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Two Girls Down
Author:Louisa Luna

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna





For John Belluso





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

There are many people who made it possible for me to write this book and get it out. I am grateful and moved by their belief in my work:

Mark Falkin—you saw something in this story when no one else did and found the perfect home for it in record time. You also tend to keep a cool head when I flip out, which I really appreciate.

Rob Bloom—you have made this book what it is. Your editorial instincts are flawless, your guidance invaluable.

Bill Thomas, Sarah Engelmann, Mark Lee, Lauren Hesse, John Fontana, and all the good folks at Doubleday—thank you for your work, your commitment, your enthusiasm.

Lieutenant Mark Rather—thanks for your patience in answering all my dumbass questions; and thanks to all of the extraordinary women in your house: Jessie, Emily, Lillia, and Mirabelle Rather.

Connie Pelzek and Willie Duldulao; Kay and Kurt Frederick; Paul and Susan Pelzek; Danny, Stephanie, Tyler, and Caleb Pelzek—thank you for your love and support for so many years.

Rebecca Sands Coutts—thanks to you and your family for all the PA intel and support.

Mayhill C. Fowler, Craig Love, Ryan Mensing, Tim Marshall, Laura Kang, Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud, Jon Beck—you guys have never given up on me.

Perry Meisel, Elissa Schappell, and Dave Yoo—thank you for reading my work over the years and encouraging me when I needed it the most.

Argiro Rizopoulou, Keisha Peters, Joshua Pyne—thank you for being my cubemates, having my back, and putting up with my nonsense.

Sandra and Norm Luna—you have read every word I’ve ever written, told me to keep writing when I couldn’t lift my head off the ground, insisted that I was good when I tried to tell you otherwise. “Thanks” isn’t a big enough word for what I want to say to you, but it’s all I have, so I’ll say it again and again.



Zach Luna—no one has been more unflaggingly optimistic about my career than you, and for that I can never repay you and can’t express my gratitude enough. Thank you for being such a good reader. Thanks also to your gorgeous family: Shelley Kommers, Beau and Cal Luna.

Finally, JP and Florie—I love you more than a sea of Selkies, a galaxy of moons (or space stations), a factory of Wonka Bars, a fleet of invisible jets. Without you I am just a weirdo who can’t remember why she enters a room. Every word every day is for you two.





1

Jamie Brandt was not a bad mother. Later she would tell that to anyone who would listen: police, reporters, lawyers, her parents, her boyfriend, her dealer, the new bartender with the knuckle tattoos at Schultz’s, the investigator from California and her partner, and her own reflection in the bathroom mirror, right before cracking her forehead on the sink’s edge and passing out from the cocktail of pain, grief, and fear.

She was not a bad mother, even though she’d yelled at them that morning. It was Saturday, finally, and Jamie was embarrassed to say sometimes she liked the weekdays more, the predictable rhythm of her aunt Maggie’s real estate office where she was the receptionist, the chance to drink coffee and read Us magazine online, thinking of the girls in school, which they actually liked for the most part. Kylie, the ten-year-old, might piss and moan over homework, but she loved the day-to-day operations of school—the hurricane of note passing and gossip. She was already popular, had already stolen makeup from Jamie’s top dresser drawer and sent texts to boys from Jamie’s phone. Bailey, eight, was just as sassy but loved school for the school part, reading and writing—especially vocabulary, the way words sounded and the rules that went with them.

The weekends were hectic, a blur of soccer games and ballet practice, playdates and every last minute crammed with errands: groceries, cooking, pharmacy (Kylie’s allergies, Bailey’s asthma), cleaning the apartment, dusting and Swiffering every surface to avoid allergies and asthma. And then meltdowns and screaming protests about the rules: one hour on the computer for non-school-related activities, half an hour of video games, one hour of TV, all of which would be broken by Sunday night. Jamie would have to beg them to go to the housing complex playground, which the girls claimed was old, dirty, with two out of five swings broken and a sandbox that smelled like pee.



All Jamie wanted was to get to Saturday night. Then Darrell would come over and maybe the girls would go somewhere for a sleepover, or to Nana and Papa’s. Maybe Jamie would let them play video games for a bonus hour in their room and take pictures with her phone just so she and Darrell could drink some beers and watch a movie that didn’t feature a chipmunk or a princess. And if the girls weren’t there, maybe they’d smoke a joint; maybe his hand would slide up her shirt and they’d end up naked on the couch, Jamie looking at him on top, thinking he is not perfect, he has funny teeth and always wears that leather jacket with the hole in the pit, but there are a few good qualities here. One large good quality: she would think and then she’d laugh, and Darrell would say, “What?” but then he’d laugh too.

But first, errands and then a birthday party for all of them. It was for a girl in Kylie’s class, but it was one of those parties to which everyone was invited—siblings and parents for pizza, games, and cake in the family’s big ranch-style house in a new development called The Knolls. Jamie didn’t like the trend, these big free-for-all events, was worried because Kylie’s birthday was in June and maybe she’d want the same thing. Jamie saw the problems coming at her like headlights: their apartment was too small for a party, her mother would never let her hear the end of it if she asked to have it at her parents’ place, and the money, all that money, for that many pizzas plus gifts plus a new dress for Kylie and the new dress Bailey would have to have too.

“Why do you guys even have to come in?” said Kylie from the passenger side, eyebrows wrinkled up over her big hot-cocoa eyes, a sneer in her angel lips.

“Fine, we’ll wait outside in the car,” said Jamie.

“Everyone will see us,” said Bailey from the backseat, anxious.

Jamie looked in the rearview, taking in Bailey’s face, a palette of worry. How can she care so much about what other people think already? thought Jamie. She didn’t want the girls to care; she missed the days when they were too little to worry about appearances or be embarrassed, back when they would streak like hippies before jumping into the tub.



“We’re not waiting in the car, Kylie,” said Jamie. “Hey—won’t Stella Piper be there with her family? Bailey can play with Owen.”

From the corner of her eye Jamie saw her shrug, and felt the weight of it.

“They’re not friends anymore,” said Bailey.

“They’re not?” Jamie said to Bailey. “You’re not?” she said to Kylie.