All the Missing Girls

all-the-missing-girls-image

Today, I’m taking part in the blog tour for the fantastic new thriller by Megan Miranda, All the Missing Girls. Read on for a taste of the first chapter:

 

PART 1

Going Home

Man . . . cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however

far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.

—FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

It started with a phone call, deceptively simple and easy to ignore.

The buzzing on Everett’s nightstand, the glow of the display—

too bright in the bedroom he kept so dark, with the light-blocking

shades pulled to the sill and the tinted windows a second line of

defense against the glare of the sun and the city. Seeing the name,

hitting the mute, turning my phone facedown beside the clock.

But then. Lying awake, wondering why my brother would call

so early on a Sunday. Running through the possibilities: Dad; the

baby; Laura.

I felt my way through the dark, my hands brushing the sharp

corners of furniture until I found the light switch in the bathroom.

My bare feet pressed into the cold tile floor as I sat on the

toilet lid with the phone held to my ear, goose bumps forming on

my legs.

Daniel’s message echoed in the silence: “The money’s almost

gone. We need to sell the house. Dad won’t sign the papers,

though.” A pause. “He’s in bad shape, Nic.”

Not asking for my help, because that would be too direct. Too

unlike us.

I hit delete, slipped back under the sheets before Everett woke,

felt for him beside me to be sure.

But later that day, back at my place, I flipped through the previous

day’s mail and found the letter—Nic Farrell, written in familiar

handwriting, in blue ink; the address filled in by someone else, with

a different, darker pen.

Dad didn’t call anymore. Phones made him feel even more disoriented,

too far removed from the person he was trying to place.

Even if he remembered whom he’d been dialing, we’d slip from his

mind when we answered, nothing more than disembodied voices

in the ether.

I unfolded the letter—a lined journal page with jagged edges,

his handwriting stretching beyond the lines, veering slightly to the

left, as if he’d been racing to get the thoughts down before they

slipped from his grasp.

No greeting.

I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.

No closing.

I called Daniel back, the letter still trembling in my hand. “Just

got your message,” I said. “I’m coming home. Tell me what’s

going on.”

 

 

 

 

DAY 1

I took inventory of the apartment one last time before loading up

my car: suitcases waiting beside the door; key in an envelope

on the kitchen counter; an open box half full of the last-minute

things I’d packed up the night before. I could see every angle of the

apartment from the galley kitchen—exposed and empty—but still,

I had the lingering feeling that I was forgetting something.

I’d gotten everything together in a rush, finishing out the last

few weeks of the school year while fielding calls from Daniel and

finding someone to sublet my place for the summer—no time to

pause, to take in the fact that I was actually doing this. Going back.

Going there. Daniel didn’t know about the letter. He knew only that

I was coming to help, that I had two months before I needed to

return to my life here.

Now the apartment was practically bare. An industrial box,

stripped of all warmth, awaiting the moderately responsible-looking

grad student who would be staying through August. I’d left him the dishes, because they were a pain to pack. I’d left him

the futon, because he’d asked, and because he threw in an extra

fifty dollars.

The rest of it—the things that wouldn’t fit in my car, at least—

was in a storage unit a few blocks away. My entire life in a sealed

rectangular cube, stacked full of painted furniture and winter

clothes.

The sound of someone knocking echoed off the empty walls,

made me jump. The new tenant wasn’t due to arrive for another

few hours, when I’d be on the road. It was way too early for anyone

else.

I crossed the narrow room and opened the front door.

“Surprise,” Everett said. “I was hoping to catch you before you

left.” He was dressed for work—clean and sleek—and he bent

down to kiss me, one arm tucked behind his back. He smelled like

coffee and toothpaste; starch and leather; professionalism and efficiency.

He pulled a steaming Styrofoam cup from behind his back.

“Brought you this. For the road.”

I inhaled deeply. “The way to my heart.” I leaned against the

counter, took a deep sip.

He checked his watch and winced. “I hate to do this, but I have

to run. Early meeting on the other side of town.”

We met halfway for one last kiss. I grabbed his elbow as he

pulled away. “Thank you,” I said.

He rested his forehead against mine. “It’ll go fast. You’ll see.”

I watched him go—his steps crisp and measured, his dark hair

brushing his collar—until he reached the elevator at the end of the

hall. He turned back just as the doors slid open. I leaned against the

doorframe, and he smiled.

“Drive safe, Nicolette.”

I let the door fall shut, and the reality of the day suddenly made

my limbs heavy, my fingertips tingle.

The red numbers on the microwave clock ticked forward, and

I cringed.

It’s a nine-hour drive from Philadelphia to Cooley Ridge, not

counting traffic, lunch break, gas and restroom stops, depending.

And since I was leaving twenty minutes after I said I would, I could

already picture Daniel sitting on the front porch, tapping his foot,

as I pulled into the unpaved driveway.

I sent him a text as I propped the front door open with a suitcase:

On my way, but more like 3:30.

It took two trips to drag the luggage and remaining boxes down

to the car, which was parked around the block, behind the building.

I heard the beginnings of rush-hour traffic in the distance, a steady

hum on the highway, the occasional honk. A familiar harmony.

I started the car, waited for the air to kick in. Okay, okay, I

thought. I rested my phone in the cup holder and saw a response

from Daniel: Dad’s expecting you for dinner. Don’t miss it.

Like I might be three hours later than I’d claimed. That was one

of Daniel’s more impressive accomplishments: He had perfected

the art of the passive-aggressive text message. He’d been practicing

for years.

WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, I used to believe I could see the future.

This was probably my father’s fault, filling my childhood with platitudes

from his philosophy lectures, letting me believe in things

that could not be. I’d close my eyes and will it to appear, in tiny,

beautiful glimpses. I’d see Daniel in a cap and gown. My mother

smiling beside him through the lens of my camera as I motioned for

them to get closer. Put your arm around her. Pretend you like each other!

Perfect. I’d see me and Tyler, years later, throwing our bags into the

back of his mud-stained pickup truck, leaving for college. Leaving

for good.

It was impossible to understand back then that getting out

wouldn’t be an event in a pickup truck but a ten-year process of

excision. Miles and years, slowly padding the distance. Not to mention

Tyler never left Cooley Ridge. Daniel never graduated. And

our mother wouldn’t have lived to see it, anyway.

If my life were a ladder, then Cooley Ridge was the bottom—

an unassuming town tucked into the edge of the Smoky Mountains,

the very definition of Small Town, America, but without the

charm. Everywhere else—anywhere else—was a higher rung that

I’d reach steadily with time. College two hundred miles to the east,

grad school one state north, an internship in a city where I planted

my feet and refused to leave. An apartment in my own name and a

nameplate on my own desk and Cooley Ridge, always the thing I

was moving farther away from.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned about leaving—you can’t really

go back. I don’t know what to do with Cooley Ridge anymore, and

Cooley Ridge doesn’t know what to do with me, either. The distance

only increases with the years.

Most times, if I tried to shift it back into focus—Tell me about

home, tell me about growing up, tell me about your family, Everett would

say—all I’d see was a caricature of it in my mind: a miniature town

set up on entryway tables around the holidays, everything frozen in

time. So I gave him surface answers, flat and nonspecific: My mom

died when I was sixteen; it’s a small town at the edge of the forest; I have an

older brother.

Even to me, even as I answered, it looked like nothing. A Polaroid

fading from the edges in, the colors bled out; the outline of a

ghost town full of ghosts.

But one call from Daniel—“We have to sell the house”—and

I felt the give of the floorboards beneath my feet. “I’m coming

home,” I said, and the edges rippled, the colors burned: My mother

pressed her cheek against my forehead; Corinne rocked our cart gently back and forth at the top of the Ferris wheel; Tyler balanced

on the fallen tree angled across the river, stretching between us.

That girl, my dad wrote, and her laughter rattled my heart.

 

 

 

I NEED TO TALK to you. That girl. I saw that girl.

An hour later, a moment later, and he’d probably forgotten—setting

aside the sealed envelope until someone found it abandoned

on his dresser or under his pillow and pulled my address from his

file. But there must’ve been a trigger. A memory. An idea lost in the

synapses of his brain; the firing of a thought with nowhere else to go.

The torn page, the slanted print, my name on the envelope—

And now something sharp and wild had been set loose inside

my head. Her name, bouncing around like an echo.

Corinne Prescott.

Dad’s letter had been folded up inside my purse for the last few

weeks, lingering just under the surface of my mind. I’d be reaching

for my wallet or the car keys and feel a sliver of the edge, the jab of

the corner, and there she would be all over again: long bronze hair

falling over her shoulders, the scent of spearmint gum, her whisper

in my ear.

That girl. She was always that girl. What other girl could it be?

The last time I’d driven home was a little over a year ago—

when Daniel called and said we had to get Dad into a facility, and I

couldn’t justify the cost of a last-minute flight. It had rained almost

the entire trip, both ways.

Today, on the other hand, was the perfect driving day. No rain,

overcast but not dark. Light but not bright. I’d made it through

three states without stopping, towns and exits blurring by as I sped

past—the embodiment of everything I loved about living up north.

I loved the pace, how you could fill the day with a to‑do list, take

charge of the hours and bend them to your will. And the impatience of the clerk inside the convenience store on the corner near my

apartment, the way he never looked up from his crossword, never

made eye contact. I loved the anonymity of it all. Of a sidewalk full

of strangers and endless possibilities.

Driving through these states was like that, too. But the beginning

of the drive always goes much faster than the end. Farther

south, the exits grow sparser, the landscape just sameness, filled

with things you’re sure you’ve passed a thousand times.

I was somewhere in Virginia when my phone rang from its spot

in the cup holder. I fumbled for the hands-free device in my purse,

keeping one hand steady on the wheel, but eventually gave up and

hit speaker to answer the call. “Hello?” I called.

“Hey, can you hear me?” Everett’s voice crackled, and I wasn’t

sure if it was the speakerphone or the reception.

“Yes, what’s up?”

He said something indecipherable, his words cutting in and out.

“Sorry, you’re breaking up. What?” I was practically shouting.

“Grabbing a quick bite,” he said through the static. “Just checking

  1. How are the tires holding up this time?” I heard the smile

in his voice.

“Better than the cell reception,” I said.

He laughed. “I’ll probably be in meetings the rest of the day, but

call me when you get there so I know you made it.”

I thought about stopping for lunch, but there was nothing except

pavement and field for miles and miles and miles.

I’D MET EVERETT A year ago, the night after moving my dad. I’d

driven home, tense and uneasy, gotten a flat tire five hours into the

drive, and had to change it myself underneath a steady drizzle.

By the time I’d gotten to my apartment, I was hovering on

the edge of tears. I had come home with my bag slung over my shoulder, my hand shaking as I tried to jam the key into the door.

Eventually, I’d rested my head against the solid wooden door to

steady myself. To make matters worse, the guy in 4A had gotten off

the elevator at the same time, and I’d felt him staring at me, possibly

waiting for the impending meltdown.

Apartment 4A. This was all I’d known of him: He played his

music too loud, and he had too many guests, and he kept nontraditional

hours. There was a man beside him—polished, where he

was not. Smooth, where he was rough. Sober, where he was drunk.

The guy in 4A sometimes smiled at me as we passed in the hall

in the evening, and one time he held the elevator for me, but this

was a city. People came and went. Faces blurred.

“Hey, 4C,” he’d slurred, unsteady on his feet.

“Nicolette,” I said.

“Nicolette,” he repeated. “Trevor.” The man beside him looked

embarrassed on his behalf. “And this is Everett. You look like you

need a drink. Come on, be neighborly.”

I thought the neighborly thing would’ve been to learn my name

a year ago, when I moved in, but I wanted that drink. I wanted to

feel the distance between there and here; I needed space from the

nine-hour car ride home.

Trevor pushed open his door as I walked toward them. The

man beside him stuck out his hand and said, “Everett,” as if Trevor’s

introduction hadn’t counted.

By the time I left, I’d told Everett about moving my dad, and

he’d said it was the right thing. Had told him about the flat and

the rain and everything I wanted to do over the summer, while I

was off. By the time I stopped talking, I felt lighter, more at ease—

which could’ve been the vodka, but I liked to think it was Everett—

and Trevor was passed out on the sofa beside us.

“Oh. I should go,” I’d said.

“Let me walk you back,” Everett had said.

My head was light as we walked in silence, and then my hand

was on the doorknob and he was still nearby, and what were the

grown-up rules for this? “Want to come in?”

He didn’t answer, but he followed me in. Froze in the galley

kitchen, which looked out into the rest of my studio loft, one room

with high windows and sheer curtains hanging from the exposed

pipes, segregating my bedroom. But I could see my bed through

them—unmade, inviting—and I knew he could, too.

“Wow,” he said. It was the furniture, I was sure. Pieces I’d

mined from thrift stores and flea markets and had stripped down

and repainted in bold colors to match. “I feel like I’m Alice in Wonderland.”

I slid off my shoes, leaned against the kitchen counter. “Ten

bucks says you’ve never read it.”

He smiled and opened my refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of

water. “Drink me,” he said, and I laughed.

Then he pulled out a business card, placed it on the counter,

leaned forward, and brushed his lips against mine before backing

away. “Call me,” he said.

And I did.

 

You can follow the blog tour at the following sites over the coming weeks!

final-blog-tour-poster

 

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