Family of Liars: The Prequel to We Were Liars
MY SON JOHNNY is dead.
Jonathan Sinclair Dennis, that was his name. He died at age fifteen.
There was a fire and I love him and I wronged him and I miss him. He will never grow taller, never find a partner, never train for another race, never go to Italy like he wanted, never ride the kind of roller coaster that flips you upside down. Never, never, never. Never anything.
Still, he visits my kitchen on Beechwood Island quite often.
I see him late at night when I can’t sleep and come down for a glass of
whiskey. He looks just like he always did at fifteen. His blond hair sticks up, tufty. He has a sunburn across his nose. His nails are bitten down and he’s usually in board shorts and a hoodie. Sometimes he wears his blue-checked windbreaker, since the house runs cold.
I let him drink whiskey because he’s dead anyway. How’s it going to hurt him? But often he wants hot cocoa instead. The ghost of Johnny likes to sit on the counter, banging his bare feet against the lower cabinets. He takes out the old Scrabble tiles and idly makes phrases on the countertop while we talk. Never eat anything bigger than your ass. Don’t take no for an answer. Be a little kinder than you have to be. Stuff like that.
He often asks me for stories about our family. “Tell about when you were teenagers,” he says tonight. “You and Aunt Penny and Aunt Bess.”
I don’t like talking about that time. “What do you want to know?”
“Whatever. Stuff you got up to. Hijinks. Here on the island.”
“It was the same as now. We took the boats out. We swam. Tennis and ice cream and suppers cooked on the grill.”
“Did you all get along back then?” He means me and my sisters, Penny and Bess.
“To a point.”
“Did you ever get in trouble?”
“No,” I say. Then, “Yes.”
I shake my head.
“Tell me,” he pushes. “What’s the worst thing you did? Come on, spill
“No!” I laugh.
“Yes! Pretty please? The absolute worst thing you ever did, back then. Tell your poor dead son all the gory details.”
“Oh, it can’t be that bad,” he says. “You have no idea the things I’ve seen on television. Way worse than anything you could have done in the 1980s.”
Johnny haunts me, I think, because he can’t rest without answers. He keeps asking about our family, the Sinclair family, because he’s trying to understand this island, the people on it, and why we act the way we do. Our history.
He wants to know why he died. I owe him this story.
“Fine,” I say. “I’ll tell you.”
MY FULL NAME is Caroline Lennox Taft Sinclair, but people call me Carrie. I was born in 1970. This is the story of my seventeenth summer.
That was the year the boys all came to stay on Beechwood Island. And the year I first saw a ghost.
I have never told this particular story to anyone, but I think it is the one that Johnny needs to hear.
Did you ever get in trouble? he asks. Tell me. What’s the worst thing you did? Come on, spill it…The absolute worst thing you ever did, back then.
Telling this story will be painful. In fact, I do not know if I can tell it truthfully, though I’ll try.
I have been a liar all my life, you see. It’s not uncommon in our family.
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