Authors: Karen M. McManus
Thursday, September 26
When I poke my head into Mia’s room, she’s wedged in against a small mountain of pillows on her bed, her MacBook propped on her lap. She has her earbuds in, nodding along to whatever’s playing, and I have to rap on the door twice before she hears me. “Hey,” she says too loudly before unplugging. “Practice over already?”
“It’s past four.” My one and only activity at Echo Ridge High—which is one more than Mia’s ever signed up for—is band. Mr. Bowman got me into it in ninth grade when he suggested I take drum lessons, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
It’s not the same without him. The woman who took over isn’t half as funny as he was, and she’s got us doing the same old crap from last year. I’m not sure I’ll stick it out. But tomorrow night we’re playing at a pep rally, and I have a solo that nobody else knows.
Mia stretches her arms over her head. “I didn’t notice. I was just about to text you, though.” She shuts her laptop and puts it aside, swinging her legs off the bed and onto the floor. “Freaking Viv’s most cherished dream has come true. The
Burlington Free Press
picked up her story about the vandalism, and now they’re covering it along with a five-year anniversary piece on Lacey. A reporter called a little while ago, trying to get hold of Daisy.”
My stomach flops like a dying fish. “Shit.”
I shouldn’t be surprised. The Homecoming Stalker—so named by the
Echo Ridge Eagle
student newspaper—has been busy. He, or she, left a bloody mess of raw meat on the hood of Brooke’s car Monday, which made her gag when she saw it. Ellery got off comparatively easy a day later, with a spray paint job on the side of Armstrong’s Auto Repair that reads CORCORANS MAKE KILLER QUEENS.
Yesterday was Katrin’s turn. On the street where Mr. Bowman died, in the corner that’s turned into a makeshift memorial with flowers and stuffed animals, someone added an oversized print of Katrin’s class picture with the eyes gouged out and an RIP date of October 5—next weekend’s homecoming dance. When Peter found out about it, he got as close to losing his shit as I’ve ever seen him. He wanted homecoming canceled, and Katrin barely talked him out of calling Principal Slate. This morning, we got a homeroom announcement reminding us to report anything suspicious to a teacher. But so far, homecoming is still on.
Mia grabs a black studded sweatshirt from the back of her desk chair. “You didn’t hear anything from Declan about it? I figured the reporter must have tried to reach him, too.”
“No.” Declan finally answered my texts over the weekend to tell me he was back in New Hampshire. Other than that, we haven’t spoken since we met in Bukowski’s Tavern. I still don’t know what he was doing here, or where he was staying.
“Daisy’s been holed up in her room ever since the call came in,” Mia says, yanking the sweatshirt over her head. The fabric muffles her voice as she adds, “Not that there’s anything unusual about
“You still want to go to Bartley’s for dinner?” I ask. Dr. and Mr. Kwon both work late on Thursdays, and Peter and my mother have
so Mia and I are heading for Echo Ridge’s only restaurant. “I have Mom’s car so we don’t have to walk.”
“Yeah, definitely. I need to get out of this house. Also, I invited the twins, so they’re expecting us. I told them five, though. We can hang out and have coffee till then.” She stuffs her keys into her pocket and heads for the door, hesitating as she reaches the hallway. “I’m just gonna check …” She backtracks a few steps to a closed door across from her bedroom, and raps on the frame. “Daisy?” No answer, so Mia knocks harder. “Daze?”
“What?” comes a quiet voice.
“Me and Malcolm are getting dinner at Bartley’s. Do you want to come?”
“No thanks. I have a headache.”
“You might feel better after you have some food.”
Daisy’s tone hardens. “I said
Mia. I’m in for the night.”
Mia’s lip quivers a little before she scowls. “Fine,” she mutters, turning away. “I don’t know why I bother. Let the parents worry about her.” She stalks down the stairs like she can’t wait to get out of the house. Mia and I both think the other has it better, homewise: I like how the Kwons’ place is bright and modern, and her parents talk to us like we actually have a clue what’s going on in the world; she likes the fact that Peter and my mother barely pay attention to anything I do. The Kwons always wanted Mia to be more like Daisy—sweet, studious, and popular. The kind of person who can be counted on to say and do all the right things. Until, all of a sudden, she didn’t.
your parents think?” I ask Mia as we step outside and into the driveway.
Mia kicks a stray rock. “Who knows. In front of me they just say,
Oh, your sister was working too hard, she needed a break.
But they’re having all these tense conversations in their room with the door closed.”
We get into my mother’s car and buckle in. “Tense how?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Mia admits. “I try to listen, but I can’t catch anything except tone.”
I back out of the Kwons’ driveway and into the road, but haven’t gone far when my phone vibrates in my pocket. “Hang on,” I say, pulling off to the side. “I want to make sure that’s not Declan.” I shift the car into park and extract my phone, grimacing when I see the name. “Never mind. It’s Katrin.”
I frown at the screen. “She says she has a favor to ask.”
Mia grabs my arm in mock horror, eyes popping. “Don’t answer, Mal. Whatever it is, you don’t want any part of it.”
I haven’t replied, but Katrin’s still typing. Gray dots linger for so long that I wonder if she put her phone down and forgot to finish the message. Then it finally appears.
Brooke just broke up with Kyle. I don’t know why, but homecoming’s next weekend and she needs a date. I was thinking you could ask her. She seems to like you. Probably just as a friend but whatever. You weren’t going to go anyway, were you? Hang on, I’ll send her number.
I show the message to Mia, who snorts. “Christ, the entitlement of that girl!” She mimics Katrin’s clipped, breezy tone.
“You weren’t going to go anyway, were you?”
Another text appears from Katrin, with contact information for Brooke, and I save it automatically. Then I shrug and put my phone away. “Well, she has a point. I wasn’t.” Mia chews her lip without responding, and I raise my brows at her. “What—were
“Maybe. If they still have it,” she says, and glares when I start to laugh. “Don’t give me attitude, Mal. I can go to a dance if I want to.”
“I know you can. I’m just surprised at the ‘want to’ part. You have the least school spirit of anyone I’ve ever met. I thought that was, like, a badge of honor with you.”
Mia makes a face. “Ugh, I don’t know. One of Daisy’s old friends called to say that a bunch of them are going to be chaperones for the dance, and asked if she wanted to go too. I think she was considering it, which would be the first thing she’s done besides hide in her bedroom since she came home, but then she said,
Well, Mia’s not even going.
So I said,
Yeah I am,
and now I guess I have to, and you can wipe that stupid smirk off your face anytime.”
I swallow my grin. “You’re a good sister, you know that?”
“Whatever.” She picks at the peeling black polish on her thumbnail. “Anyway, I was thinking about asking that hot girl who works at Café Luna. If she says no, Ezra is my friend backup.”
I frown. “
is your friend backup? You’ve known him for two weeks!”
“We’ve bonded. We like all the same music. And you have no idea how nice it is to finally have a queer friend at school.”
I can’t fault her for that, I guess. Mia’s taken shit for years from guys like Kyle and Theo who think
“You should just go with Ezra, then,” I say. “Forget the Café Luna girl. She’s pretentious.”
Mia tilts her head, considering. “Maybe. And
should go with Ellery.” She shoots me a shrewd look. “You like her, don’t you?”
“Of course I like her,” I say, aiming for a casual tone. I fail.
“Oh my God,” Mia snorts. “We’re not in fourth grade, Mal. Don’t make me ask if you
like her.” She props her boots against my glove compartment. “I don’t know what you’re waiting for. I think she likes you, too.” A lock of hair falls into her eye, and she peers into the rearview mirror to readjust the clip holding it back. Then she goes rigid, twisting in her seat to look out the back window. “What the hell?”
I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed that something distracted her. “What?”
Mia’s still staring out the window, scowling. “Where’s she going? I thought she was
in for the night.
” I turn to see Daisy’s gray Nissan backing out of the Kwons’ driveway, heading in the opposite direction from us. “Follow her,” Mia says abruptly. She pokes me in the arm when I don’t move right away. “Come on, Mal, please? I want to see what she’s up to. She’s such a freaking vault lately.”
“She’s probably going to buy Tylenol,” I say, but execute a three-point turn to get behind Daisy’s rapidly disappearing taillights. I’m curious, too.
We follow her through the center of town and past Echo Ridge Cemetery. Mia sits up straighter in her seat when the Nissan slows, but Daisy doesn’t stop. I wonder if she thought about visiting Lacey’s grave, and then couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Daisy leaves Echo Ridge and winds her way through two neighboring towns. I start copying her turns like I’m on autopilot without paying much attention to where we are. It’s almost four-thirty, nearly past the point when we’ll be able to get to Bartley’s in time to meet the twins, when she finally pulls into the driveway of a white Victorian building. I brake and ease onto the shoulder of the road, shifting into park as we wait for Daisy to get out of the car. She’s wearing shades even though the sun is low on the horizon, and walks quickly toward the building’s side door. When she disappears inside, I ease the car forward so Mia and I can read the sign out front.
deborah creighton, PsyD
“Huh,” I say, feeling oddly deflated. I’d thought whatever Daisy was up to would be more surprising. “Well, I guess that’s that.”
Mia scrunches up her forehead. “Daisy’s seeing a psychologist? Why wouldn’t she just say so? What’s with all the sneaking around?”
I drive past Deborah Creighton’s office, looking for a good spot to turn the car around. When I reach the empty driveway of a darkened house, I pull halfway in and then reverse out so we can go back the way we came. “Maybe she wants privacy.”
is privacy,” Mia complains. “It’s so weird, Mal. She always had a million friends and now she doesn’t have any. Or at least, she never sees them.”
“Do you think she’s depressed? Because she lost her job?”
her job,” Mia corrects. “And she doesn’t seem depressed. Just … withdrawn. But I don’t know, really. I hardly know who she is anymore.” She slumps down into her seat and turns up the radio, too loud for us to talk anymore.
We drive in silence until we pass the “Welcome to Echo Ridge” sign and make our way to Manchester Street, stopping at the light in front of the common. Mia snaps off the radio and looks to our left. “They’re repainting Armstrong’s.”
“Guess they had to.” There must be only one coat of paint on Armstrong Auto Repair’s wall so far, because you can still see the faint outline of CORCORANS MAKE KILLER QUEENS beneath it. A ladder leans against the wall, and we watch as a man slowly makes his way to the bottom. “Is that Vance Puckett?” I ask. “Somebody actually let that guy use a ladder? And trusted him to paint in straight lines?” Echo Ridge’s town drunk and alleged petty criminal isn’t usually the go-to guy for odd jobs. Armstrong Auto Repair must have been desperate to get the job done fast.
“That’s a worker’s comp claim waiting to happen,” Mia says. She cranes her neck and squints. “Hold up. Is that your future homecoming date heading his way?”
For a second I think she means Ellery, until Brooke Bennett gets out of a car parked across the street. The light turns green, but there’s no one behind me, so I stay put. Brooke slams the car door shut behind her and walks quickly toward Vance. Almost as though she’d been waiting for him to finish. She tugs on his sleeve as he steps off the ladder, and he puts a can of paint on the ground before facing her.
“What the hell?” Mia pulls out her phone to zoom the camera in on them. “What could those two possibly be talking about?”
“Can you see anything?”
“Not really,” Mia grumbles. “My zoom sucks. But her hand gestures seem sort of … agitated, don’t you think?” She flaps one hand in a piss-poor imitation of Brooke.
The light turns red again and a car pulls up behind us. Brooke starts backing away from Vance, and I keep an eye on him in case he’s about to try anything weird with her. But he doesn’t move, and she doesn’t seem as though she’s trying to get away from him. When she turns toward the street, I glimpse her face just before the light changes. She doesn’t look scared or upset, or in tears like she has been for the past couple of weeks.