Looking back, the most striking thing is that she knew I didn't like her and she didn't care. That type of self-possession at the tender age of nineteen—well, it's unnatural. Or French. She was very, very French.
It's Tom who calls to tell me the news. Perhaps that should have tipped me off that something was wrong. I can't remember when he last called me. Which is not to say he isn't in touch: unlike most of my male friends, he's remarkably good on e-mail. I suppose I thought he would be calling with glad tidings: an invitation to a party, or a wedding—Tom's wedding—after all, he's been engaged to Jenna for what seems like years.
But what he says is: "Kate, do you remember that summer?" Seven years in Boston hasn't changed his accent a bit: still unmistakably a product of the finest English schooling money can buy. An image jumps into my mind of him, as I last saw him two summers ago: his blue eyes standing out against tanned skin with freckles across his remarkable hooked nose, his rumpled dark hair long enough to curl. He won't look like that now after a hard New England winter, but the
image won't shift.
I know exactly which summer he means: the summer after we finished university, when six of us spent an idyllic week in a French farmhouse.
Idyllic, or mostly idyllic, or idyllic in parts...It's hard to remember it objectively since Seb and I split up immediately
afterward. I opt for a flippant tone. "Isn't it a bit like the sixties? If you can remember it you weren't there."
He ignores my teasing. "The girl next door—"
"Severine." I'm not flippant anymore. And I no longer expect a party invitation. I close my eyes, waiting for what I know must be coming, and a memory floats up unbidden: Severine, slim and lithe in a tiny black bikini, her walnut brown skin impossibly smooth in the sun, one hip cocked with the foot pointing away as if ready to saunter off the moment she lost interest. Severine, who introduced herself, without even a hint of a smile to soften her severe beauty, as "the mademoiselle next door," and who disappeared without a trace after the six of us left for Britain.
"Yes, Severine." Tom pauses, the short silence pressing down the phone line. "They found her. Her body."
I'm silent. Yesterday, if I'd thought about it all, which of course I hadn't, I would have said I didn't know if she would ever be found. With Tom's stark words it suddenly seems entirely fated, as if all possible paths were destined to converge on this discovery. I imagine her bones, clean and white after a decade left undiscovered, the immaculate skull grinning. She would have hated that, the inevitable smile of death; Severine who never smiled.
"Kate? Still there?" Tom asks.
"Sorry, yes. Where did they find her?" Her? Was a corpse still a her?
"The well," he says bluntly. "At the farmhouse."
"Poor girl," I sigh. Poor, poor girl. Then: "The well? But that means..."
"Yes. She must have gone back. The French police will want to talk to us again."
"Of course." I rub my forehead, then think of the white skull beneath my own warm flesh and drop my hand hastily. The well. I didn't expect that.
"Are you okay?" asks Tom, his deep voice concerned.
"I think so. It's just..."
"A shock," he supplies. "I know." He doesn't sound shocked. But I suppose he's had longer to get used to the idea. "Will you tell Lara? I'm not sure I have her number."
"I'll tell her," I say. Lara is my closest friend, another of the six. The police will want to talk to all of us, I suppose, or at
least the five of us who are left; Theo at least is beyond the jurisdiction of any police force now. Probably Tom has called Seb and Caro already, or is about to. It would doubtless be polite to ask how they are, but I don't. "Will you have to fly back from Boston?"
"Actually, I'm in London already. I got in this morning."
"Great!" Good news at last. "For how long?"
"Wonderful!" But there is something odd about his demeanor, such as can be gleaned over the phone. "Is Jenna with you?" I ask cautiously. I'm beginning to suspect I already know the answer.
"No." I hear him blow out a breath. "It's for the best," he adds awkwardly.