“Not far from where I grew up.”
“I know.” She tapped the keyboard a couple of times and sat back. “I was a junior at Mount Holyoke when you found her the first time. I was obsessed with the case. I used to hurry back to my dorm to see the six o’clock news every night. We all thought she was dead, that whole long winter and into the spring.”
“I remember,” I said, wishing I didn’t.
“And then—wow—you found her. All those months later. And you brought her home.”
“And what’d you think?”
“About what you did?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“You did the right thing,” she said.
“Oh.” I almost smiled in gratitude.
She met my eyes. “But you were still wrong.”
At Amanda’s locker, I stared at textbooks that were stacked tallest to shortest, the edges of their spines precisely aligned to the edge of the shelf. A Red Sox jersey hung from a hook on the door, dark blue with red piping, a red 19 on the back. Otherwise, nothing. No pictures taped to the door, no decals on the wall, no array of lip gloss or bracelets.
“So she likes dogs and the Red Sox,” I said.
“Why do you say the Red Sox?” Mai asked.
“She’s wearing a Sox warm-up jacket in a photo I have.”
“I’ve seen her wear this jersey a lot. Sometimes a T-shirt. And I’ve seen the warm-up jacket. But I’m a fan, you know? I can talk till I’m blue about the farm system and the logic—or lack thereof—behind Theo’s latest trade, et cetera.”
I smiled. “Me, too.”
“Amanda, though? Couldn’t. I tried to engage her half a dozen times until I realized, looking in her eyes one day, that she couldn’t name the starting rotation. She couldn’t tell you how many seasons Wakefield was with the team or even how many games out of first they were this week.”
“So a fair-weather fan?”
“Worse,” she said, “a fashion fan. She liked wearing the colors. That’s all.”
“The heathen,” I said.
“She was the perfect student,” Stephanie Tyler said. “I mean, per-fect.” Miss Tyler taught AP European History. She was about twenty-eight. She had ash-blond hair cut in a bob and not a strand of it out of place. She had the look of someone used to being tended to. “She never spoke out of turn and always came to class prepared. You never caught her tweeting or texting in class, playing video games on her BlackBerry or what-have-you.”
“She had a BlackBerry?”
She gave it some thought. “Amanda, no, come to think of it. She had a regular old cell. But you’d be amazed how many of these girls have BlackBerrys. Freshmen, too. Some have cell phones and BlackBerrys. The juniors and seniors drive BMW 5 series and Jaguars.” The outrage made her lean forward, as if we were conspiring. “High school’s a whole new world, don’t you find?”
I kept my face noncommittal. I wasn’t sure if high school was much different than it had ever been; only the accessories were.
“So Amanda . . .”
“Per-fect,” Miss Tyler said again. “Showed up every day, answered when called upon, usually correctly, went home at day’s end, and prepared for tomorrow. You can’t ask for more.”
“Sophie?” I said.
“Sophie Corliss. Her father’s the local fitness guy? Brian Corliss. He gives advice on the Channel 5 news sometimes.”
I shook my head. “I only watch The Daily Show.”
“So how do you get your news?”
“I read it.”
“Right,” she said with a sudden glazing of the eyes. “Anyway, a lot of people know who he is.”
“Uh, okay,” I said. “And his daughter?”
“Sophie. She and Amanda were like twins.”
“They looked alike?”
Stephanie Tyler cocked her head slightly. “No, but I had to remind myself who was who. Isn’t that strange? Amanda was shorter and fairer-skinned, Sophie was darker and much taller, but I had to keep remembering those differences.”
“So they were tight.”
“Since first period, first day, freshman year.”
“What did they bond over?”
“They were both iconoclasts, though with Sophie, I think it was more a matter of fashion than nature. It was like . . . Amanda’s an outsider because she doesn’t know any other way to be, which makes other kids respect her. Sophie, though, she chose to define herself as an outsider, which makes her . . .”
“A poseur,” I said.
“A bit, yeah.”
“So other kids respected Amanda.”
Miss Tyler nodded.
“Did they like her?”
“No one disliked her.”
“But no one really knew her either. I mean, other than Sophie. At least, no one I can think of. That kid’s an island.”
“Great student,” Tom Dannal said. Dannal taught AP Macroeconomics but looked like the football coach. “One in a million, really. Everything we say we want our kids to be, you know? Polite, focused, smart as a whip. Never acted up or gave anyone a minute’s trouble.”
“I keep hearing this,” I said. “The perfect kid.”
“Right,” he said. “And who the fuck wants that?”
“Tommy,” Mai Nghiem said to him.
“No, no, really.” He held up a hand. “I mean, Amanda, okay, she was nice. She could be pleasant and personable. But, you know that saying about there being no there there? That’s her. I had her in microec last year and macroec now, and she was my best student in both. And yet? Couldn’t tell you thing-one about her outside of her work. Not one. You ask her a personal question, she turns it back on you. Ask her how things are going, you get, ‘Fine. You?’ And she always seemed fine. She did. Always seemed content. But you’d look in her eyes and you’d get the impression she was approximating human behavior. She’d studied people, learned how to walk and talk like one, but she was still outside looking in.”
“You’re saying she was an alien.”
“I’m saying she was one of the loneliest people I’ve ever known.”
“What about her friend?”
“Sophie?” A cold chuckle. ” ‘Friend’ is a generous word.”
I looked over at Principal Nghiem. She gave me a small shrug.