Even When You Lie to Me - Jessica Alcott

For the tagline,

and for everything else

The day after I turned eighteen was the day Mr. Drummond left for good.

I was never a pretty girl. I knew it more from people’s silences than from anything they said. They didn’t call me beautiful. They didn’t say I was winsome or sexy or gorgeous. They told me I was smart. They told me I could write. On the subject of my looks there was dead air, like a space in a cracked tooth waiting for a cap that never came. There was something complicit in it, as if they were waiting for me to duck my head and apologize.

Drummond was the only one who ever made me feel any different. And I was the reason he left.

It was my last day of summer, and even though I hated summer, I was dreading the end of it. I stretched out on my bed, annoyed and hot. In summer I was always too hot. Clothes stuck to my skin like a greasy coat of paint. The sheets had twined themselves around my legs during the night, and I kicked them off impatiently. I’d woken up early, nervous about the first day of school, and now my mind wouldn’t slow down. The longer I lay there, the more I thought about it.

My phone rang; it was Lila. “Pool?” She had been lobbying for the pool all summer.

“Ugh, really? Do we have to?”

“It’s our final day of freedom and you’ve come to the pool once. Yes, we have to.”

“But it’s hot outside.”

“That’s the genius of it, Charlie. You go to the pool when it’s hot and the water cools you down.”

“Or—follow me here—you stay inside, in the air-conditioning, and never get hot in the first place.”

“I am not letting you go to the library again. You’re frightening the librarians. You’re supposed to leave at night.”

“They have free books and comfortable chairs and no limit on how long you’re allowed to stay, all right? I checked.”

Lila sighed.

“Fine,” I said, though my pulse sped up.

“Thank you. You could bring Frida.”

“To the pool? I don’t think she’s allowed.”

“We could tie her up outside the gates and let her out in the park after. Good guy bait.”

“I’m not using my dog as some kind of man lure.”

“I’ll be outside in twenty minutes,” she said.

I took a quick shower, blasting water at my knotted hair and finally scraping it back in defeat. It was just going to get wet again anyway. Frida, who’d been sleeping in my room, woofed softly as I left. She was a big dog, a malamute—my dad liked to call her a husky enlarged by 150 percent—but she had the temperament of a semiconscious pillow.

“Bye, Dad,” I called. “Frida’s upstairs if you need her for…napping.”

He appeared in the front hallway. “Off with Lila?”

“Unfortunately,” I said. “You sure you don’t want any help today?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he said. “You should not have to spend your last free day working in the basement with me.”

I had been his assistant over the summer: he was an artist, and he sold most of his work over the Internet. My mother had helped him for years, but just before the summer she’d gotten a new job—she was some kind of bank manager now; I could never remember the exact title—and she’d been working late nearly every day since.

I sighed. “Mom got to you too, then?”

“What did Mom get to Dad about?” My mother came in from the kitchen with her hair in a sun-yellow slick of ponytail, wearing workout clothes that skimmed her body like a tongue. I had on some paint-spattered terry