فصل 12کتاب: دو نفر میتوانند رازنگهدار باشند / فصل 12
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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
This time it’s Ezra’s phone that buzzes with the California number.
He holds it up to me. “Sadie?” he asks.
“Probably,” I say, glancing instinctively at the door. We’re in the living room watching Netflix after dinner Friday night, and Nana’s in the basement doing laundry. She irons everything, including our T-shirts, so she’s got at least another half hour down there. Still, Ezra gets to his feet and I follow him to the staircase.
“Hello?” he answers halfway up. “Yeah, hey. We thought it was you. Hang on, we’re in transit.” We get ourselves settled in his room—Ezra at his desk and me in the window seat beside it—before he props up his phone and switches to FaceTime.
“There you are!” Sadie exclaims. Her hair’s pulled back into a low, loose ponytail with tendrils escaping everywhere. It makes her look younger. I search her face for clues for how she’s doing, because our “official” calls over Skype don’t tell me anything. And neither does Nana. But Sadie is wearing the same cheerful, determined expression she’s had every time I’ve glimpsed her over the past few weeks. The one that says, Everything is fine and I have nothing to explain or apologize for. “What are you two doing at home on a Friday night?” “Waiting for our ride,” Ezra says. “We’re going to a pep rally. At Fright Farm.” Sadie scratches her cheek. “A pep rally where?”
“Fright Farm,” I say. “Apparently they do school stuff there sometimes. We get a bunch of free passes so people can hang out after.” “Oh, fun! Who are you going with?”
We both pause. “Friends,” Ezra says.
It’s mostly true. We’re meeting Mia and Malcolm there. But our actual ride is Officer Rodriguez, because Nana wasn’t going to let us leave the house until she ran into him downtown and he offered to take us. We can’t tell Sadie that, though, without falling down a rabbit hole of everything we’re not telling her.
Before we started our weekly Skype calls with Sadie, Hamilton House Rehabilitation Facility sent a three-page Resident Interactions Guide that opened with “Positive, uplifting communication between residents and their loved ones is a cornerstone of the recovery process.” In other words: skim the surface. Even now, when we’re having a decidedly unofficial call, we play by the rules. Needing a police escort after getting targeted by an anonymous stalker isn’t on the list of rehab-approved topics.
“Anyone special?” Sadie asks, batting her eyelashes.
My temper flares, because Ezra had somebody special back home. She knows perfectly well he’s not the type to move on a month later. “Just people from school,” I say. “It’s getting busy around here. We have the pep rally tonight, and homecoming next Saturday.” If Sadie notices the coolness in my voice, she doesn’t react. “Oh my gosh, is it homecoming already? Are you two going to the dance?” “I am,” Ezra says. “With Mia.” His glance shifts toward me, and I read in his eyes what he doesn’t say: Unless it gets canceled.
“So fun! She sounds great. What about you, El?” Sadie asks.
I pick at a frayed seam on my jeans. When Ezra told me last night that Mia asked him to homecoming, it hit me that I’m a “princess” without a date. Even though I’m positive the votes were a setup, something about that still rankles. Maybe because, until last night, I assumed our new friends weren’t the school-dance types. Now, I guess it’s just Malcolm who isn’t. With me, anyway.
But Sadie doesn’t know about any of that. “Undecided,” I say.
“You should go!” she urges. “Take the cute vandal.” She winks. “I sensed a little attraction the last time we spoke, amirite?” Ezra turns toward me with a grin. “The what, now? Is she talking about Mal?” My skin prickles with resentment. Sadie doesn’t get to do this; she doesn’t get to embarrass me about something I haven’t sorted out my own feelings about, when she never tells us anything that matters about herself. I straighten my shoulders and incline my head, like we’re playing chess and I just figured out my next move. “Homecoming is such a big deal around here, isn’t it?” I say. “People are obsessed with the court. They even remember how you were queen, like, twenty years ago.” Sadie’s smile changes into something that looks fixed, unnatural, and I lean in closer to the phone. She’s uncomfortable, and I’m glad. I want her to be. I’m tired of it always being me. “You’ve never really talked about that,” I add. “Must have been a fun night.” Her laugh is as light as spun sugar, and just as brittle. “As fun as a small-town dance can be, I guess. I hardly remember it.” “You don’t remember being homecoming queen?” I press. “That’s weird.” Ezra tenses beside me, and even though I don’t look away from Sadie, I can feel his eyes on me. We don’t do this; we don’t dig for information that Sadie doesn’t want to give. We follow her conversational lead. Always.
Sadie licks her lips. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Probably more of an event now that kids can document the whole thing on social media.” She shifts her eyes toward Ezra. “Speaking of which, I’m loving your Instagram stories, Ez. You make the town look so pretty, I almost miss living there.” Ezra opens his mouth, about to answer, but I speak first. “Who did you go to homecoming with?” I ask. My voice is challenging, daring her to try to change the subject again. I can tell she wants to, so badly that I almost backtrack and do it myself. But I can’t stop thinking about what Caroline Kilduff said in Dalton’s Emporium. A princess. What a stupid thing to want to be. Sadie was one—my extroverted, attention-loving mother hit the absolute pinnacle of high school popularity—and she never, ever talks about it.
I need her to talk about it.
At first, I don’t think she’ll answer. When the words spring past her lips she looks as surprised as I am. “Vance Puckett,” she says. I’m not prepared for that, and my jaw drops before I can stop it. Ezra inhales sharply beside me. A crease appears between Sadie’s eyes, and her voice pitches upward as she looks between us. “What? Have you met him?” “Briefly,” Ezra says, at the same time I ask, “Were you serious with him?” “I wasn’t serious about anyone back then.” Sadie tugs on one of her earrings. It’s her nervous tell. I twist a strand of hair around my finger, which is mine. If Sadie dislikes this line of questioning, she’s going to hate the next one.
“Who did Sarah go with?” I ask.
It’s like I took an eraser and wiped the expression right off her face. I haven’t asked about Sarah in years; Sadie trained me not to bother. Ezra cracks his knuckles, which is his nervous tell. We’re all wildly uncomfortable and I can see, all of a sudden, why Hamilton House counsels “uplifting communication.” “Excuse me?” Sadie asks.
“Who was Sarah’s homecoming date? Was it someone from Echo Ridge?”
“No,” Sadie says, glancing over her shoulder. “What’s that? Oh, okay.” She turns back to the camera with an expression of forced brightness. “Sorry, but I need to go. I wasn’t supposed to use this phone for more than a couple of minutes. Love you both! Have fun tonight! Talk soon!” She makes a kissy face at us and disconnects.
Ezra stares at the newly blank screen. “There wasn’t anybody behind her, was there?” “Nope,” I say as the doorbell rings.
“What was that about?” he asks quietly.
I don’t answer. I can’t explain it; the urge I had to make Sadie tell us something—anything—that was true about her time in Echo Ridge. We sit in silence until Nana’s voice floats up the stairs.
“Ellery, Ezra. Your ride is here.”
Ezra pockets his phone and gets to his feet, and I follow him into the hallway. I feel restless and unanchored, and have a sudden urge to grab my brother’s hand the way I used to when we were little. Sadie likes to say we were born holding hands, and while I’m pretty sure that’s physically impossible, she has dozens of pictures of us clutching one another’s tiny fingers in our crib. I don’t know if Sadie used to do that with Sarah, because—surprise—she’s never said.
When we get downstairs, Officer Rodriguez is waiting in Nana’s foyer in full uniform, his hands clasped stiffly in front of him. I can see his Adam’s apple rise and fall as he swallows. “How’s it going, guys?” “Great,” Ezra says. “Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem. I don’t blame your grandmother for being concerned, but we’re working with Fright Farm staff and school administrators to make sure the pep rally is a safe environment for every student.” He sounds like he’s reading from a script, and I can see the gawky teenager peeking out from beneath his new-cop veneer. I’d mentioned to Nana how Sadie had described him during our first call in Echo Ridge—broken-hearted and falling apart at Lacey’s funeral—but she just made the pshhh noise I’ve come to associate with conversations about Sadie. “I don’t remember that,” Nana huffed. “Your mother is being dramatic.” It’s her standard response to Sadie, and I guess I can’t blame her. But I keep looking at the photo of Lacey’s junior class picnic that I snapped on my phone. When I zoom in on sixteen-year-old Ryan Rodriguez, I can see it. I can imagine that lovesick-looking boy breaking down over losing her. What I can’t tell, though, is whether he’d do it because he was sad, or because he was angry.
Nana folds her arms and glares at Officer Rodriguez as Ezra and I grab our coats. “Every student, yes. But you need to be especially vigilant about the three girls involved.” Her mouth puckers. “I’d be happier if they canceled homecoming altogether. Why give whoever is behind this more ammunition?” “Well, the opposite side of that argument is, why give them more power?” Officer Rodriguez says. I blink at him in surprise, because that actually made sense. “If anything, we feel there’s safety in numbers,” he continues. “Fright Farm is always packed on a Friday. Whoever we’re dealing with likes to operate behind the scenes, so I’m optimistic they’ll stay away entirely tonight.” He pulls out his keys and almost drops them, saving them at the last second with an awkward lunge. So much for that brief flash of competence. “You guys ready?” “As we’ll ever be,” Ezra says.
We follow Officer Rodriguez out the door to his squad car waiting in the driveway, and I take the front seat while Ezra slides into the back. I’m still rattled by my conversation with Sadie, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to observe Officer Rodriguez at close range. “So this will be in the Bloody Big Top area, right?” I ask as I clip my seat belt.
“Yep. Same stage where they have the Dead Man’s Party show,” Officer Rodriguez says.
I meet Ezra’s eyes in the rearview mirror. For a town so obsessed with its own tragic past, Echo Ridge is strangely laissez-faire about holding a high school pep rally at a murder site. “Would you be going if you weren’t working?” I ask.
Officer Rodriguez backs out of our driveway. “To the pep rally? No,” he says, sounding amused. “These things are for you guys. Not the adults in town.” “But you didn’t graduate all that long ago,” I say. “I thought maybe it was the sort of thing people would meet up at when they’re back in town? Like, my friend Mia might be bringing her sister.” That’s a total lie. As far as I know, Daisy’s still shut up in her room. “She graduated a while ago. Daisy Kwon? Did you know her?” “Sure. Everyone knows Daisy.”
Her name didn’t evoke a reaction; his voice is calm and he seems a little preoccupied as he turns onto the main road. So I push a different button. “And Declan Kelly’s back too, huh? Malcolm wasn’t sure if he’d be here tonight.” Ezra kicks lightly at my seat, telegraphing a question with the movement: What are you up to? I ignore it and add, “Do you think he will be?” A muscle in Officer Rodriguez’s jaw twitches. “I wouldn’t know.”
“I’m so curious about Declan,” I say. “Were you friends with him in high school?” His lips press into a thin line. “Hardly.”
“Were you friends with Lacey Kilduff?” Ezra pipes up from the backseat. He’s finally gotten with the program. Better late than never.
It doesn’t help, though. Officer Rodriguez reaches out an arm and flips a knob on the dashboard, filling the car with static and low voices. “I need to check for updates from the station. Can you keep it down for a sec?” Ezra shifts in the backseat, leaning forward so he can mutter close to my ear, “Oh-for-two.”
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