“You can’t do that.” I held my sweaty palms against my knees, glaring at the others. Waiting for them to have minds of their own, to help me. “You can’t do that” as in she physically couldn’t. She was only Violet Wren. She couldn’t. I winced and shoved the truck door open.
Air air air
I fit my head outside the window, capturing the mild June breeze until Gavin’s voice railed against mine. “What did you just say?”
Violet’s reaction was nonexistent. “I said that I will kill Tyler if Hayden doesn’t kill Darius Blecker with me.”
“You can’t--” I couldn’t help but begin again. A shiver crawled over the back of my neck. “Did anybody else hear what she just said?” I shouted, shaking it off. “You can’t just threaten my brother’s life like that!”
Or what? I knew she’d challenge me. What are you going to do?
“I’ll call the police,” I answered my own question before Violet batted an eye. I picked at a hangnail, not caring if I ripped an entire layer of skin off and dripped blood all over Gavin’s new truck.
She pushed hair out of her eyes casually. “Yeah, I know. Your parents are a big deal. You can ruin my life. Guess what? My life’s already ruined. I just need you to do this for me. If not me, then Tyler. If not him, Samara. I showed you the messages between her and ‘Ryan Johnson.’ Blecker’s a creep. He deserves to die. He killed two teenage girls.”
Deserves to die.
I pulled the door shut and combed for truth in her eyes. Wide, green, and determined--it was definitely there--but…
What the hell am I even thinking?
Stop. Stop stop stop stop. I needed to go back home. Get some homework done. Text my friends. Read a book. Watch TV. Whatever. Not be here.
I turned away from her. “No--no. If you want him dead so badly, you do it.”
Ashley scooted back from the passenger seat panting. “Guys--we shouldn’t be talking like this. It’s not right. Vi, if you think Darius killed Dana and Samara, go to the police. Please don’t take matters into your own hands. Y-you guys can’t--”
“I’m not!” I shrieked. I busted the door ajar and hopped down from the truck, steadying myself on dead grass while eyeing Violet. “Do not touch my brother. You need help.”
Hopped out and ran like hell--diving into the humidity and away from that goddamned truck. I snipped through neighbors’ perfectly trimmed yards, avoiding any dirty looks that collected out of the corner of my eye.
I swear, the moment I heard the announcement Friday morning I entered some sort of parallel universe made solidly out of the stages of grief. I remembered when my grandfather died three years ago and my fairytale-minded mother found it imperative to explain the correct way to deal with the loss to Tyler and me. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. I was in denial for about a week, according to her.
I would forever be bargaining, at least until I left this town and never came back, freed from Violet Wren and freed from the whispers of King and the title that was “Otley.”
My house towered above me as I slowed on the front porch and peeked inside the delicate front window, checking if anyone noticed I was gone. The dark, empty view of the front entrance and the kitchen told me otherwise, so I twisted the doorknob and jogged inside, knowing the possibility of Gavin’s truck creeping behind me and ignoring it.
The air conditioning coursed through my body, sending a shiver. I kicked my sneakers off at the staircase and dead bolted the door. Squeezed my eyes shut and collapsed on the bottom stair, gasping over the din of his name in my head until the whole idea seemed fictional.
Darius Blecker. Darius Blecker. Darius Blecker.
I couldn’t do what Violet had commanded. I couldn’t. I was a human being, I was in my right mind, I was not in position to sentence this man to his death.
Frankly, neither was she.
…and the beautiful eyes that only a ghost would have. The scar that sawed through his face from when someone else tried to resist him--and failed.
I couldn’t kill a man even if I tried. I was barely five-five with practically no muscular build and no athletic ability aside from accompanying my mother at the gym every once in awhile, running the elliptical machine at medium pace for forty-five minutes max. I was a weak little girl, I realized when the doorbell chimed, snapping me to my feet.
I stared at the door, still, feeling the blood drain from my face.
I won’t try to kill him won’t won’t won’t will not will NOT LEAVE ME ALONE
“Hey, let us in!” a heavy, deep voice barked from the other side. Yellow sunlight glistened in my face out the window, and I watched a muscular fist shoot past it to strike the door. “Let us in, she left!”Gavin.
“Hayden! Come on!” Ashley screeched, muffled.
My shoulders loosened and I pulled the door open, bullying my face relaxed. I squinted when the sun touched my eyes. “What?” I surfed between their expressions, Ashley and Gavin side by side with Blake a step or two behind.
“She...had parked her Ford in the bushes. We have to follow her before she kills that guy. Come on, get out here.” Behind him, Gavin’s truck sat in my driveway, engine steaming. And two days ago he would’ve rather amputated all his limbs than talk to me.
Ashley reached forward and pulled my arm and I yanked it away. “No,” I spat instinctively. “No, I want nothing to do with this. She’s...she’s crazy.” I pointed to the end of my street, as though Violet would still be there.
Ashley rolled her eyes, adjusting her purse on her shoulder. “No, come on. She could just go completely psycho right now and kill that dude who she thinks killed her sister. Darius? I mean, I didn’t even know she had a sister until, like, yesterday. Like, hello, welcome to the Twilight Zone. She just said she wanted to kill your brother. Is that, um, like, okay with you?”
“No! I just--I can’t--” Coward. I sighed, checking over my shoulder. Assuming my parents were occupied with work and Tyler was doing homework, I stepped onto the porch, joining them. “Where are we headed?”
When we moved to the driveway, Gavin climbed in the driver’s seat, the car already blaring the latest annoying hits. I took that as a cue to the backseat as Blake headed to shotgun. Ashley raced to his side and shoved him hard and he only stepped a foot backward, unaffected. “Oh, no you don’t,” she declared, squeezing in beside Gavin when he offered an adorable, goofy smirk, chortling as he went in back.
I looked away and slammed the door shut, giggling to myself.
Blake opened the door and plopped on my other side, grinning at me. “Looks like I lost to the girlfriend.”
“Guess so,” I agreed, willing myself not to blush. “That’s okay. The backseat’s always a party.”
He laughed and sat back.
I so wished he talked more than the little I could.
Gavin rolled us down the street and Ashley began directing him from shotgun, examining the view from the windshield. “Okay, so I think I saw her car go down that way and to the right. To the highway? Do you remember what way we went the other night when we were going to that shed?”
“You think she went back there?” Gavin asked, gripping the steering wheel.
“Maybe she’s going home. It’s the same route until we pass the bridge from the other side,” Blake suggested, leaning forward between them.
Ashley scoffed bitterly. “What’s home? Grandma and the whack job?”
“What’s wrong with her grandfather?” I caught as we zoomed down the highway over a motivating “Cheap Thrills” through the radio. “Does he have dementia?”
She rolled her eyes. “Some combination of that and a shit ton of vodka.”
“He’s an alcoholic?” I pestered curiously.
“I would be,” Blake admitted. “They’re her father’s parents. Imagine losing your son and his wife, then your thirteen-year-old granddaughter. God knows what he’s been through in between. Her grandmother puts up with it. A freaking saint, huh?”
I nodded slowly, grateful that he’d told me more than ten words at once. “So...Dana’s really her sister.”
“Confirmed,” Gavin said, adjusting the A/C so that it felt like I’d had a layer of skin ripped off.
“Does anyone see her car?” Ashley asked us, gazing over Gavin’s head out his window.
I glanced outside, plucking through each car that surrounded us. Searching for Violet’s cherry-colored Ford. The grass looked duller now than when Tyler had driven me home, despite how much it’d been raining over the past few days. Weeds weaved through each green stem beside the road. I shook my head.
“Maybe we should go to her house anyway. Ask about Dana. Her grandma’s really sweet,” she suggested, kicking off her flip flops and resting her bare feet on the dashboard to display her shiny red pedicure.
“Oh yeah, that’ll go over well. ‘Hey, lady, tell us about your dead granddaughter. Bake some cookies while you’re at it.’” Gavin snickered, petting his hair gel, keeping one hand on the wheel.
Ashley groaned and pulled mascara out of her purse, stroking it onto her lashes while eyeing herself in a mini mirror. “Sometimes I wonder if your IQ is decreasing as we get closer to graduating, babe. We won’t bring it up like that, obviously. We can tell her that Violet’s been...worrying us ever since Samara Galen died. Ask if she knows why.”
“I’m pretty sure our ‘worries’ about Violet won’t get her telling us her deep dark secrets.”
“Or we can just be direct with her.” Blake interrupted, saving them from another one of their weekly break-ups. “We’ll just say that we found out about Dana after, I don’t know, Violet was upset today and let it slip. We were worried so we came to ask her for details. Not rocket science, guys.”
Gavin swallowed and shook his head. “I don’t even remember how to get to her house. We always hang out at Ash’s. I haven’t been there since, what, freshman year?”
Blake sniggered. “Well, a mini nursing home isn’t exactly the place to throw drinking parties.”
“Genius! ‘Never have I ever’ gotten a grey hair? Or Flip Cup--pill bottle style? Everyone would be wasted within five minutes.” He threw his head back guffawing and smacked the steering wheel happily.
Blake chuckled under his breath. “You are such an ass.”
Under Ashley’s direction we took the exit over and followed a deserted backroad to Violet’s house. The lump in my throat lingered She told me she would kill my brother if I didn’t kill a man who was three times my age and a murderer himself and I was sitting on my hands. Involving the police was the obvious solution, but where would that land her? Dana would’ve been my age if she were alive today. Violet never deserved any of this.
But Darius Blecker deserved to die.
Stop, I reminded myself again. Why did I care whether that man was living or dead?
Bingo! I didn’t.
Violet’s house was a small off-white structure that stood on a tiny hill, enveloped in a wrap-around porch. Half-dead trees towered behind it, stretching miles beyond, probably cozying around their next door neighbor’s house as well, what had to be a half mile up the road. The softness of the green highlighted bright pink hang plants that I guessed were cared for by her grandmother. The house seemed perfect for an elderly couple--just nothing like Violet Wren. The truck slithered upon a winding unnamed road, up the seemingly endless driveway that contained no cherry Ford.
My stomach leaped.
Gazing out the window like an overwhelmed tourist, I wondered if Violet had ever strung Tyler along this road in their month-long relationship, and if she ever told him half the truth of what her family was really like.
Of course she didn’t. She was using him this past month to shove her past down my throat.
Gavin put us in park, pushing out of the truck and the rest of us followed him. Ashley led us to the doorway with Blake at a matched pace beside her, probably ready to turn on his blue-eyed charm and bring up Dana in the most hypnotic way possible. His legs stomped effortlessly across each complicated branch that webbed through the yard, and Gavin mirrored his walk while Ashley’s designer flip flops clacked on the ground uncomfortably. I pedalled along hopelessly.
Halting at the doorbell, Ashley’s frantic eyes swept through each of ours, hissing a game plan. “Okay, so I’ll, like, play it nice and ask if Violet’s around. Obviously, she isn’t. So we can just tell her we’re concerned or something. Hopefully she’ll start talking, I mean, old people are easy to get stuff out of because they’re, like, lonely or something. Remember, Wren. Rose and Thomas Wren. Okay?”
Gavin, Blake and I nodded, obeying.
Ashley balled her hand into a fist, preparing to strike the faded red door. The knob jolted and I stepped backward in sync with her as a man who couldn’t have been three inches taller than me swung the door open, squinting at each of our faces. “What can I help you with?” he grunted, random pieces of his salty white hair sticking out of place.
I instantly recognized him from the article I’d read with Ashley today.
Ashley blinked and soothed her hair as though he would pull it. Her shoes creaked the wood we stood on. “H-hi, Mr. Wren. Remember me? Ashley Reed. Violet’s friend.”
Thomas Wren’s face was webbed with wrinkles, and when he walked forward to examine Ashley further, searching for recognition, a sharp, sour scent touched my nose, causing me to trip backward. “Hmm…” he said, his blue eyes washed into a dull grey. “Hmm. Last time I saw you, you were this big!” His trembling hands flew in her face, displaying a tiny space in between his thumb and his index finger. “How’s your grandpa, kid? Haven’t gone fishing with him in months.”
Her lips cracked into a hurt smile, subtly tiptoeing away from him. “Yeah, he’s...um, great.”
“Have ’im give me a call. The wife hasn’t let me out of the house in eons.”
Ashley broke eye contact. “Er, sure. No problem.” She gulped, the sparkles on her eyeshadow especially noticeable as she cast her gaze downward. She cleared her throat, slowly getting her footing back. “Is Mrs. Wren home? I think I forgot to give her a dish back from when she baked my family a casserole last month.”
It was a smooth, reasonable lie, an easy one that I’d probably never pull off--if I’d be able to talk to these people at all.
Deserves to die.
I shuddered, driving my eyes into Thomas’s. Focus.
A tiny old lady--couldn’t be past five feet tall--made her way in Thomas’s path, showing off yellow-brownish teeth as she beamed at us, swatting Thomas away. “Tommy, do me a favor and check the listings for tonight. See if there’s a fun program we can watch. I’ll be right in.”
“Ashley, Gavin, Blake--so great to see you kids! How’s the end of junior year treating you?” She patted the apron that tied around her gaunt waist, squeezing it around her wrinkled hands.
Blake painted on a polite grin, shoving his hands into his gym short pockets. “Ah, lots of work, but it’s going pretty well. We’ve already been touring some schools.”
Rose nodded understandingly, her white hair in puffy curls. She paused to smile at me--and I could almost see an aged version of a Violet smirk. “I don’t believe I’ve met you before. Are you a new friend of Violet’s?”
My face fell into a grin and I extended my hand out to her, she jiggled it gently. “You can say that.”--internal wince--“I’m Hayden.”
“Nice to meet you, Hayden. I’m Violet’s grandmother, Rose.” When I exchanged her beam, she straightened her apron and shook her head. “I’m sorry, I’m so rude. Violet’s...not home, but you kids drove so far--come inside. I have some popsicles left over from last night. You must be dying out here in this heat.” She stepped out of the way and gestured us onto the welcome mat.
I let Ashley and Gavin in front of me, and Blake glanced down at me once they walked further away. I looked up at him, trying to continue my heartbeat regardless of the fact that his eyes glowing in front of the sunlight physically made me dizzy.
“If I show you something inside, you can’t tell any of them, okay?”
I blinked stupidly. “Sure.”
Blake shrugged, grinning. “And you’d probably be interested to know that Ashley’s grandfather died of Parkinson’s Disease. It was 2013, the same year Dana was killed, so he must think she’s still alive.”