Famous Last Words(5)

By: Katie Alender

Jonathan sighed. “I’m sure Willa will take care to avoid any circumstance where she could be mistaken for an actress.”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Don’t tease,” Mom said.

Jonathan patted my mother’s hand reassuringly. “The last murder was five months ago. Well, until today. There have only been four, total. Even if Willa were an actress, the odds are astronomically small that anything would happen to her.”

“But it’s cool,” I said. “Because I’m not an actress. And I never will be one.”

“Promise?” she said, smiling a little.

I held up my right hand, like I was swearing an oath. “I hereby promise that I will never be an actress.”

“Very wise,” Jonathan said, nodding. “Acting is a hard life, even when you’re successful. Maybe especially when you’re successful.”

“Willa might be a writer,” Mom said.

Oh, come on. I stuffed another bite of noodles into my mouth and looked away.

“Really?” Jonathan said. “What do you write?”

“Nothing, actually,” I said. “Nothing at all.”

“She used to write a lot.”

“That’s in the past,” I said. “Writing is for people who have something to say.”

“Oh, honey,” Mom said, looking hurt. “You have so much to say. What’s inside you is so …”

Um, no. I turned to Jonathan, eager to change the subject to something less depressing than my mother’s useless hopes for my future. “Hey, let’s talk more about the murders.”

“Oh, honestly, Willa,” Mom said, seeing right through my plan.

Jonathan sat up straighter. “Well, they’re pretty interesting, actually. Macabre, but interesting. The killer recreates iconic scenes from classic movies. He posed his first victim to mimic the final attack scene from The Birds. Then there was the wheelchair falling down the stairs from Kiss of Death….”

I shivered, trying to picture it. I hadn’t seen either of those movies, but I felt a twinge of morbid curiosity. Maybe that was what made the murderer do such awful things — knowing that people would be so intrigued.

“What do they call the killer?” I asked. “They all have nicknames, right?”

Jonathan looked down at his iPad. “The media’s been using the name ‘the Hollywood Killer.’ ”

I stared down at my glass of water. “How about ‘the Screamwriter’?”

“That’s actually pretty good,” Jonathan said.

“A little over-the-top,” I said.

“Yeah, but it’s catchy,” he said.

“Catchy?” I said. “Or gimmicky?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you two,” Mom said. “This is not proper dinnertime conversation.”

No, I suppose it wasn’t. But for the first time in a long time, I’d felt normal for a couple of minutes. Of course, what did it say about me that joking about murders made me feel normal?

After we carried our dinner dishes into the kitchen, Jonathan cleared his throat. “So, Willa. I got you something. A welcome-to-California present.”

He set a large, flat box on the kitchen counter. It was wrapped in pearl-white paper with a hot-pink bow.

“You shouldn’t have,” Mom said.

“Really,” I said.

“No, I wanted to.” He rested his hands on the granite countertop. “I know this isn’t an easy transition for you. And I know that I could never replace your father — and I’m not going to try. But I do hope we can be … friends.”

I was speechless, in a horrified sort of way. I’d assumed that everything that needed to be said between us would eventually make its way to the surface. But this grand declaration of friendship? Mentioning my dad? Giving me a present? It seemed like such a cheap, obvious move to buy my goodwill.

Anger flared up inside me, and it took all the self-control I had to stamp it out.

“Yes … friends,” I managed to say. I carefully unwrapped the box, aware that both my mother and Jonathan were watching my reaction with eagle eyes.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “Wow.”

“What is it?” Mom asked.

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