Realizing that his own “murder” of Amy is a lie—as is Tommy O’Hara’s “rape”—Nick begins to wonder if Hilary Handy, too, was falsely accused of stalking Amy. He tries calling Hilary again, and talks quickly as he tries to keep the reluctant woman on the phone. He explains that he has sensed a “pattern of behavior” in Amy that he wants to talk to her about. Hilary sighs, admitting that she has been following the coverage of Amy’s disappearance—and feels bad for Nick, not Amy.
Nick is beginning to see that perhaps the stories Amy has told throughout her life are all false. He wants to see what he can find out—and whether he’s not alone in being one of Amy’s “victims.”
Hilary explains that she was a transfer from Memphis in her freshman year of high school. Amy took Hilary under her wing, and Hilary became devoted to Amy as a way of feeling popular and making friends. As the months passed, though, and Hilary slowly started getting more attention than Amy, Amy became upset. Amy began “setting [Hilary] up,” though the poor girl didn’t realize it at the time. Amy got Hilary to dye her hair the same color as her own and enlisted Hilary’s help in prank-calling the Elliott house constantly to mess with her annoying parents. Amy is the one who dared Hilary to approach Marybeth on the street one day and tell her she wanted to be the “new” Amy.
Several threads connect Nick and Hilary’s experience with Amy. Both Nick and Hilary had fun and blissful starts to their relationships with her—and both became the object of her hate and control when she discovered they had slighted her.
Soon after, Amy accused Hilary of pushing her down a long flight of stairs—Hilary did no such thing, and always knew that Amy threw herself down the stairs. Amy framed Hilary—and after Hilary and her family were forced to move back to Memphis, Hilary received an anonymous note in the mail, a list of all the ways in which Hilary had let Amy down. Hilary wonders aloud what Amy would do to a man “who was dumb enough to marry her” if in high school she was already throwing herself down stairs out of spite.
Amy has framed Nick, Tommy, and Hilary—and has let all three of them know that she was responsible for the pain, misery, and ostracism they suffered as a result of her manipulations. Amy isn’t satisfied by vengeance itself—she needs to be recognized for her efforts.
Alone in his “haunted” house that night, Nick can’t stop thinking about whether Amy’s pregnancy is genuine or a lie meant to drive him insane. Nick had always wanted kids with Amy, and imagined himself being the perfect father—the kind of father he never had. Amy, however, didn’t seem to want children—until one day, she did. She went off birth control for a few months, but when nothing happened, they went to a fertility clinic, where Amy and Nick agreed to lie and tell the doctors they’d been trying for over a year.
Amy is doing to Nick exactly what she set out to do—drive him insane with unanswerable questions meant to keep his mind occupied while, all around him, the cops turn up more and more evidence until it’s impossible to see Nick as anything other than guilty.
Nick went on his own to the center three times to give semen samples, but Amy seemed uncommitted to following the regimen of medicine the doctors laid out for her. A year later, Nick received a notice in the mail letting him know that his samples would be destroyed. Nick left the letter on the table in an attempt to make Amy feel bad—but days later, found it in the trash. They never spoke about having children again.
The coldness and remove between Nick and Amy within their marriage was such that they couldn’t have one of the most important conversations a couple could have. They languished in silence, allowing things between them to waste away—neither of them could pretend anymore.
Restless and lonely, Nick dons a baseball cap and drives into town to go to a bar. He knows he can’t go to The Bar for fear of encountering groupies or reporters, so he drives to a different joint at the other end of town and enjoys the anonymity—until it’s time for him to pay the barkeep, who recognizes him and angrily says he doesn’t want any of Nick’s money. Moments later, a young and slender woman approaches Nick and offers to buy him a drink—she admits she knows who he is, but thinks he’s the victim of the public’s projection of guilt.
Nick is a pariah in town—Amy has done more than just make him look guilty, she’s taken away the last place in the world that truly felt like home to Nick. Her story has been designed to alienated and decimate him on every single level.
As Nick continues conversing with the woman, he learns that her name is Rebecca—and that she’s a reporter who’s been sent to Carthage to cover Nick. Realizing he has a strange opportunity to try and connect with Amy—wherever she might be—Nick begins telling Rebecca about the “wonderful” treasure hunt his wife set up for him in the days before her disappearance. He knows that he can take control of his story, and repaint himself as “a man who loves his wife and will find her.” As he waxes poetic about how cool and special Amy is to the reporter, inside his head, he calls Amy a “bitch” and wishes she would come home so he can “kill her” himself.
Nick outwardly plays the loving, remorseful husband—while inside harboring truly violent and angry misogynistic thoughts. Flynn is using Nick to make a larger comment on the insidious nature of misogyny—though Nick has tried so hard to keep his hate for Amy, and women more generally, at bay, he is at last tipping, and may not be able to stop the free-fall once it begins.