“No. That’s something.” Ramirez smiled tightly. “Anything else?”
I lowered my eyes, chewing on my lip. Telling him about seeing Cassie would most likely make me sound like a lunatic.
“Samantha, anything would help.”
Heavy footsteps thundered through the house, alerting me to my father’s arrival. Detective Ramirez stood, twisting toward the open archway.
Dad came in like a furious storm, cheeks flushed with anger and narrowed eyes glinted at the detective. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s okay, Dad. He just had a couple of questions.”
“No. It is not okay.” He placed his hands on his hips, pushing his suit jacket back. “Do I need to explain the law to you, Ramirez?”
“I’m well versed in the law, Mr. Franco,” the detective replied blandly.
“Is that so?” His voice took on a hard, unyielding edge that I knew I had to have heard before. Probably when I’d driven that car into a tree. “You cannot talk to my daughter without one of her parents present or her lawyer. Ever.”
“Sir, this isn’t a formal investigation, and your daughter agreed to answer—”
“My daughter is just a teenager—she’s only seventeen.” Dad stepped forward, towering over the detective. “Did you tell her it was off the record? I’m sure you did. She doesn’t know how these things work, but I do.”
My brows rose. Knots formed in my stomach. Had I done something wrong by talking to the detective? As I chewed on my thumbnail, my gaze bounced between the two men. “Dad, I was—”
“Do not say another word, Samantha,” he said, and his tone was like an icy breeze on my skin. “If you want to question my daughter, you do so with my permission and with fair warning. If not, the next time you even come within twenty yards of my house, you better have a warrant.”
My mouth dropped opened. A warrant? Why would he need a warrant? I wasn’t a suspect. Suspects got warrants. Panic clawed at my insides as I stood on shaky legs. Was I a suspect?
Detective Ramirez cleared his throat, and when he spoke, he was calm and unaffected by my father’s orders. “I understand, Mr. Franco. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. I know my way out.”
Dad folded his arms, and without another word, Detective Ramirez left. I sat back down, dizzy. “Dad, he was just asking questions. It wasn’t a big deal.”
He crossed the room, dropping down so that he was at eye level with me. “You don’t understand how the police work, princess. You’re a child, and with everything that has happened to you, it would be easy for them to confuse and manipulate you.”
Indignant anger filled me. “I’m not stupid. Just because I can’t remember anything doesn’t make me a helpless child. He was just asking me questions about Cassie. I want to be able to help the police.”
“I know.” He sighed and then reached out, pulling my hand away from my mouth. “You’re still a nail biter. Your mother hates that.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, squeezing my knees with my hands.
He stood and walked to the mantel above the fireplace. His spine was unnaturally stiff. “I know you’re not stupid, Samantha. You’re a clever girl, but I don’t want you talking to the police again, okay? Not without me around. Do you understand?”
“Why? What’s the big deal? I don’t have anything to hide.”
He turned halfway around, smoothing a hand over his hair. “The big deal is that you were most likely the last person who saw Cassie—you were probably with her when…when whatever happened to her occurred.”
“I know! And that’s why I need to talk to the police.”
“No. That’s why you can’t talk to the police!” He dropped his hand to his chest, and I was suddenly worried he was going to have a heart attack. My dad looked fit and trim, but I imagined he was under a lot of stress with work…and me. “The last thing you need to be doing is talking to the police. Right now, if it turns out that she was murdered, you’re their number one suspect.”
Suspect? Murderer? I’d been right about the looks I’d thought I’d seen in Veronica’s and Candy’s eyes. Suspicion. My heart was pounding as I paced my bedroom later that night on an empty stomach. The thought of food made me want to hurl, so I skipped dinner. Suspect. Murderer.
Those words were foreign to me. Not in the sense that I didn’t understand what they meant, but because I couldn’t associate their meanings with me. The words shot across all my nerves, like tiny shards of glass, fraying them, slicing them open.
Did my dad really think that was why Detective Ramirez was questioning me? Because the detective thought I’d killed Cassie? And did my friends think the same thing? They couldn’t. It didn’t make sense. I’d been hurt, too, obviously. Bad enough that everything that was me, all that I knew, was gone.
And I could never kill a person. Didn’t they know that?
There was still a chance that what had happened had been some kind of freakish accident. I knew enough to know there’d be an autopsy done to determine cause of death.
Stopping in front of the mirror in my closet, I swallowed the lump of fear that rose in my throat before it could consume me. My reflection stared back at me, cheeks pale against the cinnamon tone of my hair. With my face devoid of makeup, I looked a lot younger than I did in the photos. There was a skittish glint to my eyes, one I doubted the old Sammy sported.
“I would never hurt Cassie,” I said, needing to hear someone, even if it was me, say it.
My reflection tilted her head, lips curving up in a mockery of a smile. “Liar.”
Gasping, I stumbled back, tripping over the stupid teddy bear on the floor. I hit the side of the bed hip-first. Fresh pain exploded as my pulse pounded wildly.
There was no one in the mirror now.
Body shaking, I tucked my legs under me and stood. The movement jarred the bed and the table beside it. Already off-kilter from when Del had messed with it, the music box fell to the floor, uttering two weak, broken musical notes that sent chills dancing down my spine.
I picked up the box, turning it onto its side. An opening on the bottom had popped out when it fell, wide enough to fit half a deck of cards. The slot looked empty, and in a daze, I closed it and placed it back on the table.
A sick, twisting feeling built in the pit of my stomach as I turned around, pushing the long strands of hair out of my face. Sharp tingles traveled down my back, and I was suddenly too hot and the room was too small.