Allie gripped the wheel, heading to the cemetery. The death was awful enough in someone so young, agonizing because it was a suicide. The family would be anguished, wracking their brains, asking why. But Allie knew why and she wasn’t the only one. There used to be four of them, and now there were three. They had kept it a secret for twenty years. She didn’t know if she could keep it secret another minute.
Allie drove ahead, her thoughts going back to the summer of ‘99. She could hear the gunshot ringing in her ears. She could see the blood. It had happened right in front of her. Her gut twisted. She felt wrung by guilt. She had nightmares and flashbacks. She’d been fifteen years old, and it had been a night of firsts. First time hanging with the cool kids. First time getting drunk. First time being kissed. First time falling in love. And then the gunshot.
Allie clenched the wheel, holding on for dear life, to what she didn’t know. To the present. To reality. To sanity. She had to stay strong. She had to be brave. She had to do what needed to be done. She should have done it twenty years ago. She’d kept the secret all this time. She’d been living a contents-under-pressure life. Now she wanted to explode.
Allie approached the cemetery entrance. She knew the others would be there. A reunion of co-conspirators. She hadn’t spoken to them after what had happened. They’d had no contact since. They’d run away from each other and what they’d done. They’d thought getting caught was the worst that could happen. Allie had learned otherwise. Not getting caught was worse.
They’d grown up in Brandywine Hunt, a development in a corner of Chester County, Pennsylvania where the horse farms had been razed, the trees cleared, and the grassy hills leveled. Concrete pads had been paved for McMansions and asphalt rolled for driveways. Thoroughbred Road had been the outermost of the development’s concentric streets, and at its center was the clubhouse, pool, tennis, and basketball courts, like the prize for the successful completion of a suburban labyrinth.
Allie always thought of her childhood that way, a series of passages that lead her bumping into walls. Her therapist theorized it was because of her older sister Jill, who’d had an illness that Allie had been too young to understand, at first. It had sounded like sis-something, which had made sense to Allie - her sister had sis. Until one nightmarish race to the hospital, with her father driving like a madman and her mother hysterical in the backseat holding Jill, who was frantically gasping for breath, her face turning blue. Allie had watched, terrified at the realization that sis could kill her sister. And when her sister turned seventeen, it did.
Allie bit her lip, catching sight of the wrought iron fence. Her sister was buried at the same cemetery, the grave marked by a monument sunk into the manicured grass. Its marble was rosy pink, a color Jill had picked out herself, calling it Dead Barbie Pink. Allie had remembered that at Jill’s funeral she had cried so hard she laughed, or laughed so hard she cried, she didn’t know which.
Allie braked, waiting for traffic to pass so she could turn. Gardens of Peace, read the tasteful sign, and it was one of a chain of local cemeteries, fitting for a region of housing developments, as if life could be planned from birth to death.
Her gut tightened again, and she focused on her breathing exercises, in and out, in and out. Yoga and meditation were no match for a guilty conscience. She hadn’t fired the gun that night, but she was responsible. She replayed the memory at night, tortured with shame. She’d never told anyone, not even her husband. No wonder her marriage was circling the drain.
Allie steered through the cemetery entrance. Pebbled gravel popped beneath the tires of her gray Audi, and she drove toward the black hearse, limos, and parked cars. Mourners were walking to the burial site, and she spotted the other two instantly.
They were walking together, talking, heads down. Gorgeous, privileged, rich. The cool kids, grown up. They didn’t look up or see her. They wouldn’t expect her, since she hadn’t been one of them, not really. They hadn’t followed her life the way she’d followed theirs. She was the one looking at them, never vice-versa. That’s how it always is for outsiders.
Allie told herself once more to stay strong. The cool kids believed their secret was going to stay safe forever, but they were wrong.
It was time for forever to end.