Alicia Robertson's world is turned upside down when she discovers her mother's lifeless body, and struggles to keep a terrible secret from her seemingly perfect neighbours.
Today should have been ordinary. The small, sleepy town of Caroline, nestled in the quiet hills of Washington, was a seemingly perfect place to raise a family. The townsfolk were courteous and bubbly, someone was always hosting a dinner party, the school had a ninety-seven percent graduation rate, and…there was the fact that almost nothing out-of-the-ordinary ever occurred there; until today.
I was sitting on the school bus, which was alive with conversation and laughter as it drove down Main Street towards the high school. I typically sat alone on the days when the weather was nice, my comfortably small group of friends lived a block away from the school. But I enjoyed the solitude, watching people as they talked to one another on the street corner, or seeing the penguin flirt with the general-store owner, Mr. Quince. “The penguin” was really just a plump woman who always wore black and white ensembles and walked with a slight wobble. She and my mother had gone to medical school together, though they weren’t very close. Eventually, the bus pulled up along the walk before the brick school building. While walking down the aisle, I noticed a fellow senior, Robbie Vance, glancing at me. This wouldn’t normally have fazed me, but something about the look in his blue eyes caused my face to grow hot and I bumped into the young girl in front of me, sending her books sprawling to the floor. I apologized profusely, and lowered my head in embarrassment, avoiding Robbie’s gaze while I hurried outside.
“God Ally, you’re such a dick!” laughed my friend Siobhan, who clearly saw what had happened. Siobhan was loud to say the least. Almost six feet in height and as thin as a rail, she practically dwarfed me. Her vibrantly pink hair was cut above her ears, and she had three earrings in her left ear; perfectly juxtaposed in the traditional town. “You see the penguin today?” she asked as we wandered inside the school. Weaving through the gaggles of students along the halls, Siobhan and I made our way to our usual hangout: under the staircase leading to the auditorium. She was rolling her eyes as I told her about Robbie. “You should just talk to him, I hear he really goes for aggressive girls.” She said, and then held up her hands. “Ok, I’ll drop it for now.” We talked for a little while, about anything. The penguin, today’s English test, what we’d do after graduation. “I’m thinking about getting into film school…seriously!” Siobhan changed her mind about these kinds of things on a regular basis. “What about you?” What about me? I knew what I wanted: to get into an Ivy League school and study something like playwriting or journalism. But my parents seemed to want me to practice medicine.
“I don’t know yet.” Was all I said. Siobhan playfully punched my arm.
“Well you better figure that out, valedictorian!” I sighed. Public speaking wasn’t something I was particularly fond of. The bell rang and we started towards English class. Mr. Molley wasn’t round, but he wasn’t skinny either, and he had this flap of skin hanging from his chin that reminded me of a turkey’s caruncle. As he passed out today’s test on George Orwell’s “1984”, Siobhan gave me a thumbs up and whispered “not that you need it.” There was silence apart from the whispers of questions, the scratching of pencils, and the sighs of frustration. I always liked to take a long time writing tests, even though I could just as easily finish in five minutes. The quiet gave me space to think about my graduation speech. I wasn’t entirely sure of what I would say, could I just wish everyone good luck and be done with it? Every time I started to think about the crowd of people looking at me, my parents…oh god my parents! They didn’t even act excited when I was announced valedictorian; it was like they expected it anyways. And now, thinking about the speech they’re expecting to hear…I wanted to vomit.
“Miss Robertson, are you all right?” Mr. Molley asked, he was standing beside me. “I see you’re finished your test, why don’t you go see the nurse.” And he took my test away, a smile crossing his face as he read my answers. I quietly stepped out of the room, and bumped into Robbie. Damn! I thought, I was on a roll today. I stammered out an apology, which he simply smiled at.
“Were you writing a test?” he asked. “I mean, the bell only rang ten minutes ago.” I scratched my shoulder and shrugged. Robbie smiled again: his teeth were REALLY white. I didn’t notice I was staring until he cleared his throat, and started walking down the hall. “I’ll see you around, Ally.” After seeing the nurse, she decided I should spend the day at home. Walking down the street was one of my favorite things about this town. Window shopping at the antiques store, and the little book store was relaxing. All my worries about the speech seemed to melt away. As I turned the corner onto my street, I saw the penguin tending the picturesque garden in front of her pink house.
“Skipping school?” she called out, shaking her head with a smile. I just shrugged and walked on. “Tell your mother I’m having a dinner party tonight!” Finally, I was home; but something was wrong. My father’s car was parked in the driveway, the newspaper was still on the lawn, two things that were almost never there in the morning. I walked inside, and everything was quiet. My father’s keys were on the kitchen counter, his briefcase was sitting wide open at the bottom of the stairs, papers strewn about the room.
“Hello?” I called out. No answer. I proceeded up the stairs, turning the corner into the hallway. All the doors were closed except for the bathroom, I could hear someone speaking in a muffled voice. “Dad?” I said quietly, peering around the corner my mouth opened, and a garbled scream escaped my mouth: my mother’s naked body was soaked in her blood, deep cuts in her wrists and legs. My father cradled her in his arms, sobbing, but when he saw me he stopped.
“Alicia-“ a shudder wracked his body. “No one can know…do you understand me?” I nodded my head, even though I didn’t understand, at all. “They can’t find out the truth.”