I left school that day adrenalized.
Tyler was sitting in the back of the school in his Volvo, the engine buzzing in the school parking lot. I hadn’t taken a ride from him since Samara died, but today the bus couldn’t possibly move fast enough. I didn’t know what I wanted more: to talk to Violet, run ten times around my neighborhood, drink twelve cups of coffee, go funeral dress shopping or take a nap.
Behind the school lot was the junior high, which had giant trees shooting up behind it, bright green leaves dripping down in front of it. The Volvo was the first in the line of cars--I suspected he got out of class early--must’ve been the first to finish an exam or something. I trampled down the steps of the school and opened the passenger side door. The radio set at his usual local classic rock at a barely-audible volume.
“Hey,” I huffed to him. “Thanks for waiting. No Violet today?”
There was no longer a way I could say “Violet” casually.
Tyler drummed his fingers on the steering wheel anxiously at the sound of her name, wheeling us forward through the afternoon traffic of campus. “She wasn’t here. Didn’t answer my texts.”
“Oh.” I set my backpack at my feet, buckling the seatbelt. “You haven’t talked to her lately?”
“Not since Friday afternoon when she came over. I wanted to see if she wanted to go to a poetry reading with me on Sunday, but she never got back to me.”
Because on Friday night she was all over her “ex,” Blake Lynch.
He narrowed his eyes and flipped on the A/C, inching around our high school behind what seemed like hundreds of cars. “Yeah. You know, I’ve been thinking that maybe it was the conversation she had with you about Samara that day that made her uncomfortable.”
I opened my mouth to lie an apology.
“I’m not blaming you, I just think she felt really bad about what she said. Violet can be a little tough sometimes, but you know she didn’t mean it that way, right? You understand that there had to be something...wrong with Samara to make her want to kill herself.”
I furrowed my brows, trying not to think about Violet’s argument that Samara didn’t even kill herself. And that she would never actually mistake her name as Samantha.
“Right, no, I get it. I was just...in shock that day. I wasn’t ready to hear that kind of stuff. I didn’t mean for her to...feel bad.”
We rounded into the village, joining a larger pool of traffic. I watched a jumble of athletes in my grade stride in a band together on the sidewalk, headed to the field a little farther down. The sun beat down on the sophisticated little village of King.
“So, how was school?” my brother chimed in. “Any tests today?”
I coughed. “Um, no. Most classes were, um, therapy sessions for the underclassmen, I think.” I sat on my hands. “Did the seniors learn anything?”
Tyler’s car began to make its way out of the traffic, matching the thirty-mile-per-hour speed limit flawlessly, just like he always managed. “We tried. I still had an English test last period. They’ve been shooting kids down to the guidance office like bullets. Wouldn’t want any distractions for the kids who are actually willing to keep things on track.”
“The school district is somewhat made of perfectionists, and so is everything else in this town, right? They hate disruption.”
“At least someone said it.”
Further from the village, the car rolled through the open road leading to Patapsco Ridge, the only sound between me and him was the radio that softly sang “Tiny Dancer.” After a few minutes, words squeezed out of my throat. “Do you know Blake Lynch?”
“Dirtbag on the football team that plays Violet every other month,” he answered like he was starring on Jeopardy. “Why?”
“No reason.” I glanced at the floor. “Does Violet have a younger sibling?”
“Um, not that I know of.”
“Is it true that her parents are dead? Does she live with her grandparents?”
Tyler squinted at me, shaking his head. “She doesn’t talk about her family much. I’ve never actually been inside her house. What’s with the third degree?”
“No, I don’t mean to sound that way. It’s just that now that you’re...dating her, I think it’s...weird that she’s so popular, but no one knows much about her. I’ve just come to...notice the rumors that I’ve heard over time. She’s such a mystery, but she’s so important. It’s like you’re the protagonist of a John Green book.” I elbowed him, praying to lighten the mood.
Tyler cracked a smile, only taking a moment to chuckle. “You’re right, she is a bit of a mystery. But I don’t think she’s ready to talk about the skeletons in her closet with me.”
We turned onto Patapsco Ridge.
My fingers intertwined, pure adrenaline inspiring me to speak now. “I mean, there’s even a rumor that she was related to Dana Farr.”
“Who’s Dana Farr?” He pulled into the driveway, looking at me. “Wait, isn’t that the girl who--”
I unbuckled my seatbelt, shoving the car door open. The Central Maryland heat rushed into my skin. “You know what? Never mind. I’m just being weird. A protective little sister, that’s all. It doesn’t matter.” I slammed the passenger door shut before he could even open his, rocketing inside the house.
Inside, I was greeted with the daily “what grades did you get back today” from my mother, responding with my latest Geometry practice test for the state exam a couple weeks away: 100. Grace Vanderson and I were neck and neck for first in our class--since Friday my plan had become letting her have it.
I know, I know: and you’re Tyler Otley’s sister?
One thing was for sure: I wasn’t going to be studying for Thursday’s History test tonight, I was going to be doing anything that included not using brain cells. I knew my grade would end up plummeting three points to hell and coming in second would get me shunned by my family, but I couldn’t care. Not right now.
I threw my backpack on the floor, kicked off my sneakers and hurried upstairs, wanting to shower. Wanting to think.
I shoved the door to my room open.
I jumped backward and squeaked, blinking hard. “What the hell?!”
Her stringy blonde hair was hanging beside her makeup-free face and she smiled plainly at me. She wore a sweatshirt that advertised the community college, grey oversized sweatpants baggy on her long stick legs. I would’ve barely recognized her if I hadn’t been obsessing over her double life for the past four days. “Hello Hayden. How was school?”
“What are you doing here? W-who let you in? W-w-we have...security cameras by our front door….” That was the only time I’d ever been proud to display that fact. “Privileged” didn’t even begin to explain my mother’s priorities.
She smirked. “No offense or anything, but your mom’s a bit of a dumbass. I stopped by about twenty minutes ago and asked her if Tyler was home yet and she said no, but that I could wait here for him. She was busy working in her office, so I told her that I needed to go, but I would show myself out. I kinda...went up here instead. I needed to talk to you anyway. You have a nice room, Hayden.”
She used her long finger to straighten a curled corner of my movie poster of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on the wall beside her then nodded at my bookshelf. “You have a great taste in YA, too. I hope you don’t mind, but I started reading your copy of Stuck In Neutral. I think I started reading that years ago, never finished it. I used to love to read in elementary school.”
I chortled bitterly, recalling her Spelling Bee win. “Yeah, I know.”
On my bed, Stuck in Neutral was split open, cover up.
I shook my head, trying to clear it and catch my breath. “Look, I’m sorry, but you have to leave.”
Violet walked to the other side of the room to sit on my bed. She crossed one leg over the other, studying the cover of the book. “This book is excellent. The author just writes so effortlessly in a point of view that no one can ever one-hundred percent understand. Shawn can’t even outwardly communicate, but he has so much to say over things that are...so relatable. I can’t decide if he’s angry or comical or proud, maybe he’s all of them. It’s a voice that I can hear talking to me inside my head.”
I nodded carefully.
Psychopath. Psychopath. Psychopath.
“People have more in common than they think. Some people look at me and think I live on a different planet, they’d never catch themselves rooting for me or knowing at all what I’m talking about, but they could.”
I slipped cautiously through the doorway and softly shut the door. “No one could relate to you...because of Dana?”
She peered at me. “What do you mean?”
“You’re saying that you think no one could understand the unexpected point of view. No one could get what it’s like to lose your little sister to an internet perv after spending most of your childhood without parents. And to be angry. Want to get back at that perv. If you were to write a book, that is. Right?”
Every muscle in my body tensed as I waited for a reaction. All that appeared was a twisted expression, like I’d slapped her across the face.
“What are you talking about?”
I closed my eyes. “You know what I’m talking about, Violet. I know--I know about Dana. And a-about what really happened to your parents, I think.”
She just stood there, backtracked.
Her eye twitched slightly. “Did you know that kids...in school...have been using Samara’s death as an excuse to get out of class? A lot of them didn’t even know her, but they’ll just go up to their teacher and tell them they need to spend the rest of the period in guidance. Blake texted me that today. Seniors, juniors, freshmen, even some sophomores.”
I nodded slowly, thinking about what Ashley and I had told Mrs. Redsmith today. “That’s really terrible.”
She moved away from my bed, her shoulders back. “Those kids are terrible. They need to be taught a lesson, don’t you think? Maybe they should know what it’s like to be forced to kill themselves.”
...to be forced…
“Um.” I watched her feet, preparing for her to lunge at me like she’d done Friday night. “I--guess--but they’re only teenagers. They’ll grow up someday.”
“But it’s not fair. Samara’s mom died. She had to grow up when she was barely fourteen. The others get to take their sweet time.”
“And you,” I added carefully, “you lost both of your parents before you hit elementary school. And your sister just when high school started. You had to grow up. That’s not fair.”
She broke eye contact. “I didn’t come here to talk about me.”
“But you have to.”
Since when does Violet Wren not want people to talk about her?
She gazed just before meeting my eyes, right past me. Her knees were bent awkwardly, as though she’d spent the past five minutes debating whether or not to launch out of here. Her voice was strained. “One thing I remember is my aunt taking me shopping when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen. She handed me a nice black shirt, laced in the front with...pretty flowers patterned into it…. I tried it on in the dressing room, it was a perfect fit. Studying myself in the mirror, the first thought I had was ‘Maybe I can wear this at the next funeral’.... It was the darkest thought I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t buy the shirt, I held my breath for the rest of the day and went home, locked myself in my room and cried.”
It was like Samara’s ghost fingers had brushed softly against my arm--thin, dead and cold.
A strange smile crossed Violet’s face as she focused away from me, disappeared. She snickered, annoyed. “This is stupid. I came here because I have...somewhat of a proposition for you.”
“Darius killed Samara,” she reminded me. “And I can prove it.” Before I could interject, she popped out her iPhone and opened the Facebook app, shoving it in my face. She touched the profile icon, and on the screen appeared Samara’s face. The image was filtered for the colors to contrast, making her eyes match the color of a space photo of Uranus. Her smile was tiny but visible, and the background was what I vaguely recognized as her bedroom.
“You’re--logged--into--her--Facebook?” I asked breathlessly, attempting to peel my eyes off the screen.
Her face was enough to kick me off track, gasping.
“She’s--dead.” I swallowed. “You’re logged into a dead girl’s Facebook?!” I straightened, smacking the phone out of her hand. It flew to the other side of the room. “Get off! Get off her Facebook! GET OFF OF SAMARA’S FACEBOOK RIGHT NOW. Get out of my house!” I leaped away from her, pulling the door open and tried to drive her out of it..
For being so bony, she was strong.
Violet slammed the door so that the bark echoed through the upstairs of my house. “Shhh!” she hissed. “Relax. I’m not playing Pretty Little Liars or anything. But there’s proof on here that she was talking to Darius the day she died.”
“Have you--have you lost it?! What do you want from me?! What is it going to take for you to leave me and my brother alone?!”
She sighed and shuffled across the carpet, stopping at my closed closet to study it. Played with her hair for a moment or two. Then looked gently in my direction, still tense at the door. “Come here.”
Carefully, I tiptoed next to her, glaring at the closet door, half-expecting Samara to jump out and lead us to Narnia.
She waited. “Open it. Don’t...freak out.”
I paused, hand in mid-air. Slowly, I grasped the knob and pulled it open.
A gun. It was a gun.
I hurried backward, staring bewilderedly at the handgun resting on my sock drawer inside my closet.
“What are you doing with that?”
Violet watched me, careful. “I took it from the shed. I think it’s what he used to make her kill herself.”
I closed my eyes, leaning against the frame of my bed. “Please just take it out of my closet. Please--I don’t want to know. I don’t want to read messages or steal any guns or solve any mysteries it doesn’t matter she’s dead either way just please. Please get out of my house. I don’t want that...touching anything.”
I pictured setting fire to the drawer as soon as she left.
“Hayden, you don’t understand. Vince Galen was on the news last night, talking about suicide awareness. Although Samara’s cause of death wasn’t put in the obituary or anything, he did say that she took pills. Darius must’ve had her at gunpoint. These messages prove that he wanted her dead. You have to read them, Hayden! This has to be the gun!”
“DARIUS BLECKER DIDN’T KILL HER! SAMARA KILLED HERSELF, SHE TOOK PILLS, SHE WAS PROBABLY DEPRESSED AFTER HER MOM DIED, YOU SAID IT YOURSELF! GET OFF HER FACEBOOK, TAKE THE GUN, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE OR I SWEAR I’LL CALL THE POLICE! GET OUT! NOW!” The words scraped out of my throat so that I could feel my face burn red. I was screaming, but I didn’t care if my family heard. Let them. Let them so that Violet could wear a straitjacket, like she was always meant to.
She didn’t even flinch, in fact, she stepped closer, a small smirk of confidence appearing on her face when she whispered to me, “The police, huh?”
I gulped, backing away as she moved forward. “Leave. God, just leave. Don’t involve me in anymore of this, and you won’t have to worry about that. Just--leave.”
“Oh, I’m not worried. Because if you go to the police--or anybody--let’s just say that you should be worried about Tyler.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What?”
Violet’s shoulders relaxed and she marched to the other side of the room to pick up her phone off the floor. “Did you hear about Samara’s wake on Friday? Her funeral on Saturday?”
“Yes,” I choked.
“Clear your schedule, okay?”
My eyes followed her as she straightened, headed toward my door, nodding to Darius Blecker’s gun hidden in the shadow of my closet. She pulled the door open and tiptoed out, taking one last glance over her shoulder. “I’m trusting you to keep that safe until then.”