Page 21 of Don't Look Back

Both involved Carson.

I hadn’t had any more hallucinations or found notes.

And Cassie was still missing.

Hope that she’d suddenly reappear like I had dwindled a little more each day. There was no mistaking the looks I got in class or in the hallway. Suspicious, accusing looks. When I said something about it one morning on the way to school, Scott and Carson told me I was being paranoid.

I wasn’t so sure.

Chances were my reputation was scary enough that people believed I was capable of doing something heinous to Cassie. I didn’t want to think that, but there was a teeny, tiny part of me that was afraid.

Detective Ramirez showed up Thursday after school. He must’ve contacted Dad first, because Dad was home and he didn’t leave my side as Ramirez interrogated me. The detective asked the same questions over and over again. Unfortunately, my answers weren’t any different. After half an hour of going in circles, Ramirez gave up and left, empty-handed and disappointed.

Not as disappointed as I was.

Mom had stayed quiet through the whole event, drinking out of a coffee cup that I suspected wasn’t full of coffee. After the detective left, she headed out of the kitchen. Dad reached for her, but she sidestepped him with the agility of an alley cat. There was a flash of frustration in my father’s eyes, but it was gone when his gaze met mine.

“It’s okay.” Dad placed his hand over mine and squeezed. His lips twitched into a smile. “I know you’re trying to remember and help, princess.”

“Princess?” I whispered. “You haven’t called me that in...” I trailed off, frowning.

Dad became very still. “Since when?”

My mouth worked, and I swore the answer was right there, at the edge of my thoughts, but when I grasped for it, the knowledge simply evaporated like smoke in the wind. I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

He didn’t say anything immediately. And then, “I haven’t called you that since you were eleven or so.”

“Why did you start again?”

“Lately, it’s like I have my little princess back. The way you were before...” He leaned back, slipping his hand off mine. He folded his arms across his chest, his gaze switching to the large windows looking out into the back patio. “You didn’t want me calling you that anymore, and I know you’re going to ask why.” A fleeting grin graced his lips, and it looked tired. “The last time I called you that was the day you brought Cassie over here for the first time. You made a point of asking me not to later that night.”

My brows knitted as I watched him blow out a low breath. “Why would she have anything to do with you calling me that?”

His gaze shifted to me. “I don’t know. Only you know the answer to that.”

“We still on for tomorrow?” Carson asked as soon as he sat down in bio.

I nodded. “As long as you still want to help.”

Again, he got that look on his face, like he was confused and then wary. The same look that crossed his striking features during every conversation with me. “Yeah, I do. I have practice in the morning.”

“That’s okay.” I kept my gaze just above his eyes. Looking directly into them or at his lips was just asking for a return of confusing, frustrating emotions.

Scooting his chair closer to mine, he leaned over my shoulder and laughed. Shivers danced down my spine. “What are you drawing? Bigfoot?”

My fingers stilled around the pen, and I frowned at my drawing. It was a poorly drawn sketch of a guy. “I think that’s supposed to be shadows surrounding him, not hair.”

“Oh, I kind of see it now.”

“I honestly don’t know why I’m drawing this.” Laughing self-consciously, I put my pen down and looked at him. He was so, so intoxicatingly close. “Well, I’ve learned I’m not an artist.”

“I’m going to have to agree with you on that.” Sitting back, he studied my drawing. It was really just an outline of a guy, shaded in with my pen. I hadn’t stayed in the lines. Guess that explained the whole hair thing. “There may be hope for you, though.”

Right then, I decided I liked the way one side of his lip curved up. Crooked but perfect. “You were quiet on the way to school today.”

Carson brushed an unruly lock of hair off his forehead. “Big test in history.”

“Do tests bother you?”

He laughed softly, stretching out his long, lean legs under the white table. “Any test bothers me because if I fail one, it kills my GPA.”

“You’ll do fine. You’re kind of great, so—” I smacked my hand over my mouth, horrified and unsure of where those words came from.

Carson stared at me, a slow smile pulling at his lips. “Well, I’m going to have to agree with you again.”

Cheeks blazing like I’d been out in the sun for too long, I lowered my hand. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

“It’s okay.” He chuckled. “I can pretend I didn’t hear you.”

“That would be great.”

A sly, mischievous look crept into his dark blue eyes. “But I won’t forget.”

Mrs. Cleo rolled into bio then, carrying a stack of paper. The heavy bracelets around her thick arms jangled with every step. I faced the class, fighting off a stupid grin, and locked eyes with Candy. She arched a brow and mouthed, “Carson?” The way her lip curled around his name was a work of art. Glancing at Carson, I was happy to see he hadn’t noticed.

After class, Candy all but dragged me into the nearest bathroom and stood in front of the door, arms folded across the chest of her sweater dress. The lingering scent of cigarettes and disinfectant rushed over me. The graffiti on the walls looked completely unintelligible. “Okay, Sammy, what the hell is up with you and Española?”

Anger blasted through me like a gunshot. “He has a name. And that was freaking rude, like, on a disgusting level.”

Her thick lashes batted. “Sorry.” She threw up her hands. “God, you are so sensitive now. Yes, Carson is hot. No one can take that from him, and he’s good for some fun, but he’s the son of your groundskeeper.”

My hands balled into fists. “He’s also really smart, a kick-ass pitcher from what I hear, and he’s nice.”

Candy’s mouth dropped open. “Oooh-kay, what about Del? You guys have this epic romance that everyone wants—especially Veronica—but anyway, have you, like, forgotten about him?”