Authors: Sharon Jones
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
‘I don’t understand how someone could kill her. How can people do that? Take a life?’
His chest rose and fell in a sigh. Eventually he said, ‘Poppy, what did you tell the police?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Before, when you went running off to tell the police about something.’
‘Just that the girl Beth was looking for was called Maya.’
‘You didn’t tell them you got it from me, did you?’
She looked up and his arms loosened their hold on her.
He shifted. ‘Nothing. Don’t worry.’
She pulled away.
‘It’s nothing, Poppy. It’s just I bought a consignment of oil that I suspect may have fallen off the back of a lorry. The last thing I need is the cops snooping around the van.’
‘I don’t normally do that kind of thing...but there was a guy and the offer was too good to refuse. Are you scandalised?’
She smiled, relieved. ‘No. Well, I am, but…it’s fine.’
‘But this thing with the dead girl? Leave it alone, Poppy.’ His voice was serious.
‘Don’t get involved.’
‘But I am involved.’
‘You know what I mean. Don’t ask too many questions. It’ll only bring trouble.’ For a second, she thought there was fear in his dark eyes. Catching her look of concern, he smiled. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to spoil the mood. I was supposed to be taking your mind off what happened, not bringing it all back.’ Tariq took her hand and pulled her towards the festival ground. ‘So come on, you were telling me about yourself before you dragged me into the woods to ravish me.’
‘You wish,’ Poppy snorted.
‘Actually, I think
were telling me about yourself. What were you doing before your dad left?’
‘I was at Manchester uni.’
‘That’s weird. That’s where I want to go. What were you doing?’
‘Second year Law.’
She stopped and stared at him. So much for thinking that he wasn’t into books. ‘Tariq – that’s like – you must have got at least three As!’
‘It’s no big deal.’
‘You’ve got to go back.’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ He nudged her arm. ‘So what do you want to do?’
‘Astrophysics.’ She saw Tariq’s lip curl. ‘Hey! What’s funny about that?’
‘Nothing. I don’t normally go for science nerds.’
‘Hey, I know what it is, you just wanna get close to that guy off the TV, don’t you?’
‘Oh come on! Physicist and rock star. Even if his band was crap, that’s a pretty intoxicating mixture.’
‘I want to go there because it’s a good department.’
‘If you say so.’
‘I do,’ she said, smiling despite herself.
Things, can only get better
,’ Tariq warbled quietly.
‘Hey!’ She pushed him off balance.
He giggled and caught hold of her. He smiled down at her and pushed a lock of hair away from her face. ‘That means I’m three years older than you. Does it bother you?’
For a moment she thought about going along with it. What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. But after how great he’d been, it felt worse than lying. ‘Umm, four actually. I’m just about to start A levels.’
Tariq bit his lip and wiggled his eyebrows. ‘Right. Poppy, you are sixteen, aren’t you?’
Tariq wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her so close that she could feel everything from the buckle of his belt pressing into her stomach to the ripple of abs against her chest and…
oh my God
…another part of him that was taut and ready for action. She felt jittery, light-headed and as if she wouldn’t ever be able to breathe again.
‘Just checking,’ Tariq muttered before kissing her and stealing every last molecule of oxygen from her lungs.
It was too hot. No matter how he lay, or how many windows he had open, it was way too hot to sleep. But, if he were honest, it wasn’t just the heat keeping him awake.
Michael rolled onto his back and stared at the dimpled ceiling. At the side of the bed, Dawkins was snoring.
‘Glad you can sleep,’ he muttered. Maybe he could have slept too, if his anger hadn’t morphed into guilt.
He shouldn’t have shouted at Poppy. She was his best friend and she’d had a crap day. But just recently not a day went by when she didn’t do something that got under his skin. She’d gone from being the girl who was up for anything, to the girl who was intent on finding any reason to be mad at him. And it hurt.
For a while he thought it was because she was jealous of the amount of time he spent with Julia, but he wasn’t convinced by that. But he’d done his best to keep up their usual routines even though it wasn’t easy when the two of them couldn’t be in the same room for more than ten seconds at a time without sniping at each other.
He screwed his eyes shut and rubbed his hands over his face, wiping away the sweat that had beaded on his forehead.
And now there was the girl in the lake. Poppy wouldn’t let it go. The girl was dead, but Poppy was acting like she could still save her. He’d seen it in her eyes – determination and desperation in equal measures. It was almost as if she felt guilty that she had survived nearly drowning and this girl hadn’t. Some weird form of survivor’s guilt? Maybe she was trying to save herself. Whatever the reason, she’d keep on about it until she got into trouble.
He sat up, flicked on his bedside lamp and grabbed his laptop.
Beside him, Dawkins grunted and shifted until his head was out of the light and firmly in the shadow of the bed.
He opened up Google and his fingers hovered over the keyboard. What the hell was he supposed to be looking for? He only knew the dead girl’s first name, although the police had said they were releasing her name to the press. He typed ‘Beth’, ‘dead’ and ‘Scariswater’ into the search box, pressed return and up it came – an article from one of the local papers about the death of Beth Trimble.
OK, so the girl she was looking for was Maya, according to Burger Boy. He tried to ignore the scratchy feeling in his spine when he thought about the guy taking an interest in his best friend, and typed in ‘Beth Trimble’, ‘missing person’ and ‘Maya.’
There were a couple of dead ends. Then he clicked on a link that took him to a missing persons’ site. The photograph that slowly appeared in the top right-hand corner took his breath away.
The girl was the spitting image of Poppy.
Same strawberry blonde hair, same smattering of freckles across her cheeks, only the nose was slightly more pointed, more sculpted than Poppy’s button nose. The eyes weren’t quite as big as Poppy’s, and they were blue rather than the golden coppery colour that he knew so well. The girl’s lips weren’t quite as full either. He’d always thought Poppy had nice lips. They were never cracked or pale like Julia’s sometimes were, but always red and...
He blinked away the thought. The point was, there she was: Maya Flynn, reported missing almost twelve months ago by Beth Trimble. And she and Poppy could be sisters. That was more than a bit weird.
There was a mobile number and an email address for Beth, and a message asking anyone who knew the whereabouts of Maya to please get in touch. Then underneath there was a message from Maya’s mum begging her to contact the police, just so she could know that her daughter was safe. There were no replies and no updates.
Maya was still missing. Beth was dead. And Poppy, the girl who didn’t know when to stop, was probably investigating at that very minute.
But what if she was right and Beth had been murdered? How long would it be until Poppy asked the right person the wrong question?
With any luck, Poppy was holed up with Burger Boy, snogging the greasy face off him...even if there was something suspect about the guy, and he was way too old for her.
Michael grabbed his mobile. He’d just send her a text on the off chance it would go through.
Poppy gasped awake.
Arms were holding her fast. They had her locked against the ground. Dead arms. Dead hands. And someone was laughing at her.
‘Get off me!’ she screamed.
‘Shush-shhhhh,’ a voice whispered. ‘You were dreaming, Pops.’
‘What?’ The arms released her and she rubbed her knuckles into her eyes, trying to clear the sleep from her vision. When she looked up again she saw the blurred outline of Mum.
Mum reached up a hand and smoothed down her hair. ‘OK now?’ she whispered.
Poppy swallowed against her dry throat and nodded.
‘Come and have a drink,’ Mum said.
‘What time is it?’
‘It’s about four.’
‘A.m.? Mum, just go back to bed. I’ll be fine.’
‘We’re doing a swap,’ a voice said from the open tent flap. In the torchlight she saw Jonathan clinging to the sleeping bag that was wrapped around his body. They hadn’t talked since their argument earlier that night, but he obviously hadn’t told Mum about it.
Mum’s hand on her back urged her up. ‘This is totally unnecessary.’
‘Oh, believe me, it’s necessary. If only to give me a break from a certain person’s snoring.’ She looked pointedly at Jonathan.
‘Hey! I can’t help it! It’s the fresh air – opens up the tubes.’
‘Please?’ Mum asked.
Poppy sighed. There was no getting out of it. ‘OK. Just tonight though.’
The sudden sound of a duck quacking made them all start.
‘What the heck’s that?’ Mum asked.
Poppy grabbed her phone. ‘A text. But I thought there was no signal round here.’
‘What were you dreaming about?’ Mum asked, as Poppy stood near the centre of the tipi, fiddling with her phone.
Poppy forgot about Mum’s question the second she realised the text was from Michael. ‘Aha!
Sorry about before
,’ she read, ‘
shouldn’t have lost my rag.
That’s weird, I don’t normally get a signal here.’
‘It’s been dropping in and out. I think it depends on the weather. Is it from Michael? Did you fight again?’
‘It was nothing. He’s just being a grouch at the moment.’
The tipi was alight with the soft glow of several candles, all safely contained in lanterns. Poppy collapsed onto a pile of cushions. Mum handed her a bottle of spring water, and she screwed off the top and gulped it back. On the other side of the tipi, Mum dripped essential oils from small glass bottles onto a battery-powered burner. After only a few seconds the perfume surrounded her. She closed her eyes and tried to work out what the oils were.
At a guess, she’d say frankincense. Good for nightmares – so that would make sense. But there was something else. Something sweet and heady. She wasn’t sure, but she thought that maybe it was ylang ylang.
‘Why ylang ylang?’ she asked.
‘It’s a good all-rounder. So nice they named it twice.’
Mum unrolled one of her treatment mats, threw a red chenille throw over it and motioned for Poppy to lie down on it.
She smiled and did as Mum asked. She lay on her stomach and rested her head on her crossed arms. Even through the thick mat, she could feel the unevenness of the ground. Someone had forgotten to scout the site for stones. Jonathan might be into all that
blokes running around naked in the wood
stuff, reclaiming their masculinity, but he had a lot to learn about camping.
Her hair was brushed away from her neck and then she felt the gentle pressure of Mum’s magic fingers on her neck.
‘Just as I thought,’ Mum said, ‘you’re full of knots. No wonder you were having nightmares.’
‘Did I wake you?’ Poppy asked, thinking about the half-dozen other bodies lying within a stone’s throw of her tent.
‘No. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about Beth – about how her parents must be feeling.’
‘And – well – Jonathan told me what happened.’
The knots in Poppy’s shoulders tightened again.
‘You know he wouldn’t disclose information about you. Especially not to a client.’
‘Kane’s a client?’
‘Yes. Has been on and off for years. I’ve got to say that I was surprised to hear you’d had your cards read.’
‘I was just curious.’
‘Did you get the answers you were looking for?’
Answers were in short supply. ‘More questions than answers.’
Mum’s hands slid down Poppy’s back, massaging away the tension tied up in her muscles. For a while neither of them spoke. Only the strange night-time sounds of the campsite broke the silence. The sound of footsteps stumbling between the canvas. The hoot of a tawny owl. The occasional peal of drunken laughter. And there were other human sounds, that in previous years Poppy would have rolled her eyes at; but now they turned her mind to Tariq.
He hadn’t done anything but kiss her, but for the first time in her life he’d made her think about doing...
Weird. She hadn’t thought about doing anything with anyone except Michael for a very long time.
As if her radar had picked up her thoughts, Mum asked, ‘How was your date? It was a date, wasn’t it?’
Poppy felt blood rush to her cheeks.
‘He’s a very good-looking young man,’ Mum continued. ‘I’m guessing he’s a bit older than you?’
Poppy rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow. Mum lay down next to her, mirroring her pose. ‘So?’ she encouraged.
‘Do you think I’m too young to...y’know?’
Mum’s face didn’t change; didn’t even flicker. She didn’t reply either.
‘I’m asking, Meg.’
need to decide that.’
think I’m too young. I can tell.’
Mum smiled. ‘Poppy, you have never once held back from doing something you wanted to do because someone asked you not to. So what would be the point in me asking you not to sleep with this boy? Am I to gather from this conversation that you’re thinking about it – about having sex?’
‘No, not really.’
‘Tariq really is very good-looking. I could quite fancy him myself.’
‘Ugh, gross! You’re just saying that to put me off!’
Mum laughed. She reached over and caught hold of one of Poppy’s auburn curls. ‘You know you’re the most passionate person I’ve ever known. Apart from your father.’
Poppy rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, thanks!’
‘Your dad’s a passionate man. That’s why he did what he did. He can’t do anything by halves and neither can you. It’s just not in your nature. So if now is the right time for you – and Tariq is the right person – then I can’t stop you. But I do have one question.’
Oh, here we go… ‘What?’
‘How will it affect things with Michael?’
Poppy felt like a rock had been dropped onto her stomach from a great height. She rolled onto her back and stared at the conical wall of the tipi. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
She didn’t know what to say.
‘Pops, your hormones may be screaming at you to sleep with Tariq. That’s normal for someone of your age. And if your heart is telling you the same thing then maybe you’re ready to take that step. But listen to your heart. If you don’t, it’ll be the thing that gets bruised along the way.’
Beth was floating on her back on a beautiful blue ocean. Her dark hair swayed about her like dancing black snakes. She splashed her hands, sending waves of white foam gliding towards Poppy, and laughed a full-throated laugh that wasn’t at all choked by the long pink and silver scarf wrapped around her neck.
Love’s a bitch that doesna let you go, Poppy!
When she woke this time, it was with a scream.
‘It’s OK, Poppy, wake up!’ Mum said.
‘The scarf!’ she gasped. ‘Mum, she had a scarf on when she was in the water.’
‘What? Pops, I don’t understand.’
‘When they pulled her out there was a pink scarf around her neck. It wasn’t hers. Beth wasn’t wearing a scarf. Someone must have put it there!’