Chapter no 7

Hidden Pictures

The next day is a hot and muggy Fourth of July and I force myself to go for a long run, eight miles in seventy-one minutes. On the walk home, I pass a house that Teddy and I have started calling the Flower Castle. It’s three blocks from the Maxwells, a giant white mansion with a U-shaped driveway and a yard exploding with colorful flowers: chrysanthemums, geraniums, daylilies, and many others. I notice some new orange blossoms climbing a trellis in the front yard, so I take a few steps up the driveway to get a closer look. The flowers are so odd and peculiar—they look like tiny traffic cones—and I snap a few pictures with my cell phone. But then the front door opens, and a man steps outside. In my peripheral vision I see that he’s wearing a suit and I sense he’s come to chase me off his property, to yell at me for trespassing.


I walk back to the sidewalk and wave a lame apology but it’s too late. The guy is already out the door, coming after me.

“Mallory!” he calls. “How are you doing?”

And only then do I realize I’ve seen him before. It’s well over ninety degrees but Adrian looks perfectly comfortable in his light gray suit, like all those guys in the Ocean’s 11 movies. Under the jacket he wears a crisp white shirt and a royal blue tie. Without his cap on, I see he’s got a mop of thick dark hair.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I didn’t recognize you.”

He glances down at his outfit, as if he’s forgotten he’s wearing it. “Oh, right! We have a thing tonight. At the golf club. My dad—he’s getting an award.”

“You live here?”

“My parents do. I’m home for the summer.”

The front door opens and out walk his parents—his mother tall and elegant in a royal blue dress, his father in a classic black tuxedo with silver cuff links. “Is that El Jefe?”

“He’s the Lawn King. We do half the lawns in South Jersey. In the summers he has a crew of eighty guys, but I swear to you, Mallory, I’m the only one he yells at.”

His parents approach a black BMW that’s parked in the driveway but Adrian waves them over to join us, and I really wish he hadn’t. You know all those runners in Tampax ads who finish their workouts with glowing complexions and runway-ready hair? After eight miles in ninety-degree weather, I don’t look anything like them. My shirt is soaked with sweat, my hair is a stringy, greasy mess, and there are dead gnats speckled all over my forehead.

“Mallory, this is my mother, Sofia, and my father, Ignacio.” I dry my palm on my shorts before shaking their hands. “Mallory babysits for the Maxwells. The new family on Edgewood. They have a little boy named Teddy.”

Sofia looks at me suspiciously. She’s so well dressed and perfectly coiffed, I can’t imagine she’s broken a sweat in thirty years. But Ignacio greets me with a friendly smile. “You must be a very dedicated athlete, running in all this humidity!”

“Mallory’s a distance runner at Penn State,” Adrian explains. “She’s on the cross-country team.”

And I cringe at the lie because I’ve already forgotten about it. If Adrian and I were alone, I’d come clean and fess up—but I can’t say anything now, not with both his parents staring at me.

“I’m sure you’re faster than my son,” Ignacio says. “It takes him all day to mow two backyards!” Then he laughs

uproariously at his own joke while Adrian shifts his feet, embarrassed.

“That’s landscaping humor. My father thinks he’s a stand-up comic.”

Ignacio grins. “It’s funny because it’s true!”

Sofia studies my appearance and I’m convinced she sees right through me. “What year are you in?”

“Senior. Almost finished.”

“Me, too!” Adrian says. “I go to Rutgers, in New Brunswick, for engineering. What’s your major?”

And I have no idea how to answer this question. All my college planning focused exclusively on coaches, scouts, and Title IX funding. I never reached the point of considering what I might actually study. Business? Law? Biology? None of these answers seem credible—but now I’m taking too long to respond and they’re all staring at me and I need to say something, anything—

“Teaching,” I tell them.

Sofia looks skeptical. “You mean education?”

She pronounces the word slowly—ed-u-ca-tion—like she suspects I’m hearing it for the first time.

“Right. For little kids.” “Elementary education?” “Exactly.”

Adrian is delighted. “My mom teaches fourth grade! She was an education major, too!”

“No kidding!” And it’s a good thing I’m flush from my run, because I’m sure my face is burning.

“It’s the most noble profession,” Ignacio says. “You’ve made a wonderful choice, Mallory.”

At this point I’m desperate to change the subject, to say something—anything—that’s not a lie. “Your flowers are beautiful,” I tell them. “I run past your house every day to look at them.”

“Then here’s the million-dollar question,” Ignacio says. “Which is your favorite?”

Adrian explains this is a game that his parents play with visitors. “The idea is that your favorite flower says something about your personality. Like a horoscope.”

“They’re all so beautiful,” I tell them.

Sofia refuses to let me off the hook. “You have to pick one. Whatever you like best.”

So I point to the orange flowers that just came up, the ones that are growing on the trellis. “I don’t know the name, but they remind me of little orange traffic cones.”

“Trumpet vines,” Adrian says.

Ignacio seems delighted. “No one ever picks the trumpet vine! She’s a beautiful flower, very versatile and low-maintenance. You give her a little sun and water—not too much attention—and she takes care of herself. Very independent.”

“But also kind of a weed,” Sofia adds. “A little hard to control.”

“That’s called vitality!” Ignacio says. “It’s good!”

Adrian shoots an exasperated look in my direction—see what I have to put up with?—and his mother reminds them that they’re very late, that they need to get going. So we all say hasty goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and I resume walking home.

A few seconds later, the black BMW drives past and Ignacio toots the horn while Sofia stares straight ahead. Adrian waves to me through the rear window and I catch a glimpse of the little boy he used to be—traveling with his parents in the backseat of their car, riding his bike on these shady sidewalks, accepting these beautiful tree-lined streets as a kind of birthright. I have the sense his childhood was perfect, that he has lived life with absolutely zero regrets.

Somehow I’ve made it to twenty-one without ever having had a real boyfriend. I mean, I’ve been with men—when you are a reasonably normal-looking woman addicted to drugs, there is always one surefire way to acquire more drugs—but

I’ve never had anything resembling a traditional relationship.

But in the Hallmark Channel movie version of my life—in an alternate reality where I’m raised in Spring Brook by kind, affluent, well-educated parents like Ted and Caroline— my ideal boyfriend would be someone a lot like Adrian. He’s cute, he’s funny, he works hard. And as I walk along I start doing the arithmetic in my head, trying to calculate when two full weeks will elapse and he’ll be back to work on the Maxwells’ yard.



Spring Brook is full of small children but I’ve had no luck introducing Teddy to anyone. At the end of our block is a big playground full of swings, spinners, and shrieking, screaming five-year-olds—but Teddy wants nothing to do with them.

One Monday morning we find ourselves sitting on a park bench, watching a group of little boys “drive” their Hot Wheels down a sliding board. I urge Teddy to go over and play with them and he says, “I don’t have a Hot Wheels.”

“Ask them to share.”

“I don’t want to share.”

He slouches next to me on the bench, pissed off. “Teddy, please.”

“I’ll play with you. Not them.”

“You need friends your own age. You start school in two months.”

But there’s no convincing him. We spend the rest of the morning playing LEGOs in the house, and then he eats lunch and goes upstairs for Quiet Time. I know I should use my downtime to clean the kitchen but it’s hard to muster the energy. I didn’t sleep well the night before—the Fourth of July fireworks went pretty late—and arguing with Teddy has left me feeling defeated.

I decide to lie down on the sofa for a few minutes and the next thing I know Teddy is standing over me, shaking me awake.

“Can we go swimming now?”

I sit up and notice the light in the room has changed. It’s almost three o’clock. “Yes, of course, get your swimsuit.”

He hands me a drawing and runs out of the room. It’s the same dark and tangled forest from the previous picture— only this time, the man is shoveling dirt into a large hole, and Anya’s body lies crumpled at the bottom.



Teddy returns to the den, wearing his swimsuit. “Ready?” “Hang on, Teddy. What is this?”

“What is what?”

“Who is this person? In the hole?” “Anya.”

“And who’s the man?” “I don’t know.”

“Is he burying her?” “In a forest.” “Why?”

“Because he stole Anya’s little girl,” Teddy says. “Also can I have some watermelon before swimming?”

“Sure, Teddy, but why—”

It’s too late. He’s already skipping into the kitchen and pulling open the refrigerator. I follow and find him standing on tiptoes, reaching for the top shelf and a slab of ripe red melon. I help him carry it over to the butcher block and then I use a chef’s knife to carve off a slice. Teddy doesn’t wait for a plate; he just grabs it and starts eating.

“T-Bear, listen to me, what else did Anya say to you?

About the drawing?”

His mouth is full of melon and red juice dribbles down his chin. “The man dug a hole so no one would find her,” he says with a shrug. “But I guess she got out.”

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