The Good Liar, p.22Catherine McKenzie
“Not in this case, though.”
“If anything, there’s too much story.”
“Is that even possible?”
He shrugs. “It can be hard to keep three narrative threads balanced. And right now, I have two threads mixing, and though I have no idea what it is you’re about to tell me, I suspect things are going to get more complicated from here.”
“Oh, the tangled webs we weave.”
“Said the spider to the fly.”
“Interesting choice of response.”
“Nah, I just couldn’t remember the rest of that line.”
“Somehow, I highly doubt that.”
I try another sip of coffee. It’s cool enough, but I can’t taste if it’s good or bad given my scalded tongue. When did every little thing in my life start feeling like a metaphor?
“Am I right?” Teo asks.
“About why you wanted to meet.”
“So what is it?”
“I need to establish some ground rules first.”
He leans back. “Such as?”
“I’m going to tell you something, but you’re going to have to take it on faith that what I’m saying is true. I’m not going to be able to tell you how I know it, and if you try to find out, I’ll get your funding pulled.”
“Whoa, wait. What?”
“I want you to know how serious I am.”
“If I tell you I’m not going to do something, you can trust me.”
“Of course you can. What have I ever done to make you think you couldn’t?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Make me think you like me, ask me out, then tell me you can’t see me anymore the second it might come out that we’re dating. Or whatever the hell we were doing.”
“That’s not what happened.”
“It’s exactly what happened.”
He looks at his hands. “Okay, factually, yes, maybe. But you’re speaking as if I meant to hurt you, and I didn’t.”
“Maybe not, but you did.”
“Yeah, well, join the club.”
Neither of us speaks for several moments. I’m doubting the wisdom of coming here, asking for his help. But I wanted to see him again and not just in the confines of an interview.
“Is that the only condition?” Teo asks eventually.
“I’ll also need your help.”
“What I’m going to tell you needs to be investigated. It needs to be independently confirmed. I don’t know how to do that, but I think you do.”
“And it’s related to the documentary?”
“Why do you think that?”
“She seems the most likely candidate. I’ll do it. But I want something in return.”
“One more interview with you. You’ve been holding back, I’m not sure what, but something. And part of the reason I did what I did was that if I were doing my job properly, I’d be looking into what that is.”
“You want to investigate me?”
“No, I don’t. That’s the problem. I’m more interested in preserving your privacy than in getting to the nitty-gritty. And I shouldn’t be. Not if I want to make the film I think I can.”
“So that’s why.”
“Yes. In part.”
“What would I have to do?”
“One more interview, like I said. But you tell me what it is you don’t want me to know.”
“And, assuming there is something, you’ll include it in the documentary?”
“That depends on what it is, I guess. But probably. That’s the idea.”
“I’m going to have to think about that.”
“I understand. So no agreement today?”
“I guess not.”
He picks a piece off the top of his muffin. “I don’t suppose you could give me a preview of what this is all about?”
“It was worth a try. But you have to know the suspense is killing me.”
THE BIG DIG
When Kaitlyn woke up in another unfamiliar bed in another basement, she thought she was dreaming. It was later than she usually slept, almost eight. She felt a moment of panic. Had she forgotten to set her alarm? Were the twins wandering around the house unsupervised? No, wait. This wasn’t Westmount. And Andrea would’ve woken her up anyway, if that were the life she was still in. No, she was in Chicago. In Cecily’s house. Told to stay in the basement until further notice.
Cecily and Tom had renovated it several years back in anticipation of Cecily’s mom moving in. Only she hadn’t. Tom had been annoyed at the waste of money. Which Kaitlyn shouldn’t know. Because Tom was the one who told her. Any knowledge she had from Tom about his life with Cecily was contraband. Something to be cast off, forgotten. It was a nice basement, though.
Kaitlyn went to the bathroom. When she came out, Cassie was sitting on her bed.
“You probably shouldn’t be down here.”
“Probably not. But Mom didn’t say that.”
“Where is your mom?”
“She had to go out.”
Cassie shrugged. She was taller and slimmer than the last time Kaitlyn had seen her. She had a dancer’s body, though she’d never danced.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“Where’s your brother?”
“Mom dropped him off at a friend’s. It’s just the two of us.”
Kaitlyn felt strangely nervous. She couldn’t recall ever spending time alone with Cassie before. Cassie was so much older than her own girls. And though she remembered being fifteen, she didn’t know how to talk to a fifteen-year-old today.
Cassie patted the bed next to her. “I brought you some clothes to change into.”
“Thanks, but I have some of my own things.”
“Did you get them in Montreal or take them with you?”
“I bought them in Montreal.”
“So you didn’t, like, plan to leave?”
“Why would you think that?”
Cassie pulled at the end of one of her braids. “I just remember, sometimes, you’d stare off into space, and it took a few times for you to hear people calling your name. And I was thinking this morning that maybe you were planning on leaving, like that was something you thought about a lot because you seemed unhappy before.”
“You’re a pretty observant kid.”
“You look a lot like these girls in my school, especially this one girl, Charice, who tried to kill herself last year. Only they told us that she was sick, like with some kind of disease or something, but her best friend told everyone what happened, and she was so embarrassed when she came back to school.”
“I never wanted to kill myself.”
“That’s good. But life kind of did that for you, I think.”
“I’m not sure I can have this conversation without coffee.”
“There’s a machine upstairs. I know how to use it, but you can’t tell Mom.”
“I can keep a secret.”
• • •
“I’m not finding anything in Madison,” Cassie said hours later.
“Madison?” Cecily asked as she walked into the kitchen, bringing the cold inside with her. “What’s in Madison?”
“That’s where Franny’s from. Or where she says she’s from, anyway.”
Cecily gave Kaitlyn a sharp look. “You’re investigating Franny with my daughter?”
“It was my idea, Mom,” Cassie said. “I want to help.”
“What did you tell her?” Cecily asked Kaitlyn.
“That I was living in Montreal, and that I came back because of what Franny’s doing.”
“What else could she have told me?” Cassie asked.
“You promised there wouldn’t be any more secrets.”
“I know, but some things aren’t about us. Some things aren’t things we should know.”
She turned away from the screen. “Like what?”
“Like grown-up things I wish I didn’t even know myself.”
“This is so unfair.”
“Probably. But trust me—you don’t want to know this.”
Cassie looked at Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn felt as if she was being inspected.
“Is that true, Aunt Kaitlyn?”
Cecily dropped a grocery bag onto the kitchen counter and began unpacking its contents. “Did you find anything?”
“Not yet,” Cassie said. “Franny doesn’t have Facebook or Insta or Snapchat or anything. Like, no social media at all.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Also, I did a bunch of Google searches and even did a Google Image search, and, like, her picture isn’t online anywhere except for in that article.”
“What’s a Google Image search?”
“You can take a photograph and search online records for something that resembles it,” Kaitlyn explained. “Or so Cassie taught me.”
“Good thinking, Cass.”
“Thanks, but nothing, nothing, nothing. Then I remembered that she said a couple times that she came from Madison, so I looked that up. Did you know that’s in Wisconsin?”
“I haven’t ever been there, have I?”
“I didn’t think so. We did go to Wyoming, though.”
“Yes. That’s where we used to go skiing.”
“That was so fun. Could we go again this year?”
Kaitlyn watched the easy banter between Cecily and Cassie and felt jealous. Cecily had always been such a natural mother. Making it look easy, too easy. She knew part of it was an illusion, but not all.
“So,” Cecily said. “Nothing in Madison?”
“Did you try the local paper? Maybe they have archives that aren’t indexed?”
Kaitlyn took over the computer from Cassie. As Cecily and Cassie put food away and then got started on lunch, she searched for variations on local paper names. The Madison Record. The Madison Free Press. She found a site that listed all the local papers in Wisconsin, which brought her to The Capital Times. She tried several different searches, but nothing came up. She looked around but couldn’t find a good archive function, either. She flipped through various stories, but there wasn’t anything. Going through them all would take forever.
“Maybe we should hire a private detective,” Kaitlyn said.
Cecily looked up from where she was making a salad. “No luck?”
“None. Where did Cassie go?”
“Up to her room.”
Kaitlyn hadn’t noticed her leave. “She’s a great kid, Cecily.”
Kaitlyn looked down at the screen. At her fruitless search results. “She’s not anywhere. It’s like she doesn’t even exist. Now there’s a thought.”
“Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she made herself up. Or changed her name, at least.”
“That could explain a lot.” Cecily pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and poured two large glasses. “I wouldn’t normally drink in the middle of the day, but I’m ready.”
“For the story. At least part of it, anyway.”
She held out a glass to Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn rose from the computer and took it. The cold Chablis tasted like her past. So many memories of drinking this same wine, in this same room. Probably from this same glass.
“Did you ever sleep with Tom here? In our house?”
“It’s one of the things that’s been bugging me ever since I found out. Did he actually bring that whore into my house? And now I know it’s you, and obviously you’ve been in my house. So please tell me you did not fuck my husband in my own house. Give me that at least.”
“Of course not. Oh my God, no. We never . . . I never slept with him anywhere.”
“Don’t get technical. You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Come on. I read your e-mails. And that text he sent to me by mistake. You guys were fucking all over the place.”
Kaitlyn felt sick to her stomach. Those e-mails. She’d been addicted to them. Reading them, writing them, had made her wet and given her vivid, lurid dreams. Their words had come to her at the oddest moments. But they’d never been more than words.
“No, never. I . . . God, I don’t know how to explain this, but all we ever did was write to each other. Which was horrible, awful. We were awful. Terrible. But it never went any further than that. I swear.”
“Please. All those late nights at the office. All that time you spent together and you never so much as kissed?”
“Once. We kissed once. At the office Christmas party when we were both drunk. That’s it.”
“So all of that was just, what, fantasy?”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“I’m so sorry, Cecily. So awfully sorry. It happened gradually, and by the time I admitted to myself what was going on, it was too late. It was like a drug. Those e-mails actually made me feel high. But I told Tom early on that it couldn’t ever be more than that. That he couldn’t ever even speak to me about it out loud.”
“But you kissed. At the Christmas party, you kissed?”
“Yes. When that happened, I told him we had to stop.”
“And it was months later when I found out. So this was still going on then?”
“Less frequently, but yes. Yes, sometimes we’d backslide. It had been months, but the night before, we’d worked late together . . .”
“This is such bullshit. Will told me. He told me Tom left the office that night when you guys were working late. And there was a hotel bill at the Langham. He knew Tom was seeing someone, but he wouldn’t tell me who it was. Which makes total sense now, of course. As does his look of pity when we were talking about it.”
“We did leave together that night, but nothing happened, I swear. I mean, not nothing. We . . .” Kaitlyn thought back. She remembered the drinks they’d had in the hotel’s bar. “We went to a bar and we drank and we . . . God, this sounds so stupid and twisted, but we sat there and sent messages to each other.”
“I’m supposed to believe that?”
“Why would I make this up? You already thought the worst of me.”
“This might actually be worse.”
“Because you sat next to me and held me while I told you all about what I thought had happened, and you never corrected me. You never let me know that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
“I couldn’t have done that. What could I have said?”
“You could’ve asked Tom to tell me.”
“I talked Tom out of telling you.”
“He realized he’d sent that text to you instead of me right away. He wanted to call you and tell you everything. I walked into his office when he was dialing your number. He told me what had happened. I told him not to do it. That if there was a way that he could keep you from knowing what he’d been doing, what we’d been doing—”
“You plotted with my husband against me?”
“That one time. Yes. But other than that, we never talked about you. That was a rule. No talking about our families.”
Cecily drained half her glass. “I think I’ve heard enough.”
“I don’t get it. I don’t get how you could do that to me after everything I did for you.”
“I’m sure there isn’t anything I could tell you th
“You could try, though.”
Kaitlyn pushed her glass away. She didn’t feel like she deserved its comfort. “Maybe I should go.”
“What about Franny?”
“I’ll figure something out.”
“You’re going to run away again, aren’t you?”
“I’d like to say I won’t, but I don’t seem to be in control of what I do these days. Not reliably.”
“Another impossible choice.”
“You keep presenting me with these terrible decisions. Take you into my home or hurt your family. Help you expose Franny or hurt your family. Let you leave or hurt your family.”
“You’re right. I’m horrible.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t agree with me.”
“I’m going to go.”
“No. You have to finish what you came here to do. And I’m going to help you.”
“You don’t have to.”
Cecily looked grim. “Yeah, I do. Besides, it’s the only way I can guarantee that you go away and never come back again.”
“Is that what’s going to happen?”
“If I help you, then yes. Do we have a deal?”
Kaitlyn struggled for a moment. Was she actually going to agree to never see her children again? But hadn’t that been the plan all along? Wasn’t that why she hadn’t gone right to Joshua? She wasn’t going to see her girls again. She’d known that back in the bus station a year ago. At least she could save them from a worse mother than her.
TJ: Go ahead, Franny. In your own words.
FM: Well, it’s like Sherrie told you. I got into some trouble at home, you know?
TJ: What kind of trouble?
FM: Just stupid things that girls do sometimes. Like wanting to be tougher than the boys to get their attention. I started making up these stories, at first, about how badass I was. I stole drinks from my parents’ liquor cabinet. I lifted this necklace from the store. I snuck out late at night, and they didn’t even know I was gone. But I could tell they didn’t believe me, so I had to show them, right? I had to prove it.
FM: It sounds dumb, but I felt like I had to, okay? Like no one was going to accept me for who I was if I didn’t have some extra tricks up my sleeve. So I started doing stuff. Stealing liquor. Taking stupid things from stores. Sneaking out of the house and going to hang with the guys in this parking lot they all hung out in. I became the cool girl, the girl who could bring the good stuff no one else could get.
The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes