I jogged down a row, passing a dusty red Jeep, when something darted along my peripheral vision. My heart stuttered unevenly, and chills skittered up and down my spine. A loud buzzing filled my ears.
No. It’s not real.
Again, on the other side of me, the figure moved, matching my steps. Air froze in my throat. Stress-induced hallucinations—panic attacks. That was what Dr. O’Connell had called them. If I got too upset, I’d start seeing things.
That was all it was. Not real. Not there.
Keeping my eyes trained on the sleek black sedan Scott had rented, I dug around in my bag for the bottle of emergency pills. I didn’t have anything to swallow the pill down with, but I had to make do. My heart was pounding way too fast, my vision now darkening at the corners.
Not real. Not real. Not real.
A hand clamped down on my arm, spinning me around. My scream got stuck in my throat, and the bottle of pills hit the gravel. Raising my arm, I prepared to strike.
“Hey!” Scott blocked my arm. “Calm down there, ninja.”
I pressed my hand over my thumping heart. “Jeez, you scared the crap out of me.”
“I can see.” He frowned, dropping down and grabbing my bottle. He handed it to me. “I called your name a couple of times. Didn’t you hear me?”
“No.” Shaken, I unscrewed the lid and dug out one tiny pill. “I didn’t hear you, but I thought…”
“Here.” He offered me his water. “You thought what?”
I downed the pill, wincing at the burn as it slid down my throat. “I thought I saw the shadow guy.”
Scott placed his arm around my shoulders, steering me toward the car. “I think that may have been me, Sam. I was walking a few cars down, alongside you.”
Great. Even with the pills I still couldn’t figure out the difference between fact and fake.
“I was worried,” he continued, digging the keys out of his pocket. “I saw Del down at the entrance. He looked pissed.”
Not wanting to get into that, I didn’t respond and waited for Scott to unlock the door. Still struggling to control my breathing, I dropped into the front seat and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the blissful stupor to do its job, to make me feel normal again.
To help me forget that not everything was perfect, that Cassie was still dead and I was still a suspect, and that growing feeling that something bad—something terrible—was waiting around the corner.
On Saturday, Julie arrived at my house. Not to hang out with Scott—although there was a lot of tongue action the first three minutes of her visit—but to go dress shopping with me.
A mass of knots had formed in my stomach, and I seriously considered taking one of the panic-attack pills, but I managed to convince myself I didn’t need it. I was tongue-tied and unsure of how to act around Julie, so a whole lot of awkwardness ensued.
Julie drove a rusty sedan that should have been laid to rest about a hundred thousand miles ago. Fumbling with the seat belt, I inhaled the scent of freesia and stale fast food.
It was kind of a homey combination.
“Okay,” she said, easing the car around Carson’s father’s work truck. “We have two options. We can shop in town or head into the city.”
“It’s up to you. I’m fine either way.” Dad had given me his credit card, but I doubted he would have eagerly handed it over if he knew who my date was. Right now, they thought I was going stag. I was going to have to ease them into the truth.
Her lips pursed. “Well, the city is going to give us more options, but most likely be out of my price range. So we can do both if you want?” She glanced at me. “Or I can window-shop with you.”
“No. We can stay in town. I’m sure I’ll find something here.”
Julie stared at me as if I’d just admitted to being abducted by aliens. “Are…you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m totally okay with that.” I started to chew on my pinkie nail on my left hand. “Is that bad?”
“No.” She blinked and then fiddled with the radio station. “It’s just that you could splurge on a dress and get a really nice one.”
But she couldn’t, and that didn’t seem fair. I shrugged. “A dress is a dress, right?”
She slammed on the brakes at the end of our road, pitching me forward. My eyes widened, expecting to see an animal or something in the middle of the road, but there was nothing. She slowly turned to me. “You are seriously freaking me out.”
“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” she hastily added. “It’s just that you are so, so different. Even the Sam I knew when we were friends would’ve demanded that we go to one of the designer shops in the city if she had gotten ahold of her dad’s card. Even if it was just for the fun of it.”
“Should we do that?” I would, if that was what she wanted. Deep down, I wanted her to actually have fun doing this, and maybe—just maybe—this could be the start of a friendship. Big hopes, I knew, but that was all I wanted: for her to like me.
Shaking her head, she laughed. “No. Staying in town works. Maybe we could get something to eat afterward?”
Optimism thrummed through me, and I nodded. “Sure.”
The town was packed with tourists when we parked behind a strip of old homes converted into various stores: gift shops, bakeries, and thrift stores. Slipping on a pair of sunglasses I’d found in my bedroom earlier, I stepped out of the car.
People were snapping pictures of historical houses and the plaques that seemed to be every ten feet in town. The one closest to us was dedicated to an unnamed fallen solider. My heart sort of tripped over that.
“That sucks,” I said.
“What?” She turned to see what I was staring at. “The monument?”
“The whole dying and no one even knowing who you are—being laid to rest without a name…or a history.” I pressed my lips together. “I guess it’s like that with Cassie. She’s dead and no one knows why. There’s no reason—just that she’s dead. The end.”
Julie placed her hand on my arm and squeezed. “The police will figure it out. They always do one way or another. She’ll get justice.”
My stomach pitched, and I forced a smile. “Yeah, they always do. At least on TV, right?”
She nodded, squeezed my arm once more, and sighed. “Okay. There’s this secondhand store down the street that sells these vintage dresses—not Civil War–era vintage.”