Seven Minutes in Heaven

Page 5


I racked my brain for a memory of my summer with Garrett. I didn’t remember anything suspicious—but then, I didn’t remember fighting the way Laurel said we fought, either. In the days after I first woke up from my death, I’d felt a sort of warm tingle toward Garrett every time Emma saw him or spoke to him. I’d thought for sure I’d been in love with him in life, even if I couldn’t remember why. But now all I felt was an anxious flutter.
“I’ll ask around,” she said finally. “Maybe Charlotte or Mads knows something that could be helpful.” Or Thayer, she thought, though she didn’t say that out loud. Ethan had been jealous of Thayer from the start—and it hadn’t helped matters when he’d caught Thayer kissing Emma a week ago. The very mention of his name was enough to provoke a good half hour of brooding silence from Ethan.
She looked out over the landscape, the mountain air cool in her lungs. A few miles away she caught sight of a hawk drifting lazily on a gust of wind. Ethan opened a bag of gorp and picked out an M&M, popping it into Emma’s mouth. She crunched down on the candy shell and smiled at him. Suddenly she was simply happy to be with Ethan, away from prying eyes. They’d barely been alone since the night of Charlotte’s party, when they’d made love for the first time. The memory sent a flush of bashful pleasure through her cheeks and made her light-headed.
“Did you grow up with all the playground folklore about M&M’s?” she asked coyly. He cocked his head at her.
“You know, the urban legends about what the different colors mean?” She took the bag of gorp from him, picking past the nuts and raisins to find more candy. “Orange ones are good luck,” she said, holding one up. “I definitely need that.” She popped it in her mouth. “Yellow are what you give someone if you just want to be friends.” She dropped a yellow candy back in the bag distastefully. “Red are for confessing when you love someone. . . . Here, you can have this one. And green?” She gave him a wicked grin. “They’re for if you want to get someone . . . excited.”
Ethan’s cheeks were pink, but a dazed grin spread across his face. “Excited, huh?”
She held one up in front of his lips, but he shook his head, pulling her suddenly into his lap. “I don’t need that one,” he whispered against her ear. “You already make me crazy enough.”
Emma’s skin tingled as he pulled her into a passionate kiss, one that gave way to more kisses. All her lingering worries—about the murderer, about Nisha, about her family—drifted away. While she was in Ethan’s arms, she was happier than she’d ever been.
I was glad my sister was getting some action. Emma deserved whatever comfort she could get after all she’d been through, even if her lame attempt at dirty talk had me wishing I could stick my fingers in my ears. But she and Ethan were made for each other—and if there were no other silver linings to the trap my murderer had caught her in, I was at least grateful for that.
A few hours later, Emma pulled Sutton’s vintage Volvo into Ethan’s driveway to drop him off. Across the street, Sabino Canyon loomed ominously. Next door, the Banerjees’ house was dark and silent.
Ethan’s home, a sand-colored bungalow with paint chipping from the siding, was one of the smallest on the block. It looked like it had been nice at one point, but it’d fallen into disrepair. Emma suspected Ethan tried to maintain the place as well as he could, but it was hard for him to keep up with it with his dad gone—Mr. Landry had more or less walked out on them a few years ago, when Mrs. Landry had been diagnosed with cancer.
Ethan turned toward her. “Good night,” he whispered, leaning across the gear shift and placing the softest kiss imaginable on her lips. She closed her eyes. For just a moment, nothing in the world existed beyond the place where her lips met his.
“Good night,” she said, as he pulled away. He gave her a long look, then got out of the car and loped up the driveway to his house. The car’s headlights threw deep shadows around him—long, skinny abstracts of his body. His clean-laundry smell still lingering in the car, she watched him as he climbed the steps to the porch and let himself in.
Emma smiled to herself, touching her mouth with her fingers as if she could somehow hold the memory of the kiss there. She watched as the light in Ethan’s room snapped on a moment later and imagined him sitting down at his desk, opening his calculus book or turning on his laptop, his dark blue eyes thoughtful under his furrowed brow.
Cute Boy Hugely Distracting to Amateur Detective. The headline flashed before her eyes as if it were in print, an old habit of hers. She shook her head to clear it, then put the car in reverse and backed down the driveway.
As she turned onto the street, her eyes fell on Nisha’s house. She paused with her foot on the brake. A low wall with wrought-iron filigree surrounded the yard, but she could see that most of the windows were dark. She could just make out the glimmer of the pool in the backyard. A sharp, painful ache cut through her heart. That was where it had happened.
Emma thought of what Dr. Banerjee had said about Nisha’s room being ransacked. What if the killer hadn’t managed to find what he was looking for? If Dr. Banerjee and the cops had already gone over the room, it was a long shot. But it was still worth a try. She pulled the car to the curb and put it in park.
The motion-activated porch light sprang to life when she was a few feet from the door. In contrast to Ethan’s weed-strewn yard, the Banerjees had a Xeriscaped garden full of white river stones and flowering cacti. But there were signs of neglect here, too—half-rotten fruit lay where it had fallen under a fig tree. Twigs and leaves floated on the brackish water in an austere marble birdbath. As Emma approached the porch, a large tabby cat with matted hair meowed piteously at her, its lamp-like eyes shining in the dark.
Emma stopped at the door. The cat swam around her ankles, a low hopeful purr coming from its throat. She swallowed, her nerve faltering—was it insensitive to ask a grieving father questions about his daughter’s death? What would she even ask, anyway? She glanced behind her at the dark, hulking shape of the canyon. The murderer could be watching her, even now. What if she made things worse for Dr. Banerjee? What if Sutton’s killer decided that he, like Nisha, knew too much?
She rang the doorbell before she could change her mind. The sound of the chime ringing out so suddenly in the quiet evening made her jump. After a long moment, she thought she could hear footsteps, and then Dr. Banerjee flung open the door.
Even though it was just a little past seven, he wore a long tartan bathrobe hanging open over a pair of mesh athletic shorts and a coffee-stained T-shirt that read HOLLIER TENNIS DAD. His thick glasses were askew on his face, making one eye look grotesquely magnified while the other squinted blearily. His hair stood up in a wild cloud around his head.
Before Emma could say anything, the cat streamed past his legs into the dark hallway beyond. Dr. Banerjee watched it go with an abstracted frown. “Agassi?” Then he glanced up at Emma. For a moment he looked blank, as if he did not quite remember who she was. He blinked at her.
“Sutton,” he said at last. “Hello. Did you bring Agassi home?”
“Um, I actually wanted to ask you something. About Nisha.”
His eyes seemed to focus sharply, his look of mild confusion evaporating at once. “What is it? Do you know what happened to her?”
Emma bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Dr. Banerjee. I don’t understand it either.” She shifted her weight. “But I was wondering if I could . . . go in Nisha’s room? I won’t mess anything up. I just want to say good-bye.”
Dr. Banerjee took off his glasses and polished them on the corner of his grimy shirt. When he put them back on, they looked more smeared than before. A sad smile quirked his lips upward ever so slightly. He reached out and patted her elbow. “Of course, Sutton.”
Somewhere in the depths of the house, the cat let out a loud, pleading cry. Dr. Banerjee gave a start. “I suppose I should feed him,” he said vaguely. His vision went a little distant again, as if the effort required to focus his attention had finally exhausted itself. He ran his fingers through his hair and left it wilder than ever. “Just let yourself out when you’re done,” he said, then disappeared down the hall.
The house was almost completely dark. A flower-shaped night-light in the hallway to Nisha’s room gave off just enough illumination for Emma to navigate. Passing the gleaming bronze kitchen, she saw the remains of a week’s worth of takeout piled on the counters. Pizza boxes and Chinese containers towered precariously. A fly circled a half-eaten samosa on a ceramic plate. A fallen pint of Ben & Jerry’s sat in a puddle of melted Cherry Garcia.
Emma had been in Nisha’s room once before, during her second week in Tucson. At the time Nisha had still been a suspect, and she’d snuck in during a tennis dinner to try to find clues. When she snapped on the light now she was surprised at how little it had changed since then. There was no sign of the mess Nisha’s killer had made—it looked like Dr. Banerjee had put everything straight. The purple bedspread was smooth, eight fluffy pillows propped at the head like an ad for a five-star hotel. All of her books were alphabetized on the shelves. The only evidence that someone had recently disturbed the room was a drawer with a broken front panel in the dresser. Otherwise it looked like Nisha could have just stepped outside.
Emma stood uncertainly in the middle of the rug. She didn’t even know what she was looking for, much less where Nisha might have hidden it. She would just have to hope she’d know it when she saw it. While she glanced around, Agassi slunk in around the door and leapt lightly to the bed.
Emma started with the dresser, looking through the neat stacks of sweaters and T-shirts, feeling at the back and under each drawer for a hidden compartment or a note taped out of sight. Nisha had kept her belongings color-coded and perfectly organized, and the sight of her pure white tennis socks arranged row by row sent a surge of grief through Emma. She got on her knees and examined the desk, felt under the bed, and even peeled back the rug on the floor. Nothing seemed out of place. She blew a lock of her hair out of her face and sighed heavily.
Nisha kept her photos behind a glass panel near her headboard. Emma knelt in front of it, her eyes darting over the collage. Most of the pictures were of Nisha playing tennis. There were also a few of her with a woman Emma assumed was her mother, elegant in pearl earrings and burgundy lipstick, and several of Agassi looking glossy and well groomed.
Then Emma noticed a new picture, one that hadn’t been there the last time. It was an older photograph, slightly crumpled, and unframed. It showed three little girls in ice skates, arm in arm and laughing so hard that one of the girls on the end—a tiny blonde girl with hair in pigtails—seemed about to fall. They all wore poofy party dresses, and the girl in the middle had a tiara tucked into her dark hair. It was Laurel, Nisha, and Sutton. Sutton had a tooth missing. A purple glittery star had been painted on one of her cheeks. Emma turned over the picture. It was dated April twentieth, with the words MY EIGHTH BIRTHDAY.