When Olivia's mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery.
|Publisher:||Tantor Media, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
April Henry is the New York Times bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared and the thriller Face of Betrayal, coauthored with Lis Wiehl. She lives in Oregon.
Amy McFadden is a five-time Audie Award Finalist, an Audie Award winner, and has multiple Earphones Awards. The narrator of 400 titles across a wide range of genres, she specializes in mysteries, thrillers, and urban fantasy.
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The Girl I Used to Be
By April Henry
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 April Henry
All rights reserved.
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 Steller's 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.CHAPTER 2
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, feeling embarrassed by 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."CHAPTER 3
The room is spinning. I close my eyes. When everyone thought my dad had killed my mom, it made sense that he hadn't killed me. I was his daughter, his own blood.
"But why not?" I manage to ask. "If the killer had already murdered my parents, why didn't he kill me?"
The detective straightens up. "You just said 'he.'" He and the chaplain watch me closely.
"Does that mean you remember that the killer was a man? The police down in Medford want to know if you have any memories of what happened. Especially in light of this new evidence."
"I don't remember anything. It just seems likely it was a man, that's all. What woman would stab another woman nineteen times?" I can't imagine even stabbing someone once. In biology class last year, we had to cut an earthworm in half and then sew it back together. I'll never forget the way the worm's skin resisted and finally gave way with a pop.
Detective Campbell shrugs. "You'd be surprised. It could have been a woman. Maybe not a stranger, not that many times, but a woman who knew your mom and hated her. Or who panicked and felt like she had to make sure your mom was dead." The chaplain pulls a face at the bluntness, but the detective doesn't stop. "You're right, though. In cases like this, it's more than likely a male perpetrator. As to why he — or maybe she — didn't kill you, he probably figured you were too young to say what you had seen. Or he knew you, and that held him back. Or he felt wrong killing a child. Some killers target specific victims but would never hurt someone who doesn't meet that profile."
"Could it have been a stranger?" I ask. "Some crazy guy they just met in the woods?"
"There are two reasons to kill someone you don't know," Detective Campbell says. "The primary one is because they have something you want, and you do what you need to do to take it from them. Even murder." His voice is matter-of-fact.
I can't imagine being that cold. "So someone might have killed my parents so they could steal from them?"
"But there's one problem with that scenario. What would they have stolen?" He lifts his empty hands. "From what the Medford police told us, your parents didn't have much money. And the killer didn't do it for your dad's truck, because it was left at the airport. And they didn't do it for you, because they left you at the Walmart. So stealing as a motive doesn't seem likely."
I nod, my thoughts still spinning.
"But some people kill because they like killing. And in those cases, the murder isn't something that just happens. It's what you want in the first place. It's what you live for."
The way he says you creeps me out, as if he thinks any of us could be a person with twisted desires.
"Was my mom alive the whole time?" I've wondered that for years.
"There was some decomposition" — Chaplain Farben clears his throat as if warning Detective Campbell not to get too graphic, but he continues — "so they couldn't say for sure. She could have been dead for some of it. They do know she fought back. Some of those wounds were defensive cuts to her forearms and hands." He raises his hands over his head as if trying to shield himself. "And who knows? There's nothing to say the killer didn't stab your father to death, too. We don't have enough of his body to know."
His answer just raises another question. "Then why didn't animals get my mom?"
"The killer wrapped her in a tarp."
I shiver. "Why would they do that?"
"It's not uncommon for the killer to cover the victim afterward. They feel guilty about what they've done. That's one reason the Medford police thought your dad did it. That and the overkill."
"If your goal is to kill someone, you don't need to stab them so many times. Nineteen times tells me there was some type of passion involved. Either extreme anger or someone who loved to kill or who felt some kind of twisted love for your mom. The Medford police weren't wrong to think it was your dad. The first person I would have looked at would be a boyfriend or a husband. A lover."
I shiver. It's crazy to think someone you once loved, who once loved you, could stab you and stab you and keep stabbing you. Even after you were dead.CHAPTER 4
The cops finally leave.
I don't have any pictures of my parents. When you're in the system, you don't have much that's yours. Instead of a suitcase, it's a garbage bag or a cardboard box. Every time you get taken to a new place, things get lost or stolen.
But I know where I can see my mom and dad.
I open my laptop and go to YouTube. Nearly fourteen years ago, my family was featured three times on America's Most Wanted. Since then, people have sliced and diced the old shows and put the segments on YouTube. Sometimes it's just an off-center video by someone who filmed their TV set.
The first is from about a week after my family went missing. I've seen the host, John Walsh, on TV. Now he has gray hair, but in this video, it's shiny black. Looking serious, he talks fast.
"Southern Oregon's Cascade Range is a place where people go to get away from it all. This peaceful mountain setting is also the last known destination for a missing family who went looking for a Christmas tree and never came back."
When this episode aired, I had already been found and was in foster care. No one realized that a missing family was related to one little girl found three hours away, one who answered questions with a blank stare.
"On December sixth," Walsh says, "Terry Weeks and Naomi Benson told friends they planned to take their three-year-old daughter, Ariel, to look for a Christmas tree. They have not been seen since, and it's unknown if they even made it to their planned destination. Their vehicle has not been located by Forest Service personnel or by a helicopter Terry Weeks's father hired."
Next on-screen is Jack Weeks. My grandfather. When I was eleven, my caseworker told me he had died. Since I didn't have any memories of him, it didn't mean much. He may have loved his son enough to hire a helicopter, but that love hadn't extended to giving me a home when I was all alone.
On YouTube he looks rugged and tanned, like he'll live forever. He says, "If they made it to the woods, why haven't we found Terry's truck? Terry's an experienced outdoorsman. He and Naomi have a child with them. They wouldn't have gone far from a road. Something must have happened before they even got there."
The camera cuts back to Walsh in the studio. "Terry Weeks is twenty-one. Naomi Benson is twenty. And little Ariel Benson is just three. Look closely at their photos and that of this Dodge truck, which is similar to the truck Terry Weeks drove."
The screen shows an orange pickup with the license plate blurred out. And then there's a photo of the three of us.
I hit Pause. We are at the beach, on what must have been one of those rare warm days at the Oregon coast. I'm on my mom's lap. I don't remember being blond, but I used to be. My mom's wavy brown hair falls past her shoulders. She has high cheekbones, dark eyebrows, and eyes that slant down at the corners. If my computer was a mirror, I'd see something similar, only my nose doesn't turn up. It's long and straight, like my dad's, and I have his strong chin.
My dad's dark blond hair is a little too long. Shirtless, he sits on the blanket next to my mom, with one arm slung around her waist. The fingers of his other hand curl around my small shoulder.
When I first found this photo online, it made me shudder. My father's hands looked possessive, like he could dictate anything, including whether we lived or died.
The photo hasn't changed, but I have. My chest hurts.
Now I see nothing but love, or an attempt at love, in the way he touches us. He was trying to do the right things: act like a family, pose for a vacation photo, search for a Christmas tree in a forest. I don't know if he did it for me, my mom, or himself, but still, he tried. I do know he was raised by his dad after his mom died, just like my mom was raised by her mom after her parents divorced. Neither of them really knowing how to make a whole family.
Excerpted from The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry. Copyright © 2016 April Henry. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Scatter My Bones,
Chapter 2: The Kaleidoscope Shifts,
Chapter 3: Twisted Love,
Chapter 4: Unsolved Mysteries,
Chapter 5: Just Trying to Get Home,
Chapter 6: Seeing Double,
Chapter 7: Who Are These People?,
Chapter 8: My Father's Lost Bones,
Chapter 9: Watching Everyone,
Chapter 10: I Remember,
Chapter 11: Wicked Point,
Chapter 12: Standing on Your Bones,
Chapter 13: Who's Going to Figure Out the Truth?,
Chapter 14: Doubt a Girl,
Chapter 15: Don't Tell Me,
Chapter 16: Turn the Key,
Chapter 17: Broken-Open Infinity,
Chapter 18: Reach Into the Dark,
Chapter 19: Black and White,
Chapter 20: What They Left Behind,
Chapter 21: That Girl Doesn't Exist,
Chapter 22: More Victims,
Chapter 23: Best Friends,
Chapter 24: The Truth,
Chapter 25: Raining Blood,
Chapter 26: Trust Your Gut,
Chapter 27: A Story Going Around,
Chapter 28: A Lot of Cash,
Chapter 29: Discarded,
Chapter 30: Are They Really That Different?,
Chapter 31: Wicked-Looking Thorns,
Chapter 32: A Broken Stagger,
Chapter 33: The Girl I Used to Be,
Chapter 34: Things Have Changed,
Chapter 35: Lost Cause,
Chapter 36: I'm Not Anyone,
Chapter 37: Healed-Over Scar,
Chapter 38: Something Is Coming,
Chapter 39: Freckled with Red,
Chapter 40: Let Me Go,
Chapter 41: Like I Never Was,
Chapter 42: No Hope,
Chapter 43: Nowhere to Run,
Chapter 44: Empty Eye of the Gun,
Chapter 45: I'm Ready,
Chapter 46: A Real Family,
About the Author,
Other Mysteries by April Henry,