When I was fifteen, my favorite place in the world was the high-jump setup at the school track. The bar provided a simple obstacle with a certain solution. You either cleared it or you didn’t. In a world of tangled problems with knotty answers, that was bliss.
I guess it all started out on that field, the summer before my sophomore year. That’s when I fell in love with Owen Fowler. I never could hide how much I wanted that man.
That’s why everyone immediately thought I murdered him. Watch any TV crime show, and the person who says “I couldn’t have killed him—I loved him!” is the one who did it. Nothing fuels hate like love gone wrong. So when the coach went up in flames, people naturally looked to see if I was holding the match. But I swear: I didn’t kill him.
You don’t believe me, Annie, I can see it in your eyes. But I’ll tell you everything, exactly how it went down. You probably won’t agree with what I did. You definitely would’ve done things differently. But by the end, I hope you’ll at least understand.
So—ten years ago. The athletic field was the most beautiful place in Holly Grove. A girl could feel like she was part of something good on that rectangle of perfect grass, surrounded by bleachers shining silver in the sun. Come fall, the football players would own the field, and the stands would hold ten thousand screaming fans. But in July, the stadium was empty, and the kids who went to Coach Fowler’s sports camp got to use the spongy red track that circled the field. The air smelled of fresh-cut grass, the clean sweat of a good workout, and the occasional whiff of Icy Hot. To this day, I still love the smell of Icy Hot.
And I loved the feel of the high jump itself. That moment at the peak, as my back sailed over the bar and I looked straight up at the sky—suspended above the earth, touching nothing but air. Like I could detach from the physical world with all its problems. For a second, at least. I was free. It was my little piece of heaven.
You know what I mean, right? You were a pretty good sprinter yourself. What’d you place in the two hundred meter? Eighth in the state? But track didn’t mean the same to you. You’d found another way out. By the time I turned fifteen, you’d already accepted that scholarship to U of M. That summer, you were just killing time before college, hanging out at the track a lot. You told Mom you went to watch me, but you were really there to flirt with Rob. Don’t fuss, you know it’s true. He was a hottie. And not just because he’d been starting quarterback that year—king of the town! He was objectively hot. Guess he peaked early.
You know why he suddenly got interested your senior year, right? After all those years of not knowing your name? No offense, but. You finally grew some boobs. My own chest didn’t show signs of catching up any time soon. The high jump was the one place where my resemblance to a wall was still an advantage.
I was aiming to break your school record for high jumping. Six feet, one inch. I thought if I broke it, people would finally start calling me “Jody” instead of “Anna Curtis’s little sister.” I remember the day I first believed I could do it: July 15, 2004.
I was trying to figure out why my jump had stalled. I was doing everything right, but it just wasn’t taking. I tried again: stood at my starting place and sprinted toward the bar. I hit my mark and rounded the turn toward the mat: five strides, pivot, jump! I flew backward, arched my spine, and kicked my feet up. But something was off, I knew it even before my butt knocked down the pole. As my back hit the mat, I heard the bar clatter to the ground and Rob laughing in the distance.
I said, “Fuck.”
“Watch your language, young lady.”
Coach Fowler stood next to the mat, which was a surprise. He was the head of the whole camp and mostly stayed with the football team, leaving the lesser athletes to the lesser coaches. The thrill of him noticing me was canceled by the fact that it was when I’d messed up.
I jumped off the mat and fetched the pole. We set it on the risers together. He was tan and tall, with an athletic build and that aura of authority. The sun threw golden glints off his blond hair. He must’ve been forty at that point, but he was way cuter than the teenage boys he coached.
“You’re a good jumper,” Coach said. “You could be great—but you have to really want it. Do you really want it?”
I looked over where you and Rob were sitting. Rob was tugging on the tie of your hoodie. The coach followed my gaze.
“Your sister’s a good runner. Fast, determined, scrappy,” he said. “Jody—you’re better.”
I blinked with surprise. He knew my name. And . . . not many people thought I was better than you at anything. He reached over and pulled my hand away from my cheek. I hadn’t even realized I was touching my scar.
“It’s barely noticeable,” he said. He cleared his throat and pointed to my pink chalk mark on the ground. “The problem is your approach. Your mark is too close. You shot up this spring, so your stride is longer. You need room to stretch out those long legs.”
I tried not to blush at the implication that he’d noticed my legs. Coach took a piece of blue chalk out of his pocket and drew a line on the ground, about three feet behind my pink mark. He also moved back my starting mark. “Try that.”
I trotted to the new starting place, feeling the blue nylon of my team shorts brushing against my glamorously long legs. I looked at the coach’s marks and wasn’t sure I could do it. I glanced at him, and he nodded. You and Rob stopped talking to watch me. I took a deep breath, squinted at the high-jump bar, and sprinted toward it. I reached the coach’s mark and counted off my curve, demanding my legs cover as much ground as they could with each stride: one, two, three, four, five. Pivot. Go!
I jumped. And I flew.
I knew it was perfect the moment I took off. I felt it in my legs, my hips, my spine. I soared back over the pole with inches to spare. Suspended in the air, I looked at the bright blue sky and the soft white clouds and felt a moment of perfection.
I landed on my shoulder blades and let myself somersault backward. A few runners broke out into applause. You yelled, “Go, Jody!”
I jumped on the mat. “Yes!”
“There it is!” Coach yelled. “Good girl! Do that at a meet, and we’ll be putting your name up in the gym.”
I bounced to the edge of the mat, and Coach met me with a high five. Then he held out his hand to help me down. I took it, feeling honored, shy, and electrically happy. His grip was steady and strong. Dad had never held my hand like that. Coach’s fingers tightened around mine as I stepped down, then opened to release me. But I didn’t want to break the connection. I kept holding on to his hand for a few seconds after he let go.
A Good Killing
How far would you go to save your sister?
Anna Curtis is back in her hometown just outside of Detroit. Newly single after calling off her wedding, Anna isn’t home to lick her wounds. She’s returned to support her sister, Jody, who has been wrongfully accused of murder after their old high school coach, a local hero, dies in a suspicious car crash.
But maybe Jody isn’t so innocent after all. The police are convinced that Jody was having an affair with the married coach and killed him out of jealousy. As Anna investigates with the help of her childhood friend Cooper Bolden, an Afghan War veteran with a secret of his own, she slowly peels back the facade of her all-American town and discovers that no one is telling the truth about the coach, not even the people she thought she knew best. When the town rallies against them, threatening not just Jody’s liberty but both sisters’ lives, Anna resolves to do everything she can to save her sister and defend the only family she has left.
In her best book yet, Leotta, “the female John Grisham” (The Providence Journal), explores the limits of vigilante justice, the bonds of sisterhood, and the price of the truth.
- Touchstone |
- 320 pages |
- ISBN 9781476760995 |
- May 2015
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Reading Group Guide
Critically acclaimed author Allison Leotta introduces the next thriller in her Anna Curtis series. When Anna gets a call from her small hometown of Holly Grove, Michigan, she is shocked to discover that her sister, Jody, is in trouble: she is a suspect in the violent death of revered high school football coach Owen Fowler. Anna immediately rushes to her sister’s side. She and Jody may look alike, but their lives couldn’t be more different. A Harvard Law School graduate, Anna has a successful career as federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C. Jody, however, never left her small town, and works on the assembly line at GM. Aching from her recent breakup with her fiancé, Anna decides to put her job on the line and work on the other side of the courtroom as Jody’s defense lawyer. However, as Anna investigates the case she can’t shake her suspicion that Jody isn’t telling her the whole story. It’s up to Anna to see through the lies and determine what really happened—and wh see more