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Authors: Kate Brian

Private 12 - Vanished (8 page)

BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
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As I walked up Main Street in Easton on Tuesday, my heart pounded harder than I would have thought possible. I swallowed hard when I saw the small pink-and-white placard hanging above the door of Sweet Nothings, one of the Billings Girls’ favorite boutiques. Kiran had shoplifted a few things from this place last year, out of sheer boredom rather than necessity, and she’d never gotten caught once. If I was going to get away with this, Sweet Nothings was the place to be. All I had to do was walk inside, slip something into my pocket and walk out again. I had even dressed up like a person who could actually afford to buy something in the town’s most expensive boutique, figuring it would help me feel more comfortable and less conspicuous. I wore the cashmere Dior sweater Kiran had given me last year, and my one pair of diamond earrings, a gift from Walt Whittaker before he had become Constance’s one and only. It was the perfect “I’ve got cash to burn” costume.

I could do this. I could.

I walked right up to the door of Sweet Nothings … and then turned around and kept walking.

As I hustled by, I caught the shop owner’s quizzical eye through the plate-glass window. I ducked my head guiltily. Dammit. Damn. It. Could I have done anything more conspicuous? What the hell was wrong with me? I hadn’t even entered the store yet and already I was on her radar. I yanked my phone out of my bag and pretended to answer it, pausing in full view of the shop owner.

There. See? I just stopped because I was getting a call and I didn’t want to be one of those annoying people who have loud cell
phone conversations in the middle of a tiny, exclusive shop. I just wanted to avoid irritating your upscale clientele. You should
give
me something for free just for being so damn considerate.

I turned my back to the window and breathed. Let her think I was gabbing away. I should have been sequestered in the library, working on the extra-credit project Mr. Barber had assigned me to make up for my D—yes, D—on yesterday’s test. I should have been stressed about my grades right now, not about fulfilling the sadistic requirements of the psycho who had kidnapped my best friend. But there was nothing I could do about it. This was my life. This was what I had to do. Noelle’s future depended on it.

“Okay. Right. Bye!” I said loudly into the phone. Then I pantomimed turning it off and shoved it back in my bag.

I am Angelina Jolie in
Mr. & Mrs. Smith, I told myself as I walked inside.
I am Sarah the superspy chick from
Chuck.
I am cool and gorgeous and wealthy and can get away with anything.

“Hey, Reed!”

My hand shot up to cover my heart. Ivy stood near the back of the shop, holding a red silk nightgown. Her dark hair was down around the shoulders of her white coat, and a rust-colored Birkin bag dangled from her forearm.
She
looked like she belonged in here.

But then … why
was
she here? She hadn’t mentioned anything about going shopping this afternoon. Wouldn’t a normal good friend have invited her good friend along?

Not that I’d invited her, but I had a reason. I was here to steal something.

The question was, did she already know that was why I was here? All the little hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as we faced off. Ivy couldn’t have something to do with this. Could she?

All of these thoughts passed through my mind in the space of about ten seconds. Ten heady seconds that left me feeling off kilter and completely played.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked, placing the hanger back on the rack. “Shopping for a hot date with my ex?”

I gulped against my dry throat. I wished she would stop bringing up Josh so often. As if I wasn’t tense enough already. But then, if her mission was to torture me …

My eyes darted to the woman behind the counter. She looked down her aquiline nose at me and sniffed, although her forehead was so overly botoxed her expression didn’t change one bit. Then she got back to hand-pricing a stack of cashmere sweaters piled up on the counter, her short, dark hair falling forward over her sharp cheekbones.

Ivy’s brow knit as she approached me. “I’m just kidding. You know I’m happy for you guys.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “God, you’ve been so serious lately. Is everything okay?”

Her eyes were warm and concerned and just like that, my suspicions died away, replaced by an overwhelming sense of guilt. Not every one of my friends was a psycho. Statistically speaking, I’d probably never have another psycho friend as long as I lived. Ariana and Sabine had already cornered the market.

“Yeah. Everything’s fine,” I replied, moving past her and
pretending to browse. I fingered a silky, green-and-white scarf and checked the price tag. Fifty bucks. Probably not “fabulously extravagant” enough to impress the kidnappers. “I’m just looking for a birthday present for my mom,” I lied, moving on to a rack of winter hats. It was the same story I’d given Double H’s secretary to get my pass off campus. Her birthday
was
actually coming up, so if the woman cared to check my story it would have added up.

“Oh, cool,” Ivy said. She walked back over to the lingerie rack, picked up the nightgown again, and smiled at me. “On second thought,” she said. “This is totally mine.”

She sidled around a cascading rack of cocktail dresses and headed for the counter. Even in all my conspicuousness and on-the-verge-of-peeing-in-my-pants tension, I couldn’t help wondering who she planned on wearing that nightgown for. Tattoo Guy? I watched from the corner of my eye as the shop owner slid the sweaters aside so she could ring up Ivy’s purchase and decided now was not the time to ponder Ivy’s love life. For the moment, the woman was distracted. This was my chance.

I turned around and found myself in the back alcove where the shoes were displayed. That was never going to work. I couldn’t exactly hide a pair of Uggs in my pockets. I heard the crinkle of tissue paper as the proprietor folded and wrapped Ivy’s nightgown. There was still time. I strode to the other side of the store where sunglasses and flip-flops and bathing suits dangled from silver hooks—everything the rich denizens of Easton might need for their winter getaways. I couldn’t exactly sport a bikini to class
tomorrow, but sunglasses … those were a possibility.

I reached for a pair of Gucci’s with the logo imprinted all along the sides. The tag read $350. I held my breath. Just slip them from the rack and into your pocket. One swift motion. My heart throbbed in my ears and my eyes stung. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Could not believe it.

But Kiran would have gotten away with ten pairs by now.

Do it, Reed!
I heard her say in my ear.
Do it! Do it now!

I was just slipping the glasses from the metal rack when Ivy came up behind me.

“Wow! Nice gift!” she said loudly.

I dropped my hand so fast it slammed into the rack and half a dozen pair of two-hundred-dollar-and-up sunglasses clattered to the floor. The woman behind the counter
tsk
ed under her breath, dropped her pen, and walked around to clean up the mess.

“I’m really sorry,” I stammered, backing up. My skin was so hot I was sure I was about to melt into a puddle on the floor. “I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine, dear,” she said, her words placating, but her tone unkind. “Happens all the time.”

I whipped around to face Ivy, sweat pricking the back of my neck. “You know what? I could really go for some coffee. Want to hit Starbucks?”

“Sure,” she said, lifting a shoulder. “Oh, but I actually have to get some cash.”

“Perfect!” I blurted.

“What?” she asked, completely baffled.

“You go hit the ATM and I’ll meet you there!” I said, my eyes wide. I sounded manic even to my own ears. “I’m just gonna look at a few more things.”

“Ooookay,” Ivy said, eyeing me skeptically. “But are you sure you want coffee? You’re kinda hyper already.”

The shop owner, still crouched on the floor, tried to hide a laugh.

“I’m sure. I’ll be there in five,” I said.

As Ivy left the shop, the little bell above the door tinkling behind her, I turned around and desperately surveyed the area. Chunky sweaters, distressed jeans, and faux-fur-collared coats stared back at me. Tears stung my eyes. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t do this. This was not me. I realized with a sudden sinking dread that I had failed. That the kidnapper had hit on the one thing I was not capable of doing.

But Noelle needed me. It was this one little infraction—this one middle-school dare—or her life. What the hell was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just do it?

The store owner stood up and smoothed her black skirt. “Can I help you find anything?” she asked, sounding like she’d rather wrestle a pack of hyenas. Her eyes narrowed as she looked me up and down.

She knew. She knew why I was there. What I was trying to do. Of course she did. I was acting so guilty I may as well have had the word scrawled across my forehead in bright red letters.

“I’m good, thanks,” I managed to say.

As she went back to the counter, I wandered over to the shoes again, just trying to regain my composure. There was a rack of half-off socks back there, and I grabbed the first pair I saw—thick, black, and gray striped ones, probably meant for cozy nights by the fire at the ski house in Vail. They were only ten bucks. I figured I’d at least buy something to throw the woman off my scent. Prove her suspicions wrong, even though they so weren’t.

“Hey, Mom!”

A pretty girl with jet-black curls stepped out of the storeroom at the back of the shoe section and strode right by me, up to the counter. She was about my age, but petite, with a lip piercing and a ton of eye shadow.

“Louise! There you are,” the woman said, exasperated. “Your break was over fifteen minutes ago.”

“Sorry. I was on the phone with Christine, and you know how
she gets,” Louise said, rolling her eyes. “Go ahead and grab dinner. I got this.”

Louise’s mom patted her on the shoulder. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”

Then she turned and walked toward the back room. As she passed me by, she gave me a long, admonishing look, but kept walking. Behind the counter, Louise popped a pair of ear buds in her ears, yanked a graphic novel out from under the counter, and leaned back against the wall to read.

Well. Things had just turned right around, hadn’t they?

Slowly, I walked up to the side of the counter, where a bevy of glittering necklaces were displayed on small, hanging racks. Louise looked up as I approached and gave me a quick smile, then returned to her reading. I lifted the tiny white price tag on the first necklace. It looked like something the new Lorna might wear. A string of delicate, white beads with every tenth bead replaced by a rhinestone-encrusted flower. The price was $250.

I glanced at Louise again. She was engrossed. Carefully, casually, I slid the necklace off the display, folded it around my hand, and then stuffed my hand into one of the thick, woolen socks. My palms were sweating profusely, and for a second the necklace stuck to my skin, but I wiggled my fingers and it fell free, nestled perfectly inside the pocket of wool.

“I’ll take these,” I said, dropping the socks on the counter.

Louise pulled one ear bud from her ear and glanced at the price tag. She keyed the numbers into the register and snapped her gum.

“That’ll be ten sixty,” she said.

I dove into my bag and fumbled out my wallet. She waited patiently while I extracted a ten and a single and shakily handed over the bills.

“You need a bag?” she asked, jamming down on a button. The cash register slid open with a clang.

“No!” I practically shouted. I plucked the socks off the counter and into my handbag, shoving them as far down as they would go. Louise looked at me like I’d just escaped from a mental asylum.

“Okay. You don’t
have
to take one,” she said a bit sarcastically.

I laughed. “Sorry. Too many Red Bulls today.”

She grinned and rolled her eyes. “I hear ya,” she said, sliding my forty cents across the counter. “Have a good one!”

Then she popped her ear bud back into her ear and picked up her book. That was it. Easy peasy. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. I grabbed my change, turned around, and made for the front of the store like I was running for the carousel at the state fair when I was a little kid. Pure and utter joy coursed through my veins. Not to mention this kind of euphoric, all-powerful feeling. I’d gotten away with it. I’d actually gotten away with it.

“Hey! Wait!” Louise shouted.

I froze with my hand on the door. My heart choked off all air supply. Across the street I could see Ivy sitting in the front window at Starbucks, sipping a coffee, waiting for me. Little did she know that if she was ever going to see me again, she was going to have to bail me out at the Easton police station.

I turned around to face my accuser.

“Here!” Louise said. “You forgot your receipt!”

She held out a tiny white scrap of paper.

“My mom freaks if I forget to give them out. There’s a special discount coupon at the bottom and she thinks it’s the holy grail of repeat business,” Louise said, shaking the receipt like she was offering a bone to a dog.

My brain was taking way too long to catch up. Somehow I managed to reach out and take the receipt, but my expression was completely confused.

“Mothers, huh?” I heard myself say.

“Can’t live with them, but they do pay for the pizza,” Louise joked back. “See ya.”

She sashayed back behind the counter and I turned around and shoved open the door. A gush of cold air hit me in the face, waking me from my stupor, and just like that, I was free. I crumpled the receipt and tossed it into a garbage can as I crossed the street to meet my friend.

Discount coupon or no discount coupon, there was no way I was ever stepping foot in that store again.

BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
3.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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