Ashes to Ashes Page 2

Ms. Chirazo seems to notice. A second later her hand is on my back, and she’s pushing me into her office and closing the door.

“Kat, forget what other people think. You don’t have anything to prove.” She points at her door. “There’s a reason why there are no students in this office today. People want to grieve with their friends, people who understand the connection, who don’t need to be brought up to speed. You should surround yourself with the friends who know you best.”

“I’ve tried that. My friends both blew me off.”

“Then try again,” she says matter-of-factly. “When you lost your mother, you were completely unreachable. It took time. It took people not giving up on you.”

I move my eyes to the birds flying past her window. I wonder how long it will be until I feel normal again. When Mom died, I was depressed for an entire year.

Ms. Chirazo stands up. “I’m going to go talk to Principal Tortola and see if I can’t get him to excuse your lapse in judgment in light of current circumstances. In the meantime, sit here for as long as you like. The secretary will write you a pass when you’re ready to go back to class.”

I don’t wait long. Just enough to scribble a note for Mary.

Yo. When you get this, find me.

I miss you. Hope you’re okay.

—K

I’ve just slipped the note inside Mary’s locker when I notice that it’s missing its padlock.

I open the door, hoping to see her jacket hanging inside, but the thing is freaking cleaned out. Not, like, the way some nerds do so they’re neat and organized at the beginning of a semester. It’s completely empty. Just my folded-up piece of notebook paper at the bottom.

I can think of two possibilities. Either Mary switched lockers or she switched schools.

No. There’s no way she left Jar Island without telling us. Even if she did find out about Reeve and Lillia, she wouldn’t dick out on me and not say good-bye. She knows I care about her. She knows I’m her friend.

At least, I hope she does.

Chapter Three

LILLIA

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN LEAVING FLOWERS in Rennie’s locker, poking them through the vents. I’m careful when I open the door, so the flowers don’t fall onto the floor. The inside of her locker door has pictures of the cheerleading squad, her and Ash, her and Reeve. None of us. The one of us down by the beach is gone. It was the summer after ninth grade, and we were wearing sherbet-colored bikini tops and making silly faces into the camera. I wonder if she ripped it up or if she just threw it away. I haven’t gone through any of our photo albums yet. I can’t. It hurts too bad.

Methodically I start separating her personal things from the textbooks I have to return to Mr. Randolph. I throw away a package of doughnuts, a spiral notebook with only one page of notes inside, half a pack of old gum, and a fuzzy black hair tie. I falter when I get to her favorite lip gloss and her black compact mirror—would Paige want to keep this stuff? Probably not, but maybe just in case? I put that stuff into the cardboard box Mr. Randolph gave me, along with a long cardigan, a scarf, and a few binders.

“I was starting to think maybe you died too.”

I turn around. It’s Kat, with her bag slung over her shoulder. Her hair is piled on her head in a greasy bun, and strands are coming out the back, and she has dark circles under her eyes. She looks terrible.

“Sorry, bad joke,” she says with a grimace.

“Hey,” I say. “Kat, I’m so sorry I—”

Kat waves her hand, like Forget it, and I’m relieved. She hitches her bag up on shoulder. “Yo, have you seen Mary today?”

I shake my head.

“I went by her locker to put a note inside, and it was cleaned out.” Kat chews on her fingernail. “Did you ever tell her what happened with you and Reeve?’

Biting my lip, I say, “I’ve been meaning to, but things have been so crazy . . .”

“Maybe she found out somehow and that’s why she’s been MIA.” Kat shoves her hands into her pockets. “What’s going on with you and Tabatsky now? Are you a couple?”

The derision in her voice makes me want to curl up and die. “No! We are definitely not a couple. We aren’t anything.”

“I’m not accusing you, Lil. I mean . . . it is what it is. I just want us to be real with each other.”

I look around before I take a breath and start over. “That stuff with Reeve, it’s over. It was just that one night and it hasn’t happened again. And I’m not purposefully avoiding you guys either. I’ve been at Paige’s every day with Ash and everybody, trying to get her to eat. She’s a mess. All she does is sleep and cry. It’s been really hard.”

“Well, at least you’ve got people around you. I mean, who the eff am I supposed to cry with? Pat? My dad? They don’t get it. I mean, sure, they feel sad about what happened to her. But nobody knew Ren the way we did.” Kat’s voice cracks on Rennie’s name.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

Kat wipes her eyes with her sleeve. “It’s fine. Whatever. I just needed to say my piece.” She grits her teeth and forces a smile, and it looks terrible. In a deadpan voice she says, “I feel better already.”

I reach out and give her shoulder a squeeze. I’m going to have to face Mary eventually. I owe her that. I close Rennie’s locker door and hoist up the box of her things. “Let’s go over to Mary’s.”

We take my car. As we get closer, Kat says, “Here’s what I’m thinking. If Mary’s home and it doesn’t seem like she knows about you and Reeve and what happened on New Year’s Eve . . . maybe you don’t tell her.”

I draw in my breath. “I can’t not tell her.” Can I?

“But like you said, it’s over, and it would only hurt her. So there’s no point, right?”

“I guess so.” I don’t want to hurt Mary. That’s the last thing I want. And this thing with Reeve really is over. Maybe Kat’s right.

I park in Mary’s driveway, right behind her aunt’s Volvo. It doesn’t look like anyone’s shoveled the snow; it’s melting in patches. When I get out of the car, the bottoms of my boots crunch on broken glass. Kat and I look at each other, uneasy.

We go up to the front door and ring the bell, but no one answers. I have this weird feeling, like someone is watching us. It’s the prickly-back-of-the-neck feeling I get late at night when the whole house is asleep and I go downstairs to get a glass of water. I always run back to my room fast.

Kat starts knocking on the door, hard.

“This is creepy,” I whisper.

Kat keeps knocking until her knuckles turn red. “Shit.” She presses up close to the window. “It looks like a tornado blew through there.”

I press my nose up against the glass. Oh my God. The dining room chairs are knocked over; the entryway table is on its side. “Kat, Mary could be in serious trouble. We have to call the police!”

“The police?” Kat repeats. She’s craning her neck, trying to see up the stairs. “Why don’t we just break in ourselves and see what’s what?”

“Because there could be an intruder in there! Who knows what we’d be walking into!” I grab her by the arm and drag her back to the car, where I take out my cell and dial 911.

Chapter Four

KAT

IT’S A FREAKING HALF HOUR before a cop car rolls up to Mary’s house. So much for a goddamned emergency.

Lillia jumps out of the car and walks down the sidewalk to meet the officer at the walkway. I’m a few steps behind her when Eddie Shofull climbs out of the squad car like a damn cowboy.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I say.

Officer Eddie Shofull is all of twenty-two years old. He looks way more like a boy dressed up in a cop uniform than an actual cop. He used to be friends with Pat back in high school. Scratch that. Eddie used to smoke weed with Pat back in high school. After graduation, too. Basically until he joined the Jar Island Police Force. His father is a deputy sheriff. Jar Island nepotism at its finest.

Eddie glares at me. “What’d you expect, Kat? A detective?”

“Um, yeah. Considering we’ve got a missing-persons case here. Or a possible hostage situation.”

Eddie rolls his eyes and radios in that he has arrived on the scene.

“Officer,” Lillia says, and nudges me to the side. “Please. We haven’t been able to get in touch with our friend. Her guardian had mental health issues, and we want to make sure she’s okay.”

Eddie looks over the tops of our heads at the house. “When was the last time you saw her?”

“Before New Year’s Eve,” Lillia answers quickly.

“Have you tried calling her?”

I throw my hands into the air. “Of course we’ve tried calling, you dumb-ass.”

“Kat!” Lillia throws me a warning look before turning back to Eddie. “There’s no answer, Officer. Her school locker was emptied out, and—”

“She probably moved.”

Finally Lillia returns my look—that Eddie is a freaking moron. “Then tell me why her house is in complete shambles and there’s a ton of broken glass in the driveway!”

Lillia takes him by the hand and leads him over to the pile. He clicks his flashlight onto the shards even though it’s bright and sunny and we can see just fine. He crunches a few shards under his boot. “You can’t tell when this glass was broken. It could have been months ago. Years ago, even.”

“Years ago?” I scoff. “Come on, Eddie. You sound like a damned idiot!”

He narrows his eyes and puts a hand on his radio. “All it takes is one call, and you girls will both spend a night in jail for calling in a false report and insulting an officer of the law.”

Lillia’s eyes widen. She’s totally falling for his fake-ass, weak-ass threat. “We’re not trying to be disrespectful—”

“I am!” I shout.

“Please just check out the house, okay? Because if our friend is up there being tortured by her psycho aunt, and you didn’t properly investigate, you’ll be the one in jail!” And with that, Lillia folds her arms and purses her lips.

Eddie stares right back, and then slides his nightstick out from his belt. “Fine. I’ll do a quick perimeter check. You two stay here.”

But of course we don’t. We follow Eddie as he walks around to the back of Mary’s house. We both call out, “Mary? Are you there?”

Eddie walks up the back stairs and knocks hard on the kitchen door with the butt of his nightstick. And, wouldn’t you know, the thing pops wide open.

Lillia and I share a look before we push past Eddie and enter the house.

“You girls get back here!” Eddie shouts from the doorway. “I’m serious, Kat! Come on!”

“Mary?” Lillia calls out. “Are you in here?” Her breath makes tiny clouds. The heat is off. It’s even colder in here than it is outside.

It’s dead quiet.

And shit really is everywhere.

I walk around the kitchen table. “This is so weird.” It looks like Mary and her aunt literally up and disappeared without any notice. Why else would there be dirty dishes left in the sink? There are empty plates on the table. I lean in close and see some mouse droppings.

“Kat, come on. Let’s check upstairs,” Lillia says.

Eddie groans and takes one step inside. “This is unlawful trespassing!” he whispers.

“You coming with us or not, Eddie?”

I pull my jacket up around my neck, and the three of us go deeper inside, through the hallway, through the living room. The place is still full of Mary’s family’s things. There are lighthouse and seascape paintings hanging on almost every wall and a bunch of family pictures on the fireplace mantel. I walk up to one. It’s of Mary as a girl, posed with two people who I guess must be her mom and dad. She’s barely recognizable. I remember her telling us that she used to be overweight, and I couldn’t imagine it. But she was chubby. Big red cheeks, a double chin, round potbelly.

I can totally see Reeve picking on her, that bastard.

Lillia looks at the picture too. “Maybe this means she’ll come back here eventually. Her family will want to get their things, right?”

“Maybe,” I say. But I don’t believe it. Looking around the rest of the room, I can see that most of it’s trashed.

Lil and I make our way upstairs. Eddie’s already there, pointing his flashlight up another set of stairs, probably leading to the attic.

We come to a bedroom and linger in the doorway. Unmade bed, closet doors wide open, clothes tossed about. Strangest of all, the entire floor is covered with hundreds of books open to random pages.

“This has to be her aunt’s room,” Lillia whispers.

Suddenly there’s a hand on my arm. “The house is empty,” Eddie says, pulling me back toward the staircase. “We’re getting out of here. Move it!”

“Wait, Kat! Come look at this!”

I shake Eddie off and follow the sound of Lillia’s voice into another bedroom.

It’s the only one that’s been completely emptied out. There’s a dresser, a stripped bed, an empty bookshelf, and a bare closet. I walk to the window and look down at the spot where Lillia and I threw rocks to get Mary’s attention when we came to visit her once in the middle of the night. That was the first time she told us about Reeve and what he’d done to her.

“She must have packed up her things.” Lillia shakes her head. She can’t believe it either. “I guess she really did leave without saying good-bye.”

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