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Authors: Kate Brian

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BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
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That night I sat at my desk, my laptop screen glowing in front of me, working on my paper for English class. At least, that’s what anyone who had walked into the room would have thought I was doing, what with all the books on Jane Austen’s life open around my laptop, and the title “A Day in the Life of Jane Austen” typed across the top of my Word document along with my name and the date. Really I was staring out the window at the stars, contemplating how completely screwed up my life was.

Noelle had been kidnapped and I was the only one who could save her. I was lying to my best friends about where she was and lying to the headmaster about her excuse for missing classes, which basically meant I was aiding and abetting the kidnappers because, thanks to me, no one even knew the girl was missing. Oh, and I had committed petty theft. At least I thought it was petty. At what price range did it stop being petty and start being grand? The very idea that I had to even ponder a question like that made me sick to my stomach. It made me wonder who the hell I had become.

Meanwhile, Josh, the one person who had always been there for me, and who was currently my rock in seriously choppy waters, had caught me getting intimate with not one, but two guys in four days.

I bet Jane Austen never had to deal with crap like this.

Suddenly, my phone beeped. My heart lurched into my throat. On the desk, my iPhone lit up with a new text. My fingers trembled as I reached for it. It read simply:

ASSIGNMENT NUMBER THREE: PISS OFF THE HEADMASTER.

I groaned and dropped the phone down again, beyond disgusted. I pressed my elbows into the open books on either side of my keyboard, and hung my head in my hands.

Piss off the headmaster? Steal something from Easton? What the hell did these tasks have to do with saving Noelle’s life? These kidnappers were insanely juvenile. I mean, didn’t they know they’d snatched one of the wealthiest teenagers in the country? Shouldn’t they have been, I don’t know, calling up Mr. Lange and demanding five million dollars in unmarked bills rather than leading me through a series of playground pranks?

Was I really going to let them do this to me?

No.

Surprised by a sudden surge of anger, I grabbed my phone, and hit reply. Standing up, I paced across my room as I texted back. My fingers were still trembling, but this time they were trembling with ire.

IF U WANT ME TO KEEP DOING THIS STUPID CRAP U NEED TO SEND ME PROOF THAT NOELLE IS ALIVE AND OK. NOW!!!!!

I hit send, held my breath, and waited. I paced to the door, pressed my forehead against the cool glass of my full-length mirror, and breathed, making a steam cloud just under my nose. I counted to ten before looking down at the phone. Nothing. I paced over to
the slim window looking out over the quad, pressed my forehead against that freezing cold glass and breathed another cloud. Once more, I counted to ten. Still nothing. I was just about to turn around and pace back, when my laptop pinged, indicating I had an e-mail.

I walked back over to my desk, my heart pounding in my ears, and brought up Internet Explorer. The message was from someone apparently named x7hrp8q. There was no subject, but there was an attachment.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I reached for the mouse pad, and clicked open the attachment. It was a video. At first, static filled the screen, but then, there she was. Noelle. The video was grainy, but it was her. She was tied to a metal chair, her hands behind her back. The chair sat in the center of a gray-walled room, with no other furniture in sight, and there was a fresh gash across her cheek. I gasped out loud and stepped back, my hand over my mouth.

“Reed,” Noelle said to the camera, her eyes wide. She glanced over her shoulder and leaned closer. As close as she could with her arms straining behind her. Her hair stuck to the drying blood on her cheek and there was something wild about the look in her eyes. Something I’d never seen before. “Whatever they’re telling you to do, just do it!” she hissed. “Please!”

And then, with a buzz, the video went black.

“Omigod,” I whispered, sitting down on my bed and curling my knees up under my chin. “Omigod, omigod, omigod.”

I hadn’t even begun to contemplate what it might all mean when there was a sudden peal of laughter in the next room. My
head popped up and I turned to look at the wall, as if I could see through to the other side.

That was Ivy. My friend. My confidant.

My best friend’s worst enemy. The ex of my current boyfriend.

Had my suspicions in Sweet Nothings been correct? Was there a reason Ivy had cracked up laughing two seconds after the video feed had gone blank?

Suddenly, my meager dinner revolted on me. Sweat bursting out along my hairline, I turned and sprinted through the door and into the bathroom. I just made it to the first stall before throwing up. When I was done, I flushed, sat back on the cold tile floor, and wiped my lips with a huge wad of toilet paper. I hung my head in my hands, heaving for breath, picturing Ivy alone in her room, laughing at me.

Was it possible, really possible, that I was being betrayed, played, and tortured by yet another “friend”?

When I really started to think about it, I realized that there are many, many ways to piss off a headmaster. From the mundane, like letting out a string of curses right in front of him, to the profane, like streaking across campus, to the blasphemous, like destroying some important historical Easton artifact. But I had a hunch that the cursing wouldn’t be big enough, that streaking might send me to the nurse with frostbite, and the destruction would be a tad redundant, seeing as I’d already been blamed (along with my friends) for the torching of Gwendolyn Hall.

So as Josh and I made our way from breakfast over to the chapel for morning services on Wednesday, I made my final decision. I would go with a fourth option: the ridiculous. I just hoped that in the next five minutes I could get up the guts to do it.

“I can’t believe they actually sent you a video of her,” Josh whispered, his hands in the pockets of his coat. His shoulder bumped mine every so often as we walked, keeping us close together without having to expose our already cold-chapped fingers to the elements. “You really couldn’t tell where she was?”

I shook my head, blinking as a sharp wind stung my eyes. Neither one of us had mentioned the incident with Sawyer, and I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t come up. That maybe Josh had thought about it and realized it was perfectly innocent and that his storming away had been an overreaction. I had to hope, because it wasn’t something I was capable of dealing with right now.

“The whole thing was about eight seconds long,” I replied. “And there was literally nothing in the background.”

Josh cursed under his breath. He sidestepped and ducked as Gage and a couple of the other guys went tearing by, tossing snow at one another. They weren’t even industrious enough to make snowballs. They were just grabbing up snow and flinging it.

“Who the hell is doing this?” Josh said through his teeth.

I swallowed hard, the lump that masqueraded as my heart these days felt dead and lifeless inside my chest.

“I have a feeling I know who it is,” I told him, glancing back over my shoulder. Ivy was walking at least twenty yards behind us, huddled together with Vienna, Tiffany, and Rose.

“You do? And you didn’t lead with that?” Josh asked, his eyebrows shooting up.

“Honestly, I just … don’t think you’re gonna like it,” I told him.

We came to the final bend in the path before reaching the front of the chapel. I tugged him toward a bench to get out of the way of the others, but didn’t sit, seeing as the surface was covered in ice and snow.

“Who is it?” he asked, ducking his head toward mine.

I watched over his shoulder until my friends had scurried past. Then I took a deep breath.

“I think it might be Ivy.”

Josh stepped back as if he’d been slapped. “What? Are you cracked? Why would Ivy do something like this?”

“Maybe to get back at us?” I said, lifting my shoulders. “I know she talks a big game, but, call me crazy, I don’t think she’s so psyched about you and me getting back together.”

Josh scoffed and reeled away from me like I was so nuts I didn’t
even merit an argument. With one long stride he was back on the pathway to the chapel and I was jogging to catch up.

“Josh, hear me out!” I said, grabbing his arm. “Ivy has
always
hated Noelle. And lately she’s been hanging out with some shady dude who has serial killer written all over him.”

“Come on, Reed. Ivy?” Josh whispered angrily. “I think I know her a little better than you do, and I
know
she could never do anything like this.”

His comment stung. Did he really need to remind me that he and Ivy had been so very close? Besides, he hadn’t seen all the things I’d seen. Like the fact that Ivy had been waiting in Sweet Nothings when I’d gone there to shoplift. Almost as if she
knew
what the assignment was and where I would go. As if she wanted to make sure I would complete it. Plus she was the one who’d made a point of telling everyone how much my new necklace was worth. And hadn’t she had her phone out that night in the chapel right before I’d gotten the text with my shoplifting assignment? It all added up.

“Oh, yeah? Well then try explaining to me why, last night, the second that video was done playing on my computer, I heard her laughing in the next room?”

Josh and I both fell silent as Mr. Barber and Mrs. Carr strode by us on their way into the chapel.

“Um, I don’t know. People laugh all the time for all kinds of reasons, Reed,” Josh said impatiently. “Ever hear of the word ‘coincidence’?”

Okay. Now he was being just plain rude.

“There are no coincidences,” I said, leveling him with a stare.

For a long moment he was silent, just gazing back into my eyes as if he was waiting for me to reveal the punch line.

“You know what? You need to tell someone about this,” he said finally. “An adult. Clearly you should not be dealing with this on your own. You’re starting to lose your grip.”

He turned abruptly and speed-walked up the steps to the chapel, twisting sideways to get past a couple of sophomore guys hanging out in the doorway.

“I don’t get you!” I yelled, chasing after him. “None of us thought Ariana was capable of killing Thomas. And Sabine? She was the nicest person on earth until she pulled a gun on me.”

He whirled around and I nearly slammed into his chest. “Yeah, and shot Ivy,” he said. “Ivy’s a victim, Reed, not a villain.”

“Or maybe the fact that she took a bullet because the guy she
was dating was trying to save
me
instead of
her
is just one more reason for her to hate us,” I hissed, more than a little aware of the fact that dozens of students and teachers were now well within earshot.

Josh’s eyes went cold. Dead, almost. He turned around without another word, trudged over to the senior guys’ section on the back left side of the chapel, and sat down. As I walked past him toward the junior girls’ area, he didn’t even glance in my direction. It was official. If he hadn’t been pissed off at me after the shirtless Upton incident and the Sawyer hug, he was now.

“Hey, Reed!” Lorna whispered, sliding closer to Kiki so I could sit down at the end of the pew next to her. “What was that all about? Josh does not look happy.”

“Trouble in paradise?” Missy Thurber sneered, turning around in her seat to look at us.

“No one was talking to you, Missy,” I snapped.

“Wow. You really are the queen bitch these days, aren’t you?” she replied before facing forward again.

“Everything’s fine with Josh,” I told Lorna quietly. “We’re just having a slight disagreement about what to do for Valentine’s Day.”

“Sometimes I think that holiday is more trouble than it’s worth,” Astrid groused from down the pew.

“Preaching to the choir, sister,” I replied.

I took a deep breath and tapped my foot impatiently as everyone around me whispered and did some last-minute cramming for quizzes or texted on their phones. I wished Double H would get this
party started already. I was in no mood to sit in this chapel any longer than I had to. For the first time, I wasn’t dreading one of the kidnapper’s tasks. I was definitely in the mood to blow off some steam.

“Good morning, everyone!” Headmaster Hathaway called out from the podium at the front of the chapel.

Instantly, everyone around me fell silent. My original plan had been to wait until Hathaway had launched into his usual slate of announcements about club meetings and alumni days and keeping the campus clean, but my impatience got the best of me. I jumped up, stepped into the aisle, and screamed at the top of my lungs.

“Snake!” I shouted, pointing at the floor, my eyes wide. “Snake! There’s a snake in the chapel!” Every single person in the room turned to gape at me.

“Reed! What’re you doing?” Lorna cried.

“There’s nothing there,” Astrid said.

“Miss Brennan, kindly take your seat,” Mr. Hathaway ordered, his words clipped.

“Snake!” I screamed again, edging around my imaginary reptile. My face was so hot I actually thought it might spontaneously burst into flame, but still I pressed on. “Snake! Everyone get out! There’s a snake in the chapel!”

BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
12.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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