Seven Minutes in Heaven

Page 29


“We should leave the stuff here, how we found it. It’s a crime scene now.” She slid the paperwork and the photos back into the manila envelope and carefully put it back on the ground. Then she picked up Socktopus, hugging him to her chest once more before setting him next to the envelope.
They locked up the unit and went back to the car. Ethan hit the highway, driving carefully but fast. The desert spread out on either side of them, disappearing into darkness just a few feet from the road. Emma clutched the key to the storage unit in her hand.
Hell yeah! I shouted silently, wishing I could slap my sister five. Garrett was finally, finally going down.
Emma pushed through the wrought-iron gate leading to the Banerjees’ backyard, Ethan right behind her. The house was completely dark, the windows gaping like empty eye sockets. The only light was the moon catching on the surface of the pool, vague and shimmering. The sight made her queasy. It was easy to imagine Nisha, facedown, her long hair billowing around her head.
“I hate it back here,” she whispered. Ethan nodded. He slid his fingers through hers and squeezed.
Two enormous French doors connected the patio to the kitchen. To the left, an alarm panel glowed softly red. Emma approached it cautiously, her nerves humming. She couldn’t risk making a mistake. If the alarm went off, Dr. Banerjee would change the code again, and who knew what he’d change it to. For a moment her fingers hovered over the numbers, about to punch in 0907. Then she thought of Garrett, and how he’d already broken in.
“Dr. Banerjee changed the code,” she whispered. “Of course. He would have, after finding Garrett in his house. There’s no way it’s Mrs. Banerjee’s birthday anymore.”
Ethan’s face fell. “You’re right. We can’t . . .” But he trailed off as she spun back to the panel. Before she could second-guess herself, Emma typed in a new number: 0420. Nisha’s birthday. For a moment, nothing happened. She held her breath, bracing herself for the blare of alarms cutting through the silent night, ready to run as fast as she could back to Ethan’s house.
But then, after what felt like forever, the light turned green. She heard a soft click inside the door. They were in.
She turned to face Ethan, a triumphant grin spreading over her face. His jaw hung slack, his head whipping from the panel to her and back again. “How did you know the right code?”
She shrugged. “A hunch.”
Ethan swallowed hard. “Jesus, Emma, you could have set the alarm off.”
“A girl’s got to get lucky sometimes. Even me.” She opened the door silently and stepped inside, her eyes adjusting to the deeper gloom of the kitchen.
The room had been scrubbed top to bottom since she’d last seen it. A strong smell of Pine-Sol lingered on the air, and the bronze fixtures winked in the scanty light. Next to the door, a bowl sat on the floor, overflowing with cat kibble.
I followed Emma’s gaze around the room, remembering the parties and tennis dinners I’d attended at Nisha’s house, standing around the kitchen island with my friends, eating carrot sticks and gossiping. Now the house was silent and empty, like the very walls were in mourning.
A small sphere of light appeared out of the blue. Emma spun around to see Ethan, holding a pocket Maglite out in front of him. It was attached to his key ring. He handed it to her. “We should keep the lights off,” he whispered. “We don’t want anyone to see us from the street. I’ll check the living room and Dr. Banerjee’s office. You take her bedroom. Meet back here in five minutes?”
“Okay,” Emma said, leaning up to kiss his cheek. Then she turned and slipped into the hall, sending the flashlight’s beam ahead of her.
Motes of dust swirled in the pale light. The pictures along the hall seemed to leer at her, grotesque in the dark. She flinched as she stepped on a squeaky floorboard, the low squeal sounding as loud as an alarm in the thick silence. What if Garrett chose this moment to rebreak into the house? What if he arrived only to find that she and Ethan had beat him to the punch? She shuddered at the thought of what he might do.
At Nisha’s bedroom door she paused. Even though she’d already searched this room once, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the evidence was here. She knew from her years as a foster kid that the only safe hiding place was somewhere personal, close to you.
Her heart thudding against her ribs, Emma paused in the doorway, sending the orb of light slowly over Nisha’s things but carefully avoiding the window. Everything was just as it had been the last time she visited. Crystalline vials of perfume sat on top of Nisha’s dresser, next to a small collection of tennis trophies. The creased spines of books faced out from the shelf, neat and alphabetized, and the bedspread was smooth and unruffled. Next to the Compaq laptop on the desk lay a DVD case for the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries—Nisha must have been watching it before she died.
Nothing seemed out of place. Emma hit her fists against her thighs in frustration, her nails digging into her palms. Nisha had found something important—and it was still here. Emma could feel it in her gut. But where would she have hidden something that important?
The thought came to her slowly, like a lens coming gradually into focus. Emma had hidden plenty of things herself—she’d spent her childhood protecting her scant treasures from nosy foster parents and kleptomaniacal roommates. She inhaled sharply. It seemed too much of a long shot, too simple an answer. But it was worth a try. Creeping on the balls of her feet, she pushed the door to Nisha’s bathroom open. A small night-light flashed on from the outlet by the mirror. She knelt down by the cabinet and started opening drawers.
There, in the gloom beneath the sink, was an enormous, Costco-sized carton of Tampax.
She froze, almost afraid to move. Afraid her last decent hope would be quashed. Boxes of tampons had been her go-to hiding place for years. But Nisha couldn’t possibly have had the same secret spot . . . could she?
Slowly, she pulled out the box. Her heart felt still in her chest. She groped inside the carton, past the rows of individual boxes, and at the bottom her fingers closed on something that felt like a tube.
It was a plain manila folder, rolled into a tight spiral and rubber-banded several times. Emma’s head spun as she peeled away the rubber bands and smoothed the folder flat on the ground. Paper-clipped to the outside of the folder was a piece of pink Hello Kitty notepaper. She recognized Nisha’s neat handwriting right away.
Sutton, I’m so sorry. I had a bad feeling about this after we talked, and I had to check. You need to know the truth.
Holding her breath, she flipped the folder open.
On the top page, the words UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA MEDICAL CENTER RECORDS were typed in a large bold font. Under “department” someone had scrawled the word psychiatric in black pen.
When I saw the name written on the form next to PATIENT, it didn’t register at first. The letters were like hieroglyphics, strange and illegible. But then the world snapped into a painful, horrifying clarity.
The name sparked something in my memory, and with a deafening roar began pulling me back to that night in the canyon. And I knew with sickening certainty that finally, finally, I was going to relive the last moments of my life.
I can’t breathe. The shirt collar digs into my throat, crushing my windpipe. I kick my legs furiously, but already I’m seeing spots, and Garrett is much too strong for me. Far below my feet the wind rushes through the ravine with a lost, lonely howl. Garrett’s face is inches from mine, twisted into a mask of fury that’s almost unrecognizable in the moonlight. I dimly register that my shirt is tearing as he shakes me back and forth. I’m going to die here, in this canyon where I used to go camping with my dad, where Thayer and I stole some of our first kisses, where Laurel and I used to tell ghost stories.
Finally Garrett lets go, and a scream erupts from the depths of my ragged lungs, echoing off the walls of the canyon.
But I don’t fall far.
I land in a heap on the ground, crumpled at Garrett’s feet. Inches behind me I can feel the ravine yawning wide. My heart roars in my ears, adrenaline singing in my blood. I’m alive. My fingers curl through the dirt, raw and stinging. My face feels wet, and I realize that I’m crying.
Garrett looms over me, shuddering violently as if the force of his rage might literally tear him apart. Then he turns his face to me, and it’s as red and tear-streaked as my own. He’s crying, too.
I stare up at him, suddenly unable to move, my heart aching. We stay like this for a few minutes: me sitting motionless on the brink of the cliff, Garrett standing there, bruised and broken by his own anger. And in spite of everything that’s happened, I feel sorry for him.
At last he sits in the dirt next to me, his cheeks slick with tears. “I’m sorry.” He reaches out to touch me, but I flinch. He pulls his hand away, looking as wounded as if I’d slapped him.
I wipe at my eyes. The wind makes my tear-streaked cheeks feel raw.
“Were you going to throw me over the edge?” I ask, my voice small in my ears. Garrett gapes at me.
“Sutton, I would never . . .” He trails off. Slowly he holds his hands up in front of his face. Horror dawns in his eyes, and it’s like he’s looking at someone else’s hands, like he’s just now realizing how strong they are, how beyond his control. How close he had been to hurting me. He looks up at me again, and this time it’s fear that pinches his face. “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” he whispers.
I don’t say anything. It doesn’t matter what he wants anymore. Garrett has been too volatile for a long time. The attack on his sister cut something inside of him loose, and he has been out of control ever since.
The stars gleam bluish-white overhead. Garrett is slow to catch his breath, and even after he does, the occasional sob seizes his lungs. Somewhere nearby I hear twigs breaking—probably a possum or raccoon, some night creature waddling clumsily through the bushes.
“Garrett, I need to know. Did you . . . steal my car and chase . . . me?” I ask, not wanting to say Thayer’s name for fear of setting him off once more.
Garrett’s jaw drops, and I can already see the answer in his shocked face. “Someone stole your car and chased you?”
My head swims with the mysteries of this never-ending night. “Yeah . . . kind of.”
Garrett looks sickened. “Do you really think I’d do something like that?”
Our eyes meet. I force myself not to look away. “I don’t know anymore, Garrett.”
He bites his lip so hard a drop of blood wells up. Then, slowly, he crawls close to the edge of the ravine, until his feet are dangling over the side. His body sways slightly with the alcohol still clouding his brain.
“Be careful, Garrett,” I say, an edge creeping into my voice. “This is a really sharp drop.”
He looks up at me, and in the dark his eyes look like fathomless pits. His face writhes in torment, a frantic, miserable expression shifting over him. My heart is suddenly in my throat, and I’m not sure why.