Me: This place is unbelievable... I have my own apartment. Who gives a 17-year-old their own apartment?
Tristan: life-style of the rich and privileged, right? Don't get too eager to christen that pretty apartment just yet.
Me: if you're implying what I think you're implying, you're gross. How's your first day back?
Tristan: me... gross? wtf? I never!
Tristan: first days ok. ole step mommy made a dramatic visit. told and I quote, not to fuck up again. Can I stab her yet?
Me: that would be murder, but it might make your life a little easier. Give me her name and I can ruin her.
Tristan: Snort. Sad thing is, I know you could. You're the best Anonymous bff I could ask for. If I gave you her name, it'd ruin what we have.
Me: Right. Good luck with your step monster business then. But the offer still stands, I'll ruin anyone who hurts you.
Tristan:......... you're way too good for me. Marry me?
Me: I know I am and never. I'm not the marrying type.
"Do you seriously need two computers to function?" Callie grunts as she puts a box down near my desk. My eyebrows shoot up into my hairline.
"One's for fun, One's for school, of course, I need two. It's a requirement." I say like she should get this shit by now, but she just rolls her eyes at my ridiculousness. Of course, one is fortified to protect my identity against the feds, as I hack into whatever the hell I want, and the other is for games and school work. Simple. She just need not know the specifics. For as many times as I had to take some incriminating photos off the internet for her, you'd think she'd understand by now.
"Well, they're heavy as shit." She mumbles to herself as she steps away to bring in more boxes.
My eyes roam the oversized apartment. My very own kitchen sits to my right, my own washer and dryer to the left, and most importantly, my own bathroom. Flower paintings hang by the door, abandoned by the artist who last lived here. Magnolia. She always loved to paint her soul into every brushstroke and with these two simple flowers, it shows.
This place is probably way over the top. Way better accommodations than Parkford offered. Parkford. The college of our dreams. The Ivy League school we would have gone to together. Mags and I planned every detail, down to rooming together in the tiny dorm rooms. My mind often drifts to fantasies of doing homework together. Or trying some parties for once, and just plain 'ole chasing our achievements together. Our future burned brighter than the Northern Star, but since she left, the light has snuffed out. As if the bright light bulb of life inside my heart exploded into darkness, the second the bomb of her death dropped.
"I'll figure this out, Mags," I say to the empty room. "I'll find out," I mutter again, searching the walls for clues. If these walls could talk. If these walls could share her secrets to me, I'd succeed in my ever-evolving plot for revenge.
"Talking to the walls again, squirt?" I groan as Bodhi ruffles my already fucked up hair and I slap him away. He chuckles, putting a box onto the ground. A whistle erupts from between his lips, as he takes in my new home for the next nine months.
"They've really upgraded the rooms in this place. Damn, Callie, why didn't we ever live on campus?" He asks green with jealousy. His brain obviously mulling over the gross antics he could have gotten into on his own. And I do mean gross. I've heard enough stories over the years and my brother isn't a saint. Oh no, he's the worst kind of sinner. A gross, gross sinner.
"Because we never would have trusted you two." My mom chirps as she flitters into the room with grace. She places one last box onto the ground and wipes her hands clean.
"I take offense to that! We would have behaved." Bodhi says with innocence, but I knew better than that. My mom cackles at his words, shaking her head.
"Says the boy who got caught running naked across his college campus and yes, there were photos." Bodhi pales and his body stiffens as he turns to look at me. Venom sits in his eyes.
"I swear I had a certain squirt who took care of those problems." He raises a brow at me and I shrug.
"I was like....14 and had just started that. Obviously, I missed some, but don't start blaming me for your weird college nudity." I say, still looking around the room, taking everything in. Bodhi is still flapping his lips angrily, but as my mom says, I'm too poor to pay attention.
Somewhere within these walls, she hid away evidence of her murder. Her true feelings, beyond the emails she sent. Something, anything to give me some hints. She wrote me emails, yes. She gave me almost every detail of her adventures—or should I say nightmares — here. But deep in my gut, I feel like I'm missing important links in her story. I need to find them. I can't exactly go around the school begging for information either. Ainsley and her gang would never give me straightforward answers. Mag's real journal would. She wrote down everything in that thing and it somehow went missing from this very room and was never found. Either her murderer took off with it or she hid it. Somewhere. Now I just have to figure out where. The floorboards? The walls? In a plastic bag in the toilet? For fuck's sakes, it's a giant hole in my scheme I need to be filled with answers. Bodhi grunts as my eyes move back to his retreating form.
"I've lost her!" He throws his hands up in frustration. My brain must have tuned him out for longer than I thought. Such a finicky man, expecting me to pay attention for over two minutes on old news. My mind is too jam-packed with critical information right now to listen to anyone. Always better on my own, with my own thoughts.
"You—uh, going to be OK with this?" Callie whispers in my ear. "I'm assuming you planned to room in Mag's old apartment?" She whispers again, almost as if she's not sure I planned this. She seems like she doesn't want to trigger me.
Now that I'm here, in her space, surrounded by her memory, it churns my stomach in violent waves. Crashing against my stomach walls, begging to come up and out, but I won't let it. I keep a tight hold on my lips, not letting the burning acid through. I will relish in the turbulence and let my anger fuel my revenge for Mags. "It will serve its purpose," I say with a tight smile, eyeing my sister. She sighs dramatically like she has no clue how to handle me and my revenge plan.
"For fuck's sakes," she mutters, wiping a hand down her face. "Fine. But if you're ever feeling sad or whatever you feel, call me. No matter what time of day." She raises her eyebrows, narrowing her suspicious eyes in on me. She knows me too well, I don't ask for help. I forge on and do my own thing, which more often than not, gets me into trouble.
"I will. Even if the kids string me upside down in the janitor’s closet." I say with a shrug, turning to take in the room again.
"String.. string you up?? Yeah, I'm not going to even ask about what's going on inside that brilliant brain of yours for you to say that." Callie mutters almost in disgust at my ramblings.
"Kaycee Addison Cole, you swear to me, if you're in over your head, you call! I've been a dutiful sister since you've Invoked that ridiculous 'sibling no speak' rule. My lips are sealed." She mimics zipping her lips together and I nod.
My heart swells at her dedication. I don't get along with many people, social awkwardness, and all that. So it's wonderful to have allies in my siblings. We grew up together and they somehow understand me and my odd quirks. They understand the way my mind works and wanders enough to know when they have me and when they don't.
"I've lost you," Callie says, snapping her fingers in front of my face. Finally gaining my attention.
"Thank you for all your help," I say, as a genuine smile spreads across my lips. "This wouldn't be possible without you. You truly are the best sister in the world." Callie's arms fling wide open and she stares at me with a dopey smile plastered on her face. Moisture collects in the rim of her eyes and a tiny sniffle pinches her nose. Please don't cry. Please don't cry.
"I'm your only sister, now give me a hug!" She says and my smile drops faster than my heart.
"Can't we fist bump or something?" I asked pathetically, holding out my fists. "You know I don't hug," I mutter as she steps into my personal space, bumping her fists against mine. She frowns, looking over my shoulder
"I'll let you off the hook this time, because I'm the best sister ever, but with the way mom is boohooing, I don't think you'll get so lucky." She says with a shrug, as my mom wraps her arms around me from behind.
A sigh escapes my nose, my body tries not to squirm in her squeezing arms. Hugs really aren't my thing. It's not even the germs everyone has crawling over every inch of their bodies, I just hate them. Well—germs do play a part. I can practically feel their germs dancing on my skin at the slightest touch. From the depth of my soul, I loathe the feeling of someone's body against mine or even a simple touch of the hand. I can't do it for long without my skin wanting to burst into flames and make me explode. But for my mom, she doesn't understand my personal space issues. Hell--- I don't understand them myself. It's just me.
"It feels like yesterday I took you home from the hospital and now you're leaving me with an empty nest. What will I do with myself now?" Her tears soak my shoulder as she wails on me. She really loves us and wants us around. Apart of me feels guilty leaving the house empty for the sake of revenge. If I was a nice child, I would have stayed home and endured another year at my old private school, Latham.
"Make Callie give you grandchildren?" I say sarcastically, trying to understand my mom’s dependence on me. Callie snorts from the corner and folds her arms across her chest.
"Uh, yeah, me and Dex still have another year at Milligan and then we can think about that. Beg Bodhi or mom can just have a Kaycee replacement child." She chides with a laugh. My mom stiffens behind me and raises her head, wiping away the tears flowing down her cheeks.
"I will miss you, Kace, but this is for your future. I love you. Here are your car keys and your credit card. It's for the necessities and I mean necessities, Kaycee." She kisses my cheek one last time and slaps Callie on the shoulder.
"Have fun unpacking, call me tonight! And enjoy your senior year. And I better not hear of any reports of your partying ways!" I roll my eyes at the thought of going to parties. Too many people. Too much touching and body heat, but I'll suffer through a few because it will come up.
For Mags, of course.
"I don't party," I say with seriousness, and my mom shrugs, walking out the door.
"Maybe you should," Callie says with a one-shoulder shrug and pauses in the open door. "What would Mags do?" She whispers with a small hand wave and exits my apartment. I lick my dry lips and finally take a deep breath.
This is it. This is my moment. My moment to see all this through and seek my revenge. Last Christmas my planning took center stage. There were many long and tiresome nights, searching for dirt on my pawns. And now? Now is the time to execute my plan with precision and grace without bringing suspicion down on myself. Yup. That's all. Easy peasy, right? Well — in theory, anyway. First, I should probably set up my companions. I have games to play and games to set up.
As soon as my computers are set up side by side, my stomach grumbles. I gaze at the clock ticking on the wall, 1:00 pm. My stomach grumbles again, eating its self from the inside out, like a lake monster lurking beneath the surface. Grumble. Grumble. If I were a cartoon, I'd see the waves on the outside of my t-shirt. So without a second thought and food weighing heavily on my brain, I head out the door. I make sure to lock it and head out. The one advantage I have is the six months I've pored over this place.
From the hedge maze occupying an acre of the 100-acre plot of land or where the football field lays. Or where the secret entrance to the beach down the bluff is. I have it all memorized. Every step. Every building. Every classroom. Even down to every student who calls this place home. But the most important part about my mission here is my escape routes. Stairs. Windows. Every exit, all drawn out in the back of my mind.
The massive, medieval-looking dining hall is in my sights. It's calling to me by name, begging me to get lunch ASAP. I'd love to heed its siren's call, but there's one place I must stop before I go. One I promised myself I'd venture to once I had unpacked, even if it would break my heart all over again.
I have to swallow my emotions to get through this. What would people think of the seemingly innocent new girl crying over their old dead classmate's dedication? Besides, criminals often return to their victim's graves or memorials. Maybe I'll catch a rat. I've always wondered who started the whole 'plant a tree for a life lost' thing? Sure when a person expires it's nice to honor their memory with a living being who will probably survive a hundred plus years, but a tree? Couldn't they have decided on a plaque or a flower dedication? Anything but a----- I put the brakes on my walking and mentally chastise myself at the sight of the two people standing before my destination. Of course, they'd be at Mags' memorial tree on the first day of its unveiling. How stupid of me not to consider them coming to cut the red ribbon. I lick my lips and turn around.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
There's no way I can let them see me here, at this very school, without them getting suspicious. I put my head down and try to cut through the grass to dinner, willing my legs to speed across the courtyard like a tiny cheetah on a hunt. My stomach hardens like I've swallowed lead at the moment, I need to eat and possibly salvage this entire trip, scoping out the students in the hall.
"Kaycee?" I freeze and lookup. Her familiar voice comes from behind me, still at the weird memorial tree. I take a step forward, attempting my walk toward the dining hall.
"Kaycee Addison Cole!" Her voice echo's off the buildings surrounding us and I stop dead in my tracks. I have to. She's seen me and Dr. Addison won't stop until I've acknowledged her. She'll keep yelling my name and drawing attention to me, so I take the best way out. With a defeated sigh, I turn around. I plaster a tight smile on my lips and make my way to her. Her eyes watch my every move, almost like she doesn't believe it's really me standing here. She crosses her arms across her chest, casually wiping away the stray tears falling down her cheeks. I stop right in front of her, as her bloodshot eyes take me in.
"I almost didn't believe it." She whispers in a shaky voice. More tears cascade down her sunken in cheeks. "But you're here? Why are you here, Kaycee?" She asks again, slightly checking behind her before I can answer. She turns her attention back to me with a sad smile, like she wants to cup my cheeks to comfort me. She doesn't and I'm thankful she understands my aversion to touch. As a doctor, she understands my needs that seem odd to others, but normal medically.
"I just wanted to go where my family went to school," I say, trying to sound convincing. Am I, though? I can't let her clue into why I'm really here. It would break her all over again to know I'm digging at a grave that can't be undone. I hold my facial expression, conscious of every twitch, trying to seem as neutral as possible. I can't let anyone around me get wind of why I'm really here, even her family. Everyone is a suspect in my eyes. Trust no one, only yourself.
Her tongue darts out and wets her severely cracked lips. Her blue eyes scream a mountain of exhaustion. She turns around again, checking over her shoulder as discreetly as possible. My eyes follow her eyes and her body stiffens. Crowe, her now-husband, stands beside the tree. His crystal blue eyes glued to us and bows his head in greeting. I raise a hand, giving him a small, but polite wave. He turns his back and Dr. Addison's attention is back on me.
"The tree is........ a fantastic memorial for her," I say pointing toward the cherry blossom bright with pink blossoms. Mags' favorite tree to sit under back home. Whenever she'd need a private moment to herself or if I lost her, I'd find her under the cherry blossom.
"Magnolia's favorite," her voice drops, dripping in an intense sadness I know all too well. Mag's absence has brought a hole into the hearts of the people who loved her. Her smile brought sunshine to my dismal existence and now it was darker. She helped me cope with the world around me, explaining the simple interactions my mind couldn't comprehend. And now....... now I'm alone without her.
"Well, I'm sure she would be happy with it if she were........"
"Yeah..." She says through a sigh. "Kaycee," she whispers now, dropping her voice for only us.
"I hope... I hope......" Dr. Addison rambles on about how important my education is and how she hopes I'm not distracted by Magnolia not being here. My mind wanders and my eyes cut behind her to Crowe. The mysterious man she found herself attached to almost five years ago. Right around the time, my mother cut ties with her. Addison's recent husband is a mystery, but he always had an edge to him. Something odd..... Something I couldn't quite put a finger on and usually had a read on people when I could stop my mind from wandering, that is.
Crowe claps Carter Cunningham on the back, as they look on toward the tree. Their bodies stand an inch apart, locking in a conversation only meant for the two of them. Carter was not a friend of Mags, in fact, his name was on my shit list. My major shit list. Unspeakable things happened to Mag's while she attended this school, and he was front and center all too eager to hurt her. Why would he and Crowe have any business together?
"Kaycee?" My eyes dart back to Addison's irritated face. She taps her foot on the ground and cocks her head to the side. "Are you still doing OK? I can refer you to a doctor..." I whip my hand up and hold it in the air.
"I'm fine, just first-day jitters," I say trying to ease her unwelcomed worry. She shakes her head and runs a hand down her jaw.
"If... if you ever need a doctor in the area, Kace, please call me. Trauma like this... with Magnolia's death and your---"
"I said I'm fine," I rush my words out before she can keep talking. Nothing irritates me more than a nosy doctor, especially this nosy doctor, trying to mother me. Trying to tell me how I am, I know how I am. I could tell her this, but I don't want to upset her more than she already is. She shakes her head and sighs again, eyes glistening with more unshed tears.
"Of course." She whispers. "I should let you go. Have fun here, I'm sure the twins have told you all about it." She gives me one last tight smile and walks back to Crowe, as Carter takes his leave. Crowe's arm immediately goes around her shoulder and pulls her close. She leans her head on his shoulder for support, looking on towards the memorial tree.
He murmurs soft words into her ear, which seems to relax her entire body. It's nice to see she can find solace in someone else amid such a shitty situation. He has her back, and that's all that matters. I make my way towards the dining hall and quickly gather a meal to go. My initial plan was to scope out the other students and see who I could pick out of the crowd. I'm too unsettled by Addison's weird interaction. I never knew why my mom and she split their friendship. I always assumed it was because they had grown apart over the years. I suppose I'll never find out why, at least not today. After Mags' death, I looked into her mother and new step-father. She always had pleasant relationships with both of them, but I never knew what went on behind closed doors. Then last August Crowe abruptly moved the both of them here, East Point Bluff, and never looked back.
I make my way back to my room with a bag of food from McDonald's. They serve fucking McDonalds in the dining hall. No wonder this school costs an arm and a leg to get into. They have a legit chain restaurant in their dining hall, among other gourmet foods. I make it back to my apartment and begin the lengthy process of setting my equipment up. I would need the weekend to get my computers and all my programs up and running and ready for surveillance. Because in a place full of sharks, I have to prepare myself for the worst. I don't want to be like Mag's and end up dead, but I sure as shit would find out who laid a finger on my best friend.
Hello sweet readers, remember if you're enjoying this story so far to like, comment, or you know, send me cookies? ❤❤
Also, I've said this on my other stories, but if you ever see a grammar or spelling mistake in this story, please point it out. Think of yourselves as my BETA readers, because I'm still continuing to learn as I write. You won't hurt my feelings.