The Drowning Kind Page 2

I knew from old photos that Rita was tiny, a girl with dark hair, bright blue eyes, that she was never a camera hog like her two older sisters. And I knew she had loved to read. Lexie and I found books she’d written her name in: Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie, the Ramona books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Our favorite board game in the house was Snakes and Ladders because it had Rita’s name in big block letters on the inside of the box, along with a drawing of a snake and a little girl in a dress—Rita’s imaginary friend Martha. Whenever we found something with her name on it, we’d talk about why Rita had gone to the pool in the middle of the night; whether it was Mom, Gram, or Aunt Diane who found her floating the next morning. And my sister loved to torment me with made-up stories about Rita. “She’s still here, you know. She lives in the pool. Haven’t you seen her down there? When you open your eyes underwater? She lives in the pool, but she comes out sometimes.”

I pictured it, pale little Rita with her dark hair dripping wet, pulling herself up out of the pool, eyes on the house where other children were playing with her toys, reading her books.

“Listen,” Lexie would whisper late at night when she snuck into my room, crawled under the covers with me. “Don’t you hear that? That squish, squish, squish of footsteps? She’s coming for you. Coming for us both.”


* * *


My fingers and toes were numb. My lungs were crying out for air. My heart was banging inside my chest, but I held still, kept my eyes wide open.

We floated, my sister and I.

Two dead girls, side by side, bodies bumping against each other.

Alone, but together.

chapter one

June 14, 2019

How are things going at school, Declan?” I asked.

Declan was hunched over a drawing he’d been working on for the past twenty minutes, showing no sign of having heard me.

He was my last appointment of the day. The client before him had been a fourteen-year-old girl with PTSD—listening to her detail her abuse was always gut-wrenching. I usually made sure she was my last appointment, because after an hour of helping her navigate trauma and work on coping mechanisms, I was drained, sick-feeling and headachy. But it was an extra-busy week—too many kids and too little time—so I’d scheduled Declan at the end of the day. Things had been going so well with him lately that I’d actually been looking forward to our session.

I’d been seeing Declan for nearly eight months. For the first three, he had sat drawing, giving monosyllabic answers to all my questions. But then, in the fourth month, we’d made a breakthrough. He’d started talking. He’d drawn a picture of a bird’s nest and in it, three blue eggs. Resting in with them was a smaller, speckled brown egg.

“Robin’s eggs?” I asked, pointing at the blue ones. He nodded.

“But what’s this brown one?”

“Cowbird egg,” he said. “Cowbirds don’t make nests of their own. The females lay eggs in other birds’ nests.”

“For real?” I asked. “What happens when they hatch?”

“The mother robin or blue jay takes care of it, treats it like the others. But it’s not like the others.”

This led to a discussion about what it might feel like to be the odd one out, to not belong. Declan loved animals and had an encyclopedic knowledge of animal facts, and I learned to use them as a springboard for our discussions—I even added nature books and field guides to the shelves in my office for us to look through together. Soon, he was opening up about his father’s abandonment, and how his mother continued to lie to him about it—to say he’d be back any day, or that he’d called to check in on Declan and had told her how much he missed his son. “It’s all a bunch of stupid lies,” Declan told me. “She’s always telling these crazy stories that I know aren’t true. She thinks she’s protecting me, but really she’s just lying.”

Declan had come to trust me, to share things that he wasn’t able to share with anyone else. But today, it seemed we were back to square one.

I tried to relax my shoulders, put aside my fierce headache and focus on figuring out what was going on right now with this little boy who sat at the small table in my office, studiously ignoring me. The drawing paper was crumpled in places, damp from his sweaty hand; he was grinding the blue crayon into angry, cyclonic swirls. I studied his face, his body language. His dark hair was tousled. His breathing was quick and shallow. The crayon broke in two. He picked up both halves, clenched them in his fist, and continued to scribble hard.

“Did something happen at school?” I asked. “Or at home? Anything you want to tell me about?” I felt like I had a spike going through my left eye. Even my teeth ached. I’d been getting migraines since I was twelve, and had learned there wasn’t much that helped them other than holing up in a dark, quiet place, which wasn’t an option right now.

Declan was nine years old. He’d been to three schools in the last year, but we’d finally found one that seemed to be a perfect fit—small, alternative, and with a nature-based curriculum that he loved. His mother and I had pushed hard to get him accepted, meeting with the principal and the behavioral specialist, convincing them to take a chance. Declan seemed to be thriving. He was doing well with academics and fitting in socially. Students spent half the day outside; there was a community nature center, gardens, and a pond. They’d been raising their own trout from eggs—Declan gave me weekly trout updates during our sessions. They were nearly big enough to release, and the whole school was going to have a big party on the last day and release the fish into the pond. Declan had been so excited: Little fish he’d watched hatch were ready to leave the tank.

“How are the trout doing?” I tried.

He scribbled harder, keeping his eyes on the paper. “I had a dream about them. A bad dream.”

“Yeah?” I leaned in. “Can you tell me about it?”

He frowned, stared down at the furious swirls. “They weren’t who they said they were.”

I took in a breath. Rubbed at my left eye, which had started to water. “Who weren’t? The trout?”

He nodded. “They were something else. They’d turned into something else.”

“What did they turn into?”

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