First Chapter: The Year We Hid Away

PART ONE

“Ah, but let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart."

— The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Chapter One: The Goalie's Job

 

Scarlet

 

The minute I heard the hum of the garage door opener, I was in motion.

I didn’t need to look out the window to check that my parents were driving away. When there are three news vans parked on the edge of your lawn, you don’t raise that door frivolously. Over the past year, the news networks had taken thousands of shots of the interior of our garage. Just in case it proved newsworthy.

But this was not the moment to dwell.

By the time I heard my parents’ car accelerate up the street, I had already yanked my closet open. Out came the duffel bags — already packed — and the box of books. One at a time, I lugged these things down the stairs to the mud room.

Then I went upstairs again to pull my getaway note from the desk drawer and place it in the middle of my bed.

Mom and Dad — I got the time wrong for move-in day. It starts at 3. So I’m on my way. I’ll call you tonight. Sorry for the confusion. Love, S.

There were so many half truths in that short note that it wasn’t even funny. But that’s how we did things here at casa Ellison. We bent the truth when the need arose. It had been that way my entire life, even though it had taken me seventeen years to figure out how deep the deceptions went.

The last thing I brought downstairs was Jordan — my guitar. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere without him.

Then I ran back upstairs, darting one last time into my bedroom. It wasn’t for sentimental reasons. Though the room was beautiful — generously sized, and with pretty maple furniture — it had been my prison cell for the past year.

My last task was to haul my hockey gear into the walk-in closet. The skates, the goalie stick, the pads. I hid them all, hoping that my mother wouldn’t find them for a while. The choices I’d made these past few weeks had already given my mother fits. The longer I could forestall an argument over quitting hockey, the better.

Closing the closet door, I went over to the window to take a peek between the slats of my blinds. There were three cameramen clustered on the lawn. That was illegal. They were supposed to stay off the property. But the cops in town didn’t enforce the rule. Not for my family. If our house was on fire, I’m not sure they would even bother to put it out.

The newsmen on our lawn were probably chatting about sports, or the weather, or whatever it was they talked about when there wasn’t any news to shoot. One of them was shuffling a deck of cards in his hands, which probably meant they’d sit down in their lawn chairs to a game of poker soon.

Perfect.

Running back down the stairs for the last time, I threw open the door which led into the garage. As he always did, my father’s bodyguard had closed the garage door as he drove away. At least that creep was good for something. My parents referred to him as “our driver,” but that was just another euphemism. Nobody wanted to talk about why he was needed.

But a man who had been indicted for multiple counts of child molestation felt safer having an ex-military sniper at his back when he left the house.

As quickly as possible, I hauled all my gear into my vehicle, closing the doors as softly as I could. Behind the wheel, I took a minute to take stock of my belongings. I had my handbag, with my new driver’s license inside. I had all my luggage and Jordan.

But no hockey gear.

Right.

I cranked the engine and hit the garage door opener at the same time. I’d been taught that it was a crime to put a car in gear before you gave it a chance to warm up. But these were desperate times. The fancy German engine would have to forgive me just this once, because I needed the element of surprise on my side.

As soon as my SUV could clear the still-rising garage door, I gunned it backward down the driveway. The news trucks blocked my view of the street, unfortunately. So I had to stop for a moment to make sure that nothing was coming.

The cameramen rose from their card game, looking uncertain. They’d just seen and photographed my father’s car as it pulled away — just in case the day would prove newsworthy for him in some way. They’d have it on film.

But I wasn’t newsworthy, especially on Labor Day weekend. Especially alone.

A hasty glance showed nobody lunging for a camera. Yesss!

I backed out carefully — because hitting a news van would not make this getaway any smoother — and idled down my street. Even as I passed the other houses in our tidy New Hampshire college town, my heart beat wildly.

My escape was finally in motion. For a year I’d been waiting for this moment.

By sneaking out, I’d avoided an our-perfect-daughter-goes-off-to-college scene staged by my tearful mother in front of the TV cameras. I was finished with command performance photo ops.

By sneaking out, I’d also sidestepped a goodbye with my dad. Even before the upheaval, things had never been easy between us. I’d always thought of him as a last century father — strict and too busy for me, unless I was wearing skates. (He wasn’t too busy then, but he was still strict.)

Our relationship had been chilly before, but now it was absolutely Antarctic. Formerly a workaholic, my father now spent all his time in a recliner in the den. I never went into that room anymore, where the air was thick with anger and silence.

Though sometimes I snuck looks at him. And I wondered if he’d done all the things he was accused of doing. And why.

And how I could have lived under his roof for so long without guessing.

My heart was full of ugly questions. But even if I’d asked them out loud, nobody in my family could be trusted to answer them truthfully.

 

Picking up speed, I wound through the back roads toward highway 91. It was Shannon Ellison who was putting Sterling, New Hampshire in the rearview mirror. But ninety minutes from now, it would be Scarlet Crowley who climbed out of the car in Harkness, Connecticut.

 

“Scarlet Crowley,” I whispered to myself. I’d have to learn to answer to my new name. That was going to feel strange. But if I had to guess, it wouldn’t be even half as strange as giving up hockey. I’d started playing when I was five. For fourteen years it was my life. At age eleven I’d become a goalie, spending so many hours between the pipes that I even saved goals in my sleep.

The goalie’s job isn’t just to lunge for the puck. The goalie’s job is to see the whole ice at once — to watch the drama unfold well before the puck comes flying toward the net. I’d taught myself to tell who had the puck just from the way she held her shoulders. I studied my opponents, predicting who would shoot and who would pass. I watched it all unfold the way a chess player does — readying herself several moves ahead of time, preparing for all the possible outcomes.

My school won the last three state championships. In a row.

There was a row of trophies in our family room attesting to my strengths as a goalie. And up until a year ago, I assumed that the accolades were well deserved. But it turns out I wasn’t nearly as great as I thought I was.

The goalie’s job is to foresee the defensive gaps. But in my own life, I’d failed to do that. When the ugly stories about my father began to leak into our lives, I hadn’t seen it coming. At all. Like a high-powered slap shot to the chest, all the ugliness hit me hard, knocked me back, and stole my breath.

The life I’d had before was over now. I’d had a year to get used to the idea, so I’d moved beyond shock and denial a long time ago. Now there was only Plan B. It wasn’t perfect, but it was all I had.

 

Two hours later, I stood on a flagstone pathway in a beautiful courtyard. But it wasn’t easy to appreciate the Gothic architecture and the perfectly mowed lawns while my heart did speed drills around the inside of my chest.

 

Probably all the First Years were nervous today. My classmates were likely worried about getting lost, or meeting their roommates. But my biggest fear was something else entirely. Would the registrar’s office have the correct name on my paperwork? And what the hell was I going to do if they didn’t?

When I reached the front of the line, I waited there, mute and anxious, while a cheerful upperclasswoman flipped through a stapled list of students. She chanted my brand new name under her breath while she looked. “Scarlet Crowley. Scarlet Crowley. Scarlet Crowley.”

I began to sweat.

Passing by the front of the alphabet, where I should have been found, she flipped to the last page. Additions and Changes, it read.

“Ah, here you are,” she said, brightening up. She offered me a paper chit which would allow me to have a student ID made. “You were lost, but now you’re found.”

I hoped she was right.

 

With my shiny new ID, complete with my newly minted name, I found my way to Vanderberg Hall, entryway A. The lock gave a satisfying click when I passed the ID in front of the scanner. Hefting my duffel, I climbed two flights up the old marble staircase to the third floor. Each floor had two rooms on it, and a door between them marked bathroom. I didn’t need to try my key, because room 31 was standing open. I leaned into the doorway, spotting two girls bent over the opposite ends of a bright red rug. “Hi there.”

 

Two heads popped up together. The next moment was taken up by their unapologetic examination of me. One of the girls had gorgeous blond hair, while the other sported a perky brunette ponytail. “Hi! I’m Katie!” they said in unison.

Remembering their names would not be difficult. So I had that going for me. “I’m Scarlet,” I said, wheeling my giant duffel bag into the room.

But Ponytail Katie tipped her head to the side, questioning me. “Our third was supposed to be someone named Shannon?”

“There was a switch,” I said. “Shannon isn’t coming.” Because I left her at home.

“Oh!” Blond Katie said. “Where are you from, Scarlet?”

“Miami Beach,” I told her. Time Check: I was thirty seconds in, and I’d already told either two or three lies, depending on how you counted them. And each was a whopper.

It took me three trips to the parking lot to move in. The Katies didn’t offer to help. Instead, they decorated their desks with photos from home, and tried to decide which of the First Year mixers sounded the most promising.

But I was too happy to be here to let their indifference bother me. And Room 31 was in a gorgeous old U-shaped dowager of a building. The Katies and I had been assigned to a triple, which had a tiny bedroom for Ponytail Katie and a slightly larger one for Blond Katie and I. Our suite also featured its own wood-paneled common room with a window seat looking out on the courtyard.

It was pretty darned cool.

“We need a sofa, like, yesterday,” Blond Katie observed. “They’re selling used ones outside.”

“Okay, I’ll chip in,” I agreed, sounding for all the world like Miss Eager. But after the lonely, friendless year I’d endured, all I wanted was to be one of the girls. And even then, I didn’t need much from them. I didn’t come here to be popular or extraordinary. I just wanted to blend.

Even if I had to lie all the time to do it.

“We’ll look at them on our way to the dining hall,” Blond Katie suggested.

“Great,” I agreed.

An hour later, I followed The Katies out of our dorm toward Turner House. At Harkness, the student body was divided into twelve Houses. It was like Hogwarts, but without the sorting hat. Every First Year living in our entryway of Vanderberg had been assigned to Turner House, but we wouldn’t live in the Turner building until next year. For now, we were housed with other First Years on Fresh Court.

Swiping my ID at the Turner House gate, I heard another satisfying click. It was hard to conceal my glee when Ponytail Katie swung the unlocked gate open and held it for us. Scarlet Crowley was in, people! My escape was working.

The Turner dining hall was old-fashioned in a stately way. There was a vaulted ceiling two stories overhead, leaded glass windows set into marble sills, and a giant fireplace at one end. I followed the Katies into a kitchen area, where we had to make sense of the various lines and self service bars.

“Okay, that wasn’t so hard to figure out,” Blond Katie said after we’d found three seats together.

“My boarding school dining hall wasn’t this nice,” Ponytail Katie observed. “It always smelled like bologna.”

“Ew,” Blond Katie agreed. “Where did you go to school, Scarlet?”

“I was home-schooled,” I lied. I had spent the entire summer crafting the story of my new identity. I could have chosen a Miami school to claim for my own, but that posed the risk of eventually running across someone who had actually gone there. And wouldn’t that be awkward.

“Wow,” Ponytail Katie gasped. “But you seem so normal!”

I laughed. If she only knew.

 

That night, I came to sudden wakefulness on a gasp. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was. The room was strange. And my dream still clung to me.

 

It was the same dream I’d had all year. I was playing hockey, of course. That was no nightmare. But in the dream, I darted out of the crease to get the puck, which skidded away from me. The crowd was yelling, wanting me to send it zipping away from our net. But the puck kept going, pitching into a dark hole. Even as the voices around me grew more urgent, the hole was dark and frightening, and I did not want to fetch the puck from down there. Something in my gut stopped me.

At that point, I always woke up in a sweat.

Lame, right? You’d think my mind could come up with something better, like chainsaws, zombies or vampires. But it was always the same dream.

I rolled over in my narrow dormitory bed, and listened to Blond Katie’s snoring. I’d let The Katies drag me to an off-campus kegger that they’d heard about. I’d drunk a warm beer from a plastic cup, and swayed appropriately to overly loud music. The purpose of the party was not at all obvious to me, but on the way home The Katies tallied up the several dozen numbers they’d added to their phones.

“And that lax player with the tattoos? Oh my God — so hot!” Blond Katie had enthused.

“I heard he’s pierced… down there!

They’d shared gale after gale of laughter. The Katies were proving to be the sort of girls who Knew Things. They knew the name of the football quarterback, and which fraternity he’d pledged. They knew the names of the secret society buildings littered around the campus — odd granite, windowless buildings. (“You’re supposed to call them ‘crypts,’” Blond Katie had emphasized.)

It was also proving apparent that The Katies had much more in common with each other than with me. They both loved Sephora! They’d both played field hockey in high school! They were both into Maroon 5! LOL and OMG and WTF!

I wasn’t jealous. Not exactly. (Field hockey? Please.) But I was keenly aware that the past year had put a wedge between myself and the rest of the world, which even a complete identity change could not undo. By dropping out of life for a year, I’d become an observer — a watcher and a thinker. Before that, I’d been a doer and a go-getter.

I used to be more of a Katie. Well, technically I’d been a Shannon. But… same thing.

To amuse myself, I tried to imagine how it would go if I told The Katies the truth about me. What would happen to the perky expressions on their faces?

Well, Katies, I’m not from Miami, although we used to go there all the time on vacation. Actually, I’m from New Hampshire, where my father was a famous hockey player and coach. He was a Stanley Cup winner for Toronto before I was born. He coached defense for the Bruins when I was little, and then he took a college coaching job when I entered kindergarten.

Unless they were uber perceptive hockey geeks, the Katies’ faces would still be lit with interest at this point in my story, considering all the hot athletes I would (and did) meet over the years.

Also, my father started a charity whereby underprivileged kids all over New England could learn hockey for free. Wasn’t that a generous thing to do? Especially since my dad always was — and is — a hyper aggressive asshole. But in hockey they pay you more for that. Anyway, things went swimmingly for him — and me — until about a year ago, when a kid two towns over decided to kill himself.

Were I to say these things out loud, the Katies’ faces might start to cloud with concern at this point, whether or not they read any of the major national newspapers.

The boy — his name was Chad — left a suicide note. And in the note he told the world that my father had raped him repeatedly the year he was twelve.

That’s the point in the story where any self-respecting Katie would run in the other direction. Their tentative warmth toward me would never survive that kind of darkness. It wouldn’t matter to them that I’d learned about my father’s alleged crimes in the New York Times, just like everyone else.

This past year I’d come to understand something about bad news. It didn’t come quickly, like the bad news in movies. It was never just a midnight phone call, or a knock on the door during supper. Real life bad news — the messy stuff — came at you slowly. The midnight call was just a preview of coming attractions. It would be followed by one news truck in front of your house, and then two. And then ten. And even when the trucks went away, it was only a temporary reprieve. Because three other boys would eventually come forward with similar stories. And then the whole cycle began again.

When I’d told the Katies I was home-schooled, I’d almost wished it was true. Last year, I’d kept exactly one friend. One person stood by me while the whole town turned their backs. And worse. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the one accused of a crime. No one except for my friend Anni would sit next to me, ever. I didn’t go to a single party or event for a year, because I was a pariah. The hockey team voted me off my captainship a mere two weeks after voting me on. Even the coach began to favor the younger goalies. (Unless we were losing. And then he had no trouble playing me.)

Public opinion about my father had congealed into horror almost a year ago now. He’d been arrested and then indicted for just about the worst thing a man could do. And it didn’t matter that I hadn’t known — still didn’t really know what had happened. I was the product of a sick man, from a sick home. And anyone in our town who treated me civilly risked getting too close to the stench.

So it’s no mystery why I’d gone to the courthouse this summer to file for a legal name change. And then, when the paperwork came through, I called the Registrar’s Office at Harkness and gave them my new information.

Shannon was gone, and Scarlet was born. I hoped she could save me.

There was always the possibility that I’d be recognized and outed. There was really nothing I could do about that, short of adopting a cheesy disguise. Luckily, there was only one guy at Harkness who’d gone to my high school. He was two years ahead of me, and I didn’t know Andrew Baschnagel well, aside from remembering that he was a pretty big nerd. Since the college’s undergraduate student body was 5000 strong, and I’d never had a real conversation with Andrew, it was a risk I could stomach.

Not that I had a choice.

Scarlet Crowley had no Facebook account, and no Twitter handle. If you Googled my new name, you found very little. (This was lucky, because I didn’t check ahead of time.) Apparently, there was a Mrs. Scarlet Crowley who taught 8th grade algebra at a middle school in Oklahoma. Her students didn’t seem to like her very much, judging by the things they tweeted from her class.

But, please. If the choice was to be mistaken for an ornery teacher who gave frequent pop quizzes, or for the daughter of the most infamous alleged pedophile in the nation, which would you pick?

I’d take the algebra teacher every time.

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