We Are All the Same in the Dark Page 4

Not Wedding Veil white, because it depresses Trumanell that she only got to play bride walking down an aisle of corn with a daisy crown on her head. Not Seapearl, because she’s never heard the ocean roaring except in a shell that showed up in the field out of nowhere. Not Lily, because it takes her back to the odor at Mama Pat’s funeral. Not Moonbeam, because the moon wasn’t always their friend out in that field. Not Bone, because it reminds her of the sound of her brother’s arm snapping.

I shove open the car door, not trying to be quiet, figuring Wyatt already knows I’m here. When I was sixteen, Wyatt Branson told me he could hear the flutter of my eyelashes. He told me that moths, those bits of flying paper, had the best hearing on earth, and he could listen just like one. Wyatt was a good liar.

Today, I choose to believe him. He hears my eyes blink, the hard swallow in my throat, my first step up the arthritic porch.

The fields are deserted in all directions. The barn, sitting still. Wyatt hasn’t farmed the land or worked livestock or horses for at least five years.

What should appear perfectly normal sets off tiny alarms.

A woman’s dress—not blue—drifting by itself on the clothesline.

A hose curled around a jumbo-sized bottle of weed killer with a dandelion label.

Paint cans stacked in an obsessive pyramid on the porch.

Pink impatiens, Trumanell’s favorite, in a planter, sunk in rich, damp soil.

Heavy curtains that have hung in the windows since I was a kid, drawn tight.

I gently pull on the screen door to test it. Latched.

The silence, so endlessly white.

I think how life might be different if it weren’t for that bat setting the course of things.

It made me believe life could turn out all right if I tried.

Even after June 7, 2005, I still do.

I raise my hand to knock.


Wyatt opens up after I’ve been banging on the door a full minute. He swallows the space with the hulk of his frame, dressed in his regular uniform of white T-shirt, faded Levi’s, old boots weathered by rain, dust, and shit. Behind the screen, he’s pointing a Glock. At my head.

My view inside is almost completely blocked. He doesn’t move to unlatch the screen, shredded by wasps. One clings to the screen, its face pocked with black spots, every one of them like the black teardrop tattoos of a man who has committed murder. I knew, growing up, that wasps and prisoners were more ferocious if they were marked this way.

“Odette, what a surprise.” A smile cracks his face. “Back for seconds?”

“Put up the gun. I have to do my job. I’ve got a tip and I need to follow it. If I don’t, someone else at the station will. You should prefer it’s me.”

He says nothing, still grinning. He’s always been primal, both aggressor and protector, and the danger of not knowing which unnerves me every time. I’m well aware that my uniform squares everything off, rendering my body sexless. His eyes start to snake their way over me anyway—the dark blond ponytail with the roots stained brown with sweat; the fingernails painted black, resting on the gun at my hip; the gray rubber wedding band on my left hand that Finn insisted I wear on the job because I always abandoned the shiny gold one on the dresser.

“Oh, I definitely prefer you,” he says, tucking the gun in his jeans.

“I want to get this out of the way first. What happened last month was a mistake.” The words rush out of my mouth. “It isn’t happening again. Ever.”

“What did you think I meant by seconds? I’m referring to the couple of squares of peach cobbler left.”

“It was a mistake.”

“I got it the first time. Did you come all the way out here to tell me that? How’s Huckleberry, anyway?” I open my mouth and close it. I’m not about to tell him Finn packed a bag and left me last week, two days shy of the full five-year term he promised me.

“Somebody saw a girl in your truck when you rode through town earlier,” I continue steadily. “Do you have a girl out here, Wyatt?” I let my eyes flick to the dress on the line, drying into a brittle scarecrow.

“Are you jealous?” He unlatches the screen and pulls the door shut behind him. His body is thick and impenetrable, poised like it was when he was a high school running back, something fierce about to spring loose when the whistle blew.

Lion’s Eye. That’s what my grandmother anointed Wyatt when she saw him for the first time, at eight, his gaze fastened on the back of my head in a church pew. She told me to stay away from that boy. Her whole life, my grandmother described everyone she met with two words, like she was a chief naming Indians.

Except me. She said I was an enigma. Beating chance when I shouldn’t have. Brave when I shouldn’t be. I fought so hard to enter the world I arrived with a bruise over one eye. My mother, a fan of Swan Lake, kissed the bruise and named me Odette after a dying swan, dooming me from the start.

Maybe my grandmother knew the right two words—she just didn’t want to lay down a curse on her only granddaughter. She let the town have the honor of nicknaming me Bat Girl instead.

By the time I was ten, my mother and grandmother were both dead of breast cancer, leaving the brethren of small-town Texas cops and their wives to help raise me. All of them and my father are now buried in the same cemetery, within a thousand feet of each other, while Wyatt and I face off on his front porch, the invisible force of them between us.

“What are you going to do, Odette?” He’s issuing a challenge. He feels me wavering. Daddy told me never to come back to this town. But he also made a silent will that he never put to paper, with Wyatt as my inheritance.

The wasp suddenly darts, buzzing against my arm. I step back and knock my heel into the pyramid of paint cans. Wyatt steadies me with a grip on my arm while I stare into eyes that make most people want to run. A lot of people think he’s capable of killing, that he’s done it at least twice, and maybe twenty times over. I think he could kill, but there hasn’t been a first time.

“If you picked somebody up while you were on the road, just tell me,” I plead. “Was it a runaway at one of the truck stops looking for a place to crash? No harm done. Or maybe the tip I got was just more trash talk? If so, let me walk the house so I can say I did. Run a flashlight in the storm shelter. I want to be the first and last one out here today.”

Wyatt’s fingers dig deeper in my skin, making up his mind—letting me know he’ll always win a game of mental gymnastics if it’s just the two of us.

“Let’s prove them all wrong, Wyatt. Let me in.” I’m urging.

His handsome face stretches into the guileless mask that has hypnotized me since I was sixteen.

“Come on in, Odette. Say hi to Trumanell.”

I nod and step across the threshold, even though Trumanell has been missing for ten years.


A shape is unfolding on the couch, and for the briefest and most ridiculous of seconds, I think it might be Trumanell.

My eyes struggle to adjust to the shadows of a room completely shut off from the sun. I brush against a curtain, the same one that used to hold a metal shoehorn and a six-ounce container of ground chili pepper in its hem. Weapons, Wyatt told me, when we were sixteen.

“Turn on a light,” I order Wyatt.

Shit. There is a girl. I was still hoping this was another hoax. She’s barely covered in a thin sundress, so dirty I can’t tell the color. Her face, hidden in her hands.

The first thing I do is step away from Wyatt.

The first thing I think is that she is young, barely in her teens.

I don’t want to believe he’d hurt her. I really don’t. But she has to be scared out of her mind in this Hitchcockian setup. A house in the middle of nowhere. A man who talks to a ghost.

Wyatt’s mental status is why I regularly drive out here and check in. Why people leave the cops anonymous notes and call the second they spy Wyatt’s white Silverado pickup somewhere they don’t think it should be. Why he’s everybody’s first suspect when any girl past thirteen is an hour past curfew because she’s busy getting to third base with a boy and an ounce of weed.

Sometimes I think the town could have let Trumanell go, if Wyatt had stopped talking to her. I edge a little closer. The girl squeezes herself more tightly into the couch cushions, grabbing a pillow and wrapping her arms around it.

I can’t see enough face to tell if she’s familiar, a girl from around here, or part of the grim wallpaper of missing Texas girls that is the home page on my computer. I check the list every morning, because my father did, seeking a connection to Trumanell that is nonexistent. It doesn’t make sense that Trumanell was the victim of a serial killer who hunted Texas cornfields for his victims. I mean, what serial killer takes a girl’s daddy along? Frank Branson is still just as missing as his daughter.

I kick aside a book splayed on the floor. Poetry. Pennies are scattered on the coffee table. Frank Branson had a habit of flipping coins in front of a bottle of Jack, meting out decisions accordingly. I’ve watched Wyatt do the same thing.

Nobody in this room has a good story, I think. Wyatt. The girl. Me. Trumanell, on her never-ending walk in the ether of dust and legend.

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