And then it happened.
Dizziness swept through me like tumultuous waves crashing and eroding the shoreline. With each lap, a new memory popped free. Jumping from halfway up the grand stairs, into Scott’s waiting arms, giggling as he yelled at me. Mom replaced him, holding me tight as the doctor checked my broken wrist, her soothing words lost in my tears. Another came of me sitting cross-legged in the tree house, across from an impish ten-year-old Carson.
“Truth or dare!” I yelled.
“Dare.” He grinned. “I dare you to kiss me.”
That was caught and swept away, replaced by the first time I met Cassie. How I’d been so drawn to her, like I was looking into my own reflection. The two of us running away from the boys, giggling when we tripped, dressed up in her mother’s shoes and jewelry. On and on they came, going back in time and then fast-forwarding to when we were fifteen, sitting in her bedroom.
“You’re so lucky,” she said softly. “You have everything.”
I didn’t understand that then, but I’d watched her slide a folded-up piece of parchment into the bottom of her music box, securing the hidden slot.
And then that was gone, lost in a rising tide of memories. My life—the things I’d done and said to people. In a rush, all of it had come back to me. The childhood spent trailing my brother and Carson around—Carson. An entire wealth of emotion brought me to my knees. The almost obsessive friendship that I’d had with Cassie and how it had swallowed my entire life. Memories of being introduced to Del at a company holiday party, practically shoved together by our parents, pricked at my skin and heart. So much pressure to be perfect, to be better than everyone else. Anger swirled like ticked-off wasps in my chest. I’d been so angry, so bitter under the facade. So desperate to run my own life that I turned into the person who struck out, hurting others to make myself feel better, to have some kind of control.
But I was mean…because I could be. Because no one dared to stop me. There was no real excuse for my behavior, for what I let Del do, for how I let Cassie run my life. I’d made so, so many bad mistakes, but that night…
I’d gone to the cabin, caught in a stormy mix of emotions. I’d just broken up with Del and kissed Carson, and my best friend was a traitorous bitch. Another text from her had led me up to the cliff. I’d thrown my phone at a nearby tree before picking it up and slipping it in the back pocket of my jeans. I’d been so angry, even more irritated by the fact that I had to find my way through the woods in the dark without killing myself. I hadn’t known what I was going to do when I got my hands on her, but like with Del, our friendship was over. Stealing my clothes and jewelry was one thing, but my boyfriend? That was it. I was done with her.
What I saw when I neared the edge of the woods and the cliff came into view wasn’t something I expected or could really comprehend, but most important, I remembered.
I saw the face of Cassie’s killer.
My heart thundered in my chest, pounding the blood through my veins so fast that my stomach lurched and my bedroom walls seemed to spin crazily.
I remembered everything.
I’d gone there because Cassie had wanted me there. She wanted me to see, and I saw. I understood. Why her mother had wanted her to stay away from me. Why Cassie went after Del and constantly pushed me—constantly took from me—why our friendship was a bitter, vengeful, sad little monster underneath its complex, shattering layers.
Most of all, as I struggled to my feet, sorrow coursed through me, tightening my throat, squeezing my heart until it splintered into a million messy pieces.
I could barely breathe, think around the raw hurt.
I knew who killed her.
Shards of glass crunched under my flip-flops as I stumbled over to my desk, grabbed my cell phone, and pressed down on the contact. The phone rang. Once. Twice. Five times. Tears blurred my vision. He wasn’t going to answer. Of course not. I’d accused him of terrible things, and now that I remembered what a wretched beast I’d been to him, he shouldn’t have been the one I called, but I had to tell someone. I had to get the words out of my mouth because they made it real. They changed everything.
Carson’s voice mail picked up.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “It’s me. I remember everything. I know—I know who killed Cassie. I don’t know what to do. Please—”
My bedroom door groaned as it swung open, and I lifted my gaze. My heart leaped into my throat as my fingers dug into the slim phone. The figure filled the door—the same figure I’d seen in all those memories, looking down on me as I lay on the cliff, touching and checking for a pulse. The shadow man who haunted my steps was real. Maybe not in the backseat of the car, but I knew without a doubt that he’d been in the woods, watching me, grabbing my purse and the note from the car after I’d wrecked. Had he left me for dead twice?
My heart ached at the betrayal.
“Dad?” I croaked, dizzy.
“Hang up the phone, Samantha.”
Hanging up the phone would be bad. Standing there was stupid, but I was shell-shocked. I shook as Dad stalked toward me, sparing a brief glance at the broken mirror and music box. He pried the phone from my tight grasp and disconnected the call.
“Who did you call, Samantha?” he asked, placing the phone in his back pocket.
I backed up. “No one.”
He grimaced. “Don’t lie to me. I know you were on the phone with someone. Who was it?”
There was no way I’d tell him. I clamped my mouth shut, praying that Carson decided to listen to my message and knew to call the police. Long shot, considering he’d probably delete my message without listening to it, and even if he did, he’d call back and Dad had my phone.
“It was Carson, wasn’t it? Why, princess, why did you have to involve him?” He rubbed his brow, sounding disappointed, as if I’d stayed out too late and broken curfew. “This…we will have to work through this. I can deal with him.”
Fear spiked through me. “Deal with him?”
Dad shot me a dark look, and I shrank back. “I did not pull myself out of the gutters and become who I am today to lose it all. Sacrifices…they have to be made along the way.”
Crazy—he sounded crazy. “Sacrifices? Was Cassie a sacrifice? Was I?”
“Why did you kill her? She was…”
“Kill her?” He shook his head. “You don’t understand.”