The Last House Guest Page 1

Author: Megan Miranda

Genres: Mystery , Thriller

For Rachel



The Plus-One Party

I almost went back for her. When she didn’t show. When she didn’t answer her phone. When she didn’t reply to my text.

But there were the drinks, and the cars blocking me in, and the responsibility—I was supposed to be keeping an eye on things. I was expected to keep the night running smoothly.

Anyway, she would laugh at me for coming back. Roll her eyes. Say, I already have one mother, Avery.

These are excuses, I know.

* * *

I HAD ARRIVED AT the overlook first.

The party was at the rental on the cul-de-sac this year, a three-bedroom house at the end of a long tree-lined road, barely enough room for two cars to maneuver at the same time. The Lomans had named it Blue Robin, for the pale blue clapboard siding and the way the squared roof looked like the top of a bird feeder. Though I thought it was more fitting for the way it was set back in the trees, a flash of color as you stepped to the side, something you couldn’t really see until you were already upon it.

It wasn’t the nicest location or the one with the best view—too far to see the ocean, just close enough to hear—but it was the farthest from the bed-and-breakfast down the road, and the patio was surrounded by tightly packed evergreens, so hopefully, no one would notice or complain.

The Lomans’ summer rentals all looked the same on the inside, anyway, so that sometimes I’d leave a walk-through completely disoriented: a porch swing in place of the stone steps; the ocean instead of the mountains. Each home had the same tiled floor, the same shade of granite, the same style of rustic-meets-upscale. And the walls throughout, decorated with scenes of Littleport: the lighthouse, the white masts dancing in the harbor, the foam-crested waves colliding with the sea cliffs on either side. A drowned coast, it was called—fingers of land rising from the ocean, the rocky coastline trying to stand its ground against the surf, islands appearing and vanishing in the distance with the tide.

I got it, I did. Why the long weekend drives from the cities or the temporary relocation for the summer season; why the exclusivity of a place that seemed so small and unassuming. It was a town carved out of the untouched wild, mountains on one side, ocean on the other, accessible only by a single coastal road and patience. It existed through pure stubbornness, pushing back against nature from both sides.

Growing up here made you feel as if you were forged from this same character.

I emptied the box of leftover liquor from the main house onto the granite island, hid away the fragile decorations, turned on the pool lights. Then I poured myself a drink and sat on the back patio, listening to the sounds of the ocean. A chill of autumn wind moved through the trees, and I shivered, pulling my jacket tighter.

This annual party always teetered on the edge of something—one last fight against the turning of the season. Winter settled in the bones here, dark and endless. It was coming, just as soon as the visitors were leaving.

But first there would be this.

Another wave crashed in the distance. I closed my eyes, counting the seconds. Waiting.

We were here tonight to ring out the summer season, but it had already swept out to sea without our permission.

* * *

LUCIANA ARRIVED JUST AS the party was hitting its momentum. I didn’t see her come in, but she stood alone in the kitchen, unsure of herself. She stood out, tall and unmoving in the hub of activity, taking it all in. Her first Plus-One party. So different, I knew, from the parties she’d been attending all summer, her welcome to the world of Summers in Littleport, Maine.

I touched her elbow, still cold somehow. She flinched as she turned my way, then exhaled like she was glad to see me. “This is not exactly what I expected,” she said.

She was too done up for the occasion. Hair curled just so, tailored pants, heels. Like she was attending a brunch.

I smiled. “Is Sadie with you?” I looked around the room for the familiar dark blond hair parted down the middle, the thin braids woven from her temples and clipped together at the back, a child from another era. I stood on my toes, trying to tune in to the sound of her laughter.

Luce shook her head, the dark waves slipping over her shoulders. “No, I think she was still packing. Parker dropped me off. Said he wanted to leave the car at the bed-and-breakfast so we could get out easier after.” She gestured in the general direction of the Point Bed-and-Breakfast, a converted Victorian eight-bedroom home at the tip of the overlook, complete with multiple turrets and a widow’s walk. There, you could almost make out the entirety of Littleport—all the parts that mattered, anyway—from the harbor to the sandy strip of Breaker Beach, its bluffs jutting out into the sea, where the Lomans lived at the northern edge of town.

“He shouldn’t park there,” I said, phone already in my hand. So much for the owners of the B&B not noticing if people were going to start leaving cars in their lot.

Luce shrugged. Parker Loman did what Parker Loman wanted to do, never worrying about the repercussions.

I held the phone to my ear. I could barely hear the ringing over the music and cupped a hand over the other side.

Hi, you’ve reached Sadie Loman—

I pressed end, slid the phone back into my pocket, then handed Luce a red plastic cup. “Here,” I said. What I really wanted to say was, My God, take a breath, relax, but this was already exceeding the typical limits of my conversations with Luciana Suarez. She held the cup tentatively as I moved the half-empty bottles around, looking for the whiskey I knew she preferred. It was one thing I really liked about her.

After I poured, she frowned and said, “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

A full season together and she still didn’t know what to make of me, the woman living in the guesthouse beside her boyfriend’s summer home. Friend or foe. Ally or antagonist.

Then she seemed to decide on something, because she leaned a little closer, as if getting ready to share a secret. “I still don’t really get it.”

I grinned. “You’ll see.” She’d been questioning the Plus-One party since Parker and Sadie told her about it; told her they wouldn’t be leaving with their parents on Labor Day weekend but would be staying until the week after the end of the season for this. One last night for the people who stayed from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the weeks making up the summer season, plus one. Spilling over into the lives of the folks who lived here year-round.

Unlike the parties the Lomans had taken her to all summer, this party would have no caterers, no hostesses, no bartenders. In their place would be an assortment of leftovers from the visitors emptying the liquor cabinets, the fridges, the pantries. Nothing matched. Nothing had a place. It was a night of excess, a long goodbye, nine months to forget and to hope that others had, too.

The Plus-One party was both exclusive and not. There was no guest list. If you heard about it, you were in. The adults with real responsibilities had all gone back to their normal lives by now. The younger kids had returned to school, and their parents had left along with them. So this fell to the midgap. College age and up, before the commitments of life kept you back. Until things like this wore you thin.

Tonight circumstances leveled us out, and you couldn’t tell just from looking who was a resident and who was a visitor. We pretended that: Strip us down and we’re all the same.

Luce checked her fine gold watch twice in as many minutes, twisting it back and forth over the bone of her wrist each time. “God,” she said, “he’s taking forever.”

* * *

PARKER ARRIVED LAST, HIS gaze seeking us out easily from the doorway. All heads turned his way, as often happened when Parker Loman entered the room. It was the way he carried himself, an aloofness he’d perfected, designed to keep everyone on their toes.

“They’re going to notice the car,” I said when he joined us.

He leaned down and slipped an arm around Luce. “You worry too much, Avery.”

I did, but it was only because he’d never considered how he appeared to the other side—the residents who lived here, who both needed and resented people like him.

“Where’s Sadie?” I asked over the music.

“I thought she was getting a ride with you.” He shrugged, then looked somewhere over my shoulder. “She told me not to wait for her earlier. Guess that was Sadie-speak for not coming.”

I shook my head. Sadie hadn’t missed a Plus-One in all the years we started attending them together, the summer we were eighteen.