“I heard from another faculty member that Amanda and Sophie were pretty much joined at the hip.”
“I’m not saying they weren’t. I just said ‘friends’ wasn’t how I’d describe the relationship. It was a bit more Single White Female than that.”
“On whose end?”
“Sophie’s,” Mai Nghiem said, nodding to herself. “Yeah, now that Tom mentions it. Amanda was oblivious, I think, but Sophie clearly idolized her.”
“And the more Amanda didn’t notice,” Tom Dannal said, “the higher Sophie pushed her up the pedestal.”
I said, “So, I guess I got a new million-dollar question.”
Tom nodded. “Where’s Sophie? Right?”
I looked over at Principal Nghiem.
“She dropped out.”
My eyes widened. “When?”
“Beginning of the school year.”
“And you don’t think there could be a connection?”
“Between Sophie Corliss deciding not to come back for senior year and Amanda McCready not showing up for classes after Thanksgiving?”
I looked around the empty classroom and tried not to let my frustration show. “Anyone else I can talk to?”
In the student lounge, I met with seven homeroom classmates of Amanda and Sophie. Principal Nghiem and I sat in the center of the room with the girls arrayed before us in a half-circle.
“Amanda was just, ya know,” Reilly Moore said.
“I don’t,” I said.
“Like, ya know.”
Eye rolls. More giggles.
“Oh,” I said, “she was like ya know. Now I get it.”
Blank stares, no giggles.
“It’s, like, if you were talking to her,” Brooklyn Doone said, “she, like, listened? But if you waited for her to tell you stuff, like, who she dug or what apps were on her iPad or like that? You’d, like, wait a long time.”
The girl beside her, Coral or Crystal, rolled her eyes. “For, like, ever.”
“Like, ev-er,” another girl said, and they all nodded in agreement.
“What about her friend, Sophie?” I asked.
“That daggy bee-atch?”
“That chick was wannabe-dot-com.”
“I heard she, like, tried to list you as her friend on her Face-book page.”
After my daughter was born, I’d considered buying a shotgun to ward off potential suitors fourteen or so years up the road. Now, as I listened to these girls babble and imagined Gabby one day talking with the same banality and ignorance of the English language, I thought of buying the same shotgun to blow my own fucking head off.
Five thousand years of civilization, more or less, twenty-three hundred years since the libraries of Alexandria, over a hundred years since the invention of flight, wafer-thin computers at our fingertips, which can access the intellectual riches of the globe, and judging by the girls in that room, the only advance we’d made since the invention of fire was turning like into an omni-word, useful as a verb, a noun, an article, the whole sentence if need be.
“So none of you knew either of them well?” I tried.
Seven blank stares.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
The world’s longest silence broken only by some fidgeting.
” ’Member that guy?” Brooklyn said eventually. “He looked kinda like Joe Jonas.”
“Like, he’s so, like, hot.”
“Joe Jonas. Duh.”
“I think he looks, like, so queer.”
I focused on the one who’d brought it up. “This guy—he was Amanda’s boyfriend?”
Brooklyn shrugged. “I dunno.”
“What do you know?”
This annoyed her. Sunshine probably annoyed her. “I dunno. I just saw her with some guy once at South Shore.”
“South Shore Plaza? The mall?”
“Uh,” she pulsed her eyes at my cluelessness, “yeah.”
“So you were at the mall and—”
“Yeah, like, me and Tisha and Reilly.” She indicated two of the other girls. “And we ran into them coming out of Diesel. They didn’t buy anything, though.”
“They didn’t buy anything,” I said.
She looked down at her nails and crossed her legs and let out a sigh.
“Anything else?” I asked the room.
Nothing. Not even blank stares. They’d all decided to investigate their nails or their shoes or their reflections in the windows.
“Well, thank you,” I said. “You’ve all been very helpful.”
“Whatever,” two of them said.
On the front steps, I exchanged business cards with Principal Nghiem and shook her small, smooth hand.
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve been a huge help.”
“I hope so. Good luck.”
I started down the stairs.
I looked back up at her. The sun had popped out, hard and strong. It turned last night’s snow into a brook that gurgled as it rushed along the gutters toward the sewer grate.
Mai shaded her eyes. “Those exams she missed? Those overdue papers? If you get her back here soon, we’ll find a way to make up all that work. Without damage to her academic file. She’ll get that scholarship to a great school, I promise.”
“I just have to find her soon.”
“So,” I said, “I’ll find her soon.”
“I know you will.”
We acknowledged the gravity of the situation with the briefest of nods, and I felt something else in the exchange, too, something a little warm and a little wistful and better left unacknowledged and unexamined.
She turned back and entered the school, and the heavy green door closed behind her. I walked up the street to my Jeep. As I clicked the remote to unlock the door, a girl came out from behind it.
She was one of the seven I’d just interviewed. She had dark eyes pooled in shadow and lank dark hair and skin as white as Styrofoam. Of the seven girls in the room, she was the only one who’d said nothing.
“What’re you going to do if you find her?”
“Bring her home.”
“She can’t stay out there by herself.”