Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
THERE WAS NO PARTY the day Ruby Fletcher came home.
We had no warning, no time to prepare ourselves.
I didn’t hear the slam of the car door, or the key in the lock, or the front door swinging open. It was the footsteps—the familiar pop of the floorboard just outside the kitchen—that registered first. That made me pause at the counter, tighten my grip on the knife.
Thinking: Not the cat.
I held my breath, held myself very still, listening closer. A shuffling in the hallway, like something was sliding along the wall. I spun from the kitchen counter, knife still in my hand, blade haphazardly pointed outward—
And there she was, in the entrance of my kitchen: Ruby Fletcher.
She was the one who said, “Surprise!” Who laughed as the knife fell from my grip, a glinting thing between us on the tiled floor, who delighted at my stunned expression. As if we didn’t all have cause to be on edge. As if we didn’t each fear someone sneaking into our home.
As if she didn’t know better.
It took three seconds for me to find the appropriate expression. My hand shaking as I brought it to my chest. “Oh my God,” I said, which bought me some time. Then I bent to pick up the knife, which bought me some more. “Ruby,” I said as I stood.
Her smile stretched wider. “Harper,” she answered, all drawn out. The first thing I noticed were the low-heeled shoes dangling from her hand, like she really had been trying to sneak up on me.
The second thing I noticed was that she seemed to be wearing the same clothes she’d had on yesterday during the news conference—black pants and white sleeveless blouse, without a jacket now, and with the top button undone. Her dark blond hair was styled as it had been on TV but appeared flatter today. And it was shorter since I’d last seen her in person—just to her shoulders. Makeup smudges under her eyes, a glow to her cheeks, ears slightly pink from the heat.
It occurred to me she’d been out for twenty-four hours and hadn’t yet changed clothes.
There was luggage behind her in the hall—what I must’ve heard scraping against the beige walls—a brown leather duffel and a messenger-style briefcase that matched. With the suit, it was easy to imagine she was on her way to work.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked as she set her shoes down. Of all the things I could’ve said. But trying to account for Ruby’s time line was deeply ingrained, a habit that I’d found difficult to break.
She tipped her head back and laughed. “I missed you, too, Harper.” Deflecting, as always. It was almost noon, and she looked like she hadn’t gone to sleep yet. Maybe she’d been with the lawyer. Maybe she’d gone to see her dad. Maybe she’d tried somewhere else—anywhere else—before coming here. Maybe she’d wrung these last twenty-four hours of freedom for all they were worth.
Then she was crossing the room, coming in for a hug, inescapable. Everything happened on a brief delay, as if choreographed. Her walk had changed, her steps quiet, more deliberate. Her expression, too—careful, guarded. Something new she’d learned or practiced.
She seemed, suddenly, unlike the Ruby I knew, each proportion just slightly off: thinner, more streamlined; her blue eyes larger and clearer than I recalled; she seemed taller than the last time we were in a room together. Or maybe it was just my memory that had shifted, softening her edges, molding her into something smaller, frailer, incapable of the accusations levied against her.
Maybe it was a trick of the television screen or the pictures in the paper, flattening her into two dimensions, making me forget the true Ruby Fletcher.
Her arms wrapped around me, and all at once, she felt like her again.
She tucked her pointy chin into the space between my neck and shoulder. “I didn’t scare you, did I?”
I felt her breath on my neck, the goose bumps rising. I started laughing as I pulled away—a fit of delirium, high and tight, something between elation and fear. Ruby Fletcher. Here. As if nothing had changed. As if no time had passed.
She cocked her head to the side as I wiped the tears from under my eyes. “Ruby, if you had called, I would’ve…”
What? Planned a lunch? Gotten her room ready? Told her not to come?
“Next time,” she said, grinning. “But that—” She gestured to my face. “That was worth it.”
Like this was a game, part of her plan, and my reaction would tell her all she needed to know.
She sat at the kitchen table, and I had no idea where to go from here, where to even begin. She had one foot curled up under the other leg, a single arm hanging over the back of the chair, twisting to face me—not bothering to hide her slow perusal: first my bare feet with the chipping plum polish, then my fraying jean shorts, then the oversize tank top covering the bathing suit underneath. I felt her gaze linger on my hair—now a lighter brown, woven in a haphazard braid over my shoulder.
“You look exactly the same,” she said with a wide smile.
But I knew that wasn’t true. I’d stopped running in the mornings, lost the lean-muscle definition of my legs; had let my hair grow out from collarbone to mid-back, an inverse of her transformation. I’d spent the last year reassessing everything I’d thought I knew—about others, about myself. Picking apart the trajectory that had brought me here, the conviction I’d always felt in my decisions, and I worried that the uncertainty had somehow manifested itself in my demeanor.
I grew uncomfortable under her gaze, wondering what she might be looking for, what she might be thinking. At the realization that we were alone here.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. I gestured to the food on the counter—the cheese and crackers, the strawberries in a bowl, the watermelon I’d been in the process of cutting—willing my hand not to shake.
She stretched, extending her thin arms over her head, lacing her fingers together: that sickening crack of her knuckles with one final reach. “Not really. Did I interrupt your plans?” she asked, looking over the snacks.
I shifted on my feet. “I saw you yesterday,” I said, because I had learned from Ruby that responding to a direct question was always optional. “I watched the news conference.” We all had. We’d known it was coming, that she was going to be released, could feel the shared indignation brewing, that after everything—the trial, the testimonies, the evidence—it was all about to be undone.
We’d been waiting for it. Hungry for information, sharing links and refreshing the neighborhood message board. Javier Cora had put the details up, without context, and I’d seen the comments coming through in quick succession:
Channel 3. Now.
How is this LEGAL?
We knew better by now than to say too much on the message board, but we had all seen it. Ruby Fletcher, wearing the same thing she’d worn the day she was taken in, a banner across the bottom of the screen as she stood in the center of a crowd of microphones: PRESUMED INNOCENT. Simple yet effective, if maybe not entirely true. The trial had been tainted, the investigation deemed unfair, the verdict thrown out. Whether Ruby was innocent was a different matter entirely.
“Yesterday,” she said breathlessly, euphorically, face turned up toward the ceiling, “was wild.”
She’d seemed so poised, so stoic, on television. A suppressed version of the Ruby I knew. But as she’d spoken, I had leaned toward the television from my spot on the couch. Even from afar, she could bend the gravity of a room her way.
On the broadcast, I’d heard a reporter call out to her: How are you feeling, Ruby? And her eyes had crinkled in that charming way she had of holding back a smile, as she looked straight at the camera, straight at me, for a beat before responding: I’m just looking forward to getting on with my life. To putting this all behind me.
And yet, twenty-four hours later, she had come straight back here—to the scene of the crime for which she’d been incarcerated—to face it.
THE FIRST THING RUBY wanted was a beer. It wasn’t yet noon, but Ruby never worried about such mundane things as public perception or social approval. Didn’t try to make an excuse, like the rest of us here might—summer hours; rounding up—craving acceptance or someone else to join in our small rebellions.
She stood in front of the fridge, letting the cold air wash over her, and said, “Oh, man, this feels so good,” like it was something she had missed. She closed her eyes as she tipped back the bottle of beer, her throat exposed and moving. Then her gaze drifted over to the knife on the counter, to the cubes of watermelon. She picked one up and popped it in her mouth, chewing with exaggerated slowness, savoring it. A faintly sweet scent carried through the room, and I imagined the taste in my own mouth as she licked her lips.
I wondered if this would go on indefinitely: every item, every experience, something unexpected and taken for granted. Wild.
My phone buzzed from where I’d left it beside the sink. Neither of us made a move to look at it.
“How long, do you think, before everyone knows?” she asked, one side of her mouth quirked up as she leaned against the counter. As if she could sense the texts coming through.
Not long. Not here. As soon as someone saw her, it would be on the message board—if it wasn’t already. When you purchased a home in the Hollow’s Edge neighborhood, you automatically became a member of the Hollow’s Edge Owners’ Association—an official, self-run group with an elected board that decided on our budget, collected our dues, made and enforced the rules.
From there, you were also invited to join a private message board, not officially regulated, initially set up with the best of intentions. It became a different beast after the deaths of Brandon and Fiona Truett.
“Do you want them to know?” I asked. What are you doing here? How long are you staying?
“Well, I guess they’re bound to notice eventually.” She crossed one foot behind the other. “Is everyone still here?”
I cleared my throat. “Plus or minus a few.” The renters had all gotten out when they could, but the rest of us couldn’t sell without taking a major loss right now. The Truett house was still empty next door, and Ruby Fletcher, longtime resident of Hollow’s Edge, had been convicted of the killings. It was a double hit. Maybe we could’ve recovered from one or the other, but not the combination.
Tate and Javier Cora, my neighbors to the left, were looking to move, but they were two doors down from the crime scene and had been advised by their realtor to wait it out. But there were others who had slowly disappeared. A fiancé who had left. A husband who was rarely seen.
Breaking the case had broken a lot of other things in the process.
Instead, I said: “The Wellmans had their baby. A boy.”
Ruby smiled. “Guess he’s not such a baby anymore.”
I pressed my lips together in an approximation of a smile, unable to figure out the right thing to say, the right tone. “And Tate’s pregnant.”
Ruby froze, beer bottle halfway to her mouth. “She must be unbearable,” she said, one eyebrow raised.
She was, but I wasn’t about to tell Ruby that. I was always trying to decrease animosity, smooth over tension—a role I’d long inhabited in my own family. But these were safer conversations than what we could’ve been discussing, so I ran with it. “And Charlotte’s oldest just graduated, so we’ll be losing one more by the end of the summer.” I was filling the silence, my words coming too fast, practically tripping over one another.
“Can we vote someone else out instead?” she asked, and I laughed, imagining the many names Ruby might propose, wondering which was at the top of her list. Chase Colby, most likely.
It felt like no time had passed. Ruby was always like this: disarming; unpredictable. A hypnotic personality, the prosecutor had declared. As if we were all the victims and therefore blameless in our allegiance.
It was something I repeated to myself often, to absolve myself.
But then I realized why she was asking about everyone, about who was here and who would remain: Ruby was planning to stay.
IN TRUTH, I HADN’T given much thought to where Ruby would go after her release. It hadn’t occurred to me that here would even be on her mind, with everything that had happened. We hadn’t spoken since that day in the courtroom after I testified, and that could barely count—she’d just mouthed the words Thank you as I passed.
I’d pretended I hadn’t noticed.
If I’d had to make a guess, it might have been that she’d go to see her dad in Florida. Or hole up in some hotel suite funded by the legal team who had gotten her released, working the case angles with her lawyer. I would’ve thought she’d be more likely to disappear entirely—seizing her chance, reemerging in some faraway place as someone new. A person with no history.
I checked the clock over the fridge, saw it creeping past noon, drummed my fingers on the countertop.
“Expecting company?” she asked. She was looking at the spread on the counter again.
I shook my head. “I was going to bring this to the pool.”
“Great idea,” she said. “I missed the pool.”
My stomach plummeted. How many things had she missed—the cool blast of the refrigerator, the pool, me. Would she keep listing them off, twisting the knife?
“Be right back,” she said, heading toward the hall bathroom at the base of the stairs.
I washed the knife as soon as she was out of the room—it was too much, laying out there on the surface, taunting us both, unspoken. Then I picked up my phone quickly, scrolling through the messages piling up.
From Tate: Why didn’t you tell us she was coming back here??
From Charlotte: Call me.
So they already knew.
But I ignored them, instead firing off a quick message to Mac, fingers trembling with leftover adrenaline: Do not come over.
I had no idea how long she intended to stay. Ruby’s bags were sitting just outside the entrance of the kitchen. Maybe I could get a sense of things without asking directly. I listened for water running in the bathroom, but the house was eerily silent. Just the cat, Koda, hopping off a piece of furniture somewhere upstairs, and the muffled call of a cicada from the trees out back, growing louder.
I slowly unzipped the larger piece of luggage, peering inside. It was empty.
I yanked my hand back quickly, the side of my finger catching on the zipper. Ruby’s voice had come from the top of the staircase, but only her shadow was visible from where I stood. I didn’t know what she could see from this angle.
As I backed away from her bags, she came into view, moving slowly down the stairs, hand sliding down the railing. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Her voice had subtly changed, the way people had pointed out during the investigation—what some called hypnotic but what others called cunning or angry. It was all loaded together on a razor’s edge. Either way, it made you pay attention. Made you tune in acutely to whatever Ruby was going to tell you.
“About what?” I asked, feeling my heartbeat inside my chest. There were so many things I could tell her:
Everyone still thinks you’re guilty.
I don’t know why you’re here.
I slept with your ex.
“My things. Where are my things, Harper.”
“Oh,” I said. I hadn’t had time to explain. Hadn’t thought it would be an issue. Hadn’t thought she’d expected any differently. “I talked to your dad. After.”
She paused at the bottom step, raised a single exacting eyebrow. “And?”
I cleared my throat. “He told me to donate them.” It wasn’t that I was unsympathetic, it was just, twenty years was a long time. She acted like she’d been gone a week, not fourteen months.
Ruby closed her eyes briefly, took a slow breath in. I wondered if she had learned this during her time behind bars. It was not at all how Ruby Fletcher used to handle disappointment.
“Did Mac come by for anything?”
God, I didn’t know what she was asking. Everything she said was laced with something else.
“I can take you to the store. For anything you need,” I said. I could buy her new clothes, new toiletries. I could offer to put her up in a hotel, hand her some cash, wish her well. Wish I’d never see her again.
But she flicked her fingers at the air between us. “Later.” She bent and picked up her bag—her empty bag—and returned up the steps.
It occurred to me that I might be witnessing a crime against my property. That she was going to rob me, and I was going to be complicit in it, as it was so easy to grow complicit to the desires of Ruby Fletcher.
WE DIDN’T ALWAYS LIVE together. The situation was unspoken but understood, I thought, to be both brief and temporary. After Aidan moved out of my place, after Ruby’s dad retired and sold their house, it was a momentary necessity—a period of time when we both needed a pause, needed to grasp our bearings, figure things out. Decide what we wanted next.
But she didn’t leave, and I didn’t ask her to. It seemed that what we both wanted was for her to stay. We had developed an allegiance of convenience, if only for someone to feed the cat.
I’d grown accustomed to the solitude since she’d been gone. I’d grown to value my independence and my privacy, on my own for the first time since college. Knowing that everything here belonged to me.
When she came downstairs wearing my clothes—the maroon tie of a bathing suit top visible under my black tank dress—I didn’t have much of a position to argue from, after getting rid of her things. She was taller, and now slimmer, than I, but our clothes were the same general size.
Koda followed her down, weaving between her feet, the traitor. She had been Aidan’s cat first, was firmly antisocial, and seemed to spurn attention from all humans except Ruby.
Ruby gathered her hair into a short ponytail, one of my elastics on her wrist. “Do you have an extra pair of sunglasses?” she asked.
I blinked at her. This was like watching a car crash in slow motion. “What are you doing?” I asked.
In answer, she opened the drawer of the entryway table—the same place we’d always kept the keys—the same place Ruby had also kept the Truetts’ key, when she walked their dog. For a brief second’s pause, I thought she was looking for it, but then she grabbed the electronic pool badge that granted us entrance through the black iron gates. “Going to the pool. Aren’t you?”
“Ruby,” I said in warning.
Lips pressed together, she waited for me to continue.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea right now,” I said. She had to know it. Of course she knew it.
She turned her face away, but not before I caught what I thought was the glimmer of a smile. “I’m ripping off the Band-Aid,” she explained as she opened the front door. But that wasn’t quite right. Prison had softened her metaphors. She was flirting with an inferno. She was dousing a gaping wound in vinegar.
She walked out barefoot, front door left ajar—an offering that I had no intention of taking. Not in broad daylight. Not on this street. Not in this neighborhood.
It was bad enough she was here, in my house.
But I stepped out onto the front porch, watching her walk past the front of the Truett house without a glance toward the empty porch, the darkened windows. No hesitation or change in her stride as she passed the house she’d once allegedly let herself inside in the middle of the night, let the dog out, started the old Honda in the garage, and left the interior door to the house ajar, so that Brandon and Fiona Truett died silently of carbon monoxide poisoning in the night.
My house was situated at the center of the court, six homes around the half-moon edge, a wide-open circle of pavement with a grassy knoll in the middle, with a scattering of trees that blocked the view of the lake in the summer but not the winter.
The pool was on the main neighborhood road, bordered by the woods and overlooking the lake, and from a certain vantage point, with a generous frame of mind, it could pass for an infinity pool.
As Ruby strode by each house, I imagined the security cameras catching her. Watching her. Recording her in jolts of time that could be pieced together later to track her every movement. The Brock house, whose video feed had picked up a noise that night. The house on the corner, belonging to the Seaver brothers, whose doorbell camera had caught the hooded figure striding past, and who had plenty to share about Ruby Fletcher besides.
Ruby was out of sight now, probably passing the Wellman house, whose camera had identified Ruby sprinting into the woods, toward the lake.
I was listening hard to the silence when I sensed movement from the corner of my eye.
Tate was standing at the entrance of her garage next door, half in, half out, arms crossed over her abdomen. Our separate houses were only a few yards from being townhomes with shared walls. We were practically side by side. I felt her staring at the side of my face.
“I didn’t know she was coming,” I said.
“How long is she staying?” Tate asked.
I thought of the empty bag in my house. “Not sure yet.”
Officially, Tate and Javier Cora hadn’t seen or heard anything that night—they’d gotten home from a friend’s party after midnight, and there was nothing on their camera. Unofficially, they weren’t surprised. Now I could sense her teeth grinding together, but I wasn’t sure whether it was from anger or fear.
Tate was maybe five feet tall, and small-framed at that. I’d learned it wasn’t her true first name only during the investigation. It was her maiden name, but she and Javier had met in college, where she played lacrosse, and everyone had called her Tate then. So did he. She still wore her thick blond hair in a high ponytail with a wraparound athletic headband, like she might be called onto the field at any moment. I could picture it well. She could summon an intensity that compensated for her size.
Everyone knew Tate and Javier as the gregarious couple of the neighborhood. They hosted weekend barbecues and helped plan the neighborhood social events.
“Do something,” Tate said, making her eyes wide. Pregnancy had turned her less gregarious, more demanding. But we’d all hardened over the last year and a half. We’d each become, in turn, more skeptical, wary, impenetrable.
I nodded noncommittally.
We both stared in the direction Ruby had gone. “Chase is going to lose his shit when he sees her,” she said before retreating inside.
Though Tate was prone to overreaction, this was not one of those times.
If Chase saw her there—
If no one had warned him first—
I grabbed my things in a rush, taking off after Ruby.