E. Lockhart interviews Joy Preble in advance of new book 'It Wasn't Always Like This' | EW.com

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E. Lockhart interviews Joy Preble in advance of new book It Wasn't Always Like This

See an exclusive excerpt and cover reveal.

(Toppel Photography)

In advance of Joy Preble’s forthcoming book It Wasn’t Always Like This, a novel with shades of Tuck Everlasting, the author has done a Q&A with fellow author E. Lockhart, who wrote We Were Liars. EW is proud to present the Q&A below, along with the exclusive cover reveal for It Wasn’t Always Like This — and an excerpt of the book for all you hungry fans. It Wasn’t Always Like This hits shelves May 17, 2016.

Check out the cover, interview, and excerpt below:

E. LOCKHART: It Wasn’t Always Like This is a love story, at least in part.  What is unique about the romance between Charlie and Emma?  They’re already a couple when the book starts, so you’ve clearly done something different than the “boy meets girl” scenario.
JOY PREBLE: What I loved about writing Charlie and Emma is that readers meet them in 1916, already fully in love and seventeen forever—just as everything goes terribly, horribly wrong and they end up losing each other for a hundred years! And then chapter two opens with Emma in the present day, a jaded, hard-boiled, private eye with a string of murders to solve, waking up hung over… with someone who is definitely not Charlie. So readers get this ongoing juxtaposition of past Emma and Charlie and how they fell in love and what happened to them, with 2016 Emma, who is nothing like the naïve, shallow girl she used to be, but still very much in love with Charlie. Will she find him? Is he still looking for her? What does it mean to love someone you haven’t seen in like a century? The more I wrote, the more I wondered!

What’s your favorite romantic book or movie, and can you tell me why it just kills you?
I am a sucker for romance, especially ones that rip your heart out. I just finished reading the Outlander series, and I’m definitely a fan of the Jamie/Claire Scottish time travel romance. There is this totally delicious moment when Jamie believes the only way to keep Claire safe as he heads into the battle of Culloden is to force her to return to the future, and the arms of her future-time husband…knowing she is pregnant with Jamie’s baby. What’s not to love in that giant ball of pain? Of course the classic example of getting the romance you want until the writer stabs a spike into it, comes in season 2 of Buffy when Buffy and Angel finally consummate the ultimate star-crossed romance, only to discover that this moment of happiness is what turns Angel evil and soulless again. He is eventually re-souled, but—oops!—he’s already unleashed that pesky apocalypse, so poor Buff has to send him to hell in order to save the world. Yeah, that kills me. In the best of ways!

Charlie and Emma have eternal youth – and they’re not even vampires. So what’s the trade-off for them? Eternal youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like—really—to live forever. Especially if your only super power is, well, living forever. Exactly when would the daily tedium get to you? At what point would seeing the same still-seventeen-year-old face in the mirror become annoying and not amazing? How many mistakes would you make simply because your cerebral cortex is never going to get to twenty-five and fully develop? How much cover-up would you need to purchase for one hundred years of still-seventeen chin zits? Emma (and Charlie, too, although the novel is primarily from Emma’s point of view) starts out pretty jazzed about eternal life, once she realizes that’s what’s happened. Because she’s totally in love with Charlie and she’s seventeen and now she gets sexy times with Charlie forever! Hooray! Of course it’s a gift she didn’t ask for and once people start noticing that the two families aren’t aging, big, bad tragedy ensues. And they lose each other, which is awful. But on the bright side, Emma and Charlie have all the time in the world to make things right… although there are some definite loopholes in their immortality. And there are various villains and possible villains at play.

Members of Church of Light are basically the bad guys in your novel.  They systematically murder people for a hundred years, if I understand things right. What’s the Church of Light religion and how does it justify so much spilled blood?
So yeah, that. To me the Church of Light is both literal as well as a sort of amalgam metaphor for every group that justifies hatred and violence in the name of whatever dogma they believe. I wish I could say hey, that has never happened in the real world. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. That said, I did not want to focus on the specifics of what the group believes or doesn’t believe (which actually evolves some during the course of the novel). What’s crucial is that Emma and Charlie are eternal without having to work for it. This makes them ‘other’ and ‘other’ is always both threatening and fascinating. So I asked myself what would happen from there.

Emma is a private investigator, with a license and everything. Are you a fan of detective novels? Who’s your favorite mystery writer and why?
I have loved detective novels and mysteries since I was about nine or ten and discovered the glorious genius that is Agatha Christie. Currently, I’m totally obsessed with the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series, which is set in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Phryne Fisher is this way ahead of her time feminist with lots disposable income, a butler named Mr. Butler, a companion named Dorothy, and mad skills for solving murders. She keeps a gold pistol in her stockings, flies planes, drives fast, gorgeous cars, dresses in amazing outfits, has a wide variety of lovers but no guilt, and a maybe/maybe not romance with sexy Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. She is funny, loyal, independent, and sharp-witted, and I adore her with every fiber. In fact, I think that Phryne is exactly who your Frankie Landau Banks might grow up to be… if she’d lived in Australia in the 20s, at least!

It’s the holiday season and you’re a YA novelist.  People are buying books for their teenagers – and if they’re not, they should be.  List for me each of your previous books, and the kind of reader who would want it as a gift. Like, one is for the slacker emo dude who still likes Looney Tunes. Another is for the social justice warrior fashionista neat freak.  What kids want your books?
Well of course everyone should read them all. After they read all of your books, of course! But in the spirit of actually answering the question:

The Dreaming Anastasia trilogy (Dreaming Anastasia, Haunted, Anastasia Forever) is perfect for ballet-loving chosen ones who like their significant others angsty, passionate, a bit geeky, and able to shoot magic sparks from their fingertips.

The Sweet Dead Life series (The Sweet Dead Life, The A-Word) would totally appeal to snarky, fashion-challenged, cowboy boot-loving fans of breakfast tacos, unlikely heroes, and questionable recreational activities.

Finding Paris would be an excellent gift for physics-loving road trippers with a finely-honed sense of irony.

I love the title, It Wasn’t Always Like This.  Can you explain it?
I love the title, too! It’s been the title almost since the beginning which is unusual since I usually suck at coming up with titles. For Emma and Charlie, it’s the perfect description of the troubles of their eternal condition. Although they have physically remained the same, they have lost so much, and there is this underlying longing for what they used to be. So here they are with endless years at their disposal but not each other. Plus a bunch of people keep trying to kill them, so there’s also that. The title works for the secondary characters as well, and I’m so excited for everyone to meet them!

Give me three adjectives describing this novel and make them juicy ones, please.
Eternal, passionate, thrilling.  I hope that’s juicy enough!

 

IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS

Joy Preble

“i carry your heart—(I carry it in my heart)”
—e. e. cummings

DISCLAIMER:
This novel is a work of fiction. The author fully owns any historical or place errors that might have occurred in the telling
of Emma and Charlie’s story. If the Fountain of Youth really exists in Florida or Texas or some obscure corner of the New
York subway system, the author is keeping that to herself.

CHAPTER ONE

An island off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida

1916

It was gone. Dried up. The stream. The plants. All of it.

“Maybe we’re in the wrong place,” Charlie said, but Emma knew he didn’t mean it.

“We’re not.” She pushed her way through the tall grass, not caring what she disturbed. Something sharp poked through her skirt and bit into the tender flesh at the back of her knee. She kept moving. The empty jars in her pockets slapped her thighs.

Maybe Charlie was right. Maybe they were just turned around or confused. This was the first time they’d come here alone. Emma herself had been only once, under the watchful eye of her father. Maybe they were lost.

But the place was too familiar. She recognized the strange little clearing at the center of the island, only there was no
stream. No purple-flowered plants. If the spell or whatever it was—Emma had never settled on the right words for what
had happened to them—if “it” faded, she feared there would be no getting it back, not without the plants and the water.

At least, that’s how she thought it worked. But she wasn’t certain, was she? That frightened her, too; Emma liked being certain.

“It doesn’t matter,” Charlie said. He grabbed her shoulder from behind and spun her around, pulling her close, arms encircling her waist. “You were still right. We need to run. Emma … we can manage without the plants. I love you.”

Even in the swampy heat, he looked the way he always did; that was the root of all their troubles. Tall and angular, with broad shoulders and taut arms, jaw neatly defined. Brows thick and cheekbones etched high. A wild thatch of hair that never stayed put. Brown eyes blazing with a stubborn streak, yet with a hint of that sweet silliness he saved for Emma alone, and a sparkle she’d convinced herself nobody else could see.

He’d wanted to run even before now. In this moment, she could see him glancing skyward unconsciously, consumed with the desire to fly from this place. That desire had brought them here. She’d done this for him.

On her right side, not ten feet away, the grass waved and shifted. She felt more than saw a small alligator slither by. Caught a glimpse of a coal-black eye between the tall green blades.

Emma tried not to panic. The gators were the least of her worries.

TWO DAYS EARLIER, Emma had rushed to the aviary and wrapped her hands tight around Charlie’s. “Simon,” she gasped. “He … he …” How even to start?

Something both horrifying and miraculous had happened to her baby brother. They could no longer hide what they’d
become. They had to leave St. Augustine. Now.

“What is it, Em?” Charlie held her close, his eyes searching hers. On their perches, the hawks quieted, as if overwhelmed
with the same concern. “Is something wrong with Simon?”

“I was supposed to be—to be watching him,” she stammered. “But you know how he gets.” She didn’t have to elaborate. Simon was a two-year-old toddler, had been for over three years now. He would be a two-year-old toddler forever. Perpetually curious and naughty and needy, all of which Charlie knew full well. “He got into the benzene while I wasn’t looking. I guess it was the sweet smell, like soda pop. Daddy must have left it out on the kitchen counter after stripping
the paint on the wall that—”

“Slow down, Em,” Charlie soothed. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Nothing.” Her voice trembled. “That’s the trouble. My brother drank half the bottle. Should have burned his insides. He should have blisters or be vomiting. Something. That stuff is poison, Charlie. But nothing happened. I watched him. Maybe he looked a little green for about a minute … that was all.”

Tears stung her eyes, but she trained her gaze on Charlie to calm herself. His stillness was a gift, never more so than at
this moment.

“He’s fine,” Charlie said soothingly. “That’s all that matters.” But they both knew things weren’t fine. Simon’s throat hadn’t burned, but the world felt like it was burning, consuming her with it.

So she’d done what a girl had to do under such circumstances. When life itself stopped making sense, she’d come up
with a plan.

FIRST THEY’D STEAL a skiff from the harbor. Row to the island.

That part of the plan had worked.

But the second part, the part that mattered, had gone up in smoke. They’d brought jars to dip in the stream, but the clear
water had vanished without a trace. They’d brew more tea from the plants, but the plants had vanished as well, leaving
only nettles and swamp grass in their absence.

As for the last part of the plan—running—that, they could still do.

EMMA HAD THOUGHT the escape would be joyous. Liberating. Their parents, both hers and Charlie’s, were drowning in
paranoia, unable to think or act sensibly anymore. But who knew what or how grown-ups thought, anyway? They were
all crazy, the good ones, the bad ones, the dangerous ones. She and Charlie would finally be free of the worry, free of all
the hateful whispers. They would be together. That was all that mattered.

Except the stream and its plants and the world itself had chosen not to cooperate. She felt as if the island were playing
a cruel practical joke, or worse, punishing her for the sin of wanting to run off with the boy she loved. Three years they
had been together. But it wasn’t three years at all; it was nothing. Time was meaningless once you discovered you’d drunk
from a Fountain of Youth. How stupid Emma had been, thinking that if they could just get away from their families, they could stop treading water and hide for an eternity.

Now Charlie pulled her to him, again, kissing her over and over until she was dizzy from it. “It’s okay,” he insisted.
“We’ll figure something out—” All at once he stiffened. His hands fell from her body. He sniffed the air. “Smoke. It’s …”
“The Church of Light,” she finished with him.

Under different circumstances, this would have struck her as impossibly romantic: their habit of sharing the same thoughts, of ending each other’s sentences. And now the sudden, wary anger in Charlie’s eyes echoed the thought that squirmed in her brain: If something was burning, Glen Walters and his followers had lit the fire.

They were running again even before Charlie’s fingers threaded through hers.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Dallas, Texas

Present

Emma pried open one eye. Her head was splitting, her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She felt like she had licked
the bottom of a dirty shoe—after the shoe had been dragged through a puddle of bourbon. She eased up on an elbow. The
room tilted, her stomach giving a sickly lurch.

She wasn’t alone in bed. There was a guy next to her. Snoring.

Vaguely she remembered having bought street tacos outside the bar from a girl with an Igloo cooler. At the time, it seemed like a solid idea. Emma had many solid ideas when she was drunk. The tacos, involving a meat substance of unknown origin, did not seem so solid at the moment.

Her reason for being at that particular downtown Dallas bar wasn’t scoring high points, either. Another dead end, it turned out. But Emma kept at things, because you just never knew. Cold trails turned warmer. Hopes bloomed, well, hopefully.

Things happened. People came and went.

Girls disappeared on their way home and later turned up dead.

There had been a rash of kidnappings and murders, or at least Emma saw it as a rash, given her, well, uniquely expansive view of time. It was a decades-long rash, a nearcentury-long rash. Crimes spread apart by a dozen years and thousands of miles, not close enough together in any reasonable sense for the cops to see a pattern—and who could blame them?

But recently, there had been a subtle uptick. That first girl, Allie Golden, in Rio Rancho, north of Albuquerque, four years ago. Then six months back, one outside of Fort Worth. Karissa Isaacs, twenty years old. Both living near Emma, their deaths following her as she moved east. Both kidnapped and poisoned and dumped.

And now the third in four years, right here in Dallas. Elodie Callahan, just sixteen.

There might have been more. Emma guessed there were more. She would like to think she was certain about that; she still prized certainty. But she’d learned many lifetimes ago that certainty was a luxury. You could shrug off the pattern, chalk the atrocities up to coincidence. A long time ago, Emma had tried that very thing.

Or you could leap into the fray and see where it led you. Move to Dallas. Poke and prod. Hone your investigative skills. See if the pattern was indeed what you feared.

Now, in the much-too-bright light of yet another day, on the cusp of yet another new year, Emma pressed her knuckles to her aching eyes. The tacos were about to make a messy reversal unless she got herself under control. Her commitment to staying off the grid? Blown to hell and back. Emma O’Neill had let herself surface once again and now she was paying the price.

So were the dead girls.

And the guy, snoring—Mason, maybe? Mike?—legs tangled in her comforter, mouth hanging open—well, he had to go.

“Shit.” She elbowed him, hard, in the ribs. “Wake up. Get out.”

She smoothed her hands over her rumpled red mini dress. Right now it felt like one of those old burlap sacks her father
had used to store feed in St. Augustine. Between the tacos and the bourbon, it didn’t smell much better.

At least the dress was still on her.

Mason/Mike was shirtless, but he was still wearing his pants.

If they’d done anything, they could have only done so much. She hoped.

“Mmphff,” he mumbled. Then belched.

Jesus.

“Out,” Emma said, rising, pulling herself together. “You. Rise and shine. Go away.” She wasn’t always this inhospitable. But Mason/Mike was an error in judgment, not company. Emma didn’t mind company. She did attempt to avoid errors in judgment, but over time, over history, they were inevitable. The trick was to act fast and stay pleasant about it.

He opened his eyes—blue, bloodshot—and grinned at her.

“How the hell do you still look so good?” he drawled.

Matt. His name was Matt.

“Habit,” she told him, pushing harder now until he rolled off the bed and hit the floor with a thump. She didn’t need a
glimpse in the mirror to know they were both right. Emma O’Neill might be a tad rumpled and head-throbby right this
second, but that would fade soon enough. A hangover would never make a dent in the overall picture. Toxins of any kind
didn’t have any real effect beyond an initial jolt or a groggy wake-up. Even toxins less pleasant than questionable street
tacos. Hadn’t in longer than she preferred to remember.

Matt sat up, rubbing his backside. “Now why’d you go and do that?” He scratched the side of his face. His gaze was
bleary. He was cute—thick blond hair and a stubbly chin—but pasty under his tan.

He’d looked better last night. They all had.

Emma thought of her friends, Coral and Hugo. Well, mostly Coral. Coral Ballard. The girl who looked like the other girls. The girl who looked like Emma.

THEIR MEETING HAD been a random thing.

The Ballard family—Coral and her little brother and her parents and a mop-like mutt named Bernie—lived in a onestory
house down the block from Emma’s apartment. Emma might not even have spoken to Coral had it not been for Bernie.
Stupid cute dog.

Emma had always wanted one, but a dog was a responsibility she couldn’t assume. A dog might call attention where she needed anonymity. Even if it was lovable. Even if it was loyal, which dogs mostly were, unlike lovable humans, who had a bad habit of betraying girls they were supposed to love.

Maybe she was over-identifying on that last one.

Either way, a dog was just one more thing that would die before she did.

The pup padded closer and sat on her foot.

“You live around here?” the girl asked.

Emma’s gaze shifted. Coral, she noted now, was medium height, like she was. Pale like Emma, too. A slew of brightly colored vintage pottery bracelets adorned her milky arms. Her wavy hair was streaked with lots of red and a bit of blue.

Underneath it looked to be blonde … maybe. But even, then Emma suspected it could have been brown. Like hers, too.
“Yeah,” Emma said. The pup was still sprawled across her foot. She hoped he wasn’t about to pee. “Over there.” She
waved toward the bits of downtown Dallas skyline visible beyond the trees on her left.

The girl yanked on the leash until the puppy moved. “Sorry about that. He likes you. You should be flattered. Bernie’s particular. He doesn’t like a lot of people.”

“Good to know.” Emma turned and nearly bumped into a boy.

“Hugo!” Coral scolded, but she was smiling. She turned to Emma. “He never watches where he’s going.”

Hugo had a big grin. Gangly, black-haired, Latino. And friendly. Before Emma knew it, they were introducing themselves.
Hugo Alvarez and Coral Ballard were both seniors at North Dallas High School. And Emma could see: Both were funny and quirky and very much in love. It was that last part that slipped through her defenses. The way Hugo casually rested a hand on the small of Coral’s back. The way their closeness reminded her of a closeness she’d once had.

Coral tapped a painted nail on her chin. “Look at her, Hugo. We could be…

“Sisters,” Hugo and she finished at the same time. They giggled.

Bernie nudged Emma’s hand so she’d keep petting him.

“Seriously, though,” Coral went on, “if I let my hair go back to its own color, which I totally won’t—but if I did … Don’t we look alike, Hugo?”

He nodded.

Emma shrugged. “Maybe.” She rolled her eyes to make it not true. But it was true. And acknowledging that—even silently—awakened in her a fierce and sudden protectiveness she hadn’t been able to quell since. So she told Coral and Hugo that she was a freshman at Brookhaven Community College studying for a nursing degree. It was the lie she’d chosen for herself upon moving to Dallas.

But occasionally, she’d wished that this were true: that she was studying to become someone who could maybe save a life.

 

UNFORTUNATE THAT CORAL and Hugo had chosen last night—of all nights—to sneak into that same neighborhood bar.

But that’s what happened when you made friends. You ran into them.

Emma kept one eye on the guy she’d followed, and the other on Matt, whom she matched bourbon for bourbon. She didn’t indulge that often, but it was the holidays, and he was cute enough. Besides, the guy she’d followed, one of Elodie Callahan’s classmates, seemed to be guilty only of a bad fake ID. Like she’d figured: a dead-end. And the bourbon was
reminding Emma that at the end of the day—in point of fact, a century of days—she was still alone in all this.

A potent combination.

She should have left the moment Coral and Hugo sauntered in. Or told them to leave. They were underage, after all.
She didn’t. Among a long list of reasons why: they thought she was underage, too. (In a way, she was.) And cute-enough
Matt? He thought otherwise. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Or sit on your foot, like Bernie.

“You like him,” Coral whispered to Emma after bourbon number four. Or five. “Don’t you?” Coral was a romantic
like that.

“He’s all right,” Emma whispered back.

“You’re cute, too,” Matt said, leaning across Emma to wink at Coral. He’d heard them, obviously. Then he pressed his mouth close to Emma’s ear. It had been a long time since she’d felt a boy’s lips brush her skin. “But not as cute as you.”

She should have known better. She did know better. Just sometimes …

At least Coral and Hugo hadn’t stayed long. A party somewhere, Coral said, eyes bright—and then they were gone.
Emma told her to have a nice holiday if she didn’t see her; Emma was going to be spending it with some of her fellow
nursing students, studying for their practicums. (Translation: investigating why a girl named Elodie Callahan had been
murdered.)

It was just Emma and Matt after that, his arm draped casually over her shoulders, and some mixture of anthem rock and Christmas songs … and four or five bourbons too many.

Matt was not Charlie. Could never be Charlie. But Matt was there. Sometimes there was enough.

And now here they were.

 

“I DON’T HAVE coffee,” Emma said to move things along. She did in fact have coffee, two neatly stored packages in the side
door of the fridge: Dunkin Donuts dark roast and a vanilla-flavored one from Whole Foods. She liked them mixed half and half. In Portland, she’d favored espresso. Dallas seemed to require something sweeter. And as soon as Matt was out the door, she would brew a pot. She would sip a mug on her little balcony while she scribbled notes, and she would decide if there was anything about the Elodie Callahan case worth pursuing. Anything she might have missed.

“You look awfully young,” Matt said. He stood slowly, frowning, a thin wrinkle furrowing his brow.

Matt was not young. Not old, either, but somewhere in the middle. Surely no more than thirty.

“I’m twenty-one,” Emma said. It was the age on her current ID, basically the youngest possible age to be licensed and
accepted without suspicion as a private investigator in the state of Texas, though eighteen was the official minimum.

Besides, the age on her driver’s license was even true, from a certain perspective. She had definitely lived twenty-one years.
And as far as the other minimum requirements to be licensed as both a driver and private investigator—she’d met them, too, though not in any way that could be explained to the authorities.

She remembered bringing Matt home now. Remembered eating those greasy tacos. “Give me a bite,” he’d said, grinning.
But she hadn’t shared the taco. Even drunk, Emma was particular about her food.

He’d tried to kiss her a few times on the walk from the bar, and she’d giggled, batting him away. They’d stumbled into the apartment, and her mood changed. The air was fresh inside from the little Christmas tree she’d put up this year—her small acknowledgement that it was the holiday season, fa-la-la. She’d flipped on the tiny Italian lights and forgotten to turn them off.

They were still twinkling in the branches.

She’d been very drunk. It had been very late.

She should have focused on the case. She should have trailed that guy she’d followed, Elodie’s classmate, back to
his house. Or made sure Coral got home from that party.

But it was just after Christmas, almost New Year’s. And even after all this time, all that loss took a cheap shot at her, and
there she was: bringing someone home, someone who hadn’t looked at her carefully. Who tried to kiss her while she shoved
tacos in her mouth and let her pretend the pain wasn’t there, who had no clue that the world hurtled forward while she
stayed exactly the same.

Someone who wasn’t—would never be—Charlie.

Matt’s lips twitched. “We could go to breakfast …” The offer did not sound particularly heartfelt. He scratched the back of his head. The word BELIEVE was tattooed in blue on his forearm. Last night it had seemed the most interesting thing about him. Emma had almost called him on it: “Believe in what?” But even drunk, she’d known that this question could have led anywhere.

Now she moved toward the window. Clicked off the tiny Italian lights. She felt sticky and tired, but the hangover was already fading, as it always did.

“This was fun,” she lied. He needed to get the hint. She needed to call Coral. She needed to brush her teeth.

Matt took a step toward the bedroom door. Emma watched as he patted his pockets, touching wallet and phone. She could see their indentations against his thighs. There was a spot of something that looked like queso on the left knee of his jeans. She tried not to think of tacos, but her stomach was already recovering, too.

He paused, his gaze landing on the ornate gold-chained pocket watch hanging from the wall by her bed.

“Didn’t peg you for the old-fashioned type.”

She shrugged. Maybe he meant that no one wore pocket watches these days, which was mostly true. As far as she could tell, the people in charge of the latest fashion mined the past the way everybody mined the past—perpetually and always.

She wanted to snatch it away, wanted him to leave now, but instead she said more defensively than she meant, “It was
a gift.”

His gaze shifted back to her, looking her up and down.

“You know you could pass for younger. Sixteen, even.”

Good, he was done talking about the watch. Now he was stuck on the age thing. Maybe he was worried he’d broken the law.

“You killed it at history trivia,” he said. He paused, as if trying and then failing to remember any other salient details about the night. In Emma’s estimation, this was for the best for the both of them. Matt hadn’t broken the law, but he hadn’t been good at history trivia, either. Or books. Or movies, except war movies.

Matt could quote every war movie he’d ever seen. Matt had a definite thing for war movies. “Wanna know what Patton said about winning a battle?” he’d asked and she’d shrugged, which he’d taken as a yes. But the bourbon had muddled whatever his answer was.

“See you later,” she said now, a lie. She handed him his striped dress shirt. It smelled of beer and sweat and some kind of cologne that should have been a deal breaker. Christ.

Matt tucked the shirt over his arm rather than putting it on.

Then he smiled as if he wanted to say something gentlemanly, but thought better of it. Good for him.

 

WHEN MATT WAS finally gone, Emma stood under a hot shower for a long time, washing the previous evening away. Having grown up before indoor plumbing, Emma had a keen adoration for endless hot water.

Then she dried and dressed and brushed her teeth. She flossed. Emma was quite devoted to flossing, thanks to Detective
Pete Mondragon in Albuquerque, who had told her you could tell a lot by a person’s teeth.

Pete Mondragon, like Coral and Hugo, had become a friend at a bad time through the unique circumstance of her
existence. They can only hide so much under expensive clothes, he’d said.

She agreed with him about that. Certainly she’d known enough people who hid their evil under fancy outfits. It didn’t
take her long to admit that Pete was right about the teeth, too.

In the kitchen, wearing a peacock-blue silk robe, her dark, wavy hair in a thick, tidy braid, Emma measured out the coffee.
When it was ready, she took her cup to the balcony. The weather had turned, the air warm and muggy, the sky heavy with clouds. It reminded her of Florida.

Outside, Emma sipped, the flavor both bitter and sweet. Underneath the almost tropical air, she could sense there was
something unsettled. Texas weather shifted like that, fast and brutal. Or maybe she was unsettled. The possibility of
that sudden change made her think about the first time she’d turned seventeen. What would Matt would say if she told
him exactly how long ago that was? In spite of the sentiment of his tattoo—BELIEVE—she doubted he’d believe that. In
Emma’s substantive experience, people believed lies far more easily than the truth.