The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry is the new high-stakes thriller from this New York Times-bestselling author (Available today!).
When Olivia's mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery. Fast forward fourteen years. New evidence now proves Olivia's father was actually murdered on the same fateful day her mother died. That means there's a killer still at large. It's up to Olivia to uncover who that may be. But can she do that before the killer tracks her down first
SCATTER MY BONES
THE ONLY SOUND I CAN HEAR IS MY OWN panicked breathing. I’m running flat out through the forest. Then my toe catches a root, and suddenly I’m flying.
Until I’m not. I come down hard. With my hands cuffed in front of me, I can’t even really break my fall. Despite the plastic boot on my left leg, I’m up again in a crazy scrambling second, spitting out dirt and pine needles as I start sprinting again.
Running like my life depends on it. Because it does.
Three weeks ago, I was living in Portland. Working in a supermarket deli. Slicing turkey breast and handing out cheese samples on toothpicks.
Now I’m hurtling through the Southern Oregon woods, being chased by a killer. And no one knows I’m here.
Because of the handcuffs, I can’t pump my fists. Instead, I have to swing them in tandem. Trying to avoid another fall, I lift my knees higher as the ground rises. I can’t hear my pursuer, just my own panting breath.
If I don’t come back, will Duncan ever know what happened to me? These woods can hide things for years. Will animals scatter my bones, plants twine around my remains?
When I reach the top of the hill, I don’t slow down. Instead, I try to lengthen my stride. It’s impossible to maintain a rhythm. I leap over a log, splash through the silver thread of a creek. My mouth is so dry. It tastes of dirt and the bitterness of fear.
A stellar jay startles up from a branch, squawking. If only I could take wing and fly. But I’m stuck here on earth, legs churning, staggering over this uneven ground.
I can’t stop or I’ll die.
The reality is that I’m probably going to die anyway.
And if that’s so, I’m going to go down fighting.
THREE WEEKS EARLIER
THE KALEIDOSCOPE SHIFTS
IT BEGINS WITH A NAME I HAVEN’T HEARD IN years. Except in my dreams. “Ariel? Ariel Benson?”
Ten seconds ago, someone knocked on my apartment door. Through the peephole, I saw two men, one with a white band for a collar. I didn’t feel like talking to missionaries, with their brochures printed on limp paper, so I turned away.
But then they said my name. My old name.
Now I open the door a few inches. They’re in their midthirties. About the right age to be my dad. A bubble expands in my chest.
“Ariel Benson?” the man in the rumpled suit repeats, his pale eyes locking onto mine. Nothing about him is familiar.
I nod. When I try to swallow, my tongue is a piece of leather.
“I’m Detective Campbell. And this is Chaplain Farben.
We’re with the Portland police, but we’re here on behalf of the Medford police.” Medford is more than four hours away. It’s where I was born. “Can we come in?”
Cops. The kaleidoscope shifts. Should I be disappointed—or relieved? I step back, hoping they don’t notice the open box of Lucky Charms on the scarred coffee table.
They take the blue futon couch. I sit on the green striped chair I found on the side of the road two months ago. Since they’re cops, I know what they must be here to tell me. And it’s not that one of them is my father. “So you found my dad?”
All these years, I’ve imagined where he might have run to. Mexico? Cambodia? Venezuela? Some place where he could forget what he did. But the law must have finally caught up with him.
The detective’s brow furrows. “Has someone been in contact with you?”
I’ve made sure no one knows the truth about who I am. Who I come from. “Just guessing.” I shrug, like I don’t care. “Why else would two cops be here?”
“Is there someone you would want us to call, Ariel?” the chaplain asks. He has a round, pale face, like the moon. “Someone you’d like to have with you?”
I wish they would just cut to the chase. “I’m an emancipated minor.” I don’t need an adult here. According to the law, I am an adult, even though I only just turned seventeen. “So where did you find him?”
The detective pulls out a notebook and flips to the top page. “It was actually a woman walking her dog. In the woods about a mile from where your mother’s body was found.”
At first, I imagine my dad as some crazy, long-haired guy living off the grid, but then I realize they’re not talking about him living in a cabin. The pieces shift and fall again.
They’re talking about a body.
The world slows down. “You mean he’s dead? My father’s dead?”
Startled, the two men exchange a glance.
I press my hand to my mouth, lifting it long enough to say, “Can you start from the beginning, please?”
The detective sucks in a breath. “You’re Ariel Benson, right?”
It’s simpler just to agree. “Right.” The adoption eight years ago didn’t work out, but I kept the name. Olivia Reinhart. I left Ariel Benson behind.
“And your mother was Naomi Benson. And your father was Terry Weeks.” The detective watches me carefully. “Is that right?”
I nod, still trying to get used to the repetition of the word was.
“Nearly fourteen years ago, your mother’s body was found in the forest in southern Oregon.”
“Right. My dad killed her and then drove up here. Along the way, he dropped me off at the Salem Walmart. He parked at the airport and then took off.” Wiped his truck clean, left it in the long-term lot, and vanished. This was before September 11, when it was a lot easier to just fly away without leaving a record of where you went. Leaving behind your murdered girlfriend and your three-year-old daughter. “So I don’t understand. How could his body be in the forest?”
“Not his whole body,” the detective corrects me. “So far, all the Medford police have is his jawbone. It was found about a month ago, but there weren’t enough teeth left to match dental records. They just got the DNA results back.”
Even though I’m sitting down, the floor feels far away.
The chaplain leans forward. “Ariel, what you said was the working theory the Medford police have had all these years. But the discovery of your father’s remains changes that. They now think he was murdered, probably at the same time as your mother, and by the same person.”
I try to take it in. My father’s not a killer. He’s not in some foreign country. He’s not going to show up at my door to see how I turned out.
He’s been dead for nearly fourteen years.
I snatch at one of the dozens of thoughts whirling through my brain. “But you said it”—I’m not going to say jawbone, I’m not—“was a mile from where my mom was found. Why weren’t they found together?”
The detective shrugs. “It’s hard to know. Your mother’s body wasn’t found for, what”—he looks down at his notebook and back up at me—“three weeks? Animal predation could have disturbed the remains. The killer could have moved one of the bodies. Maybe one of your parents tried to run. The Medford police don’t even know how your father was killed, because they only have the jawbone.”
All my life, I’ve known what I am. The daughter of a victim and a killer. When I looked in the mirror, sometimes I thought I could see them both—the cowering and the rage.
Part of my dad was in me, and that meant I could grow up to be like him. Every time I lost my temper, I felt it pulse deep inside. The knowledge that I could do something as crazy as he did, stab someone I was supposed to love and leave them with only the cold stars as witnesses.
But now what am I? What was my father? And there’s something else.
If my dad didn’t kill my mom, if his body has always been in the forest—then who drove me to the Walmart three hours away?
I imagine the three-year-old me. I’ve thought about that girl so much, what she might have seen, what she knew, what it was like being in that truck with her dad after he killed her mother.
I don’t remember ever being that girl. Not what happened that day or before. Is not remembering a gift or a curse?
And now everything has been turned on its head. “Too bad you were too young to remember anything.”
The detective meets my eyes. His own are a washed blue. “Although that’s probably what saved you. Because the Medford police believe it must have been your parents’ killer who took you to the Walmart.”
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Copyright © 2016 April Henry.
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April Henry is the New York Times-bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels Girl, Stolen; The Night She Disappeared; The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die; and Body in the Woods and Blood Will Tell, books one and two in the Point Last Seen series. She lives in Oregon.