فصل 27

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Nana is, to put it mildly, not pleased with this turn of events.

“You said you were going to watch a movie,” she says from the other side of my closed bedroom door as I yank a dress over my head. It’s black and sleeveless, with a flared A-line skirt that ends just above my knees. The material is casual jersey, but I put on a few long, glittering necklaces to dress it up. With my one and only pair of heels, it can pass for semiformal.

“We changed our minds,” I say, reaching for a bottle of curl enhancer and squeezing a small amount into my palm. I already spent more time than I’d like to admit on my hair before leaving for Malcolm’s, but the battle against frizz never ends.

“I don’t like the idea of you going to this dance, Ellery. Not after everything that’s happened over the past few weeks.” “You let Ezra go,” I point out, slipping into my shoes.

“Ezra wasn’t targeted like you were. One of the girls who was on the homecoming court with you is missing, for God’s sake. It could be dangerous.” “But, Nana, there’s not even a court anymore. Now the whole thing is more of a fund-raiser. There’ll be kids and teachers everywhere. Brooke didn’t disappear when she was in the middle of a crowd like that. She was at home with her parents.” I run my hands through my hair, brush mascara across my lashes, and coat my lips with sheer red gloss. Done.

Nana doesn’t have a good response for that. When I open my door, she’s standing there with her arms folded, and she frowns as she looks me up and down. “Since when do you wear makeup?” she asks.

“It’s a dance.” I wait for her to move, but she doesn’t.

“Is this a date?”

I get full-body butterflies as I think about kissing Malcolm on his couch, but blink at Nana like it’s the first time I’d ever considered her question. “What? No! We’re going as friends, like Mia and Ezra. We got bored and decided to meet up with them. That’s all.” I can feel my cheeks flame. I do not, as Sadie would put it, have the appropriate emotional connection to this scene. Nana looks entirely unconvinced. We regard one another in silence for a few seconds until she sags against the doorway. “I could forbid you, I suppose, though that never worked with your mother. She’d just go behind my back. But I want you to call when you get there, and I want you to come straight home after. With your brother. Daisy Kwon is a chaperone. She brought him and Mia, and she can take you home, too.” “Okay, Nana.” I try to sound grateful, because I know this isn’t easy for her. Plus if I’m going to be annoyed with anyone it should be me, for somehow managing to turn my first kiss with Malcolm into a stakeout. Maybe I need to work out a system with Ezra, so he can text Nobody wants to hear your murder theories the next time I get the urge to ruin my own night.

I follow her downstairs, where my seriously cute not-date is waiting. The side benefit to me forcing us off the couch is getting to see Malcolm in a suit again. “Hi, Mrs. Corcoran,” he says, and then his eyes go satisfyingly wide when he catches sight of me. “Wow. You look great.” “Thanks. So do you,” I say, even though I already told him that at his house. We smile at one another in a way that’s not helping the we’re just friends argument.

“Ellery needs to be back by ten-thirty,” Nana interjects, throwing out an arbitrary time that we did not agree to upstairs. “She’ll be coming home with Ezra.” “No problem, Mrs. Corcoran,” Malcolm says before I can reply. “Thanks for letting her come with me.” I’m not positive, but I think Nana’s expression might soften a little as she opens the door for us. “Have a good time. And a safe time.” We cross the lawn to the Volvo, and Malcolm opens the passenger door for me. I tip my head back to look up at him. I’m about to make a joke—something to ease the tension caused by my grandmother’s obvious nerves—but my eyes wander to his lips and the slope of his neck where it meets his crisp white shirt collar, and I forget what I was about to say.

His knuckles brush against my arm, raising goose bumps. “Do you want to get a coat? It’s cold out.” “No, that’s okay.” I tear my eyes away from his weirdly enticing collar and fold myself into the seat. We veer away from the heavy topics of the night while we drive, talking about a comic-book series we both like and a spin-off movie that neither of us has seen.

The school parking lot is packed, and Malcolm grabs the last spot at the far end. I immediately regret my decision not to bring a coat, but when I start shivering Malcolm pulls his suit jacket off and settles it over my shoulders. It smells like him, a clean mix of shampoo and laundry detergent. I try not to inhale too obviously while we walk.

“Here goes nothing,” he says, opening the front doors.

I pull out my phone and call Nana to let her know we’ve arrived safely, then disconnect as we turn the corner that leads to the auditorium. The first thing we see is a purple-draped table, staffed by a blond woman in a flowered dress. Her bangs are teased higher than average for the decade we’re in. “Oh no,” Malcolm mutters, halting his steps.

“What?” I ask, putting my phone into the pocket of my dress. I slip Malcolm’s jacket off my shoulders and hand it back to him.

Malcolm takes his time putting it back on before he starts moving again. “That’s Liz McNulty. Kyle’s sister. She hates me. Looks like she’s a chaperone.” “That woman?” I peer at her. “The one Declan broke up with for Lacey?” Malcolm nods. “I thought she was your brother’s age.” “She is.”

“She looks forty!”

I’m whispering, but he still shushes me as we approach the table. “Hi, Liz,” Malcolm says in a resigned tone.

The woman glances up from her phone, and her expression immediately settles into a look of deep dislike. “Tickets,” she growls without returning the greeting.

“We don’t have them yet,” Malcolm says. “Can I get two, please?”

Liz looks positively triumphant when she tells him, “We’re not selling them at the door.” Malcolm pauses in the act of reaching for his wallet. “That’s kind of a flawed system.” “You’re supposed to buy them ahead of time,” Liz sniffs.

“Hey, guys,” a melodic voice calls behind us. I turn to see Daisy coming out of the gym, looking pretty in a formfitting blue dress and high heels.

“Hi,” I say, relieved to see a friendly face. “You look nice.”

“Gotta dress up for chaperone duty, right, Liz?” Daisy says. Liz smooths the front of her frumpy dress, and I feel a pang of sympathy for her. Daisy flicks her eyes between Malcolm and me. “I’m surprised to see you two here. Mia said you weren’t coming.” “We changed our minds. But we didn’t know you needed tickets ahead of time,” I add, giving Liz my most ingratiating smile.

Liz crosses her arms over her chest, ready to argue until Daisy puts a placating hand on her arm. “Oh, I’m sure it’s okay now that the dance is more than half over. Right, Liz?” No response, but Daisy presses on. “Principal Slate wouldn’t want to turn anyone away. Not on a night like this, when the school is trying to bring people together. And we need every penny we can get for the reward fund.” She flashes the kind of sweet, winning smile that probably got her elected to student council all four years at Echo Ridge High. Liz continues to glower, but with less certainty. I guess Daisy’s secret relationship with Declan is still under wraps, or Liz would probably be a lot less charitable.

“We’d really appreciate it,” I say. Malcolm, wisely, keeps his mouth shut.

Liz holds out her palm with an annoyed snort. “Fine. Five dollars. Each.” Malcolm hands over a ten. We walk with Daisy into the gymnasium, which is packed with students and decorated with purple streamers and silver balloons. “Should we look for Mia and Ezra?” Malcolm asks, raising his voice to be heard over the thumping music. I nod and he turns toward the center of the room, but Daisy pulls at my arm before I can follow.

“Can I ask you something?” she shouts.

I hesitate as Malcolm disappears into the crowd without realizing I’m not behind him. “Um, okay,” I say.

Daisy puts her head close to mine so she doesn’t have to yell. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. About Ryan Rodriguez and the bracelet?” I nod. We hadn’t gotten much chance to discuss that on Thursday, once Mia and Daisy’s parents came home and started hyperventilating over Mia’s head injury. She told them she tripped headfirst into the fireplace mantel. “It’s been worrying me. Why do you think he might have given it to Lacey? Do you know something?” “No,” I admit. I don’t want to catalog all my vague suspicions to Daisy, especially after what she’d said that day: There’s this whole other layer when you’re one of the only minority families in town. Sometimes I forget how … not diverse Echo Ridge is. But when I look around at the crowded gym, I remember. And it feels less harmless to toss speculation around about someone whose last name is Rodriguez.

Besides, even though I crossed Daisy off my suspect list after getting to know her better, I still think Declan is sketchy. Malcolm might not talk to him much, but I’m sure Daisy does.

“It’s just because he knew her,” I say instead.

Daisy’s brow creases. “But … it’s not like they were friends.”

“He was so devastated when she died, though.”

She straightens up in surprise, her pretty eyes wide. “Says who?”

“My mother.” Daisy still looks confused, so I add, “She saw him at the funeral. When he got hysterical and had to be carried out?” “Ryan Rodriguez did?” Daisy’s tone is incredulous, and she shakes her head decisively. “That didn’t happen.” “Maybe you missed it?” I suggest.

“No. Our class was small, we were all on one side of the church. I would’ve noticed.” Daisy’s mouth curves in an indulgent smile. “Your mom was probably being dramatic. Hollywood, right?” I pause. Daisy’s response is almost exactly what Nana said when I brought it up a couple of weeks ago. That didn’t happen. Then, I thought Nana was being dismissive. But that was before I’d fully experienced how odd Sadie can be when it comes to talking about Echo Ridge. “Yeah, I guess,” I say slowly.

I don’t think Daisy has any reason to lie about Lacey’s funeral. But does Sadie?

“Sorry, I separated you from your date, didn’t I?” Daisy says as we spy Malcolm emerging from a crowd in the middle of the room. “I better circulate and make myself useful. Have fun.” She waves and heads for the sidelines, pirouetting to avoid a couple of theater kids starting a dramatic waltz as the music slows down.

“What happened to you?” Malcolm asks when he reaches me. He looks more disheveled than he did when he left, like someone who found himself at the edge of a mosh pit but didn’t go all in: jacket unbuttoned, tie loosened, hair mussed.

“Sorry. Daisy wanted to ask me something. Did you find them?”

“No. I got intercepted by Viv.” His shoulders twitch in an irritated shudder. “She’s already lost Kyle and she’s not happy about it. And she’s mad at Theo because he brought a flask and Katrin’s half-drunk.” My eyes wander across the gym until they spot a bright-red dress. “Speaking of,” I say, nodding toward the dance floor. Katrin and Theo are slow-dancing in the middle of the room, her arms wrapped around his neck like she’s trying to keep from drowning. “There she is.” Malcolm follows my gaze. “Yep. Doesn’t look much like a killer, does she?” Something in me deflates. “You think I’m ridiculous, don’t you?”

“What? No,” Malcolm says quickly. “I just meant— Whatever might happen isn’t happening right this second, so … maybe we could dance?” He slides a finger beneath his tie and tugs to loosen it further. “Since we’re here and all.” My stomach starts doing that fluttering thing again. “Well. We do need to blend,” I say, and accept the hand he holds out to me.

My arms circle his neck and his hands graze my waist. It’s the classic awkward slow-dance position, but after a couple of offbeat sways he pulls me closer and then, suddenly, we fit. I relax against him, my head on his chest. For a few minutes I just enjoy how solid he feels, and the steady beat of his heart beneath my cheek.

Malcolm leans toward my ear. “Can I ask you something?” I lift my head, hoping he’s going to ask if he can kiss me again, and almost say yes preemptively before he adds, “Are you afraid of clowns?” Huh. That was a letdown.

I lean back and stare into his eyes, which look steely gray instead of green beneath the dim lights. “Um. What?” “Are you afraid of clowns?” he asks patiently, like it’s a perfectly normal conversation starter.

So I go with it. “No. I’ve never understood the whole clown phobia, to be honest.” I shake my head, and a stray curl heads straight for my lips and sticks to the gloss. Reminding me, once again, why I don’t wear makeup. Before I can figure out a graceful way to extricate it, Malcolm does it for me, tucking the curl behind my ear and letting his hand settle briefly on my neck before it returns to my waist.

A jolt of energy shoots down my spine. Oh. All right. Maybe lip gloss has its uses.

“Me either,” he says. “I feel like clowns get kind of a bad rap, you know? They just want to entertain.” “Are you, like, their spokesperson?” I ask, and he grins.

“No. But there’s this clown museum in Solsbury— Well, calling it a museum is kind of a stretch. It’s this old woman’s house that’s crammed full of antique clown stuff. She gives anybody who shows up a giant box of popcorn and she has, like, six dogs that just hang out there in the middle of all the clown memorabilia. And sometimes she plays movies against one of the walls, but they don’t always have clowns in them. Or usually, even. Last time I went the movie was Legally Blonde.” I laugh. “Sounds delightful.”

“It’s weird,” Malcolm admits. “But I like it. It’s funny and sort of interesting, as long as you’re not afraid of clowns.” His hands tighten on my waist, just a little. “I thought maybe you’d like to go sometime.” I have a lot of questions, starting with Only me, or me and my brother plus Mia? and Will it be a date, or is it just a strange thing you like that nobody else will do? and Should we get you one hundred percent cleared of any felonies first? But I bite them back and respond with, “I’d like that.” Because I would.

“Okay. Good,” Malcolm says with a crooked smile. Suddenly, whatever rhythm we’ve managed to find vanishes; he steps on my foot, I clock him with my elbow, my hair sticks to my face for reasons I can’t even comprehend. It’s all going to hell very quickly, until he freezes and asks, “Do you see Katrin?” I look toward the center of the gym where we’d seen her last, but she’s gone. “Theo’s still there,” I say, tilting my chin in his direction. He’s doing a terrible job of trying to look casual while pouring the contents of a flask into his Solo cup. “But I don’t see her.” The music switches to a fast track and Malcolm motions for me to follow him. We wind our way off the dance floor, weaving in and out of the crowd, and circle the auditorium. I catch a couple of people staring at Malcolm, and before I can think too much about it I grab hold of his hand. We see Mia and Ezra within a bigger group, dancing frenetically. Daisy is off to the side with a couple of chaperones, standing slightly apart from them with a preoccupied expression. It makes me wonder what homecoming was like for her five years ago, watching the boy she loved and her best friend get crowned king and queen. Whether she was jealous—or unconcerned, thinking her turn would come soon enough.

And I wonder what it was like for Sadie more than twenty years ago, there without her sister, dancing with a boy she must have liked at least a little bit. A perfect night turned into a cruel memory.

“She’s not here,” Malcolm says, but just then, I see a flash of bright red where I wasn’t expecting it to be.

The far corner of the gym has an exit next to the bleachers that’s been covered with balloons and streamers in an attempt to make it look inaccessible. Katrin emerges from beneath the stands and, without checking to see whether a chaperone’s in sight, pushes the door open and slips outside.

Malcolm and I exchange glances. The straight path to the door is strewn with dancing classmates and chaperones, so we skirt around the edge of the gym until we come to the opposite side. We slip underneath the bleachers and make our way along the wall toward the door, encountering only one couple making out. When we emerge on the other side, we look around more carefully than Katrin did before following her out the door.

It’s cool and quiet outside, the moon full and bright above us. Katrin’s nowhere in sight. The football field is to our left, the front of the building to our right. By unspoken agreement, we both go right.

When we turn the corner nearest the school entrance, Katrin stands frozen near the Echo Ridge High sign. Malcolm tugs me back into the shadows as she half turns, and I spy a clutch in her hands. My eyes strain and my heart catches as I watch her fumble with the clasp. Even though the sensible part of my brain wonders what she could possibly manage to fit in there other than keys and a tube of lip gloss, I pull out my cell phone and set it to Video.

But before Katrin can take anything out of the bag, she drops it. My phone frames her in almost cinematic moonlight as she freezes, bends at the waist, and vomits loudly into the grass.

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