I Swear, page 1
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Chapter 1: Jillian
Chapter 2: Katherine
Chapter 3: Beth
Chapter 4: Jake
Chapter 5: Jillian
Chapter 6: Katherine
Chapter 7: Beth
Chapter 8: Jake
Chapter 9: Jillian
Chapter 10: Katherine
Chapter 11: Beth
Chapter 12: Jake
Chapter 13: Jillian
Chapter 14: Katherine
Chapter 15: Beth
Chapter 16: Jake
Chapter 17: Jillian
Chapter 18: Katherine
Chapter 19: Beth
Chapter 20: Jake
Chapter 21: Jillian
Chapter 22: Katherine
Chapter 23: Beth
Chapter 24: Jake
Chapter 25: Jillian
Chapter 26: Katherine
Chapter 27: Beth
Chapter 28: Jake
Chapter 29: Jillian
Chapter 30: Katherine
Chapter 31: Beth
Chapter 32: Jake
Chapter 33: Jillian
About Lane Davis
For E.K.B., who loved this story first
Leslie Gatlin couldn’t believe the words she was reading on the screen.
Of all the emails and all the Facebook messages and all the texts and phone calls she’d received since she’d stepped into Macie Merrick’s crosshairs, this one was the worst.
As the sobs came one more time, she slowly closed the lid of her silver laptop and laid her head down on top of it.
You finally did it. You finally lost the last friend you’ll ever have.
It was almost a relief. No one would miss her now when she left.
She picked up her laptop. The necklace Jake had brought her was lying on the coffee table, and she slipped it into the back pocket of her jeans. She walked across the living room to the front entry foyer and paused there for a moment, staring up at the modern chandelier that hung from the ceiling two stories above. It was pretty, but unremarkable, sort of exactly what you’d expect. The tile was hard and cool against her bare feet, and as she reached the stairs to her room, her toes sank into the new carpet: beige and soft—a nice camel-color berber—durable, strong, and above all, neutral.
“It’ll go so nicely with nearly any decorating scheme,” her mother always said when she put this same carpet in yet another stairway in yet another remodel in yet another neighborhood.
“Flip a house a year” had been her father’s real estate investment plan, and it had worked like a charm. He was a contractor; her mother was a real estate agent with a flair for interior design.
So for the past six years, Leslie had lived in a newly remodeled house each school year. Every one was different, but every one was exactly the same: eggshell walls, bone ceilings, café au lait trim, camel berber carpet on the stairs. It all looked tan to Leslie.
“It’s like we live in Banana Republic,” she always told her mother as she pleaded for an accent wall to liven up her bedroom in each new house. She begged for pink in sixth grade, then purple in seventh. Finally she asked for a warm olive green in eighth, but the answer was always the same:
“We’ll be moving soon, and deep colors are so hard to hide with white.”
Since sixth grade she’d lived in houses decorated for the people who would live there next.
She opened the door to her room and suddenly wondered who that would be.
Who will live in these four white walls after I do? Who will call this home?
Her dad had already signed a contract on the next remodel. Her mom had the For Sale sign in the garage. It had taken longer to secure the financing now that the housing market had tanked, but her parents were going to do well on this house, just like they’d done well on all the others.
She placed her laptop on her desk, and as she closed the door to her room, she reached up and took down the sign that was hanging there. “LESLIE” was spelled out in a lumpy font of macaroni and spray paint—a camp craft that her mother insisted on installing in every new house. Leslie fingered the petrified pasta covered in glitter and dust and thought about the summer after third grade, when she’d made friends with the twins, long before they’d started going to school together.
Suddenly she was crying again.
She felt for the necklace in her back pocket, and before she could stop herself, she’d taken it out and put it on, pulling open the neck of her zip-up sweater in front of the full-length mirror that leaned against the wall next to her bed so she could see the tiny silver anchor hanging under her chin. Jake had worn the ship, and Jillian the little captain’s wheel. She stared back at her reflection for a moment, then glanced away as if it hurt to look too long.
In order to combat the glare of the white walls, she’d hung as many bulletin boards and tack strips as her dad would put up for her, and pinned up pictures from magazines and catalogs along with shots she’d enlarged and printed from her camera. Vacation with her parents rafting in the Grand Canyon last summer, ads from the Seventeen prom dress issue, pages from the spring J.Crew catalog.
Her eyes wandered from the mirror to a picture of her and Jillian and Jake on a sailboat the summer after eighth grade, when they’d bought the necklaces. Their families had gone to Cape Cod that year. There had been sailing, and lobster on the beach, and races in the sand, and one night, when no one else was awake, a kiss from Jake.
She slowly reached up and took down the picture. She ran her fingers across the smiles in the shot—the windblown hair, the handsome cleft in Jake’s chin, Jillian’s hazel eyes, the surf and the sky behind them. She laid the photo gently in the top of the duffel bag that was packed and sitting on her bed. She zipped it closed, then picked it up and slowly turned around the room, fingering the anchor at her neck.
Just get in the car.
She’d been considering it for months. Finally, tonight, the pain was too great, and she’d made the decision to leave.
Just get in the car.
She’d repeated this like a mantra. Whatever it took to get her to the garage, to get her to the car, to get her out of here.
Earlier that night she’d been gathering the things she wanted to take with her, when Jake had showed up on the front porch, holding her necklace. Demanding to know how Macie Merrick had gotten her hands on it.
“Where are you going?” he’d asked.
“Portland,” she’d lied. “To stay with my aunt Laura.”
“That’s all you’re taking?” The bag in her hand had been small and light.
“I won’t need anything else.”
Now she switched off the light and padded back down the stairs to the kitchen. In the glow of the screen on the front of the silver refrigerator her father installed in every kitchen he built, Leslie found the spare key to her mom’s car in the drawer under the toaster.
In the garage, she tossed the duffel bag onto the passenger seat of her mother’s Audi, put on her seat belt, adjusted the mirrors, and turned the key in the ignition. She knew her parents would never hear the car start from the opposite end of the house, and as she turned it on, the oldies station her mother listened to softly filled the air. The music swelled and a woman with a sob in her voice sang out the words “All I see is you.”
She rolled down the win
She picked up the duffel bag on the passenger seat and laid it on her lap. She felt the anchor around her neck and considered where to go. She looked up at the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of herself: A girl with chin-length blond hair whose mascara was running stared back at her. Perhaps once, she’d been pretty. Now she was unremarkable, sort of exactly what you’d expect.
Tears started to stream down the face of the girl in the mirror, and as they did, Leslie closed her eyes. The words she’d heard so often rang in her ears.
You are pathetic and worthless. You should just kill yourself.
In her heart, Leslie felt something click. Like a door swinging closed. She finally knew one thing for sure: Even if she went to Portland, even if she drove a hundred miles an hour and didn’t stop until she was standing on Aunt Laura’s doorstep, she could never outrun this pain. It would never end, unless she ended it.
Deep down inside, she knew that going to Aunt Laura’s would never do that. That was just the story she’d told herself to get her to the car in the garage. Going nowhere was the only real option. It had been her first idea, and now in the warmth of the garage, with the sound of the softly purring engine and the song filling her ears, she decided it had been her best choice. In the end, it was the least complicated, and the only thing that would work for certain.
As the exhaust began to tickle her nose, she laid her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. Her hand wandered to the shoulder strap of the duffel bag in her lap. She took a long, deep breath and thought about all the things she’d packed to bring along.
And all the things she’d leave behind.
When I got back to my room with the Diet Cokes, Macie was finishing the Facebook message to Leslie. As I set the cans down on the desk, she looked up at me with a quick smirk, then back at the screen. A satisfied smile slowly spread across her face. Then she flipped a long strand of honey-blond hair over her shoulder.
“Straight-A Jillian, your proofreading skills are now required. Nothing is worse than a typo in a suicide note.”
“Totally.” Krista giggled. “That would really make you want to kill yourself.” She and Beth dissolved into laughter on the floor. I gingerly stepped over Katherine to sit down at the computer as Macie slid away and popped open a Diet.
The words on the screen were typed into a Facebook message. It read:
TOP 10 THINGS TO REMEMBER IN YOUR SUICIDE NOTE
1. Apologize for all the terrible sweaters you wore.
2. A brief rundown of how bad you were at volleyball.
3. How much it hurt that your daddy was never home enough.
4. Tell everyone how sorry you are that you won’t be at prom this year, so someone else will have to be “worst dressed.”
5. A thank-you to all your best girlfriends, who were so nice to you. (Oh. Wait. There weren’t any because you were a slut who stole people’s boyfriends.)
6. Who you’re leaving all your craptastic earrings to.
7. How sad you were that your boobs never grew in.
8. A line from one of those stupid country songs you listened to.
9. Why we shouldn’t be sad now that you’re gone. (Not that we would be.)
10. Tell Jake how you’re doing this for him so that he won’t have ugly babies.
“Is ‘craptastic’ a word?” I asked.
“Oh, who cares? It’s not like she’s clever enough to use a word like that in a book report, let alone a suicide note.” Macie was very pleased with herself. I could tell that this week at school would be easier. She’d been begging for a sleepover since last Monday. Finally, I’d invented a chemistry exam that required a study group so my mom would buy into a Sunday-night slumber party. Now if we could just get this message sent before Jake got home, we’d be set.
“Looks good,” I said. “Our weekly missive appears to be ready.”
“Oh, Beeeeeth . . . ,” trilled Macie. It was a silly tradition that we’d established. Macie typed, I proofread, Beth pressed send every week.
“Ta-da!” squealed Beth, the tiny gymnast in our midst, who jumped in a single fluid motion from the floor to the chair at the computer desk, somehow joining me on a seat I didn’t realize had room for the both of us.
And as she turned around, the door to my room swung open with such force that it bounced against the wall and knocked the lamp off my dresser. Krista screamed as the bulb flashed purple and burned out. Suddenly, all six feet, two inches of my twin brother, Jake, were standing in the doorway.
“Where did you get this?” he asked. His voice was so still, no one dared to breathe. There was no air left in the room.
I tried to act nonchalant. I squinted at the silver chain dangling from his fist as if I couldn’t quite make out what he was holding, as if I didn’t know.
But I knew. We all did. And Jake’s knuckles were white.
Katherine was typically the quiet one, but she must’ve noticed me flinch under Jake’s gaze, because she was the only one to jump in.
“What is that?” she asked, sitting up on the knees of her plaid pajama pants and reaching for the anchor dangling from the chain in Jake’s hand.
Without moving his eyes from mine, he pulled the chain out of her reach as a cloud crossed his clear blue eyes.
“Jills, you know exactly what it is,” he said.
The short sleeve of Jake’s green polo strained against the biceps of his right arm as he gripped the necklace. The pendant trembled on the chain from the tension in his hand. His whole body was on a slow boil.
“Dang, Jake.” Macie whistled. “You’re so sexy when you’re angry.”
For one moment, Jake’s eyes left me and fixed on Macie in a look of such contempt that even Macie withered backward from the heat.
“Don’t ever speak to me again,” he spat at her so slowly it felt like the words were separate explosions from an armful of hand grenades he’d lobbed into each corner of the room. “I want you out of my life.”
Then he turned on his heel and headed back down the hall.
I’ll never forget how we sat there in silence for what seemed like an eternity as we listened to the front door slam, then the car door, then heard Jake squeal away from the curb. I didn’t realize it then, but that was the moment it all began—or it all ended, depending on your point of view, I suppose. In the span of time between his tires peeling out and Krista’s next giggle, I sat in the eerie quiet and understood two things:
I didn’t know exactly how we’d gotten here.
But I knew exactly where Jake was going.
I knew Leslie was dead before I opened my eyes. It was Beth’s crying that woke me up, and my very first thought was Leslie’s gone and killed herself. As I lay there listening to Beth cry, I felt that familiar knot in the pit of my stomach. It’s the same one I got the day we left Atlanta almost two years ago. I had cried that day while I was hugging my old aunt Liza good-bye.
“No use crying when life hands you different cards than the ones you wanted,” Aunt Liza always said when I was little. “Besides, if you show folks your hand by the look on your face, they’ll call your bluff.”
I lay as still as I could on the pull-out couch in the corner of the TV room in Jillian’s huge upstairs suite and listened for clues. Krista tried to comfort Beth on the edge of the air mattress across the room.
“Beth, it’s okay,” she said.
“No, Krista, it’s not okay. This is not okay.”
I heard a rustling as Jillian jumped up and closed the door of the TV room all th
“Keep what down?” Beth was crying so hard that she could barely choke out the words. “This isn’t a secret, Jillian. It’s all over Facebook.”
Beth was sobbing too loudly to ignore, and even though I didn’t want to, I opened my eyes and sat up. They had forgotten I was there, because Jillian jumped about three feet in the air, and Beth stopped crying for a second.
“Leslie is dead, isn’t she?” I said.
No one moved for what seemed like an eternity. I realized later that this was the first time any of us had said the word “dead.” For some reason, saying it out loud made it real. The word hung there in midair and I wished that someone, anyone, would grab it and hide it, or hurl it out the upstairs window into the pool out back. Instead it tumbled end over end with a gathering velocity, like a frigid wave, and as it crashed over us, Macie walked into the room from the bathroom that Jillian shared with Jake.
Macie was showered and dressed and looked like she’d stepped out of the window at the Barneys in Pacific Place. Her dark-blond hair was perfect and framed her face in long, shiny layers.
“Yes, Katherine. Leslie killed herself. She died last night huffing exhaust in her own garage.”
Macie took a box of tissues from a shelf next to the television and handed it to Krista.
“Beth, darling, when you dry your eyes, feel free to leave a post on Leslie’s Facebook page along with the hundred and seventeen of us who have already done so. I can’t help but think that our true sympathy should go to her parents, though. I simply can’t imagine how anyone could be so selfish.”
She turned around and fished a small zippered pouch from her Louis Vuitton overnight bag on the floor. She produced two diamond stud earrings, which she put in as she made her way to the full-length mirror next to the couch, where I was sitting. She narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her own reflection. When no one spoke or moved, she suddenly turned and looked at each of us in turn.
“What?” she asked.