Title: April Fools
Author: Richie Tankersley Cusick
Published: April 1990
Tagline: It’s no joke . . . it’s murder
Description: You can fool some of the people some of the time . . .
On the night of April 1st, Belinda, Frank, and Hildy are driving home from a party when they get involved in a gruesome car accident. The people in the other car never could have survived the wreck, so Frank insists they take off. After all, what happened wasn’t really their fault.
Two weeks later, Belinda is the only one who still feels guilty about the accident. Then the “pranks” begin. Someone sends her a bloody doll’s head. A car nearly runs her off the road.
Obviously someone witnessed . . . or survived that car accident. And they’re going to make her pay . . . slowly . . . for what happened.
April Fools’ Day is over. But these jokes are for real.
I’ve been a little hesitant to tackle RTC again, since her previous two books didn’t live up to my memory when I recapped them. I remember this one pretty well, helped along by several other recappers writing/podcasting about it. I remember Frank and Hildy being absolute assholes, but Belinda being a pretty good protagonist.
For some reason, I think I always found this book a little boring when I was younger, but I clearly read it multiple times – the spine on my old copy is pretty well-worn. And clearly my memory of Cusick’s books isn’t reliable, considering how much eight-or-nine-year-old me loved The Lifeguard. (I’m still cringing over that.)
Anyway, maybe third time’s the charm?
We open with a prologue that takes place on April 1st, because I just can’t seem to get away from things with prologues. At least it isn’t Bad Guy POV, so that’s a plus.
Belinda, her BFF Hildy, and Hildy’s boyfriend, Frank, are driving home from a college party thrown by Frank’s older brother’s friends. Frank, who is a complete patented dumbass, was making a drunken fool of himself (he declared himself “King of the Fools,” because that’s definitely a goal to aspire to) until Hildy dragged him out of the party. This fucking idiot right here wanted to drive them the two hours home, but fortunately Hildy was able to wrestle the car keys away from him and put herself behind the wheel. They still let Frank sit up front, though, which turns out to be a very bad idea.
Now, listen. The last time I was wildly drunk in the front seat of the car, the worst thing I did was make Boyfriend listen to me sing Volbeat songs at the top of my lungs as he drove us home. I think. I was kind of in and out of consciousness. But you just know Frank’s worst is probably going to kill someone, so he should be somewhere where he can’t reach the steering wheel. You know, like in the trunk, or strapped to the roof of the car.
It’s raining, and they’re driving along a narrow, winding, cliffside road, so I’m sure everything will be fine. A car comes up behind them, honking and trying to pass, so Frank grabs the wheel and somehow nearly runs the other car off the road even though the other car is still behind them. Not sure how that works, but okay. Then the other car pulls up alongside them, and Frank manages to reach the gas pedal and speeds up and starts swerving their car toward the other one.
So, Frank is a dick right out of the gate. I can respect that choice on RTC’s part.
The other car speeds off ahead, and Frank chases after it, despite not actually being the one driving. Then the other car swerves off the road and down the cliff.
They can hear a crash that goes on and on, and people screaming. Belinda doesn’t know if she screams at Hildy to pull over, but Hildy does, and Belinda runs down the embankment to the car, which has caught fire. Sooo . . . that’s not good.
Frank and Hildy keep yelling for Belinda while she stumbles down to the car; she can see someone inside writhing around; she looks back up the hill and sees someone standing in front of the headlights of their own car and screams for their help. It’s not Frank or Hildy, though, as they stumble down the embankment a minute later to drag Belinda back up. She grabs a muddy rag off the ground to wipe her face with (gross), and tries to tell the others about the figure watching them. They don’t believe her, even when she points out clear footprints in front of the car.
Then Frank and Hildy shove Belinda back in the car while Frank babbles that it was just a joke. You know how trying to run someone off the road in the dark and the rain, on a dangerous road, is all just fun and games? Well, in Point Horror it is!
Cut to two weeks later, with Belinda and Hildy in the school cafeteria, and Hildy annoyed that Belinda seems “kind of depressed.” Belinda wryly asks what she could possibly be depressed about, and I just know she didn’t put as much sass or bitter sarcasm into it as she should have. Hildy can’t believe Belinda is so upset over maybe killing a car full of people, points out that it was just a joke; Frank doesn’t take things seriously on a normal day and this was April Fools’ Day for fuck sake, he was King of Fools! They made a pact that Belinda can’t go back on, and if she’s not careful her mom is going to start asking “dumb questions.”
Belinda points out that her mom is working double shifts at the hospital (so, either a doctor or a nurse. Considering this is 1990 PH and it’s stated that money is tight, I’m going with Nurse.) and they never see each other. She says that someone was trapped in that car and she can still see him burning; Hildy counters that it’s not their fault the other car missed the turn and went off the road. Uh, bitch what? You were chasing the car down the road in the dark and rain, what the actual fuck. This is the definition of your fault!
Hildy points out that they totally tried to stop and call for help; it wasn’t their fault the gas station was closed and the payphone was broken! You get the feeling nothing is ever Hildy’s fault, huh? Belinda wishes they had gone to the police, and Hildy goes ballistic, saying that Frank was drunk and she was grounded, and if the police got involved Frank would be kicked off the swim team and Hildy would never be allowed to date him again!
Yeah . . . or, you know, you’d be in prison because you RAN A CAR OFF THE FUCKING ROAD.
But whatevs, being kicked off the team and having to break up with your boyfriend are what we should really all be worried about here.
On a side note, what kind of name is “Hildy”? Is it a cute form of Hilda? Or Hildegard? For some weird reason I always assumed it was a nickname for Hillary. It’s kind of cute, but the character herself is a raging thundercunt, so the name is tainted. Eh, such is life.
Belinda points out that she saw someone on the road; Hildy doesn’t believe her, but then says that maybe the phantom person went to get help, and what is Belinda so worried about, then?
Uh. You may have killed a car full of people? Hello? Is there a conscience, or a modicum of basic human decency in there? Oh, there’s not? Okay, my mistake.
Hildy takes a deep breath and counts to ten, because obviously she’s the rational one and Belinda is the trying one *eyeroll*, and says that she knows Belinda is under a lot of strain, what with tutoring half the school to make money (including her, except you know she’s not paying Belinda). This leads into her telling Belinda that some guy came into the library with one of her fliers and the librarian showed him Belinda’s yearbook photo. Uh. Why? What the fuck does that have to do with her tutoring ability?
Hildy tells her that this might be Mr. Right! Then she tells Belinda she needs to get her act together because she’s getting to be a real bore about all of this. Yeah, you know how having a conscience and feeling guilty about maybe killing multiple people is just so boring. Is Hildy a sociopath, or just a cunt?
Also, we’re told Hildy has “silvery braids” but we’re not told how many. Two? Is she doing a Pippi Longstocking thing? I like to imagine she’s got three braids, like the weird girl from The Wonder Years.
Hildy sashays away, and Belinda grumbles that if it were a cheerleading problem, Hildy would be panic-stricken. Then she immediately feels bad, because Belinda is a good friend to people who don’t deserve it. She thinks that friends are supposed to accept each other unconditionally, and I think that rule should go out the window when your friends are toxic bags of dicks.
Belinda gets called to the office and has a moment of panic where she thinks they know, they all know! Then she calms herself down and tells herself to act normal; there’s no way anyone at school could know.
There’s a woman in the room with Mr. Grumes, fortyish, and covering massive bruises with makeup. Already we’re worried, because there are no coincidences in these books. She’s introduced as Mrs. Thorne, and is looking for a tutor for her stepson. It’s clear that she hates the kid; keeps talking about how his mother insisted he live with her husband and her, and now the husband is in the hospital and she’s busy taking care of his business. The boy can’t leave the house, and his mother doesn’t want him falling behind in his studies.
Belinda is worried that he won’t want her there and suggests meeting him, since it can be hard on a kid who gets stuck with a babysitter they don’t want. Mrs. Thorne is surprised that Belinda thinks he’s a child – he just turned eighteen “in spite of the accident.” That really makes it sound like you wish the accident had finished him off, Mrs. T. Speaking of finishing off, she reveals that the whole family was in a car accident two weeks before, and her husband isn’t expected to make it.
After school, Hildy accosts Belinda at her locker to find out why she was called to the office. Belinda tells her about Mrs. Thorne and the accident two weeks ago and waits for a reaction, but Hildy just stares blankly at her. Then Frank rocks up, thinks they’re fighting and lectures that there’s no hair-pulling or blouse-ripping allowed without him. Go fuck yourself with a cactus, Frank.
Hildy suddenly bursts out laughing and tells Belinda how relieved she is, because she thought it was something serious; Belinda tries not to cry because she knows her “friends” will make fun of her even worse if she does; she explains about the Thornes to Frank, who is disbelieving that she thinks it was the same accident. Or “accident.” Then Belinda just repeats “Two weeks, Frank. Two weeks!”
So of course all I can think of is this:
Hildy asks where the Thorne’s accident took place, and Belinda doesn’t know, so of course they try to convince her it could have been anywhere. Belinda claims she’s not going to take the job; Hildy goes on again about how Adam Thorne could be her Mr. Right.
Frank tries to convince Belinda by grabbing her and forcing her to look at him while he waxes poetic about how she used to love his jokes – she used to love him. She thinks how true it is – there was once a time she would have given anything to date him, but he’d noticed Hildy instead.
Okay, I get it now. Frank is the hot guy you lust after until you actually spend time with him, then you wonder what the hell you saw in him.
Hildy whines at Belinda about helping her study for a math test when Belinda says that Mrs. Thorne is supposed to pick her up to meet Adam; the two fuckwads pressure Belinda into letting both of them come over after the interview; then they tell her she’s worrying too much because nobody could have survived that explosion! Wait, were we told the car actually exploded? . . . *rereads prologue* . . . oh, yup, we sure were. In my defense, RTC action descriptions usually leave a lot to be desired.
Anyway, that was probably not the thing to say to set Belinda’s mind at ease.
Belinda rides the bus home, trying not to cry while she remembers the accident and the people trapped in the car. When she gets home, a police car is waiting for her. Two cops are peering in the windows of her house, and after forcing her to prove her identity, they inform her that someone called them and said she’d been in an accident. They’re extremely hostile toward her, even telling her that if it was a joke, she could be in trouble right along with whoever phoned it in. Uh, excuse you, pretty sure she’s the victim of this joke, you asshat.
Belinda talks on the phone to her mom, who reveals that someone named Thorne (no gender given) called the hospital asking about “Miss Swanson,” not knowing that both Belinda and her mom work there. (Belinda apparently volunteers there.) Belinda figures it was Mrs. Thorne calling for references; then determines not to take the job, but Mom talks her into giving it a chance.
Mrs. Thorne shows up to take Belinda to meet Adam, and drives through neighborhoods that get progressively richer as they go. On the drive, Belinda convinces herself that Frank was the one who pranked her via the police. That is one weird-ass prank, but okay.
Mrs. Thorne warns Belinda that Adam probably won’t want her there – he’s hostile and there have been problems with him in the past. Then she just straight-up says that she hates Adam and he hates her. Well. Okay then. She goes on to tell us how wrong it is that Adam’s here instead of being the one dying in the hospital, and how after his father dies she’ll never have to see him again. I’m sorry; do people really drop this kind of info on total strangers?
Mrs. Thorne takes Belinda up to Adam’s room, knocks on the door, then RTC’s description gets a little wonky (like she likes to do) but I think Adam opens the door and pulls Belinda into the room while Mrs. Thorne fucks off down the hallway.
Except . . . no, because Adam is in the far corner of the room, and the text says that Belinda was pulled toward the door before it opened. WTF, RTC? Is Adam telekinetic? Because I want to read that story.
Whatever. The room is dark, and Belinda can only barely make out a human shape in the corner. Adam tells her how much he doesn’t want her there; she tells him basically that it’s not up to him; then when she expresses sympathy about the accident, he asks her if she’s so sorry about it that it keeps her up nights. Then she passes out, because wimmin be faintin’!
She comes to with him leaning over her, and reacts with shock at his mangled face, despite having just told him she works at a hospital and is hard to shock. Way to go, Belinda. In addition to the stitched-up face, Adam uses a cane as one foot drags behind him. After retreating back into his corner, Adam tells her to just go; she replies that she’ll see him tomorrow.
Downstairs, Belinda can’t find Mrs. Thorne to drive her home, but she does find multiple box-shaped things covered by scarves. She starts to peek under one of the scarves when a hand clamps down on hers and someone tells her that they wouldn’t do that if they were her.
Belinda screams and turns to see a tall, gaunt man behind her, who immediately tries to hide a bloody meat cleaver behind his back. Yes, yes, I’m sure that will set her mind at ease, A+ good sir.
The man lifts one of the covers to reveal a snake, and while my reaction would be “Snek! Hi, Snek!” Belinda recoils in horror and the man tells her it’s one of Mr. Thorne’s (I’m assuming he means Adam, not the patriarch of the family) hobbies, and he finds it revolting. So, no love for the sneks? Hrrmph, okay then.
Then he introduces himself as Cobbs, the Thornes’ . . . butler? valet? manservant? Belinda describes him to us – well over six feet tall, ramrod straight and very thin, with a cadaverous face, receding white hairline, was probably born looking like an old man. I’m not one hundred percent sure who I’m picturing for this, but at the moment my head-casting is insisting on Vincent Price, because my head-casting can never come up with anyone current. Or, you know, living.
Cobbs insists on making Belinda some tea and toast before driving her home, and Belinda insists that he partake with her, as she’s not used to being waited on. Cobbs is sarcastic and dry, but not a dick, if you can dig it. (When Belinda asks if he’s afraid the snakes will get out, he blandly replies, “I live in terror.” And it’s at this point that I realize some of my sense of humor may have been shaped by Cobbs.)
Belinda sees two photos of two teenage boys – the happy, smiling, blond one with the dog is Noel, Mrs. Thorne’s son from a previous marriage; the dark, dangerous, brooding, “beautiful but evil-looking” one is Adam. Because of course. Didn’t RTC do this shit in The Lifeguard, too? One blond friendly brother, one dark broody mean brother? And we’re meant to suspect the mean one because he’s just so very unpleasant? (I mean, I vividly remember who the bad guy is here, but . . . RTC seems to be coming very close to plagiarizing herself.)
Belinda tells Cobbs that Adam wouldn’t let her see him upstairs, and it was scary. Cobbs responds that some scars run deeper than those we can see, leading Belinda to observe that Mrs. Thorne doesn’t want Adam around, does she? I mean, she’s literally told you that at least once, Belinda, in almost those exact words. Cobbs confirms, and Belinda decides to take the job, presumably because she feels sorry for Adam.
Back at home, Belinda thinks about Adam and how she’s basically going to be his savior; then Hildy and Frank show up and she thinks that she can’t remember when she’d ever felt less like seeing them. I would think it’s basically every time she sees them. Like, I honestly can’t imagine not feeling like not seeing them. I really feel like this is where RTC fails at showing us these relationships. Frank and Hildy are both so awful, we have no idea why Belinda would ever consider them her friends. But I digress.
Frank comes in and immediately starts raiding Belinda’s fridge (not a euphemism) like a fucking savage, and I’m sure Belinda’s mom must love that, considering how tight money is for them. He bitches about how long studying is going to take, because he wants to take Hildy to a movie and then later give her a nice surprise if she’s a good girl. Show of hands, who thinks the surprise is Frank’s dick?
They ask Belinda if she still thinks Adam’s accident was their accident, and she’s not sure. Frank tells her it was either a coincidence or she’s crazy, and . . . eh, just die already, Frank. We’re not even a quarter of the way through this, and I’m already done with you. (Actually, pretty sure I was done with Frank by page two.) Then he goes to watch TV, asking Belinda where the newspaper is, and I was confused why he wanted the paper to watch TV until I remembered that not everyone bought the TV Guide in the 90s, and the newspapers always printed the TV listings.
While he’s in the other room, Hildy and Belinda talk about Adam, and when Belinda tells Hildy about him keeping snakes (SNEK!) in the house, her response is, “Oh, gross! How weird!” Oh, fuck off, Hildy. Snakes are awesome, and really not that weird. I know multiple people who have kept snakes as pets, you judgmental twunt.
Then Frank comes back inside with a package he found on the porch, and inside it is a page from a calendar. It’s the month of April, with a circle around April Fools’ Day drawn in what looks like dried blood. At least, that’s what Frank says it looks like. That is mighty specific, son.
Oh, also, dun-dun-DUN!
You know, as far as threats go, that’s pretty weaksauce.
The next day as they’re leaving school, Hildy catches up to Belinda to insist that the package was probably another one of Frank’s jokes, even though he denied it. Belinda tells her about the police showing up and saying she was in an accident, which Hildy brushes off. Because, you know, that’s a total BFF thing to do, right?
Belinda runs to catch her bus, and even though Cobbs had offered to drive her to the Thornes’ house, she decided she didn’t want to rely on anyone else. She transfers buses to get to their swank neighborhood, and hold up. I was under the impression that this was the school bus, but now it seems like it’s the city bus. Whut. Anyway, she gets off at the final stop (which I’ve never known to be anything other than the actual bus station, what the fuck, RTC) by a park she’s familiar with. She finds a balled-up piece of cloth in her jacket pocket, and realizes it’s the rag she picked up the night of the accident. Except it’s not a rag after all; it’s a handkerchief with the letter A embroidered on it.
Let me guess. A for Adam? Are we just . . . throwing any and all semblance of subtlety out the window?
At the Thorne house, Mrs. Thorne is in a tizzy because she has to fly to New York to handle some business thing since Mr. Thorne (Fred, apparently) is, you know, comatose and dying. She’s flying around the house, not noticing as Cobbs sasses her, and I kind of love it. Cobbs is probably one of the best characters RTC has ever created.
Mrs. Thorne at one point tells Belinda not to marry for money or convenience, because it gets harder and harder to keep up appearances and someone’s always waiting for you to slip up. Holy shit. I suspect she’s only being this honest because it’s only in front of “the help,” although Belinda is aware that Adam can probably hear her from his room. So, this house is either set up quite differently from how I was picturing it, or Mrs. Thorne has a voice like an airhorn. Either way, yikes.
The last thing Mrs. Thorne says before slamming out the door is that if Adam was really important to anyone around here, then his father would have had him come while he was still alive enough to enjoy him. Again, YIKES. I mean, I’ve had one stepmother who straight-up told me she was going to turn my dad against me; and the current one . . . well, that’s a long story that doesn’t belong here, but part of it involves randomly throwing her supposed “PhD in medicine (psychology)” in my face (she worked as a phlebotomist, so . . . okay), calling me a spoiled child and telling me to grow up, all because I had the fucking audacity to stand up for my sister after she and my dad sent her multiple abusive messages saying they hate her and she’s dead to them, so . . . what was my point? Oh, yeah, cheers to all the stepmothers out there who clearly watch Disney movies for inspiration re: stepmothering, and the dads who enable them. This is making me very sympathetic toward Adam, even (especially?) if he maybe turns out to be the bad guy?
Belinda is horrified that Mrs. Thorne could be so heartless; doesn’t she care about anyone? Cobbs nods wisely – yes, Mrs. Thorne cares about Mrs. Thorne. Fair point. Belinda goes up to Adam’s room, and he’s still in the dark, so I’m not exactly sure how she’s supposed to tutor him if he won’t turn a damn light on, but she tells him they don’t have to study – they can just talk today, about anything he wants.
He wants to talk about her. Her secrets, to be precise. Oh, boy. Belinda tells him she went over lesson plans with his principal (. . . really? when?) and that his classmates were asking about him; did his stepmother tell him? He scoffs, and Belinda tries to make the excuse that maybe she’s just upset about his father. Adam points out that when Mr. Thorne dies, Gloria will be a very, very rich widow. Adam further points out that he doesn’t need Belinda’s pity; he’s just been shoved off to her because nobody knows what else to do with him. He didn’t ask to be here; his mother sent him here because she didn’t know what else to do with him. Her words.
So, wait. It’s been two weeks since the accident. We were told earlier that Adam was sent to his father’s one week ago. You’re telling me he was in the hospital for less than a week? After a horrific accident that left his face all scarred and his legs all fucked up? I . . . I am not sure I buy that.
Anyway. Belinda tries to sympathize with Adam; he’s hostile and coldly amused in response, so she runs away. Again. Damn, Belinda. As she runs out the front door, she crashes into someone on the porch, because nobody in these books has any sense of spatial awareness.
This is Noel Ashby (ooh, is the A on the handkerchief actually for Ashby? such suspense!), Mrs. Thorne’s bio son. He catches her by the shoulders and somehow they end up back inside in the entryway, along with Cobbs, who’s carrying Mrs. T’s suitcases. So, I was wrong. Wherever she slammed out of the room to earlier, it was still somewhere in the house, because now she’s coming down the stairs to greet Noel. Cool. Noel gives her a joking hard time; Cobbs is snarky; Belinda is awkward and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.
Somehow it’s decided that Noel will drive his mother to the airport, but only after he takes Belinda home, because he refuses to let her take the bus. Man, there is a lot of Belinda just accepting multiple rides with strangers in this book. Anyway, she has to share the car with Sasha, Noel’s giant floofy doggie. No word on breed, but I’m sure she’s adorable. It comes out during the ride that Belinda’s mom is, in fact, a nurse, so score one for my deductive reasoning skills! Yay, me! We also find out that Noel is home from school – no word on if that’s boarding school or college – and that he and Adam don’t really know each other, even though their parents have been married for three years. It sounds like Noel has spent most of his time away at boarding school, but high school doesn’t let out in the middle of April. Then again, college semesters generally don’t, either, so . . . I am confuse.
Once they get to Belinda’s house, Noel tries to convince her to let him be her taxi to and from her tutoring sessions with Adam, but she holds her ground and insists she’s fine taking the bus. After he leaves, she briefly fantasizes about getting serious with him, then shakes it off because she’s just so very ordinary. Okay, sure, because people never fall in love with ordinary people, huh? Also, we’re not told what Belinda looks like, but I’m willing to bet she’s not exactly hideous, and her personality seems fine, although all we’ve got to measure it against is the King of Fools and his vapid, mean-spirited cuntwaffle partner in crime, so the bar for being a good person in this book is set so low it’s basically underground. Anyway, I’m sure Belinda just doesn’t know her own worth because RTC is following the rich tradition of female YA protagonists not being allowed to be confident because my God, any confidence whatsoever in a woman is considered arrogant and uppity!
And this was quite the tangent that came from a single throwaway line.
Belinda checks the mailbox, and her hand comes out covered in wet globs of red that smell so bad it makes her gag. And this is the danger of just reaching into the mailbox without looking first. Actually, I’m usually concerned about spiders. (I’m not phobic, but that doesn’t mean I want them crawling on me. Or to get spiderweb all over my hand.) We were told it’s twilight ( . . . does this explain the “ordinary” protagonist lusting after the hot rich boy?), so I guess Belinda can’t see into the mailbox all that well, but . . . she still just reaches on in again, instead of utilizing one of any number of methods that would prevent her actually having to touch whatever disgusting thing is in there.
The disgusting thing turns out to be a doll’s head, covered in smashed entrails, missing its eyes and with the face smashed up and stitched back together with thick black thread.
In other words, it doesn’t in the least resemble what we see on the cover of the book. Fucking fail, y’all.
The next morning before school, Belinda dumps the bloody doll head out on the grass in front of Hildy and demands to know what she knows about it. Hildy screeches at Belinda, asking if she’s crazy, because of course she fucking does. Now, I wasn’t making note of this in 1990, but was “Are you crazy?!” the 1990 equivalent of “What the fuck, dude?!” Because I feel like that would be an acceptable modern day replacement, in this case, at least.
Then Frank shows up, starts off laughing but then turns to mocking Belinda for being “paranoid,” then points out that if people start asking questions, he wasn’t the one driving that night. Hildy looks stricken, at least until he goes on to say that he’ll swear Hildy wasn’t driving, either. Oh. Cool. Why did these books do this shit so often? In Nick Baron’s Spring Break, the shitty boyfriend of the protag’s shitty BFF threatened to hold down the protag (who I believe actually was driving) and pour a bottle of alcohol down her throat if she didn’t agree to cover up the hit-and-run (hit-and-stop-and-clandestinely-bury) one of the other kids in the car caused her to have by grabbing the steering wheel and driving them into a hitchhiker. Apparently this is a trope, and thanks, I hate it.
Frank leaves, and Hildy makes excuses for him, claiming he had a bad practice yesterday, and he’s always weird when he’s bad at practice. And I just flashed to five years down the road, Hildy making excuses for her latest black eye, claiming Frank had a bad day at work and was just stressed, and she should know better than to provoke him. Their future together feels bleak, and holy shit, am I feeling bad for Hildy? Belinda apparently has the same sort of flash-forward I just did, because she spontaneously hugs Hildy and invites her over after school for pizza and no Frank.
When she gets to the Thornes’ later, Cobbs informs her that Adam is “at his most enchanting: unconscious” due to his pain meds. Have I mentioned Cobbs is awesome? Then he goes creepy (or that’s how we’re supposed to take it, at least) and tells Belinda that it might be best if she left and never returned.
But then he invites her in and makes tea for her, because he and Belinda are going to be besties, okay? Belinda lets Sasha the dog in, sitting on the kitchen floor and giving this Very Good Girl all the scritches while she talks to Cobbs. They bond over how difficult Mrs. Thorne is, and Cobbs tells her that he actually works for Mr. Thorne, and feels rather helpless that there’s nothing he can do for him. Belinda worries that Adam seems so full of hate, and Cobbs assures her it isn’t her fault; he wouldn’t know a friend if he stepped on one – which he undoubtedly has done.
Cobbs tries to insist on driving Belinda home, but she’s determined to take the bus. It’s late afternoon and shaping up to be “quite gloomy,” but Belinda reassures Cobbs that she takes a shortcut to the bus stop through the park – her shortcut is an old parking lot on the east side of the park. Mmhmm, okay, say that a little louder, Belinda.
She makes her way through the park and to her shortcut, which I can’t make a lot of sense of (RTC description, fucking hell, thanks for nothing, lady) but it appears that she walks through part of the park, then sneaks through a hole in a fence to an old “parking lot” that sounds more like a junkyard from the description. There are apparently rusted out hulks of vehicles in this “parking lot,” so I’m definitely getting junkyard vibes here. Whatever it is, I can’t picture it at all, so again, thanks for nothing, RTC.
Anyway, as Belinda is walking across the parking lot to the fence on the other side, she . . . hears a car. Apparently this is so menacing that she takes off running for the fence before the car slides out from . . . somewhere. (If this lot is completely closed in by a fence Belinda has to sneak through, how did this menacing car get in here?) The car just sits there; Belinda trips and spills everything she’s carrying all over the pavement, and the car . . . turns its headlights on at her. This, for some reason, is terrifying. I mean, maybe they’re just giving you some light so you can see to pick up all your shit, Belinda.
Belinda screams at the car, asking what they want, and the car’s lights go out. She scoops up her shit and takes off running. The car presumably stays where it is.
Next thing we know, Belinda is pounding on a door and screaming for Cobbs to let her in. So . . . instead of running to the bus stop, she turned around and ran toward the car and back through the fence into the park, then all the way back to the Thornes’ house? I mean . . . okay. Or am I messed up on the positioning of the car? Was it blocking Belinda from the exit of the lot? Because that’s not at all how it seemed. *rereads last few pages* Nope, the car was behind her when she was walking toward the fence on the far side of the lot. That means she definitely had to run toward it to go back to the Thornes’. Unless she took the long way around the park, which . . . if you’re going to go that way, why not just get on your damn bus and go home?
Why am I obsessing over this?
Cobbs doesn’t answer the door, so Belinda decides to spend ten minutes circling the house and pushing through the bushes at the back to try to break in from the patio. Yup, that’s her brilliant plan. Am I not going to like Belinda from here on? Because I’ve kind of got the feeling I’m not going to like Belinda in the second half of this book if she keeps acting like her brain took a holiday.
Whatever. She makes it into the backyard and sees Cobbs in the kitchen, except it turns out to be Adam. He brings her inside to clean her face, which is all cut up from . . . I guess falling on the pavement in the parking lot? Unclear. He snarks that she wouldn’t want to end up looking like him, and she sees his face in all its mangled glory in the light. Apparently it would be a cruel (but still sensual) face even without the scars and stitches. Those are just the cherry on top, to really drive home the idea that anyone with a physical deformity is of course evil. Oh, did I mention that he also has one of the snakes around his neck, further illustrating how evil he is? Fucking hell, did my mom write this? (My mom to this day will announce to anyone and everyone how much she hates snakes – not for a normal reason, but because they’re demonic and symbols of Satan. As are dragons, apparently. She just loooooves the big Welsh dragon I have tattooed on my shoulder! Two strikes – she hates tattoos, and dragons are satanic! Go, me!)
Belinda tells Adam some of what happened; he reveals that he knows about her shortcut and other things about her life, including that her mom doesn’t get home from her double shifts until seven am. Good thing Belinda is a good girl. My aunt was a nurse when my cousin and I were teens, and we used to get up to some shit in that empty house.
Adam starts needling Belinda about how very familiar she looks, and asking why he makes her nervous. All while the snake is, like, inches away from her face. Look, just because I like snakes doesn’t mean everyone else does, and in addition to the obvious Point Horror reasons here, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the fucking snake in her face is freaking Belinda out a bit. Anyway, then Noel shows up and yells at Adam to get “that thing” away from her, and if you think I’m going to be at all mature here, you’ve clearly never read one of my recaps before.
So. To recap the recap, Noel wants his brother to keep his thing away from Belinda. Got it.
Noel wants to know what happened to Belinda, and Adam explains that she took a shortcut, then caresses his “supple” snake while saying that there are all kinds of weird people out there. Yup. Definitely.
Noel offers to drive Belinda home, and Adam wants them to wait – Belinda is so curious about the accident; he should give her all the gory details now! He begins to tell her she probably wouldn’t know the place; it’s two hours from here, a back road by the airport. It was a rainy night, and oh, has he told her about his father’s screaming yet? Noel asks how he lives with himself; Adam says he covers the mirrors, then continues to ask Noel why he thinks Belinda looks so familiar to him?
So, we’re really not even trying to hide that Adam is in some way or other the bad guy, right?
In the car, Belinda tells Noel some of what happened in the park, then asks if Adam ever goes out. Nope, he can’t get around well by himself and only goes out with Cobbs. Then Belinda realizes that the front gate was open when she ran to the Thorne house, and I don’t know why this is important in any way, but apparently it is, because that gate is always kept closed. Okay. They pull up to Belinda’s house and sit there until Hildy’s car pulls up, then Noel asks if he can call Belinda sometime, and her heart does a happy dance.
In the house, Belinda tells Hildy everything, and she still doesn’t want to believe that Adam is the one tormenting Belinda. They instead settle on it being Frank, at least for the moment. They order pizza, and Hildy wants to know if Belinda thinks it was the same accident. Yup. Hildy still doesn’t know how it’s possible, and wonders why they didn’t see Adam there. What? You mean in the burning car you ran away from without a second (barely a first) glance? What even the fuck.
Hildy prefers to stay in denial and doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. The doorbell rings and Hildy runs to answer it, convinced it’s the pizza even though the forty-five minute delivery time has definitely not passed yet. It’s Noel instead. Apparently he just couldn’t wait to see Belinda again even though it’s only been like five minutes since he dropped her off. He comes in, and Hildy freaks the fuck out when she goes to close the door, because someone is out there. Belinda looks, then starts freaking out herself, even though she can’t see anything. Then she apparently does see something, because when Noel asks her about it, she says it looked like Cobbs.
Are . . . are you trying to make us suspect Cobbs now, RTC? Because fuck you if so.
They all make excuses about why it couldn’t have been Cobbs, and then Hildy decides to wait outside for the pizza, to give Noel and Belinda some time alone. Belinda claims she and Hildy were freaking out because they’d scared themselves by telling ghost stories before Noel got there (okay, how long has it been since he dropped her off? because it doesn’t seem like long, but apparently he was driving around for quite a while before coming back), and Noel alludes to Adam’s dark past, saying he has a history of imagining things, and his latest delusion is that someone ran him off the road. Belinda is like, oh shit, but Noel goes on to say that it’s so obvious Adam just missed the curve. His mom doesn’t remember anything, due to being doped up for the flight, which probably also explains why she wasn’t hurt as seriously as her husband. Relaxed muscles and all that.
Hildy comes busting back in the front door with the pizza (yay!) and Frank (boo!). Apparently he just showed up, and he paid for the pizza, so what could she do? Um, I dunno, NOT let him in? I mean, it’s not your house, Hildy, goddamn.
Noel and Frank introduce themselves, and Hildy introduces herself, which made me do a double take, but I guess she and Noel weren’t actually officially introduced. Huh. Anyway, Noel decides to leave as suddenly as he arrived, but Hildy literally gets between him and the door and starts going on about the Senior Picnic, which is apparently a thing, and how she needs to know if Belinda is bringing a date or not. She and Frank extremely subtly manipulate Noel into asking Belinda, who is mortified by the whole thing. Like, Hildy is kinda trying to be a good friend here I guess, but going about it very badly.
Frank takes the pizza into the other room, leaving Belinda to tell Hildy that Adam is sure someone ran him off the road, but no one believes him because he imagines things. Hildy doesn’t see the issue, then. Disgusted with her “friend,” Belinda goes up to bed. I guess leaving Frank and Hildy to amuse themselves and eat her pizza in her house.
For some reason, this book, which has been third-person limited from Belinda’s POV up to now, suddenly switches to Hildy’s perspective for a paragraph, so that she can shout that Belinda is “really crazy, you know that?” when she hears her door shut. It’s a weird, jarring narrative choice. Oh, and also Hildy is fond of using the word “crazy” in the oddest context. What is the word “crazy” subbing in for this time? Tired? Weary of dealing with her asshole friends? I’m sorry, what mental illness is that, exactly?
Amid many ellipses and dashes (this is RTC, after all), Belinda lies in bed thinking about Adam and the accident, and then a figure appears outside her window and whispers “Murderer” at her. So apparently Belinda only lives in a single-story home. I would be much more impressed if the whisperer were hovering outside a second-story window like the kid vampire in Salem’s Lot.
Cut to Hildy and Belinda talking the next day, and I have no idea if they’re at school or still at Belinda’s house, because once again, RTC sucks at description. Anyway, Belinda assures Hildy that Cobbs is coming to pick her up so she won’t have to ride the bus to the Thornes’ house; then asks when Frank left the house last night. Hildy gets offended that Belinda wants to blame Frank for everything, despite Belinda pointing out that Hildy is the one who keeps telling her everything is probably just Frank playing stupid jokes.
Then Noel shows up to pick Belinda up, and she seems to be expecting him, even though we were told it was Cobbs who would be picking her up. Sure. What a silly bitch I am for expecting continuity.
At the house, Cobbs is dusting the snake terrariums, although RTC doesn’t seem to know the word “terrarium” and keeps calling them cages or boxes. Belinda mentions that she thought she saw Cobbs outside her house; he denies it; she asks him how he can stand the snakes; he asks why she thinks he carries a cleaver around. Okay, first of all, that was once. Secondly, that’s insinuating possible animal abuse, and I’m not okay with that. Thirdly, can we calm the fuck down with the snake hate? I mean, way to make everyone who likes snakes feel like a fucking loser deviant when they read this fucking book, goddamn. Nice . . . snake-shaming? *shrug*
Belinda marches up to Adam’s room, opens the curtains, turns on the light, and is all business as she tells him to show her where he left off with his school work. This lasts for all of half a page before he starts getting under her skin again. Oh, well, it was nice for that half a page, at least. He tells her he had a girlfriend who cheated on him, and she had an accident too, a freaky thing, and now no one dates her. I’m assuming that means he fucked her face all up, but she could be dead I suppose. Somehow Adam grabs Belinda in a headlock, who the fuck knows how with RTC’s terrible descriptions (I had thought they were sitting down facing each other, but apparently not?), and whispers in her ear that you never know when accidents might happen.
Belinda is done with his shit, and grabs up her stuff to leave, but the embroidered handkerchief falls out of her pocket. Adam wants to know where the fuck she got that, and she says it’s hers, then can’t shut her own stupid mouth before saying that she found it, so it’s hers. Oh, hon, no.
She runs down to the kitchen and asks Cobbs to give her a ride home, but unfortunately the car is “indisposed.” Sorry, is someone else currently driving it? Adam is upstairs and can’t drive himself anyway; Mrs. Thorne is in New York; Mr. Thorne is dying in the hospital; and Noel has his own car. Why the fuck is this car unavailable, and are you really telling me that this family only has the one car?
Belinda goes to the phone to call a cab, but someone is on the phone when she picks up. She listens to a nurse tell Adam that there’s nothing they can do for his father, and it’s only a matter of waiting now. Adam wonders about doing something to hurry it along instead of letting dear old dad suffer, and the nurse sounds like she’s done with his shit, too. After she hangs up, and before Belinda does, Adam mutters about “no more waiting.”
Seriously, are we really still supposed to wonder if Adam is a killer?
The next day (I guess?) is the senior picnic, which it seems is taking place in the park after school, as they are currently at school heading toward the school buses that will cart them all off to the picnic. It’s really a matter of trying desperately to piece together any information given and then fill in the substantial gaps with educated guesses when reading RTC books, guys. Nothing is ever explained satisfactorily.
Anyway, Frank shows up to throw some more ableism at Belinda, then to blow up and accuse the girls of being “so touchy” after Belinda simply rolls her eyes at his sexual harassment of her and Hildy.
They meet Noel at the park, after Belinda gets all sentimental about how she’ll probably never see her classmates again, and wishes she had made friends with more of them. This is still April, right? There’s still like a month of school left? Because she’s acting like today is the last time she’ll be with these people, which is weird as hell.
Belinda and Noel go off together, and we find out that he ended up giving her a ride home last night, and apparently didn’t talk because she only now tells him how scary Adam was at her last night. They talk about how Adam likes to scare people; how Noel runs a close third in his mom’s heart after herself and money; then he goes on to say that when you grew up without money and then you get some, it becomes like an addiction – you just want more and more. And that explains his mother. Really, Noel? Sure you’re not talking about yourself there, son?
They spend the day hanging out, eating, listening to music, doing whatever the fuck you do at a senior picnic, until the whole thing starts breaking up around twilight. Noel suggests he and Belinda go to dinner, and she asks “Still hungry? You’re so crazy!” proving without a doubt that RTC has no idea what “crazy” means and has decided to use it to mean “hungry” here. Then my more lighthearted mocking of the use of crazy is ruined when Noel reminds Belinda that Adam is crazy, and they’re the sane ones. Oh, fuck you, Richie. What exactly has Adam done that could in any way be described as crazy? Being a scary, possibly homicidal jerk isn’t crazy. Fuck sake.
Belinda and Noel kiss, horny over their shared hatred of the mentally ill, then go get Mexican food. Because nothing goes better with demonizing mentally ill folks than enchiladas! (And now I’m kind of hungry for a good quesadilla. Goddamn you, RTC.)
Noel starts to drive Belinda home, with her leaning her head against his shoulder, so fuck seatbelts I guess. Then someone rocks up behind them and starts rear-ending the fuck out of the car. Belinda is thrown forward against her seatbelt, so I’m very confused about how she was able to be all up on Noel if she was wearing her seatbelt this whole time, but whatever. My annoyance at this weirdness is overshadowed by Noel exclaiming that the other driver is, of course, crazy. Yup, I too have been diagnosed with Running People Off the Road Disorder. Which month do I get to bring awareness to it on Facebook?
Not gonna lie, it’s hard to tell what the fuck even happens next. Richie loves her some dashes and sentence fragments during action sequences. I think she thinks it makes things more exciting and gets across the rapid-fire action, when all it really does is make things confusing and disjointed. What I think happens is this: Noel hits a pothole and flies several feet into the air like he’s one of the Dukes of Hazzard; they crash through a barbed wire fence; then end up in a ditch where the car comes to a stop after Noel hits his head on the steering wheel. Or something. His face is bloody, but it’s not explained why.
The other car takes off; Belinda thinks it was Adam, which Noel scoffs at, since Adam can’t drive – he can’t even walk! Noel accuses Belinda of being obsessed with Adam, and she insists she thinks he’s after her. Then Noel decides she shouldn’t be alone tonight, and insists she spend the night at the Thorne house. You know, where Adam lives. Cool. Noel says that Adam isn’t even home right now – it’s Cobbs’s night off, and they went out together. For some reason this is the end-of-chapter stinger. Again, cool.
They make their way to the Thorne house, and Noel calls Belinda’s mom and tells her that Belinda is sick and Cobbs insisted on her staying the night. Then Belinda insists on Noel checking the house for Adam, which he says he’ll do after she locks herself in the room she’ll be sleeping in. Noel brings her one of his mom’s silky white nightgowns and states that Belinda will probably look better in it than his mom does.
Okay. That’s super appropriate and not at all weird.
I guess we’re supposed to believe Noel checked the whole fucking mansion in the time it took him to locate his mom’s lacy nightgown or something, because he sure as fuck doesn’t leave to look around, instead asking Belinda if she still wants to talk. (She’d decided earlier to tell him about the accident.) She’s too tired now, so Noel tells her to find him if she needs anything, or to pound on Cobbs’s door if she wants a snack. Seriously? Most people are perfectly capable of grabbing a bag of chips or some crackers all by themselves, you know.
Belinda tries on the nightgown, thinking it makes her look “almost pretty,” and we finally get a partial description of Belinda – she has brown hair! Whoo!
Then Noel creeps in on her because she forgot to lock the door after him, and they start making out while she tries to hide her cleavage from him. Then she starts crying, and then ends up recapping the entire book for him anyway. Hopefully her version leaves out all the extraneous dashes and ellipses that RTC is so fond of.
Noel suggests that Adam was actually the man Belinda saw watching them, that maybe he threw himself clear from the accident and that’s how he was injured. Then it all starts clicking for Belinda, and she exclaims,
“He tried to KILL them, Noel! He tried to murder his own father – and YOUR mother! But how – in the car – is that POSSIBLE?”
I am absolutely reading this without the dashes, making it, “How in the car is that possible?!” Like “how in the car” is the new “how in the fuck”. Try it some time. Let’s get this going in the modern vernacular.
Belinda can’t figure out why the son of a rich man would try to kill his parents, and Noel points out that he guesses it’s not that hard to jump out of a moving car, but Belinda interrupts him to exclaim about the handkerchief and how Adam knows she has it. Noel is confused, so Belinda explains about the handkerchief, and does Noel seem a little more worried than he ought to?
But then they’re both worried, because they hear a sound outside the door. Hmm. How loudly have they been talking, and how thick are these doors? There’s no one there when Noel yanks the door open, but they hear a door down the hall close. For both their sakes, they hope it was just Cobbs.
Belinda is understandably nervous about sleeping in the same house as Adam, but Noel reassures her and locks the door on his way out. Belinda finally manages to sleep, then wakes up to something heavy across her throat, choking her. Despite this, she’s somehow able to leap out of bed and start screaming for help. I can’t tell if the door is still locked or not, because one second people are pounding on the door, and the next Noel is holding Belinda and the light is on. Richie Tankersley fucking Cusick, I swear to God. Anyway, there’s a four-foot-long snake at the end of Belinda’s bed. Surprise! Cobbs walks in and calls the snake “You vile thing,” and I’d give anything if he were actually talking to Noel. He reveals that he discovered the snake missing at eleven o’clock, and for some reason this is the end-of-chapter stinger. I really don’t understand what RTC is doing with these chapter ends.
The next morning, Belinda and Cobbs are the only two awake in the kitchen. Belinda asks him if Adam was with him last night at the movies, and Cobbs reveals that they were at the same theater, but in different auditoriums, due to their differing taste in movies. Just for fun, I googled what movies were released in the first half of April 1990, and based on that I hereby decree that Cobbs went to see Ernest Goes to Jail while Adam watched Cry-Baby.
Belinda asks Cobbs if he thinks Adam is crazy, he responds that all teenagers are crazy, I roll my eyes so hard I have to slap my forehead to unstick them from where they’ve gotten stuck at the back of my head. Then Cobbs gets serious and tells Belinda super secret things about Adam that any proper British butler ought to know better than to spill.
Anyway, Adam’s parents were divorcing when he was ten, things were bad and he got sent to live with distant relatives. No specific relation is mentioned, but in the next paragraph Belinda has out of nowhere starting calling them Adam’s aunt and uncle, and Cobbs never corrects her, so . . . I guess that’s what we’re going with.
At any rate, Adam begged his parents to come and take him away from the relatives, who he claimed were abusive. Mom and Dad apparently didn’t give a fuck, and eventually there was a car accident in which the uncle died straight away, Adam was thrown clear, and the aunt died later in the hospital after trying to communicate something about “Adam” and “steering wheel.” The doctors chalked it up to her being delirious, because the doctors were idiots who don’t listen to women.
Adam suffered a severe head injury in the accident, and the mood changes soon followed. Neither parent wanted to deal with him, so Dad paid Mom a huge amount of child support to keep him. It’s phrased in the text like it was a bribe, but . . . it’s literally child support. It’s not sinister, it’s . . . your responsibility as a parent.
Anyway, Belinda is shocked that anyone would even think a ten-year-old had killed his relatives, because Belinda is clearly not a true crime fan. (If she were, she would also see the connection between “head injury” and “serial killer,” but this is Point Horror after all, where head injuries are given the same gravitas as a paper cut. Maybe less.) Cobbs informs her that the day of the accident, Adam had called him crying, saying that if he had to stay with the relatives one more day, he was going to do something desperate.
At this point, I’m kind of wondering why Adam hasn’t tried to get rid of Cobbs to cover his tracks.
Noel and Sasha the dog come bounding into the kitchen; Cobbs goes into the pantry to get . . . something; and Noel tells Belinda he checked the car and there’s not a scratch on it, meaning Adam didn’t bop out of the movie to run them off the road. Belinda is perplexed.
When Cobbs comes back, he tells Noel that Mrs. Thorne didn’t check into her hotel, and in fact her plans were changed with no word on where she would now be staying. Noel looks worried, but shrugs it off as “Mom will be found when she wants to be found, I guess.” He then offers to drive Belinda home, but she forgot her purse and goes upstairs to retrieve it.
Of course she comes across a halfway open door to what looks like a study, and of course she stops to spy on Adam in the study. He’s reading some papers, and somehow Belinda can see his face but he can’t see her peering in the door at him. Sure. He shoves the papers into a drawer, locks it, hides the key in a book, then gives an inhuman supervillain laugh. Like you do.
Belinda tells Noel what happened as he drives her home, then invites him in briefly to meet Mom. After he leaves, Mom and Belinda talk for a little while, and they seem to have a nice relationship. Mom goes to bed, and Hildy calls, demanding to know where Belinda was last night, as she called and called and got no answer. They decide to meet at the mall, and Belinda walks there, despite the fact that it’s drizzling/raining. Also, since Mom is home, why can’t Belinda take her car?
On the walk, Belinda becomes convinced for no apparent reason that she’s being followed. I don’t even think this is a matter of bad description, there’s just . . . literally no reason for her to think anyone is behind her. But she takes off running and apparently doesn’t stop until she’s fully in the mall, at “their usual meeting place.” Fucking where, Richie? The food court? In front of the ear-piercing station at Claire’s? The arcade? It’s okay to enhance your writing with details, Richie!
It might be the food court, because Belinda collapses into a chair when she reaches Hildy. She starts babbling the whole “Adam tried to kill his parents and we witnessed it” theory, and Hildy isn’t fucking having it. She tells Belinda she’s watching her go insane right in front of her. Mmhmm, okay. I don’t have the energy to bother raging about this. Then Belinda continues to make a huge deal about the embroidered handkerchief, then she tells Hildy about the first accident Adam caused/was in.
Hildy is either actively stupid or deliberately obtuse, and doesn’t understand how any of this has anything to do with them. She tells Belinda that she’s crazy, not Adam, which leads to Hildy asking what the motive is, and Belinda literally saying that when you’re crazy you don’t need a motive, you do it just because you’re crazy.
. . .
. . .
I’m not even going to focus on the terrible commentary on mental health. I’m not going to point out that even “crazy” people have motives for the things they do. I’m not going to bemoan this awful “crazy equals dangerous” stigma. No. I would like instead to point out that these girls are the fucking biggest morons on the face of this exploding planet right here if they can’t figure out that Rich Dead Parents + Kid That Will Likely Inherit Everything = Motive.
Belinda & Hildy: “He did it because he’s crazy! No other possible motive exists!”
Literally Everyone Else in the World: “Uhhh, are you sure it’s not because of the millions of dollars he presumably stands to inherit?”
Belinda & Hildy: ” . . . nope. Crazy.”
Money is like, the number one motive for murder, you fucking ignorant knobs. Add to that the fact that dear old Dad sent Adam off to abusive relatives and left him there to continue being abused, and I’m sure there’s more than enough resentment built up to make murder seem like a good idea. Fucking hell.
Hildy goes off on Belinda about how she thought she would “snap out of it,” and with enough time she would “lighten up and see how it didn’t matter.” See how it didn’t MATTER?! You ran a car off the road, you homicidal asshole! Ugh ugh ugh! *screams into the existential void*
It comes out that Belinda told Noel about the accident; Hildy starts to cry, then it comes out that Frank was, of course, the one playing the “pranks” on Belinda – at least, some of them. He sent the police to her house (. . . I still don’t get the point of that “prank” by the way) and sent the calendar page to her, but didn’t scare her in the park or whisper outside her window. No word on the mangled doll’s head, though. I think that one might have been Adam, but we never find out for sure.
Belinda runs out of the mall with Hildy following, begging her not to go tell Frank she knows. Oh, fuck off, Hildy. You fucking suck. She tells Belinda he’s at the gym pool, and apparently they mean the school gym, because that’s where Belinda runs to. In the rain, after she left her umbrella at the mall.
Belinda outruns Hildy and arrives at the pool, which is apparently just unlocked and open to any random person on a Saturday afternoon (morning?). She sees something floating in the pool and thinks it’s Frank, so she dives in to save him instead of celebrating his presumed demise.
Hildy shows up and freaks the fuck out, but Belinda informs her that it’s only Frank’s jacket, not actually him. You know, I can think of at least two or three other books in the Point Horror/Fear Street genre where a jacket floating in a swimming pool has been mistaken for a person, and I’m enraged that this happens often enough to qualify as a trope.
Belinda accuses Hildy of this being another prank she set up with Frank, and Hildy loses her shit, stomping her foot down almost on Belinda’s hand (she’s still in the pool, hanging onto the edge) and screaming at her about how jealous Belinda is that Frank chose Hildy instead of her, and how wonderful he is. Belinda scoffs at the idea that Frank has a great sense of humor, throwing the wet jacket at Hildy’s feet, and for some reason this simple act causes Hildy to tell Belinda that she’d like to hurt her – really hurt her.
Um. Find new friends, Belinda. Your friends shouldn’t want to harm you, no matter how angry they are. I’m so pissed that RTC can’t be bothered to give us any backstory to explain just why the fuck Belinda would ever consider this hellbeast to be her friend. Throw the whole “friend” away, B!
Hildy goes to storm out, and Belinda hauls herself out of the pool, trying to call her back (but why tho) and warn her that if this wasn’t a prank, Frank could be in real danger. Hildy both tells her that they’re not friends anymore and that she doesn’t want to be Belinda’s friend, because Hildy’s atrocious personality traits include redundancy; so Belinda throws the wet jacket at Hildy as hard as she can and demands to know since when was Hildy ever her friend anyway?
She’s a little late, but she’s got the spirit.
Belinda walks home, where her mother is awake and alarmed at Belinda’s appearance. She admits that she and Hildy had a fight, and Mom gives some nice, if misguided, advice. I feel like if Mom were paying attention, she would advise Belinda to drive a stake through Hildy’s heart (provided she could find it), but hey, at least she’s trying to be a good mom, unlike all the PH parents who fuck off to Europe for the entire book. (Or the mom in Sister Dearest who was present only to body-shame and slut-shame her daughter who was recovering from a life-threatening accident.)
Belinda lies down to nap, and only wakes up after it’s dark and Noel shows up. I guess they planned to get together that night, although this is the first we’re hearing of it. Mom lets him in, and Belinda tells him about the dream she was having where Frank was dead. We should be so lucky. Noel seems surprised by this, then admits his attention is wandering because the hospital called and doesn’t expect Mr. Thorne to live through the night. Adam must be thrilled.
He thinks it’s weird that they haven’t heard from his mom, but points out that nothing could have happened to her since Adam’s been home the entire time she’s been gone. Uh, has he? Because he definitely went to see Cry-Baby with Cobbs.
Noel decides he should go to the hospital, and Belinda asks him to drop her off at Hildy’s on his way. And since I don’t see any stakes or battleaxes, I’m assuming she’s trying to make up rather than slay her. Boo.
When they leave the house, a man blocks them into the driveway. He has an envelope addressed to “Ms. Swanson” that some guy paid him to deliver. Yeah, cuz that’s always a good sign and never turns out to be something sinister.
It turns out to be one of Hildy’s braids. Belinda knows it’s Hildy’s, because no one has hair like hers. You know, except for these days when dyeing your hair silver is all the rage. I’m more hung up on how the braid hasn’t come unbraided. Is it super greased up, or is there a hair elastic on both ends? Because if Hildy puts it in a ponytail and then braids it, that is some third-grade bullshit right there.
Anyway, Belinda freaks out. They go to Hildy’s house, where no one answers, then to Frank’s, where his dad informs them that he hasn’t seen his son or Hildy since early that morning. Noel offers to take Belinda to his house where Cobbs can watch over her, except instead of Cobbs, they find a note that says, “Situation critical. Gone to hospital.”
The phone rings and it’s Adam, who tells Noel he better come to the hospital. Hey, at least Belinda won’t be in the house with Adam, then! Silver lining!
Once alone, Belinda dials Hildy over and over, to no avail. I guess her parents are in Europe or something, since they’re not answering the phone or the door. Then Sasha the dog starts growling and creeping up toward the study, so Belinda follows her instead of finding a nice place to barricade herself in.
No one is in the study, which gives Belinda the perfect opportunity to snoop, because fuck boundaries! She finds the key Adam hid and looks through the papers he was reading. They’re all out of order, but once she pieces bits together in her head (much the way you must do with RTC’s books), she realizes that it’s Mr. Thorne’s will, and that if both he and his wife die, his fortune is to be divided equally between Adam and Noel. Yeah. Fucking duh, what are you, new here? Cue Belinda suddenly knowing that Adam was behind the whole thing, and that he’s planning to kill Noel next!
Yeah, uh, I’m sure there’s no collusion between the two or anything. Just ignore Noel’s soliloquy about the lure of money and all that.
Then the phone starts ringing (Belinda is wound so tight she actually screams, which made me laugh), and she picks up the receiver on the desk, only to realize the ringing isn’t coming from that phone. This is a separate line, and I’m not even going to waste time asking why she thought the silent phone right in front of her was the phone that was ringing.
She runs back down to the kitchen to answer the phone, because apparently that’s the only room that exists on the ground floor, and it’s Cobbs on the other end. Belinda finds out that neither Noel nor Adam are at the hospital with him, and she drops the phone as she hears a foot dragging along a hallway somewhere in the house. She backs through the kitchen to the patio doors and fumbles them open behind her, then turns around and runs right into Adam’s arms. I thought he was the one dragging a foot along the hallway, but apparently not.
Belinda runs toward the entryway and the door, and apparently Noel can teleport, because one second Belinda is running toward the door, and the next Sasha the dog is bounding into Noel’s arms. I assume he came through the door, but who the fuck can even tell with the way this is described. I would love to retroactively be the editor for these books. I suspect every page would have “WTF?” scrawled across it in my red pencil. I would jump at the chance to remove Richie’s dashes and ellipses and turn her descriptions into something more coherent and fit for human eyes.
Anyway. Belinda throws herself at Noel, babbling about Adam wanting to kill him, and the handkerchief, and the will, and the aunt and uncle, and somehow fails to notice that Noel is acting strange about everything. Then she turns and sees Adam behind her, who taunts them about the handkerchief with the letter A on it and the man on the hill, watching. He moves forward, and he’s not limping any more. Noel tells him that he was supposed to have it done by now, and that Belinda thinks it’s him, and Adam says that he never had a face people trusted, not like Noel Ashby. A for Ashby, yay! Glad we sorted that out. Then Noel tells Adam to put Belinda in the car because it’s time for a little reunion. I would have thought the cliffhanger chapter end would come right after Noel tells Adam he should have done it by now, but nope. Some suspense.
I don’t think I saw this coming when I was a kid. These days, I remember the story so well that I can’t even tell if it’s obvious or not. But two killers wasn’t something PH did very often, so at least it was something fresh for the time.
Belinda didn’t see it coming, and is numb as Adam exposits among many ellipses. It was such a perfect plan that Belinda and her friends fucked up by distracting Adam so he missed the place he was supposed to jump out of the car, then when he had, them being there prevented Noel from picking him up. He wonders at the fact that they wouldn’t leave; they wouldn’t leave, but they wouldn’t help. And he tried to hold his face together while he watched the car explode. He has an icepick with him, and he teases Belinda’s face with it, asking if she knows what it feels like to have your face sliced open.
He keeps monologuing at Belinda, telling her April 1st was his birthday, he should have been a millionaire instead of almost dying, and Belinda actually starts to apologize to him. Seriously? You’re apologizing that you prevented him from murdering his parents properly? I mean . . . think about that for a minute.
Noel isn’t amused by any of this, and gets them all in the car. He starts driving, while Adam complains that he should have let Adam do it his way, it would have been more fun. I don’t think I want to contemplate what Adam’s “fun” way to kill Belinda would be.
Adam tells Belinda that Hildy and Frank are alive for now; Belinda tries to make Noel feel bad for killing her; Adam jabs her with the icepick; then Noel suddenly starts elucidating about how he wishes Belinda hadn’t been there. Out of nowhere, Adam starts expositing again, telling us how they found Belinda (high school sticker on the car; idiot friends screaming her name); how he followed her in his car that no one knew about; how the murder should have been so easy, after all he’s done it before. So that’s confirmation that he did kill the aunt and uncle/unspecified relatives.
Belinda begs for her life, saying she hasn’t told anyone about that night and she won’t. Noel points out that she told him, and then they’re at their destination and getting out of the car at Suicide Drop. At least it’s not Dead Man’s Curve. Then again, I don’t think there’s ever been a surfer band song about Suicide Drop, so . . .
Adam asks if it reminds her of another road on a night not so different than this, and we get it, okay? Jesus. (Also, he calls her “Clever girl,” so now I can only picture Belinda as a velociraptor.)
They walk to a car hidden off the road, and I guess it’s Frank’s car. For some reason he’s unconscious in the front seat, but they pull Hildy out of the trunk. Wait, so what if Frank had come to? We’re not told that Frank was tied up or anything, so this was incredibly stupid on Team Bad Guy’s part. Frank could have regained consciousness at any point and driven the fuck outta there with Hildy. And then what, guys?
Anyway, Hildy blubbers at Belinda about how Noel grabbed her, and I don’t care. Fuck off and die, Hildy.
I was under the impression that the girls had been shoved into the car, but apparently not, because now Adam is walking them at gunpoint while Noel drives the car to the edge of the drop off. This murder plot is taking way too many steps and seems overly complicated.
Noel states that he wanted to call it even and let them go as Adam forces the girls into the backseat and Noel props Frank up to make it look like he was driving, so his words don’t really match his actions. It’s revealed that dear old mom is at the bottom of the cliff or drop or whatever, and I’m not sure if that’s supposed to look like part of this “accident” or what. Is there a car down there, too? Or just the body? None of this makes sense, and pretty much guarantees the cops are going to have questions. Anyway, Belinda is appalled that Noel killed his own mother when he was supposed to be taking her to the airport, but Adam stops her to say that Noel is great at planning but doesn’t have the stomach for the doing. Or maybe he’s just smarter than you, Adam. Murder is a little harder to prove when you didn’t physically do it yourself.
Belinda again begs Noel for their lives, but Noel just mutters about pushing the car off the cliff and moves to get out of the driver’s door. But surprise! Adam points the gun at him and tells him he’s not going anywhere. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? Noel is shocked! Noel is an idiot.
He kicks the door into Adam and flies out of the car. Fighting, presumably, ensues.
Inside the car, Hildy and Belinda can’t get out because the back doors are locked. The car was about
one step closer to six inches from the edge, but now it’s slipping, so the girls try to get out the front, where I guess the door is still hanging open? Alas, Frank is in their way. Even unconscious, Frank is an inconsiderate asshole.
Noel slams Adam against the car; Belinda can’t get Frank’s stupid unconscious ass out of her way; someone yells at Belinda that he’s got her; Frank is yanked out of the car; Belinda is yanked out of the car; the backdoor opens and Hildy is yanked out of the car. Or maybe Belinda was still in the backseat with Hildy. I really can’t tell based on RTC’s terrible action descriptions. At any rate, once out of the car, there are “whirlpools of red and blue lights” and Noel is holding Belinda, at least until the cops start shouting at him to get away from her. So I guess he saved the day at the last minute. I have serious doubts he would have bothered if Adam hadn’t tried to fuck him over, but sure. My hero.
Cobbs is there too, and proudly recounts to Belinda how he suspected there was skulduggery afoot, so he came home, saw the boys putting Belinda in a car he didn’t recognize (I thought they were in Noel’s car, but apparently not), and followed them as he called the police from the car phone. Sorry, as he rang the police from the car telephone. Mustn’t paraphrase dear Cobbs. His turn of phrase is delightful and shouldn’t be interfered with.
Belinda watches the police take Noel away and cries, whispering his name. I mean, let’s not forget that he was perfectly fine terrorizing and attempting to kill you up until the very last second possible, and then only because his murder partner turned on him.
Three days later, Hildy has a new super short haircut Belinda can’t get used to, and she’s decided Belinda can have Frank. Not, it seems, because his actions almost got them all killed, but because he’s become dull and boring. I might be reading too much into this, but this is how the narrative makes it seem. Or maybe I managed to make it to the epilogue before this book finally broke me. Who knows.
Hildy says that she hasn’t been a good friend, and . . . yeah. Was this supposed to be a big revelation or something? She basically says that she’s not like Belinda; she needs validation from others to feel good about herself. Again, no fucking shit. For some reason, Belinda seems to be forgiving Hildy, which is incredibly unearned based on what we’ve seen of Hildy. Once again, if we had any instance whatsoever of Hildy being a good friend, maybe the reader would understand why Belinda isn’t stabbing the fuck out of this little shitstain right now, but we don’t, so we don’t.
Belinda tells her that Adam and Noel are undergoing evaluation to see if they’re competent to stand trial, and I know media likes to act like every defense lawyer ever will attempt to plead insanity for their clients, but come the fuck on. This whole thing was planned and premeditated as fuck. There’s no indication that either of the boys was in a state of mind where they didn’t know right from wrong, or had any sort of break from reality. They planned, they covered their tracks, they fucking knew what they were doing. Fuck trying to plead insanity.
The doorbell rings, and it’s Cobbs! He snarks about what a mess the Swansons’ house is, then explains to Belinda and her mom (and I guess Hildy is still there?) that he finds himself out of a job and would like to work for them – for free, as Mr. Thorne provided for him quite generously in his will. Gee, I’m surprised Adam didn’t try to kill him for whatever percentage it was he got, too.
Mom is somewhat hesitant, until Cobbs points out that Belinda needs someone to watch over her and help her make wiser choices about men. Everyone laughs as though they didn’t just go through a massive trauma, and it’s determined that Cobbs will work for them. Or, “work”. Volunteer? Whatever. I wonder where he’s going to live. I guess not at the Swansons’, so Belinda won’t be able to pound on his door and demand snacks in the middle of the night.
Belinda insists Sasha the dog come too, and I suppose Sasha will be living at the Swansons’. Mom and Hildy go back to the living room, leaving Belinda in the kitchen with Cobbs, because I don’t think Cobbs exists in any room that’s not the kitchen. He gives her another embroidered handkerchief that Noel wanted her to have “with no bad memories attached.” Yeah, good fucking luck not being retraumatized every time you look at that.
Belinda asks if Cobbs was following her; he admits he was. She’s warm and fuzzy that he was looking out for her, while he sniffs that there’s no need for sentimentality. Then she starts crying about Noel and how she wants to believe he wouldn’t have killed her, he tried to save her at the end, like that 1% makes up for the other 99% of what he did, and then Cobbs holds her as she cries.
Once Belinda is all cried out, she tells Cobbs she loves him, and he returns the sentiment. Feel-good ending for the win.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
So. This is in no way a masterpiece. But . . . hey, I still like it okay. Frank and Hildy need to go jump in a volcano, but I pretty much liked Belinda all the way through. Except, you know, whenever she decided to shit all over the mentally ill. The story is pretty standard 1990 Point Horror, and having one super obvious killer was a nice little misdirect from Noel and the conspiracy between them.
Cobbs is the fucking best. RTC has a knack for creating cool side characters. Unfortunately, she also can’t write a coherent action scene to save her life, and the reader is left guessing at what’s happening far more often than they should be. I doubt I’ll ever find an RTC book where I don’t have this issue.
So, while this one wasn’t exactly “third time’s the charm,” at least I do enjoy this one quite a bit. I still have Teacher’s Pet left from my original Basement Box o’ Books that inspired this whole website, and I actually think that one is the best of the RTC’s I still had from childhood? So maybe the fourth time’s the charm in this case.