Very slowly, Carson lifted his fingers and stepped back. He chest rose sharply, and when he spoke, his voice was rough and deep. “I’ve got to go.”
Still speechless, I nodded.
His gaze dropped to my lips, and he took another step back. “I’ll see you later, Sam.”
In a daze, I started back to my house. Something ticked at the far corners of my thoughts. There’d been a moment, when his breath was warm against my skin, that it had felt right even though it was wrong. And more than that, it had felt familiar.
It happened in second period on Monday. I’d been busy pretending to pay attention when I was really thinking about Carson and what happened between us on Saturday. Had I imagined it? Had he felt it? Was it really even important considering everything that was going on?
A chorus of cell phones went off, one beep after another. Mr. Campbell stopped midlecture and sighed. “Turn off the phones, people.”
No one listened. I glanced at Veronica as I dug out my own chirping phone. She was faster than me, pulling that cell out of her bag like a gunslinger.
Veronica’s complexion turned a ghastly white under her tan. She lifted her head and turned to me, her eyes wide and wet.
A low murmur picked up, rolling like a wave through the class. The text was from Lauren and just six words. Six words that should’ve changed everything, but there’d been a part of me that had been expecting it.
Maybe I already knew.
They found Cassie’s body. She’s dead.
The rest of the morning was a blur. Cassie was dead. That was all I could think about. She was dead. And there was a part of me that had been expecting it, waiting for it, even. Tendrils of fear curled around the lump of sorrow that had formed in my chest. It was tight, impossible to unravel.
Carson was subdued in bio, asking once if I was okay and then not saying too much the rest of the class. Del was waiting for me by my locker. He pulled my stiff, unyielding body into his arms and murmured something sympathetic in a choked voice.
I thought of the photo of them together—Cassie in his lap, his hand on her hip.
Cassie—the best friend I couldn’t remember, the dead girl.
People were staring at us. I hated it.
I let Del lead me out of the school. No one stopped us. Every face we passed mirrored a mixture of shock and dismay. Everyone knew her, whether they wanted to or not. In a numb, detached way, I wondered if they grieved for her, or just for the fact that death didn’t care about petty things like age.
“Don’t you know? Fear and popularity go hand in hand,” a soft, feminine voice whispered in my ear. “Let’s rule with an iron fist.”
I jerked around, gasping. My eyes darted around the pavilion. No one was there.
“Come on,” Del said, eyeing me with concern. “We’re getting out of here.”
Following him around the school, I kept glancing over my shoulder. Had I really heard that voice, or had it been a memory wiggling free?
Maybe I was seriously going crazy. That was always a possibility—a likelihood.
There were several concrete benches on the patio behind the school between the football field and a smaller rec building. Everyone I knew was out there, sitting on the cold, hard surfaces.
Veronica, Candy, and Lauren took up one of the benches. Scott and Julie occupied another while Carson had one all to himself. I sat with Del, wholly aware of his hand around mine and the way Carson stiffened, focusing on the field behind us. I had to fight not to pull away from my boyfriend. He didn’t deserve the cold shoulder, not from me.
“I can’t believe she’s dead.” Veronica was the first to speak, sniffling daintily. “I mean, the longer she was missing, I knew it was going to end this way, but I hoped she’d be like Sammy.”
That she’d just show up somewhere.
Lauren wiped under her eyes with two fingers as she clutched an oversize white purse to her chest. “It’s just so horrible thinking about her being there….”
“In the water,” Candy whispered, shuddering as she continuously ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t think I can ever swim in that lake again.”
Julie’s brows arched as she glanced at a tight-lipped Scott. I wondered why they were even here. I knew they weren’t close to Cassie or anyone else here. So what else didn’t I know? Everything, it seemed.
“Did anyone say what kind of condition…she was in?” asked Veronica. “I wonder if the casket will be open.”
Scott sat back, shaking his head. “She was in the lake. Who knows for how long? An open casket is probably going to be the last thing anyone is thinking of.”
Veronica’s eyes narrowed. “I’m just saying that Cassie wouldn’t want anyone to see her unless she was…
“The most beautiful girl in the room,” I murmured.
Del’s hand tightened around mine. “What did you say?”
I shivered. Again, I had no idea where those words had come from. Everyone was staring at me, waiting for an explanation. Shaking my head, I pulled my hand free.
“You said ‘most beautiful girl in the room.’” Veronica stood, smoothing her hand down her dark jeans. “That’s exactly what Cassie would’ve said. What you would’ve said. Have you…remembered something?”
Clasping my hands together, I fought the urge to start biting my nails. “No.”
“Then why did you say that?” she demanded, eyes flashing.
“I don’t know—sometimes these words just kind of come out.” I glanced at Del, but he was staring at his hands.
“What? Like Tourette’s?” Del laughed under his breath.
My cheeks heated with embarrassment and something far stronger. “It’s not like Tourette’s, ass**le.”
“What?” He looked up, his smile fading. “I know it’s not. Come on, calm down.” He reached for me, but I scooted across the bench. “Sam, it was just a question.”
“A stupid question,” Carson said, his jaw clenched tight.
Del’s eyes narrowed into thin slits. “Why are you even here?”
“Good question,” he muttered, but he leaned back, stretching out his legs and crossing his arms over his broad chest. Carson wasn’t leaving anytime soon.
“Wait. Why isn’t Trey here?” I asked.
Candy pulled out a nail file. “He didn’t come to school today. I think he was sick or something.”
“Do you think he knows?” Julie asked, wrapping her arms around my brother and pressing her cheek against his shoulder.