Title: The Stepdaughter
Author: Carol Ellis
Published: April 1993
Tagline: Daddy’s little darling . . . is dead.
Description: Having a new father can be murder.
He’s kind and thoughtful. He wants them to be a happy family. He’s her stepfather.
And he may be a murderer.
From the day Livvie meets him, she knows she’s not going to like her new stepfather. But when she tells her mother and her best friend, they both think she’s crazy not to like such a wonderful man.
Then Livvie thinks she sees her stepfather’s picture on TV – wanted by the police for a murder he committed fifteen years before. The murder of his wife . . . and his stepdaughter.
Is Livvie crazy?
. . . Or is her stepfather?
Hoo, boy, that’s . . . a lot of “crazy”s we’re throwing around, huh? Not thrilled about that.
I remember this book pretty well. I was eleven, almost twelve when it was published, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, this book is basically the movie The Stepfather. Honestly, the book should have been titled The Stepfather, and I’m willing to bet the only reason it’s called The Stepdaughter is so that it wouldn’t be confused with that movie. But it is. It is totally The Stepfather. It also used to be one of my favorite Point Horrors. I’ve read this book multiple times. I don’t think the ableism regarding mental health is actually as bad as the back-of-book description makes it sound, but it has been a very long time since I’ve picked this one up, so I guess we’ll find out! [Note from Future Me: *stares bleakly into the abyss*]
Also, because it is titled The Stepdaughter instead of The Stepfather, I remember when I bought it assuming the stepdaughter was the murderer. (I don’t know if you can read the newspaper headline in the cover art, but it says “Police search for stepdaughter-killer” which my tween brain insisted meant the stepdaughter was the killer.) I was very surprised to discover it was actually about a girl who suspects her stepfather is a killer.
We kick off with our protagonist, Livvie Palmer, waking up to footsteps outside her bedroom door. It’s six in the evening, and she hadn’t meant to doze off, but here we are. She panics about the footsteps, since she thought she was alone in the house, but it turns out to be her new stepfather, Allen Richardson (whom she insists on referring to as “Richardson,” except to his face), checking to see if she’s coming out to dinner with him and her mother. Livvie takes the time to tell us about the birthmark on his hand that’s shaped like Africa, then tells Richardson that she needs to study. He asks if she has a test, and she tells him she’ll know tomorrow, leading him to sympathize about pop quizzes. Livvie doesn’t reply:
Livvie decided no response was required. She went on looking at him, her expression neutral. Her “beige” look, she called it. It went with anything. People could read whatever they wanted into it. Usually they decided you felt the same way they did.
I was so enamored by this idea as a tween that I’ve spent the better part of 25 years trying to perfect this look myself. Everything Carol Ellis wrote about it is bullshit. With a completely neutral look on my face, I’ve been asked what I’m crying about; what I’m angry about; told by a customer that I looked rude; told I looked angry that the guy I was hooking up with was talking to couple of our female coworkers; and any number of other things. I don’t know if it’s just my face or what, but looking “neutral” seems to have caused me a lot more grief than just snarling at people. So fuck it; I’m embracing my resting bitch face.
Mom and Richardson both try to entice Livvie with enchiladas, but she insists on staying home. She wants nothing to do with Richardson, and thinks his “thoughtfulness” is an act. They leave, promising to bring her back some enchiladas even though she said she’ll just fix something at home for dinner. Girl. I don’t care how much you hate the guy; don’t turn down enchiladas!
Livvie thinks about her dad, who died of a heart attack two years ago, and how her mom and her therapist urged her to give Richardson a chance, and how he said he’s not trying to replace her dad. The timeline isn’t extremely clear here, but it seems Dad died, Livvie went into a downward spiral, not eating or sleeping, and ending up in a psychiatric hospital. Then some time while she was in out-patient therapy, her mom started dating Richardson and fearing it would make Livvie break down again. But Livvie is strong now and has no intention of falling apart again ( . . . not really how mental health works, guys), and she expected Mom to date and possibly get remarried; she just doesn’t like the guy she chose to do it with. No real reason why is given thus far, by the way.
(I don’t have experience with stepfathers, so I don’t know about all this. I’ve had two stepmothers so far, and both of them seemed to be taking lessons from classic Disney movies about how to treat stepdaughters. Fairly certain neither of them were murderers, though.)
While Livvie is making herself a tuna sandwich for dinner instead of eating delicious enchiladas at the Santa Fe Restaurant, her BFF Marta calls to get some History notes. Except Livvie knows she’s mostly calling to check up on her, but it doesn’t seem to be in a condescending way. Marta is a good friend who’s stuck with Livvie through everything (unlike her ex-boyfriend, Rob). They talk a little about why Livvie doesn’t like Richardson; after all, he’s nice, funny, and treats kids like people. Livvie can’t explain it; it’s just a gut instinct.
After she hangs up from Marta, Livvie settles in to watch some TV on the kitchen television while she eats her sandwich. Fugitives from Justice is on, which sounds like this universe’s America’s Most Wanted. They have on a story about a mom and eight-year-old daughter who were killed in a fire in their home fifteen years ago. It was quickly determined that the husband and stepfather, Adam Clinton, had been responsible, and it was speculated that he killed them for the insurance money – a hundred thousand dollars. Assuming we’re talking about 100k in 1978 (1993 minus 15 years), that would be worth about 394k today. Not too shabby. Except dear old stepdad didn’t stick around to collect; he fled right after setting the fire.
Adam Clinton had apparently drugged his wife and stepdaughter before setting fire to the house. He was away on a business trip and expected the fire to destroy the evidence, but a neighbor had spotted the blaze and called 911. When he realized all the evidence hadn’t gone up in flames, he just never came back from the trip. His car was found in long-term parking at the airport, and records showed he flew to Chicago, but the police lost all trace of him after that.
They show a blurry photo of Adam Clinton, age twenty-nine, and Livvie squints at it, spots something like a speck of mud on the back of his hand, and knocks over her glass of milk. Then they show an age-progression, and she thinks they got it almost right, but his hair isn’t receding the way they’ve done it; it’s just getting thin all over. Oh, and they forgot to raise his eyebrows; he almost always has his eyebrows raised.
Adam Clinton is Allen Richardson, you see. Livvie’s sure of it.
Wow, so . . . we’re just getting right to it, aren’t we?
The show cuts to commercial, and Livvie thinks that she can’t possibly be right; just because she doesn’t like Richardson doesn’t mean he’s a killer. She thinks maybe the fact that she doesn’t like him is clouding her judgment and making her more willing to force a resemblance between him and Adam Clinton.
She hears the garage door start to open, and quickly slams her dirty dishes into the dishwasher and runs to shut the TV off, pausing to marvel at how much the photos onscreen really do look like Richardson. Then he and her mom walk into the kitchen with the enchiladas that this silly girl should have held out for rather than eating a fucking tuna sandwich.
Livvie is transfixed by Richardson’s birthmark when he holds up the bag with the delicious enchiladas in them (look, I probably shouldn’t be recapping while I’m hungry, but it is what it is, okay?), and then sees Adam Clinton’s face superimposed over his when she looks at him. Too distracted to make polite conversation with him and Mom, Livvie heads upstairs, ostensibly to study, and thinks that lots of people have birthmarks, and anyway, Adam Clinton was probably hiding out in a big city somewhere. There was no way he’d be stupid enough to move to a small town and get married again!
In her room, Livvie hears the TV come on in the kitchen, and panics, wondering if Fugitives from Justice does a wrap-up at the end and if Richardson would see his own face on the screen and know she’d seen it and recognized him. She opens her door and listens, but it’s only a political talk show, which is Richardson’s favorite thing ever. Livvie again tries to convince herself that Adam Clinton isn’t really Richardson, because if he is, it means she and Mom are living with a murderer. I mean, yeah, and a family annihilator at that.
Over the next few days, Livvie goes back and forth in her head wondering if it really was Richardson, thinking it can’t possibly be, then circling back around to believing it again. Finally on Saturday morning, she calls Marta and tells her about it. Marta immediately starts shrieking, asking Livvie if she’s crazy and if she’s totally out of her mind. I’m about to slap Marta, but then she apologizes and says she didn’t mean it that way. Mmhmm, I’ll let it pass for now, Marta, but I’m watching you.
Marta reasons with Livvie that she can’t accuse someone of murder just because he looks a little like the murderer, and she can’t imagine Richardson as a killer – he’s so ordinary and doesn’t stick out in a crowd. Yeah, Marta, neither did Ted fucking Bundy. Ann Rule was a goddamn former police officer who worked with Bundy at a suicide prevention center, befriended him, and still had no fucking clue he was a serial killer, even when she saw the description of the killer and his car. Jesus fucking Christ, Marta, do you think killers go around wearing sandwich boards announcing themselves as killers? What the hell?
Marta may be out of my good graces, no matter how she stuck by Livvie during her mental health crisis before.
Marta argues that doesn’t Livvie think if Richardson is a murderer, he would show some sort of dark side? Livvie suddenly realizes that Richardson has probably perfected his own “beige” look – nice and ordinary, so he doesn’t draw attention to himself.
Marta hems and haws, and then asks Livvie if she’s going to talk about this with her therapist, whom I guess Livvie isn’t seeing on a regular basis at the moment, because she despairs that Marta thinks she’s losing it again and needs to see her shrink. Goddammit, therapy doesn’t mean you’re “losing it.” For fuck sake.
Then Livvie says that Marta’s right about her needing to get to know Richardson better, and Marta is relieved that Livvie’s going to give him a chance. Except what Livvie actually does after hanging up is start snooping around in her mom and Richardson’s bedroom, and despite my annoyance at what is shaping up to be some pretty fucking egregious ableism regarding mental illness, I laughed my ass off at this. Go for it, Nancy Drew.
Not finding anything in the bedroom, Livvie moves her search downstairs, to Richardson’s study. After more searching, she hasn’t found anything either proving or disproving he’s Adam Clinton, but she’s realized that he doesn’t seem to have a past – no old photos or yearbooks or letters or anything. She thinks it’s weird, because she’s only sixteen but she’s already got tons of shit that shows her past – yearbooks, swimming ribbons, grade school photos. Which is a fair point, but it’s also possible to lose all your old stuff completely non-nefariously through lots of moves, or natural disasters and whatnot. It does happen.
Then Livvie senses a disturbance in the Force and turns around to find Richardson standing in the doorway. Dun-dun-DUN!
Thinking fast, Livvie grabs a notepad off a shelf and makes an excuse about needing to go to the library to do some research, but she didn’t have a notebook; is it okay if she takes this one? Both Livvie and the reader are left uncertain if Richardson buys this lie or not, but he doesn’t try to immediately set her on fire, so that’s a plus.
Livvie was lying about needing to go to the library, but she realizes it might not be a bad idea, so she catches a bus downtown and looks around the library for a true crime book that might mention Adam Clinton and his murders. She thinks there might be more identifying information about him in a book than there was on the TV show, but alas, there are no books about him. She looks around and sees people reading newspapers, and has a brainstorm that she should check old newspapers!
Honestly, that’s what I thought your plan was to begin with, Livvie, but okay. Work it out, girl.
Because the internet wasn’t a thing yet, Livvie looks up the address and phone number of the Morrisville Sun, the newspaper from Adam Clinton’s town. At first she plans to call them, then realizes she can’t call from home because the call will show up on the phone bill. She decides to write to them and ask them for all their articles about the Clinton murders, but then she thinks what if Richardson checks the mail and sees them?
Then she’s jerked back to reality by the lurching of the bus, and again is back to thinking Richardson can’t possibly be Clinton and she should try to get to know him so she can prove to herself he’s not a killer and stop thinking about that stupid TV show.
Okay, I’d forgotten how annoying Livvie’s back-and-forth is. I mean, it’s realistic, but goddamn annoying.
Back home, Livvie pulls out a spiral notebook and makes a list of things she knows about Richardson, and things she knows about Clinton. Not much matches up, but like, Richardson has probably made up a whole new past for himself, maybe more than once over the last fifteen years, so I’m not sure you can really go off that, Livvie.
On Monday night, Mom comments that Livvie is being awfully quiet, and the text refers to Mom as Patricia Richardson. Hey, that’s the name of the actress who played the mom on Home Improvement! That’s fine, but if Tim Allen shows up, I’m out.
Anyway, Livvie makes an excuse about the national physical fitness thing in P.E. wearing her out, and Richardson mentions feeling like he’d been about to drop when he was on the football team in high school. Livvie remembers him saying he was on the soccer team the first time she’d gone out to dinner with him and Mom, and there’s no way he could have been on both teams at once, since they’re both fall sports. I mean, couldn’t he have done one one year and the other a different year? Or maybe he’s referring to soccer as “football” like the majority of the world does? (Petition to start calling American football “hand-egg.”)
Livvie asks him about the soccer thing, and instead of using one of my more plausible excuses, he replies that no, he hadn’t said he played soccer; he’d said he wished he had. But Livvie remembers it clearly because she also plays soccer, and Mom had suggested he could help her with her shooting and passing. She confirms that he’s talking about high school, that it was in California, and when she asks what position he played, he jokes, “benchwarmer” and doesn’t actually answer the question. Then she asks if he was born in California, and suddenly he starts getting suspicious, asks why the interrogation, and Mom calls her nosy. Okay, but y’all’ve been the ones demanding she try to get to know him better, fuck. *shrugs*
Livvie backs off, and Richardson starts rubbing his forehead, claiming he needs to get a new glasses prescription. Ha, you and me both. I’ve had my current one for way too long; not only do I have to squint all the fucking time, but if you have the same glasses long enough, the non-scratch coating will actually start chipping off, leaving weird little blurry spots you have to direct your eyes around to see things clearly. It’s not fun, but glasses are fucking expensive, friends. *cries in American health care system*
Livvie thinks it’s weird that Richardson avoided her questions, and also that he’s wearing his glasses at the dinner table since he’d said before that they were reading glasses. Oh. Hmm. I guess that is weird, unless he’s reading at the dinner table. Which I guess would be rude. I think I’ve probably been rude in that manner many times in my life. (I was that kid who used to read books while walking through the grocery store with my mom. I had great peripheral vision and never crashed into anyone/thing.)
In the end, it’s Richardson’s odd reaction to her questions that decides her, and Livvie mails a letter to the Morrisville Sun the next day, putting Marta’s return address on it. She again wonders what she’s doing/thinks Richardson can’t really be a killer, then thinks about the stepdaughter Adam Clinton killed, Cynthia, who would be older than Livvie had she survived. She wonders if Cynthia had had a bad feeling about Clinton, and if people had wondered what her problem was.
A couple days after Livvie mails the letter to the newspaper, her mom comes in to talk to her. Livvie is afraid she wants to have a heart-to-heart about Richardson, since she’s not been doing the best job of staying polite but distant to him. Mom and Richardson have noticed how quiet and tense she’s been, but it’s spring break (for some reason we’re calling it “spring vacation” and apparently it lasts for two weeks. I am wracking my brain trying to remember if this was how it was in my childhood, and coming up empty. I only remember ever getting one week off) she wants to talk about. Her high school BFF recently got divorced, and she lives in a huge house that needs a lot of work done. Richardson (who is a real estate agent, but apparently a decent handyman as well) can fix up the house while Mom and Livvie hang out by the lake. Oh, and the BFF, Joanne Ward, has three kids – nineteen, seventeen, and fifteen. Wow, those are weird names, but okay. Livvie immediately thinks her mom is worried she’s heading toward another breakdown and just wants to get her to someplace restful so she doesn’t fall apart again. But then Livvie thinks it does sound nice, and maybe it’ll be easier to avoid Richardson with additional people around.
Two days before school lets out for the break, Livvie tells Marta about the letter to the Morrisville Sun, and asks her to send their reply to her at the Wards’ place. She also tells her to put it in a different envelope so Richardson won’t see the real address, but like, wouldn’t you have to do that anyway? Once a piece of mail has been posted and arrived at its destination, you can’t really cross out the original recipient and write a new address in and post it again. The only thing that works for is a “return to sender” which is definitely not what Livvie is after. But anyway.
Marta is reluctant, hoping that Livvie would drop the whole thing, and asks why Livvie doesn’t just go to the police if she’s so sure. Livvie replies that she’s not sure, and that’s why she’s trying to find evidence one way or the other! She doesn’t want to set anything in motion with the cops and then be wrong. And I see her point, but here’s what I’m wondering: could she get Richardson’s fingerprints, then call the tip line of the TV show and tell them the situation, then get the prints to them or the cops for comparison? Would that work? I dunno, it just seems there are easier ways to go about this.
Marta is singularly unenthused about helping Livvie out, but she takes the Wards’ address and promises to send Livvie the information if it arrives while she’s gone. Then she leaves Livvie’s room so she can head home for dinner, and Livvie hears Richardson start talking to her. She panics because she hadn’t heard him come home; wonders if he could have overheard them talking; then wonders if Marta is down there selling her out and telling him everything.
Look, it’s perfectly understandable for Livvie to be scared and suspicious, but maybe take it down a couple notches here. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be reasonable paranoia, or if we’re trying to paint Livvie with the cRaZy brush.
We jump to Saturday morning on the two-hour drive to Cliffside, where the Wards live. Livvie is driving her mom’s car and following Mom and Richardson (they need both cars because Richardson might have to drive back to show houses during their vacation), and thinking about Thursday when she’d gone downstairs and discovered Marta and Richardson weren’t talking about her at all. Or they heard her coming and changed the subject, but she doesn’t want to believe that and start getting paranoid about her bestie.
They drive through the town of Cliffside and come to the Ward house up a long driveway, because naturally this house is all kinds of secluded. Joanne Ward is in the driveway arguing with a teenage boy, who yells at her and then jumps on a motorcycle and roars off down the drive. I’m guessing he’s either Seventeen or Nineteen.
He turns out to be Nineteen, aka Kyle, and Seventeen is Joel, while Fifteen is the daughter, Dana. Joanne and Mom exclaim over each other, and Livvie, and Richardson charms Joanne, much to Livvie’s dismay. Joanne tells them they have tons of space, but that’s about it, and Livvie notices the house is a big three-story, but also pretty run down. Except the front door, which is newly painted. Joanne laments that Kyle actually volunteered to paint the door, before he decided to be as belligerent as humanly possible.
Joel (aka Seventeen) rocks up and calls Livvie “Olivia” in a “deep, full voice like a Shakespearean actor,” whatever that means. He’s hot and Livvie likes the way he said her name. He makes some snarky comments about his brother which make Livvie laugh, then replies that the princess is probably at the lake (what lake? Fuck you, there’s always a lake!) when Joanne asks where Dana is. He takes their stuff into the house, and Joanne states that he’s a saint compared to Kyle, but he’s been a bit touchy since their dad left, so don’t be surprised if he’s a bit moody sometimes. And I actually have to appreciate a male character being called “moody,” because that tends to be a word you generally hear used to trivialize girls’ feelings.
Richardson says all the right things to Joanne about Joel missing his dad, and again Livvie wonders if he’s putting on an act or if she’s the one playing a role – the role of the bitter stepdaughter. And because I’ve read this book multiple times, I can confidently say go with your gut, Livvie.
While Livvie is unpacking in her third-floor room, Dana pops in to introduce herself because her mom told her to. She seems nice, if a bit self-involved, and laments how they have no money since their dad left and maybe her mom will find and marry someone like Richardson. He has already charmed her by offering to let her drive his car, until Joanne told him Dana is only fifteen. Dana’s boyfriend is going to teach her to drive, but she won’t have anything to drive when she does get her license, because they only have the one car. Then she gushes that Richardson is going to fix their leaky roof, and he’s awesome – as much as she loves her own dad, she doesn’t think he’d fix someone’s roof for free like Richardson is doing. Then she takes off to her girlfriend’s house, and while I know this is how a lot of straight female friends refer to each other, I’m imagining Dana in a pansexual poly relationship with her boyfriend and this girl.
Livvie goes back to staring out the window at a cat in the yard, and when Richardson comes out to the yard, the cat freezes, arches its back, and takes off. Livvie thinks that the cat has the same instincts about Richardson that she does. #TeamKittyCat
At dinner, Richardson gushes about the house, how everything is sound except the roof, and it’s a good thing the basement doesn’t leak. While he’s talking about the house, Livvie looks around and thinks about Joanne’s kids – she thinks Joel could be an ally here. Dana is friendly but mostly talks about herself (called it), and she’s only seen Kyle smile twice – once when he taunted Richardson about taking a ride on the motorcycle, and once when Richardson actually did hop on the bike and take it for a successful spin down the driveway and back. He complimented Richardson that it wasn’t bad for an old man, and I just did the math – Richardson is 44. Old man, my ass.
Kyle asks Richardson if he knows bike repair, which quickly turns into a fight with his mom. Kyle jumps up and storms out of the house and takes off on the motorcycle, which annoys Dana because he was supposed to give her a ride to her friend’s house. Joanne points out that the friend lives two streets away and Dana can walk there. This leaves Livvie and Joel to clear the table and have flirty banter over dishes, until they’re talking about nicknames and he asks if Livvie has one for Richardson. Things get awkward, but they pull out some ice cream to improve the mood.
When the kids take the ice cream to the adults in the dining room, Richardson is telling a story about his old high school teacher . . . in Iowa. Livvie’s like, hold up, I thought you said you went to high school in California? Richardson gets quiet and watchful, and acts like he doesn’t remember the conversation from the other night, then explains that he moved to California in junior year. Livvie thinks it’s obvious his whole demeanor changed and he doesn’t like to talk about his past. The two women don’t seem to think anything of this exchange, but Joel is staring intently at Livvie. So far, Richardson doesn’t seem to have gone above and beyond to win him over, so maybe he’ll be in Livvie’s corner?
The next day, Livvie goes to the lake with Dana. All motorboats have been outlawed due to noise and pollution (and, presumably, noise pollution), which pissed off Dana’s boyfriend, Kevin, because he’d just bought a jet ski before the law was implemented. Poor little rich boy, I guess. Dana proudly introduces him to Livvie, and he immediately male gazes the fuck outta her and gives her a smile like they’ve got a secret. Livvie is creeped out and thinks to herself that Dana may think she’s with him, but Livvie doubts he ties himself to any one girl for long. I predict Dana blaming Livvie for Kevin’s wandering eyes before we’re done here.
They row out on the lake, and Livvie’s thoughts are preoccupied with Richardson and Chesterfield, Iowa. He’d said it was a tiny town, and Livvie realizes she can probably contact the high school there and find out if he was really a student there. She suspects he’s never actually been there, and that this was part of a cover story he’d used before, and forgot he told them he was from California. Now, as someone who moved a lot as a kid, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility, or even all that unusual, to have gone to more than one high school. But I don’t get all squirrelly when someone asks me about it.
After a while at the lake, Dana’s friend group decide they want to go to the mall, twenty miles away. Good lord, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in tiny towns. Livvie decides she’d rather just go back to the house, so Dana asks her to tell her mom where she is.
Livvie walks through town, waving at Kyle when she spots him and a friend parking their motorcycles in front of some place called The Green. To her surprise, he actually waves back at her. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll go back to being surly soon enough.
When she reaches the house, Livvie tells Joanne that Dana is at the mall, and mentions seeing Kyle going into some store called The Green. Joanne is less than pleased at this information, and makes the comment that at least she knows where he is. Uh-oh. Anyone else thinking Livvie somehow missed seeing several neon Coors signs in the windows of The Green? “Some store,” way to go, Livvie.
Joanne leaves to take Richardson a sandwich, and I’m starting to think this is her whole personality. Anyway, Livvie makes herself a sandwich while thinking about what she would even say to the folks at Chesterfield High, and then wonders if there’s a cordless phone she could make the call from, so she wouldn’t be overheard. I mean, okay, but you’re just going to make a long distance call from Joanne’s house? Rude.
She goes looking for a phone and a phone book, and comes across Richardson’s glasses sitting on a table. She looks through the lenses, and they’re not blurry at all to her. So, either she and Richardson need the same exact prescription, or that’s plain old clear glass in his frames. Or, just maybe, Richardson started the hipster movement.
While Livvie is examining the glasses and their non-prescription, someone walks up behind her and asks her if she’s spying on someone.
Except it’s just Joel, not Richardson. Goddamn, I don’t remember Carol Ellis being so fond of these cliffhanger chapter endings. What the fuck.
Joel and Livvie have some banter about spying on the neighbors, then she asks him for a cordless phone. They go upstairs and she spots a bedroom in a turret that turns out to be Joel’s room. This house has a turret?! I now want to live there.
Livvie notices a guitar hanging on the wall and asks who plays. Joel gets . . . weird about it, and ices Livvie out as he replies that no one plays. He disappears into his mom’s room, brings out the phone, and there’s no sign of his previous iciness, leading Livvie to wonder if she imagined it. Yeah . . . I once thought I’d imagined a boyfriend’s iciness, and he broke up with me a week later. Over email. 12 hours after begging me to spend the weekend with him. What I’m saying is, go with your initial gut instinct, Livvie.
Livvie’s bedroom door doesn’t shut all the way, but she thinks that’s good; Richardson is upstairs banging around in the attic, and this way she’ll have a heads up if the noise stops. She calls Marta; they gossip about Joel for a minute, then Livvie asks if the stuff from the newspaper has shown up yet. It hasn’t, and Marta is annoyed by the whole thing. Livvie tells her about the glasses, and Marta is even more annoyed, coming up with all sorts of reasons why the lenses might have seemed to be clear glass. By the end of the call, Livvie is starting to doubt herself again.
Before she hangs up, she thinks she hears another click on the line, like someone was listening in. Then she realizes that the noises from the attic have stopped, and panics that Richardson was on the line and heard everything. She runs through the list of other people it could have been, and wonders if Joel was listening in since she’d told him she needed to make a private call. Well, you did tell him you were calling your girlfriend, so maybe he was hoping to overhear some hot lesbian phone sex. (Seriously, though, straight girls need to stop referring to their platonic female friends as “girlfriends.”)
Livvie goes to return the phone to Joanne’s room, and the house seems silent. As soon as she comes back out of the room, the house explodes into sound – people laughing and talking, Kyle and his friend roaring up on their motorcycles, Joanne calling to Kyle that she wants to talk to him later. (Uh-oh.) Livvie starts down the stairs and runs into Richardson, who is covered in dust from installing a ceiling fan in the attic. He’s also wearing his glasses, which Livvie remembers were sitting right next to the phone downstairs. She freaks out again, wondering if he was the one listening in on the phone. Then she thinks yet again that she might just be paranoid. Then she thinks she has reason to be paranoid – her stepfather might be a killer!
This girl is seriously giving me whiplash.
After dinner, Livvie sits in her room with the phone book on her lap to look up the area code for Chesterfield, Iowa. I’m not sure why she can’t just call Information and tell them the city and state (that’s how I remember 411 working). She finds three area codes for Iowa and no Chesterfield listed, and she figures they’ll give her the right area code if she guesses wrong. What? The whole reason you call Information is because you don’t know the phone number, up to and including the area code; that’s why the operators ask you what city you’re looking for! This is a redundant time-waster!
Anyway, she’s not even planning to call tonight, so what the fuck.
Dana comes in and chatters at Livvie about Kevin, and how much Lloyd and David liked her, and Livvie could not care less, although she thinks it would be rude to say so. Then Joel comes in as Dana flounces out, asks Livvie if she’s planning on reading the phone book, then silently disappears while she’s looking down and laughing. Always leave ’em wanting more, I guess.
Livvie pulls out her “Step-dad’s a killer” notebook from its hiding place between the mattresses and writes the area codes in it (again, completely fucking unnecessary, but okay), then Kyle comes barging in, yelling at her for snitching on him. She has no fucking idea what he’s talking about, which he doesn’t believe. He refuses to tell her what The Green is, and basically tells her “you know what you did.” No, she fucking does not, Kyle. She’s from out of town; how the fuck is she supposed to know what The Green is? (For my current defense of Livvie, I’m going to retract my earlier statement about neon Coors signs in the windows and assume this is just a plain storefront with nothing obvious to alert people to the variety of establishment it is.)
Kyle threatens Livvie, then actively blocks her in the room when she tries to leave. Not cool, Kyle. Richardson rocks up behind him and asks what’s going on, and Kyle plays it off as a joke. Richardson is obviously not convinced, but manages to talk Kyle into coming downstairs with him to do mechanic-y things to the bike, effectively rescuing Livvie. Um, thanks? Kyle pops back up to make an unfriendly finger-gun at Livvie before going downstairs, though.
I’m sorry, did we take a wrong turn at Fear Street? All these boys are in serious need of anger management classes.
The next day as they’re walking to the lake, Livvie tells Dana about what happened with Kyle, and Dana explains that yes, The Green is a bar, but Kyle doesn’t go there to drink; he goes there to play pool. But the actual problem is that Kyle used to buy drugs from the guy who runs it, and when he quit doing drugs, Joanne made him promise he’d stay away from this dude. Now things make sense to Livvie, although she’s still upset for being blamed for “snitching” when she had literally no way to know any of this, and also she thinks Dana is being way too cavalier about Kyle threatening her.
Livvie swims out to the float in the middle of the lake, and Kevin eye-fucks her again, despite Dana being literal feet away. She swims back to shore, where Dana’s friend, Sherry, commiserates with her about what an ass Kevin is, and how Dana is oblivious to it and thinks she’ll be the one to change him. Oh, girl. No. Sherry tells Livvie not to bother telling Dana about him, because Dana will refuse to believe it and think that Livvie came on to him and just be generally furious with her. Livvie mutters to herself that that would make two out of three, then shrugs it off when Sherry asks her what she means.
After some snacks, Livvie walks back to the Wards’ house. She’s not exactly sure who’s home; the only person she sees is Kyle, heading up to the attic with some tools and wood. She assumes he’s helping Richardson and figures she can’t call Chesterfield today, so she decides to put a pin in that and goes to take a shower instead.
After her shower, Livvie passes by Joel’s room and spots the guitar on his wall. She thinks it’s a shame that it’s hanging there all neglected and shit, so she waltzes into Joel’s room and helps herself to the guitar, sitting down on his bed to strum out a few rusty chords. Livvie. No. After a few minutes, she looks up and sees Joel standing in the doorway, icily seething. It takes a second for her to realize he’s angry, and then he tells her that he doesn’t blame her for the “Kyle and The Green” debacle, because she had no way of knowing. But he’d told her about the guitar. Livvie is confused, because all he’d said was that nobody played it. He tells her he didn’t mean nobody is capable of playing it; he’d meant no one has permission to play it. And he would have told her if she’d asked, but she hadn’t.
Okay, hold on a goddamn minute. If this were an “Am I the Asshole” question on Reddit, I would have to go for an “everyone sucks here” answer. Livvie, don’t go into other people’s rooms and start messing with their things, fucking hell. But Joel, you didn’t fucking tell her that no one is allowed to play your precious guitar. You got weird and icy and surly at her when she asked about it, effectively guaranteeing that she wouldn’t feel comfortable asking any follow-up questions about it, you tool. You basically entrapped her.
Livvie slinks out of the room and goes to sit outside with a can of iced tea. The adults pull up all at the same time, and Livvie realizes Richardson was back home showing a house, so she missed a perfect opportunity to call Chesterfield. You know, long distance. From Joanne’s phone. Without asking. I really don’t want to be on the Angry Boys’ side, but Livvie is really just fucking up all over the place.
Dana rocks up, back from the lake, and stops thinking about herself long enough to notice that Livvie seems upset. Livvie explains that she keeps doing the wrong thing, and now Joel is mad at her. Livvie, maybe just sit in your room and don’t move, don’t speak to anyone, and don’t touch anything that’s not yours, okay? Dana realizes that Livvie likes Joel, and tells her that he runs hot and cold, she thinks he’s really losing it, and Livvie should stay away from him. Livvie wonders if Dana is exaggerating Joel’s mental state, and come the fuck on, Livvie. Being a dick isn’t a mental illness.
Livvie goes to a cookout at the lake with Dana later that evening, but every time Dana looks away, Kevin is leering at Livvie. She thinks about leaving, but it’s just the guys at the house, and she doesn’t want to be around them, either. Mom and Joanne went off to visit another old high school friend, and Livvie wishes she had gone with them, because I’m sure they would have wanted her tagging along.
Instead, she rushes over to join the boy named Lloyd, who seems nice enough, even if Livvie isn’t going to fall madly in love with him. While the others talk about school and music, Livvie’s mind wanders to her possibly-killer-stepfather. She’s now convincing herself that the click she heard on the phone wasn’t him, because if it was, he should be scared that she suspects him, and he’s just not acting scared – if he were any more laid-back he’d be comatose.
Livvie gets up and wanders over to the shoreline, thinking that she’ll call Chesterfield and find out for sure in a few days, when Richardson is supposed to be out of town to close on a house. Of course, while she’s lost in reverie, Kevin sneaks up on her. Fucking Kevin. He harasses her a bit, then Dana shows up and blames Livvie for it, much to his amusement. Dana tells Livvie that she’s not an idiot; she knows Kevin likes to flirt, but he wouldn’t keep doing it if he didn’t think he could get somewhere, so obviously Livvie made him think he could. No, Dana. No, no, NO! This is the kind of thinking that leads judges to ask rape victims what they were wearing, or why they didn’t just close their legs. This is the kind of thinking that puts the victim on trial, and you can fuck off with that bullshit immediately.
Back at the campfire, Sherry is giving Livvie disgusted looks. Right, get bent, Sherry. Livvie packs up and takes off walking for home, thinking how unfair it is and how she didn’t do anything wrong, but all three kids are mad at her. Eh, there’s a little bit of blame to go around on the guitar thing, and also maybe don’t go happily reporting back everyone’s whereabouts to their mom, you know? But on the Kevin (fucking Kevin) thing, I agree you’re blameless.
Livvie wonders if she can just go home home, after all, she’s old enough to stay by herself. But she doesn’t want her mom to think she can’t get along with people and that she needs more therapy. Livvie, this whole “therapy is shameful” bullshit is getting really tiresome, but since I’ve got a recap coming up that I know I’m going to be exploding in brain-melting rage over the way psychiatric care is portrayed, I really don’t have the energy to deal with you right now.
Livvie stumbles going up some steps and bangs her knee, then looks up and sees a dark figure lurking at the top of the steps. Oh, really? Because everything is fucking sinister now? To that person, you’re some creepy figure lurking at the bottom of the steps, you know.
I swear I actually do like this book.
Livvie creeps up on the creeper, then swings the duffel bag full of Dana’s cassette tapes at their head. Hahahaha, okay, I’m back on board with this book now. The creeper turns out to be Joel, who can’t think of a single reason why his lurking in the dark would make a girl nervous. See, this is the kind of shit that men don’t tend to think about. Fucking male privilege; you don’t have to worry about what some dude might do to you and how much of what happens to you you’re going to be told is your fault.
Joel’s apparently back to “good mood” Joel, and jovially tells her he’s ready to accept her apology for what happened with the guitar. Livvie’s like, Excuse you, what the fuck? but then he gets real and apologizes to her, claiming the guitar was his father’s and he hung it up to remind himself to stay furious at his dad for leaving them. Yeah, that sounds healthy. Livvie tells him about her dad dying and her ending up in the hospital, then she wonders if she can tell him about Richardson, but decides against it. After all, if Joel gets in a mood again, he might blab to the adults.
At the house, Livvie goes to her bedroom and notices that her bed is made much neater than she thinks she left it, so she checks under the mattress to see if her “Richardson is a Murderer” notebook has been messed with. The notebook is still situated under the handle of the mattress where she left it, but the spiral is facing in toward the bed, instead of outward like she’d been leaving it. Okay, yes, dun-dun-DUN, but also, that is a shitty way to slide a notebook under a mattress, Livvie. Spiral-side in makes sense; you wouldn’t risk bending the cover and pages back as you slide it in. Your way, I feel like you’re destroying that poor notebook.
We’re treated to way too many pages of Livvie freaking out about the notebook; trying to remember how she put it back; trying to figure out who might have read it; trying to figure out if Richardson had seen it earlier that day. Then she shoves it into the back pocket of her jeans, so this is a much smaller notebook than I’ve been picturing. I’ve been picturing something like a steno pad, but this must be more like a memo pad. Unless Livvie has much bigger pockets than I’m imagining. If she’s wearing JNCO Jeans, she probably could have fit a full-size 8×11″ notebook in those fuckers.
Livvie’s mom calls up to her that everyone is having popcorn in the kitchen, despite popcorn being what you’re supposed to have in the living room while watching a movie. Jesus Christ, these people do not even popcorn correctly! Anyway, she decides to join them, and heads for the stairs . . . where she trips over a bit of carpet that’s come loose; grabs the banister, which breaks; then falls down the damn stairs.
That’s what you get for trying to have kitchen popcorn.
Everyone congregates around Livvie, who has hit her head and scraped her cheek up on the carpet, but is otherwise fine. Kyle snickers, Dana eats a piece of popcorn, Joel raises his eyebrows in an “are you okay?” gesture, and Richardson declares the banister was in worse shape than he thought and he’ll fix it tomorrow. Meanwhile, Livvie doesn’t think it could have come that loose by itself, and wonders if someone loosened both it and the carpet. I mean, I know what kind of book we’re in, so maybe. But it would be incredibly stupid, because you’d have no way of aiming that at a particular person. Literally anyone in the house could have tripped on the carpet and fallen down the stairs, not just Livvie.
Livvie wakes up the next morning to pounding, which worked its way into her dreams and freaked her out. But it’s only Richardson and Kyle, fixing the banister. Richardson apologizes for waking her up, but he may have to go home for a while this afternoon, so he wanted to get this done ASAP. Livvie thinks that she’ll finally be able to call Chesterfield if he leaves. She continues down the stairs, where Kyle refuses to move out of her way until she starts nudging a can of screws off a step with her foot, then makes her way to the kitchen, where Dana snarks at her, telling her to go home, nobody wants her there, and she’d better watch out for all of them. Then she tells her that Livvie was lucky last night, but she might not be again, and it actually takes Livvie a moment to figure out what the fuck Dana is talking about. Livvie. Seriously? You’ve already forgotten about falling down the fucking stairs? Despite just passing the guys fixing the stupid banister? WTF.
Oh, no, Livvie had just forgotten about suspecting that someone had engineered her accident, because she’d convinced herself she was wrong. Now she’s suspecting it again. Gotcha. I’m back to getting whiplash from this girl.
Livvie calls herself crazy a bunch, then wonders who might have messed with the banister. Fucking seriously? Maybe the guy you already suspect of being a murderer? Maybe? But she wonders what the point was; that fall wouldn’t have killed anyone. Then she realizes that Richardson would have to kill her to keep her quiet.
Uh, yeah. Is this supposed to be new information? Is . . . is this not a thing Livvie has been afraid of until now, despite her many “oh god, I might be living with a killer” soliloquies? This fucking girl, I swear to God . . .
She sees Joel going into the basement to wrap some pipes, and while he’s not quite cold to her, he seems distant somehow. She asks if he’s okay, and he says he should be asking her that, and again she seems to have forgotten about falling down the fucking stairs, because again she doesn’t know what he means. Livvie, I think you hurt your head worse than you think. Maybe get that checked out.
She calls Marta, but her mom tells Livvie that Marta went to the mall. And because Livvie is annoying me again, let’s all take a moment to enjoy Robin Sparkles instead:
You know, the 80s didn’t come to Canada til 1993.
Livvie asks Marta’s mom if she knows about any mail Marta might have had for her, and Marta’s mom says there was something, but Marta didn’t take it with her to mail. Livvie asks her to please remind Marta about it. Livvie hangs up and gets a couple cans of iced tea out of the fridge, hoping that Marta remembers to put the envelope from the newspaper office in another envelope before mailing it to her. I still contend that she literally wouldn’t be able to mail it any other way, but whatever, Livvie. What. Fucking. Ever.
She thinks Joel is still down in the basement, so she decide to take one of the iced teas to him, and makes her way down the dark basement stairs. There’s not a lot of light, so she can’t see much past the stairs, but when she calls out, she thinks she hears him grunt at her. She creeps around in the near-darkness before deciding she’s not going any farther, which she tells Joel. He doesn’t respond, and suddenly she thinks that whatever she heard wasn’t him, so she turns to go back upstairs, but she’s afraid of what’s in the basement with her, so she fucking backs up the staircase so she doesn’t have to turn her back to the basement. Also, the light at the top of the stairs is out now. When she gets to the top of the stairs, the door is shut and locked, because of course it is.
Livvie beats on the door, screaming for help that doesn’t arrive. She hears a noise in the basement and freaks out, but it turns out to be the cat she’d been seeing outside. She realizes the door is locked (. . . yeah? no shit? why the fuck else wouldn’t it be opening for you?) with the little bolt that slides up toward the top of the door. So I guess the knob is turning, but the door isn’t opening. Got it. She thinks she can manage to wiggle the bolt loose if she can find a screwdriver or something to stick through the crack. You know what, Livvie? Just bust the door open. Fuck it. At least then there would be evidence of being trapped down here, because you know everyone is going to gaslight the fuck outta you about this.
Livvie goes around and around trying to figure out who would do this to her, because she just can’t believe Richardson knows she suspects him of anything. Livvie. For fuck sake. You haven’t exactly been subtle. Then she thinks that she’s “thinking crazy” again. Sure, whatever.
She starts wandering around the basement in what little light is coming in through the tiny basement windows, then moves deeper and deeper into the basement and the dark, ending up in the dirt-floored crawlspace. Deciding “fuck this,” she turns around to go back, then hears someone on the basement stairs. She yells loudly enough that they should have heard her, but no one answers. She panics and runs . . . well, I’m not really sure which direction. She’s trying to get away from the person on the stairs, but I thought she was headed toward the stairs . . . but then we’re told after her panic-run (she falls down twice and loses a shoe in the process) she’s come full circle back to the stairs, so I dunno.
At any rate, when she comes back around, the door at the top of the stairs is wide open.
See? She’s about to be gaslit the shit out of.
Sure enough, at dinner everyone has an alibi and they browbeat Livvie until she lies and says that the door must have just stuck and she didn’t push hard enough to open it. Because it’s better to have everyone think she’s weak and hysterical than crazy. You know, you’re not doing any favors to the tweens with mental illness who read this and thought it was better to hide their symptoms than to try to get help, because there’s “nothing worse than people thinking you’re crazy!” Actually, there are a lot of worse things, like self-harm and suicide. Hurting yourself or others is worse than “being crazy,” you stupid Point Horror authors, goddamn.
Then Mom tells Livvie that Marta called earlier, but Livvie can’t call her back because she won’t be back tonight, so she left a message instead. Livvie panics a little, because Richardson is sitting right fucking there, but Mom tells her the message anyway – Marta has to be at the dentist’s in the morning, but she’ll go to the post office right after. Livvie tries to pass this off by saying she needs some notes from a class and that’s what Marta’s sending her. Richardson is being very friendly to her, but Livvie thinks his eyes behind his glasses (his reading glasses! at the dinner table!) are curious and calculating.
That night, Livvie has a nightmare about the basement and the cat attacking her. She wakes up and starts composing a Spanish paper in her head to fall back asleep, then wakes up again and senses someone in her room. It takes a minute for her to convince herself she’s really awake this time, then she sees a figure in her closet reaching out for her. She screams, throws her pillow at the closet, and runs out the door.
Is that how you defeat the monster in your closet? By throwing a pillow at it? Damn, wish I’d known that as a kid.
Livvie’s screaming brings everyone to the hall, and the menfolk go to check out her room while Dana snarks and Joanne tells her to be nice; Livvie had a scare. Livvie is offended by this phrasing, and points out that there’s someone in her room, and everyone’s acting like this happens all the time!
The guys come back, not having found anything in the closet but her pillow (“really lethal,” Kyle smirks). Joanne suddenly remembers that there’s a secret passage that comes out in that closet, and Richardson mentions seeing a panel but not thinking anything of it. Okay, sure. Joanne suspects that one of her kids is playing a FUNNY JOKE! on Livvie, but they all deny it.
Since nobody wants to take her seriously, Livvie goes back to bed. She realizes that she had her notebook hidden in the pillowcase of the pillow she threw, but it stayed in the pillowcase and seems undisturbed. She can see the panel in the closet, but not a way to open it. She figures there must be a handle to open it inside the passage, and puts her suitcase in front of the panel to block it. But . . . if this panel opens in, toward the passage, then someone could just open the panel and move the suitcase. You haven’t blocked anything, Livvie, what the hell.
She starts downstairs to get a drink, but hears the adults talking about her. Basically, they think she’s imagining a conspiracy against her. Richardson sticks up for her, much to her annoyance. Back in her room, she suddenly realizes that Richardson is trying to make her look crazy (gaslighting, Livvie, the term is gaslighting) so he can kill her and make it look like suicide. She’s still not sure how he knows that she suspects him of being Adam Clinton, though. I mean, again, you haven’t been super cool about this whole thing, Livvie. It probably wasn’t that hard a leap to make.
The next morning, Livvie is finally alone in the house, so she calls the high school in Chesterfield and lays a line on the secretary. The secretary informs Livvie that there was indeed an Allen Richardson who went to school there in the sixties. Livvie’s world tips sideways, because at that time, he wasn’t going by Allen Richardson; he was Adam Clinton! Wasn’t he? Or is she cRaZy after all?! Yes, Livvie, because there’s no way he possibly could have stolen the identity of an actual person, is there. You know, the thing most people actually do when they assume a fake identity? Fucking hell this girl is stupid.
I don’t think I still like this book as much as I thought I did, guys.
Joel rocks up and notices how upset Livvie looks, so he suggests rowing out to the middle of the lake. I can’t swim and am somewhat nervous on the water, so this does not sound like anything even approaching a good idea to me, but Livvie was on the swim team, so I guess she’s cool with it. Livvie better hope it hasn’t been Joel fucking with her this whole time.
Once they get out on the lake, she blurts the whole story out to Joel, because why not. He’s sympathetic and understanding, all the things she wants him to be. Neither one of them can make any sense of Allen Richardson having actually gone to Chesterfield, and I get it now. Everyone is stupid.
As they head back to the house, Livvie realizes that Joel never actually said he believes her, and wonders if she made a mistake telling him. No. No, Livvie, you don’t get to manufacture suspense where there is none. Joel listened and asked how he could help. Let’s just assume he believes you, okay?
Livvie takes a sandwich to her room for lunch (I hope it’s not tuna again, especially if enchiladas were an option), then promptly falls asleep. She wakes up to pounding, and it takes her a minute to realize Richardson is back and working on the roof. She looks out her window and sees Joel making his way up a ladder leaning against the house a few feet away from her windows. He’s forgotten the crowbar and asks Livvie to bring it up to them. She doesn’t know why he would risk being on the roof with Richardson, but figures he couldn’t get out of helping.
They’re on the other side of the house when Livvie makes her way up the ladder with the crowbar, and as she sits on the roof trying to pull the crowbar out of her belt loop, she accidentally kicks the ladder to the side. Then she slips off the roof and barely catches herself on the gutter. Her screams bring Richardson, who assesses the situation and reaches a hand out to her. His face is calm, but Livvie can see triumph in his eyes, and she sobs that this is perfect, isn’t it? He’ll try to save her, but he won’t be able to!
Well, if he didn’t already know that you know, now he knows.
Livvie screams for Joel, who shows up and tells Livvie it’s okay, take Richardson’s hand. Since he can’t just throw her off the roof now, the triumphant light goes out of his eyes, and he actually pulls Livvie onto the roof. Since the ladder had only slipped along the side of the house instead of falling, Joel is able to retrieve it and hold it in place for Livvie, who can not get off this roof fast enough. As she’s starting down the ladder, she tells Richardson that it almost worked, didn’t it? He acts like he doesn’t know what she means.
Livvie. Maybe don’t straight-up tell the murderer you know he’s a murderer? Fucking hell, you idiot.
Turns out Joel actually doesn’t believe Richardson is a killer and doesn’t know why Livvie wouldn’t let him pull her back on the roof until Joel got there. Livvie decides to fuck on outta there, and calls Marta to tell her not to bother mailing the stuff from the newspaper if she hasn’t already, but come to find out, Marta is in the hospital. She got hit-and-ran by a car in the parking garage at the dentist’s. That’s the same dentist Livvie goes to, which Richardson knew. And he wasn’t around that morning.
Welp, that’s not good.
Livvie tears ass out of the house and flies down the driveway in her mom’s car, nearly hitting Kyle on her way out, which made me laugh. For some reason, Livvie thinks she’ll be safe at home, because it’s not like Richardson can come racing after her. Um, why not? Isn’t it reasonable to think Mom might send him to retrieve you so you’re not alone; especially if he’s done a good job of making her think you’re a danger to yourself?
This girl’s logic, I swear . . .
Livvie goes to the hospital to see Marta, who is mostly okay, just a little banged up with a mild concussion. Because getting hit by a car just requires a Bandaid in this universe, I guess. Marta didn’t see who hit her, on account of being too busy jumping out of the way, and this bit of sass brings me back around to tentatively liking Marta again. Then Livvie finds out that the envelope of newspaper articles wasn’t even with Marta – she left it at her house. Good for Livvie, as she’s certain that’s what Richardson was after when he hit Marta. Except I doubt he hung around to search her car, so when is Livvie supposing he would have tried to steal the articles?
Ugh, whatever, Livvie.
She retrieves the envelope from Marta’s house and takes it to hers, because it’s not like being alone in her house, two hours away from her mom, is going to be the set piece for the final showdown here or anything.
At first Livvie is frustrated with the articles, because they don’t tell her anything she wants to know, and don’t go into detail about Adam Clinton. But then she finds a photo of Clinton with another man. A man named Allen Richardson, who died in Vietnam.
Ahh. Finally it clicks for Livvie – Allen Richardson was a real person, whose identity Adam Clinton stole. Way to fucking, go, Livvie! Have a very fucking belated gold star!
Then she hears footsteps behind her. Oh, what was that about Richardson (or Clinton, whatever) not following you home, Livvie? *facepalms to death*
The kitchen lights go out, and Richardson puts Livvie in a headlock. They fight, ending up with the kitchen table between them. Richardson wants to know what tipped Livvie off; she wants to know the same. Seems she got too interested in getting to know him all of a sudden. And then of course he listened in on her phone call to Marta and found her notebook. He tells her she should have been more careful, and I have to agree. Jessica Fletcher never would have pulled this shit.
Livvie tells him she’ll fight so that it won’t look like suicide, and he shrugs it off like, yeah, but you’ll be dead so you’ll never know. He pins her against the counter with the table, and she manages to grab a knife out of the knife block and slice his face as he lunges across the table at her. She screams at him to get out while she brandishes the knife at him, and then the doorbell rings.
Richardson freezes, then runs out the back door. Oh. Okay, then.
It’s Joel at the front door, who was worried when Livvie took off, so he got directions from her mom. Livvie reports what happened, then shows him the newspaper articles. Joel is stunned that Richardson really is Clinton, and Livvie acknowledges that he thought she was crazy, which pisses him off. He didn’t think she was crazy just because she’d had a break down or whatever; he just thought she was wrong.
They go back to Cliffside, where no one knows anything is wrong yet, and Livvie answers a phone call from Richardson. He tells her she was lucky, and if they meet again, she won’t be so lucky. So, was this leading us into The
Stepfather Stepdaughter 2? It doesn’t count if Terry O’Quinn isn’t cast as Richardson.
Livvie cries in Joel’s arms as she thinks that soon she’ll have to tell her mom, and the police, and the next few days will be filled with telling hundreds of people the story. But it can wait a little longer.
Oh, no, here’s the lead-in to The Stepdaughter 2: Electric Boogaloo (disclaimer: not a real book). We meet someone named Mrs. Landsman introducing her daughter, Rebecca, to her new boyfriend. He’s average in every way, with perpetually raised eyebrows, and a jagged scar on his cheek like a lightning bolt. Wait, a lightning-bolt scar? Parry Hotter, is that you?
He smiles at Rebecca, and she smiles back, thinking he looks like a nice man.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Well, that was a thing. I’m really disappointed that this one didn’t hold up the way I thought it would. The way I hoped it would. This was one of my favorites when I was younger. As an adult, the amount of back and forth Livvie goes through – Richardson is a killer; Richardson isn’t a killer; I’m going crazy; I’m not going crazy – is just annoying as fuck. I remember Carol Ellis being a better writer than this, so hopefully it was just this one that was a miss, and the next one of hers I cover holds up better.