Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable, best friends who swap clothes, bathing suits, and field-hockey sticks and between whom—presumably—there are no secrets. Then one afternoon, Evie disappears, and as a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, or upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?
Compelled by curiosity, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power at the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything at all about her best friend.
Release date: July 3, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 256
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The End of Everything
Voices pitchy, giddy, raving, we are all chanting that deathly chant that twists, knifelike, in the ear of the appointed victim. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock… And it’s Evie, she’s it, lost at choosies, and now it will be her doom. But she’s a good hider, the best I’ve ever seen, and I predict wild surprises, expect to find her rolled under a saggy front porch or buried under three inches of dirt in Mom’s own frilly flower bed.
Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock, the cruel death trill we intone, such monsters we, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, MIDNIGHT! Bloody murder! We all scream, our voices cruel and insane, and we scatter fast, like fireflies all a-spread.
I love the sound of our Keds slamming on the asphalt, the poured concrete. There are five, maybe ten of us, and we’re all playing, and the streetlamps promise safety, but for how long?
Oh, Evie, I see you there, twenty yards ahead, your peach terry cloth shorts twitching as you run so fast, as you whip your head around, that dark curtain of hair tugging in your mouth, open, shouting, screaming even. It’s a game of horrors and it’s the thing pounding in my chest, I can’t stop it. I see you, Evie, you’re just a few feet from the Faheys’ chimney, from home base. Oh, it’s the greatest game of all and Evie is sure to win. You might make it, Evie, you might. My heart is bursting, it’s bursting.
It was long ago, centuries. A quivery mirage of a thirteen-year-old’s summer, like a million other girl summers, were it not for Evie, were it not for Evie’s thumping heart and all those twisting things untwisting.
There I am at the Verver house, all elbows and freckled jaw and heels of hands rubbed raw on gritty late summer grass. A boy-girl, like Evie, and nothing like her sister, Dusty, a deeply glamorous seventeen. A movie star, in halter tops and eyelet and clacking Dr. Scholl’s. Eyelashes like gold foil and eyes the color of watermelon rind and a soft, curvy body. Always shiny-lipped and bright white-teethed, lip smack, flash of tongue, lashes bristling, color high and surging up her cheeks.
A moment alone, I would steal a peek in Dusty’s room, clogged with the cotton smell of baby powder and lip gloss and hands wet with hair spray. Her bed was a big pink cake with faintly soiled flounces and her floor dappled with the tops of nail polish bottles, with plastic-backed brushes heavy with hair, with daisy-dappled underwear curled up like pipe cleaner, jeans inside out, the powdery socks still in them, folded-up notes from all her rabid boyfriends, shiny tampon wrappers caught in the edge of the bedspread, where it hit the mint green carpet. It seemed like Dusty was forever cleaning the room, but even she herself could not stop the constant, effervescing explosions of girl.
Alongside such ecstatic pink loveliness, Evie and I, we were all snips and snails, and when permitted into her candied interior, we were like furtive intruders.
You see, knowing Evie so well, knowing her bone-deep, it meant knowing her whole family, knowing the books they kept on their living room shelf (The Little Drummer Girl, Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Lonesome Dove), the banana bark chair in the living room and the way it felt under your fingers, the rose milk lotion on Mrs. Verver’s dressing table—I wanted to sink my face into it.
I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t skittering down their carpeted steps, darting around the dining room table, jumping on Mr. and Mrs. Ververs’ queen-size bed.
There were other things to know too. Secrets so exciting that they were shared only in hushed giggles under the rippling flannel of sleeping bags. Did you know? Evie whispers, and tells me Dusty is named after the singer whose album her parents played sixteen times the night she was conceived. It is thrilling and impossible. I cannot, even in my most devilish thoughts about the hidden wickedness and folly of grown-ups, imagine Mrs. Verver turning her child’s name into a lurid, private wink.
Not Mrs. Verver. Living next door all of my life, I never knew her to laugh loudly or run for the phone or dance at the drunken block parties every July. Tidy, bland voice as flat as a drum, she was the fleeting thing, the shadow moving from room to room in the house. She worked as an occupational therapist at the VA hospital, and I was never sure what that meant, and no one ever talked about it anyway. Mostly, you’d just see her from the corner of your eye, carrying a laundry basket, slipping from hallway to bedroom, a fat paperback folded over her wispy hand. Those hands, they always seemed dry, almost dusty, and her body seemed too bony for her daughters, or her husband, to hug.
Oh, and Mr. Verver, Mr. Verver, Mr. Verver, he’s the one always vibrating in my chest, under my fingernails, in all kinds of places. There’s much to say of him and my mouth can’t manage it, even now. He hums there still.
Mr. Verver, who could throw a football fifty yards and build princess vanity tables for his daughters and take us roller-skating or bowling, who smelled of fresh air and limes and Christmas nutmeg all at once—a smell that meant “man” to his girls ever after. Mr. Verver, he was there. I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t craning my neck to look up at him, forever waiting to hear more, hungry for the moments he would shine his attentions on me.
These are all the good things, and there were such good things. But then there were the other things, and they seemed to come later, but what if they didn’t? What if everything was there all along, creeping soundlessly from corner to corner, shuddering fast from Evie’s nighttime whispers, from the dark hollows of that sunny-shingled house, and I didn’t hear it? Didn’t see it?
Here I was knowing everything and nothing at all.
There are times now when I look at those weeks before it happened and they have the quality of revelation. It was all there, all the clues, all the bright corners illuminated. But of course it wasn’t that way at all. And I could not have seen it. I could not, could not.
Sometimes I dream I’m playing soccer with Evie again, all this time later. First I’m alone on the field. It’s all green-black and I’m knocking the ball around between my feet. My round little legs beneath me. My funny little thirteen-year-old body, compact and strange. Bruise on my thigh. Scab on my knee. Ink on my hand from doodling in class. Wisped hair pressed by cool girly sweat onto my forehead. Arms like short spindles and stubby fingers protruding. Barely buds under my shiny green V-neck jersey. If I run my hands over them, they will hardly notice. Hips still angular like a boy’s, rotating with each kick, passing the ball between my feet, waiting for Evie, who’s there in a flash of dark heat before me. Breath splashing my face, her leg wedging between my legs and knocking the ball free, off into the dark green distance, farther than she ever meant it to go.
When I remember Evie now she is always slipping through shadows. Big, dark, haunted eyes rimmed with red. Running across the soccer field, face flushed, straight black sheet of hair rippling across her back. Running so hard, her breath stippled with pain to go faster, hit the grass harder, move forward faster, like she could break through something in front of her, something no one else saw.
It is May, the last month of middle school, and Evie, who is my best friend, is propped up on Nurse Stang’s examining table, so steely cold it stings my teeth to look at it.
“Does it hurt?” I ask, and Nurse Stang throws me an irritated look. She is holding a large pack of ice over Evie’s left eye.
“You only get one set of these,” she says, and makes to poke Evie right between the eyes. “What kind of girl hooks her stick into another girl like that.”
“It was her sister,” I say, and I’m smiling a little at Evie, from underneath Nurse Stang’s raised arm.
“I was near the goal,” Evie says, mush-mouthed, her eye tearing. “It’s what she had to do.”
Dusty had been showing us her moves. High school star, the golden goddess of the Green Hollow Celts, she was getting us ready for August, for our first high school tryouts. She plucked our twig arms and said, You two paper dolls have wasted years knocking soccer balls. Chin high, hand on hip, she told us the time was ripe, we must make our move and ascend to the one true sport, to the deeper glories of field hockey.
I’d do anything Dusty said. I’d let her drill us forever. Even when it made you so tired, almost sick from the exhaustion and heat, it didn’t matter, because you were with her, and she was everything you wanted. You’d be about to collapse, then you’d look up and there she’d be, face gleaming, telling you, without saying it: You can do better, can’t you? And you could.
Nurse Stang calls Evie’s mom, watching us the whole time.
“You should have been wearing something,” she says, hanging up the phone. “They’re supposed to put goggles on you girls…”
“We were just messing around,” I say.
Just then Evie spits out her mouth guard, red speckled. All three of us look at it.
“What in the world,” Nurse Stang says, her voice pitched suddenly high. She tosses the ice pack at me and peers deep into Evie’s mouth, thrusting with her fingers, looking for something.
“I bit my tongue,” Evie says, her voice thickening. “I bit into it.” A strand of blood slips down her chin, and I start to feel dizzy. I look at the mouth guard, which is split clean through.
“You,” Nurse Stang says to me, holding Evie’s tongue between newly scarlet fingers, “get the needle and thread.”
We’re walking home and Evie is leaning close, wagging her tongue out at me, the cloudy gauze nearly tickling my face. She’s flaunting it mercilessly. We’re always eager for war wounds. Oh, her fury when I sprained my arm falling from the top of the rusty old slide in Rabbit Park.
“Your dad is going to be mad at Dusty,” I say, scraping my stick on the sidewalk, which I’m not supposed to do, but the sound is so satisfying.
“I don’t think so,” Evie lisps. “That’s the game.”
I think of ringletted Dusty, goalkeeper mask propped up daintily over her forehead. “Show me what you got, runt.”
“You don’t know the game,” Evie adds.
“I know as much as you, mamacita,” I say, leaning in and flicking the bandage on her stuck-out tongue with my finger.
We stop at her house. There’s no car in the driveway and all the lights are off. These are moments to be seized on, never wasted.
“Do you want to go to Perry’s?” she says, tugging the bandage off for good. I can see the threaded x-marks-the-spot on the tip of her tongue. One, two, three, four. One for each pointy tooth.
Peppermint-stripe awning, wall-to-wall white like the soft vanilla filling of a Creamsicle, Perry’s is the place all the kids in our class go. Next fall, when we’re in high school, we’ll have to go to the Ram’s Horn restaurant instead, where my brother, Ted, goes, and there is nothing under five dollars there, and there are no counter stools to spin on and the lighting is grown-up low.
I am eating an Oreo sundae, picking wedges of cookie carefully from my molars. With great concentration, Evie is eating her favorite: a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sundae—the kind where they give you the long spoon to get all the peanut butter silted up in the narrow bottom. She shoves the spoon far into the back of her mouth, to miss the stitches.
Some boys from school are at the counter, knocking over canisters of straws and punching one another, practically jumping from their skin. Their donkey-bray laughter fills the place.
One of them, Jed, spots us and starts throwing wadded-up straw wrappers in our direction. I am itching to go. Evie, though, keeps looking at me and shaking her head, her bangs veiling her eyes. I reach out and push them back and I can see the bruise beginning to bloom on her face. I wriggle in my seat, my thighs itching against the vinyl. Jed has curly yellow hair and a nose that hooks at the end. I remember once he tugged the back of Evie’s shorts in gym class. She said he pressed his fingers against her skin and everyone was watching.
We wait too long and Jed gets his blood up, pigeon-strutting over to us. I look at Evie, trying to catch her eye. The bangs have shaken loose once more and she is staring down at her sundae, sloshing her spoon around the frothy Reddi-wip. But I see her pinkening a little, so I know she sees Jed.
She curls her tongue into the corner of her mouth.
“Hey,” he says, hands shoved in pockets, head cocked to one side.
“Hey,” I say, kicking Evie lightly in the shin.
Jed stands in silence for a few moments, then reaches over to Evie’s sundae and dips his knobby pinkie in and lifts a sticky strand, lacing it across his hand. With a nasty grin, he shoves a pair of caramel-webbed fingers in his mouth and smacks his lips.
She watches him, we both do, and I can feel things jumping in me, and I have to stop myself because this is about Evie, this is hers, and I’m not sure what’s skittering behind those dark eyes.
But she does nothing, she looks at me and asks me if I’m ready to leave, and I say I am. She is so cool, so regular-day, as she gathers her things and we very nearly glide to the front door.
Jed follows, and of course he would, and he’s saying boy taunts like, “What’s a matter, girls, don’t you like to share? Don’t you want to lick my fingers?”
The rest of the boys are out front, watching the show. Evie adjusts her backpack and begins walking, but I can’t stand it anymore. Eyeing the swampy old fountain where the little kids grab slimy pennies, I drop my bag and dunk my hands under it and, with one heaving hurl, splash Jed. Oh, do the boys laugh, and Jed, sludge-drenched, is elated.
Why, that’s what he wants me to do, I figure out, that’s all they ever want.
Then, Jed grabs me around the waist, tight on my ribs so it hurts, and shakes his wet hair against my neck from behind. I can’t fight the deliciousness of it, all the kids screaming, but I pull free, nearly tripping, tugging up my fallen bra strap.
I barely have a chance to turn to Evie when Jed grabs her next, and drags her, sneakers skidding, to the fountain. They wrestle around the browning spout briefly, Evie’s legs kicking, and, next thing, she has elbowed him hard in his scrawny ribs and pushed herself from those freckled arms.
She stumbles back and somehow is in the center of all of us.
We all see Evie’s pale yellow T-shirt is skin-soaked with the mucky stuff.
The sight, it has a stone-turning power. Jed can’t take his eyes off her.
Evie doesn’t cover the hard outline of her small breasts, though I want her to. I want to cover them for her, those pebbly nipples. I feel my face go hot and I drop my head, I want to fold my own arms across my chest. I feel a weird laugh coming from me.
But Evie, she puts her hands on her hips and stares Jed down with her slate eyes. The clinging shirt is pulled even tauter by her pose.
I’m laughing with my hand over my whole face.
“The boys come for her,” Evie told me once. Late into the night, both of us snug in her twin bed, we’d been talking about Dusty. We love to talk about her, to spin speculations into looping tangles at our feet. What if Becky Hode tries to take team captain from her? What if it’s true about Mr. Douglas, the lantern-jawed science teacher? Did he really say there was no better example of the sublime poetry of hydraulics than Dusty walking down the third-floor corridor?
“Bobby Thornhill sits across the street in his car,” Evie told me. “He doesn’t think anyone can see. Do you think that’s creepy?”
“Maybe,” I said, thinking about Bobby Thornhill, the galloping track star with the black bolt of hair and the marbly eyes that roll around in his head when he’s pounding his horse legs on the cinder.
“What does he do?” I asked, careful now. “When he sits out there, does he do things?”
Evie looked at me. “I guess he might.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling funny, all the air sucked out of me in a big swoop. And I thought of Bobby in the front seat of his parents’ car, his forest green varsity jacket with the chenille C. I thought of him hunched there, eyes gazing up at Dusty’s bedroom window, its frothy curtains, Dusty’s frothy girlness.
It must have been a wondrous thing to him, the curtains and pink light coming from her room. The whisper of Dusty floating by. A whisper he could just catch. And the feeling must have been so great, such a hard pressure in him, and he could, he could—
The thought came to me, I know this, I know this. But it was gone before I could wrap my head around it.
I lay there and listened to Evie breathing, fast.
I’m thirteen, did I tell you, and I have soft dimples where my thighs meet my knees, and each night I lie in bed with my hands wedged between my legs and wonder things and the wonder becomes so real, and there’s a heat and pressure there, and if I try hard enough I can, like a tightness kept within me, make the whole world break open and break me all to pieces.
There are boys and there are boys, but in my head it’s better because there is none of the roughness of these boys, boys like Brad Nemeth, trying to steer me onto his lap at the party at Tara Leary’s house, trying to steer me there so my shorts ride up and feel his curling denim underneath the uppermost part of my thigh, and he has such a look, and his face so close to mine.
“He was rubbing on you like it was Boy Scout camp,” Evie said later. “Like if he rubbed hard enough he could start that fire, get that merit badge.”
Evie would say these things and it made everything easier, all at once. We would laugh and laugh, and boys hate it when you laugh together, at them. “It was like rubbing a pink eraser to the nub,” Evie said. “He was gonna rub on you till you were just the metal tip.”
That night, that very same night, though, I felt the soft p. . .
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