Home > Girl, Forgotten (Andrea Oliver #2)

Girl, Forgotten (Andrea Oliver #2)
Author: Karin Slaughter

 

 

APRIL 17, 1982


Emily Vaughn frowned at the mirror. The dress was as beautiful as it had been in the store. Her body was the problem. She turned, then turned again, trying to find an angle that didn’t make her look like she’d thrown herself onto the beach like a dying whale.

From the corner, Gram said, “Rose, you should stay away from the cookies.”

Emily took a moment to recalibrate. Rose was Gram’s sister who’d died of tuberculosis during the Great Depression. Emily’s middle name was in honor of the girl.

“Gram.” She pressed her hand to her stomach, telling her grandmother, “I don’t think it’s the cookies.”

“Are you sure?” A sly smile rippled Gram’s lips. “I was hoping you would share.”

Emily gave her reflection another disapproving frown before forcing a smile onto her face. She knelt awkwardly in front of her grandmother’s rocking chair. The old woman was knitting a sweater that would fit a child. Her fingers dipped in and out of the tiny, puckered collar like hummingbirds. The long sleeve of her Victorian-style dress had pulled back. Emily gently touched the deep purple bruise ringing her bony wrist.

“Clumsy-mumsy.” Gram’s tone had the sing-song quality of one thousand excuses. “Freddy, you must change out of that dress before Papa gets home.”

Now Gram thought Emily was her uncle Fred. Dementia was nothing if not a stroll through the many skeletons lining the family closet.

Emily asked, “Would you like me to get you some cookies?”

“That would be wonderful.” Gram continued to knit but her eyes, which never really focused on anything, suddenly became transfixed by Emily. Her lips curved into a smile. Her head tilted to the side as if she was studying the pearlescent lining of a seashell. “Look at your beautiful, smooth skin. You’re so lovely.”

“It runs in the family.” Emily marveled at the almost tangible state of knowing that had transformed her grandmother’s gaze. She was there again, as if a broom had swept the cobwebs from her cluttered brain.

Emily touched her crinkly cheek. “Hello, Gram.”

“Hello, my sweet child.” Her hands stopped knitting, but only to cup Emily’s face between them. “When is your birthday?”

Emily knew to offer as much information as possible. “I’ll be eighteen in two weeks, Grandmother.”

“Two weeks.” Gram’s smile grew wider. “So wonderful to be young. So much promise. Your whole life a book that has yet to be written.”

Emily steeled herself, creating an invisible fortress against a wave of emotion. She was not going to spoil this moment by crying. “Tell me a story from your book, Gram.”

Gram looked delighted. She loved telling stories. “Have I told you about when I carried your father?”

“No,” Emily said, though she’d heard the story dozens of times. “What was it like?”

“Miserable.” She laughed to lighten the word. “I was sick morning and night. I could barely get out of bed to cook. The house was a mess. It was a scorcher outside, I can tell you that. I wanted desperately to cut my hair. It was so long, down to my waist, and when I washed it, the heat would spoil it before it could dry.”

Emily wondered if Gram was confusing her life with “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”. Fitzgerald and Hemingway often crossed into her memories. “How short did you cut your hair?”

“Oh, no, I did no such thing,” Gram said. “Your grandfather wouldn’t allow me.”

Emily felt her lips part in surprise. That sounded more real life than short story.

“There was quite a rigmarole. My father got involved. He and my mother came over to advocate on my behalf, but your grandfather refused to let them enter the house.”

Emily held tight to her grandmother’s trembling hands.

“I remember them arguing on the front porch. They were about to come to blows before my mother begged them to stop. She wanted to take me home and look after me until the baby came, but your grandfather refused.” She looked startled, as if something had just occurred to her. “Imagine how different my life would have been if they had taken me home that day.”

Emily didn’t have the capacity to imagine. She could only think about the realities of her own life. She had become just as trapped as her grandmother.

“Little lamb.” Gram’s gnarled finger caught Emily’s tears before they could fall. “Don’t be sad. You’ll get away. You’ll go to college. You’ll meet a boy who loves you. You’ll have children who adore you. You’ll live in a beautiful house.”

Emily felt tightness in her chest. She had lost the dream of that life.

“My treasure,” Gram said. “You must trust me on this. I am caught between the veil of life and death, which affords me a view of both the past and the future. I see nothing but happiness for you in the coming days.”

Emily felt her fortress cracking against the weight of impending grief. No matter what happened—good, bad or indifferent—her grandmother would not bear witness. “I love you so much.”

There was no response. The cobwebs had fractured Gram’s gaze into the familiar look of confusion. She was holding a stranger’s hands. Embarrassed, she took up the knitting needles, and continued the sweater.

Emily wiped away the last of her tears as she stood up. There was nothing worse than watching a stranger cry. The mirror beckoned, but she felt bad enough without staring at her reflection for a second longer. Besides, nothing was going to change.

Gram didn’t glance up as Emily grabbed her things and left her room.

She went to the top of the stairs and listened. Her mother’s strident tone was muffled by her closed office doors. Emily strained for her father’s deep baritone, but he was probably still at his faculty meeting. Still, Emily slid off her shoes before carefully picking her way down the stairs. The old house’s creaks were as well-known to her as her parents’ warring shouts.

Her hand was reaching for the front door when she remembered the cookies. The stately old grandfather clock was ticking up on five. Gram wouldn’t remember the request, but nor would she be fed until well after six.

Emily placed her shoes by the door, then propped her small purse against the heels. She tiptoed past her mother’s office to the kitchen.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going dressed like that?” Her father’s stink of cigars and stale beer filled the kitchen. His black suit jacket was thrown over one of the chairs. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up. An unopened can of Natty Boh was beside two crushed empties on the counter.

Emily watched a bead of condensation roll down the side of the can.

Her father snapped his fingers as if hastening one of his grad students to get on with it. “Answer me.”

“I was just—”

“I know what you were just,” he cut her off. “You’re not content with the damage you’ve already caused this family? You’re going to completely blow up our lives two days before the most important week of your mother’s entire career?”

Emily’s face burned with shame. “It’s not about—”

“I don’t give a glorious goddamn what you think it is and is not about.” He pulled the ring off the can and threw it into the sink. “You can turn back around and get out of that hideous dress and stay in your room until I tell you otherwise.”

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