I watched through the sticky Mississippi night as the girl I loved clutched her diary to her heart. Through the door behind her, spatters of blood stained the floor of her small house. Her Poppy’s body sprawled in his favorite recliner, fingers torn away, tongue in his lap, face crushed in, heart in pieces.
It had been my gift to her, and the proof of my guilt was there, between the green covers of her diary. For you, Savannah. Your Dove.
I waited while she stood in the doorway and searched the dark stripes of the pine forest for me. Her body eclipsed the yellow glow from the house, turning her silhouette into a black marble statue, slim and graceful and still. But I knew her skin was anything but hard or cold. I wanted to step out from behind the sweet-smelling bark and go to her. To tell her all that I was and all I was feeling. To confess I had wanted to kill her, not her Poppy, that I lusted for her pure blood, but that I would never hurt her now. I loved her.
I did not move, and she did not move.
What was she thinking? Whether to run, to seek safety at a neighbor’s house? To take Poppy’s car and flee into the next state? To turn back inside and call the police? Traffic rushed past on the Natchez Trace highway, but I barely noticed it, or the muttering of a dozen televisions tucked away in still-happy homes, or the CDs blaring or dinner conversation or snoring husbands or adulterous sex that were my usual companion sounds in the nighttime. I could not revel in them – all I wanted to hear was her voice.
She gave it to me: “I know you’re there,” she said. “Come out.”
Come out, come out, wherever you are… I thought of games of Hide and Seek I used to play with my little brother when I’d been alive. It was a taunt, a request – which no one to ever responded to.
I shifted my weight, and then walked out. I stopped in the middle of the yard.
Savannah only blinked. “You’re the boy from the diner.”
She remembered me. I nodded.
“Dove. That’s your name?”
I stepped closer, peering into the shadows of her face to search for whatever expression I could find. There was nothing. Just darkness. I opened my mouth. My tongue was dry, my mouth cottony. No words came rushing out.
Of course, I’d forgotten to breathe. You need air to talk. After a breath that made my lungs crackle like old paper, I said, “Donovan. My name was Donovan.”
She was quiet while she lowered the diary and her hands to her sides. “I need help.” She turned to go back into the house.
My heart pounded once, hard and sharp. “I can help you. What do you need?”
Pausing so that the yellow light glared over half her face, Savannah made an impatient gesture with one hand. “With his body. I can’t clean this on my own.”
Between two blinks, I stood at the bottom of the three concrete stairs leading up to the doorway. “The police will do it.”
“You want me to call them?” Savannah shook her head and continued into her house. She set the diary on a hutch and walked until the toes of her sneakers were an inch from the pool of blood. “I’m only sixteen, Dove. What would happen to me if the police came? They’d send me into foster care.”
“You can come with me.”
Savannah crouched down and touched the blood. Her finger left an indentation that only slowly filled back in. I noticed she wasn’t looking at her Poppy’s body. She turned and glanced up at me, offering her reddened finger. “What are you?”
I joined her on the floor and reached carefully to take her hand. She didn’t pull away. I watched her eyes watch our hands as I leaned in and kissed the tip of her finger. I shuddered. Under the sticky stink of blood, she smelled sweetly as she always did. I let my tongue slip out and licked at the blood, drew her finger gently into my mouth.
She tugged her hand away and wrapped it up in her other hand, wringing them together as she stared at me. “I thought so.”
Fighting the urge to lick my lips, I forced another breath. “Savannah,” I said, with all the relish I had held back for these many months. “Savannah, why aren’t you afraid of me?”
Her gaze flicked to the destroyed body on the recliner. “There are worse things than you.”
I shook my head, no.
“You don’t pretend to be something you aren’t, do you? You kill. You write your name and you own it. That’s good.” She clenched her jaw and nodded once to emphasize her point. “I pretend for everyone.”
“I know who you are. What you are.”
“I saw you kill that bird, at the end of the summer. I saw you destroy it, because you wanted to, because you were angry.”
Her lip trembled and she fluttered her eyelashes and looked away. “Yeah. While you were stalking me, you asshole.”
“I was going to eat you.”
“Well, that makes it ok, then.” Savannah pushed to her feet and strode into the kitchen. “What do we do first?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t…” she slowly turned on her heel and stared at me. “Seriously?”
“I don’t usually get rid of my work. I leave. Which is what we should do.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Savannah.” I stood, felt my face twist with hurt.
“Dove.” She put her fists on her hips. “Grow a pair, and help me bury my grandfather.”
Between the two of us, we managed it. I tried to convince her to go to bed, to let me do it. But Savannah refused. She swallowed bile and gathered up his fingers into a plastic Winn Dixie bag. I don’t think she noticed the tears collecting like raindrops on her chin.
After he was buried in a shallow grave in the same circle of pine trees where she’d killed the bird, Savannah plopped down to sit in the scratchy dead grass and said, “How old are you?” She wiped sweat from her forehead, and left a smear of blood and dirt behind.
“I’m almost forty.”
“So you weren’t born in like, Revolutionary France or anything. That’s too bad. Have you been to many funerals?”
“No. I don’t like funerals.”
“Did you even go to your own?”
“I was far away by then.” I sank down beside her. “Do you want to say anything for him?” I skimmed my finger over the back of her hand, and she didn’t pull away.
“No. We have to go mop up the blood before dawn.” In the bare moonlight, I saw her eyes glint as she glanced at me. “You do have to leave then, don’t you?”
“You could stay. I mean, I have thick curtains.”
I nodded. “I know.”
Savannah laughed. It wasn’t her fake laugh, or her own private laughter, but a sound of desperation. “There’s something wrong with me,” she said. “You should make me feel anything but safe.”
“If there wasn’t anything wrong with you, you’d have died that night instead of the bird.” I shrugged.
“So you like me because I’m abnormal and sick. And you decided to kill Poppy instead.”
“I’ve never met anyone who I thought might not hate me.”
“I should hate you for killing him.”
“But you don’t.”
“No. I’m glad you did. It’s the best gift anyone’s ever given me.”
“You understand me.” I leaned closer, whispered against her cheek.
“I don’t even know you.”
I touched my lips to her skin. “But you want to.”
“Yeah.” She turned her face and said against my lips, “This is really messed up, old man.”
I thought of what Max had said, up in his cold Minneapolis bedroom: “There are three ways this will end. You will expose yourself and die. You will eat her. You will make her one of us.” For the first time I thought maybe he’d been wrong. “No, it’s perfect.”
“For monsters,” she said, turning away.