“Tyler, do you really want to be late on the first day of junior year?” my mom called from downstairs. I finished the last of my makeup and ran my fingers through my straight brown hair. “Tyler, seriously. Breakfast has been ready for like half an hour now.” Looking into the mirror, I stared back at my deep brown eyes, happy to see the light that had been absent in them since Cindy’s murder was starting to shine through once again. Today was my first day at my brand new school. After I had run out of my criminology class the previous year, the rumors had flew. My peers had speculated that I had gone off the deep end once again, and that I would soon be institutionalized. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without hearing faint whispers. Even my teachers had avoided my gaze, afraid that I would cause a scene in their classroom. My parents and Dr. Draycott had decided that I simply needed a fresh start. There were two other high schools in our town: Fred Milton High and Joseph P. Liles Preparatory Academy. Over the summer, my parents had pulled me out of Scottsdale High and enrolled me at Milton, located on the complete opposite of town. I would have all new teachers and classmates who would be completely unaware of my tainted past. Unfortunately, I was unaware that this wouldn’t be the case for long.
Pulling up to the school, I immediately noticed the massive group of students crowding the lawn. They laughed and hugged each other as if they had been friends their entire lives.
“Do you want me to walk you in?” my mom asked. I laughed, grabbing my bag and throwing the car door ajar.
“No, I think I’ll manage.” I strode up to the glass doors, and was greeted by a woman who appeared to be the secretary.
“You must be Tyler Lyons,” she started. “I’m Ms. Wiley. I’ll be showing you around today.” We walked past the office where she picked up a blue schedule from the front desk. We took the school one hallway at a time as she tried to explain to me where everything was situated. I was only half listening, trying my best to take in everything around me. Kids pushed past us on either side as the bell chimed throughout the school. We stopped in front of a single doorway, and Ms. Wiley smiled down at me.
“Here’s your first class. I hope you have a great day! And if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask!” With that, she was down the hallway and around the corner, leaving me standing alone by the doorframe with her chipper tone reverberating through my mind. I sighed, adjusted my backpack on my shoulders, and stepped inside. Thirty heads immediately turned to face me.
“Hi… I’m Tyler,” I muttered, unsure if my words had reached their ears. A man in a dark suit stepped forward.
“Welcome, Tyler. I’m Mr. B. You must be our new student.” I nodded. “Take any seat you like.” I scanned the room for an empty chair, and found one beside a group of cheerleaders, dressed head to toe in their uniforms. They smiled sweetly at me as I sat down, but I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not. One girl sat in the front of the group, appearing to be the center of attention. She had beach blonde hair that reached just past her shoulders and sparkling blue eyes that reminded me of the ocean.
“Hello, are you even listening to me?” I quickly snapped to attention, realizing that the girl was speaking to me. “ Like I said, I’m Justice Parker.” She pointed to the girls around her. “This is Mandy, Rachel, Hannah, and Lily.”
“Justice, I’m trying to read the syllabus. Could you please not talk over me?” Mr. B whined. Judging from his tone, I could tell that Mr. B wasn’t the biggest fan of Justice or her friends. Justice laughed, whipping her long hair against the chair as she turned around. Throughout the remainder of the class, her and the other girls texted each other underneath their desks. I tried to focus on Mr. B’s words, but their constant giggling made it hard to concentrate on anything. At the sound of the bell, all five girls were out the door. Once again, I was left to my own devices. Justice was the only one of my classmates that had bothered to utter a word in my direction, and I had hoped that she would be able to help me find my next class.
I was eventually able to find each of my classrooms simply by wandering the vast hallways. The rest of the morning was just a blur as teacher’s recited their syllabi. None of my other classmates tried to start a conversation with me, obviously too wrapped up in the drama of their own cliques.
I walked slowly into the cafeteria, scanning the room for any familiar face.
“Over here, Taylor!” Justice yelled, waving her arms wildly above her head. Relieved, I strode over to her and grabbed an empty seat.
“It’s Tyler,” I said. She frowned, obviously not a fan of being corrected.
“My bad. Anyway, tell us about yourself! Where did you move from?” I wondered why such a popular girl had taken such an interest in me.
“Oh, I transferred from Scottsdale High,” I replied.
“That’s cool. What do you like to do?” I tried to think of what Justice and her friends did in their freetime.
“Umm, I love going shopping and getting my nails done.” She smiled over at the other girls. I placed my hands under the table, hoping that she wouldn’t notice the chipped dark paint sitting atop my long uneven nails.
“Justice, should I invite Tyler to my party tonight?” Mandy asked, looking at her expectantly.
“Yes! Tyler, do you want to come to Mandy’s party tonight? A bunch of people from school will be there.”
“Sure,” I replied, doing my best to hide my excitement. My parents and Dr. Draycott would be extremely pleased to learn that I had made friends so quickly.
“Cool, I’ll give you my number.” She snatched my already unlocked phone out of my hand and began typing. She then passed my phone around for the other girls to put their numbers in as well. “Mandy will text you the details.”
“Thanks,” I replied, following them out of the cafeteria as the bell rang.
My very last class of the day was located in the back corner of the school. The sign on the door read “AP Physics.” I walked through the doorway, and stopped dead in my tracks. The name “Mrs. Morris” was sketched onto the whiteboard. While the lady sitting behind the desk wasn’t Cindy’s mom, a sense of guilt still overwhelmed me. I was reminded of how I had ruined her funeral after I had my first vision, and how her parent’s lives were now permanently shattered. Mr. Morris had fled the country before he could be arrested for embezzlement, and hadn’t been seen or heard from since the day of the funeral. Mrs. Morris stayed alone in their house, too depressed to come outside often. Even more so, I thought back to that awful night and wished that I hadn’t drank from that laced cup. Maybe then I would have been awake when Charlie came creeping into the house, and I could have done something to save Cindy from his knife. A boy suddenly appeared in my line of sight, snapping me out of my deep thoughts.
“Hello? Are you okay?” he asked. I turned to find the entire class’ eyes locked on me. I took a long deep breath, trying to find my voice to convince him that I was just fine.
“Yes. I’m Tyler Lyons. I’m new here this year.” Content with my answer, he took his seat. Relief flooded over me. I knew that my facade of a perfectly normal teenager could come crumbling down at any moment. All it would take was a simple Google search to reveal bits and pieces of my past, despite how much the my parents had threatened to sue the media for revealing details about a minor. My heartbeat slowed as my classmates turned their attention away from me. Mrs. Morris now stood in front of the class, and I tried desperately to push Cindy to the back of my mind. I tried to focus on Mrs. Morris’ distinct features as she spoke, because she looked nothing like Cindy’s mom. She had curly red hair and pale skin that made her seem as if she hadn’t gone outside in ages. I resolved to call her Mrs. M. so that coming to her class everyday would seem a little easier.
“How was your first day?” my dad asked as I walked into the house. “Were the kids nice?”
“Mostly,” I replied. “I got invited to a party at this girl Mandy’s house. Can I go?” A look of surprise flashed across his face.
“Really? That’s wonderful! Alison, come here! Tyler got invited to a party!” My mom emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her soiled apron.
“Wow, it sounds like you had a great first day,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess it was pretty good. Can I go change?”
“Sure, honey. But then I want to hear all about your day. I made cookies for you.” I bounded up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Looking at my closet, I wondered what girls wore to parties like these. I had never been invited to one at my old school. I studied the items in my closet, and eventually selected a short blue lace dress. I grabbed my cream colored sandals and met my parents by the kitchen table. I took them through my day, but purposely left out the fact that one of my teachers was named Mrs. Morris. I knew they would worry that hearing that name everyday might upset me.
After dinner, I drove my car to Mandy’s house. Pulling up in my gray Nissan, I studied the scene before me. The sound of blasting music was audible even through my closed windows. A few people stood on the lawn, deep in conversation. I figured most of the other people would be inside, so I walked past them and up to the front door. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to knock or just walk in. I just stood on the porch for a moment, staring at the brass doorknob. The blaring music was deafening now, loud enough that I wasn’t sure that I would be able to hear anyone if they spoke to me. Suddenly, the door swung open before me. Lily appeared in front of me, twirling her hair between her fingers.
“Hey Tyler!”, she breathed. “I’m so glad you could make it!” She grabbed my hand and dragged me inside. I tried to force a smile, suddenly extremely intimidated by the big crowds. Lily dragged me over to where Mandy and Justice stood. Mandy was gesturing wildly which suggested that she was very angry. Justice let out a big groan and stormed away.
“Hey, Tyler’s here!” Lily yelled, trying to be heard over the loud music. Mandy jumped at the sound of her voice, obviously very distraught. She couldn’t even force a smile at me as she brushed past us and ran after Justice.
“Hmmm, I wonder what that was about,” Lily pondered. We looked down the hallway, both girls had ran outside in an instant. While we looked, a tan skinned boy beside us grabbed Lily’s hand, and I guessed he was her boyfriend. He began to lead her out to the pool, leaving me standing in the front hallway alone. Lily hadn’t even looked back at me as the two walked away. I looked around at the sea of unfamiliar faces.
“Tyler, is that you?” I turned to see the boy that had spoken to me doing Mrs. Morris’ class. “Are you alright?” Annoyed that he kept asking if I was okay, I frowned hard at him.
“Yes, I’m fine! Will you stop asking?” I scoffed. He looked insulted by the tone of my voice.
“Geez, I’m sorry,” he said sarcastically. “I didn’t realize that I was annoying you so much.” With that, he wheeled around and started in the other direction. I realized as he stormed away that I had annoyed one of the few people that had made an effort to be friendly to me. I ran to catch up with him, pushing through the crowd of people that had formed between us. Someone’s drink sloshed onto my arm as I elbowed my way through.
“Hey, wait up. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” I started. He looked at me for a moment, pondering whether or not to accept my apology. “I never got your name in class today.” He smiled.
“I’m Jacob Woods.” He noticed that my arm was dripping wet, and grabbed a paper towel from a nearby table. “Here.”
“Thx,” I said. He watched me take the paper towel and dry my arm.
“So, who did you come to this party with?”
“Justice and her friends invited me, but they’re nowhere in sight now.”
“Really?” he laughed. “I didn’t peg you for the cheerleader type.”
“Oh, I’m definitely not,” I admitted. “They were just the first girls to talk to me.” We were interrupted by the shrill scream of police sirens. A sense of panic overwhelmed me. Jacob studied my face.
“What, do you have a record or something?” he joked. “Oh, I know! You’re on probation!” I didn’t react to his comments. Instead, I ran to the front window and peeled back the curtain. Blue lights danced around the lawn, and a couple police officers were climbing out of their cars. I turned back to Jacob.
“What’s the fastest way out of here?” There was no way that I wanted to come face to face with another police officer again if I didn’t have to. They reminded me too much of Cindy and my visions.
“Geez, you aren’t kidding. Ok, let’s just follow the crowds.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me through the back door. We hopped the fence and cowered behind the neighbor’s bushes.”Where’s your car?” I gulped, realizing that it was right in front of Mandy’s house.
“Right by all of the police cars.”
“Well, most of the officers are probably inside the house by now. We can probably sneak past the cars.” With that, he was up, hopping the fence into the neighbor’s side yard. “Come on!” I followed him, and we peered around the edge of the house. Two police officers stood on the front porch, facing the house. “We can totally make it!” He grabbed my hand and started running, dragging me along beside him. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. At the sound of movement, we plunged ourselves behind an oak tree, out of the officers’ line of sight. “Ok, ready? We only have a little bit left to go.” I took a deep breath and took off running, dragging him behind me this time. We reached my car and threw ourselves into our seats. One of the officers had turned around now and was peering at my car from the porch. I hoped he couldn’t read my license plates as I put the car into drive and punched the gas.
“Wow, I didn’t know you could run that fast!” Jacob laughed.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” I retorted, and immediately regretted it. He didn’t seem to notice though, already explaining to me how to get to his car a few blocks away. I pulled up in front of his old white pickup truck.
“Next time I need to make a fast getaway I know who to call,” he grinned. I smiled back at him, letting go of all the tension that had built up inside me in the last few minutes. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” I watched him climb into his truck, and waved to him as he pulled away.
The next morning, I was awoken by the smell of burnt bacon. My dad had never been the best cook, but I wondered how hard it was to fry bacon.
“Tyler, come on down,” my dad called. I pushed my covers aside, and strode toward the kitchen. A news anchor’s voice stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Justice Parker didn’t return home last night after attending a party at her best friend’s house. The police are asking everyone to call this number if they have any information concerning her whereabouts.” Nine digits flashed across the screen, and then Justice’s sparking blue eyes were looking into mine. My vision began to go dark at the edges and I felt my stomach turn, afraid of what this meant. When I was plunged into complete darkness, I tried desperately to wake myself up. A tall man stepped forward, with dark brown hair and piercing green eyes. His sturdy hands were wrapped around the handless clock. Specks of light started to line my sight, and just like that my vision was over. The pit in my stomach remained, because I was now certain that Justice was either dead or would be soon.
“I’m not hungry,” I yelled to my dad. He came from the kitchen before I could bolt back upstairs.
“Are you sure? I made a five star meal!” I forced myself to laugh, taking my backpack off of the hook beside me.
“Yeah, I forgot I had something to do at school this morning. I’m really late.”
“Ok, kiddo. Have a great day.” He kissed me on the forehead and watched me saunter over to my car. My hands were shaking as I pulled open the driver door. My dad disappeared from the door frame, and I let out a big sigh.
“Should I tell anyone what I had seen, and risk being sent back to the hospital?” I asked myself, thinking out loud. The police were already actively searching for Justice, and me telling them that I knew she was going to die would only bring more attention onto me. I could give them the description of the man that I had seen, but they wouldn’t believe that I had seen him in a vision, and suspicion would be cast in my direction. I resolved to think that someone else must have seen something that night, and hoped that Justice would be found before the unthinkable happened.
Lily, Rachel, and Hannah sat at their usual lunch table in the middle of the cafeteria. Mandy was nowhere to be seen. I guessed that she was probably at home answering the cops’ questions. Her house was the last place Justice was seen, and with no other leads, the police had made it their top crime scene.
“Over here, Tyler!” Rachel shouted. The entire cafeteria went silent at the voice of one of Justice’s friends. Jacob and I made eye contact from across the cafeteria, and he waved to me to come sit with him. I hesitated, looking at the distress written all over the three girls faces. I needed to know if they knew anything about Justice’s disappearance,, and abandoning them now would extinguish any chance I had of remaining friends with them. Jacob frowned as I gave him an apologetic wave and sat with Justice’s friends.
“Where would she have gone?” Rachel asked, picking at the corn on her blue tray.
“I don’t know, but I did hear her and Mandy having a huge argument before she left,” replied Lily.
“Did you see anything, Tyler?” Hannah questioned. I was afraid they could sense my guilt as I looked back at them.
“No, just Mandy and her arguing like Lily said.”
“Did the police come to question you?” Rachel asked. “They came to question us.” Relief flooded over me as I realized that the police didn’t know that I was at that party. Being connected to one murder in my lifetime was enough for me, and I wasn’t sure that I could handle another.
“No, they must not have realized that I was there, but I don’t have anything of value to add to their investigation anyway. I saw the same things you guys did.” As I spoke, I noticed a tall man stride through the cafeteria doors. He eyed us from across the room, and approached the table. His eyes were puffy to indicate that he had been crying. His voice cracked when he spoke.
“Mandy, Rachel, Hannah, Lily,” he began. Either he didn’t know my name yet or he just didn’t notice me.
“That’s Eric Parker,” Mandy whispered to me. “Justice’s dad.”
“Mr. Parker!” Lily exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I just wanted to check in and see if you knew anything or remembered anything. Please, I miss my girl so much.” Tears were streaming down his face.
“ I’m really sorry. We don’t have any new information, Mr. Parker. We are putting together a search party for her tonight. We’re gonna check all of her favorite spots, like the mall, nail salon, and the drive-in movie.” She turned to me. “You can ride with me if you want,” Lily offered. I wondered why they would check those places for Justice. Obviously, she hadn’t just disappeared to go have some fun. She was in serious trouble, but I didn’t argue with their logic.
“Sure, anything I can do to help out,” I responded.
“Good, I’ll pick you up at seven, and I really hope we can find her, Mr. Parker. I felt like the words “before it’s too late” were hanging in the air.
“Thank you, girls. I just want to see Justice home safe.” Mr. Parker said between sobs.
We must have driven around for over two hours, checking places Lily thought Justice might be. Discouraged, she suggested we drive by Mandy’s to see if there was anything else we could do to help. Cop cars lined her entire block, and yellow crime scene tape roped off her entire lawn. It reminded me of Cindy’s house about eight years ago, and I tried to push that thought to the back of my mind. Lily got out of the car and ran up to the tape where Hannah and Rachel were already standing.
“Excuse me, ladies. I’m going to need you to take a step back,” a police officer called out. The sight of his blue uniform with a gun holster strapped to his belt sent shivers down my spine.
“We were Justice’s friends,” I snapped back, surprised to hear myself responding to him. “We are just trying to see if we can help.” The police officer frowned and motioned to another officer off to the side. He whispered something to her, then turned back to us.
“You,” he said, pointing to me. “Wait here. The rest of you can leave. We’ve got this under control.” He retreated into the house, and the girls gave me puzzled looks.
“What did you do?” asked Hannah.
“I really don’t know,” I whispered. I could feel myself starting to shake as they walked back to their cars, turning around to give me puzzled looks every couple of steps. The woman police officer stood glaring at me, appearing ready to spring into action at any moment. I swallowed hard when the officer that had snapped at me emerged from the house with a detective. His name tag read “Detective Roberts.” He had a shiny bald head that reflected the light of the moon as he walked. He took my hand in a firm handshake.
“Hi, I’m Detective Roberts. I heard that you are a friend of Justice’s. What’s your name?”
“I’m Tyler. You know you can’t talk to me without my parents present. Should I call them?” My voice wavered when I talked. I was careful not to tell him my last name so that he couldn’t look me up in his system. Then he would see that I had spent time in a mental hospital for claiming I had visions surrounding my best friend’s murder, and I would have to answer a plethora of questions again. Suspicion would be cast in my direction, and there was no way I could escape that a second time.
“No, no, no. That won’t be necessary. I just have one question for you.”
“Ok,” I said, a bit of hesitation present in my voice.
“Why is it that you spoke about Justice in the past tense, as if you knew she wasn’t coming back?” A lump formed in my throat as I realized my mistake.
“Oh, that’s my bad. I didn’t mean to speak like that,” I replied, trying to sound as unconcerned as possible, as if it was truly just an honest mistake.
“Interesting..” he remarked. He tapped his pen against his notepad, appearing to be deep in thought. I glanced out at the street to see that Lily was still sitting in her car waiting for me.
“Can I go? I’ve really got to get home for dinner.”
“Sure, but what was your name again?”
“And your last name?” I panicked, dreading what would happen when he found out about my past. I sputtered the first name that came to mind.
“Thank you, Tyler. I’ll contact you from the school if I need anything else.” I walked over to Lily’s car, trying to appear as calm as possible.
“What did they want?” Lily asked.
“Oh, they were just wondering why I talked about her in the past tense, but I assured them that it was just an accident. She made a face as I spoke, and I realized that referring to the fact that Justice could be dead was making her visibly upset.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” I tried, but the damage was done. ’I’m sure Justice is okay.” She didn’t respond. Instead, she just stared straight ahead at the road and pretended to be focused on driving.
Laying in bed that night, I realized how stupid it was of me to give the detective a fake name. If the police went to the school to find me, they would discover that Tyler Brown didn’t exist. Unfortunately, the name Tyler would ring a bell with the office staff because I was their newest student. All they had to do was pull up my ID picture to identify me, and then the police would know that I had given them a fake name. This would place me under more suspicion than ever before. How was I supposed to explain why I had lied to them? I tried to think of a possible explanation, but came up with nothing.
I spent the entire next day of school in constant fear. I jumped at the slightest movement, worried that it was someone coming to pull me out of class to be questioned. As the day came to an end, I realized that no one was coming for me. Hopefully they had moved on to their next lead, and were close to finding her killer.
“Tyler!” I startled at the sound of Jacob’s voice. “I drove past Mandy’s house yesterday and saw you talking to the police. You looked pretty spooked. Is everything okay?” I laughed.
“Why is it that every time you start a conversation with me it always begins with you asking if I’m okay?” He looked down shyly at his feet.
“I guess I just care about you is all.”
“You barely know me.”
“Fair enough. How about we study for that physics quiz we have tomorrow together? He could sense my hesitation. “Come on, I think you need to get your mind off of Justice’s case, and I’ve seen you in class. Your mind is always a million miles away when Mrs. Morris is talking. We can meet at the coffee shop by the square.”
“Ok, sure,” I resolved, only because he was completely right. I never learned a bit of physics in Mrs. Morris’ class because her name served as a constant reminder of everything that I wanted to hide from the kids at my new school.
I stepped up to the front door of the coffee shop. The aroma of chocolate and caramel hung in the air. Once I was inside, I gazed around the small shop, looking for Jacob. He sat in the far corner, already intently studying.
“Hey”, I grinned. He jumped out of his seat.
“Do you want anything to drink?” I peered up at the small chalkboard that served as a menu.
“Sure, I’ll take a coffee frappucino.” He sauntered over to the counter, money in hand. I took my seat, and stared at the physics problems that he had laid out for me. The sea of equations seemed overwhelming, and I had no idea how to use any of them.
“One coffee frappucino,” he beamed at me.
“Thank you.” He quickly grabbed his pencil and got ready to work. I stared hard at his deep brown eyes. His thin gray T-shirt hugged his body while he wrote.
“Hello? What did you get for the first one?” My paper sat on the table, completely blank.
“Ummm, yeah I might need a little help with that one.” He pushed his paper across the table.
“All you have to do is plug it into this equation.”
“Oh, yeah. Got it.” I scribbled down some work underneath the problem, and we moved onto the next one. Each question went the same as the last as he had to explain to me how to do every question.
“I guess I really don’t pay attention in class,” I joked.
“Well, that’s one thing I do know about you,” he laughed, referring back to the conversation we had had the other night. “But tell me more about yourself. I feel like I don’t really know you that well. I mean, besides the fact that you like to run from the police.” He laughed at his own joke. I tried to pretend like his comment didn’t strike a nerve with me. I wracked my brain for something to tell him. “Nothing?” he asked.
“I moved here from another city,” I blurted. “Charlesville.” I realized as I spoke that my lie conflicted with what I had told Justice’s friends, and hoped that Jacob didn’t know them that well.
“That’s cool.” He looked at me intently, waiting for me to go on. The ding of my phone interrupted us. I looked down to see a news alert. The headline read the words I had been dreading: “Missing Teen’s Body Found.” I felt all of the air escape me at once.
“What? What is it?” Jacob asked, looking concerned. I shoved my phone across the table, not able to find the words to tell him that Justice was really dead. All of the color drained from his face.
“I… I should probably go,” I stuttered. “Justice’s friends might need some help.” I didn’t even wait for him to respond before making a dash for my car. I fumbled for the keys in my purse, dropping them onto the sidewalk. People milled about around me, completely unaware that my world was crumbling around me. Why hadn’t I come forward? Wouldn’t all of the consequences of my honesty been worth it if I had saved Justice’s life? I snatched my keys up from the ground and peeled out of the parking lot. I weaved in between cars, ignoring the bleats of people’s horns that were thrown my way. I parked in my driveway and raced up to my room. The bedroom door slammed behind me as my guilt began to weigh me down even more. Could I really have done something to prevent Justice’s death?
“Tyler, stop it,” I uttered to myself. “It’s too late now. She’s dead, and there’s nothing more you can do about it.” I thought about coming forward with the description of the man I had seen. Maybe that would help the police catch the killer, and her family could get some closure. Then I thought back to the many months I had spent in the hospital, and determined that I was never going back there. Telling the police was way too risky. I would just have to trust that they would find whoever had done this.