I'm the Girl excerpt (cont'd)
continued from part five
She takes me back home.
I slam the car door and that’s a mistake; the sound burrows into my skull. I stand on the curb with my back to her until I hear her pull away, and then I slowly make the walk to the screen door, where I press my forehead against its cool metal. After a long moment, I pull it open, fumbling for my pocket, to get my key. The cast makes it nearly impossible. I’m reaching across myself with my good hand to get it, the pressure building behind my eyes, when Tyler flings the inside door open and says, “You couldn’t text me?”
I hadn’t noticed his truck in the driveway.
“I don’t have a phone,” I remind him, edging past.
“Then leave a note, George!” he snaps. I wince and rest my hand against the kitchen table. “And—sit down before you fall down. Jesus.”
He grabs the painkillers under the window at the sink, then goes through the cupboards for a glass, which he fills with water. I sit as he sets both in front of me.
“You’ve still got a concussion, you know that? You’re not supposed to be running around doing—” Now he remembers what he was pissed at me for, and he asks his next question with no small amount of wariness: “Do I even want to know?”
I down the pills and tell him about Nora. He listens, grinding his teeth back and forth. When I’m finished, he lights one of his Camels to relieve his tension, blowing the smoke toward the nicotine-stained ceiling. “That family . . .”
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry for ’em, but we got enough of our own problems.”
He takes another deep drag from the smoke, the cherry electric orange. He’s nervous and that makes me nervous, makes me afraid to find out what happened at the mall.
“How did it go?” I ask in a small voice.
He purses his lips, contemplating another drag before putting the cigarette out in the sink. He stares out the window before finally turning to me. “I gotta ask you something and I’m not going to be mad, but you gotta be honest.”
“Okay,” he echoes. “Uh, these pictures you took with this photographer—what kind—” He clears his throat. “What kind of pictures were they, George?”
The silence stretches uncomfortably between us.
“What do you mean?”
“They weren’t anything . . . special, were they?”
“What do you mean?” I ask again.
His hands go up, his fingers reaching for something, but I don’t know what. “Okay, so you had your clothes on?” I cross my arms and look away, my eyes and face burning. “I’m sorry. I hate asking, but when I went down there, this guy was so obviously . . .”
“So obviously what?”
“What kind of pictures were they, George?”
“They were just—” I wipe my eyes. “Modeling shots. Professional.”
He exhales, says, “Okay,” and then tells me how it went at the mall: the guy’s willing to return a portion of the money in exchange for the prints because you can’t expect a refund without bringing back the goods.
“So you got ’em?” Tyler asks, and my stomach flips, my mind frantic until I remember the last I saw the photos, I was shoving them in my bag, and the last I saw my bag it was crumpled on the side of the road. I left it there.
“No, no, we got it,” Tyler says, when I tell him. “It’s in the hall closet.”
He moves to get it, but I head him off, the sudden rise to my feet wreaking havoc on my throbbing head. My bag is stowed next to the shoes, stained and tattered, dirt and grime embedded into its cloth, rough against my fingers.
The thing is, I don’t want to give the photos back.
I want to keep them.
They are special.
“George?” he calls.
Maybe they’d just settle for some headshots. I fight with the buckle, a little crushed now. When I finally manage it open, the photographs are gone.
It scares Tyler enough he calls the sheriff ’s about it.
I sit on the living room couch with my palms pressed against my eyes, wishing that shock of pink had caught anyone else’s notice.
That anyone else had found her on that road.
“Useless motherfucker,” Tyler mutters after he hangs up.
“What did Watt say?” He doesn’t answer. I lower my hands. “Tyler.”
“He says that if nothing’s happened yet, it probably won’t, but I gotta tell you, I don’t love the idea of some sick fuck who raped and killed a little girl holding onto your picture—”
“Tyler, come on—”
“And maybe getting in their head they need to come back for the real thing—”
“You’re freaking me out!”
“That’s because I’m freaked out!” He pinches the bridge of his nose, taking a good minute to weigh all this new and terrible information. “Okay. You know what. If Watt says it’s fine, it’s probably fine.” But I can tell he doesn’t believe it. He glances at the bag on the table, then his phone. The door. “I could only take the morning off. I gotta go back to work—”
“So I gotta trust you to be smart.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
But something already did.
His eyes meet mine.
“I gotta trust you to be smart,” he says again, slowly.
“Is that because you think I’m stupid?”
“Don’t start. I’m locking the door behind me.” He opens one of the drawers under the sink, grabs a fresh pack of Camels and tears the plastic wrap off it, tucking it into his pocket. “Don’t go anywhere else today.”
“I mean it.” He snatches his keys off the counter. “I’m gonna call the house. And I’m not going to tell you when. And if you’re not here to pick it up, George, I swear—”
“I’ll be here.” I pause. “What are you going to do about the pictures?”
“I’m gonna stop at the mall when I clock off,” he answers and then cuts me off mid-protest. “I will figure it out. And if I don’t, a summer job’s not going to be the worst thing for you. At least I’ll know where the hell you are.” He grabs my bag. “Watt wants this.”
“Will I get it back?” I don’t know why this is the thing I ask.
“I don’t know.” He stares at it, then snaps himself out of whatever road his mind is trying to take him down. He gestures to the door. “Keep it locked, okay? Stay inside. Call if you need anything. And wait for my call.”
He hesitates one last time and then he goes. After I hear his truck pull out, I get up and move to the door, touching the lock, turning it back and forth, listening to the click and release. Locked—unlocked—locked. I close my eyes and feel the road against me, pebbles and dirt scratching my scalp, getting in my hair . . .
The car coming back. Wavering, indistinct, formless, a shadow, no color or license plate or driver, but it had all of these things. I don’t remember letting go and this is what terrifies me the most: to be so acutely in my body one minute and then, suddenly, not there at all, and then, just as suddenly, returned, someone else’s story writing itself in my gaps.
I think of footsteps around me, carving a path.
And now, something else: hands rooting through my messenger bag, finding my photos and leaving with them, the hands of someone who killed a girl . . . and did he always decide to kill her, to use her body like that and let her die in the same moment?
What makes you decide to kill a girl?
What makes you decide not to?
He has my photos.
I jerk away from the door. The lock. Fuck. I reach out quickly to lock it and the loud click of it gives me away. I fumble back when I hear my name—or I think I do.
The final excerpt of I’m the Girl will be posted in Courtney Summers’s August 1st newsletter.
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