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Authors: Jessie Rosen

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Laura was almost as surprised by the invite as she’d been to
see him in the newspaper office in the first place. Did he really want her
there? How would he handle any wrath from Amanda if she showed up? And more
importantly, why did he care enough to come all the way to the newspaper office
to invite her? Laura mentally thanked Ms. O’Malley for that well-timed English
assignment. It had clearly led to Charlie’s change of heart.

“Well,” she said, “I’m having dinner with my parents tonight.
We’ve all been craving sushi since we left California, so we’re going to try
out a place a few towns over. But maybe I’ll come after that. I’ll have to
think about it.”

“Well, I won’t be there until later anyway,” Charlie said. “We
have our first game this afternoon, and a big team dinner after that.”

“That’s right,” Laura said. “Is it a home game?”

“Yes, so please consider this an invite to that, too. Come to
that and the party. I’ll make sure no one gives you a hard time.”

Whether he was trying to win her over, or was just a good
guy in general, Laura believed him.

 “Going in a different direction with the article?”

Laura whipped around to find Becca in the doorway, two pizza
boxes in hand. “Hey, Sanders,” Becca said snottily, “shouldn’t you be signing
autographs before the game?” Her comment caught Charlie so off guard that he
didn’t even respond.

 “Sorry, Bec,” Laura said. “I found these articles in
my search for local rivers, and I got sort of wrapped up in it all.”

Becca just nodded. Laura could only assume Becca’s silence had
to do with Charlie’s presence in the room.

“I should get to the field,” Charlie said, getting up. “Maybe
I’ll see you later?”

“Maybe,” Laura said.

“Good,” Charlie replied as he walked out of the room. The
minute he was gone, Laura realized that she’d barely breathed the entire time
they were talking.

“Life can’t be that bad if the king of Englewood is into
you,” Becca said. Her tone was clearly mocking. Apparently even the kids who
didn’t care about being popular knew how it all worked.

“He was inviting me to this party,” Laura said, “but I don’t
know if I want to go. I get the feeling some of his friends wouldn’t be all
that thrilled to see me there.”

“Yeah, Amanda’s a bitch,” Becca said. “Rough breakup between
those two last year.” Laura laughed. Like a skilled reporter, Becca really did
have her finger on it all.

“Oh yeah?” Laura said. She instantly wanted to know more
about that juicy piece of gossip, and how Becca knew about it even though she
was younger. “What happened?”

“She said things were getting too serious and she needed her
space. He said she was too clingy and he needed to focus on soccer. But the
third version of the story’s my favorite.”

 “Okay. I’ll bite,” Laura said. “What’s the third
story?”

“Something to do with Sarah Castro-Tanner.”

“Sarah Castro-Tanner? How?”

“Don’t know. Amanda’s little doormat, Kit, was my tour guide
when I came to visit EHS as an eighth grader. I overheard her say something to
some girl in the bathroom that day I toured around. ‘If not for Sarah, Charlie
and Amanda would be together,’ she said.”

“That’s weird. Charlie said he barely knew Sarah.”

“And according to what I’ve heard, that’s true.”

“So then how did Sarah break Charlie and Amanda up?”

“Never managed to figure that out,” Becca said, pulling out
a slice of pizza from one of the boxes and biting into it. “But now that you
two are friendly, maybe you can crack the case.”

 

 

Charlie

 

Charlie walked out of the school
newspaper office wondering what exactly he had just done, and why.

Why did he perk up when he heard Laura was working for the
newspaper? What compelled him to ask around about where their office was
located? And how could he have risked being late for the game just to walk
himself down there and say hello?

Of course Jeff’s party was on his mind the entire time, and
the minute he saw the outline of Laura’s face against the glow of her computer
screen, he knew he was going to invite her to come. What shocked Charlie is
that he’d invited her even after their awkward conversation about Sarah.

It wasn’t that Laura somehow knew about Sarah Castro-Tanner—Charlie
figured someone had told her, considering it was all anyone was talking about
at the beginning of the week—it just weirded him out how bluntly she
brought it up. He wanted to believe that he was just being paranoid, but it
felt like she’d said it to test his reaction. He could tell he definitely did not
intimidate Laura, and what Charlie hated more than everything else was how much
that turned him on. There was a distance between Charlie and most girls who
could only see him as the Englewood poster boy he played most hours of the day.
Laura didn’t seem to care about all that, which was exactly why Charlie found
her so attractive.

 

* * *

 

Charlie tried to keep his mind off his
conversation with Laura as he ran laps to warm up, but couldn’t stop replaying her
words:
“It seems like there are so many questions that were never answered.”

Charlie shook his head, snapping himself out of his spinning
mind. Of course Laura had questions about Sarah, the girl everyone was
whispering about behind her back. Of course she would do some Google-stalking
to understand what had happened. It didn’t mean that she would go any further
than that, and even if she did, the case was closed. Sarah committed suicide.
There was nothing else to uncover, and even if there was, some new girl from
Los Angeles certainly wasn’t going to be the one to dig it up, especially now
that Charlie would be keeping his eye on her.

And yet Charlie couldn’t keep the computer screen image of
Sarah out of his mind. He kept thinking back to the very first time he saw the
photo, when all the news came out about her death. Even now, he could barely
remember her beyond that image, which was locked in his mind. When reports
surfaced that she had been an Englewood resident since kindergarten, he was
shocked. They had been classmates for years, and he only had one memory of the
quiet, strange girl.

It was in Mrs. Berenson’s seventh-grade class. He and Sarah
had been tasked with figuring out how to transport liquid in as small a
container as possible. It was part of a “Project Mars” program the school was
trying out that year.

Charlie remembered sitting with her on the floor of Mrs. B’s
classroom, a giant bucket of water in front of them. He remembered being
annoyed by the idea of having to work with Sarah.

“I think we should make a long, flat cup so it fits easily
inside the cooler,” he’d said. “What do you think?”

“No,” was all Sarah said.

“Well, do you have a better idea?”

“I will,” she said. Apparently she wasn’t interested in
brainstorming together.

After a few moments of silence, Sarah looked up. “Ziploc
bag,” she said.

Charlie didn’t need to ask her what she meant. He was smart
enough to know that she was absolutely right. The most malleable container for
any liquid would be a bag.

“That’s a great idea,” he’d said. To this day, Charlie could
count his run-ins with Sarah on one hand, but he could still feel the warmth of
the smile she’d given him that afternoon. It was like he was the first person
to ever tell her that she’d had a good idea.

Charlie shook his head to erase the memory. He had to
remember that Sarah was a freak—an unstable, mentally ill freak.

 

* * *

 

“Okay! Circle up!” Coach Stanley called
from the sidelines. Charlie raced over to join his teammates. It was time to
lock in and focus.

The EHS cheering section was already in place on the
bleachers just behind the team bench. There were at least two hundred people
between students, parents, and local fans that worshipped the team. They
cheered as the boys made their way into the huddle. Charlie clasped his hands
together and gave them a shake over his head—the athlete’s thank-you.
Among the faces, he spotted three of the kids he’d coached over the summer sitting
with their parents; Mr. Chapman, the old man from his building who played
soccer in his day; Kit, with a glitter-painted sign for Miller; and Mr. Hunter,
who was sitting with Coach Stanley’s wife, just like always. He didn’t bother
looking for his mom, who would just be waking up from her day of sleep, and he
certainly didn’t expect to see Amanda. Amanda never stepped foot on the soccer
field. She claimed that it was because she didn’t want to be
that
girlfriend;
they were independent people, and she had her own after-school activities. But
Charlie knew the truth, and he certainly didn’t have the heart to ask her to
reconsider.

 “This is it, boys,” Coach said as they came together.
“You’ve done the prep. You know the game. You know this opponent. And you know
there’s no such thing as a scrimmage. Every meet counts. Now let’s have your
captain kick this season off right!”

The guys threw their hands into the middle of the circle. “E-H-S
BEST!” Charlie cried. “E-H-S BEST!” the team echoed.

For the next ninety minutes, Charlie was free. He flew
around the field like the game was a map he could already see in his mind.
Within three minutes he scored the first goal, and seven minutes later he
assisted Miller on the second. The Teaneck High guys were tough, but when
Charlie was playing his hardest, he was unstoppable. By the time the first half
was over, he was racing around the field celebrating his first hat trick of the
season.
Nothing feels better than a post-goal victory lap
, Charlie
thought as he looped around to meet his team for halftime. He could tell how
pleased Coach was with his performance, which only made matters better. Coach
controlled the recruits’ outreach, and he had incredibly high standards.

 But as Charlie did a quick fly past the stands to
thank the crowd, another thought crossed his mind:
I wish Laura were seeing
all of this.
Suddenly all the ease he felt was gone.

 

 

Sasha

 

Dinner at seven o’clock tonight, home. All of us.

 

Sasha couldn’t remember the last time she got a text from her
mom, let alone an invitation to dinner as a family. Something had to be wrong.

Her parents had never been the warm-and-fuzzy types. They
were both geniuses with a huge passion for their work—his Alzheimer’s
detection research and hers metal-based sculpture—but their work smarts
did not translate to parenting skills, as far as Sasha was concerned. They
loved her, but they didn’t know how to relate to a teenager or middle schooler,
or even a toddler for that matter. Sasha could understand. She had more than a
little bit of that loner gene in her, plus she was grateful for whatever of
their smarts had trickled down into her own passions. She also appreciated the
fact that they were rarely paying attention to what she was doing…or so she
thought.

The minute she saw Chinese takeout on the table—her
favorite—Sasha realized she was being buttered up for a tricky
conversation ahead.

“Listen. You’re too smart for games,” her father said before
she’d even finished piling the chicken lo mein on her plate. “We want to talk
to you about how much time you’re spending alone in your room these days.”

There it was—the real reason for this “family time.” If
only Sasha could have enjoyed a few bites before the gauntlet came down.

“How do you guys know?” she said. “You’re never around.” The
combative teenager approach felt right at the moment. Besides, it was true.

“I know,” her mom said, “but we want to work on that, too.”
Apparently two could play at this game.

“I’m just doing my homework,” she offered. “Sophomore year
is way harder than freshman year.”

“You don’t have to lie to us,” her mom said. “Your homework
isn’t hard for you. You’ve been doing high school-level work for years. Is
something going on? Are you upset about something?”

With that, Sasha understood the point of this meal. Her
parents wanted to make sure she wasn’t turning into one of
those
kids—the
ones who shut themselves in their rooms for months before doing something truly
stupid. They were concerned that she was going to hurt herself or someone else.
For a moment, Sasha was touched by the worry, but the last thing she needed
right now was eyes on her every move. She needed to use this as an opportunity
to get the exact opposite: even more freedom.

“Yeah,” she said, looking down at her plate to feign upset.
“I’m feeling really trapped here lately. I don’t have any friends at school,
and since I can’t drive and you’re never home, I can’t go anywhere.”

Her parents conferred with a look.

“Okay,” Dad said, “so where will you go if we find you a way
to get out of the house?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe just the library or to a
park to run for some exercise.” They didn’t seem to like those ideas based on
their expressions. “Or, I could maybe get a job?”

At that, her mom raised an eyebrow and her dad nodded.
Bingo
.

“High schoolers who work are far less likely to fall into
the wrong crowd,” her dad commented, as if quoting some article in one of his
medical journals.

“What will you do?” her mom asked.

The real answer?
Snoop Englewood High School from as many
spots as possible
.

“I’m not sure,” Sasha said. “I’ll have to find someone
willing to hire me since I’m under sixteen.”

“Babysitting,” her dad said, again as if he’d read it in
some book.

“Sure, babysitting,” Sasha parroted back.

 “Okay. Glad we had this talk,” he said. “Let’s say
that you can take the local bus within a ten-mile radius so long as you’re home
by…what? Ten o’clock?”

“Yes, ten,” her mom responded. “That’s as late as most
weeknight babysitting jobs should go anyway.”

“Okay,” Sasha said. “Cool. There’s a site I can use to
search for people looking for help.”

As she spoke those words, a light bulb went off in Sasha’s
head that made it almost impossible to hold back the massive smile threatening
to creep onto her face.

“Thanks, you guys,” Sasha said instead, and she really,
truly meant it.

BOOK: Dead Ringer
3.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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