by Jessica Knoll
Don't you ever just know? Really know something to be true, with nothing more to go on than a clandestine glance, the intonation on a certain word, someone blinking just a little too fast when you ask, "Who were you with last night?" Call it instinct, a gut feeling, woman's intuition. But I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that it was no coincidence that the sister of the girl I had killed showed up at my apartment on the same day a pair of leopard print handcuffs, chillingly similar to the ones that had been used on me all those years ago, were gifted to Izzy, by Biz. Not to mention the way they were carrying on about them, like they were the funniest fucking thing they'd ever seen and there were way more ridiculous things in that gift basket. The next thing she pulled out was a glittery prostate plug and she hardly gave it a second glance. A motherfucking glittery prostate plug!
I had some choices. I could make a big messy scene right there, accuse Biz and Izzy of being involved, ruin Izzy's indulgent special day. I wouldn't need to demand to know why they had done what they did to me. Well, of Izzy maybe (though I suspect it was as simple as going with the crowd, which is what Izzy does best), but not of Biz. I knew why Biz had tried to take me down. I did something I'm not proud of back in college, but that's another story, for another day. The point is I now saw Biz, our friendship, even myself in an entirely new light. All these years this bitch had been putting on a front, acting so helpless, so needy, so dependent on me, and I'd played right into it. She had fooled me. Biz had fooled me.
Two could play at this game, I decided, right then and there, and it was as though my body landed on this conclusion before my mind chanted the embarrassingly earnest platitude, because suddenly I was standing, dinging my champagne glass with my fork. Everyone shifted in the direction of the sound, and the room quieted down. "I'd like to make a toast."
"When I got married, someone told me that marrying the one you love is easy. But the real challenge is loving the one you marry." There was polite, drunken laughter. "When the road gets tough"—here, I made my voice quiver—"I hope you know you can lean on me, and come to me for support and advice, because you and Biz have always"—I squeezed out a little tear and someone gasped appreciatively—"been there for me."
I raised my glass higher, and everyone else did too. "To friendship."
"To friendship," the crowd repeated back to me, and Izzy and Biz blew me kisses from across the room. I blew one back with one long cyanide laced breath.
Everyone migrated to the bar after the party ended, prim heels in hand. This crowd had a way of turning bridal showers into all day debaucherous affairs. I begged off, telling Biz and Izzy I actually wasn't feeling well. I saw them exchange a glance and I knew what they were thinking: pregnant. I had never been so grateful for the unfriendly state of my womb as I had been in that moment. I needed to be focused, not distracted by a barfing bundle of joy.
I raced home and accosted my doorman. "Louis," I said, "that girl who was here earlier. Abby. The one you sent away. Did she say anything? Like why she was here?"
Louise stared at me, sternly. "I told her to go away or I would call the police. Like you told me to."
I blew a strand of hair out of my eyes, frustrated. "I know that. Thank you. But now I realize I need to talk to her and I'm trying to figure out a way to get in touch with her."
Louis nodded. "Yes, she left a phone number."
I practically swooned at this. "She did? That's amazing!"
"But I threw it out," Louis said, looking at me strangely. "I didn't think you would want it."
Which is why I spent the next half an hour, elbow deep in the trash can on the sidewalk, scrummaging around for Abby's number which Louis said was written on a pink—no, maybe yellow—piece of paper. It turned out to be written on a green piece of paper but I was just so elated to have found it I didn't care.
I eschewed the elevators for the stairs. The adrenaline was coming off me like steam, and if I had to stop at every single floor because some drooling toddler had gotten button happy in the elevator I might have blown a fuse.
I unlocked the door to my apartment, called out Peter's name, waited a beat to make sure he wasn't home, then made a dash for the phone. Abby picked up on the third ring.
"It's Elizabeth," I told her, between gasps. I felt one bead of sweat drain into the waistband of my skirt.
"Elizabeth!" Abby exclaimed. "I'm surprised to hear from you."
"Likewise," I said. Then I asked if she could meet me in half an hour.
I ordered Blanton's, neat, and Abby ordered water. "You're so good," I commented, and Abby gave me a look.
"I'm sober, Elizabeth."
I did a little double take, surprised. "Since when?"
"Since the night your brother died," Abby said. "I haven't had a drop of alcohol since. There wasn't much temptation in jail, and then I figured why not just stick with it once I got out."
I shifted in my seat, feeling uncomfortable. "You know, Abby, I never thought it was right the way my family came after you the way they did. You weren't even driving. Thayer was. I don't think it was your fault. I never did."
"But we wouldn't have even been in that situation to begin with if alcohol hadn't been involved," Abby pointed out. "I accused your brother of flirting with someone—which I don't even think he was doing, I was just drunk and jealous—and then I was the one who demanded we leave the party. If I hadn't done that"—she shook her head, angry at herself. "I don't even want to drink. I don't want to feel out of control. Ever again."
My drink landed in front of me then, and I took a self-conscious sip. "I think I've just accepted that nothing is within my control." I took a bigger sip. Thought about Campbell, the man I really loved, locked away, refusing to see me. My brother, dead. My mother, her sad semblance of a life east of Park Avenue. My sham of a marriage. My sham of a best friend. Rolling with the punches was a lot easier to do with a little liquid lubrication. I took a hot gulp of my drink, polishing it off, then asked the bartender for another.
"I've been wanting to get in touch with you for a while now," Abby said. "But I didn't know how. Part of the agreement I signed back then stipulated I was to have no contact with you, ever. And that was fine. I didn't have a reason to contact you. I mean, I did, but I just made peace with the fact that I'd never get a chance to tell you."
I frowned. "Tell me what."
Abby glanced at her lap. "Remember that time I showed up at your college house? That Turquoise house, or whatever?" she laughed a little. "I gave you a hug and you were so surprised, I know, because I knew you thought I had orchestrated the whole thing. Your kidnapping." She laughed again. "God, that sounds so dramatic. But that's what it was, wasn't it? A kidnapping." She looked at me, almost shyly.
"Anyway," she said. "I know you probably thought that I wanted my sister to exact my revenge on you. Make you pay for the fact that your family had sent me to jail."
"Yeah," I said, "that's exactly what I thought."
Abby nodded. "I'll admit this much. When I found out you were going to Smithson, I pushed Bridget to apply there too. But not because I wanted to hurt you."
I waited for her to say more, but she didn't. "Okay. Why then?"
Abby sighed. "I don't really know how to answer that. I wanted to keep tabs on you, I guess. I loved Thayer so much and it was like it was easier to keep him alive if I had some thread to connect me to him. And you were it. I got to live vicariously through my sister, who I didn't tell to go and befriend you exactly, but I hoped she would."
I snorted. "Well, she didn't."
Abby smiled a little too. "Yeah. She really didn't like you."
"She drugged me and chained me to a water pipe in the basement of some asbestos infested dump. No shit she didn't like me."
"Well, I underestimated exactly how much she didn't like you until she told me what she'd done and I told her to go get you out of there immediately."
That admission made my spine prickle. "You knew I was down there before I got out?"
"Elizabeth," Abby said, very lowly, as though no one else was to hear what she was going to say next, "she was coming to help you. Not to hurt you."
"No," I said, shaking my head. "That can't be right. She charged at me"—
"Didn't you say you were just coming out of some drug induced stupor?" Abby said. "Maybe that's your memory of it, but that may not be how it happened."
I tried to fashion this possibility to my memory of that moment, but it wasn't quit fitting. I tried again, harder. The bourbon had made my brain mushy, pliable. I could see it, maybe. Bridget not charging me, exactly, but running toward me, to see if I was okay. And I was so enraged that anyone had dared to cross me that I lashed out at her. Is this why I'd always felt so guilty? Because I knew, deep down, it hadn't really been self-defense? As soon as the thought entered my mind I expelled it. I couldn't live with myself if that had been the case.
"So why didn't you tell me any of this back then?" I demanded. I was starting to get angry. "Why are you telling me now?"
"I came to your house to tell you that," Abby said, "but Biz ushered me out of there before I could. Then you lawyered up, and I never got a chance to. Besides," she shrugged, "I was worried for myself. I was worried that I could get into even more trouble than I was already in for not reporting my sister right away. I read her the riot act for being so fucking stupid and told her to go make it right immediately. I thought she could help you before it went too far, because apparently they were planning on doing far worse to you."
The mention of "they," a group, chilled me to my marrow. "Who was?"
Abby shook her head. "I never knew! I couldn't get it out of her. She said you'd pissed off a lot of people. Some girls found out about her connection to you, and it didn't take much for them to convince her you needed to be taught a lesson. Put in your place. Because they—but she wouldn't say who—said you thought your shit didn't stink."
My second drink was gone. This time I asked the bartender for a double. "My shit doesn't stink," I informed Abby. "And it doesn't matter now. I'm pretty fucking sure I know exactly who 'they' is."
Abby glanced at my new drink, the much more robust pour, with concern. "Well, I think I do too. That's why I was trying to get in touch with you, even though I'm not supposed to contact you. It didn't seem like a strong enough reason to break the contract to simply tell you others were involved. But it did once I thought I knew who they were. "
I said nothing. I wasn't really curious anymore. I already knew it was Biz and Izzy.
Abby rummaged around in her purse, hooked on the side of her chair, and extracted one of those marbled notebooks. The edges of the page were crusty and yellow. "My parents moved a few weeks ago, and I had the unpleasant duty of packing up Bridget's room since neither my mother or father could stand to do it. I found this." She flipped open the notebook to reveal what appeared to be a floor plan. I leaned in closer to take a look, and saw crudely drawn stick figures at critical points. There was a stick figure in the basement, labeled B. There was one by the front door, labeled I. There was one in the car, labeled BM, and most curious, one standing in the driveway, labeled C. "C" was the only stick figure given the courtesy of any real form, with squiggly figure eights drawn as arms, suggesting large biceps, which also suggested C was a guy. And in these large biceps was another stick figure, this one labeled E.
"I know 'BM' is my sister," Abby said. "Bridget Mason. I wondered if 'B' was for Biz, and 'I' for Izzy. I knew they were your friends. Bridget told me that much."
Abby put her finger on the E. "That's obviously you. I just can't think who the 'C' is. And it's clearly a guy. Any ideas?"
I'd always wondered how Bridget had gotten me from the car into the house. Even after this morning, realizing Biz and Izzy were involved, I had still wondered. Biz and Izzy were tiny. Not thin, mind you, but tiny. I'm the opposite. Thin, and anything but tiny. It would have to take one hell of a man to be able to carry my dead weight across a lawn, through the kitchen, and down a rickety flight of stairs.
And did I ever know one hell of a man whose name started with a 'C.'