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House at the End of the Street
Adapted by Lily Blake
By David Loucka
By Jonathan Mostow
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Format:ebook $8.99 $11.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 21, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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FOUR YEARS LATER…
Elissa sat on the dusty hood of the beat-up SUV, her guitar settled into her lap. She leaned forward, strumming a G chord over and over again. That one had always been her favorite. Maybe it was the warm, open sound of it, or the way her fingers felt on those specific strings. Or maybe it was because it was the first chord she'd been taught. Her father had given her the guitar four years ago, when she was thirteen, as a birthday present. That was when they lived outside Chicago. That was before the divorce and all the vicious fighting that came after.
The summer that her father stopped calling, stopped coming by or writing, she couldn't put the guitar down. She'd filled the silence with music, the only thing loud enough to drown out her own thoughts. Now she eyed Sarah, who was lying back on the hood, her head resting at the bottom of the windshield. Since her father left it had felt silly to call her "Mom" or "Mother" anymore. In his absence they felt more like roommates, moving around the shared apartment like strangers. They barely spoke to each other except to discuss household chores—who would take out the trash, who would pick up the groceries, who would wash the last dishes in the sink. It had been like that for nearly three years, until her mother announced that she'd found a house online, in a "nice" suburb of Seattle. She said it would be better for them, that they could use the time together—this fresh start—before Elissa went off to college. Elissa wanted to believe it, that being somewhere new would somehow be able to change them. But she couldn't stop thinking about something her grandmother used to say. It had been following her on the two-day road trip, trailing them across so many states. Wherever you go, there you are. How could a new town, a new house, make anything different? Wasn't it too late for that?
Elissa switched chords, playing the refrain of an old song by Bleeker Street. Her father had given her the album at ten, as part of her "music education." As she played she glanced over the high wall of hedges. She could just see the top of the stone house. "You must be the Cassidys!" a voice called out. She turned, looking down the road. A black luxury sedan pulled up alongside them and a short, balding man got out. "Dan Gifford. So sorry I'm late. I left my cell at the office. I'm sure you tried to call." He wiped the sweat from his forehead as he spoke.
"Only about a dozen times," Sarah said, sitting up. Her wavy blond hair fell just past her shoulders, her skin pink from the hour and a half they'd spent waiting in the sun.
"Sorry about that," Dan mumbled. "Let me show you your new home." He fumbled with a set of keys, looking for the right one. Then he unlocked the wooden gate and pushed it open, revealing the two-story stone house beyond it.
Elissa nearly laughed at the sight of it. It was ten times the size of their apartment in Chicago. The front wall had three large windows, and ornate beige pillars framed the entranceway. It wasn't enormous, it definitely wasn't a mansion, but it would still be the biggest house she'd ever lived in. She was starting to think maybe Sarah was right—maybe this would be the year things changed.
They popped open the back of the car, and Dan helped them with a few small boxes, his sweat dripping all over them. "How was the drive?" he asked, as they started up the front steps.
"We've been on the road for two days," Sarah said, leaning a box on her hip. "We're anxious to get settled."
Elissa raised her arms to grab a box of kitchen stuff and caught a sudden whiff of B.O. "And have a shower," she laughed.
Dan started up the stone steps, which were lined by hydrangea bushes. "I think you're going to be very comfortable here. And you'll love the neighborhood."
They pushed into the foyer. Elissa couldn't help but smile. When she was a kid, she used to draw elaborate pictures of her "dream house," a two-story palace with wood floors, huge TVs, leather couches, and enough bedrooms for four kids. (She'd always imagined her parents would have more kids, when they finally stopped fighting.) This was similar. It had granite countertops in the kitchen, simple but elegant furniture, and a large deck out back. Sarah turned around, raising her eyebrows as if to say, See?! I told you so!
They set the boxes on the kitchen counter and started through the house, Dan showing them the three bedrooms upstairs, all furnished with queen-size beds—a luxury compared to the twin mattress Elissa had grown up with. He talked about good water pressure, some details of the rental lease, and pointed out the state park just beyond the back property line. When they were done with the tour, he pulled the keys from his key chain and pressed them into Sarah's hand. "Tomorrow the Reynoldses a few houses down are having a spring fling party. You should bring a dish and come over."
Sarah hadn't stopped smiling since they'd walked through the door. She was a terrible cook, but she nodded, as if baking some casserole was her ideal first-night-in-the-new-place activity. "We'll give you a call if anything comes up," she said, her eyes on Dan as he shut the door behind him.
Elissa looked around, taking in the sliding glass doors, the curtains that were perfectly pleated, the throw pillows arranged neatly on the couch. "This is weird," she said, half laughing. "It's like a real house."
Sarah leaned in, pointing the keys at Elissa. "It is a real house," she corrected.
"But where are all the other houses?" Elissa asked. "Where's the bodega? Where am I gonna score my forty?" she joked, knowing her mother hated when she made any reference to underage drinking.
"That's all state park," Sarah said, gesturing out the back windows and ignoring the remark. "Pretty good backyard, huh?"
Elissa's eyes fell on the run-down estate nearly thirty yards off. It was settled into the trees, at the edge of the park's border. "Hey, we can see Mr. and Mrs. Dead People's house."
"Don't say that," Sarah said, leaning her elbow on the counter. "That house is the reason we can afford to rent this house. Double murder is kind of a drag on the real estate market."
Kind of? Elissa thought. Even if this mini mansion was perfect, there was still something a little creepy about living less than a mile away from a house where two people were killed. She'd asked Sarah to tell her the story three times on the road trip west. Parents with a violent daughter who'd suffered some sort of brain injury. She'd woken them up in the middle of the night, then murdered them both with a hammer stolen from the tool shed. The bodies hadn't been discovered for days, and by that time no one knew what happened to the girl. They said she was fifteen, but her mental state was more like that of a small child.
"Come on," Sarah said, nudging Elissa in the side. "Let's unload the rest of the boxes."
Later that night, Elissa dumped the pasta into the strainer, letting the steam rise up in front of her. It made the hot, sticky kitchen seem even hotter. Sweat beaded on her brow. When the spaghetti had cooled, she used the tongs to carefully set a serving on each plate, making sure to keep it in the center as her dad had once instructed her. Then she added a heaping ladle of sauce and a sprig of parsley.
On the simple white plate it looked perfect—exactly the way you'd see it in a magazine. She remembered the night she'd cooked with her father, how he'd showed her these little tricks, pretending their apartment was some high-end restaurant they'd never be able to afford. He'd called the spaghetti "delectable" as if it were caviar, lobster tail, or filet mignon. He'd even faked a French accent, which always made her laugh.
She spun around, gently setting one plate down in front of Sarah, and the other right across from her. It was just seven o'clock, but Sarah had traded her jeans and sweaty T-shirt for her worn pink pajamas. Her wavy blond hair was pulled back into a bun, making her look like she could've been a senior at Elissa's high school. She held a Zippo lighter, flicking it open, then closed, letting the flame appear and disappear.
"Thanks for cooking," Sarah said, setting the lighter aside.
Elissa slid into her seat. "You can thank Dad. He taught me how to make this."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "No kidding? The whole boil-the-water, throw-in-the-spaghetti, open-the-jar thing? Wow. What a great dad."
Elissa tightened her fist around her fork, feeling like she might stab it into the smooth tabletop. Why did Sarah always have to do this? It was impossible for Elissa to talk about her father without Sarah getting tense, adding some snarky comment, or rolling her eyes. Elissa was the one who didn't have a father anymore. Elissa was the one who hadn't heard from him in over a year, who didn't even get a phone call on her birthday. He'd left because he could not stop fighting with Sarah. Everything between them was an argument. If anyone had a right to be angry, it was Elissa.
She looked down, blinking back tears. Wasn't there a statute of limitations on how long you could cry about your estranged father? She'd promised herself she wouldn't let this consume her the way it had in the months after he left.
Elissa twirled spaghetti around her fork, feeling less hungry than she had just a few minutes before. Her eyes settled on the silver Zippo. It had been a fixture in her home for as long as she could remember. Back when her parents were still together, when the fighting wasn't yet intolerable, they'd sit on the window ledge and smoke cigarettes—just one before they went to bed. While it was a gross habit and they finally quit, it was something they did together. Sarah still brought it wherever she went.
"It's not like you carry that lighter around because you miss smoking," Elissa muttered. Maybe Sarah wasn't willing to admit it—but she hadn't let go of him either.
Sarah sighed. She turned the lighter over, studying it. "There are things I miss, sure. But when we were married, he was always on the road, and when he wasn't, we were always fighting. You saw it. It's better this way. Now he gets to write songs about me, and I get you."
Elissa pushed the spaghetti around on the plate. She'd heard the songs too, though she'd never tell Sarah she spent several hours a weeks on her father's band's website. "Blue Eyes," "She Said, He Said," "Back There"—those were three of the songs. She'd listened to their lyrics, waiting for there to be some hint of him coming back, of him regretting what he'd done. But in the end, it always felt like the songs were about shedding excess, letting go, embracing the freedom that comes with loss.
Neither of them spoke for a long while. Sarah swallowed down a few forkfuls of pasta before looking back up. "Liss… this place," she said, glancing around the house. "This is new. This could be good for us."
"It's going to take me a while to get used to having you around."
"Come on, I gave you the biggest room," Sarah joked. "How hard can it be?"
At that, Elissa smiled. She wanted to believe her mom. Sarah had promised her that after her night shifts at the hospital they'd make dinner together, they'd watch old movies, or spend time on the back porch, working through Sarah's old record collection. She promised Elissa a whole week of Joni Mitchell, where they'd go through all her albums, Sarah playing her favorite songs as they downed Arnold Palmers in the late summer air. But part of Elissa was always waiting for things to return to the way they were—the edgy silence that always settled between them. How could a new town really change that?
Sarah stood, clearing the dishes from the table. Elissa moved to help, but Sarah shook her head. "You cooked, I'll clear," she insisted. "Go finish unpacking."
Elissa glanced up the stairs, where a stack of cardboard boxes still awaited her. She could unpack tomorrow. The sun was still hovering in the sky. There were only thirty more minutes left before it went down, maybe less. Now that she finally had a backyard… she wanted to use it.
"I just want to look around first," Elissa said. She slid open the back door and started down the steps, toward a path that wound up into the trees. She kept her eyes on rocks and twigs, careful not to trip as she kept going, moving farther up the hill, into the higher land of the state park.
- On Sale
- Aug 21, 2012
- Page Count
- 208 pages