Are you ready to get tangled up in a web of secrets, lies, and betrayals? We’ve got your first look at Gillian French’s latest intoxicating and gasp-worthy mystery, THE LIES THEY TELL… which we’d describe as a mix of E. Lockhart’s WE WERE LIARS, with shades of Sarah Dessen and a sprinkle of TRULY DEVIOUS.
Welcome to Tenney’s Harbor, a small town in Maine, where everyone has heard of the Garrison tragedy—a fire that reduced a family of five to one. But what people don’t know is who did it. All fingers point at Pearl Haskins’ father, who was the caretaker of the property, but Pearl just doesn’t believe it. Leave it to a town of rich people to blame “the help.” And so she launches a plot to get to the bottom of it and the first step? Befriend the last surviving Garrison and his group of rich, spoiled, and arrogant friends. If you haven’t already guessed, Pearl is about to get in way over her head…
Read the first three chapters of THE LIES THEY TELL to see how it all begins!
THE LAST NIGHT the Garrisons set foot inside the Tenney’s Harbor Country Club, the windows were laced with snow. The weather report called for six to eight inches by morning,
and three already lay crisp and untouched across the western expanse of lawn beyond the glass. The Garrisons would have their white Christmas. Mother Nature wouldn’t dare disappoint.
Pearl had the distinction of waiting on them. She was a small, spare girl with dark hair worn in a pixie cut and an odd cast to her eyes, which, upon closer examination, were two different colors, brown and blue. She said good evening and handed them a wine and spirits list while they looked through her, registering nothing, clueless that her dad had worked for them for nearly three years now and was, in fact, huddled beside a space heater in their gatehouse at this very moment, watching the Celtics on her tablet.
David Garrison ordered a scotch and water, his wife, Sloane, a white wine. Joseph, their youngest child at ten, frowned at the list and said, “I’ll have a beer,” which earned a laugh from his sister, Cassidy, and a “Hush” from his mother.
Tristan Garrison was absent; Pearl noted it as surely as everyone else in the dining room. Whispers had been circulating around the club for a week: the Garrisons were opening their Tenney’s Harbor home for the holidays, a first. Now one of their remarkable children was missing.
When Pearl returned with drinks and bread, Lou Pulaski, occasional golfing partner of David, came over to the table and clapped David’s shoulder. “Back in the great white north, eh? Damned glad to see ya. Where’s your oldest tonight?” David’s jaw f lexed as he shook out his napkin. “He stayed
“What—back in Greenwich?”
A pause. “No.”
Pearl f licked her gaze at Sloane. She was looking down. So were the kids. Lou chuckled uneasily and lurched onto other topics, but for Pearl’s part, she was glad to take their orders and fade away.
When she reached the kitchen, one of the swinging doors was propped open, and a sparkly ball of evergreen dangled above it. A kissing ball. Some of the busboys stood around, grinning and waiting.
She spun on her heel and ran straight into Reese, who steadied her, his eyes a little bloodshot from the Christmas cheer he’d been into before their shift began. “Watch it, Haskins,” he said.
“You watch it.” She’d been watching him all night— somebody had to—as he chattered, joked, spilled pinot noir on table linens, produced origami geese from cocktail napkins for little kids, and flirted with ladies old enough to be his grandmother. Buzzed or not, he’d crush her in tips; he always did.
Behind them, Indigo Conner said, “You guys,” in a soft singsong, tapping the kissing ball, making it sway.
The chant began: “Do it, do it.” Pearl held her tray in front of her like a shield. “I’ve killed men for less.”
Reese smiled, shrugged, and stepped aside. As Pearl turned, he caught her face in both hands and laid one on her.
She closed her eyes, leaning in, tasting the hint of rum eggnog still on his breath. His fingertips slid up her temples into her hair. People were whooping and whistling, and when the moment finally broke and he let go, she staggered, as if the kiss itself had been holding her up.
Reese went into the kitchen without a backward glance, busboys pounding his back and ruff ling his hair. Pearl wiped her mouth, then smoothed her club blouse and tie with hands
that felt palsied and weak. When she looked up, Indigo was
The girl smiled a little as she passed, grazing Pearl’s arm hard enough to let her know she was there. “Everything you hoped for, sweetie?”
Pearl stared, a blush of volcanic proportions rolling up from her collar. She saw her next move so clearly: grabbing a handful of Indigo’s thick, curly ponytail, taking her down into one of the tables, china and crystal exploding around them, her own fists a pummeling blur.
In reality, her face burned and her eyes filled as she made for the patio doors. Damned if she’d let Indigo see her cry.
Outside in the dark, Pearl hit the clapboards and sank into a crouch, savoring the sting of the wind. Ten seconds. She could afford a ten-second meltdown. Then chin up, back to work, before that little Nazi Meriwether came out here to see who was wasting club time.
Fifteen minutes later, face washed, cowlick combed down, Pearl delivered the Garrisons’ entrées. She thought she sensed Cassidy studying her eyes, but that was nothing new. She hoped they didn’t still look weepy. From the direction of the kitchen, a faint cheer went up as the busboys caught more victims. “Can I get anyone any—?”
“No.” David’s tone was clipped. He didn’t look at her as he sawed into his roast duckling. Pearl gave a half bow and departed, careful to skirt Indigo and Reese in case the urge
to tackle came on her again.
The Garrisons ate. Onstage, Steve Mills, who performed cocktail piano standards at the baby grand every weekend, launched into “Merry Christmas, Baby.” Once the Garrisons had scraped their bowls of crème brûlée clean, Steve said into the mic, “Good to see some of our snowbird members, the Garrisons, joining us tonight on this Christmas Eve-Eve.” A flourish over the ivories. “Maybe you folks can help me convince Cassidy Garrison to come on up here and play a little something in the spirit of the season?”
A momentary hush as people turned to look at the Garrisons. Asking a piano prodigy like seventeen-year-old Cassidy to “play a little something” felt like asking da Vinci to join in a game of Pictionary. Some reluctant applause followed.
Sloane whispered to her daughter. From where Pearl stood by the Christmas tree, it looked like she squeezed Cassidy’s knee under the table. Placidly, Cassidy pushed her chair back and walked up the risers to the stage as everyone clapped again, relieved.
Slender and erect, Cassidy sat, shook her hair back, placed her fingers on the keys. She may as well have been carved from ivory, cool and f lawless beneath the recessed lighting, long pale hair streaming down the back of her midnight-blue dress. She didn’t look like any seventeen-year-old Pearl had ever seen, and Pearl had just turned eighteen last month.
“Gloria in Excelsis Deo” unfolded from Cassidy’s fingertips. She sang in Latin in a clear, glass-bell voice, words that Pearl couldn’t understand, but felt anyway. They made her eyes sting again, this time not unpleasantly, as she stood back among the twinkling lights and German blown-glass bulbs, witnessing what nobody knew would be Cassidy Garrison’s swan song.
The room didn’t breathe until the last note faded into the eaves. This time, the applause was thunderous. People stood. Cassidy said “Thank you” softly into the mic and returned to her family, who waited, unmoved by yet another command performance from the girl who’d brought down the Boston Symphony Hall at age eight.
The Garrisons left soon after that, shrugging on coats made from cashmere and the finest wool, Joseph laughing once, audibly, before the lobby doors closed between them and the night.
Gradually, the evening ended, members signing credit slips and wishing one another a merry Christmas on their way to the coat check. When Pearl went to the kitchen to put in a final dessert order, the kissing ball was gone and the doors were shut; the help was hangdog, meeting no one’s eyes. Meriwether had been here. The fun had been sucked from the premises like sunlight into a black hole.
At closing, Pearl waited by her car to make sure Reese was okay to drive. Ski cap on, hands tucked into the pockets of her Carhartt coat, she shifted from foot to foot, watching the back door.
When Reese came out, he was leaning on Indigo, much of his face lost in the thick faux-fur collar of her coat. Whatever he whispered in her ear made her laugh. Unaware of Pearl in the dark, they passed his car in favor of Indigo’s old Skylark.
Pearl sank into her driver’s seat, working her lips over her teeth, the familiar resentment back again, eating away at her. She started her engine when Indigo started hers.
She followed them down Harbor Road, the ocean a massive, brooding presence to her left. She kept her distance, watching the silhouettes of their heads in the headlight beams. The Skylark fishtailed lazily. Leave it to Indigo to drive on summer tires year-round. She was nineteen, living on her own, doing whatever she damn well pleased.
Pearl lived on Abbott Street, Reese on Ocean Avenue, but they wouldn’t turn in there, she was certain. She stayed on them until the stop sign, where the Skylark went into a slow spin, swinging into Main Street and stalling out in the path of a plow truck. The horn bellowed. Pearl reached out as if to catch them, her lips parting without sound.
The Skylark rumbled, gunned, and reversed into the opposite lane, dodging the plow by what looked like no more than a foot. It sat cockeyed for a few beats; then the tires spun, and it drove on.
Pearl released a shuddery breath. Knowing those two, they were laughing right now. Look what we almost did. Look how close we came.
Or maybe they were laughing at her. Maybe they’d known she was there all along, stalking them through a nor’easter with her heart pounding, nose running, clothes full of the smell of roasting duck, only to confirm what she already knew: they were going back to Indigo’s apartment, to her bed, and what they did there would be more than Pearl had ever done with anyone, because the only person she’d ever wanted to do it with was Reese.
She went home to the silent little house on Abbott. She showered, left a light on for Dad, who wouldn’t be back until four a.m., then curled up under the covers, staring at the wall. She’d never been so sick of herself. She wanted to wriggle out of her skin and kick it away like a clammy bathing suit, somehow erase the memory of kissing Reese back, right in front of everybody, the perfect, desperate fool.
Sleep shunned her until almost midnight. Outside Pearl’s window, snow continued to fall.
At the same time, on the other side of Tenney’s Harbor, the Garrisons were burning in their beds.
THE BOYS HAD been in the sun—tennis, maybe, or just back from the yacht club. Their brows were damp, postures loose, recuperating. They sat around the table like young guys do, taking up a lot of room, unconcerned by the stares they drew from members and waitstaff alike, lips moving in whispered conversation.
Pearl watched them, breathing shallowly, feeling panic, exhilaration. He never sat in her section. Now here he was with his entourage, the boys of summer, owning the place.
She gathered three menus and went to them, playing the part. “Can I start you gentlemen off with some drinks?” Her voice sounded stiff, an octave higher than usual.
If Tristan Garrison knew her, he gave no sign. That was the way with summer people; they were perfectly comfortable not knowing the locals who prepared their food, changed their sheets, or those, apparently, who were drowning in the undertow of their personal tragedy. “Water, please.” His voice was quiet, dismissive. He did not look at her.
Tristan’s fair skin bore the touch of late June sunshine, but he’d grown thin since winter, still leanly muscled from the racquetball court and hours on the treadmill. Pearl knew the raised veins on his forearms, the faint frown line between his brows that hadn’t smoothed even with the arrival of his wingmen. She studied him whenever he came into the dining room, gripped by the physical and emotional recoil she—and most everyone else—felt in his presence. Alone. He was so alone, even in a room full of people, and maybe in that they shared some kinship.
“Iced coffee. Cream, sugar, shot of espresso. Don’t put too much ice in it.” The boy across from her sat tipped back in his chair, his white tank top contrasting against his deep brown skin, designer ball cap cocked at an angle. The club had done away with the gentlemen-must-wear-a-jacket-and-tie policy long before Pearl began working here, but there was still a certain dress code to be maintained, and Akil Malhotra was way below par. Pearl knew him by sight. Everybody knew the Indian kid who’d stolen the golf cart last summer.
The boy on the left was one of the Spencer grandchildren. He had the look: shaggily blond, deeply tanned from living at the family compound in North Carolina the rest of the year. He smiled at her, his gaze moving from her face to her breasts and back again. “Surprise me.” A faint southern accent, honeying every other word.
She blinked. “Very good.” One more quick glance at Tristan before she left.
She took orders at two more tables, meeting Reese’s gaze on her way to the kitchen; he was waiting on Mimi Montgomery- Hines and her friends, a tableful of elderly ladies who wore ropes of beads and big hats and bright lipstick, like an inverted version of a little girls’ dress-up tea party. Mimi adored Reese; the maître d’s knew to seat her in section three without being told. Reese dropped Pearl a wink without breaking his stream of banter, and the sun-washed room rang with women’s laughter.
The bar was unmanned, so she grabbed a bottle of San Pellegrino from the cooler herself. Tristan always drank San Pellegrino. Someone’s fingers stole over the back of her neck, and she smiled, knowing it was Reese.
“Hiya, twinkle toes.” He went around the bar, took the lid off the blender, and dumped in ice, lime juice, triple sec, tequila.
“You’d better get out of there before Chas comes back.”
“Hey, he’s taking a whiz, my table needs drinks. You think I don’t know how to make a margarita?” He put a swizzle stick in his teeth, commenced chewing. “C’mon,
c’mon, what do you need?”
“Iced coffee: cream, sugar, espresso. And I’ve got a guy who wants me to surprise him.”
“Slap on some pasties and come out singing, ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ Works every time.” He pulled the coffee pitcher out of the fridge and poured.
“You know from experience, huh.” She waited as he gave the blender a blast. “Isn’t it kind of early in the day for those?”
“Haskins. What have we learned about the rich?”
She sighed. “That it’s socially acceptable for them to drink more in a day than we do in a week.”
“Right. And since it’s now”—he checked an invisible watch—“just a hair past noon, Mimi and her cronies need a pick-me-up so they can make it till cocktail hour. Salt some glasses for me.”
Looking over her shoulder (you never knew when Meriwether might decide to do a walk-through, attending to her assistant managerial duties with grim fervor), she went to him and ran a lime wedge around the edge of the margarita glasses, dipping them in coarse salt. Being this close to Reese O’Shaughnessy was like standing beside high-tension power lines. She felt the energy thrumming through his wiry, notquite-six-foot frame, and the abruptness of his movements, careless, sloppy, but still getting the job done. His auburn hair fell into his eyes, and she put her hands in her pockets to resist smoothing it back. Friends didn’t stroke each other’s
hair. She was pretty sure that was in the manual somewhere.
“Who let the Prince of Darkness out?” Indigo’s low voice made Pearl turn. The girl leaned on the bar, one hip angled out, watching Tristan. She somehow managed to make the uniform of green-and-gold-striped tie, white blouse, and black slacks look like sex on wheels, as if it had been specifically tailored to her. Pearl’s size-small blouse hung loosely, and she had to wear a belt to keep the slacks from slipping down her nonexistent curves. “Looks like the posse’s back in town.” Indigo turned her cool gaze on Pearl. “Lucky you.”
Reese filled the glasses. “Bet he leaves a killer tip. Buhbum- bum.” Indigo and Pearl made identical sounds of disgust. “Jesus. Warn me before you go all highbrow, girls. Indy, what do you need?”
“I’m still waiting for my surprise.” Pearl hoped she sounded light and breezy.
Reese mixed cola and grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry. “Roy Rogers. Unless he’s ninety, he’s never heard of it.”
Pearl loaded her tray and left, straining to hear what was said in her wake. Indigo: “Pitcher of mimosas and a sex on the beach. Just make it,” before Reese could say anything. Possibly a good sign. Those two were notoriously on-again, off-again, though they’d never been officially on, and if they were off now, Pearl doubted she’d be notified.
She set the glasses down in front of the boys. The Spencer grandson bit into the cherry immediately. Tristan didn’t glance up at her; he had his phone out. “Have you decided?” she said. Tristan continued with the touch screen, letting the other boys order before him. Whatever he chose, she knew he wouldn’t eat it.
When she turned to go, Pearl paused to let the maître d’ lead a party of two past her. The couple spoke in low tones, casting looks Tristan’s way. He seemed unaware, or maybe he was used to it by now, his new normal. Pariah.
Tristan had always garnered stares, but originally it was because he was a Garrison, a National Merit Scholar, already a first-string lacrosse star in his freshman year at Yale. Tall, strikingly dark-eyed, brown hair carefully maintained to a half inch above his collar. Now his hair was longer, ignored, his style off-the-rack, though he possessed more personal wealth than most of the members would ever know, which was no small statement. It seemed everyone felt fascination-meets-revulsion in Tristan Garrison’s presence, followed by but the police cleared him; they let him go, didn’t they? Somehow, it wasn’t a comfort. Not at all.
When Pearl brought the boys their entrées, the Spencer grandson said, “Well, damn. You’re amazing. How’d you remember all that?” as she set his plate in front of him, a Reuben on panini bread, spicy mustard and dill spears on the side.
“I can read without moving my lips, too. You’d be surprised.” She bit the inside of her cheek. She could almost hear Reese say, Your filter, Haskins. It’s broken.
Instead of looking embarrassed, Spencer grinned, lopsided and guileless. “If that’s an invitation to get to know you better, I’m up for it.”
She cleared her throat. “Would anyone like another drink?”
Akil snorted. “Burn.”
“She’s just doing her job.” Spencer’s ease was unshakable as he held up his glass. “This is great, by the way. What’s in it?”
“Roy Rogers.” She tucked the collapsible stand and tray under her arm. “Enjoy.”
She snuck a peek back. He’d turned all the way around in his chair to watch her go. Heat creeping into her cheeks, she did a little bobbing and weaving to lose herself in the crowd.
Chas was back behind the bar, hopefully none the wiser that the underage waitstaff had been at the helm, and Reese was at Mimi’s table, which at that moment exploded with hooting laughter. Hard to tell what was going on, exactly, but Reese had a cocktail umbrella tucked behind his ear, and everyone’s glasses were almost empty. Pearl studied Mimi, a small, plump woman in a purple linen short set, her gray hair curled under her chin. Mimi was one of the only club members who’d kept Dad on as a caretaker after what happened to the Garrisons; she’d simply called from Texas around the end of April to ask him to open the cottage for her and slap on a new coat of paint while he was at it. It was the first work Dad had gotten in almost a month, the first paycheck they’d seen other than Pearl’s in two weeks.
The boys ate quickly, economically, no time wasted in conversation. When Pearl returned, Tristan had angled himself toward the door, rubbing absently at his left arm. “Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” she said.
“Yeah.” Spencer leaned forward. “Your number.” It had to be the oldest pickup line in the history of food service. Akil groaned, tugging his hat low.
Pearl withdrew the check from her apron pocket and set it on the table, patting it lightly. “Have a pleasant afternoon.”
Once they’d left, she went back to the table. Tristan’s plate was a psychological study: everything had been shifted to the right, picked at, barely touched. He’d signed for the whole bill. The tip was calculated at 15 percent to the penny.
In the corner of the slip, a phone number was written, along with the name Bridges Spencer. Beneath it, he’d drawn a smiley face with devil horns.
AT THE END of her shift, Pearl stepped through the patio doors into evening heat and held her breath, listening. In the distance, a motor hummed. One of the zero-turn mowers, somewhere near the golf course’s ninth hole. Dad.
As always, the club seemed to observe her as she crossed the western lawn toward the golf course. Measuring her, taking stock. It was Pearl’s habit to keep her tie knotted until she was over the cobblestone bridge spanning the pond, well out of range of the many gleaming windows.
The club was an imposing three-story block of New England architecture, all white clapboards and Victorian-style gingerbread trim. It was due to turn one hundred years old in July, celebrated by a monthlong series of gala events that had the members buzzing. It was a determined sort of buzz, white noise to cover the steady pulse of unease. Six months had passed since tragedy had soiled their summer playground; not nearly time enough for the dead to rest easy. Better to bury the Garrisons in talk of formal balls and silent auctions, of ladies’ teas and regattas on the bay.
Usually, you had to be ready to duck and cover on the links, but at this time of day most of the golfers had headed home or to the bar. The groundskeepers’ main building was off to the left, silver-shingled and gambrel-roofed. The guys were locking up for the night, but Dad wasn’t among them.
Dickie Fournier saw her coming, hooked his thumb toward where the links curved off into invisibility. “He’s way the hell out there. Take a Gator.”
“Thanks.” Grabbing a set of keys, she tossed her bag into the passenger seat of one of the utility vehicles and put the pedal down, loving the shock of breeze through her hair.
Around the bend, the links opened into a panoramic view of Frenchman Bay and Little Nicatou Island, which sat a mile offshore from their corner of Mount Desert Island. Living on an island sounded romantic, but MDI was the second largest on the Eastern Seaboard, and easily accessible by bridge—no storm-tossed ferry rides required. It was starkly beautiful here; academically, Pearl knew this, but she’d also lived the other side, post–Labor Day: shutters on most of the shop windows, the single stoplight blinking yellow, the whole world buried under feet of suffocating snow.
Most of the course had been freshly mowed lengthwise, green to the tee and back again, but here, the lines ended. She spotted the zero-turn abandoned near a sand trap, Dad nowhere in sight. She hit the horn lightly and parked. “You here?”
No answer. Pearl climbed out and walked the ragged edge of the bluff, running her hand along the wire fence. She finally spotted him, out there on the embankment, standing on the ledge, facing seaward.
She gripped the fence posts, afraid to speak and startle him. After a moment, he sensed her and turned, a man torn from a dream. “Hey, Pearlie.” He sounded fine, same old Dad, but the late haunted nights had seamed his face, already full of sharp angles, like her own. He was responsible for all of it: her small build, the slight wave in her hair, her habit of biting her lips whenever she was nervous or upset.
“It’s five o’clock.” She still couldn’t move. He seemed to understand, then, how much he was scaring her, and walked over, squeezing through a rolled-back panel in the fencing, where she immediately hugged him hard around the waist. “What were you doing out there?”
“Looking around.” He kissed the top of her head. She caught a hearty whiff of him: spearmint gum, fresh sweat, and booze, but not recent—hopefully none since this morning, Irish in his coffee while she was out of the room. “Hey, I got
something for you.”
“It’s not a golf ball, is it?”
“Hey. You used to love that when you were little.” He took something from his pocket and pressed it into her palm.
She opened her fingers and saw a tiger-striped sea scallop shell, perfectly intact. “You found this out there?”
“Thought you’d want it for your collection.” The gesture almost made her forget that he hadn’t answered her question. “How was work?”
Memories of Tristan f lickered by. “Typical. Doing stuff for rich people.”
“Sounds like we had the same day. How about I grill tonight? Got some burger half off at Godfrey’s.”
“Sure. But the grill needs gas.” He swore. “I can fry it up on the stovetop instead. Make pasta salad?” She was rewarded with a nod, half a smile. “Race you back.”
Dad made for the zero-turn. She ran to the Gator, already rolling before he even had the mower started. She kept him in her side-view mirror the whole way. Better to focus on that than on how her stomach had plummeted at the sight of him on that ledge, how everything she’d become so afraid of seemed encapsulated in that moment. Better than asking him the hard questions, the ones that really needed answering: When are you going to be okay? Were you thinking about them?
* * *
Dad’s Beetle Cat sailboat sat on the boat trailer in the front yard with a spray-painted For Sale sign leaning against it: $3,500 OBO. The original prices of $4,500, then $4,000, were blacked out. Dad stood with his back to it, hosing road dust off his battered pickup, the first Bud Light of the evening in his free hand.
It was the final ass-kicker in the whole ordeal, selling the boat. Dad had owned it since before she was born. When Pearl was a kid, sometimes they’d drop a line in the harbor on a Sunday—never with Mom, that wasn’t her thing. Her parents had so little in common it was amazing that she’d ever been conceived. So, it was Pearl and Dad, fishing buddies; poker buddies; throwing the ball around on warm evenings and tinkering with projects in the shed. Mom used to complain about feeling left out of their little club of two, but whenever she and Pearl tried mother-daughter stuff, it always ended in a fight; they just didn’t seem to speak the same language. When the divorce finally happened, Pearl was thirteen, and the judge had let her decide for herself who she wanted to live with. She was surprised he’d even had to ask. And Mom never forgave her. Why else would she have taken that job down in Kittery, almost a four-hour drive away?
Now a sedan drove down Abbott Street and slowed, checking out the Cat. Pearl sat up in her lawn chair. After a second, the driver accelerated again. Relaxing, Pearl pulled her feet back up to sit cross-legged and continued reading Sense and Sensibility on her tablet.
“Maybe I should knock the price back.” Dad popped the tab on Bud Light #2.
“It’s too low already.”
“Not if we want to unload the damn thing.” Dad’s profile was stony as he sprayed the mud f laps.
They didn’t want to, but they were drowning. The mailbox was crammed with notices from collection agencies; snail mail was the only way they could reach the Haskins household now that Dad had canceled his phone service, both to save money and escape the reporters begging for comment, to find out what he’d seen that night. Dad’s caretaking business, which kept them afloat during the off-season at the club, was bust. All because of the Garrisons, and what everyone in town was saying: it was Win Haskins’s fault. A few tips of the flask, and he’d let the wolf in the door.
The image brought back the memory of Tristan today, sitting close enough for her to add his brand of aftershave to her cache of Garrison knowledge. Pearl slouched down, closed out of her social media accounts—Mom was always trolling, hoping to catch her online; after their latest fight, it probably seemed the safest way to communicate—pulled up Google, and entered the familiar search criteria David Garrison family deaths with the sound of Mom’s old wind chimes pinging off each other in the background, miniature anchors.
Pearl had reread those first Mount Desert Islander and Ellsworth American articles countless times. She knew the photographs they’d run to the smallest detail, starting with the full-color spread of the Garrison house with a scorched hole in the roof, the blackened clapboards, the second-story east window a gaping hole into what had been the master bedroom. Firefighters were roaming around the front yard, their gear smudged with soot. The American headline read “Multimillionaire David Garrison, Three Family Members Killed in Tenney’s Harbor Blaze.”
The fire—cause undetermined at that time—had originated in David and Sloane’s bedroom, spreading down the second-floor hallway to where Cassidy and Joseph slept, and up through the ceiling to the attic level, which had been converted into a loft for Tristan when they bought the house three years ago. On the morning of December 24, David’s, Sloane’s, Cassidy’s, and Joseph’s bodies had all been transported to the county morgue; Tristan was unaccounted for.
Pearl straightened her spine. She’d woken up to an empty
house that morning, and a message on her phone from Dad, received at three a.m. Something came up, be home as soon as I can. Turned out he’d been calling from the hospital ER, where he was receiving treatment for second-degree burns on his hands and lacerations from punching through window glass. She could still see the Christmas tree tinsel swaying with the throb of the furnace as she’d eaten breakfast, facing the front window so she could watch the street for him. Then Dad had called back, with the rest of the story.
“Garrison Blaze Ruled Arson, Multiple Homicide.” The next article was the first to use that family portrait, the one that would haunt the case to its current state of open, unsolved. Taken maybe two years ago, the photo showed the whole family wearing various ensembles of navy and white. The photographer must’ve told them not to smile.
Pearl’s phone went off and she jumped, answering without taking her eyes off Tristan’s face. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. It’s just that we’ve got way too much cake over here.” Reese chewed as he spoke.
She’d hoped he’d call; he always kept her in suspense until dusk. “Cake sounds good.” She watched Dad, now sitting on the front steps. She’d lost count of the Buds. “You could bring it over here.”
“Yeah, but then I’d have to move.” He waited. “Pe-arl, come on. I’m going to watch Evil Dead 2.”
Now that was fighting dirty. “Text you in a sec.” She hung up, turning the phone over in her hands.
“Reese?” Dad watched the sunset above the roofs of neighboring houses.
“Yeah. But I think I’ll stay in. The dishes—”
“I’ll do them. If you want to see your boyfriend, go ahead.”
“Whatever you call him. I can hold down the fort.”
But chances were, he couldn’t. Chances were, Dad would get to thinking, and there’d be nothing on TV, nothing to keep the walls from closing in, so he’d decide to drive down to the Tavern for a few. And she’d lose another little piece of him.
A text popped up from Reese: chain-saw hand just sayin
“I won’t be late. Promise.” Dad waved her off as she jogged up the steps past him. In the bathroom, she combed her hair (no visible change) and spritzed on the tiniest bit of Chantilly from the sample bottle Mom had forgotten in the medicine cabinet. Reese would laugh his ass off if he could see her.
She drove her old Civic over to the Dark Brew bakery and coffee shop, where Reese lived with his technically ex stepmother. Dark Brew was on the ground level of an old general store built in the 1800s, and as manager, Jovia had been given a break on renting the second-story efficiency.
Pearl found them in the kitchen, Jovia doing her nails at the table, Reese sitting on the counter, eating what was most likely his second or third piece of chocolate cake.
Jovia shook her head at Pearl. “I don’t know how you stand him. Having a metabolism like that should be against the law.”
“Did you save me any?” There was one slim piece left in the takeout box. “Seriously? That’s disgusting.”
“Back off. I skipped breakfast this morning.”
“Only because you didn’t haul your butt out of bed until
ten minutes before you had to be at work.” Jovia blew on her
nails and pointed at him. “I am not your wake-up service,
mister. Next time, you’re on your own.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Pearl dug into the cake. “Thanks, Jovia. This is awesome.”
“Better be. I made it.” Now that tourist season was in full swing, the kitchen would be stocked with day-old muffins and croissants; by the time Jovia got home, she was usually too wiped out to cook. Jovia and Reese were physical opposites: she was short, dark, and plump, fortysomething, favoring tight jeans and trendy tops; Reese was wiry, his eyes gray and lively, his uniform composed of thrift-shop finds, band tees, and the leather cuff bracelets he wore even to work, defying dress code. Their personalities were oil and water, but somehow they made the living situation work, probably because Reese did most of his living on the second floor of the carriage house out back.
Reese drummed his fingers, jumping down to his feet as soon as Pearl took her last bite. “Let’s go.”
Jovia jerked around. “You two aren’t watching that psycho crap now, are you?”
“Yep,” Reese said.
“Oh God. People getting heads chopped off, guts ripped out. Give me a nice romantic comedy any day, people being good to each other.”
“Rom-coms suck.” Reese held the back door for Pearl. “Two idiots meet cute, find insta-love, get in a fight over something stupid, and spend the rest of the movie figuring out what the audience has known since ten minutes in. Roll credits.”
“Listen, smart-ass, love is stupid. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth the ride.”
“We’ve got to get you your own line of Hallmark cards.”
With a growl, Jovia turned to Pearl. “He tries anything out there, just slap him, okay?”
“Okay.” As Pearl stepped through the door, Reese dodged her and ran down the steps. She gave chase, following him along the flagstone path into the shadows of the carriage house, where towers of boxed napkins and coffee stirrers stood as tall as she was. Up the spiral staircase to the unfinished second floor, where Dark Brew stock took up most of the space except for Reese’s corner. A mattress on the floor, a set of plastic drawers, a box for a bedside table, and a standing lamp. Jovia had offered him the fold-out couch when he first moved in, which he’d flatly refused because he wanted his own space.
Reese tackled her onto the bed, and she shrieked, laughing. Pearl tickled his sides, and he yelped, rolling off. When he lifted her shirt and blew a raspberry on her stomach, she shrieked for real, scooting back on her heels and yanking down her hem.
Reese dropped back against his pillows, breathless and grinning. “If you really want to be safe, you could staple your shirt to your underwear.”
“Not like I saw anything.” A silence. “So, bras come in negative cup sizes. Who knew.”
She pummeled him. He covered his head and laughed until she tired herself out, kicking him once for good measure before f lopping back and starting the movie on his old laptop. “Jerk.”
After about half an hour, he rolled onto his side and hung his arm over her waist. “You can’t fall asleep,” she said softly. He nearly always dozed off when they watched something together.
“I’m not.” It seemed to be growing between them, this closeness, in awkward fits and starts. Dad didn’t know how much freedom they had over here, how much privacy, and she wanted to keep it that way.
She and Reese had been friends since the start of junior year, when Reese had moved here from Portland. Why he’d picked her of all people to hang around with, she didn’t know; proximity, most likely. Same school, same job. She’d always been a square peg in both places: no good at currying favor with the queen bees, too old now to run with the boys. She and Reese had never kissed except for the night before Christmas Eve, such a humiliating memory that she’d tried to bury it as deeply as possible. Now she reached down and linked her fingers with his, feeling a small charge when he didn’t pull free.
His phone began vibrating on the bedside table. Groaning, he reached over, checked the screen, and put it back on the table before she managed to glimpse the screen. Indigo, maybe. He lay down and put his hands behind his head, watching the mayhem on the screen. “You okay?” he said finally.
“Me? Yeah.” But she was tense now, and she sat forward, hugging her knees. “Feel like a drive?”
After texting Jovia that they were going out—she wrote back not too late, be SAFE—they set off, Pearl driving, Reese riding shotgun with a Coors Light from his stash held below the sight level of any passing police cruisers, which were a common sight since December. The night smelled like ocean, car exhaust, the stifling perfume of peonies.
“She has to know you’re taking those.” Pearl headed down Ocean Avenue, passing a stretch of sprawling bed-and-breakfasts and inns lit by streetlamps, quaint little shops displaying souvenirs and work by local artisans. For those who found Bar Harbor ostentatious, Tenney’s Harbor was the place to summer, to leave behind the hectic pace of New York City, Boston, Chicago. Tenney’s Harbor’s population more than doubled from late June to mid-August, wealthy families returning to their summer homes and their yacht and country club memberships.
Reese shrugged, popping the top and sipping the foam. “I think Jov’s just glad I’m not cooking crystal in somebody’s basement. A couple beers missing from the fridge are no big.”
“Has she heard from your dad lately?”
Another sip. “Nope.” Jovia and Reese’s dad, Liam, had divorced almost three years ago. Reese’s mom was caught up with the two young children she had with her second husband, and Liam’s current wife, his third, hadn’t exactly loved the idea of having a teenager around, especially not one with Reese’s mouth. It was decided among the adults that Reese would move in with Jovia to finish high school. Liam had ignored his promise of financial help ever since. Last Pearl knew, Reese hadn’t spoken to his dad in over a year.
As they cruised down Ocean, Reese shook his head, reading aloud, “Vacationland,” from the license plate of the car in front of them. “That has to be crappiest state slogan ever.” He raised his beer to a Toyota Tundra from New Hampshire that cut them off at the lights. “Live Free or Die. Damn straight.”
A flock of summer kids strayed into the crosswalk, texting, talking, paying no attention to traffic. They were the same ones who sunbathed poolside at the club in chaise lounges, held languid tennis matches on the courts, and set the standard for unstudied cool around the bandstand in the town square. As Pearl hit the brakes, Reese’s hand shot over and honked the horn. He stuck his head out the window. “Hey, Alligator Shirts? Lacoste outlet is that way. You’re blocking the road.”
One boy f lipped him off, and Reese returned the gesture, settling back with a grin.
“Feel better?” Pearl exhaled slowly, accelerating again. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Why not?” His voice dropped to a whisper as he looked skyward. “You think the club’s got drones up there?”
“No-o-o, I think if those guys recognize us from the dining room and run to mommy and daddy about it, we’re screwed.”
“Oh, come on. They loved it.” He brushed at some drops of beer he’d spilled on the console. “That’s why they come up here to the land of the lost, right? Rich people get off on local color. We fulfill some salt-of-the-earth delusion they have. They seriously think we sit around the woodstove eating whale blubber and singing sea chanteys all winter long.” When she finally smiled, he reached over and ruff led her hair. “Relax. Nobody’s getting fired.”
They continued out of downtown to where the woods deepened, toward Millionaires’ Row, the local nickname for Cove Road, which was reserved for the summer getaways of the ultrarich. The Spencer mansion was first and oldest, a Georgian colonial with three smaller guesthouses arranged on the lawn below like a tiny village. The grandfather, Frederick Spencer, now lived in Tenney’s Harbor year-round, where he was rarely seen anywhere but the club, although his name was ubiquitous in town: the Spencer Wing on the public library, the Frederick L. Spencer athletic track at the high school.
“Flag’s out. Brats must be in town.” Reese nodded to the guesthouses below, where a bright nautical flag hung outside one of the cottages, an eccentric Spencer custom that meant family was visiting. Pearl remembered Bridges, considered telling Reese about being hit on by a Spencer. Better not. If she talked about Bridges, then she might talk about Tristan, and she wasn’t ready to do that yet. Reese glanced at her. “Did your dad ever work down there?”
“No. Spencers go through some guy from Winter Harbor.” Dad was just one of many caretakers on MDI who maintained these grandiose homes, most of which were occupied for only a few weeks or months a year.
Each driveway was marked by a single, understated sign bearing the family name. Wooten. Montgomery-Hines. Mertz. Langstrom. She’d been this way many times, first as a kid, accompanying Dad on his duties—clearing snow, checking locks, making sure all the furnaces were maintaining a steady sixty degrees so the water pipes didn’t freeze—and now, since December, on solitary drive-bys, defying the empty, winterized homes with her presence. They could shun Dad, but they didn’t own Tenney’s Harbor.
All the little sounds Reese usually made to fill silence—finger tapping, humming—grew quiet. He must’ve figured out their destination by now: 168 Cove Road, the long, winding driveway marked with a carved granite block reading Garrison.
They didn’t speak as she urged the car up the crushed rock drive. The gatehouse was first to emerge from the darkness, a small brick structure with a window, an intercom system, and the controls to open the sixteen-foot steel gate beside it. The modern fencing contrasted with the home itself, set far back from the gate, another two-and-a-half-story colonial worthy of a Down East double-page spread. Instead, it had appeared in Time, accompanying the article “Study in Flames: The Slaying of Millionaire David Garrison,” which Pearl had pored over until she’d memorized entire paragraphs like a catechism. Dad was mentioned in that article. How he’d been filling in as night watchman for the regular guy, who had an off-season job he couldn’t leave at the Garrisons’ last-minute notice, yet someone had gotten into the house anyway. Someone who still hadn’t been caught.
She and Reese sat there, thinking their own thoughts in the face of the house, a puzzle box waiting for someone to figure out the first move. There was a new caretaker now: the crime scene tape had been removed, the burnt rubble hauled away from the yard, the grass mowed. A tarp had been laid over the hole in the roof, and David and Sloane’s ruined window was covered with a sheet of particleboard.
Pearl recalled the diagram from the Time article, detailing the killer’s route through the sleeping second floor, the path of the accelerant.
“Why do you think he stayed?” Her voice sounded far off. It wasn’t necessary to name Tristan.
Reese shifted. “No clue. Seems like he’d get out of here and never look back. I would.” He hesitated. “They’re not buried in town, right?”
“No. Connecticut.” Tenney’s Harbor had been stunned when news got out that Tristan had rented one of the new homes in the development over on Narragansett Way, had been seen driving his father’s Bentley, playing alone in the club racquetball courts. Why, after everything, wasn’t one of the richest young men in the country going back to his life? To Yale, or the family home in Greenwich? Why stay in a Maine tourist town where he had no one, where people either turned their backs on him or gawked as if he were the equivalent of a wreck on the highway?
“Dad thinks it’s his fault.” Now her voice sounded thinner than ever. “I know it.” She took a breath. “He wasn’t drinking that night. He swore to me.”
Reese was silent nearly ten seconds, a new record. Then she felt his hand close on the nape of her neck, a gentle pressure.
They sat together until a scraping sound made them both turn wide-eyed on the night. It was the tarp, a loose corner shifting in the breeze. Reese swore and sat back. “Let’s go.
Too many freakin’ ghosts out here.”
She took him home, watched until his silhouette moved past the carriage house’s second-floor window shade. When she got to her house, Dad was gone. He hadn’t washed the dishes.
What do you think of THE LIES THEY TELL so far? Let us know in the comments below!