By Ann Ryles
Mary Montrose envisioned duct tape. Silver duct tape. A fat sticky strip across her daughter’s mouth. That would do to keep Kevyn quiet. Sixteen-year-old Kevyn made Mary wish for human mute buttons, snipped vocal chords, or her own loss of hearing.
Mary was lying on the couch in her family room sick with a head cold and fever, resisting the urge to cover her ears with her hands. She had the chills and felt as though ice water were being poured over her hot skin, ripples of cold washing over heat. Across the room, Kevyn peered into a large sunburst-shaped mirror above the fireplace. She was pressing a temporary tattoo of a small black lizard on a spot between her breasts, tugging the collar of her T-shirt down to do so. Her firm, slim, tanned body parts looked as if they could be disassembled into discrete pieces, like smooth plastic Barbie-doll limbs one might lay out on a table. Mary’s own body felt as if it were made of gooey white Play-Doh.
Kevyn harped on about a ride she needed that night. She was going to a friend’s house, the movies, a party, someplace. She couldn’t drive Mary’s minivan, no way, she wouldn’t, why had Mary bought it anyway, when Kevyn had told her not to. Nobody had a minivan. And it was white. With ads for Mary’s floral arranging business painted on the side. If she had to get a minivan, did it have to be white? And did it have to have ads on the side?
With her friends, Mary joked that she and Kevyn had “a love-hate relationship, only without the love.” Then Mary laughed, hoping her laughter didn’t sound shrill and angry, though she suspected it did. “Actually, it’s more of a hate-hate love-hate,” she said. “Three parts hate and one part love.” Everyone seemed to know what she meant; at least, they nodded their heads, which Mary found gratifying. Kevin, Kevyn’s father and Mary’s ex-husband, sympathized. “I hear you,” he said. “But it’s worse for you than it is for me. The mother-daughter thing. It is what it is.”
“Yes,” Mary said. “I guess it is.” Kevin had always had a knack for repeating meaningless catchphrases to great effect.
It, Mary told herself, was a stage, a stage of life during which the most god-awful performances were taking place. It was an off-off-off-Broadway production, so far off Broadway it was in California, right in Mary’s own family room. It was a play in which the star of the show — Mary’s beautiful baby girl — spouted off endless insults and complaints, and audience participation was required. (Mom, how come your legs are so gross and veiny? Don’t know, sweetheart, it’s probably aging. Mom, are you going to wear those butt-ugly Birkenstocks out of the house? I think I shall, lovey, due to my painful bunions. Mom, how come you breathe so loud, it’s like you’re panting, it’s totally like you’re a dog or something. I hadn’t noticed, darling. I’ll try to be quieter. I’ll try, Kevyn dearest, to hold my breath.)
Mary pulled the afghan down from the back of the couch and covered herself with it. She blew her nose into a clump of tissue, wishing Kevyn would leave her alone for once. “I’m sick, Kevyn,” Mary said. “Final offer. Take the van or get a ride with someone else.”
“Someone else,” Kevyn said. Then she grabbed her tote bag and walked out the door to her job lifeguarding at the swim club down the street.
Ten hours later, Kevyn was dead. She was stabbed to death on the front lawn of the Montrose house at approximately 7:30 p.m. Mary wasn’t home. As sick as she was, she’d rallied, forcing herself to attend a friend’s fiftieth birthday party at a Mexican restaurant in town.
Bettina Prebble walked home after she stabbed Kevyn on the grass in front of the Montrose house. Unhurried, she meandered along the curvy, oak-shrouded roads leading to her own house a mile and a half away. The yards she passed were devoid of people, nothing but sprinklers twitching across empty green lawns, shooting out sprays of water that left the grass sparkling with droplets. Now and then Bettina spotted a miniature rainbow in the sprinkler mist. A few dogs barked at her from behind backyard fences. Her backpack bounced lightly against her shoulders; zipped inside was a carving knife that measured twelve inches from the tip of its blade to the end of its handle. Along with the knife, the backpack contained two green apples, a small block of cheddar cheese sealed in a plastic baggie, and a spiral-bound notebook.
Bettina didn’t know whether Kevyn was dead or alive as she headed toward home. Of course, she understood that she’d injured her gravely and realized that Kevyn’s death was the most likely outcome. She’d plunged the knife in deeply and held it there, until Kevyn had fallen down, fallen down and stayed down.
Bettina changed out of her navy sweatpants and maroon T-shirt when she arrived at her empty house. This wasn’t strictly necessary since her dark clothing had only been flecked with small spots of blood not observable to the naked eye. She took the long knife out of her backpack and washed it in the kitchen sink, watching Kevyn’s blood rinse off the stainless steel blade. She returned it to its slot in the wooden knife block on the counter. It was her mother’s favorite knife, the only one she had professionally sharpened twice a year at Vito’s cutlery shop in the mall. Bettina threw away the apples and cheese and tucked the notebook under her mattress. She put the backpack, T-shirt, and sweatpants in a brown grocery sack and stapled it shut. She walked to the elementary school five blocks away and dropped the paper sack in the dumpster behind the school. She encountered no one on her way to and from the dumpster. Sprinklers. Tiny rainbows. Lonely barking dogs.
Back at home, she waited for her mother and father to return from St. Bridget’s Catholic Church where they were attending a spaghetti-feed fundraiser. When her parents arrived, Bettina accepted her mother’s invitation to join her in taking their golden retriever Butter out for her evening walk. Bettina talked to her mother about the usual things, the family gathering next week for her grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday, the CCD class Bettina was preparing to teach at St. Bridget’s, her part-time job as a cashier at Long’s Drugs, and Butter, whom Bettina promised she would bathe the next morning. “Good,” her mother said. “She’s starting to stink.” In the distance, Bettina and her mother heard successive rounds of sirens, each round louder and more insistent than the last. “Do you smell smoke?” her mother asked. Bettina shook her head. “Me neither,” her mother said. “I guess it’s not a fire.”
Bettina marveled at her ability to put Kevyn out of her mind while she walked with her mother. She’d had Kevyn Montrose creeping into her thoughts unbidden so often for the past few years that a reprieve was a relief. After walking Butter, Bettina swallowed two Tylenol PM tablets and went to bed. Before she fell asleep, she went over what had happened, in case she needed to recount it tomorrow, as she expected she would. She wanted to be as accurate as possible.
The most important thing, she thought, would be to let them (them being the police) know that Kevyn had reached out to her first. Bettina had gone over to the Montrose house to say thank you for the birthday card she’d received from Kevyn in the mail three days ago. And also to give Kevyn the old notebook they’d traded back and forth every other day two summers ago, writing each other letters on its pages. “Dear Bet.” “Dear Kev.” Always signed, “XO Infinity. Love, Bet. Love, Kev.” With a P.S. of “BFF,” best friends forever. Often they just drew pictures or doodles for one another, wrote down favorite song lyrics, transcribed each other’s horoscopes, or practiced drawing sketches of hands to teach themselves palmistry. The pages were filled with diagrams of hands marked with the various lines, mounts, and shapes they were memorizing.
Bettina would explain that she’d gone to the Montrose house to release Kevyn of everything. To tell her, I know you don’t want to be my friend anymore. To say to her, point-blank, you are not my friend. That’s how you want it to be and I won’t try to fight it like I have been. She wanted to clear the air with Kevyn so they could say hello in the hall at school, run into each other at Safeway or Long’s or the Commons, without the heavy, hot weight pressing on Bettina’s chest, her eyes turning into instant accusations, and Kevyn staring back at her with her own look that said, I don’t know what to do with you anymore, Bettina. Or more horrible things. You’re pathetic. You’re ugly. You’re an embarrassment. Go away. Disappear.
The birthday card from Kevyn made letting go possible. Especially because Kevyn had signed it in their old way. “XO Infinity. Love, Kev.” The card let Bettina know, as she’d planned to tell Kevyn, You haven’t forgotten how we used to be. You haven’t forgotten that I exist.
Along with the notebook, almost as an afterthought, Bettina had put the apples, cheese, and knife into the backpack. This was because Kevyn liked to eat green apple wedges with sliced cheddar cheese; a dozen times in the past Bettina had brought Kevyn this same snack for her to eat when she finished with swim team practice.
“Oh, it’s you,” Kevyn said when she saw Bettina sitting on the stone bench next to the front door.
Kevyn paused on the slate path. She wore a red lifeguard swimsuit and board shorts laced shut at her waist with a white string. Rubber flip-flops were on her feet, a tote bag slung over her shoulder. Kevyn glanced down at a tattoo of a black lizard on her cleavage and gave it a quick pat with her index finger. Then she looked back at Bettina, her brows slanting towards each other.
“I came over to thank you for my birthday card,” Bettina said, standing up and willing the brick in her chest to dissolve, willing her voice to remain relaxed.
“Right,” Kevyn said. She flipped her hair out of her face and tucked her hands in the front pockets of her shorts “Listen, I wouldn’t have sent it… like, if I knew you were going to make a big deal out of it.”
“But here you are.”
Bettina grappled in the backpack. “I found our old notebook.” Her voice was coming out higher than she wanted it to, her armpits were becoming wet. She held the spiral notebook up. Two hands were traced in black marker on the cardboard of the front cover. The top hand had a B in its center, the bottom hand a K. A border of black infinity signs encircled both hands.
“I can’t take that.”
“Sure you can,” Bettina said. “I brought it for you.”
“No, I don’t want it,” Kevyn said. “I don’t want you to get weird on me.”
“I won’t.” Bettina held out the notebook to Kevyn.
“No thanks,” Kevyn said. She pushed Bettina’s hand away gently. “You should go.”
At Kevyn’s slight push of her hand, Bettina dropped the notebook. It fell to her feet on top of her unzipped backpack. When Bettina bent to pick it up, she glimpsed the knife inside the backpack, its black plastic handle resting on the apples and cheese, its silver blade outlined against the backpack’s blue fabric. Bettina slipped the notebook inside and glanced back up at Kevyn.
Before Kevyn realized what Bettina held in her hand, she stood up and thrust the knife into Kevyn’s abdomen as hard as she could. Kevyn’s mouth was open but Bettina didn’t hear any sounds coming out. Maybe she couldn’t make any noise, because of shock or pain or the way in which the knife had punctured her organs. Bettina watched the look on Kevyn’s face change into something different. A knowingness. Now Kevyn knew. How it felt to have someone turn on you, do the thing you least expected, something that hurt you in ways you’d never felt before. And Kevyn had to feel it until she collapsed on the ground and Bettina left her behind.
What kind of mother was she? Mary Montrose asked herself this question again and again during the police investigation of Kevyn’s death. The police had asked her if there was anyone she could think of who might have wanted to harm Kevyn. The only name that came to her, direct and clear, was Bettina Prebble.
“No, I can’t think of anyone,” she told the police. “Kevyn had tribes of friends. Armies of friends. And no enemies. That I know of.” No one else had mentioned Bettina as a suspect. And why would they? Mary reasoned. Why should she? It wasn’t such an unusual thing that had happened between them. Two girls, close friends until high school, then a parting of ways. An old story. No one seemed to remember the friendship anymore, except Mary.
She recalled the final summer that Kevyn and Bettina — friends since second grade — had been close. It was two years ago, when the girls were fourteen. That summer the girls had worn identical plastic loops around their wrists, knockoffs of the yellow Lance Armstrong LIVE STRONG bracelets. Theirs were turquoise and read BEST FRIENDS FOREVER. Mary thought they were too old to wear such babyish bracelets, teased them about it, but they didn’t care. They wore them along with little girl plastic barrettes shaped like butterflies and tie-dyed sweat socks. They spent their days at the swim club and their evenings wrapping locks of each other’s hair in bright embroidery thread, attaching pewter charms of stars, suns, and moons to the ends of their colorful snakes of hair while they watched reality TV shows — Big Brother, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Bachelor, What Not to Wear. They became absorbed with teaching themselves how to read palms, poring over websites and books on hand reading they’d checked out of the library. Once, they’d inked their hands black and made handprints in the notebook they exchanged back and forth. The ink was supposed to have been washable, but it wasn’t, and their hands had remained stained purple for weeks after, as if they had been soaked in berry juice or red wine.
A few times the girls asked if they could read Mary’s palm, but she’d refused. “I don’t want to know my future before it happens,” she said. “Better to wait and see.” Sometimes when she was alone, she traced the lines on her hands and studied the length and shape of her fingers, wondering what the girls would predict for her, if she’d let them.
In July Mary had taken them on a weeklong trip to Hawaii. Bettina was always polite, good company, and she made traveling with Kevyn more enjoyable, providing a buffer between mother and daughter. Before the trip, the girls had saved their own money to pay to swim with dolphins at the hotel.
The day before they were scheduled for their hour-long dolphin adventure, as the hotel called it, Kevyn had awakened Mary in the night. “What’s wrong?” Mary said. “Are you okay?” Out of habit, Mary touched Kevyn’s cheek, feeling for a fever. Without answering, Kevyn took Mary’s hand and led her to the bathroom of their darkened hotel room, leaving Bettina asleep in the bed she shared with Kevyn.
Kevyn sat on the edge of the bathtub in baby doll pajamas. “I’m afraid,” she said.
“Of what?” Mary asked. Kevyn looked as if she might begin to cry.
“The dolphins.” Kevyn bit her lip and reached for her ears with both hands, spinning her stud earrings.
Mary sat down next to Kevyn and rubbed her back.
“Sweetie, don’t do it then. You don’t have to.”
“What about Bettina?”
“She’ll do it alone. She’ll be fine.”
“Don’t say anything. I still might.”
For the rest of the night, Kevyn slept in Mary’s bed, pushing her back up against Mary’s torso, pulling Mary’s arm across her body, holding Mary’s hand in hers. The ends of Kevyn’s long hair tickled Mary’s face, and she smoothed the blonde locks down, flattening them against her daughter’s back. Mary remained awake for a long time, listening to Kevyn’s breathing. When Kevyn fell asleep, she dropped Mary’s hand and rolled away, turning over so that she faced Mary. Mary stared at her daughter sleeping on the other side of the bed with her eyes closed, her face expressionless, her body still. She couldn’t remember the last time Kevyn had crawled into bed with her and snuggled up like that.
The next morning at breakfast Bettina played with her waffles and kept quiet. “I don’t know about the dolphins,” she finally said. “I’m not sure. All those teeth.”
“Me neither,” Kevyn admitted, and both girls smiled with relief.
In the end, the girls had gone through with the dolphin adventure, holding hands and clutching each other for bravery as they got into the pool. Mary videotaped them and took dozens of pictures. Back home, Mary enlarged and framed a picture of them in the water with the dolphins, placing it on a shelf in the family room. When the friendship started to cool, Kevyn had asked her to put the picture away, and Mary had.
In truth, it had become hard for Mary to look at the picture. She missed Bettina, who had always been the other child in the house, sitting at the kitchen table with Kevyn, waiting for breakfast with mussed hair and drowsy eyes so many mornings after sleepovers. She was the second child Mary would have liked to have had, if her marriage to Kevin had lasted long enough.
But it was more than that. Bettina gave Mary something Kevyn didn’t. There was a different note in her voice that gave Mary a sense of appreciation, of cherishing. “Can I give you a good night kiss too, Bettina?” Mary would ask after announcing lights out for the girls and ordering them into their sleeping bags. “I guess,” Bettina would say. “If you want.” And as she bent to kiss her, Bettina would hug her more tightly than Kevyn, and remain in the embrace a second longer. Bettina was from a big family, the youngest of six, a late-in-life child five years younger than her next oldest sibling. So Mary understood how her small attentions could mean more to Bettina than Kevyn. When Mary mashed aspirin in jam because Bettina couldn’t swallow pills, or sewed a missing button onto her shirt, Bettina’s gratitude touched Mary.
Mary had shared a lot with Bettina. It was Mary who had helped Bettina when she got her first period during a day of skiing at Homewood; it was Mary who’d taken Bettina to the ER for a broken wrist while her parents were away attending a wedding.
Bettina had started working at Long’s Drugs in town after the friendship ended. When Mary saw her at the store, she always stalled until Bettina was busy ringing up another customer, so she could pay at a different register. It seemed to Mary that all the ease that puberty had miraculously bestowed upon Kevyn had been given in equal measure as awkwardness to Bettina. She had a fuzz of dark hair on her upper lip and her black, shoulder-length hair always seemed in need of a shampoo. Her teeth were straight enough not to require braces, but lacked the perfection of orthodontics. And though she had a lithe figure, she slouched as if she were ashamed of herself. The few times Mary had talked with her, Bettina had spoken so softly Mary couldn’t hear her, and Mary had to ask her to repeat herself.
Mary didn’t blame Kevyn for moving on to a different set of friends who were more like her. The gilded girls, she’d christened Kevyn’s new group, all of them unnervingly poised and self-assured, four of them bearing the same name spelled differently: Kaitlyn, Caytlyn, Kaetlin, and Caitlin. Mary didn’t know what to make of them with their clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch, blonde highlights supplied by salon colorists, Hummer limos for the school dances, second houses in Tahoe or St. Helena or Carmel, jewelry from Tiffany, the very latest cell phones, enormous designer sunglasses, and little diamond-studded gold rings glittering in their belly buttons. Mary and Kevin refused to give Kevyn as much as these girls had — wouldn’t have done so even if they could have afforded to — but Kevyn held her own, exuding as much confidence as any of them.
Just when Mary was ready to write off the gilded girls entirely, girls she hoped Kevyn would outgrow by the time she went off to college, they surprised her, Caytlyn W. showing her pictures on her camera from the spring break she’d spent building houses with Habitat for Humanity in Tijuana, and Kaitlyn S. telling Mary how “totally into” Bertolt Brecht she’d become when she’d attended a drama camp for teens at Yale last summer.
Yet Mary knew it must have been painful for Bettina to be the one left behind. She still kept a picture of Bettina and Kevyn tucked in her wallet, a buddy picture from sixth-grade soccer with their arms around each other in their yellow team jerseys.
As deep as the deepest ocean, as high as the highest mountain, as far as the farthest star, that’s how much I love you, Mary had told Kevyn when she was a child, talking like a mother in a storybook. That’s what Mary’s grief for Kevyn was like too; the dark twin of love, as vast and unfathomable and enduring. Friends suggested therapists or support groups. “No,” Mary said, “I’ll stick with the meds, pharmacology all the way.” What was the point of trying to articulate it? Mary thought. Why bother? She might very well smack the face of the next person who dared mention Tuesdays with Morrie or When Bad Things Happen to Good People. How about good things happening to bad people? she wanted to quip, spitting out her lame joke in fury. Or bad people and bad things all at the same time? And forget about Tuesdays with Morrie, what about Saturday nights wasted off your ass in your dead daughter’s bedroom listening to Melissa Etheridge belt out It only hurts when I breathe? Those books were shit. They should be burned, censored, outlawed. There were no sufficient words for what this was. “My child is dead.” If you were alive to speak those words, you didn’t have to say anything else. Anger, Mary decided, was the best stage of grief.
Mary didn’t think she could bear it if Bettina were responsible for the loss of Kevyn. No one had suggested she was; nothing pointed to Bettina. The police believed it was an outsider who’d done it, a stranger, an opportunistic criminal. But images of Bettina as a child came to Mary in her dreams, almost as often as Kevyn appeared. Bettina showing Mary a ladybug she’d caught, cupping it carefully in her small hands. Bettina with a stripe of zinc oxide across her nose at the swimming pool. Bettina helping Mary crack an egg into pancake batter for a Saturday morning breakfast. Though she’d never been religious, when she woke in the morning after a dream about Bettina, Mary began reciting an improvised prayer: “Dear God, please spare the remaining.” Her words felt crude and unnatural, but they also gave her comfort.
The day that would have been Kevyn’s seventeenth birthday arrived in December, six months after her murder. She had been a Christmas baby, born Christmas Eve morning and leaving the hospital on Christmas Day in a tiny Santa hat designed for dogs that Kevin, full of new-daddy exuberance, had purchased at a convenience store and brought to the hospital. They’d enclosed pictures of Kevyn in her little pooch’s hat with the birth announcements. Mary remembered it all, thinking she’d never muster the courage to look at those pictures or handle the small red hat again.
The memorial shrine Kevyn’s friends had established in front of the house near the telephone pole by the curb, with its flowers and stuffed animals and notes, was beginning to dwindle. The day before Kevyn’s birthday, Mary had watched some kids tie a bunch of red and green helium balloons around the wooden pole, along with a huge Mylar balloon in the shape of the number 17. Someone else had placed a couple of poinsettias at the edge of the curb, their pots wrapped in gold foil and red ribbons. Soon, Mary knew, no one would leave anything there for Kevyn at all.
Two weeks after Kevyn’s seventeenth birthday, Mary’s telephone rang. She answered it in the kitchen where she was sitting on a stool at the counter eating a dinner of ramen noodles, watching the evening news with the volume turned off.
It was Bettina.
She had sent a condolence card in the mail and attended the memorial service, but other than that, she and Mary had only brief exchanges when they bumped into each other around town. A few hellos and how are you’s. Whenever she saw Bettina, Mary was compelled to say her prayer. “Dear God, please spare the remaining.”
“Mrs. Montrose,” Bettina said now. Her words sounded strange and formal. Bettina had always called her Mary in the past. “I didn’t want to call you on Kevyn’s actual birthday. I didn’t think I should do that.”
“It was a hard day, Bettina. Especially with the holiday. You were right to wait. It’s nice you’re calling now. You knew Kevyn as well as anyone.”
“I didn’t forget,” Bettina said. “I thought about her all day long.“
“I’m glad,” Mary said. “I did too.”
Mary glanced at the muted television. A police officer was on the screen, a string of yellow crime-scene tape strung behind him. Mary picked up the remote and turned the TV off.
“I think about you, too, Bettina,” Mary said.
“Me too,” Bettina said. “I mean, I think about you.”
Mary walked out of the kitchen and into her living room. She looked out the window at the shrine for Kevyn illuminated by the streetlight. The birthday balloons had deflated and their shriveled remnants dangled toward the ground from their strings. The leaves of the poinsettias stood full and erect, though their bright red color wasn’t visible in the dusk.
“I was wondering,” Bettina said. “Does it bother you… how nobody’s been caught? I mean, would you feel better if they held somebody responsible?”
“I don’t think about it like that. I don’t think it would change things for me. People think it would, that it would make me feel better. But I don’t think so.”
“They’re saying it was senseless. In the paper. At school. They’re saying it didn’t happen for a reason. What if there was a reason?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Bettina.” Mary pressed her hand against the window glass. It was cold against her skin and she held it there.
“The truth is important, Mrs. Montrose.”
“Sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s not. You’re a good girl, Bettina. I know that. That’s the truth.” Mary took her hand off the glass and flattened it against her chest and breathed deeply.
“If you don’t tell the truth, Mrs. Montrose, you can’t be forgiven.”
“A person who knows the truth can always forgive themselves. Even if no one else knows it. Or ask God to forgive them.”
“I started writing her letters again,” Bettina said. “In this old notebook we had. Maybe you could read them? If you wanted to.”
“I don’t think I should, Bettina. You wrote them to Kevyn, not me. You keep them to yourself. I’m going to let you go now. I’m not up to talking anymore tonight. Thank you for calling. Good-bye. Take care.”
Mary pressed the phone off and reached for the string to lower the window shade. She sat on the floor in the dim room, pressing the phone off and on again, the TALK button glowing red then not, the dial tone buzzing, then not. And she kept doing this for some time, waiting until she felt calm enough to stand up and continue on with the usual routine of her night. “Dear God, please spare the remaining,” she murmured as she lay alone in her bed, waiting for sleep.
Two days after Bettina’s phone call, the police informed Mary that Bettina had confessed to Kevyn’s murder. After a three-day trial, Bettina was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security youth facility.
There was a deluge of press coverage, even more than there had been in the immediate aftermath of Kevyn’s murder. Reporters from People, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Rolling Stone, in addition to the local press, contacted Mary. She never said anything against Bettina, only that Bettina had been a close friend of Kevyn’s for many years. “I always thought she was a good girl,” was the one quote from Mary that appeared in every article about the murder after Bettina’s confession.
Mary collected the articles in a manila file that she labeled “NEWS,” along with the articles that had been printed right after the murder, which she had gone back and gathered at the library. When she read all the articles in order, first to last, she saw how the story of Kevyn’s death had been recast after Bettina’s confession. Kevyn, the popular and pretty lifeguard who died as a result of random violence, was now painted as someone who was part of an elite group, someone who shunned others when they didn’t measure up. And Bettina became known not only as a killer, a lonely, sick girl who didn’t fit in, but also as an object of sympathy. The reporter for Rolling Stone wrote a follow-up piece describing all the letters he had received in support of Bettina, requesting her address, girls who wanted to let Bettina know she had a friend in them. I can understand how she felt, I can see how it could happen, the girls wrote. Girls like Kevyn, they don’t know how bad they can make you feel just because you’re not like them. A terrible television movie was made about the murder, the Kevyn character portrayed as cold and callous, the Bettina character as cloying and insecure. After the movie became available on DVD through Amazon, Mary read the online customer reviews from teenage girls saying “how true” they thought the story was.
When Bettina became eligible for parole, Mary didn’t protest, though Kevyn’s father did, so that Bettina ended up serving a full seven years of her nine-year sentence. From the parole documents that were sent to her, Mary learned that Bettina had graduated from high school with straight A’s, and that she had made a boyfriend at the school inside the youth facility.
Soon after Bettina’s release, Mary heard a rumor in town that Bettina had become a reservations agent for United Airlines. Mary got wind of the gossip in an aisle of the local Hallmark store while browsing for cards, where she overheard two unseen women on the opposite side of the display rack talking about Bettina and her supposed new job. Whether it was true or not, Mary didn’t know. But she began to phone the airline’s reservation line. She called at least twice a day, programming the 800 number into her phone’s speed dial. She called at different times of the day and night, wondering if she would by chance someday reach Bettina.
“Hello, this is Bettina,” she imagined a voice saying at the end of the line. She realized that Bettina might have changed her name, but if she had, Mary thought she would still recognize her voice, even if she went by Lauren, or Jessica, or Victoria. And when she heard the name Bettina, or recognized the voice, she would say, Yes, hello, this is Mary, Kevyn’s mother. How are you, Bettina? Are you all right? Could you tell me whether you think you have been spared? That was always my wish for you.
And then she would ask Bettina about Kevyn’s hands, which Mary had become curious about lately. Did Bettina remember Kevyn’s hands from the summer they’d studied palmistry? Could she tell Mary about Kevyn’s Life Line, Heart Line, Luck Line, Fate Line? Could she? Mary had never studied Kevyn’s palms, never traced their lines with her fingers, but Bettina had. Bettina might know. Bettina was the only one who would know.
Or, Mary thought, she might not talk at all if she reached Bettina. She might just wait silently on the other end of the phone for Bettina to ask her the question all the agents asked her, How can I help you today? and then hang up.
Ann Ryles is a graduate of the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. She was a finalist for the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a semi-finalist for the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Konundrum Engine Literary Review, and Stirring: A Literary Collection. She lives in Moraga, California, with her husband and their two daughters.