is Sophie’s ring.”

“Wh—what?” I stutter, trying to pull my hand back. But she’s holding it too tightly; she won’t let go. “I’m sorry, what do you mean, Sophie’s ring?”

“This is my daughter’s ring,” she says again, louder, her eyes drilling into the ring once more, the oval cut diamond and halo of stones. The cloudy 14-karat band that sits slightly too large on my thin, bony finger. “This ring has been in my family for generations. It was my engagement ring, and when Sophie turned thirteen, I gave it to her. She always wore this ring. Always. She was wearing it the day she…”

She looks at me now, her eyes wide, terrified. “The day she disappeared.”

I stand up, ripping my hand from her grip.

“I’m sorry, we have to go,” I say, walking past Aaron and throwing open the screen door. “Aaron, come on.”

“Who are you?” the woman yells after us, shock bolting her to the couch. “Who are you?”

I run out the door and down the front steps. I feel dizzy, drunk. How could I have forgotten to take off the ring? How could I have forgotten that? I reach the car and pull on the handle, but the door doesn’t budge. It’s locked.

“Aaron?” I yell. My voice sounds strangled, like there are hands around my neck, squeezing it closed. “Aaron, can you unlock the door?”

“WHO ARE YOU?” the woman yells behind me. I can hear her getting up, running through the house. The screen door opens and slaps shut, and before I can turn around, I hear the car unlock. I grab the handle again, ripping the door open and flinging myself inside. Aaron is right behind me, running into the driver’s seat and cranking the engine.


The car lurches forward, flips around, and peels back down the road. I look in the rearview mirror, at the cloud of dust we’ve kicked up, at Daniel’s mother running after us, growing more distant with each passing second.


She’s flailing her hands, running wildly, until suddenly she collapses to her knees, drops her head into her hands, and cries.

The car is silent as we drive through town, making our way back to the highway. My hands are shaking in my lap, the image of that poor woman chasing us down the street making my stomach squeeze. The ring on my finger suddenly feels suffocating, and I grab it with my other hand, pulling it off frantically and flinging it to the ground. I stare at it on the floor, imagining Daniel gently removing it from the cold, dead hand of his sister.

“Chloe,” Aaron whispers, his eyes still trained on the road. “What was that?”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry, Aaron. I’m so sorry.”

“Chloe,” he says again, louder this time. Angier. “What the fuck was that?”

“I’m sorry,” I repeat again, my voice shaking. “I didn’t know.”

“Who is that?” he asks again, his hands gripping the steering wheel. “How did you find that woman?”

I’m silent next to him, unable to answer the question. His face turns toward mine, his mouth gaping open.

“Isn’t your fiancé named Daniel?” I don’t respond.

“Chloe, answer me. Isn’t your fiancé named Daniel?” I nod, tears streaming down my cheek.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, but Aaron, I didn’t know.”

“What the fuck,” he says, shaking his head. “Chloe, what the fuck. I told that woman my name. She knows where I work. Jesus Christ, I’m going to lose my job over this.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “Aaron, please. You were the one that helped me to see it—talking about my father’s jewelry, who would have known. Daniel. Daniel knew. Daniel knew everything.”

“And was this just a hunch, or…?”

“I found a necklace in our closet. A necklace that looks a lot like the one Aubrey would have been wearing the day she disappeared.”

“Jesus Christ,” he says again.

“Then I just started noticing things. Noticing how he smelled different when he came home from his trips. Smelled like perfume. Like other women. He claimed he was out of town when Aubrey and Lacey were taken, but he wasn’t where he told me he would be. I had no idea where he would go for days on end. I had no idea what he would do—until I looked through his briefcase and found his receipts.”

Aaron looks at me, finally, like I am the bane of his existence. Like he would rather be anywhere in the world than here, with me.

“What kind of receipts?”

“I’ll show you back at the motel,” I say. “Aaron, please. I need you to help me with this.”

He hesitates, his fingers drumming against the steering wheel.

“I’ve told you before,” he says, quieter than ever. “In my line of work, trust is everything. Honesty is everything.”

“I know,” I say. “And I promise, right now, I will tell you everything.”

We pull into the parking lot, the motel bleak before us. Aaron turns off the ignition, sitting silently beside me.

“Please come in,” I say, moving my hand to his leg. He flinches at the touch, but I can see his resolve melt. Silently, he unbuckles his seat belt and pushes the door open, stepping outside without a word.

The door to my room creaks as I open it, and we both step inside, closing it behind us. It’s cold, dark. The curtains are pulled tightly, my bag still resting on the bed. I walk over to the bedside table and click on the light, the fluorescent glow casting shadows across Aaron’s face as he stands by the doorway.

“This is what I found,” I say, zipping open my duffel bag. I reach inside, and my hand grazes the bottle of Xanax resting gently on top, but I push it aside. Instead, I reach for a white envelope. My fingers shake as I grab it, the same way they had been shaking as I leafed through Daniel’s briefcase, unsnapped on the dining room floor, digging through the papers organized in manila folders and three-ring binders. There had been packets of drug samples organized in clear dividers, memorialized like baseball cards. I had recognized the names from my own desk drawer: Alprazolam, Chlordiazepoxide, Diazepam. I remember feeling a choke lodge itself in my

throat as I read that last one, imagining a single hair floating to the floor like a feather. Then I had forced myself to keep flipping until I had found what I was looking for.

Receipts. I needed to see receipts. Because I knew that Daniel kept everything, from hotels and meals to gas stops and car repairs. All of it could be expensed.

I open the flap of the envelope now and dump its contents onto the bed, a pile of receipts fluttering onto the comforter. I start flipping through each one, my eyes scanning the various addresses at the bottom.

“There are receipts from Baton Rouge, of course,” I say. “Restaurants in Jackson, hotels in Alexandria. All of these receipts paint a picture of where he goes all day—and the dates at the bottom can tell us when he was there.”

Aaron walks over and sits next to me, his leg pressed against mine. He grabs the receipt on the top and stares at it, his eyes trained on the bottom.

“Angola,” he says. “Is that in his territory?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “But he goes there—a lot. And that’s the one that caught my attention.”


I pluck it from him, holding it at a distance between the tips of my thumb and forefinger, like it’s poisonous. Like it could bite.

“Angola is the home of the largest maximum-security prison in America,” I say. “Louisiana State Penitentiary.”

Aaron lifts his head. He turns to face me, his eyebrows lifted. “The home of my father.”

“Holy shit.”

“Maybe they know each other,” I continue, looking back at the receipt. A bottle of water, twenty dollars’ worth of gas. A sleeve of sunflower seeds. I remember the way my father used to tip the whole bag into his mouth and crunch like he was chewing on a handful of fingernails. The way the shells would turn up around the house, stuck to everything. Wedged between the cracks of the kitchen table, trapped beneath my shoe. Clumping together at the bottom of a water glass, drowning in spit.

I think of my mother, spelling Daniel with her fingers.

“That must be why he’s doing this,” I say. “Why he found me. They’re connected.”

“Chloe, you need to go to the police.”

“The police aren’t going to believe me, Aaron. I’ve already tried.” “What do you mean, you’ve already tried?”

“I have a history. A past that’s working against me. They think I’m crazy—”

“You are not crazy.”

His words cut me short. I’m almost stunned to hear them, like he had opened his mouth and started to speak French. Because for the first time in weeks, someone believes me. Someone is on my side. And it feels so good to be believed; to have someone look at me with genuine caring instead of suspicion or worry or rage. I think about all my little moments with Aaron, moments I had been trying to push out, trying to pretend didn’t mean anything. Sitting together by the bridge, talking about memories. The way I had wanted to call him that night on the couch when I was drunk and alone. I can tell he wants to keep talking, so I lean forward and kiss him once before he can say anything else. Before this feeling is gone.

“Chloe.” Our faces are close, foreheads pressed together. He looks at me like he wants to pull away, like he should pull away, but instead, his hand finds its way to my leg, then up my arm and into my hair. Before long, he’s kissing me back, his lips pushed hard onto mine, his fingers grabbing at anything they can find. I snake my own hands through his hair before working my way down the buttons on his shirt, his pants. I’m in college again, throwing myself at another beating heart to make my own feel less alone. He lays me down gently, his body pressed against mine, his thick arms raising my hands above my head, pinning my wrists into place. His lips work their way down my neck, my chest, and for a couple minutes, feeling Aaron slide inside of me, I let myself forget.

It’s dark outside when we’re finished, the only light coming from the dim glow of the bedside table. Aaron is lying beside me, his fingers playing with my hair. We haven’t spoken a word.

“I believe you,” he says at last. “About Daniel. You know that, right?” “Yeah.” I nod. “Yeah, I do.”

“So you’ll go to the police tomorrow?”

“Aaron, they won’t believe me. I’m telling you. I’ve been starting to think—” I hesitate, turn to the side, so I’m facing him. He’s still staring at the ceiling, a silhouette in the dark. “I’ve been starting to wonder if maybe I need to go see him. My father.”

He sits up, leans his bare back against the headboard. His head swivels to face mine.

“I’m just starting to think that maybe he’s the only one with answers,” I continue. “Maybe he’s the only one that can help me understand—”

“That’s dangerous, Chloe.”

“How is it dangerous? He’s in prison, Aaron. He can’t hurt me.”

“Yes, he can. He can still hurt you from behind bars. Maybe not physically, but…”

He stops, runs his hands over his face.

“Sleep on it,” he says. “Promise me you’ll sleep on it? We can decide tomorrow. And if you want me to go with you, I will. I’ll talk to him with you.”

“Okay,” I say at last. “Okay, I will.” “Good.”

He flings his legs out of bed, leaning over to grab his jeans from the floor. I watch as he shimmies them on and walks into the bathroom, flipping on the light. I shut my eyes, hearing the squeak of the faucet, the rush of running water. When I open them, he’s walking back into the bedroom again, a glass of water in his hand.

“I have to go for a while,” he says, pushing it in my direction. I grab it and take a sip. “My editor hasn’t heard from me all day. Are you going to be okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, rolling back onto my pillow. I watch as Aaron looks down, his eyes landing on something on the floor. He leans over and picks up my Xanax bottle, still resting at the top of my bag.

“Do you want one of these? To help you fall asleep?”

I stare at the bottle, the collection of pills inside. Aaron shakes them gently, his eyebrows lifting, and I nod, extend my hand.

“Would you judge me if I took two?”

“No.” He smiles, opening the cap and dumping two in my palm. “You’ve had a hell of a day.”

I inspect the pills in my palm and toss them back, swallowing them down with the water, feeling each one tear down my esophagus like jagged nails trying to claw their way back up.

“I can’t help but feel responsible,” I say, leaning my head against the headboard. I’m thinking of Lena. Of Aubrey. Of Lacey. Of all the girls whose deaths are on my conscience. Of all the girls I have inadvertently lured into the hands of a monster—first, my father. And now, Daniel.

“You’re not responsible,” Aaron says, sitting on the edge of the bed. He lifts his hand and brushes it through my hair. The room starts to spin gently, my eyelids begin to droop. When I close my eyes, an image from my dream flashes into my mind—me, standing beneath my childhood window, holding a shovel covered in blood.

“It’s my fault,” I say, my words slurred. I can still feel Aaron’s hands, warm on my forehead. “All of it, my fault.”

“Get some sleep,” I hear him say, almost like an echo. He leans down to kiss my forehead, his lips sticking to my skin. “I’ll lock the door behind me.”

I nod once before feeling myself drift away.

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