Secrets can’t stay buried forever…
No one knows exactly what happened to Kit, the eldest of the Molloy sisters, that night in the woods. With nothing but a lacy bra and and abandoned pick-up truck as clues, none of the details add up. Everyone is quick to jump to conclusions, but it couldn’t have been Boyd, the boy next door they all loved, could it?
Sometimes dangers lurk closer than we think.
With lush prose, a mystery to be uncovered, and the deep bonds of sisterhood, we present you the first three chapters of Frozen Beauty by Lexa Hillyer.
Secrets, secrets. Everyone had them. Everyone kept them from Lilly, kept her out.
This is what comes of curiosity, the wind whispered, hard and cold in her ear, swishing up into her skull. She shuddered. Snow soaked her boots.
As the youngest of three, this was the story of her life: this winter coldness, this left-out-ness, this butt-out-and-don’t-complain-or-you’ll-sound-like-a-whiny-baby-ness.
But here they were now: two glowing yellow headlights through the swirl of falling snow, through the blur of fading streetlights, through the dark of Route 28. Twin golden keys to the fucking treasure.
And she had to have it, she thought, her hands shaking—had to know the secret. Between Kit and Tessa, Lilly was always excluded from the things that really mattered. But this time, she would know, would force her way in. The warmth of the golden orbs called to her with some kind of dark, irrepressible magic, and there was so little magic in this world. Lilly only wanted her share.
It was a Saturday night. Lilly and Mel had been having their customary Saturday night sleepover at Mel’s house, which sat just on the edge of Devil’s Lake, the weeds and trees in her backyard giving way to the protected woods. Lilly had started to believe that their friendship was back on track. But when she’d awakened after midnight to find Mel gone, and the bedroom window cracked open, letting in a tiny but steady stream of frigid air, she’d had to assume the obvious: Mel had snuck out.
And if she had snuck out, it could only be for one reason: to meet up with Dusty, her on-again-off-again something. After all, Mel had been texting furiously all night, even during the rom-com sex scenes.
In a mix of disappointment and curiosity, Lilly had pushed open the bedroom door and crept down the quiet hall, past the den where all of Mel’s dad’s hunting rifles hung proudly in a row, polished and gleaming black even in the dark. Mel wasn’t in the house.
So, naturally, Lilly had slithered through the front door, into the slowly filling pocket of snow by the side of the house, then went in search of her friend—and answers. Maybe Dusty’s car would be parked around the corner of the cul-de-sac.
But what she’d found was a whole other kind of secret. Not more than the length of a football field down the main road sat a truck, its engine still going. Only yards from the edge of Mel’s property, if you cut through the woods.
And it wasn’t just any truck. The red truck. Boyd’s red truck. It was parked at the side of the road near the preserve, a hulking metal animal heaving its breath into the cold . . . and of course, her curiosity had snagged like a loose-knit sweater on a chain-link fence.
She felt that pull, that need to understand.
She reasoned: what if Boyd needed help, needed her?
A flash of doubt flooded Lilly’s brain for a minute. What if Mel had gotten back already and wondered where Lilly had gone?
No—Mel was with Dusty, she was sure of that much. Mel had chosen her loyalties.
Now: a male voice drifting out over the wind. The sound of a car door slamming. She was almost there, and the heat of discovery drove her on.
But it was so cold. So cold and so dark. The sparse streetlights did little to help, spinning patches of air into gold-hued snow blurs. She had to hurry.
Lilly scrunched her winter hat down lower. Still squinting, she made out a figure—no, two figures—floating from the shoulder of the road, toward the looming darkness of the woods that backed up to Devil’s Lake from Route 28.
Mel and Dusty?
Mel and Boyd?
Voices took clearer shape in the air as she got closer, though the words themselves wove and dodged and blew away. Holding her breath, hidden by the hounding snowfall and the heavy dark, she came all the way up to the driver’s side—the side facing the road—without the figures noticing. She peered through the window. The keys were still in the ignition, a faint silver clump dangling in shadow.
Shivering, she rounded the back of the truck, careful to stay hidden from view behind the glow of the taillights.
A guy and a girl, arguing.
Her heart hammered. She had to strain to see them in the bad light and the fierce snowfall, but she recognized Boyd by his height and his hunting hat. And the girl with him wasn’t Mel at all. . . .
She was unmistakable. She wore no hat, and her golden hair shone even in the darkness.
It was Kit.
Lilly took a step back. Was she being crazy right now? You didn’t just traipse along the road late at night by yourself, in the middle of a storm. She should head back. What was she thinking?
But then again, she could almost hear Tessa’s voice in her head: weren’t Boyd and Kit—the ever-trusted boy next door and the older sister everyone in school looked up to—up to something crazy, too? Tessa was always talking about likelihoods and hypotheses. Lilly wasn’t exactly a star at science, but you didn’t have to be a neurosurgeon to solve this equation: if you were those two and you were driving around in Boyd’s truck together on a Saturday night, in secret—you didn’t pull over in a storm, either. Not unless something was wrong. Not unless something was going on.
Lilly watched from behind the truck as Boyd put his hand on Kit’s arm, and she shook, possibly crying.
Was he grabbing her now? Had she let him?
Slowly he pulled open her coat.
Lilly shuddered hard. Kit said something, but Lilly caught only snatches of her words: please and you’re making a mistake and I don’t believe you.
The racing of Lilly’s heart became a loud ringing through her ears and head. What was happening? Kit’s voice, dancing on the wind, seemed to ebb and peak and break.
Lilly trusted Boyd; of course, she did. Hell, she loved Boyd. But she also knew how angry he got sometimes. Once he’d shoved Tessa so hard she’d fallen into the gravel on the playground and torn open her shin. Then again, that had been right after Tessa kneed him in the balls. They were ten then, and nothing like that had happened since.
But still. Lilly remembered. Lilly always remembered.
She stood on the verge of calling to them when Kit got quiet, moving closer to Boyd. Then she was touching his face. And he was leaning down, and they were kissing—mist rising from where their faces met.
Hot breath in the cold night.
So they weren’t fighting.
A flash of mortification.
Everyone was coupling off, hooking up, lying to Lilly about it.
She backed up toward the road, the thrill of voyeurism bursting suddenly into hot shame. A car rushed past her and honked.
She gasped, startled, realizing how easy it would have been to get hit.
Sweat tickled the back of her neck even in the freezing cold. Had the honk drawn Kit’s attention? The last thing she wanted was for Kit to think she’d been spying—which was, of course, exactly the truth. The last thing she needed was to give anyone more ammo for treating her like a fucking kid, one more reason to say butt out or I told you so.
Quickly, without looking back, she raced through the trees, taking the shortcut into Mel’s backyard. She couldn’t have been gone very long, but still. A person could die out here, on a night like this.
Icy pellets of snow blew into her eyes and Lilly could hardly see at all now—but that didn’t stop her from replaying the moment she had just witnessed over and over again: Boyd’s plaid hunting hat as he leaned down toward Kit’s face, and their lips met, and they kissed.
And above them, in the winter air all around them, the echo of Kit’s voice, saying please.
Later, long after she’d curled back onto her side of the trundle bed in Mel’s room—after she’d awakened the next morning to her friend lying beside her, softly snoring—Lilly would recall that word, please, and know for certain that it had been Kit’s final plea for her life. That if only she had stayed, or shouted, or called for help, maybe things would have gone differently.
Maybe her sister would still be alive.
An old saying: all good things come in threes.
Or was it that all bad things came in threes?
Pushing his too-long hair out of his face, Boyd drove the lawn mower across his dad’s quarter-acre of grass. The late August sun cut jagged lines of shadow through the scattered cottonwoods.
Some of the places he’d seen over by Detroit, where distant cousins lived, boasted that cookie-cutter perfection you dreamed of when you thought of a small town, all even squares and matching houses in a row like straight little teeth—one big suburban grinning mouth—but out here in Devil’s Lake, the yards ran amok, mangy and undefined, lapping over one another and swarming in constant land disputes and neighborly grudges. Always a roamer buck hunting or firing pellets at squirrels on someone else’s property.
That’s why he’d convinced his dad to go in on a used John Deere—the kind of mower you got up and rode like a tractor—and now he actually enjoyed this chore, this chance to work outside and hover above things for a little while, carving out a space that belonged to him.
Evening was coming on, though, and the sunlight left its weight on his shoulders somehow, like it felt tired and had to rest from a long summer of burning itself up. He could smell fall’s approach, too: the early hint of decay, of mud hardening, preparing itself.
Boyd probably should’ve prepared, too, he thought. It was junior year, starting tomorrow. The year of all the tests that supposedly determined your future, slapped a number on you and sorted you like cattle. Some ended up in college. Some ended up working seasonal land jobs. Some ended up leaving town with no good plan at all except to get away.
He should’ve been thinking about graduating, about what would come next—about whether what came next would take him far, far away from Devil’s Lake.
Or at least about final papers. Maybe he’d write one up on Chizhevsky, something that would make Tessa smile when she read it. She read nearly all his homework, either her or Kit, to catch all the spelling nicks. Never Lilly; her schoolwork was a mess, like his.
As usual, Boyd couldn’t stay concentrated too long on school, though. All he could think about right now—on this warm almost-evening that had his skin prickling with a pleasant layer of sweat—were the three girls next door. They’d lived there most of his life—moved into the area with their mom after their dad died in combat off in some location Boyd only learned about later and still couldn’t pronounce.
He’d been about six at the time. He’d never seen anything like this tribe of women.
All good things come in threes.
His mom had once taught him about the constellations—or at any rate he had a memory that she had told him about the stars, even though he probably shouldn’t trust that memory, because she died when he was two and who remembers anything from then? Anyway, he liked to imagine the Malloy sisters that way: three bright points in his sky, their bedroom lights coming on every night, then flickering out a little while later, and with each, he felt connected, rooted to something.
Everything else might be completely fucked—an unending string of garbage news on the television, angry politics, countless hours of half-inspired homework and his dad getting uptight all the time, about jobs going sparse and bank accounts shriveling into shells and bottles running out too soon, or their aging dachshund, Jimmy, shitting on the living-room carpet again.
But the Malloys shimmered through it all—livelier than stars, really. More like lightning bugs you caught in a jar—the three of them living in the house next door, so close to his, moving about in the routine of their lives, crying out to one another like fighting cats in the night, cursing under their breath or, sometimes, singing, loud and off-key. Whispering. Scheming and assessing, the way sisters do. Building a world in which your part was only ever passing by, on the periphery.
He had been close to the inside most of his life—over the years they’d made him their pirate overlord and beast prince, their evil doctor, their pony, their priest. They’d teased him and tagged him and angled to have him take one of their sides over the others, though he never could for long. He had even brushed and braided their hair. This was long ago, and at the time, that fine silkiness in his hands had given him an otherworldly shiver—Kit’s golden, Tessa’s pale, and Lilly’s firelike. It made him kind of mortified to think about it now.
Mortified, but still proud. Because they were his, after all, even if he couldn’t explain how or why. They were Narnia, or Terabithia, straight out one of those old magical books they loved to read out loud: living dream, accessible through some trapdoor in the universe that just happened to be right here where he could reach it—a door that opened into a constantly unknown and yet intimately familiar landscape of balding dolls and hairballs, catfights and tears and egg-salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off and only-green grapes, the kind whose skins were always splitting, overfull of juice. A world of rules and vows and secrets and allegiances and competitions and handshakes and the intoxicating scent of—
Boyd yanked his headphones off his ears to catch his father calling him in. Probably needed him to run an errand. Boyd could guess what kind. He’d been to the bottom of more than one bottle since dawn. Sometimes there were just bad days.
The sun was drooping now, darker red at the center, then bleeding out like a shot animal.
He leaned forward to shut off the engine and got jolted forward as the machine let out a whining grunt. Probably ran over a stray rock or an old shoe. Weird shit ended up out here, who knew how—dragged by wild animals, coyotes maybe, or local kids from his school with nothing better to do (not always a huge difference between the two). Definitely not by Jimmy, though—the dog was too old to drag his own tail most days.
Boyd hopped down off the mower and examined what had gotten jammed in its teeth. In the failing light, he squinted at the shiny piece of crushed plastic for a second, finally identifying the stuck object as an old Barbie, its hair chopped at a crude diagonal, its too-big eyes squished onto either side of a flattened head, one arm bent backward and the other snapped off entirely.
Odd. He used to see these things over at the Malloy house all the time, but they’d outgrown Barbies long ago. The doll had super-shiny golden hair, reminding him of Kit.
A big smudge of dirt darkened its squashed face, and out of some deranged instinct, Boyd thought to swipe it clean with his thumb. This broken detritus of girlhood. This piece-of-shit bit of plastic once shaped to look aspirational and sleek, with its red satiny outfit, all torn up. It seemed, now that he thought about it, kind of slutty and cheap. Kind of sad.
He shoved it into his pocket, kept it like a piece of crucial evidence, this birthing of the backyard muck, a relic, a reminder of the Malloy sisters’ unchanging ever-presence. It would make an okay chew toy for Jimmy, at any rate, he thought as he headed inside to see what his dad wanted now, trying not to wonder too much about how it had ended up out here, on his lawn, in the first place.
It was a mystery, or an omen, and Boyd disliked both, about as much as he disliked bloody hangnails and all of Devil’s Lake. He’d never been particularly good at guessing the truth, or what terrible thing was coming next.
By Katherine Malloy
Devil’s Lake is only half what its name indicates—
more like a pond, more mossy than sheer,
hidden in the preserve past Route 28,
covered in slick green slime all year . . .
except when it freezes over in winter.
But it isn’t frozen yet, not when my story starts,
the tale of my own thawing: ribs like the tinder
of an unseen fire, burning not just in our hearts
but without and around—consuming the forest,
coating the trees with smoke black as ink,
making ash of all that was August.
The lake winks, like it knows I’m on the brink,
like it can see this invisible spark:
I’m waiting for you. You’ll be here by dark.
They’d been shoveling dirt over the coffin for what felt like hours.
The priest said they couldn’t have an open casket, or maybe it’d been the coroner. Her body was too . . . blue. Her lips, her fingertips.
Tessa never saw it—her, Kit—that way, only heard the facts listed in a bland sequence, each one contained and separate: a dot unconnected to any other dots.
The torn clothing and lacy bra.
The truck, abandoned at the edge of the nature preserve out on 28.
Lilly’s frantic confessions, her babbling, all adding up to what the woman in the fitted suit called “a formal accusation,” “a potential testimony.”
And, of course, Boyd’s name, on repeat, in hushed tones, in voices of shock and anger.
It was only the first week of February, and last week had seen some of the coldest nights in years. But winter out here had a funny way of shifting underfoot, and this weekend the ground had started to thaw and the snow to melt—like it remembered its past as disconnected, unwhole, just a collection of molecules that had stuck together for a while and were now content to part.
And so the service, taking advantage of this brief reprieve from the frigid temps, would be held outside, where Kit would have wanted it. She wasn’t outdoorsy per se, but she always talked about the beauty of nature, wrote poetry about it. Still, they should have thought it through first. Tessa had never realized before how these things are planned in such a rush. All the details—the flowers, the chairs, the music—coordinated in a sickening daze within hours of the worst moment of your life.
They should have realized it would be way too cold for this. Tessa couldn’t feel her body, couldn’t feel much of anything.
Maybe that was the point.
The fog, winding its thick, lazy way along the mud and frost, nearly muted the minister’s voice, calling her name. Tessa. Tessa.
It was time.
Her hand plunged into her pocket . . . but the speech she’d written—about what a perfect older sister Kit had always been—was nowhere to be found. She dug her hand deeper, feeling a small hole in the satin lining of her navy peacoat, the width of a couple of fingers, big enough, she realized with a sudden jolt of panic, for a note that’d been wadded up over and over again in her sweaty palms to have fallen through.
A string of alarmed curses flew through her brain and she froze, unable to come forward. She’d never been a good writer anyway—that had always been Kit’s job. And she never wore this stupid peacoat—it smelled like the musty walls of the hall closet. She’d forgotten how beaten-up it was, full of tears and holes—mostly on the inside, where no one could see.
Okay, stay calm.
But after fishing around in the other pocket, it became clear: the note was definitely gone.
“Tessa.” Her name rang out again, and she shivered, feeling everyone’s gaze turn her way. Now would be a great time to perfect her disappearing skills.
Yet another area where Kit had her beat: this time, she’d pulled off the kind of disappearing act where you never, ever come back.
Tessa swallowed the lump in her throat. She should probably be crying now, but her eyes remained a stinging dry and her chest tight, trapped under a thick layer of ice. All she could think was how weird this felt, everyone staring at her.
Most of the time, people overlooked her—and she was fine with that. In between her two sisters, she was the least remarkable. People who didn’t know the Malloy sisters often saw them as variations on the same theme. After all, they were each born only a little over a year apart and shared an uncanny resemblance in the eyes and cheeks. But the differences outshone the similarities when you looked closer.
Lilly: the unpredictable one, the selfish one, the baby of the family—all brawl and tears and flash and fire—hated discord and caused nearly all of it. Kit, to the contrary, was—had been—the good girl, the oldest, the one to whom everyone turned in a time of crisis. Kit was butter melting into toast. She was light through a high stained-glass window or a cat curled on a lap. Everything comforting. When they were kids, their dance teacher called what Kit had “grace.” But it didn’t just appear when she danced. It lived in the way Kit moved through the world—with ease, like she had some sort of privileged arrangement with gravity.
Then there was Tessa, known for tripping on her own feet, a clumsy shadow in Kit’s wake. Not a shadow, actually, but a negative, all bleached out and odd to look at. She had Kit’s blond hair, but paler, and Kit’s big eyes, but wider spaced, one blue and one green, more alien than pretty. Even down to the cells, Tessa was a kind of genetic mash-up. She had this thing called chimerism—which meant that some of Kit’s DNA had slimed off on her when she was still developing in their mom’s womb, left over from Kit’s stay in there. She was mostly Tessa, sure—that’s what the doctors had told her when they discovered the condition, more common than most people think. But she had real hints of Kit within her, too—strands woven through, making Tessa not really, wholly Tessa, but a mess of her and not-her.
Right now, she wished she was anyone but herself.
She pulled her traitorous peacoat tighter around herself and stepped in front of the first row of plastic chairs, turning to look at the crowd gathered in the graveyard behind the church—her mother’s tear-streaked face, Lilly wrenching her threadbare beanie down around her ears.
You can still take it back, Tessa wanted to shout at her.
Lilly’s best friend, Mel, sat beside her, shaking in the cold and looking pale as the snow. Tessa glanced around for Patrick Donovan—she would have expected him to be here, but then again, she didn’t know him that well. He was Lilly’s problem. And he wasn’t here.
Next to Mel came several of Kit’s teachers—her Spanish teacher, Ms. Luiz; her English teacher, Mr. Green, and some pretty woman who must be his girlfriend. A few neighbors.
Incredibly: Innis Taylor, Boyd’s dad. Red-eyed and openly weeping.
And the notable, gaping absence beside him: an empty spot where his son should have been. Would have been, if he weren’t, right now, sitting in the county jail, awaiting trial for Kit’s murder.
He did it, Lilly had told the cops, the special investigator, their parents, through the spinning, sickening blur of the last two days. I saw it. I saw them.
And even if her younger sister hadn’t seen a thing—Boyd’s fingerprints everywhere told the story for her.
Boyd. Her Boyd.
No—not her Boyd.
Staring at the empty chair, Tessa knew she couldn’t go through with this. That saying a bunch of fake words about Kit now would be the worst lie she ever told.
Or it would be the worst truth.
So she did what any sane human would do, or even any half-sane half human, like her.
She ran the fuck out of there.
Ah, the first day of school. Nothing’s quite like it. That’s why I’m finally writing in you. Kit’s the real writer in the family, but it seems like a waste because nothing interesting ever happens to her. Or to any of us.
This year is going to be different, though.
Everyone’s awake, and it sounds like the house is going to come down in all the commotion outside my door. Tessa has spent all morning moaning about how she lost one of her shoes or something (how do you lose just one, by the way?), while sucking on a giant mug of black coffee (which, ew). Kit keeps racing up and down the stairs, putting in her earrings while sorting through notebooks while also carrying on a full conversation with Mom about her after-school plans—some dizzying combo of volunteering, tutoring, and babysitting.
Diary, I don’t care about any of that.
Diary, I have locked my door, and I plan to lock you, too, which is why I can first tell you this:
I’m naked right now. (!!!!)
Not to be vain (vein?), but I’ve been staring at myself in the mirror, feeling ready, finally. I mean, not ready for school, obviously. (!!!) But ready-ready. As in, ready for things to start happening.
I’m a sophomore now. My face is still too big for the rest of me, and the gap between my teeth has not disappeared, despite what Mom keeps saying. As for my boobs, they are bigger than plums but smaller, I think, than oranges. My hips are rounded at the sides but sharp in front. The carpet, newly trimmed, matches the drapes. (Ugh, I really hate that phrase, it’s so gross!!! And why are our bodies supposed to be compared to stuffy old living rooms? Anyway, I finally decided last night that if I’m going to be stuck with fire crotch my whole life—and everyone being able to guess at it—then it may as well be a neat and tidy fire down there!!)
I wonder whether anyone can see me through the window blinds right now.
Okay, not anyone. (Boyd.)
Here are the reasons BND (Boy Next Door) is fated to be my boyfriend:
- He once rescued me from an angry pit bull.
- He protects me from my sisters during snowball fights.
- He lets me go first in board games.
- I’ve just always imagined that he would be my first! Do I need more reason than that?
Hold on, Diary, I’ll be right back. . . .
Yeah no, his blinds are down.
Whatever. Hold on, again. I need to get dressed . . .
Okay, I’m back. Sorry that took so long. I spent all my school-clothes money (and part of Tessa’s leftover budget since what does she need it for when she literally only wears those ratty jeans with tank tops every day?), but it still took me forty-five minutes to decide what to wear. Here goes: a floral jumper from Lupine and a blazer that used to be Mom’s, with the sleeves rolled up. It’s a mix of retro and easy!
I just heard the screen door slam.
And now Boyd is outside honking his truck. He seriously almost made me mess up my eyeliner.
It’s Go Time.
Lilly slammed her diary shut and shoved it under her mattress. “For fuck’s sake, I’m coming!” she called out.
“Let’s have less cursing, sweetie,” her mom said as Lilly burst out of her room with her bag in one hand and took the strawberry Pop-Tart wrapped in two layers of napkin her mother held out to her with the other.
“Sure, Mom.” What the fuck had she even said?
She jogged down the driveway and hopped up into the cab of the truck. Even though Kit had scooted over as far as she could, Lilly still had to shove her way in so she could fit her entire butt and shoulder bag in the car. “This is getting cozy,” she said to everybody.
“You’re welcome to walk,” Tessa replied, taking a sip from a giant to-go mug. The scent of her coffee filled the cabin and probably ruined the smell of Lilly’s hair forever. Tessa was squeezed on the bench seat right up next to Boyd, who sat, obviously, behind the wheel. Next came Kit, and Lilly on the end.
“You’re welcome to not be a bitch,” Lilly told her, shuffling her bag down near her feet so she could finish her breakfast.
Tessa grinned from the corner of her mouth. “Touché.” She sighed dramatically, resting her head on Boyd’s shoulder while he pulled out of the driveway. “Another year. Another opportunity to revel in the glory of DLHS.”
Boyd laughed. “We’re halfway through, Tess. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kit put one arm around each of them, and Lilly got a whiff of her perfume—something with jasmine. “What’s everyone most excited about?”
Boyd shrugged. “Seeing Mrs. Barrington.”
They all laughed. Mrs. Barrington was one of the lunch ladies, and she had eyes only for Boyd.
“Learning geometry,” Lilly said. “Just kidding. Probably wearing all of my new clothes.”
“Advanced English,” Kit said.
Lilly had to snort, despite what Kit said about snorting (that it is not classy).
Tessa sighed. “Well, I’m most looking forward to it all being over in two hundred and eighty-eight days.”
“Tess.” Kit rolled her eyes.
“Okay, then, I’m most looking forward to winter break.”
Classic Tessa. Boyd laughed.
“It’s going to be a good one. I can feel it,” Kit announced to no one.
Tessa sniffed—which was apparently classier than snorting. “Easy for you to say. You’ve aced all your classes. All you have to do is coast this year.”
“Yeah,” Boyd put in. “Didn’t you get like only one B?”
“It was a B-plus,” Lilly said, finishing her Pop-Tart.
Kit turned to her. “How do you know?”
“Because I looked at your report card.” Lilly rolled down the window for some air, trying to not ruin the first day of school by showing up wrinkled and sweaty.
Kit pulled her arms back to her sides. “Lilly, no one gave you permission to do that!”
“Since when do I need permission? We’re flesh and blood, right?” It was hard to explain, but Lilly kind of liked it when Kit yelled at her. Like something she’d done mattered. Besides, it was not fair that Tessa always seemed to know things about Kit instinctively, without even having to ask. It was their whole chimerism thing, which Lilly had honestly never totally gotten. Tessa shared some of Kit’s DNA from birth, and the result was that Tessa had a built-in excuse to act like a moody brat whenever she felt like it, and to claim she “understood” Kit better than anyone. It went beyond biology to more eerie stuff. Like, even though they had different personalities, sometimes they’d say the same thought out loud at the same time. And occasionally when Tessa woke from a nightmare, she’d find Kit was having the same one—or so they claimed.
“Kit, we all know your grades,” Boyd said. He lifted a hand off the wheel to run it through his floppy hair, causing Tessa’s head to bob away from his shoulder and sending a domino effect of shuffling throughout the cabin of the car. “Pretty sure the whole school knows. It’s kind of like a thing.”
Lilly grinned, giving herself an internal high five like she did whenever Boyd took her side.
Kit leaned forward to look at him. “A thing?”
Lilly could practically hear Tessa’s eyes rolling. “Yeah,” Tessa clarified. “An everyone- knows-Katherine-Malloy-is-King-Midas-and-everything-she-touches-turns-to-gold thing.”
“That’s absurd,” Kit said as the truck turned into the parking lot and Boyd swung them into one of the few remaining spots. “And let’s hope it’s not true. Didn’t Midas die alone and unloved?”
“Whatever,” Tessa replied.
Lilly had no answer—she was barely listening by then.
Kit shrugged. “Well, lucky for you guys, I saved all of my notes and study guides.”
“Yeah, lucky us!” Lilly said, already halfway out of the truck. She didn’t care that much about grades, and knew she had a full year before testing for colleges would even matter. She hoped to focus on other types of scoring in the meantime.
And as much as she would have liked to linger and quiz Boyd about the status of his blinds this morning, it wasn’t going to happen with both of her sisters around, like always.
She spotted Melissa and Darcy sitting on the front steps and headed their way, slowing down when Mel noticed her and Dar waved.
Eager was pathetic.
She was working on being less eager.
As she got closer, she noticed Dar had gotten thinner since she’d left in June to spend the summer at her dad’s house; an overlarge black sweater drowned her frame. Mel looked exactly the same as always—in fact, she appeared to be wearing a favorite outfit from freshman year, consisting of tight red jeans, a striped button-down, and a silk scarf Lilly had given her last Christmas. But her smile looked more like a smirk.
Lilly bent for a three-way hug, then dropped her bag and took her spot, a step lower than the other two. Mel passed her a half-finished diet Dr Pepper. It was their tradition to share one before school every single day of the year. It had started sometime in eighth grade and just stuck.
Lilly took a big slurp, then passed the can to Dar. “So what did I miss?”
Dar blew her blond bangs out of her face. “We were just talking about the Donovan kid.”
“Kid?” Lilly knew of the Donovans—the elderly couple who lived on the little cul-de-sac right off 28, at the edge of the preserve. They were on Kit’s volunteer circuit; she dropped off their groceries once a week. Liam Donovan was losing his mind, Kit said. And the wife—Lilly couldn’t remember her name—had apparently gone half blind. Lilly had heard nothing about a kid, though.
“Dude, get with it!” Mel said, grabbing the soda from Dar, taking a huge sip, then burping. “He’s in our grade.”
“How can the Donovans have a kid in our grade? They’re like four hundred years old.” Lilly rolled her eyes. Mel was always dramatic.
“Not their actual offspring,” Dar explained. “Nephew or grandson or whatever. His family tree’s not the point.”
“Right,” Mel added. “The point is, he’s supposed to be hot. And also a criminal of some sort.”
Lilly leaned back as Mel handed her the soda can again. Across the parking lot, Olivia Khan stepped out of her mom’s old Camry in tall espadrilles, her shiny black hair and bright red lipstick accenting her pale brown skin. According to online rumors, Olivia had lost her virginity over the summer, to Jay Kolbry, her new boyfriend, who was known to be a dealer. This was long after Olivia dated Boyd (which was back when Lilly and Olivia were both in eighth grade and Boyd and Tessa were in ninth). Still, Lilly experienced a pang of envy as Olivia walked toward the building, a sly grin on her face.
She turned back to her friends. “Where did you guys hear all this?”
Mel shrugged. “My mom.” Mel’s mother, Joanna Knox, reported for Devil’s Daily, the local paper that, as far as Lilly could tell, mostly ended up being used to cover the floors in Boyd’s house to form an impromptu shit pad when his dog couldn’t be let out for long stretches. Lilly had never read it, come to think of it. Anyway, from what Lilly could tell, the line between journalism and gossip was fairly nonexistent in the Knox household. “I would have texted you guys as soon as I heard, but I was grounded from my phone all day yesterday.”
Lilly smiled, shaking her head. “For what, taking the Lord’s name in vain again?”
“Anyway, his name is Patrick and Mel wants one of us to date him,” Dar filled in, exchanging a quick look with Lilly. It was the save-me look. “I already told her I’m not into lawbreakers.”
So far their group had been, while not exactly peripheral, not prime-cafeteria-table status-worthy either, and it had become clear sometime during freshman year that the pathway to high school dominance was paved with pairs. So last April, Mel had called a meeting between the three of them and determined that they were going to do things differently from then on—they were all going to get boyfriends.
Lilly had resisted at first, until Mel finally got her to confess that she was still clinging to her childhood crush on Boyd (which Mel kindly termed “borderline idolization”). But Mel had said that the what (getting a boyfriend) outweighed the who. Eventually Lilly had seen the merits of her argument: maybe experience was the important thing, and true love would follow.
And so Lilly had made out with Rohan Reddy at Allison Riley’s May Day party, and Mel hooked up with Wesley Abraham at the Abrahams’ graduation party for Wes’s older brother Connor in June. Neither had stuck, though. And as for Dar, she’d hovered in the background, easy not to notice in the end-of-year swirl of parties and drama and goodbyes.
But then, while Mel’s family went away for the Fourth of July weekend, Dar told Lilly to follow her up into the old tree house in her backyard. Lilly would never forget the moment they both sat down cross-legged, facing each other, the old tree creaking slightly as its branches swayed, and Dar cleared her throat, then blurted out that she thought she was gay. And that she didn’t want Mel to find out. “You know what her family’s like,” she’d said to Lilly, a determined look on her face, the same expression she always wore when about to call gin in a hand of rummy.
It was true. Lilly loved Mel like another sister, but the Knoxes were Jesus lovers, gun owners, and big talkers: not the most promising triumvirate of qualities if you happened to be a newly burgeoning high school lesbian.
And so Lilly had promised.
She savored having a secret in her possession—the trust Dar had bestowed on her. She wasn’t used to being the guardian of secrets, but the exposer of them, and this new responsibility had brought her a kind of sorrowful joy. Joy because in some small way she could help her friend. Sorrow because, well, things were complicated, and it had to suck to feel like hiding was your best option.
Of course, it hadn’t been all that difficult, when keeping Dar’s secret meant more guys for her. Still, she couldn’t help but hope the various covert kisses and clandestine grope sessions she’d had in the past few months were building to something real. Something meaningful.
Boyd’s face flashed in her mind.
Mel rolled her eyes, almost as though she was reading Lilly’s thoughts. “It’s obvious that Lilly is as hung up on BND as ever, so I call Patrick.”
As though that hadn’t been her plan all along.
“But,” Mel adds. “Lilly’s going to ask him out for me.”
“I am?” Lilly crumpled the can as the bell rang.
Dar cocked her head. “What is this, eighth grade all over again?”
Mel pushed Dar’s shoulder. Dar suddenly seemed so thin and fragile that even a playful nudge could topple her. “Lilly will do it because that’s what friends do,” Mel said pointedly.
Dar adjusted her huge sweater and stood up. “Whatever you say, Mel.”
Lilly stood too. “Fine, I’ll ask him for you. On the condition that he turns out to be as hot as you say, and depending on the nature of his past crimes. Oh, and also on the condition that you stop referring to you-know-who as BND. He’s going to figure it out!” How many things could it stand for other than Boy Next Door?
“That’s fair,” said Dar, at the same time Mel said, “Picky picky.”
Then Mel smiled—her signature huge grin. She threw her arms around Dar and Lilly. “Thanks, babes. I’m so happy to be with my girls again.”
Dar laughed. “We love you too, but stop suffocating me.”
Lilly fist bumped them both and headed to class, bouncing in her Converse. It was a new year, full of new opportunity. And while at home she might be the baby in a lineup of three sisters vying for Boyd’s attention, at high school, she was just her—a girl with a plan.