Excerpt

All the Pretty Things

Emily Arsenault

The following is an exclusive excerpt from All the Pretty Things, by Emily Arsenault. When Ivy's best friend Morgan finds a dead body, their plan for an idyllic summer at the local carnival changes suddenly. Morgan is sent to a psych ward, and Ivy is dismayed to learn that the body belongs to their former classmate Ethan. But she's more shocked when she learns that everyone around her is keeping a secret, and she's determined to find out what they all are.

I glanced back toward the double doors and realized that I’d had to buzz in because they were locked. This all seemed more complicated than it needed to be. Morgan had had a phenomenally shitty couple of weeks and had broken down a little. But she didn’t need this. I turned forward again, keeping my eyes on the lady’s gleaming white sneakers as she led me into a room with a circle of folding chairs.

Morgan was sitting in the chair farthest from the door, turned slightly away from us, looking out the window. She was wearing jean shorts and a long white T-shirt, her hair in a loose ponytail. I was relieved that she wasn’t in a hospital gown, but she didn’t acknowledge our presence.

“Your friend is here,” said the lady. “I’ll be at the desk if you need anything. I’m leaving the door open. Okay, Morgan?”

I didn’t like how she talked to Morgan—like she was a really old lady who needed every word enunciated to her. It scared me. And the yellow roses in my fist suddenly seemed sad— confirmation that Morgan was now an invalid of some kind.

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“Okay,” Morgan murmured, still gazing out the window. I sat close to Morgan, but with one chair between us.

“Hi,” I said. The cellophane around the roses crinkled as I sat. “Hi,” she answered, glancing at me for a second and then stiffening as her gaze darted away.

“Your mom and brother been visiting?”

“They went out for dinner. Then my mom’s bringing Gavin back home to the babysitter and coming back here for a little while more.”

I nodded. “How are you feeling?” Morgan shrugged. “I want to go home.” “When do you go home?” I asked.

“When they believe I wasn’t going to jump or anything.” “Do they not believe you?” My words came tumbling out, overeager.  “Can I help? Can I tell them that I was there and you weren’t—”

“They’re on the fence, I think,” she interrupted. “Once they believe me, I can go home. I don’t think anything you say would help. They’re waiting for me to say the right things.”

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The topic seemed to annoy her, so I decided not to ask her what “the right things” were.

“So . . . what were you doing up there, Morgan?” I asked.

Morgan released a long sigh, letting her gaze slide over me and across all the empty chairs around us. “I was taking a break.” “I get that,” I said, as gently as I could manage. “But—were you up there all night?”

“What better place?” Morgan paused for a moment. “I knew I’d be left alone.”

“Until morning?”

Morgan gripped her hands together in her lap. “Well, I guess I didn’t realize I’d stay up there that long.”

“How’d you get up there?” I asked, and then held my breath, waiting to see if she’d supply the same strange answer as yesterday.

“I climbed.”

“Jesus, Morgan.” I exhaled. “I’m shaking just thinking about that.”

I really was. And I could feel goose bumps forming on my arms.

Morgan took a long breath and glanced around the room before meeting my gaze. Once she did, though, she seemed to be studying my expression.

“Sometimes . . . ,” she said, and then shook her head. “Sometimes what?” I prompted.

“Sometimes I wonder if you’re scared of the wrong things.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant. Morgan has always known I’m afraid of heights—just like I’ve always known she’s kind of afraid of water. For a long time, we helped each other hide these things from the other girls so we wouldn’t have to admit to anyone but each other what wimps we could be. It helped us become closer friends. She’d pretend she didn’t want to go on the high rides, and I’d pretend to want to hang out in the shallow end.

“Morgan,” I said softly.

“Yeah?” Morgan seemed to sink into the chair as she stared at her fingernails. They had a little bit of purple sparkle on them—mostly chipped off.

“Yesterday you mentioned Ethan.”

Morgan rolled her eyes up toward the ceiling. “Yeah.”

I waited for a moment. “Did you want to talk about him?”

“What about him?”

I was silent for a moment. Somehow I’d expected her to take the lead on that subject.

“Some people are making out like it’s Winnie’s fault about Ethan,” Morgan offered. She was looking at me now as she spoke, as if watching for my reaction. “That she was supposed to walk him home. But she wasn’t even working at Fabuland that night. That’s what people seem to forget. And her brother walked him home just as often—or drove him. It was a rare night that neither of them were there. Ethan said he would call his mom, but he didn’t. Why not? Why didn’t he go get his backpack out of his locker either? Why was he in such a rush to go home? On foot?” “Those all sound like good questions,” I said quietly. “Are the police blaming Winnie?”

“No.” Morgan seemed confused that I had asked. “But since Ethan can’t answer those things for us . . . I wonder if there’s someone else who can.”

I shrugged. “Maybe he just decided to walk. It was a nice night, right?”

“A hot night. But nice enough. Yeah.” Morgan’s expression looked almost feral now, and her voice lowered to a whisper. “I wonder if it’s occurred to anyone that he didn’t fall.”

“What . . . ,” I said uneasily. “Like that he was pushed or something?”

“I don’t know. Just . . . that he didn’t fall.

“Who would want to push Ethan? Ethan never hurt anyone.”

“I didn’t say anyone pushed him. All I asked was if it ever occurred to anyone . . .” Morgan couldn’t finish her sentence. She was crying.

I wanted to reach out and hug her, but it felt like she was maybe too delicate. It was almost like we were still on the Ferris wheel. One wrong move and she might end up overboard.

“It’s okay, Morgan,” I murmured. Just like I had on the phone while I was in North Carolina. And just as ineffectively. “Occurred to anyone . . . what?”

“A few days after Ethan died you texted me that there was something from that morning you wanted to talk about. Something about the day you found Ethan.”

Morgan sniffled and pulled a mushed tissue out of her shorts pocket. “Never mind.”

“No . . . not never mind. I want to know what you were going to say.”

But Morgan dried her eyes and said nothing. Her gaze crept toward the ceiling again.

My hands tightened around the stems of the yellow roses. “Morgan,” I whispered—more sharply than I intended. “Yeah?”

“A few days after Ethan died you texted me that there was something from that morning you wanted to talk about. Something about the day you found Ethan.”

Morgan nodded and finally let her eyes meet mine, seeming to focus a little. “Yeah. There was.”

“I wanted to ask you about it on the Ferris wheel, but it, um, didn’t seem like the right time.”

Morgan’s face broke into a little smile. “Right. That would’ve been . . . inappropriate.”

I smiled too. Here was a glimpse of the old Morgan. We both found it funny how people overuse or misuse that word. Like when the local paper characterized the Fuck off and die someone had spray-painted on the assistant principal’s car as “an inappropriate sentiment.”

“So . . . can we talk about that now?” I coaxed.

“Yeah. I actually have it with me.” Morgan hopped out of her chair. “In my room.”

“What?” I said, stunned by her burst of energy and intrigued by whatever the “it” was that apparently was at the root of all this.

“Hold on a sec,” she called as she shot out of the room. “I’ll be right back.”

After she was gone a minute, I began to wonder if she actually intended to come back. And I wondered what a room in this part of the hospital looked like.

I checked my phone. No texts, of course, since Morgan and my parents were the only people who usually texted me. I put the roses on the floor and stood up. Then Morgan came back in. “This,” she said, and thrust something smooth and round into my hands.

It was a small half-globe paperweight with blue-green glitter on the bottom. Isolated in the middle of its clear plastic domed top was a little brown scorpion.

“Is that real?” I asked.

“I think so. They have these as new prizes at the Water Gun Fun and the balloon dart booths. They’re only for this summer. Stuff for older kids to pick from, I guess. Not just toy cars and magic wands and mini stuffed animals. That’s what Emma told me.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. Emma worked a couple of different prize booths, depending on the day.

“The morning I was walking to Fabuland from my house . . . before I got to the trestle . . . before . . . ” She swallowed and took a breath. “Before Ethan. Like a minute or two before I saw Ethan, while I was walking along the path from Braeburn Road to the trestle, I saw this and picked it up. I thought it was kind of cool, so I put it in my pocket. I forgot about it, though . . . when everything happened.”

“Okay,” I whispered, waiting for more as I handed the paperweight back to Morgan.

“That night I found it in my pocket. Put it on my dresser. Debated if I should get rid of it. Seemed like a bad-luck charm kind of thing, that I found Ethan a minute or two after I’d put this thing in my pocket.”

I shuddered and sucked in my breath. I’m not very superstitious, but finding a scorpion trinket seconds before finding some-one dead seemed like pretty staggering proof that bad omens existed.

“I almost threw it in the trash, but there was so much going on those few days—talking to the police, and not being able to sleep for a couple of nights and the wake and the funeral and everything—I kind of forgot about it. Until after the funeral. A few of us were hanging out at the pizza place on East Main that night, chatting, mostly just sharing memories about Ethan. And then Emma starts saying how Ethan kept coming to her booth the week before he died, and kept eyeing this one paperweight, one of the new scorpion paperweights. There were a few purple ones and a red one but only one light blue one. He wanted it so desperately that Emma tried to give it to him, but Ethan insisted no, he had to win it fair and square.”

“And?” I said.

“And he won it. The day before he died. Emma was telling everyone how happy Ethan was, how Ethan hugged her and couldn’t wait to show it to his mom, to his cousin Tim. To everyone else it was just a sweet story about Ethan. But . . . for me . . .”

Morgan didn’t finish her sentence.

“Wait.” I wanted to clarify something. “You found it before you found him?”

“Yeah. Ever since I heard it was his, I’ve been carrying it around with me. I had it with me on the Ferris wheel.”

I bit my lip. I didn’t like the thought of the bad-luck scorpion having been with us up so high in the sky.

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From All the Pretty Things by Emily Arsenault. Used with the permission of the publisher, Delacorte. Copyright © 2020 by Emily Arsenault.




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