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Chapter no 28

Five Survive

The static hissed and Red wondered whether she could see it now, somehow, stippling across the back of her eyes as she tried to watch Oliver. Danger in the movement of his shoulders, in the widening of his eyes.

“Don’t say anything else!” he shouted at Reyna, his breath blowing through her black hair as he came too close. She didn’t move, didn’t react. Red didn’t either, but she had been right, they were hiding something, just like she was. That was what the last few hours had been, Red understood now: escape plan after escape plan, searching for a bug and then a mole. It was all Oliver, trying to hold on to this secret. But his time was up.

“Well, it’s too late now,” Simon said. “We all know you two have a secret.

There’s no going back.”

“Oliver?” Maddy’s voice was small, confused. “What’s going on? What happened?”

He didn’t answer, because he was staring down Reyna, and she was staring back.

Simon laughed, a hollow sound. “You going around with your witch hunt, accusing one of us of being a mole. And here you are, you knew all along you were the one with the secret.”

“This is not about that,” Oliver said through gritted teeth, eyes still on Reyna.

“It could be,” she answered. “It could be his family out there—” “Stop!”

“No, Oliver, I won’t fucking stop!” Reyna snapped, coming alive, dark hairs sticking to the sweat on her forehead. “If this is about what we did, we have to say! We’re the oldest here, we’re supposed to be looking after them. They’re just kids. He said he’d let them go if we give it up. We have to!”

And maybe Reyna was the most natural leader here after all, standing up to Oliver, unblinking. What could they possibly have done? Something bad enough that a man with a rifle would trap them here to get it out of them. Two men. There are two of us. What was bad enough for that? Red could only think of one thing.

“Oliver,” Maddy said, shakily. “What is it? What did you do?” Maddy must be thinking the same thing.

“I didn’t do anything,” Oliver said, and then, suddenly: “Fucking mosquito,” slapping his hand against his sweat-slick neck. He stopped, looking back at the rest of them, all eyes on him. He might be Oliver Lavoy but it was five against one here. He paused on Maddy, and Red saw the shift, the moment he gave in, hand sweeping his hair back, stepping forward to drop into the booth. He held his head. “It was an accident,” he said, staring back, daring the others to not believe him.

What was an accident?” Maddy pressed, gently, coming to sit down across from her brother.

“It was in January,” Reyna said, burying her hands inside her sleeves. “When we went back to college for the semester. We—”

“—I’ll tell the story,” Oliver cut her off. “You won’t tell it right. You won’t…I’ll do it.”

He shifted in his seat, the material creaking as he did, or was that the sound of his bones? “Keep going, Red.”

“Huh?” she said.

“The channels. Keep going.”

Right. Red glanced down at the walkie-talkie, pressing the + button, spooling up, the static flickering out every time she clicked.

Oliver waited, until Red was past channel eleven and still going. Then he cleared his throat and began.

“We went to a bar one afternoon. Near school. Just me and Reyna. We were watching the game, Eagles versus Cowboys. Reyna’s not from Philly, you know, but she gets it. Can’t miss a game.” Oliver sniffed. “We drank a couple of beers, watching the game. I was driving, though, so only two. And as we’re watching, I notice this random guy who works there, he keeps looking at Reyna. I don’t think Reyna noticed, but I did.”

Reyna shifted, fingers fiddling inside her sleeves.

“And that’s fine, you know, she’s a beautiful girl, people are allowed to notice.”

A twitch by Reyna’s mouth, pulling at the smooth skin of her cheek. “Anyway, we watch the game, and stay for a couple of hours after. I’ve

forgotten about the guy by this point. But it’s getting later and we’re thinking about dinner, so we decide to leave. We walk out into the parking lot, toward my car. There’s no one else around. And then I realize I’ve left my scarf inside. So I leave Reyna in the parking lot and run back inside to find the scarf.”

Reyna sucked in a breath, wet through her teeth, loud enough for Red to hear. What was coming? What did they do?

Simon sat down on the sofa behind, watching the story play out, gaze flicking between Reyna and Oliver.

“It takes me a few minutes to find the scarf,” Oliver continued. “It’s not at the table we were sitting at because someone had already handed it in at the bar as lost property. So it takes a few minutes. And by the time I get outside again, I see Reyna standing by the car. And there’s that guy, the one who worked in the bar.”

Oliver paused, fingers tapping at the table in an irregular pattern, beating out of time with Red’s heart.

“And he’s bothering Reyna,” he said. “He’s up in her face, talking to her. He’s even holding her by the arms. And Reyna’s trying to break free, push

him away.”

A silent tear fell down Reyna’s face, pooling at the crack in her lips.

“So, of course, I run over and tell this random guy to get lost, to stop bothering my girlfriend. And then this guy, he turns to Reyna and he says, ‘Am I bothering you?’ So Reyna, of course, says that yes he is.”

Red was watching Reyna, and maybe she was wrong, but she thought she saw the slightest movement in Reyna’s head, moving side to side. Reyna stopped when she noticed Red’s eyes.

“So I pull Reyna away from the guy and I tell him to leave her alone,” Oliver said. “And then this guy loses it. He shoves me and I’m asking him what his problem is. And then he hits me, punches me right in the face.” He paused, sharpening his focus on Maddy. “He hit me first, that’s very important. He hit me first. So I did what any other guy in the situation would do: I hit him back. And maybe it was too hard, I don’t know. But I think the guy gets knocked out. He falls back on the pavement and, you know, he’s breathing heavy like he’s unconscious. He’s not bleeding or anything. Just out.”

Oliver’s fingers flexed and balled again, like he could still feel the guy’s face imprinted against his fist. Reyna was crying now, tears racing and crisscrossing each other’s tails.

“And we talked about calling an ambulance, or going back inside the bar and telling someone,” he said. “But it was only a few seconds, and then his eyes are opening and he’s awake again. He seems a bit dazed, but he was fine, started to sit up. So Reyna and I decided to leave before he got up and tried to attack either of us again. We got in the car and drove away and the guy was fine. He was walking away. We saw him. He was fine. He was fine.”

Oliver repeated it, like if he said it enough times he could change the past and make it true. Because the guy wasn’t fine, that must be why Oliver kept saying it.

Oliver cleared his throat. “So, we go to dinner, we don’t think about it again.”

Reyna’s face tensed. She had, she’d thought about it again, Oliver wasn’t speaking for her, Red could tell.

“Everything is fine.” Fine.

“And then two days later, Reyna is working at the local hospital, on this shadowing program Dartmouth runs for premed students to get clinical experience.” Oliver paused, wiping the sides of his mouth. “And while she’s there, she learns of a patient that just died that morning. It was him. The guy from the bar. He was called Jack something. He died of bleeding on the brain.”

“Epidural hematoma,” Reyna said, voice thick and her eyes far away, not in the RV anymore, back in that memory that only she could see.

There was silence, only the hissing of static in Red’s hands. “So,” Simon said slowly, carefully. “You killed him?”

Oliver’s hands slammed down on the table, making them all jump. “I did not kill him!” he shouted, voice spiking at the edges. “He attacked Reyna and then he attacked me. He hit me first. I was only defending myself, defending Reyna.”

“Did you tell anyone?” Arthur asked now, his voice low and steady. “After you found out he died, did you tell anyone?”

“Turn myself in, you mean?” Oliver looked at him, blinking too fast. “No, we didn’t tell anyone. We said we never would, unless someone asked. I guess there weren’t any cameras in the parking lot, because no one ever came to speak to us about it. Maybe the guy hadn’t told anyone about the fight after, maybe no one knew. But let me be clear.” Oliver rolled his shoulders. “It wasn’t my fault. He hit me first. It was self-defense. But we couldn’t go to the police, because the right prosecutor might have been able to argue that it was a manslaughter case and press charges against me.”

“So you kept it secret?” Maddy asked, voice even smaller than before. “Just the two of you.”

“Of course we kept it secret,” Oliver replied. “He hit me first. Why should I be punished for him attacking me, attacking my girlfriend? And I couldn’t do that to Mom,” he added, directing the words to Maddy. “She’s about to become fucking district attorney, she’s worked so hard. A son with a criminal

charge would destroy her career. Not to mention my own legal career. He hit me first.”

But Oliver must have hit him harder.

“So,” Arthur said, speaking tentatively, careful not to set Oliver off again. “You think it’s possible someone knows what happened, or suspects at least. The guy out there with the rifle, he could be a friend, or family? Wants you to admit what you did, how Jack died?”

“I don’t know,” Oliver said, a small shrug in his too-wide shoulders. “This whole thing is so fucked. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to…” He drew off, gaze circling in front of him. “I didn’t mean to.”

Oliver’s face rearranged, softening between the eyebrows, a twitch in his lower lip, pulling at his chin. His eyes glazed, almost with the threat of tears, and he looked down before anyone could see. But Red saw, she was watching. And she knew that feeling better than anyone. The guilt a physical pain in your gut, twisting and twisting, like a hunger that never ended. The hot-faced feel of shame. And, despite everything, Red didn’t want Oliver to feel that way, to feel like she did. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Red stepped forward, to Oliver’s side, and he glanced up as the static hissed closer to his ear.

“I’m sorry, Oliver,” Red said, looking down at him. “I know exactly what that feels like, that it’s your fault someone died. And I—”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Oliver cut her off, the words rasping into empty sounds in her throat. “He hit me first. I was just defending Reyna. He hit me first. It wasn’t my fault.” He repeated it, like it was important she understood that. They weren’t the same, she and him, and she shouldn’t make that mistake again. That was what he meant. But Red hadn’t even got to explain what she meant, who’d died because of her.

There was a snuffle to her right. Reyna was still crying, wiping her nose across her sleeve. She didn’t look relieved that the story was over, that it was finally all out.

“How old was he?” Maddy was the next to speak, a cautious glance at her brother.

“Don’t know, around our age, I guess,” Oliver said.

“Twenty-two,” Reyna added, a moment later.

Oliver shot a look over at her. Red stepped back so he could see, clearing the way between them.

“How do you know that?” he asked. “From the hospital? You never said before.”

Reyna sucked in a deep breath, eyes side to side like there was a war going on in her head, and there she was, stuck between both sides. She blew the breath out through gritted teeth, decision made, one side chosen. Reyna blinked and looked back at Oliver, Red caught in the middle again. She backed away into the kitchen. The story wasn’t finished, was it? It wasn’t complete. Reyna clearly knew something Oliver did not.

“I’m sorry, Oliver,” Reyna said, voice croaky and raw, a new tear dancing down the lines of her face, in and out of the other tracks. “He wasn’t a random guy. I knew him.”

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