She Was the Quiet One: New Excerpt
She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell is a riveting new suspense novel—full of twists, turns, and dark secrets—about privilege, power, and what happens when we let ambition take control.
When twin sisters Rose and Bel Enright enroll in The Odell School, a prestigious New England boarding school, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. But the sisters could not be more different. The school brings out a rivalry between them that few ever knew existed. And the school itself has a dark underbelly: of privileged kids running unchecked and uninhibited; of rituals and traditions that are more sinister than they seem; of wealth and entitlement that can only lead to disaster.
For Sarah Donovan, wife of an ambitious teacher who is determined to rise through the ranks, Odell also seems like the best thing that could happen to their small family. But how well does she really know her husband? What lengths will he go to achieve his goals? And when one dark night ends in murder, who is guilty, who knows the truth, and who has been in on it all along? SHE WAS THE QUIET ONE. Because murderers are almost never who you expect.
They locked her in the infirmary and took away her phone and anything she might use to harm herself—or someone else. The school didn’t tout this in its glossy brochures, but that’s how it handled kids suspected of breaking the rules. Lock them in the infirmary, isolate them, interrogate them until they crack. Usually you got locked up for cheating on a test or smoking weed in the woods. In the worst-case scenario, hazing. Not murder.
She lay on the narrow bed and stared at the ceiling. They’d given her sedatives at first, and then something for the pain. But her head still pounded, and her mind was restless and foggy all at once. A large lump protruded from the back of her skull. She explored it with her fingers, trying to remember what had caused it. At the edge of her consciousness, something terrible stirred, and she pushed it away. If she turned off the light, she would see it, that thing at the edge of the lake.
That thing. Her sister. Her twin.
All across campus on this cold, dead night, silence reigned. She was being accused of a terrible crime, and there was nobody to speak in her defense. They’d called her grandmother to come defend her. But her grandmother believed she was guilty. Even her closest friends suspected her, and she had to admit, they had reason to. She and her sister were close once, but this awful school had changed that. They’d come to doubt each other, to talk behind each other’s backs, to rat on each other for crimes large and small, to steal from one another. Mere days earlier, they’d gotten into a physical fight so intense that the girl who interceded wound up with a black eye. That girl hadn’t told—yet. But she would now.
It wasn’t fair. Just because they’d had a fight didn’t mean she would kill her sister. How could she? Her sister was the only family she had left. Everybody else had died, or abandoned her. Why would she hurt her only family, her only friend? But every time she closed her eyes, she saw the blood on her hands, the stab wounds, the long hair fanned out. Her sister’s face, white and still in the moonlight. She was there when it happened. Why? It couldn’t be because she was the killer. That wasn’t true. She was innocent. She knew it in her heart.
But nobody believed her.
The September Before
Sarah Donovan was a bundle of nerves as she fed her kids a rushed breakfast of instant oatmeal and apple juice. Four-year-old Harper and two-year-old Scottie were still in their pajamas, their good clothes hidden away among half-unpacked boxes. Today was opening day at Odell Academy, the prestigious old boarding school in New Hampshire, and Sarah and her husband, Heath, had just been appointed the dorm heads of Moreland Hall. They’d been laboring in the trenches as teachers for the past five years, and this new job was a vote of confidence, a step up into the school’s administration. It came with a raise and faculty housing and the promise of more to come. Sarah ought to be thrilled. Heath certainly was. Yet she couldn’t shake a sneaking feeling of dread.
“Hurry up, sweetie, two more bites,” Sarah said to Scottie, who sat in his high chair playing with his food, a solemn expression on his funny little face. Scottie was like Sarah—quiet, observant, a worrier, with a lot going on behind his eyes—whereas Harper was an open book. She met life head-on, ready to dominate it, just like her dad.
“If you’re done, Harps, go brush your teeth.”
“Mommy, I’m gonna wear my party dress,” Harper announced as she climbed down from her booster seat. She was beautiful, and she knew it, with big blue eyes and wild mane of curls, and she loved to dress up and show off.
“You have to find it first. Look in the box next to your bed.”
Harper ran off, and Sarah glanced at the clock. They had a half hour till the students and their families began to arrive. Sarah had spent the afternoon yesterday preparing for the welcome reception, and as far as refreshments and party supplies were concerned, she was all set. Five large boxes from Dunkin’ Donuts sat on the kitchen counter, along with multiple half gallons of apple cider and lemonade, napkins and paper plates, party decorations and name tags. All that remained was to move everything to the Moreland common room and plaster a smile on her face. So why was she so nervous?
Maybe because the stakes were so high. Heath and Sarah had been brought in to clean up Moreland Hall’s unsavory reputation, and the task was daunting. Bad behavior happened all over Odell’s campus, but it happened most often in Moreland. Sarah thought it must have something to do with the fact that a disproportionate share of Moreland girls came from old Odell families. (Moreland had been the first dorm at Odell to house girls when the school went coed fifty years before, and alumni kids often requested to live in the same dorms their parents had.) Sarah had nothing against legacy students per se. She was one herself, having graduated from Odell following in the footsteps of her mother, her father, aunts, uncles and a motley array of cousins. But she couldn’t deny that some legacy kids were spoiled rotten, and Moreland legacies notorious among them.
At the end of the last school year, two Moreland seniors made national news when they got arrested for selling drugs. The ensuing scandal dirtied Odell Academy’s reputation enough that the board of trustees ordered the headmaster to fix the problem, once and for all. The previous dorm head was a French teacher from Montreal, a single guy, who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day—hardly the image the school was looking for. He got demoted, and Heath and Sarah—respected teachers, both Odell grads themselves—were brought in to replace him. A wholesome young couple with two adorable little kids to set a proper example. That was the plan, at least. But there was a problem. Neither Sarah nor Heath had a counseling background. They knew nothing about running a dorm, or providing guidance to messed-up girls. Sarah had spent her Odell years hiding from girls like that, and—to be honest—Heath had spent his chasing them. That was all in the past of course. The distant past. But it worried her.
When Sarah raised her concerns, Heath soothed them away and convinced her that this new job was their golden opportunity. How could they say no? Heath had big plans. He wanted to advance through the ranks and become headmaster one day. The dorm head position was his stepping-stone. He didn’t have to tell her how much he wanted it, or remind her how desperately he needed a win. She knew that, too well. Teaching high school English was not the life Heath wanted. There had been another life, but it crashed and burned, and they’d barely survived. With this new challenge, Heath was finally happy again. She couldn’t stand in his way.
And he was happy. He strode into the kitchen now looking like a million bucks, decked out in a blue blazer and a new tie, with a huge smile on his handsome face.
“Ready, babe?” he said, coming over and planting a kiss on Sarah’s lips.
“Just about. You look happy,” she said, lifting Scottie down from his high chair.
“You bet. I’ve got my speech memorized. I’ve got my new tie on for luck—the one you got me for my birthday. How do I look?”
“Gorgeous,” she said.
It was true. The first time Sarah had laid eyes on Heath was here at Odell, fifteen years ago, when he showed up as a new transfer student their junior year. He was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen back then, and, despite the ups and downs, that hadn’t changed.
Heath checked his watch, frowning. “It’s after nine. You’d better get dressed.”
Sarah had thought she was dressed. She’d brushed her hair this morning, put on a skirt, a sweater and her favorite clogs, as she usually did on days when she had to teach class. But looking at Heath in his finery, she realized that her basic routine wouldn’t cut it in the new job. She’d have to try harder. That wasn’t comfortable, any more than it had felt natural earlier this week to give up their cozy condo in town and move into this faculty apartment. Moreland Hall was gorgeous, like something out of a fairy tale. Ivy-covered brick and stone, Gothic arches, ancient windows with panes of wavy glass. The apartment had a working fireplace, crown moldings, hardwood floors. But it didn’t feel like home. How could it? It didn’t belong to them; not even the furniture was theirs. Not to mention that the kitchen window looked directly onto the Quad. Anybody could look in and see her business. Life in a fishbowl. She hoped she could get used to it.
“Harper’s getting dressed,” Sarah said. “I’ll take care of Scottie. Can you move the refreshments to the common room and start setting up?”
“Sure thing. And, babe, don’t be afraid to do it up, okay? You look hot when you dress up.”
Heath grinned and winked at her, but Sarah couldn’t help completing the thought in her mind. Unlike the rest of the time, when you look like you just rolled out of bed. But Heath hadn’t said that, and didn’t think it. That was Sarah’s insecurity speaking.
It took fifteen minutes to clean up Scottie, coax him out of his pajamas and into some semblance of decent clothes. Five more minutes were spent swapping out Harper’s Elsa costume (which was what she’d meant by “party dress”) for an actual dress. That left Sarah ten minutes to dress herself. She dug through boxes, but couldn’t find her good fall clothes. She ended up throwing on a flowery sundress because it was the only pretty thing she could lay hands on, but topping it with a woolly cardigan against the September breeze. Not her most polished look, but it would have to do. She swiped on some bright lipstick, gathered the kids and the dog, and set out for the common room.
They were only a few minutes late, but when she got there, the room was empty, the tables and chairs were missing, and Heath was nowhere to be seen. She had a minor heart attack, until she caught the sound of Heath’s rich laugh floating in through the open window, and looked out onto the Quad. Her husband stood on the lush, green lawn, surrounded by the missing furniture, and a gaggle of leggy, giggling girls.
“Hey, what are you doing out there?” Sarah called, laughter in her voice as she stuck her head out the window. With Heath, you could always expect the unexpected.
He turned, flashing a movie-star grin.
“Here’s my lovely wife now. Girls, may I introduce your new dorm cohead, the amazing and brilliant Mrs. Sarah Donovan. Babe, come on out. It’s a beautiful day, I thought, why not party on the Quad?”
Party on the Quad? Girls whooped and high-fived at that. Did Heath understand who he was dealing with? Sarah had some of these girls in her math classes in years past. They were the worst offenders, the delinquents, the old-school Moreland girls, accustomed to bad behavior and few repercussions. She’d have to sit Heath down and have a talk about setting an example.
Sarah led her children and the dog down the hall and out the front door of Moreland Hall. They stepped into the sunshine of the perfect September day. Harper ran to her daddy, who hoisted her up onto his hip. Max, their German shepherd mix, ran circles on the lawn, as Scottie chased after him, squealing. Music filtered out from a dorm room farther down the Quad. And those Moreland girls—the same ones who surfed the Web in her classroom and snarked behind her back—made a fuss over her, and said how much they liked her dress. She didn’t buy the phony admiration. As they circled around her, long-legged and beautifully groomed, drawling away in their jaded voices, Sarah felt like they might eat her alive.
Copyright © 2018 Michele Campbell.