October 16, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

In the days that followed my night at The House, I vacillated between electrified (Campbell muttering, "Jesus" and sinking his teeth into my shoulder when he came, leaving ripe purple teeth marks that lasted for days.) and panic-stricken (where the fuck was Bridget's body?).

Biz was simply panic-stricken. The police were looking at her closely, picking through the half-disintegrated notes they'd found in the mildewy interior of Bridget's car. Why had she kept them, I wanted to know.

"Because she's a psychopath!" Biz sputtered, and that made me think of something else.

"Why did you tell me to go talk to her that night, knowing that?" Biz opened her mouth to explain, but before she could I continued, ferociously, "and knowing that she had basically been, I don't know, plotting my demise since freshman year?"

Biz toed the pink and green Pottery Barn Kids rug on her floor. Everything about her—her plump thighs, her khaki and pastel Polo uniform, her Longchamp luggage and pretty but naked face—just read so suburban. It enraged me sometimes. Just be your own person, I'd want to scream. Stop dressing like all the sheep on your precious Main Line. "She went after Pat to piss me off," Biz said. "I knew sending you to do my bidding would piss her off even more. That was it. I wanted to piss her off. I was sure she was over this whole diabolical plan to destroy you."

I had to ask. "Were you?"

Biz laughed, thinking I was joking at first. When she saw my face, her lips parted in disbelief. "Are you seriously asking if I set you up?"

I just repeated my question.

"Jesus, Elizabeth!" Biz gasped. "I know you don't believe that. And that"—she pointed a trembling finger at me and her bottom lip started to tremble—"really hurts. After everything I did"—she caught her bottom lip in her teeth, trying to steady her voice, cracking all over the place—"I was the one who saved you from her little rape scheme, remember?"

"That you helped plot!" I laughed, bitterly. "So don't act like you deserve a medal or something for calling it off!"

"I'm not!" Biz yelled. She dug her fists in her eyes. "I'm not! I'm just"—she started to blubber, ugh—"I'm freaking the fuck out. The way they questioned me, it was like they knew I was lying!"

I shushed her loudly, not wanting our other roommates to hear. When Biz didn't stop crying, I walked over to her and grabbed her hands and pulled them away from her eyes. "Just calm down, Biz. They don't know anything. They're grasping at straws. But keep acting like an emotional train wreck and they'll think they've stumbled onto something and keep at you until you break."

Biz wriggled her wrists free from my hands. "I would never act like this in front of them," she said, huffily.

I hoped not, but I wasn't so sure. Biz was terrible at covering up how she really felt—she cried at the drop of a pin, and if she was ever angry or annoyed with you she couldn't hide the irritation in the hard set of her mouth. It could grate sometimes, especially for someone like me, who was raised to believe that a cool temperament is an art to be crafted and mastered, the way you would French or the history of the Reagan administration. But her histrionics were also why I loved her so much. It made her incapable of being dishonest with me, or with anyone, really. I could always count on Biz to set me straight, even when I was acting like a real asshole, which, as we've established, was often.

"Well, we still have the bigger problem of figuring out where the hell Bridget's body is," I said.

"I still can't believe you went out there by yourself," Biz said, with a shiver. I hadn't told her about Campbell. I just couldn't bring myself to until I'd worked out what that night meant to me.

And yeah—I'd considered the possibility that Campbell had moved her. Was still considering it, actually. "Oh, this is where my sister and I came and hung out when we were little kids and now I come here to think about her." Potential bullshit level on that: high. He was not to be trusted, that much I intuitively understood. Maybe he'd even planted her clothes, that whiskey there. Maybe he didn't even have a dead sister. My heart sped up as I considered that possibility, and something like hurt wormed its way into a tendon. Who would take advantage of my life's greatest tragedy like that?  A real sociopath, that's who.

Biz said the other thing I'd been wondering, in barely a whisper. "What if she's still alive?"

"She's not," I stressed, as much for myself as for her. We'd touched her. We'd tried to carry her. She had been like chilled block of cement, pockets of warmth here and there where the blood had yet to retreat. She was dead as a doornail.

I steepled my fingers over my nose and took a deep breath. "Can we get out of here?" I asked. "Go get food or something?" I never have much of an appetite, it's why I can eat whatever I want and stay so thin. After a few bites of starchy carby junk, I'm disinterested. My appetite had all but disappeared over the last few months, but suddenly, I was starving.

"We can't," Biz said, "we have that vigil for Bridget."

I groaned.

"It will look suspicious if we don't go," Biz said.

- -

The quad was covered in clusters of weeping, shivering students, cupping their hands over the twitching flames of the candles they were passing out around the perimeter, trying to keep the light from going out with a wet sizzle. The mist Biz and I had stepped into when we first left the house had given way to a steady, sideways spit. An umbrella just created a vacuum for the rain to get at you from all sides.

Biz struggled to shut hers against the wind, and we both put up the hoods of our Patagonia jackets, the coat my mother forbids me from wearing when I'm home in the city, even during a blizzard.

With my peripheral vision obstructed, I walked right past Campbell and Detective Roth without even noticing them. The only reason I even knew we'd passed them is because Biz saw, and she wiggled her hand underneath my arm, pinned to my side, and squeezed. "To your left," she hissed.

I waited until we'd joined the group at the outer left corner before daring to scope out my surroundings. I know Campbell saw me, but he pretended not to.

"We need candles," Biz whispered, "it's not going to look real unless we have candles."

"What's not going to look real?" I whispered back, annoyed with her for being cryptic, but even more annoyed that Campbell was acting like I didn't exist when all I could do was replay that moment he collected me off the window's ledge and slammed me into the wall, like he was going to fuck all of my lies right out of me.

"Our grief," Biz hissed. She took off, in search of some props that would adequately depict our grief.

Have you ever been with someone who you are so completely enamored with that you are actually turned on by the idea of what he is like with other women? The line of thinking had never even crossed my mind with any of the guys I'd slept with before Campbell, and there were many. I lost count after freshmen year. But now, it was all I could think about. Who were the women he had been with before me? What did he do with them? How did he act? Was he that devastating combination of angry and sad, because he knew we couldn't ever really be together? Or maybe it was because he'd finally found someone who knew how tricky real grief is, especially when it's reserved for someone so invincibly young. The way it casts a shadow on everything you do and say and become afterward, because you know, better than anyone, that there isn't really a point. My brother despised cheese but loved pizza, he knew all the words to the rap in TLC's "Waterfalls" and used to perform it for me whenever it would come on the radio in a cab. Once, when we were talking about the preppy murderer, Thayer said that if anyone ever did that to me he would hunt that person down, and make sure he suffered before he killed him. We rewound that part in Jaws where the kid's leg floats to the bottom of the ocean again and again, howling with laughter, because the special effects had really aged. There is simply no point in ever being happy if you can accumulate all these moments with a person only to have him end up in the ground beneath your feet, feeling like you've been gutted like a fish at the very mention of his name.

"Surprised to see you here."

I looked to my right. Campbell was by my side, hands clasped over his pelvis, staring straight ahead.

"I didn't come for Bridget," I said.

Campbell exhaled, his breath curling out of his nostrils like the smoke that follows a blast from a fire-breathing dragon in a kid's cartoon. "Watch what you say," Campbell warned. "There is only so far I'll go for you."

"Keep telling yourself that," I said.

Campbell shifted his weight, so that he was leaning closer to me, practically brushing my side. I had that giddy feeling in my stomach, like I was driving over a small, steep hill. It had been forever since I felt it, and, I realized, probably forever since he had too. He needed me as much as I needed him.

"At 1 AM," Campbell said, "I want you to come outside, get in my car, and not say a fucking word."

I bit down on my lip so hard the spot was numb and tingly for hours. Before I could say anything, Biz appeared to my left. "Here," she said, tersely, shoving a candle into my hands.

Campbell gave the two of us a look. "Very convincing," he concluded, before wondering off.

I could feel Biz glaring at me. "What was that about?"

"Same old," I said, flatly. "If I remember anything that seems to be of importance please give him a call."

"Right," Biz snorted. "My ass is on the line, and you're screwing the lead investigator on the case. You are unbelievable"—

I shushed her then, but not because I didn't want to hear what she had to say next, or even admit to myself that she was right. It was because the Masons were approaching the podium, getting ready to address the crowd. And this time it wasn't just the two of them—there was a third member of their party, so shockingly reminiscent of her sister with her imposing height and black curtain of hair, wiry and wild with the humidity, that a swell of frenzied whispers rose up from the crowd. Is that..how could that be....?

Only it wasn't, and it couldn't be Bridget. It was Abby.