Chapter no 46

A Flicker in the Dark

I’m sitting at my kitchen island, an open bottle of red aerating between two full glasses. I’m twisting one in my hand, rubbing the delicate stem back and forth between my fingers. To my left, an orange bottle, the cap unscrewed.

I glance at the clock on the wall, the hour hand pointing at seven. The overgrown branches from the magnolia tree outside are scratching at my window, nails against glass. I can almost feel the knock on my door before I hear it, that moment of anticipatory silence hanging heavy in the air like the seconds after a lightning strike as you wait for the thunder to roll though. Then that quick, closed-fisted pounding—always the same, unique like a fingerprint—followed by a familiar voice.

“Chlo, it’s me. Let me in.”

“It’s open,” I yell back, my eyes staring straight ahead. I hear the creak of the door, the double chimes from my alarm. My brother’s heavy footsteps as he steps inside, closing it behind him. He walks over to the island, kisses my temple before I feel his posture stiffen.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say, sensing his eyes on the pills. “I’m fine.”

He exhales, pulls out the barstool next to mine and takes a seat. We’re quiet for a while, a game of dare. Each of us waiting for the other to go first.

“Look, I know these last couple weeks have been hard on you.” He gives in, placing his hands on the counter. “They’ve been hard on me, too.”

I don’t respond.

“How are you holding up?”

I lift my wine, my lips grazing the edge of the glass. I hold them there and watch as my breath comes out in little puffs before disappearing again.

“I killed someone,” I say at last. “How do you think I’m holding up?” “I can’t imagine what that must have been like.”

I nod, take a sip, put my glass down on the counter. Then I turn toward Cooper. “Are you really going to make me drink alone?”

He stares at me, his eyes searching my face like he’s looking for something. Something familiar. When he can’t find it, he reaches for the second glass and takes a sip himself. He exhales, stretches his neck.

“I’m sorry about Daniel. I know you loved him. I just always knew there was something about him…” He stops, hesitates. “Whatever, it’s over now. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

I wait silently as Cooper takes another few sips, the alcohol starting to course through his veins, loosen his muscles, until I look at him again, my eyes square on his.

“Tell me about Tyler Price.”

I watch a shock wave ripple across his expression, only for a second. A tremor like a miniature earthquake before he pulls himself together again, his face like stone.

“What do you mean? I can tell you what I saw in the news.”

“No.” I shake my head. “No, I want to know what he was really like.

After all, you knew him. You were friends.”

He’s staring at me, his eyes darting back down to the pills again.

“Chloe, you’re not making any sense. I’ve never met that guy. Yeah, he was from home, but he was a nobody. A loner.”

“A loner,” I repeat, twisting the stem in my hands, the rotating glass making a rhythmic swoosh against the marble. “Right. Then how did he get into Riverside?”

I think back to that morning with my mother, at seeing Aaron’s name on the visitor pad. I had been so angry, the prospect of them letting a stranger into her room. I had been so angry that I hadn’t been listening, the words hadn’t registered.

Sweetheart, we don’t let people in who aren’t authorized.

“God, I keep telling you to stop taking these fuckin’ things,” he says, reaching for the bottle. He picks it up, and I can sense the weightlessness in his hands. “Jesus, did you take all of them?”

“It’s not the pills, Cooper. Fuck the pills.”

He looks at me the same way he looked at me twenty years ago, when I had stared at my father on the television screen, hawked those words through my teeth like dip spit, gritty and foul. Fucking coward.

“You knew him, Cooper. You knew everybody.”

I picture Tyler as a teenager, scrawny and awkward, almost always alone. A faceless, nameless body trailing my brother around the Crawfish Festival, following him home, waiting outside his window. Doing his bidding. After all, my brother was a friend to everyone. He made them feel warm and safe and accepted.

I think back to my conversation with Tyler on the water now, talking about Lena. How she was nice to me; how she looked after me.

That’s a friend, he had said, nodding. Knowing. The best kind, if you ask me.

“You reached out to him,” I say. “You sought him out. You brought him here.”

Cooper is staring at me now, his mouth hanging open like a cabinet with a loose hinge. I can see the words lodged in his throat like an unchewed chunk of bread, and that’s how I know that I’m right. Because Cooper always has something to say. He always has the words, the right words.

You’re my baby sister, Chloe. I want the best for you.

“Chloe,” he whispers, his eyes wide. I notice it now—the pulsing in his neck, the way he rubs his fingers together, slick with sweat. “What the fuck are you talking about? Why would I do that?”

I picture Daniel in my living room just this morning, that necklace tangled between his fingers. The hesitation in his voice as he started to tell me everything, the sadness in his eyes, like he was about to euthanize me— because he was, I guess. I was about to undergo a humane slaughtering right there in my living room. Put her down gently.

“When you told me about your father for the first time,” Daniel had said, “about everything that happened in Breaux Bridge, everything he had done, I already knew. Or, at least, I thought I knew. But there were so many things you told me that surprised me.”

I think back to that night, so early in our relationship, Daniel’s fingers massaging my hair. Me, telling him everything—about my father, Lena, the way he had been watching her that day at the festival, his hands dug deep into his pockets. That figure gliding through my backyard, the jewelry box

in the closet, the dancing ballerina and the chimes that I can still hear playing in my mind, haunting my dreams.

“It just struck me as odd. My entire life, I thought I knew who your father was. Just pure evil. Killing little girls.” I pictured Daniel in his bedroom, a teenaged boy with that article in his hands, trying to imagine. The news had painted us all in such black-and-whites: My mother, the enabler. Cooper, the golden boy. Me, the little girl, the constant reminder. And my father, the devil himself. One-dimensional and wicked. “But as I listened to you talk about him, I don’t know. Some stuff didn’t fit.”

Because with Daniel, and only with Daniel, I could talk about how it wasn’t all bad. I could talk about the good memories, too. I could talk about how my dad used to cover the staircase in bath towels, pushing us down in laundry bins because we had never gone sledding. How he seemed genuinely afraid when the news had broken—me, in the kitchen, twisting my mint-green blanket, that bright red bar on the screen. LOCAL BREAUX BRIDGE GIRL GOES MISSING. The way he had held me tight, waited for me on the porch steps, made sure my window was locked at night.

“If he did those things, if he murdered those girls, then why would he be trying to protect you?” Daniel had asked. “Why would he be concerned?”

My eyes started to sting. I didn’t have an answer to that question. That was the question I had been asking myself my entire life. Those had been the very memories I had been struggling to make sense of—those memories with my father that seemed to be so conflicting with the monster he had turned out to be. Hand-washing the dishes and removing my training wheels; letting me paint his fingernails one day and teaching me how to hook a line the next. I remember crying after I had caught my first fish, its little puckered lips gasping as my father dug his fingers into its gills, trying to stop the bleeding. We were meant to eat it, but I had been so distraught, Dad threw it back. He let it live.

“So when you told me about the night he was arrested—how he didn’t fight, didn’t try to run,” Daniel had said, leaning closer, his eyebrows raised. Hoping that I would understand, finally. That I would get it, finally. That he wouldn’t have to say it himself. That perhaps the killing could be

self-inflicted; the trigger would go off in my mind instead of on his tongue. “How instead, he just whispered those two words.”

My father, in handcuffs, straining for one final moment. The way he had looked at me, then Cooper. His eyes zeroed in almost directly on my brother, as if he were the only one in the room. And that’s when it hit me, a sucker punch to the stomach. He was talking to him, not me. He was talking to Cooper.

He was telling him, asking him, pleading with him.

Be good.

“You killed those girls in Breaux Bridge,” I say now, my eyes on my brother. The words that I had been turning over and over on my tongue, trying to make sense of their taste. “You killed Lena.”

Cooper is quiet, his eyes starting to glass over. He looks down at the wine, the splash still left at the bottom of the glass, and lifts it to his lips, downing the rest.

“Daniel figured it out,” I say, forcing myself to continue. “It makes sense now. The animosity between you two. Because he knew that Dad didn’t kill those girls. You did. He knew it, he just couldn’t prove it.”

I think back to our engagement party, to the way Daniel had wound his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him, away from Cooper. I had been so wrong about him. He wasn’t trying to control me; he was trying to protect me, from my brother and from the truth. I can’t imagine the balancing act he had been trying to achieve, keeping Cooper at an arm’s length without revealing too much.

“And you knew, too,” I continue. “You knew Daniel was onto you.

And that’s why you’ve been trying to turn me against him.”

Cooper, on my porch, reciting those words that had been chewing at my brain like cancer ever since. You don’t know him, Chloe. That necklace, buried deep in the back of our closet. Cooper had put it there, the night of the party. He was there first, letting himself in with his key. Slipping it silently into the very place he knew it would hit the hardest before making his way outside, hiding in the shadows. After all, I had done this before. With Ethan, in college, suspecting the worst. Cooper knew that with the right memories dug up and replanted in just the right way, they would start

to grow in my mind, uncontrolled like a weed. They would take over everything.

I think about Tyler Price, taking Aubrey and Lacey and Riley, recreating Cooper’s crimes in just the right way because he had told him how. I think about how broken you must have to be to let another person convince you to kill. It’s no different from the way damaged women write to criminals with marriage proposals, I suppose, or how seemingly ordinary girls find themselves in the clutches of threatening men. It’s all the same: lonely souls in search of some company, any company. I’m nobody, he had said, his eyes like empty water glasses, fragile and wet. The same way I had found myself, time and time again, tangled between the sheets with a stranger, afraid for my life, but at the same time, willing to take the risk. You’re not crazy, Tyler had told me, his hands in my hair. Because that’s the thing about danger—it heightens everything. Your heartbeat, your senses, your touch. It’s a desire to feel alive, because it’s impossible to feel anything but alive when you find yourself in its presence, the world becoming cloaked in a shadowy haze, its very existence all the proof you need—that you’re here, you’re breathing.

And in an instant, it could all be gone.

I can see it now, so clearly. My brother pulling Tyler under his spell again—this lost, lonely person—the way he always has. He made me do it. There was always something about him, after all. Something about Cooper. An aura that captured people, an attraction that was almost impossible to shake. Like magnets trying to fight iron, that gentle, natural pull. You could try, for a while, shaking under the mounting pressure. But eventually, you just gave in, the same way my anger would always melt as he pulled me into that familiar hug. The same way that swarm of people was always around him in high school, scattering with that wrist-flick of dismissal when he no longer wanted them, needed them, as if they weren’t actually people, but pests. Disposable. Existing for his own pleasure and nothing more.

“You tried to frame Daniel,” I say finally, the words settling over the room like soot after a fire, coating everything in ash. “Because he saw through you. He knows what you are. So you had to get rid of him.”

Cooper looks at me, his teeth chewing on the inside of his cheek. I can see the wheels turning behind his eyes, the careful calculations he’s trying to make—how much to say, how much not to say. Finally, he speaks.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Chloe.” His voice is thick like syrup, his tongue made of sand. “I have a darkness inside of me. A darkness that comes out at night.”

I hear those words in the mouth of my father. The way he had regurgitated them, almost automatically, as he sat at that courtroom table, his ankles chained together, a single tear dripping onto the notepad beneath him.

“It’s so strong, I couldn’t fight it.”

Cooper with his nose pushed to the screen, as if everything else in the room had evaporated, turning into nothing but vapor swirling around him. Watching my father, listening as he recited the same words Cooper must have recited to him when he had been caught.

“It’s like this giant shadow always hovering in the corner of the room,” he says. “It drew me in, it swallowed me whole.”

I gulp, summoning that final sentence from the pit of my belly. That sentence that had hammered the last nail into my father’s coffin, the rhetorical squeeze that drained the air from his lungs, killing him in my mind. That sentence that had angered me to my core—my father, placing the blame on this fictional thing. Crying not because he was sorry, but because he had gotten caught. But now, I know—that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t the case at all.

I open my mouth and let the words spill out.

“Sometimes I think it might be the devil himself.”

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