“Okay,” Julie said, stretching her legs and standing. “I’m going to say what no one else seems willing to say.”
“That you actually tolerate Scott?” Carson said blandly.
“Ha.” Scott smirked.
“No,” Julie sighed. “Do you think Cassie was…murdered?”
Our mismatched group fell silent. My heart rate picked up. Murdered. It made sense. If Cassie was such a great swimmer, she wouldn’t have drowned, and then there was me. Was it possible that I had witnessed what had happened to Cassie? And if so, did her murderer then try to deliver me to the same fate?
No. It could’ve been an accident. But then, what happened to me? Had we both had an accident? She died. And I survived.
I glanced up. Carson was watching me again. Stark concern deepened the hue of his eyes. I wondered if he had realized the same thing—if they all had. When I glanced over at the girls—my friends—there was something in their eyes that had nothing to do with concern for my well-being. For a minute, I didn’t want to believe it, but there was no mistaking the shadow in their gazes.
Mom was secluded in her bedroom when Scott dropped me off after school. Having the house to myself until he returned from baseball practice and Dad came home left me ample time to mull everything over.
Cassie was dead—most likely murdered. And I’d been there. The visions—fragmented memories—had to be clues to what happened. I just needed to piece them together.
Curling up on the window seat in the sunroom, I stared at the small garden and the main road beyond the small stone fence. My history textbook lay unopened by my feet. I chewed on my fingernail. Carson had seen me do it during bio, saying it was a habit that I’d always had. So it was an old part of me that had somehow stuck.
My thoughts went straight back to Cassie.
She’d been upset the day we disappeared, probably because of a boy. Trey—the on-and-off-again boyfriend who’d conveniently been sick the day her body was found? Had I gone to see her, pulling girl duty? But what had happened after that? What explained the visions of blood on the rocks, Cassie yelling at me, and then the feeling of falling?
And why had we met up at the state forest, of all places?
Those memories couldn’t be hallucinations. I wasn’t crazy, but the more I turned things over in my mind, the stranger I felt. Then there were the two notes….
Sunlight reflected off the roof of a white car coming up the driveway, catching my attention. I straightened, dropping my hand as it came fully into view. It wasn’t Dad’s Bentley, and it was too soon for Scott to be back.
The car stopped in front of the house, by the gaudy fountain. A man stepped out, buttoning his blazer. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes, but I recognized the slicked-back dark hair and broad forehead.
Detective Ramirez was here.
“Shit,” I muttered, jumping from the window seat. Hurrying through the maze of archways and rooms that never appeared to be in use, I rushed to get through the house before he woke up Mom. I opened the door, slightly out of breath. “Detective?”
He took off his sunglasses, sliding them into the breast pocket of his jacket. “Miss Franco, do you have a couple of minutes?”
Stepping aside, I glanced behind me. “Yeah, but my mom’s asleep and Dad’s at work.”
“That’s fine. I just have a few questions, off the record.” He stepped in, eyes taking in the foyer and not missing a single detail. “A good place to sit?”
I doubted anything I said to a detective was off the record, but I didn’t have anything to hide and I wanted to help him. Bringing him to the small sitting room, I sat on the couch while he took the recliner. “Is this about Cassie?” I asked, folding my hands.
Ramirez nodded. “I assume you’ve heard?”
“Yes. It was all over school today.”
“And how are you holding up?”
How was I holding up? I almost wanted to laugh, but I figured that would be inappropriate. “Good, I guess.”
His lips curved up on one side. “I wanted to go over a few things with you. See if it sparks anything. You okay with that?”
“Yes.” I picked up the delicately embroidered pillow, placing it in my lap. “I want to be able to help.”
“Good.” There was that one-sided smile again. “Cassie was found a few yards down from the waterfalls in the lake, tangled up in...” He stopped as I felt the blood drain from my face. “Well, the details don’t matter. Right now, we’re not sure what the cause of death was, but from preliminary investigation, it doesn’t appear to be a drowning.”
“Cassie was a good swimmer.” I squeezed the pillow. “That’s what her—my friends said today.”
He nodded slowly. “Her mother said that Cassie was an excellent swimmer who was also very well versed in the terrain of the state park and the trails up there.”
“But we were up there at night,” I said, frowning. “Del said I was with him until that evening.”
“Yes, I talked to him while you were missing.” He leaned forward, dropping his hands between his knees. “Do you have any idea why you two would go up there at night? As familiar as Cassie and you were with the terrain, it would’ve been dangerous. One slip…”
I swallowed hard. “I really don’t know why, and I’ve been trying to figure it out all day. Lauren…Lauren Cummings said she was upset. Maybe we went up there for some girl time.” Girl time sounded stupid even to me, but I was out of ideas.
“I’ve also spoken to Lauren, but from what I could gather, it wasn’t like either of you spend time at the lake during the night—at least not this time of year.” He paused, meeting my eyes. “Now, you said you had this…feeling of falling when we talked and that you had heard the water. Do you think it’s possible that you were near the waterfalls?”
“I guess so, but I don’t even know where the waterfall is…now. Or how to get to the lake.”
His head tilted to the side as his gaze dropped for a moment. “Do you remember anything else? Even if it seems like a minor detail, it could be helpful. And you want to help, right?”
“Yes.” Realizing I was holding the pillow like a shield, I shoved it aside. “I’ve told you about the rocks. I’ve seen those before, but they’re covered in something that looks like blood, but I’m…I’m not really sure. I know that’s not much.”