“Thanks for helping me close tonight, Austen.” My mom flashes me a grateful smile, dimly lit by the dashboard lights. She coaxes our rusted blue hatchback around a bend in the road. “When Dominic called in and quit this morning, I thought I was screwed.”
“No problem.” My gaze flickers out the side window, watching the twinkling stars overhead. “I can always use the extra money. But if you want me to come more often, I really should get a car.”
She chuckles and flexes her hands on the steering wheel. “You know I’d help, if I could. I was going to talk to your dad about it, but...” She sighs.
“He’s been working a lot; I know.” Even to me, the words sound hollow.
“Just keep saving your money. I’m sure it won’t be too long before you can afford one.”
“Yeah, but it’d be nice to have a car before I graduate,” I mutter. It’s the same line she’s given me since I got my license. At least when I turn eighteen, she can’t tell me what to do.
At the bottom of a hill, a pair of red hazard lights blink rhythmically in the darkness. “Did someone break down?”
My mom’s brow furrows. “Looks like it. They probably got a flat tire or ran out of gas. Let’s see if they need any help.” She slows down and pulls over behind the other car.
“Is that Dad’s car?” I lean forward, our previous conversation forgotten. “It is! Look at the bumper sticker.” I jab my finger toward the “My daughter will stop the zombie apocalypse” bumper sticker I got him last Christmas.
She glances at her phone. “That’s strange. He didn’t call or text to let me know he was having car trouble.”
“Why is the passenger door open?” Unease slithers up my spine.
“I don’t know, but I guess it’s a good thing your dad never replaced the interior light or the battery would be dead.” She flicks our own hazard lights on and turns the car off. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
She’s nuts if she thinks I’m going to stay inside the car if Dad’s in trouble. Mom sighs when I hop out after her. “Why do I even bother?” she mutters.
I tap my phone’s flashlight icon. “I have no idea.”
She ignores my comment and approaches the passenger’s side of the car to avoid walking in the road. “Greg?” She peers into the door and then stumbles back, her high-pitched shriek piercing the night air. She spins around, eyes wild, and tries to push me away. “Get back to the car!”
I skirt around her, ignoring her command. An icy breeze snakes through the warm summer air. The narrow beam from my phone illuminates a dark puddle soaking the gravel shoulder, like an oil spill.
My mom fumbles in her pocket for her cell phone.
“Maybe he got an oil leak or something.”
She doesn’t answer me. It’s not until I’m at the door that I realize it’s blood and it’s everywhere. Coating the door, the shattered window, the dashboard, and the woman slumped over, her face obscured by matted, blood-soaked hair, gleaming in the car’s interior lights. Even then my foggy mind, so used to video games and movies, refuses to process what I’m seeing until my mom’s hand clamps down on my shoulder, and she drags me away.
“Get in the car,” she says, her voice a hoarse whisper. “I’ll call the cops from there. They’ll figure this out.”
“But…” The words die in my throat. There’s a woman, covered in blood, in my father’s car.
“Maybe he went for help....” Panic sets in. He’s got to be around here somewhere. People don’t just vanish.
“That must be it.” Fear paints her face a stark white. After shoving me inside the car, she climbs inside and slams the lock down.
“What happened?” My thoughts race, but I can’t form the words. Dad was supposed to be working late. That’s why he didn’t pick up my brother and sister. He shouldn’t have been in his car, in the middle of the night, with a dead woman. Fear rises up from the pit of my stomach.
“I don’t know.” She pulls out her phone and punches several buttons.
“9-1-1, please state your emergency.”
I can barely hear the tinny voice echoing over the line.
“My-my name is Maria Gillet and I found my husband’s car on the side of US Twenty-three. He’s gone, but there’s a woman in the car, and I think something’s happened to her.”
The 911 operator asks for more information before telling her there’s a unit in the vicinity and they’ll be here as soon as they can.
“As soon as they can” feels like hours before red and blue lights flash into our rearview mirror.
My mom’s hand creeps across the seat to grip mine tightly. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
I’m too numb to respond. Worry over my dad clouds everything else. I want to yell, scream, and shout that things aren’t okay. There’s a dead woman in Dad’s car. It isn’t a nightmare where we can wake up and forget it ever happened.
As one of Misery Bay’s three police officers park behind us, Mom reluctantly removes her hand from mine and gives me a stern look. “Stay here and lock the doors. I’m serious, Austen. Do not test me this time.”
I close my eyes and an image of the dead woman flashes behind them. Dad would never have done that. No, he’s the kind of guy who lets spiders outside and live traps the mice that sneak into our house every fall. Maybe he was kidnapped, that would explain it. I lean forward, letting my hair fall like a curtain in front of my face, as if that could hide me from all the ugliness outside. A single thought courses through my brain. Where are you, Dad?
My mom slams the door and waits until I engage the locks before following the police officer over to the other vehicle. I can tell the moment he sees the bloody body because his back stiffens and his hand hovers over his gun. It isn’t any wonder he’s surprised; things like this don’t happen in our small town.
Two other police officers show up, and then several Michigan state troopers. They all ask the same questions over and over again. I tune out, worry for my father eating at the back of my mind.
“Did you know Hilary Crum?” Officer Martin, one of the state cops, asks me. The young cop’s cheeks are pale, and he glances nervously at his partner.
It takes a few seconds for his question to sink in. “Is that who she is?”
In my head, I see the perky blue-eyed TV reporter, her brown bob always sleek and professional. She normally covered the local lifestyle section of the news, like the annual county fair or a fish fry at the senior citizen center. Covered. Past tense, like she won’t be covering anything anymore.
Bile rises in my throat as I try to reconcile the vivacious young woman with the bloodied corpse in the car. I can’t. She’s dead. What happened to her? Who could have done this? “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Officer Martin barely has enough time to step backward before my dinner makes a sudden reappearance.
After I finish heaving, he hands me a tissue to dab my mouth before continuing. “Do you have any idea what she was doing with your father?”
“No.” I groan and lean against the headrest. “I didn’t know he even knew her.”
“Does your family own any guns?”
That’s a weird question. Then it sinks in. “Oh God. She was shot, wasn’t she?”
The older cop purses his lips, and doesn’t answer my question, which is answer enough in itself. Someone shot Hilary Crum, and now my dad’s missing.
The cops finish their questioning, and finally they allow us to go home. Mom calls my grandmother and asks her to keep Molly and Brett for the rest of the night. She glosses over the situation, saying she’ll talk more in the morning, but that everything’s okay.
“I don’t want to go into it,” she snaps. “Can we please talk about it later?”
Since Grandma has the tenacity of a terrier, she’s probably demanding answers. My mom mumbles something about the crappy reception and hangs up.
“Sorry.” Mom starts the car. “You know how your grandma gets.” A tow truck crests the hill behind us, lights flashing.
A couple coroners from Alpena zip up a body bag and lift it onto a rolling stretcher. They wrangle it off the side of the road and steer it into their van.
“I can’t believe they think Dad was having an affair. He’d never do that.” I wait for her to agree, to say no, of course not. But she doesn’t. I think I’m going to be sick, again.
“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for what happened.”
I gesture at the van, my movements angry and jerky. “Why else would Dad be with another woman?”
Mom bites her lip, a trait so reminiscent of my own that I almost catch myself doing the same thing. “I…I don’t know.” She guides our car onto the highway and doesn’t say another word for twenty minutes until she pulls onto the driveway leading to our four-bedroom house.
A dull laugh escapes her lips. “She was there in the car, but she shouldn’t have been. There was no reason for her to be in the car. No reason. I didn’t even know he knew her.” She puts the car into park and rests her head on the steering wheel. “Oh God, Greg, where are you? What happened?”
After my mom goes to bed, I sit next to the window and watch the lights dance through the trees. Fireflies. Faint, airy music drifts in from somewhere outside. It’s a haunting melody, lyrical and otherworldly. My body sways with the sound and my mind drifts away.
“Daddy, why can’t I go out to play?”
He ruffles my hair and pulls me close. I curl my six-year-old body into his warmth. “It’s not safe, my love.” He presses his lips to my forehead. “There are dangerous monsters out there in the forest. Creatures that eat beautiful little girls like you.”
“But they’re my friends. We like to sing and dance. They always want to play and have fun.”
“If you keep going out there, they’ll want to steal you away, and I won’t let you go.”
I wrap my arms around him. “It’s okay, Daddy. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good.” He smiles down at me. “Your mommy and I love you very much and don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
The morning shines dark shadows under both our eyes. Mom calls the police station while hot coffee percolates on the counter. I hover around her, eager for the least bit of news. The cops have to know something by now.
“Greg Gillet. Yes, I’m his wife. I wanted to check and see if you’d found anything.” She pauses, and I get up and pour her some coffee.
“No,” she murmurs; her expression crestfallen. “I haven’t heard from him either. Yes, of course I’ll let you know if I do. Where will I be? The diner, of course. Austen and I—” She glances at me and I hand her the white Number One Mom cup. “We’re opening up and we’ll be there most of the day.” She listens for a couple more seconds and takes a sip. “Thank you. I understand.” She sighs and ends the call.
“Nothing?” She shakes her head and my heart plummets.
Defeat hunches my mom’s shoulders and deepens the lines around her mouth. “Sorry, kiddo.” She stares at the blank screen on her phone. “I’ve called him a dozen times, texted him even more, and nothing. I have no idea what’s going on, but there has to be logical explanation for this.” Her words are hollow; she doesn’t believe them either.
Pain wells up within me, but I push myself to my feet anyway. “What logical explanation could there be? We found a dead woman in his car, and he was gone. Do you think he’s dead, too?”
She winces. “No, of course not. Your dad, he…he wouldn’t hurt anyone. I know he wouldn’t.”
I chew on my lip. She’s right. There has to be a reason behind what happened. If Dad wasn’t responsible for Hillary Crum’s death, then why did he run? “Do you think he’s in trouble?”
She pours the rest of her coffee down the drain and rinses her cup, her movements stilted. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.” Tears burn my eyes. Dad’s got to be okay. He has to be. “I wish I knew more, but I don’t.”
“What about Brett and Molly? What are we going to tell them?”
“I think we should keep it quiet for now. I don’t want them to panic. We’ll just tell them he’s on a business trip for a few days.”
I nod, imagining my seven-year-old sister freaking out about the dead reporter, even though my ten-year-old brother would never show anything as childish as fear. “They’ll hear it from someone, though. Small town, remember?”
She leans against the kitchen counter. “True, but it’s summer break, so we’ll just keep them either at our house or at Grandma and Grandpa’s. I’m sure the cops will figure it out pretty quickly.”
Worry for my father creeps into my consciousness. There’s more to the story, I know it. Dad ran away for a reason. What if he didn’t leave on his own? What if someone made him? I strangle the doubtful voice in my head. Dad will be fine. He has to be. “So what exactly do you want to tell them?”
She ponders this for a moment. “I thought about telling them he’s lost in the woods and leave out the rest.”
“Do you think they’ll buy that? We’ll have to keep them away from the TV and internet.”
She shrugs. “If they go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house every day, I think we can pull it off. They don’t have the internet and Grandma only watches soap operas.”
Mom walks over to the big bay window overlooking our backyard. Her eyes lose focus as she stares at the grass that always needs mowing and the bushes that always need trimming. “I told Grandma what happened.”
I grimace, imagining my grandma’s tirade. At four foot nothing, she packs a Polish punch worse than someone twice her size. “What did she say?”
She waves her hands dismissively. “She agrees that your father would never hurt someone and she’ll do her best to keep your brother and sister from finding out what happened.”
She gives me a watery smile. “I think that’s the best we can hope for.” She brushes her hands off on her jeans and gives me a determined look. “So, are you ready to go? The diner isn’t going to open itself. Besides, it’ll be good for us. I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit around the house all day, waiting for the phone to ring.”
After dropping off Brett and Molly and Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we head to Rosie’s Homerun Diner, which sits about a mile between our house and theirs. As we pull into the little gravel parking lot, I notice a couple of the regulars are already waiting for us.
“Good morning, Mr. Harland.” I hold the door open for him.
“Morning, Ms. Austen.” He hobbles in, brandishing a brass eagle-headed cane in one hand. “How are you this fine day?”
He must not have heard the news. I swallow past the lump in my throat. “Fine, fine.”
He winks at me and he joins his partner-in-crime, Mr. Fitzgerald, at the counter. When the newspaper boy, Tory Carpenter, a blonde-haired menace to society, tosses the paper at our front door, I race out to grab it and scan the headline: “Local Teen Crowned Miss Lighthouse.”
The air whooshes out of my lungs. Thank God. I know it would have been almost impossible for them to fit in an article about the murder on such short notice, but it’s still a relief to know it’s not there.
I quickly flip through the rest of the paper before handing it over to our customers and grabbing them each a cup of coffee.
“Thank you.” Mr. Fitzgerald opens the paper and lays it flat on the crossword section.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” After they agree, I head behind the counter and finish helping Mom get the diner ready for the day.
The busy work soothes me and takes my mind off of the panic crouching at the back of my head. Chopping vegetables doesn’t leave much room for any other thoughts, unless I want to slice off a finger. Keeping busy is a blessing since every time I close my eyes, I see a blood-splattered dashboard and a dead reporter no one except my dad and the killer can explain.
My hand hovers over the white erase board, frozen. Today’s special was supposed to be tuna melt with sweet potato fries. Dad’s favorite. I close my eyes as they start to burn. Stop it. After giving myself a mental shake, I force my fingers to scribble down the words before stowing the marker in my pocket. It’s a stupid tuna sandwich. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Austen,” Mom calls from the kitchen. “Can you flip the sign on?”
“Yeah, sure.” The front door chimes and I paste a smile on my face. “Good morning, Mr.…” My voice drops when I notice it’s not one of half dozen or so elderly men who usually drift in while the coffee finishes percolating.
The guy who walks in the door is maybe a year older than me, and about a foot taller, which puts him around six feet. His golden brown hair is longer on top and trimmed shorter on the sides. He has chocolate brown eyes and an easy grin with dimples that make my heart beat double time. I force myself to shut my gaping mouth. He approaches me, one hand stuffed in his pocket, and the other clutching a piece of paper.
“Hi,” he says. “My name’s Ezra Montgomery. I was wondering if your manager was here so I could drop off my resume.”
I fumble for the paper he hands to me. “Thanks. I’ll go get my mom.”
“Your mom owns this place?” I nod. “Awesome,” he says.
As if hearing my voice, Mom hurries out from the kitchen. When she spies Ezra, her eyes light up. “Hey, I’m so glad you came back. I’m down two people, and since I can’t clone my daughter.” She pats me on the shoulder, “I could use the help.”
“Great,” he says. “Because I could definitely use the job.” A self-conscious grin flits across his face.
My mom takes the resume and scans it. “You just moved here?”
“Yes, ma’am. Almost a week ago, actually.”
Her gaze grows unfocused. “Montgomery. Why does that name sound familiar?”
Ezra’s easy smile becomes forced. “My family used to live here, but we moved away a few years ago.”
She snaps her fingers. “That must be it. Why did you move back? Misery Bay isn’t exactly a hopping place for young kids.”
He shrugs, and his eyes remain shuttered. “I guess I couldn’t stay away. I love this town.”
She nods, seemingly satisfied. “We need more young people like you. When can you start?”
The tension drains from his shoulders. “Just like that?”
My mom eyes the parking lot at the same time three more cars pull in. “Just like that. I wasn’t kidding when I said I need all the help I can get.”
“Great,” he says.
They chat for a few more minutes about him coming in at 10:30 so he can get some training before the lunch rush starts. He agrees and leaves to go change and get ready for his first day at work.
“He was pretty cute, isn’t he?” my mother murmurs into my ear.
“Mom!” Heat streaks up my neck, blooming across my cheeks.
She chuckles, the sound lighter and more relieved than I expect. Maybe opening the diner today is exactly the kind of brief respite she needed to escape the worry haunting her.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get to see him later today. It’s a good chance to see what he’s made of. You know how brutal lunches can get.”
I answer her with a scowl, even though inside I can’t wait for the minute hand to tick by.
At about a quarter to ten, the bell above the door chimes, but it’s not Ezra. Instead, it’s a pair of Misery Bay’s finest: Officers Jonie Clark and Dennis Mildrew.
“Is your mother here?” Officer Clark takes the coffee I offer her. She blows on the cup to cool it and perches on one of the stools.
I nod. “Yeah, she’s in the back.” I call out for her while Officer Mildrew takes his drink and joins his partner at the counter.
Mildrew sets down his visor and rubs his tired blue eyes. “Mind if we ask you a few questions?”
Nerves twist in my stomach. What could they possibly ask me that I hadn’t already answered? “Sure.”
“Do you know why Ms. Crum was in your father’s car?”
My hands start shaking. “I have no idea. I’ve never met her before in my life.”
Mildrew notices this slight physical reaction and narrows his eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Definitely. He—” I choke up at the mention of his name. “He said he had to work late. He was a realtor, you know, and lots of people can only look at houses in the evening and weekends. Sometimes all the paperwork would pile up and he’d be stuck there until it’s really late.”
“Were he and Ms. Crum having an affair?”
My hands still, and I jerk my head up to find his cold, assessing gaze studying me. “He would never do anything like that.”
The police officer clumsily taps something into a small tablet he pulled out of his pocket. “Did your father ever talk about his past?”
I shake my head, confused. “What do you mean? I know he grew up around here.” I pause, trying to bring up any sliver of memory that would help the police officers find him.
“I told you Maria, I don’t want to talk about it.” Dad paces the living room in long, angry strides. I duck around the corner to the kitchen, peeking out with wide eyes at my father’s tirade. “What happened in the past doesn’t matter anymore.”
Mom holds up her hands, pleading with him. “It’s just a family tree assignment for school. It’s not like Austen’s teacher is running a background check.”
My bottom lip trembles. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t brought home that stupid assignment, Dad wouldn’t be mad at me.
“Why does she even need to know about my past?”
“She’s a kid. Teachers do these kinds of activities to teach them about themselves. I remember doing those in school, and surely you do, too.”
His shoulders stiffen and I shrink around the corner so I can’t see him. “No, I never made one. Besides, it’s not important where you came from, only where you’re going.”
“Fine.” I imagine Mom throwing her hands up in the air, but I’m too afraid to look. “Do whatever you want. I’m going to bed.”
I scurry to my bedroom before either of them catches me and hide under my covers until I finally fall asleep.
“He never liked to talk about it. I’m sorry. I wish I knew more to tell you.”
Clark holds out her cup for a refill, which I do automatically. “We ran a background check on him and found nothing.”
“That’s a good thing, right?” Something in Officer Clark’s voice makes my stomach plummet.
“Nothing prior to thirty years ago,” Mildrew amends. He taps blunt, square tipped fingernails on the counter. “We ran a cursory national search, too, and put feelers out internationally, but it looks like your father and his family appeared out of thin air.”
My mom hurries up from the back as the police officer’s comment sinks in. “Sorry about that. I was in the middle of slicing meat and—” She glances from me to our visitors. “Is something wrong?” She plants her palms on the counter, steadying herself. “Did you find Greg?”
“No, ma’am,” Mildrew says. “We just had a few more questions.”
Mom’s shoulders sag. “Austen, why don’t you go check on that table in section four?”
Relieved to get away from the cops and all of their probing questions, I push away from the counter. “Sure, no problem.”
Twenty minutes later, Ezra walks in after the police officers leave. His shoulders stiffen, and he gives them a wide berth.
By the time he reaches the counter, Ezra’s smile is back. “Hi.” He smoothes his hands on his jeans. “So, um, what do you want me to do first?” His dimples draw me.
Seriously, Austen. Control yourself. Stop acting like some angsty, hormonal teenager. You’ve worked with cute guys before. Yeah, but most of them I’ve known since kindergarten. It’s different when you remember them chasing you around the playground with boogers on their fingers.
“Okay, follow me.” I lead him through the stainless steel kitchen to the break room with a small row of lockers. “Here.” I hand him a red Rosie’s t-shirt. “I’ll grab you an apron.”
I turn around to find Ezra stretching the bright red fabric over his torso. His broad back ripples with muscles, and I feel my face burn with unwelcome heat. He turns around, a slow grin stretching his face. “Am I putting it on wrong?”
I mentally give myself a shake. “I’ll show you around and then get you started. Mom’s in her office, but she’ll come up front when it starts to pick up.”
“I’m all yours.”
I ignore the butterflies rolling around my stomach. “Come on. I’ll give you the grand tour.”
With Ezra trailing me, I show him the cramped, stainless steel kitchen, the janitor’s closet, and the coolers. “I think my mom probably wants you to start out washing dishes.” I give him a sympathetic frown. “But eventually you might be able to move up to waiting tables.”
He gives a mini fist pump. “I can’t wait. To be honest, I’m glad I was able to get a job so quickly.”
“Why here? Misery Bay isn’t exactly an exciting place to live.”
He shrugs into an apron. “I got in a fight with my folks, and remembered my Uncle Tony had an old farmhouse here. I asked him if I could crash for a while, and he said sure. He even promised not to tell my parents.”
“Oh yeah?” I arch my eyebrows. “My mom would kill me if I did something like that.”
His gaze hits the ground, unable to meet my eyes. “My parents and I haven’t gotten along for a several years. My uncle isn’t on the best terms with my dad, either. If they ask, and they might, he’ll tell them I’m safe, but that’s about it. I don’t want them to think I’m dead in a ditch somewhere, but I needed to get away.”
“That makes sense. At least you have the summer to get used to everything before school starts.”
The corner of his lips twitch. “If I’m here that long. I’m kind of playing it by ear. I only need a couple credits anyway, so I might do it all online and save myself the hassle.”
That would be nice. My parents would never let me take online school though. Around here, online classes are usually reserved for troublemakers and those who can’t handle the public school system. Mom and Dad would laugh if I even suggested it.
I show him the dishwasher and how to use it. “Won’t your parents figure out where you are eventually?”
His lips purse. “Maybe, but I’ll deal with that when it happens. Until then,” he says, gesturing to the messy kitchen, “I need to work.”
The front door chimes. “I’ll be back to check on you later, but if you need something ahead of time,” I say, pointing to Dante, our cook who also just arrived for the lunch rush, “let either of us know. Dante can run this place with both hands tied behind his back.”
The Gulf War vet chuckles and stuffs his long graying hair under a hairnet. “You know it.” The two guys chat amongst themselves as I walk away. The bell above the door chimes again. It’s going to be a long day.
By the time seven o’clock rolls around, the dinner rush has turned into a trickle. “You can head on out,” Mom tells Ezra. “Austen and I can handle it until closing.”
“Thanks,” Ezra says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” After saying goodbye, I watch him leave, but instead of walking over to his obnoxious yellow VW beetle, he crosses the street and hurries around the corner.
Where is he going? I fish around for a reason to leave and follow him.
She jerks her head around the corner. “Hmm?”
“I think Ezra forgot his keys.”
Mom gives me a knowing smirk. I flush, embarrassed. “Then you better go give them to him. He can’t have gone very far.”
My face grows even hotter, and I barely take the time to wrench off my apron before sprinting out the door.
Once outside, I follow Ezra deeper into town, running through possible excuses should he catch me. I could say my mom wanted me to go to the market and pick up some eggs, or some mayo, or something else that we could plausibly run out of. But all of the possible reasons sound fake.
Ezra strides quickly down Huron Street, which is the main drag running through town. Lined with cozy, little shops, Huron Street is about three blocks long before it transforms into sprawling houses and farms.
He doesn’t make it that far though. After the first block, Ezra takes a sharp right and disappears through our library’s sliding glass doors.
I pause in front of the crumbling brick building. I’ve never seen anyone in the library except for elementary kids on a field trip and old people surfing the internet or doing community stuff. With a mental shrug, I sneak in after him.
The icy library air conditioning immediately makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. Rubbing them, I look around, but the main floor is open, and I can tell he’s not here. That leaves upstairs, the reference section. With a half-wave to Mrs. Torch, our librarian, I grab a children’s book off the nearest cart, which happens to be Curious George, and trot up the stairs.
I find Ezra in the local history room, pouring through big reference books and binders. Losing my nerve, I turn to leave.
The creak of my hand on the door makes him spin around . “What are you doing here?” A cold, assessing gaze replaces his welcoming grin.
I wave the book in the air. “I wanted to pick something up for my brother to read.” God, Brett would kill me if he knew I was claiming he’d read a Curious George book. No self-respecting ten-year-old would read those books.
“Up in the reference section?”
My cheeks burn. “I thought I saw you up here,” I blurt. “So I wanted to say hi. Never mind, it was a stupid idea.” I turn to go. “I’ll leave you alone now.”
“Wait. This might actually be a good thing.” He gestures for me to come closer. “You’ve lived here most of your life, right?”
I nod and take a tentative step closer. “We moved here when I was six or seven, I think.”
“Maybe you can help me research, then.”
“What are you looking for?”
He turns the book so I can look at the pages. “Stuff on shipwrecks, the lighthouse, that sort of thing.”
Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t this. “The lighthouse? Why do you want to know about that?”
Embarrassment tinges his cheeks. “Haven’t you heard of all the weird things that happen around there and out in the bay? What about the huge fence that surrounds the lighthouse? That’s pretty strange.”
I arch one eyebrow. “This is a small town. Small towns are known for being strange. I’ve heard the people who own the property like their privacy.”
A fevered light enters his eyes. “But what if it’s more than that? It could be a secret government base, or an underground lab. It could be the headquarters for a drug cartel for all we know.”
I laugh. “I think we’d know that by now, if that was it. But hey, I guess it’s possible.”
He scowls at me. “Fine. If you’re not going to help, you can just leave.”
His brusque tone tells me I’ve struck a nerve. “Is that why you moved to Misery Bay?”
He fidgets in his seat. “I’ve always been interested in weird stuff. We came here a lot when I was growing up, and I always wanted to come back.”