They say only the good die young. At least, that’s what they used to say about Isabella Fernandez.
Now no one talks about Isabella at all: even though she was murdered almost three months ago and our vice-principal is the one who killed her.
I guess that’s the type of thing the Wheatley School—ranked number 2 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of best prep schools—would like to pretend never happened. Or maybe everyone sleeps a little better at night now that they know Isabella was sleeping with Dr. James Harrow before he cut her throat in the middle of the woods. Almost as if they believe she deserved what happened to her, or at least brought it on herself.
Here’s a little-known fact: Almost 80 percent of people who get murdered know their killers. My dad used to remind me of this when I was ten and going through a phase where I couldn’t sleep because I thought I’d get stolen from my bed in the middle of the night. He actually told me that, as if it would make me feel better. But then again, my dad also brushes his teeth in the shower to save time and explained the physical impossibility of Santa Claus to me when I was five.
Isabella was my roommate, so my parents are making me see a therapist in Boston every few weeks. His name is Dr. Rosenblum, and he always tries to get me to play Uno with him. He likes to use phrases like “Our goal here…” Our goal here is to help you accept that the ordeal of Isabella’s murder is over, and that James Harrow is no longer a danger to you.
I need to make peace with Isabella’s death, because although I only knew her for a week, we were friends. Isabella didn’t care that even though before I got to the Wheatley School there were rumors going around that I was an arsonist. (Which is totally false, by the way. It’s only arson if you set something on fire on purpose. I Googled it.)
The fire I set at St. Bernadette’s Preparatory School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was an accident. And, for the record, it wasn’t my idea. It was Martin Payne’s idea, and I was only hooking up with him because I was bored. I know having the nerve to be bored in the greatest city in the world makes me seem like a spoiled brat. I told Dr. Rosenblum I felt this way, and he suggested that maybe all of my acting out and getting into trouble back home was my way of trying to get my father to notice me. Like, from a young age I know I could never live up to his impossible expectations, so I tried to subvert them by mouthing off in class and filling up Jake Crane’s gym locker with tampons. Or whatever.
Anyway, I don’t know if Dr. R is right about all that, but he was right when he said that Isabella’s murder turned my world upside down. I thought seeing her killer get arrested would flip it right side up again, but I’m learning that things are never that simple. The dead leave lots of things behind. Like messes you can’t see. Or sometimes, actual things.
Like the photograph I found in an old library book Isabella checked out before her death—the one of Matthew Weaver, a student who disappeared over thirty years ago, standing with the Wheatley Crew team.
The one with THEY KILLED HIM written on the back.
For a while, I wondered if there was more to Isabella’s death than Dr. Harrow blackmailing Steven Westbrook, a Massachusetts senator, over his affair with Elaine Redmond, the wife of the state attorney general. Did Isabella know about the photo? Did she figure out what happened to Matt Weaver before she died?
Dr. Rosenblum is the only person I’ve told about the photograph. He says the Matthew Weaver story is something of an urban legend burned into the collective consciousness of Wheatley. The appeal of his story is that people are drawn to the unknown. Dr. Rosenblum said a student was probably playing a prank when they wrote THEY KILLED HIM on the back of the photo.
He also asked me if I found myself bored in the weeks after Dr. Harrow’s arrest. I’m not an idiot: He thinks I want there to be more to the mystery. Sort of like I’m having mystery withdrawals or whatever.
But part of me thinks he has a point.
Either way, I have too many questions and no ways to get answers. When I told Dr. R I felt this way, he agreed.
“Sometimes it’s best for our sanity to let sleeping dogs lie,” he said.
I hope he’s right.
* * *
I sit on the steps outside the dining hall. Its proper name is the William J. Brown Refectory, because if it didn’t have an unnecessarily pretentious name, this wouldn’t be the Wheatley School. Brent said he would meet me here after crew practice.
A few minutes after I sit down, strong arms wrap around my middle, and a face covered in a thin layer of stubble grazes my neck. “You’re warm.”
“And you’re wet.” Still, I turn and run my hand through Brent’s damp curls. He hasn’t had time to get a haircut now that training for crew season has begun, and while I’m a clean-shaven-guy type of girl, Brent pulls off the extra scruff pretty damn well.
Brent leans in to me and closes his eyes, as if he’d be happy if I kept playing with his hair all day. A sharp cough sounds from behind us.
Murali Thakur is looking at us as if we might as well be hard-core making out all over the steps. He raises a thick black eyebrow. “Hello to you, too, Anne.”
I shrug and grin at him, although an anxious feeling settles at the bottom of my stomach. If Murali is here, Cole Redmond must be nearby.
“Where’s Cole?” Brent asks, his hand moving to my lower back, as if he can feel me tensing up.
“Showering.” Murali squirts water into his mouth from his bottle.
Cole’s mother, Elaine, was having an affair with Senator Westbrook when Dr. Harrow tried to blackmail him with incriminating photos. Since the district attorney put a gag order on anyone involved with the extortion until Dr. Harrow’s trial is over, no one knows Cole’s mother is the reason Senator Westbrook resigned. But his father moved out a couple of weeks ago, and even though Cole swears he doesn’t hate me, every time I see him I wonder if we’ll still be friends in a year or so when the media is allowed to talk about the affair and I ruin the Redmonds’ lives all over again.
And here’s the other awkward thing: Cole and Brent are best friends. Not typical teenage-guy “Yeah dude, wanna go to the gym?” best friends. Cole is the only guy at school who knows about Brent’s diabetes. They actually argue about things like what nature noise they’re going to use when they set their sleep-sounds machine before they go to bed every night. Brent likes the whale calls, while Cole prefers white noise.
They kind of have a bromance going on. And I’m totally interrupting it by dating Brent.
Brent and I say good-bye to Murali. When he turns the corner to the boys’ dorm, Brent grabs my face and kisses me. “Hi.” He leans his forehead against mine.
“Hi back. Where are we going today?”
I was confused when Brent told me he had a surprise for me today, since my seventeenth birthday was last weekend. We went out for my favorite food, sushi, and he snuck me into his dorm so we could stay up late watching a hidden-camera show where these two comedians play jokes on people. I didn’t even remember telling Brent that I love the cookie crumble on ice cream cakes, but he’d hidden a small one in his freezer and we polished it off together.
“You’ll see,” Brent says. “But we have to leave now if we want to catch the train.”
The walk to the station takes almost fifteen minutes. Even though it’s only early April, I have to take off my cardigan. There are no clouds in the sky, and what seems like the entirety of the Wheatley School’s population is crowded on the campus quad sunbathing.
Brent and I pass the time on the train by playing Would You Rather? I’ve just asked him if he’d rather get his nipples pierced or show up to class in his underwear every day for a month, when the automatic voice on the T announces we’re at Fenway Park.
Brent motions for me to get up, and I barely stifle a groan.
“Oh, come on,” he says, laughing as we step off the T. “They’re playing the Yankees. I thought I’d bring a piece of New York to you.”
“I’m not dressed for a baseball game.” I gesture to my strapless Free People dress. Brent is in his signature weekend casual look: white T-shirt, khaki shorts, aviator Ray-Bans, and his compass watch. Not that having a guy who knows how to accessorize well is important to me, but it’s a nice perk.
“Good thing I’m so prepared.” Brent pulls two balled-up Red Sox caps out of his pocket and unrumples them. Unable to figure out the mechanics of fitting a baseball cap around my ponytail, he slides the elastic off and onto his wrist. My hair falls around my bare shoulders.
“Shouldn’t this be a Yankees cap if you’re bringing New York to me?”
Brent’s eyes gleam. “Trust me: This is for your safety. Red Sox fans won’t care how pretty you are. They’ll throw beer on you.”
I grab the neck of his T-shirt and pull him toward me. “You think I’m pretty.”
He kisses my forehead, and the world seems to dissolve around us until he tugs my hand.
I was eleven the last time my father took me to a game at Yankee Stadium, but my memory is good enough that I realize Fenway Park is smaller and louder. I don’t know, I’ve always found baseball in all its forms—major league, fantasy, et cetera—annoying. I follow Brent to the row of seats behind home plate.
A perky blonde in a Sox T-shirt holds up her hand, and I think she’s waving at someone behind us, until Brent waves back. Her whole face lights up when she sees him, and I have to keep my crazy in check and not demand to know who this pretty chick is.
“Forgot to mention my sisters were coming,” he says to me with a devious glint in his eyes.
“Oh. Sisters.” I’m an only child, so despite having an imaginary sister named Samantha when I was six, the concept of siblings is alien to me.
My heartbeat picks up and we wriggle our way to the seats. It’s not that I’m nervous or anything. It’s just that usually I like to have advance warning about meeting a guy’s family.
“Anne, this is Claire,” Brent says. Claire smiles at me and my nerves dissolve. Her smile is perfect, unlike Brent’s, but they have the same pointy nose and chocolate brown eyes. Claire tells me she’s a senior at Brown and says she heard I was from New York. I nod, thankful she leaves it at that and there’s no mention of me shooting the former vice principal.
“Where’s Holly?” Brent says, nodding to the empty seat next to Claire. She gnaws her bottom lip.
“Don’t be pissed. She’s only home for a few days and wanted to see her friends.” Claire’s eyes move to the aisle, to a man talking into a cell phone and making his way toward us. Brent’s cheery expression clouds over.
“You let him come?”
From the way Claire hisses, “They’re his season tickets, Brent,” I conclude that him is their father.
Things I know about Brent’s father:
1. He owns the biggest newspaper in Boston.
2. Brent doesn’t see him much.
“Sorry in advance.” Brent squeezes my hand as his father makes his way toward us.
“Does he know who I am?” I blurt. “I mean, like, what I did? How I almost got you shot?”
“I don’t know. But Steve Westbrook has sued his paper three times in the past year, so you’re good.”
I look over at Brent, unsure if he’s serious. He gives me a lazy grin that makes my heart flip-flop.
Brent’s father ends his phone call when he gets back to the seats. He’s Brent’s height—which is short for a guy—with wavy gray hair. He and Brent do an odd little standoff type thing before he extends a hand to his son. It’s all really bizarre to me, seeing someone give their kid a handshake. My father always hugs me, even when he temporarily hates me.
Brent’s father turns to me and takes me in. “Pierce Conroy,” he says. “And you must be…”
“Anne Dowling,” I say, even though it’s obvious this is the first time he’s hearing my name. His handshake is dismissive, as if he can’t wait for this day to be over. I study his face. It seems very familiar to me. Probably because it’s so much like Brent’s: strong jaw, warm brown eyes.
We all shut up for the National Anthem. I sit between Claire and Brent, who gives clipped answers to his father’s questions about the crew season. Claire says she loves my dress. We wind up talking about our favorite places on Newbury Street, and I don’t even notice that Brent’s seat is empty until he comes back holding a cardboard tray. He picks a fully loaded hotdog from the top and passes the tray down to Claire and me.
Claire tears a soft pretzel in half and hands a piece to me. Brent inhales the hot dog in two bites and takes a pull from his extra-large soda. Mr. Conroy watches from the corner of his eye the whole time. It doesn’t take me long to figure out why: Brent is diabetic.
“Are you sure you should be—” Mr. Conroy starts, but Brent freezes him with a look and tears open a box of Cracker Jacks. Beside me, Claire sighs, as if this pissing contest is a frequent scene in the Conroy household.
Mr. Conroy’s cell rings and he excuses himself. When he’s gone, Claire mutters, “Real mature, Brent.”
“I am the epitome of mature.”
I snigger to myself. Just last night Brent donned a ski mask and mooned the security cam outside the boy’s dorm because Murali dared him to.
Brent tosses a Cracker Jack at Claire and puts a hand on my knee. He doesn’t move it for the rest of the game, except to stand up and shout whenever the Sox score a run. I feel like I should at least cheer my team on, but the Yankees wind up winning and I don’t want to get followed and shanked on the way back to the train.
Claire hugs Brent good-bye, then me. “You’re the first girl from school he’s ever even talked about,” she whispers in my ear. “Keep an eye on him, okay?”
“You enjoy the game, Dad?” Brent asks Mr. Conroy, whose mouth forms a line. He spent about six out of the nine innings on his phone. I can sort of see why Brent doesn’t like his dad. The only thing Mr. Conroy seemed to care about was Brent’s crew season. He barely acknowledged the “new girlfriend” thing.
Claire flicks Brent’s ear and tells him to bring me home for dinner sometime.
“Where is home for you, anyway?” I ask around a yawn as we catch a train back to school.
“Bedford.” We plop into two empty seats, and he plants a kiss on the top of my head. I grab his chin and pull his face to mine, making him kiss me on the lips, because even though there are people around, I don’t care. I’ve waited long enough to be able to kiss Brent when I want to.
“Bedford,” I repeat. “I have no idea where that is.”
“I’ll show you sometime.”
“Good.” And I mean it. I want to know everything there is to know about Brent Conroy. I know his favorite song is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and his favorite class is British literature, but I want to know the important stuff, too. That’s why I can’t help but say, “What’s the deal with you and your dad?”
Brent stiffens. “It’s stupid family stuff.”
“You can tell me, you know,” I say.
He hesitates. “My dad lived away from us for two-thirds of my life.”
“Your parents were separated?” I wonder if anyone at school knows this.
“Not technically. But they may as well have been. We have a condo in Boston, near my dad’s office. He stayed there more than he stayed at home with us.”
I contemplate this. My mom has totally accused my dad of being a workaholic before, but when I was little he’d still come into my room no matter how late he got home to tuck me in and talk to me with my Baby Lamb Chop puppet.
“Anyway, every time he’s home for long stretches of time, he acts like we’re not practically strangers or anything,” Brent goes on. “He tries to tell me what to do, when my mom and grandparents are the ones who raised me. And he’s never afraid to tell me what a disappointment I am, as if I give a crap what he thinks.”
I think of how Brent baited Mr. Conroy into saying something about eating all that crap at the baseball game. I picture the shell-shocked look on Mr. Conroy’s face. A funny feeling comes over me. Brent has changed the subject, and I nod at what he’s saying even though I can’t really hear him over the ringing in my ears.
Because I know where I’ve seen Mr. Conroy before. He’s the boy standing next to Matthew Weaver in the 1981 crew team photo.
Copyright © 2014 by St. Martin’s Press, LLC.