“We should just go check on her,” said Zoe as she stared into her phone. “We know she doesn’t have the flu this time.”
Sophia didn’t show up at school again and we felt as worried as a mother got when her child was missing. Her last communication was a text that said, I’ll tell u later since Chief Deputy Harris had taken her in for questioning. That was so not like her at all. We exchanged billions of texts every day, and for her to be so silent for so long like that was odd under any circumstances.
“Yeah, let’s go,” I replied as I grabbed my backpack and got up. I noticed a growing number of people gathering in the hallway like bees buzzing around honeycomb. That meant they were gossiping. Spotting several sneaking glances our way, I suspected they were probably talking about something related to us. Me, most likely. Perhaps someone guessed we’d won the lottery finally.
When our eyes met those of the gossipers, Zoe furrowed her brow and signaled for us to go over and check out what they were up to.
My gut told me it was indeed about the win, however, so I stopped her. I didn’t want her to learn the news from them. I needed to tell her the truth before they did.
“Zoe,” I said, pulling her arm. “I wanted to tell you. I swear. But my mom—”
Some of the gossipers approached us and stood directly in front of us.
“Do you guys mind?” I told them. I wanted to admit the truth to my best friend in a proper manner if I were going to tell her.
Zoe looked at me, confused. “What? You wanted to tell me? About what?”
“Yeah, of course you knew it…” The gossipers turned to me and I saw both sympathy and bewilderment in their expressions.
I knew it?
I was confused by the way they phrased it. Was it possible for someone not to know when their mom won over a hundred million dollars?
“Knew what?” Zoe frowned, looking from one face to the other. “Knew what?” she repeated, but turned around and looked at me solely.
“It’s really none of your business,” I told the gossipers as I put my chin up.
“Is that why she’s not here today?” One of them asked.
“What?” Zoe responded with a grimace. I did the same in my head.
“So they took her for questioning just because she was his ex,” said Zoe, guessing the subject they were referring to. “How nosy can you people be? Gossip is definitely your main source of energy, isn’t it?” She shook her head as if she temporarily forgot she was the Queen of Gossip.
The girls exchanged looks. “No, that was yesterday’s news.” Then one of them nudged me. “Ella, why don’t you tell her?”
I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know what else they knew about Sophia that we, her besties, didn’t know.
“Just tell me, Ella. I can’t believe you were hiding whatever it is from me. Did Sophia tell you? When?” Zoe shot me a frustrated look.
“I… I don’t know what they’re talking about. I swear.”
“Huh?” One of the girls wrinkled her nose. “You just said you knew it.”
“I thought so. But I didn’t,” I stepped backwards. I wished I were a snail. Then I could hide in my coiled shell.
“You said something about your mom. Did she know something about Sophia? Is that it?” Zoe refused to let the subject go.
“N-N… No! Mom has absolutely nothing to do with it. Mom didn’t do anything. Mom didn’t—she did nothing.” I choked. Did I just leak a clue about our secret? I quickly made up something ridiculously silly. “Okay, she just heard Ethan was wetting his bed until like, three years ago.”
“Who’s Ethan?” Zoe furrowed her brow. “Sophia’s cousin?”
“No, no! Ethan Sheen. From fifth grade,” I felt horrible for naming him out of nowhere. Ethan Sheen had done absolutely nothing to deserve such a lie. “It could be just a hoax, you know.”
“And that was what you were hiding from me?” Zoe looked at me strangely. Like she suddenly failed to recognize me.
I noticed the gossipers’ frowned faces.
“Did anyone know those guys…?” asked one of them, returning to the real subject.
Zoe looked at them, pausing for a second to think before she scrunched up her nose. “Who? Ethan Sheen?”
“No. The guys who helped Jerry rape Sophia.”
I stood there frozen as the thickest ice at the North Pole. I stared at the gossiper as if she’d just spoken in Russian. Since I didn’t hear Zoe say anything either, she was probably as frozen with surprise as I was.
There was a long pause.
Then I finally heard Zoe. “What in the hell are you talking about?” Zoe’s widened eyes landed on me. “And you knew that?”
Nothing came out of my mouth. Jerry raped Sophia? And she’d acted as if nothing had ever happened? She didn’t even tell us? Or the police?
It took a while before I could finally utter a word. “No! Of course not!”
The gossipers’ eyes shifted between us. Then they hastily left as if they thought we were going to skin them alive.
The question that I wanted to avoid with all my heart ricocheted inside my head.
Did Sophia kill Jerry?
Although it was simply impossible to imagine Sophia could have been capable of murdering someone, that would have explained her exceptionally cheerful mood after his death. She had the flu and was bed-ridden for a week. Maybe it wasn’t the flu. Maybe she couldn’t get out of bed after getting raped by Jerry. Then did she get rid of him and move on…?
But, come on! My best friend Sophia? Pretty, fashionable, sassy, popular, sweet high school girl, committing murder? Anyone who believed that had to be out of their minds. But again, after watching so many episodes of Forensic Factor, I knew how possible it was for someone whom you least suspected to turn out to be the most malicious killer.
I wondered what Zoe was thinking.
“Who told you guys that? How do you know it’s true?” Zoe followed the gossipers who were back out in the hallway and gabbing again.
“We don’t know exactly. Probably one of those guys who helped in the rape told someone, and that someone told another one. You know the drill.”
“Who are those guys?” Zoe shrieked impatiently.
“Don’t know. All we know so far is, they got scared. So they went to the police and told them what happened.”
Zoe and I exchanged looks, then we bolted out of the classroom.