Authors: Caroline B. Cooney
“Croquet, then!” begs Henry.
But since Henry and Hayden do nothing except whack their balls into the bushes, and they all have to crawl around feeling for the balls under the thick green leaves, and sometimes the leaves are poison ivy, Miranda refuses croquet too.
She would like to go for a run. The path along the road is entirely in the shade, huge green trees forming an arch over the pavement. Track is one of Miranda's short-lived interests. It turns out that running is fun only if she chooses the pace. Running is not fun when it is a competition. And she can't run at all with Henry and Hayden, whose legs are too short.
“Let's take Barrel for a walk,” she says resignedly, and the boys whoop with joy. It's one of their pluses, that they are always enthusiastic.
Barrel knows they're coming for him.
He goes wild inside his run, his lovely long-haired tail whipping around. He doesn't bark. Barrel is the best kind of mutt: he came out perfectly and probably should be a breed of his own.
There is rarely traffic because the road doesn't go anywhere and few people live on it. But they stay on the path, single file, Barrel first. The little boys stop when Barrel does, lifting their legs, too, sniffing the weeds and hooting with laughter.
Miranda forgets her irritation. The wind is fresh and sweet. She lives in a beautiful place, is out with a beautiful dog and loved by crazy little boys.
If Jason Firenza is a problem, he's Lander's problem.
Miranda's best friend, Candy, texts. Candy is in West Hartford, where Miranda really lives and goes to school, and Candy has not visited once this summer because she's a full-time junior counselor at Camp Courant, the city's free day camp.
Miranda sends Candy a short video of Henry and Hayden being dogs next to a hydrant. Candy responds with a video of herself using a peashooter made of PVC pipe parts. She's spitting miniature marshmallows on nearby campers, who are demanding marshmallow guns of their own.
Miranda requests two marshmallow shooters for herself. Then she texts her mother, who will stop off at the grocery on her way home.
Get miniature marshmallows.
Jack will be up for this. She and Henry versus Jack and Hayden, in a marshmallow war. Or should she make an effort with the only boy her own age, and coax Geoffrey to join in?
It sounds very committed, to ask a boy her own age. Miranda realizes with a disturbing jolt that she is slightly afraid of boys her own age. Little boys are comfy. The right boys are risky.
But since Geoffrey is not the right boy, she can dismiss this unpleasant insight and continue to walk dogs and little guys. Besides, look what happens when Lander goes out exactly one time with a neighborhood boyâhe's still around and it's still awkward. Better to ignore the boy next door.
Sooner or later, she will have to go to the bathroom.
It's not a phrase that works in jail. She won't “go” anywhere. There is no separate room and there is no bath. The metal toilet doesn't have a seat. She cannot sit on that foul rim. She has thrown up on that, and who knows what anybody has done before that? The policewoman, wearing disposable gloves, runs a wad of wet paper towel around the rim, but doesn't scrub. There are no bleach wipes.
She knows because a woman in another cell keeps begging to be told the time. The woman is sure that any minute now, somebody will bail her out.
Bail. That's when your family raises money and the judge lets you go home. Then it all gets sorted out without you being there.
She thinks of her West Hartford home. She has a separate bathroom, with her own towels. A soft bed, with her own sheets. In the sprawling kitchen, the refrigerator, pantry and freezer are full of food bought specifically to please her. There are televisions. Music. Sofas. Soft drinks.
The idea of being released shortly calms her.
She is able to consider questions the police ask about Jason.
Where does he live?
they want to know.
She and Jason spend delicious, lovely, funny days together. They laugh, kiss, embrace. They talk of guilt and God. They discuss accidents of nature and the nature of stupidity. They gaze on sunsets and each other. They do not need autobiographies. They have love.
But the fact is, she does not know where Jason lives. He is fascinated by where
lives. He estimates that the cottage sits on an acre. She tells him it's an acre and a half. It's hard to gauge because of all the trees.
When she brings friends to the cottage, they invariably check Zillow to find out its worth. Riverfront is valuable, but the shabby cottage is not. The kind of person who could afford the land would bulldoze their beloved little place to build a mansion. Her father says they are the last people who will ever live here.
Where does he go to college?
the police ask.
The state of Connecticut is small. She has friends on almost every campus, and has visited Wesleyan, Trinity and the University of Connecticut; Yale, Conn College and the University of Hartford. She and Jason compare parties on those campuses. She speaks from hearsay. She is not a party person. Her friends love the buzzy diminished control that comes from drink and weed, but nothing is interesting to Lander if she cannot run the situation.
She is not running this.
I don't know where he goes to college, she thinks, and there is something profoundly horrible about this. She knows nothing about the man she loves.
They bring her out of the cell again. Cuffed.
This cannot be her life. She cannot be a person under suspicion of
They pass a cell with several female prisoners. The women seem to reach for her, arms flapping like insect legs, as if they might crawl onto her and use her flesh for their escape route. She is grateful that the police realize she is not the kind of person who should share space with such scary women.
The hall turns a corner, and at the end of this hall is an exit door, which someone opens from the other side, and now they are away from the cells and in a regular corridor. The acrid smell of her vomit and other people's toilets is gone.
There is a door labeled
She stops walking.
She does not normally ask permission to do things. That is simply not on her chart. But this is like kindergarten. She has to have permission to use this bathroom. She whispers to the hallway, because she cannot look at the policewoman leading her by the arm. If she meets her eyes, this is going to get real. She cannot let it get real. She whispers to the hallway instead. “May I use the ladies' room?”
“There was a toilet in the cell.”
“I can't use that.” This is a fact, and she feels the policewoman should understand.
And the woman does. She unlocks the restroom door. She unlocks the handcuffs. She cuffs Lander to a large metal wall handle, too solid for hanging a towel. It's for attaching a prisoner.
There is a seat on the toilet, but it's up, since it was last used by a guy, and the guyâor many guysâhad lousy aim. The thought of touching that seat, lowering it, sitting there brings her to tears yet again. She despises tears. Tears are for the weak.
But she is bursting. âThe policewoman stands in the door, watching.
She pretends this
kindergarten, and this is her kindergarten teacher, being a warm, fussy sweet help. Mrs. McCune was her kindergarten teacher. Mrs. McCune loved to draw on the whiteboard with colored markers, and she drew a scene for every season, and all the children were in awe.
This gets her through the use of the toilet, and there is a sink, although the soap dispenser is empty; at least her hand is rinsed. There is no mirror, which is probably a good thing.
And now they are back in the little room with the two chairs and the little table. Her left wrist is fastened to her chair. It's medieval. It's wrong. She will become an attorney instead of a physician and go after police brutality.
The policewoman asks questions softly and kindly, as if she is Mrs. McCune.
There's a man here too, but apparently not a policeman, because he is not in uniform nor is he armed. He wears a suit, and leans on the wall casually, as if part of some other event.
“Come on, honey,” says the policewoman. “You were nice and chatty when we found you on the boat. Just start up again. You're in real trouble and you're making it worse. Protecting your boyfriend is not helping you.”
If he's her boyfriend, why isn't he here?
she protecting him? From what? What does she think Jason has done?
But that's the whole problem. She can't figure out what either of them has done.
She sees herself on the boat with Jason.
Although the sisters have grown up with a summer cottage on a river, and often go out in boats, neither is a boat person. In truth, the water is boring. There's only so much excitement a person can have driving up and down a river. Fishing is for ten-year-olds. Swimming and water-skiing are fine two or three times a summer.
But Jason comes for her by water, dates her by water, kisses her by water. This Friday morning, in the little woods and the deep marsh, they finished target shooting and he told her what a fine huntress she will make, how proud he isâand then, where did he go?
And the police. Where did they come from? Do they routinely patrol the little swamp? Was it an accident that they stumbled on her? No. They walked right up, as if they had been told she was there. Yet only Jason knew Lander's location at that minute.
Did Jason call the police?
She cannot accept this. He loves her! He doesn't want her in trouble.
Again the policewoman asks for Jason's phone number.
She doesn't have it. Each time they part, he tells her when and where they will meet next.
You kayak over to Two Willows Marina at noon, and I'll be there.
It's so romantic.
She doesn't know guys who bother with sweet, gentle flirting and funny private jokes. The guys she knows get to the point: let's hook up.
Jason is constantly texting when they are together.
It does not bother her. Certainly she never stops using her phone. But he does not text her and he does not give her his cell phone number.
She is hurt. She wants to be in touch with him every waking minute. When she is not at his side, she is thinking of things she'd like to text. She does text a few friends; she does post a few pictures; but next to Jason, the world and all her acquaintances pale.
Jason's phone lives in his hand, and sometimes driving the boat is tricky because he needs two hands, and then he holds the phone in his teeth.
Perhaps this was what Miranda misunderstood when Derry Romaine was in trouble in the riverâJason was simply on the phone and distracted. For sure, Miranda did not see Jason intentionally drop Derry in the water. Jason and Derry are dear friends. Jason visits Derry daily at the hospital. Derry is doing better, he tells her. No, Derry's parents haven't come. Jason doesn't know anything about Derry's parents. Doesn't know how to reach them. The hospital is probably doing that.
“What kind of car does Jason drive?” ask the police.
They have driven a few times. One car belongs to Jason's father and the other is his mother's. They are featureless four-door sedans, could be last year's or five years old, could be Honda, Toyotaâreally, who can tell, and who cares? She is not interested in cars. She plans to live in a major city and use public transportation.
Jason go, while she stayed patiently on his little boat and the police closed in? Was he hiding in the woods, crouching behind a tree? Did he walk up to the road? Did he have another car in which he drove away? Whose car?
And all those text messages. Did he text somebody to pick him up? Does he realize what's happening to her right now? Does he care?
The policewoman asks again about the gun and the target practice.
She pictures the odd stranded little peninsula. How hot and sticky. How wet and swampy. By now, she thinks, the police must have removed the body.
She flings herself backward from the table. Her free hand flails, shoving away a new and terrible thought. The policewoman is on her feet, prepared for anything.
She does not look at the policewoman. She has a sick view into her own selfish soul.
How can a good, kind person like herself, who intends to help the world, and be a surgeon, and join Doctors Without Borders and save innocent bystanders in civil wars in third-world countriesâ
how can she be so self-centered that she did not even ask who died in those woods?
She is crying again. Where do all these tears come from? “Who is it?” she whispers.
“Who is who?”
“The person,” she begins. The words fill her with fear. “The person you sayâ”
That I killed.
But they are only saying this.
It isn't true.
It cannot be true.
To take another human's life is the most dreadful act a person can commit.
She is not that person.
“The person you say was killed,” she manages. “Who isÂ it?”