She looked away and I felt guilty. I loved my mother, truly. She was devoted. She was nurturing. But in the last year, she’d become painfully present. And in the past month, her hovering was all but unbearable. The day of our move, I spent the sixteen-hour drive to Florida silent, even though it was for my benefit—I was afraid to fly, and of heights in general. And when we arrived, Daniel told me that after my release, he overheard Mom and Dad arguing about the possibility of hospitalization. Mom was for it, naturally. Someone would be watching me all the time! But I had no desire to study for the SATs in a padded cell, and since the effect of my grand gesture—attending the funerals—had obviously worn off, I needed to keep my crazy in check. It seemed to be working. For now.
Mom let the conversation drop and kissed my forehead before returning to the kitchen. I got out of bed and padded down the hallway in my socks, careful not to slip on the lacquered wood floor.
My brothers had set the table already and my mother was still working on dinner, so I made my way to the family room and sank into the deep leather sofa before turning on the television. The news was on the picture-in-picture view, but I tuned it out as I clicked over the programs in the guide.
“Mara, turn that up for a second?” Mom asked. I complied.
Three photographs floated in the corner of the screen. “With the help of the Laurelton Police Department’s Search and Rescue Unit, the bodies of Rachel Watson and Claire Lowe were recovered this morning, but investigators are having trouble recovering the remains of seventeen-year-old Jude Lowe due to the wings of the landmark that are still standing, but could collapse at any moment.”
I squinted at the television. “What the—” I whispered.
“Hmm?” My mother walked into the family room and took the remote from my hand. When she did, the pictures of my friends vanished. In their place was a photograph of a dark-haired girl smiling happily in the corner of the screen next to the female news anchor.
“Investigators are pursuing new leads in the case of murdered tenth grader Jordana Palmer,” the female anchor trilled. “The Metro Dade Police Department is conducting a new search for evidence with a team of K-9 units in the area bordering the Palmers’ property, and Channel Seven has the footage.”
The image on the screen flashed to a shaky video of a team of police in beige uniforms, accompanied by large German shepherds patrolling a sea of tall grass that stretched behind a row of small, new houses. “Sources say that the fifteen-year-old’s autopsy reveals disturbing insights into the manner of her death, but officials wouldn’t release any details.”
“The leads, like I said, are the result of talking to witnesses that have come forward, and we will be following up on those leads today,” said Captain Ron Roseman of the Metro Dade Police Department. “Other than that, I can’t divulge anything that might compromise our investigation.”
The anchors then cheerily transitioned to discussing some new literacy initiative in the Broward school district. Mom handed the remote back to me.
“Can I change it?” I asked, careful to keep my voice even. Seeing my dead friends on television had left me shaken, but I couldn’t let it show.
“Might want to turn it off. Dinner’s ready,” she said. She looked anxious, more so than usual. I was starting to think she was the one who should be taking medication, and not for the first time.
My brothers pulled up to the table and I pasted on a lopsided grin as I joined them. I tried to laugh at their jokes as we ate, but I couldn’t blot out the images of Rachel, Jude, and Claire I’d just seen. No, not seen. Hallucinated.
“Something wrong, Mara?” my mother asked, snapping me out of my trance. The expression on my face must have matched my feelings.
“No,” I said breezily. I stood up, tilting my head forward so that my hair veiled my face. I picked up my plate and made my way to the sink to rinse it off before putting it in the dishwasher.
The dish slipped in my soapy hands and broke against the stainless steel. In my peripheral vision, I saw Daniel and my mother exchange a glance. I was a goldfish without a castle to hide in.
“You okay?” Daniel asked me.
“Yeah. It just slipped.” I picked the shards out of the sink and threw them in the trash before excusing myself to do homework.
As I walked back down the hallway to my bedroom, I shot a look at my grandmother’s portrait. Her eyes stared back, following me. I was being watched. Everywhere.
THAT SAME CREEPING, WATCHFUL FEELING escorted me to school the next day. I just couldn’t shake it. As Daniel pulled into the school parking lot, he said, “You know, you should think about getting some sun.”
I shot him a look. “Seriously?”
“I only mention it because you’re looking a little peaked.”
“Duly noted,” I said dryly. “We’re going to be late if you don’t find a spot, you know.”
Rachmaninoff floated softly from the speakers, doing nothing to settle my jangled mood.
Or Daniel’s, apparently. “I am seriously itching to start playing bumper cars, here,” he said, his jaw clenched. Even though we left early, it still took us forty minutes to drive to school, and there was already an egregiously long line of luxury cars waiting to pull into the entrance.
We watched as two of them vied on opposite ends of the lot for the same space; one of the waiting vehicles, a black Mercedes sedan, squealed its tires as the driver propelled it forward into the spot, cutting off the other car, a blue Focus. The Focus driver pounded one long, sharp note on the horn.
“Crazy,” Daniel said.
I nodded as I watched the driver of the Mercedes exit the car along with another passenger. I recognized the immaculate sheet of blond hair on the driver even before I saw her face. Anna, naturally. Then I recognized the sour expression of her omnipresent companion, Aiden, as he emerged from the front passenger seat.
When we finally found a space, Daniel smiled at me before we parted.
“Just text me if you need me, okay? The lunch offer still stands.”
“I’ll be fine.”
The door was still open when I arrived at AP English, but most of the seats were already filled. I sat down at one of the only available desks in the second row and ignored the snickers of a couple of students I recognized from Algebra II. The teacher, Ms. Leib, was busy writing something on the board. When she finished, she smiled at the class.
“Good morning, guys. Who can tell me what this word means?”