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Dark Roads



JUNE 2018

The door creaked open behind me. Footsteps shuffled across the floor to where I lay on my side, facing the wall and scrolling through photos on my phone, videos. He stopped inches from the bed. He thought he was being sneaky, but the mattress dipped as he leaned over, breathing across the back of my neck, stirring the hairs there. Little puffs of bubble-gum-toothpaste-scented air.

“Hailey? You awake?”

I rolled over, met my little cousin face-to-face. His brown eyes were delighted, his dark hair damp and spiking out in all different directions like he’d rubbed a towel over it. He climbed up beside me, sprawled on his back, his head on my other pillow, and kicked one of his legs in the air. He was wearing shorts and his knees were scratched. He smelled of suntan lotion.

“Are you still sad?”

I blinked hard. “Yes.”

He flipped onto his side, squirmed closer, and ran his toy car up my shoulder to my neck with a vroom, vroom sound. “Mommy said I’m not supposed to bother you.”

“So why are you in here?” I narrowed my eyes, but he just giggled and bumped his head under my chin, his fine hair tickling my nose.

“Can I come with you if you go to the doctor?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Vaughn said if you didn’t get better soon, they would take you to see the doctor. They have toys in the waiting room.” He looked at me hopefully.

“I’m not sick.”

Lana’s voice called out from the kitchen. “Cash? Where are you?”

His eyes widened. “Here, you can sleep with Billy. He’s my favorite.” He shoved a red truck into my hand and scurried out of the room, socks sliding as he rounded the corner.

I put the truck on my night table. My water glass was empty, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I sat up and hung my head, tried to run my hands through my hair, but it was all in knots. My phone buzzed on the bed. I swiped my thumb across the screen. Jonny.

Come to the lake tonight.

I texted back. Not in the mood, loser-face.

It might help, lame-ass.

I pushed the truck back and forth with one finger, its wheels squeaking on the wood surface. The lake. I hadn’t been there for weeks. The water would be getting warmer. I listened to the noises out in the kitchen. Lana banging dishes, Cash pleading for more cookies. They smelled good. Maybe I’d feel like eating today. I took a shaky breath and messaged Jonny back.

I’ll think about it. Text you later.

* * *

The hallway was lined with photos of Cash as a baby, then as a toddler, the most recent one with his baseball bat over his shoulder. Photos of Vaughn and Lana on their wedding day. Cash standing between them, holding their hands and smiling proudly in his suit. A painting of an RCMP officer on the back of his horse, next to an official certificate. I peered closer. Erick Vaughn. I’d forgotten his first name was Erick. Even Lana didn’t call him that.

I walked into their country-cute kitchen with the scrubbed-clean butcher-block counters, the cheerful yellow bowl of red apples.

My aunt Lana was standing at the counter, blending something. The ice made loud crunching sounds as it broke up. She spotted me out of the corner of her eye and shut off the machine.

“Hailey!” She gestured to the green slush. “Want to share a smoothie?”

“I could use some coffee.”

“Sit, sit. I’ll get you a cup.”


She set down the coffee, then flitted about the kitchen, cutting fruit and arranging pieces on a plate with cookies. She carried it over and placed it in front of me. She’d peeled an apple and orange, slicing them into careful sections as though I were six like Cash.

She sat across from me. Her hair was as black as my mom’s had been, but Lana’s was cut in a sleek bob that skimmed her toned shoulders. She did yoga and Pilates, got up early and made Vaughn breakfast. Ironed his uniforms, always greeted him at the door. I wondered if it was hard being the sergeant’s wife. If she worried that he might not make it home one night. I used to worry about Dad when he drove up the mountain alone. Turned out I was right to be scared.

Cash looked at me from where he was building something with Legos in front of the TV. I stuck my tongue out. He grinned, all gap-toothed, then he saw my cookies and frowned at his mom.

“No fair!”

“When you clean your room, you can have more too.” Cash groaned, and she turned back to me. “Remember, before you shower, that you need to leave the window wide open. We haven’t gotten the fan fixed yet. If you need more shampoo and conditioner, soap, let me know.”

“I can buy my personal stuff. I was hoping to get a job at the diner.”

“Oh, if you want, but there will be a little money after the estate settles, and Vaughn was planning on investing some for your college fund. Maybe get you a car.”

“There might not be much.”

She set down her fork. “We should start sorting through your dad’s belongings.”

“Can’t it wait?”

“Well…” She looked so uncomfortable that somehow it made it all seem worse. More final, if that was even possible. “Vaughn thinks we should list the house soon, so it can sell this summer for a good price. He knows someone who wants to buy your dad’s tools and—”

“No.” When I saw her startled look, I added, “They’re mine.”

“What are you going to do with tools?”

“Store them at Jonny’s.”

Lana wrinkled her forehead at the tone of my voice. “I’m sure Vaughn wouldn’t mind if you wanted to put them in our garage.”

“I don’t know…” I mumbled. “He keeps it so clean.”

She searched my face. “He makes you nervous.”

He made everyone nervous. I shook my head, but I couldn’t meet her eyes, and she sighed.

“I know you kids call him the Iceman, but he’s not always like that. You see how he is with Cash. He’s only tough because he cares about this town.”

Yeah, Vaughn seemed okay with Cash, considering he wasn’t his father, and didn’t complain about the toys left lying everywhere or having to watch the same Disney movies on repeat, but when Vaughn was in uniform, he’d ticket someone for doing a few kilometers over the limit, then get them for having a burnt-out license plate light. He had tossed people in jail overnight just for arguing with him. I’d never met Lana’s first husband, some photographer in Seattle who left her broke. He didn’t visit Cash. When she moved back a couple of years ago, she met Vaughn at a memorial for the highway victims. Now she only had to work part-time at the florist’s, drove a shiny Acura with leather seats, and lived in a four-bedroom house. It was like there were two Vaughns. I didn’t want to be around either of them.

“Everything’s just so different.”

Lana reached over and held my hand. “I know, give it some time. We don’t have to clear out the house right away. It’s so beautiful. It will sell fast.”

I shaped my lips into a polite smile. “Thanks.” I pulled my hand away slowly, hoping she wouldn’t notice anything was wrong, but she was still giving me that concerned look.

“Vaughn has a Moose Lodge meeting tonight. How about we make popcorn and watch a movie? Or we could just talk?”

“Some of my friends are going to see the new Avengers at the theater and I thought I might meet up with them. I’ll take my bike, so you don’t have to drive me.” I didn’t want to lie, but I had to get out of here for a few hours. Jonny was right. I needed the lake. The woods.

“Okay. Well, don’t stay out too late.” She searched her mind like she was trying to think of an appropriate curfew for a seventeen-year-old. “Maybe eleven?”

“It’s a long movie and we might get some food after.”

She looked at me, hesitating, and I realized she wasn’t sure if she should be firmer. It was just as weird for her as it was for me. This new relationship.

“I’ll text you.”

“That would be great.” Her face relaxed. I got up and took my dishes to the sink, put them away, and slipped a couple of cookies under my sleeve.

“I’m going to have a shower.” Before I left the living room, I crouched beside Cash, dropped the cookies into his hand, and whispered into his ear, “Thanks for the truck.”

* * *

Four texts—one asking if I’d gotten to the movie theater okay, another asking me to text her when the movie was over, then two more when she thought I was at Dairy Queen. Hope you’re having fun! Moments later: Let me know when you’re on your way home. Except that their house wasn’t my home. I texted that my battery was dying. I’d try to be back by eleven.

I shoved my phone into my bag, wrapped my arms around my knees, and pressed my face against my cold skin. Was this what it was like to have a mom? Would my mom have texted all the time? I didn’t remember much about her, little things like her reading me stories and doing cute voices, the smell of her oil paints. Dad said she was easygoing and fun, but she died when I was five. Maybe she would have changed. Maybe we would have argued.

Dad would say I should give Lana a chance. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t around for most of my life. When Mom got sick, Lana had called every day, sent flowers, and she visited at the end, when Mom was dying, and stayed for the funeral. She tried to keep in touch, but Dad and I were happy doing our own thing, and by the time she did move back, we were strangers.

My thoughts were broken by a scream as one of the girls leapt off the dock into the lake—a black abyss at this time of night. People stood around with flashlights and lanterns. More splashes, then laughing. Music pulsed across the water—southern rap with a lot of bass. I squeezed my eyes shut, focused on the heat coming off the bonfire, the flickering orange light. My shirt was almost dry, the bikini top string tangled in my hair, but my bottoms were still damp under my cutoffs.

Someone sat beside me, bumped my shoulder. I opened one eye—then both when I realized it was Jonny. His chest was bare, tanned flesh in goose bumps, and his board shorts dripped onto the sand. He stared into the fire with his arms resting loosely on his bent knees. I dragged my fingers through the fine grains, swirled them into a motocross track.

“You need to improve your speed on the corners.” I pushed a finger hard into a groove. “I went over the video from your last race. You kept your foot on the rear brake too long.”

Jonny glanced down and grinned, his white teeth flashing. “Thanks, Coach.” He wore his dollar-store Ray-Bans on top of his wet hair, deepened from its usual soft brown to chocolate. He was letting it grow out in tousled waves, like a surfer, his sideburns blending into the shadow along his jaw. His shape felt bigger next to me. I didn’t know if it was because he was putting on more muscle from working longer hours on the farm, or because I felt so small lately.

He met my eyes. “You okay?”

Copyright © 2021 by Chevy Stevens

Dark Roads
by by Chevy Stevens

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250133599
  • ISBN-13: 9781250133595