Called One of the Best Books of the Year by NPR
"Dynamic women with complicated lives take center stage in this twisty mystery about a rideshare mix-up which results in murder. Lalli is a fresh voice in the thriller genre and a writer to watch!" —Wendy Walker, internationally bestselling author of Don't Look For Me
Two women named Sara each get into a rideshare. . . but only one makes it home alive. Which Sara was the real target?
Law student Saraswati “Sara” Bhaduri holds down two jobs in order to make her way through school, but it’s still a struggle. She’s had to do things to pay the bills that most people wouldn’t expect from “a nice Indian girl.” It seems like an ordinary busy Tuesday night at the local dive bar until her boss demands Sara deal with a drunk girl in the bathroom.
The two become fast friends. Why? Because they both have the same name. And despite their different circumstances, the two connect. When they both order rideshares home, they tumble in the back of the cars and head out into the night.
But when Sara awakes in her rideshare, she finds she's on the wrong side of town—the rich side—and she realizes: she and Sarah took the wrong cars home.
With no money, Sara walks back to her apartment on the shady side of town only to discover police lights flashing and a body crumpled on her doorstep: Sarah.
Was Sarah Ellis or Sara Bhaduri the target? And why would anyone want either of them dead?
In this smart, twisty novel about ambition, wealth, and dangerous longing, the layers are peeled back on two young women desperate to break out of the expectations placed on them, with devastating results.
Release date: August 9, 2022
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Print pages: 384
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Listen to a sample
Are You Sara?
Thursday, September 29
There’s a dead girl in the bathroom.”
I look up. Gavin is staring at me, a tray of empties balanced on his left hand.
“Dead?” I ask.
“She’s a corpse. Who the fuck was serving her?”
I shrug. Although the place was packed earlier tonight, only Gavin and I were behind the bar. One of us had served her.
“Deal with her, would you?” he says.
“I was just about to leave.”
He gestures behind him. “Get her out of here, and then you can go.”
“Just fucking handle it, Sara.”
Gavin takes off before I have a chance to protest. He’s chivalrous like that. Annoyed, I make my way through the bar toward the bathrooms. It’s just past 2 a.m. and last call was half an hour ago, but there are still a few dozen stragglers finishing their drinks or falling asleep at the tables.
I push open the door to the women’s restroom and find two denim legs sticking out of the far stall. I sigh.
“Hey,” I say. “You.”
I let the door click shut behind me. The girl doesn’t respond and I take another step forward.
“I need you to get up.”
Literally, I need her to get up. I’m five foot three and sure as hell can’t carry her.
The girl groans and I soften. I wonder how young she is. Gavin tells us not to check IDs on weekdays. It’s the reason he’s still afloat.
“Are you OK?” I drop to hands and knees and peer under the stall. The girl is flat on her back, her head resting against the base of the toilet. She’s sporting a dark-wash jean jacket much like the one I’m wearing, and her long, chocolate-brown hair is all over her face.
I reach my hand out and brush it away, and when she still doesn’t move, I crawl under the stall. She’s petite, too, and there’s just enough room for both of us on the ground.
“Hey,” I say, more gently now. I shake her arms. “Let’s get you out of here, huh?”
She lets me peel her off the ground, my arms supporting some of her weight. I flip the lid down and manage to get her on the toilet seat. Her Marc Jacobs bag knocks against my hip.
“Who are you?” she asks groggily.
I smile, thankful she’s waking up. “Sara.”
“Really? My name is Sarah! With an H?”
“No H for me.” I pause. “Where are your friends? Can I get them?”
“I don’t have any friends.”
I open my mouth to speak, but then she continues.
“My friend went home with my other friend,” she says, her voice singsong. “If you catch my drift.”
“So you’re here by yourself?”
Sarah giggles, as if I’m ridiculous. “I’m here with you.”
With my arm wrapped around her waist, I help the other Sarah out through the kitchen exit that backs onto a quiet residential street. It’s a chilly autumn night, and when she starts to shiver, I button up her jacket.
“You’re a fox,” she slurs. We’re eye to eye, and I laugh.
“So are you.”
She leans forward and kisses my cheek, softly. “Do you want to smoke?”
“I’ve got class in the morning.”
“We’ve all got class in the morning,” she says.
“Do you want me to call you a Ride?”
Sarah doesn’t answer me as she fetches a joint from her back pocket. I’m tempted to ask her if she’s sure that’s a good idea in her state, but I’m not her mother, so I stay quiet. Instead, I watch her lean against the brick wall of the building, one foot tucked up beneath her as she lights up the joint and rests it on her bottom lip. She looks impossibly cool. I haven’t smoked in ages, and I don’t even like pot, but when she gestures for me to take a hit, I do.
Within minutes, I’m high. Sarah is an open book and I’m laughing at something I don’t remember her saying. A cloud is enveloping me, pleasant and hot, and I am only vaguely aware when the street lights seem to start flickering to “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. When a black car stops down the road and its lights go off. Then, when Sarah takes my hand.
She seems to think we’re friends. She is speaking in earnest, and I can hear her but I’m not listening. My head lolls back, the night air on my face. There are stars winking at me through the trees.
“Shit,” she says suddenly. “I’m going to go.”
I realize I’m sitting on the curb, and I stand up to join her. She’s fumbling with her phone, ordering a Ride. I’m a twenty-five-minute walk from home, but I’m way too out of it to make the trek, and so I do the same.
Our phones ping at the same time. Our Rides are close.
“Do you ever wish you could be somebody else?” I hear her ask. I look up and find her gazing down the street.
“Yes,” I say. “All the time.”
“Who would you be?”
I don’t have an answer for her. Words are hard to come by; they feel lodged deep in my throat.
“I’d be Lady Macbeth.”
I’m about to tell her Lady Macbeth is a fictional character when a car inches around the corner and pulls up in front of us.
Sarah wraps me in a hug. “This must be me.” My reflexes are all off, and before I manage to lift up my arms in response, she’s gone.
I vaguely consider going back inside to tell Gavin I’m leaving, but then another car approaches. I stumble in, my eyes closing as soon as my ass hits the seat.
“Are you Sara?” a voice asks from the front.
“Yes,” I say, and a beat later, I’m asleep.
The driver wakes me up, grumbling at me to get out. I attempt to sit up straight, but my head spins. The driver yells at me again.
“I said get out!”
“All right, all right.” I fling open the car door. “Thanks a lot, man.”
It’s dark and I’m cold. I pull my jacket tighter around my body as I try to figure out on which side of Hillmont Road the driver has dropped me. The street is tree-lined, but nothing feels familiar. The trees are taller, leafier. And the houses . . .
I blink at the one in front of me. It’s three stories high with a cherry-red door and window shutters to match. It’s what rich people might call colonial. I swivel around, as if my small, shitty house will magically appear across the street. My heart sinks. It’s another mansion.
“Fuck!” I squat on the curb, more awake now. The cold is clearing my head. Was the driver screwing with me, or did I get into the wrong Ride? I open the app, and sure enough, my Ride is on its way to Hillmont Road, probably with the other Sarah in tow. I scroll outward on the map. The little blue dot tells me I’ve been dropped off in a rich suburb on the other side of Windermere.
I try to order another Ride, but the app locks me out and tells me my credit card has been declined. Just my luck to max out when it’s after three in the morning and I’m miles away from home.
Suddenly, a light turns on in the house and there’s a buttery glow from behind one of the shutters. When I think I see a shadow move past the window, I admit defeat and start walking. I wind my way through the suburb, the first of autumn’s leaves crunching beneath my sneakers, and finally, I find Main Street.
At this end of town, the stores are all selling baby onesies made out of organic fibers and kitchen gadgets that zest lemons and other fruits I didn’t know could be zested. I rarely come out this way, and I find myself staring through the windows at all the things nobody needs but everybody wants. At a women’s clothing shop, there’s a cardamom-green gown on display. I wonder who in this sleepy university town would need to buy a cardamom-green gown.
Slowly but surely, the streets change. There still isn’t a single car on the road, but now Main Street is lined with a mix of coffee shops and restaurants, used book stores, gyms, grocers and other businesses, like the movie theater, that rely on students. I cut through the intersection that would lead toward campus or back to Gavin’s bar, but I keep heading north. It’s quarter to four in the morning, and I still have a way to go.
I walk block after block, and finally I’m getting close. Not much has survived in this part of Windermere. Besides the occasional nail salon or convenience store, most storefronts are shuttered. When I get to Hillmont, I head east. I’m only two blocks away now. I pass a block of rundown apartment complexes, then a daycare, and then I stop. Something feels off.
I look up. There’s an odd hum coming from up ahead. Lights, too. Are they flashing? I squint, trying to make it out. I can’t tell if one of my neighbors has left their headlights on or if I’m still high.
I cross the final intersection before my house, slowly. I’m only fifty feet away now, and the flashing lights come into focus. It’s a police cruiser.
The word comes out as a croak, so I clear my throat and keep walking forward.
“Hello?” I try again.
My house is tucked away beneath a broken streetlight, and it’s dark as hell. A shadowy figure emerges from my front walkway, and I tense as it draws closer.
“Who are you?”
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to stay back.”
“Ma’am, my name is Officer Reynolds, and I’m going to need you to stay where you are.”
“But that’s my house. I live there.”
The officer comes into full view. He’s blocking the walkway with his large frame.
“You live here?”
“Seventy-two Hillmont Road.” I pause. “Why?”
Just then, somewhere in the distance, a police siren wails. And then another one. And another after that.
My heart pounds as I realize they’re getting closer, and I step off the pavement and push past the officer.
He grabs my arm, but it’s too late. I see her.
The familiar denim jacket. The mess of chocolate-brown hair dripping down the stoop.
I buckle. I feel two arms catch me as I slide down to the pavement.
“Do you know her?” Officer Reynolds ask.
“Yes,” I say, right before I black out. “Her name is Sarah.”
Three years earlier
Everyone is pissing me off today.
I just got home from Journey’s house. She, Felix and I were studying for this math test I’m pretty stressed about, and my mother called to check if I’d be home for dinner, and I don’t really remember what I said, but after I hung up the phone, Journey told me I should be nicer to her. Then I told Journey she should wax her eyebrows once in a while, even though she has perfect eyebrows, and, well, she kicked me out.
We’ll be fine by tomorrow, or maybe Thursday. She’s been my best friend for eleven years, since the first grade, and I swear we’re fighting half the time, but neither of us has sisters, so there’s that. It’s nice to have Felix around when Journey and I really get going, because even though he can be the most immature and annoying of the three of us, at least he’s a good buffer.
To be honest, I’m feeling a little guilty about the fight, so I just texted Journey an apology. I can be a tad bitchy when I’m stressed, but I’m not that strong at algebra and I really want an A. They don’t fuck around at Bishop Bailey Hall, because they know the parents’ biggest fear in life is that their children won’t be as successful as they are. That’s why I have to be a doctor one day, and why my brother, Adam, just left for Stanford, and why my mother goes through my shit to make sure I’m not on drugs, and why I have to type this diary entry into a password-protected notes app in my phone, rather than writing in one of those tacky Anthropologie notebooks she buys me every Christmas.
It’s not just the notebooks. It’s the floral dresses she keeps buying me to wear to church, even though we never go, and the mother-daughter spa appointments she makes for us and almost always has to cancel because of work. It’s the freaking room I’m in right now, which she decorated for me like it’s some kind of dollhouse. We moved into this house when I was too old to want a playroom, but she wanted her little New England Barbie to have one anyway. She decorated it with baby-pink wallpaper, fluffy cushions, a vanity mirror. I swear, the armchair I’m curled up in right now costs as much as some people’s cars.
My bedroom is much more my style, but I came down here to make my mother happy, I guess. Sometimes she looks at me like she doesn’t know who I am, and I feel angry and sad that I always seem to disappoint her, that whatever I do never seems to be good enough. So I run my mouth and make her cry, and then come down here and wiggle my ass into this fucking armchair and play Adele loudly from the Bluetooth speaker, and this is my way of apologizing to her. Of telling her that I am still her little, darling girl.
Even though I’m not. I haven’t been in a long time.
Ugh, this is so stupid. What am I even doing?
Journey’s the one who put this diary thing in my head. Last week she bragged to me and Felix that her parents were concerned about her anxiety over college applications and had started sending her to therapy. We were in the lunch hall and she totally wanted everyone to overhear, because she got so many sympathetic looks and sighs and now she’ll tell anyone who will listen all about her therapy sessions, that she’s been advised to “write things down” for the sake of her mental health.
My parents are both doctors, but they only believe in physical ailments. Daddy once told me that basically all cases of depression could be fixed “if those lazy asses went to the gym once in a while,” and when Grandma died a few years ago, no one could understand why I was sad all summer. They got over it so quickly. They delayed the church funeral so they didn’t have to cancel their couples’ trip to Palm Springs, and whenever I cried, or reminisced, or even so much as mentioned Grandma, like total jerks, all they did was remind me that I barely even visited her.
My parents named me and Adam to make Grandma happy, you know, back before she got dementia and forgot how much she loved Jesus and her grandchildren. But my parents had to pick the most common biblical names, didn’t they? How about Lydia? Miriam? I’d even have taken Delilah. Anyway, I only let Grandma call me Sarah. Everyone else just calls me Ellis.
Daddy is home from the hospital. I can hear them talking in the kitchen, and pretty soon they’ll call me down to dinner and grill me about my homework while they half-listen and read the news on their iPads, so I better get to my point:
Not that I’ll ever admit it to Journey, but I’m going to try writing things down, too. I’m also going to work a bit harder at not making my mother cry, and actually caring about things the way Adam does, rather than just pretending to all the time.
I also wonder if I should start going to the gym. Ugh. I freaking hate the gym.
Thursday, September 29
I’m in the back of a police cruiser, numb. The other Sarah’s body is still on the pavement, covered in a white tarp, and there are at least a dozen officers, paramedics and firemen crowding the sidewalk. It’s still dark outside, but I can see the first touches of light hanging like fog over the east side of town. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I wonder if I fell asleep.
A brisk knock on the glass snaps me upright. It’s a man, mid-thirties, with black hair and sharp features. Even though he’s in plain clothes, I can tell he’s police.
I push open the door just a crack, and the guy sticks his head into the opening.
“I’m Detective Kelly. I understand you know the victim.”
“Sort of,” I say. “I only met her tonight.”
He nods, stiffly. “Officer Reynolds mentioned you said her name was Sarah. Do you happen to know her last name, or anything at all that would help us identify her?”
“Yes,” I say, remembering. “I think she lives on the south side. Where all the rich people live.”
“That’s it. And her house—it’s white, the biggest one on the street. The door was red.”
Detective Kelly gives me a look, crouches down so we’re eye to eye. He seems excited, and I can’t help but wonder when was the last time someone was murdered in this town.
“You’ve been to her house?”
“It’s a long story,” I say, and Detective Kelly tells me to save it for the station.
A different officer drives me over. I’ve never been to a police station before, but it’s largely what I expect from what I’ve seen on television. Very few windows and fluorescent lighting. A sad, empty waiting room full of furniture that looks like it hasn’t been replaced since the 1980s. I sit there until Detective Kelly appears and waves me through a secured door. I follow him down a hall. The carpet is brown, dark. I wince. It’s the exact same color as Sarah’s hair.
Detective Kelly stops in front of another door. “Coffee?”
“With milk,” I say. “Please.”
I go into the room and wait for him. There’s an old table and four chairs, and nothing on the walls except chipped blue paint. No one-way mirror. I wonder if that sort of room is saved for the suspect.
Detective Kelly returns with two paper cups, and I remember how tired I am when he presses one of them into my hand, the scent of bitter coffee hitting my nostrils. I thank him and guzzle half of it down in one go.
“So,” he says, taking the chair opposite me. He has a pen and legal pad with him now, and I watch him scratch September 29 on the right-hand corner of the top sheet. “I’m going to need to take a statement from you. What’s your full name?”
“Saraswati Bhaduri. But I go by Sara.” I shiver, thinking of the other Sarah. “With no H.”
“You a local?”
I shake my head. “I’m from Boston, but I’ve lived here for two years. I’m a law student.”
I can tell he’s impressed, even though he shouldn’t be. Not with my current academic record.
“And you met the victim—”
“Do we have to call her that?”
“No, we don’t.” He pauses. “You said you met the other Sarah last night. Is that right?”
“I work four nights a week at Gavin’s, that bar over by campus. She was there.”
“What time did she arrive?”
“I don’t know.” I rack my brain, trying to remember when I first saw her. “I started at six thirty. Wednesdays are Wings Night, so it was packed. And I remember seeing her around a bit. I might have served her a few times, but I’m not sure.”
I watch Detective Kelly scribble furiously on his notepad.
“And then around two-ish, maybe, I was packing up my things, getting ready to leave, and Gavin tells me there’s a girl passed out in the bathroom.”
I nod. “He told me to go deal with her.”
“Did she have a purse or backpack with her at that time?”
I press my eyelids tight, picture her down there on the floor. “Yes.” I flick my eyes open. “It was a black cross-body bag. Marc Jacobs.”
Detective Kelly looks confused by my description, and so I describe the bag and then tell him how I took Sarah outside. That we smoked a joint and talked for a while about nothing in particular, nothing I could really remember. I say that we both ordered Rides and must have mistakenly taken one another’s, because the next thing I know, I’m in the Orchards.
Detective Kelly nods as I speak, occasionally jotting down notes. When I’m done, he folds his hands together on the table.
“You’re claiming that you and Sarah took the wrong Rides home?”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
He furrows his brows.
“I mean, we must have, right? She was at my house,” I stammer. I’m tired and suddenly I’m nervous, too. “And why else would I have ended up in the Orchards?”
“You don’t think you could have punched in the wrong address?” he asks me, like I’m a toddler.
“No. I don’t.”
“And as to why she might have been on Hillmont—”
“She looked rich,” I tell him, although I don’t tell him why I think so. Her clear, bright skin. Perfectly highlighted hair. Brand-name bag and clothes. “There’s no way she lived around there.”
“There are plenty of reasons why a young woman of means might be on Hillmont Road.”
I purse my lips. My neighborhood isn’t exactly Park Avenue. Hillmont is the shithole where the worker bees live, and its residents make sure our picturesque New England university town stays the white-bread wonderland that it is. They paint and clean the townies’ houses. Pour the students’ beers.
Some of them are also known to sell drugs.
“I know,” I say, finally. “But I don’t think that’s why she was there.”
“What do you know?”
Detective Kelly is trying to trip me up. I press my feet into the floor, annoyed.
“Two doors down,” I say. “Number 68. There are always nice cars parked outside, every night. And they never stay long.” I pause. Detective Kelly is eyeing me. “I know they deal. But I don’t think Sarah was there to buy drugs. I think she took my Ride by mistake.”
The detective scribbles something on the pad, covering the paper with his hand. I wait for him to press me on the subject, but then he veers off course.
“Let’s rewind to before you left Gavin’s. Was there a bouncer or another member of staff helping you take care of Sarah?”
I shake my head. “We don’t have bouncers.”
“How many people were at Gavin’s last night?”
“I don’t know about the whole night, but at its peak, I’d say a hundred and fifty people. Give or take.”
“Is that over capacity, would you say?”
“I don’t know,” I lie.
“And how many of you were working?”
I tell him that it was just me and Gavin front of house, plus the three guys in the kitchen who cook, wash the dishes, bring out food orders and clean tables.
“Why are you asking me all of this?” I say. “Talk to Gavin.”
“I’m trying to get a mental picture of the evening. ...
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