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Authors: Kristina McBride

The Tension of Opposites

BOOK: The Tension of Opposites
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EGMONT

We bring stories to life

First published by Egmont USA, 2010

443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

New York, NY 10016

Copyright © Kristina McBride Purnhagen, 2010

All rights reserved

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

www.egmontusa.com

www.kristinamcbride.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McBride, Kristina.

The tension of opposites / Kristina McBride. — 1st ed.

p. cm.

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Tessa, a budding photographer, has been living in suspended animation since her best friend was kidnapped at the age of fourteen, and when she suddenly returns, both of them, along with the people they love, must deal with the emotional aftermath of the terrible ordeal.

ISBN 978-1-60684-085-6

[1. Kidnapping—Fiction. 2. Emotional problems—Fiction. 3. Interpersonal relations— Fiction. 4. Photography—Fiction. 5. High schools—Fiction. 6. Schools—Fiction.] I.

Title.

PZ7.M1223Te 2010

[Fic]—dc22

2010009447

eBook ISBN 978-1-60684-291-1

Book design by Greg Stadnyk

Printed in the United States of America

CPSIA tracking label information:

Random House Production • 1745 Broadway • New York, NY 10019

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

To my loving husband, Eric, for helping

me make my dreams come true.

Love.

Always.

Thursday,

September 3

1

A Rock-and-Roll Return

“You're taller than me,” I said as I approached the thin figure standing in front of the green bench. A few hundred feet away, several kids playing soccer screamed, “Goaaal!” shattering the first moment of our reunion. Shaded by the leafy arms of the sweet gum tree, Coop turned to watch the boys jump in the air. I caught only a flash, but it was enough. His eyes reminded me of her.

I gently placed my oversize purse on the bench and stepped toward him. My eyes locked on his. “I'm surprised you called, Pooper.”

“Hey, none of that.” He chuckled. “It's
Cooper
.”

My hand flew to my throat. “I can't get over your voice.”

He smiled. Tilted his head so his bangs hung down the side of his face. “It'll happen.”

I leaned forward and pulled him into a hug, squeezing a little too tight, smelling the familiar scent of the Pendeltons' fabric softener. As I pulled away, I noticed the freckles on his cheeks, darkened by the sun, and, in spite of his square shoulders, caught a flash of a boy I'd once known very well.

In the last two years, I'd seen him only on anniversaries, in the midst of large groups of people. I couldn't ever get close enough to talk. Not that I'd have had any idea what to say. And now, surrounded by the vast openness of our neighborhood park, with nothing between us, it was time for me to figure it out. Fast.

“Starting high school next week, aren't you?” I smiled but figured it came off a little weird, because he flinched.

He nodded. “You'll have to fill me in on everything, you being a mature sophomore and all.”

I pressed my lips together, not wanting to tell him how it really was for me. That Tessa McMullen had gone and made herself invisible. “So, how's it going?”

“Could be better.” Coop shrugged. “Could be worse.”

I glanced down, taking in the huge size of his tennis shoes. The laces were loose. I wanted to lean down and tie them.

“You have your schedule yet?” I asked.

“No. I missed orientation. My parents had this …” He trailed off. Somehow, I knew he was about to lie but caught himself, remembering he didn't have to with me.

“How are they?”

His blue-gray eyes darted past me. “Pretty much the same.”

I nodded, envisioning one of my favorite pictures of my oldest friend, an extreme close-up, which was tacked to the center of the bulletin board in my bedroom. I studied it often, recalling the day that she leaped barefoot through the long grass of the backyard toward the lens of my camera, pretending to be a shooting star. I was terrified of forgetting the details. The triangle of freckles that tilts to the left under her right eye. Or the dimple in her left cheek that forms only when she's truly smiling.

“I think of her every single day.” My voice was a whisper, the words nearly carried away by the steady rush of the fountain centered in the pond behind me.

“Me, too.” Coop slid onto the green bench. I waited a moment and sat next to him. “I wonder what she looks like.”

I bit at the inside of my cheek. All kinds of statistics would argue that Noelle probably didn't look like much of anything right now. But I wondered stuff like that, too. Every time I saw her face on one of the faded posters still strewn about the town's businesses, I pictured her somewhere new.

Sometimes I saw Noelle sunning herself on a tropical beach, away on an endless vacation. But like my old therapist had told me, it wasn't healthy to ignore reality. Most of the time, I envisioned Noelle in a dark basement, chained to a moldy wall. But that went directly against the information I had found online the day the crisis-intervention speaker came to our middle school and tried to soften the blow of Noelle's absence. In my worst moments, I pictured Noelle's clean bones peeking up from a pile of damp leaves deep in the woods.

“You're probably wondering why I asked you to meet me here,” Coop said. He had stubble all over his chin. Actual man stubble. It was white-blond, almost invisible, but it was there.

I shrugged and looked toward the tall plume of the fountain, using all my strength to keep from searching the sidewalk, from focusing on the one square that boiled to the surface of every one of my nightmares.

“She called,” he said, his voice steady and sure.

I looked back to his eyes. He blinked. My heart stuttered.

“What?” I croaked.

“She called.”

“Noelle?” This time, my voice was overtaken by the rushing fountain, pulled down into the dark, bubbling water. “I don't under—When? You're sure it was her?” My head felt heavy, suddenly strangled with a million questions. The acidic taste of bile tinged my dry mouth.

“Just let me talk, okay? It'll be easier that way.”

I swallowed hard, trying to keep it down, then turned quickly, bending over the side of the bench just in time. My body heaved as I threw up all over thick tufts of grass.

Coop put his hand on my shoulder. “I'm fine,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “Just tell me what's going on.”

Coop squinted in the sunlight that flickered through the leaves above us. “A few weeks ago, someone called, and when I answered the phone, they didn't say anything. But I could tell the person hadn't hung up because there was this muffled sound in the background. Then, after like ten seconds, the line went dead. I didn't think much about it. Wrong number, right?” Coop bit his lip so hard it turned from pink to white.

“But it wasn't?”

“The number came up as a pay phone on the caller ID. With a two-one-six area code. I looked it up online, and that's Cleveland. You know how close that is?”

“It's up north, a few hours.”

“Yeah. Lake Erie. It's only, like, three and a half hours away.”

I sucked in a breath. “Are you telling me—”

“Lemme finish. Yesterday, the same number came up on the caller ID again. I answered, and it was a girl. She said my name and then hung up again.”

“So you just
hope
it's her?”

“She called back about fifteen minutes later.” Coop grabbed my hand. His knuckles were peppered with tiny freckles. “It
was
Noelle. She talked so fast, Tess. The first thing she said was ‘It's me, Coop. We used to have a dog named Noodles.' It was like some secret code or something, and I can't believe it but I burst out laughing. So she yelled at me. That's when I knew it was her for sure, when she said, ‘Shut up, Pooper, this is serious.'”

“What'd you say to that?”

“I apologized. What else?”

“Then what?” I leaned forward.

“It was fast. She said she'd be at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in two days at four o'clock, and for us to make sure a plain clothes officer meets her in the bathroom nearest the entrance. She wants them to arrest the guy, but she has to be hiding from him. The guy who has had her all this time.”

“So we're talking about … tomorrow?” I opened my mouth, then shut it, not sure I could ask the question in my mind. But I had to. “Noelle's going to be home tomorrow?”

“Well, not home, but safe.” Coop tapped his thumb on my hand. “After giving me all the instructions, she said she missed me and hung up.”

“Oh. My. God.” I squeezed Coop's hand, the heat of his skin grounding me. “Is it for real?”

“It was definitely Noelle. Pooper? Who else but you and her know about that?”

“I can't believe this.” I shook my head.

Coop pulled his hand away from mine and ran his fingers through his hair. “I can't, either. After all this time.”

“What'd your parents say?”

“My mom fainted. My dad was real quiet, and then he started crying. Like, the heaving, sobbing kind of crying, you know? Then he told me to call the cops and ask for the detective who was on her case a couple years ago. The guy came over, and I gave him the whole story.”

“And?”

“They've contacted cops in Cleveland.” Coop nodded. “They'll be ready.”

“Are your parents there?”

“We're all leaving in a few hours.”

“Unbelievable.”

“I know.” Coop sighed. “You were her best friend. I thought I should tell you.”

“Thanks, Coop. I can't believe this.”

“It's crazy,” he said. “After two years …”

“And sixteen days.”

Coop ducked his head. “I'm scared.”

“It'll be okay.” I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I felt his body tense up a little as I rubbed his back. “She's gonna be safe now.”

Those words did it. Released all kinds of feelings that I couldn't control. My body started to shake against Coop's, and he squeezed me tight, holding on like that for a few minutes. I pressed back the tears, wanting to wait until I was alone. When I pulled away, I clasped my hands together to keep them steady.

“I'm a mess!”

“No worse than me,” he said. “I'm scared about what to say to her.”

“You'll know. You don't need to be scared.” I smiled then. But the worried lines around his eyes told me that my smile didn't accomplish much. “You're like my little brother, Pooper-Cooper. If you need me, for anything, I'll be here.”

Coop nodded. “Yeah. Okay.” He looked to the fountain and took in a deep breath. “I better go. My parents are kind of schitzed out, making phone calls, packing, and stuff.”

“Thanks,” I said. “For thinking of me.”

“Sure,” Coop said, standing. “See ya.”

As he turned and started walking back to his house, I reached into my oversize purse and wrapped my fingers around my grandpa Lou's old Nikon. My hands were steady by the time I pressed the viewfinder against my eye and watched Coop walk across a flat field of grass that bordered the park. I focused and snapped a shot of him. Then I sat back and stared at the crystal water springing from the fountain's base, racing toward the sky. The sound was soothing, a constant thrum that vibrated my body.

I ran my fingers along the cool underside of the camera, feeling the slight chip from when Grandpa Lou had dropped it on a rock while trying to get a shot of me climbing a tree in the woods.

As a breeze skated across my arms, my attention was pulled toward a line of quacking ducklings that waddled behind their mother in a crooked line, over the grass, into the water. I wondered if Noelle would remember how we used to watch the babies. We'd count them and give them names each season.

I tried to calm the emotions that had overtaken me. My tensed body and mind teetered and tottered between excitement and dread, confidence and fear, doubt and belief. Slowly, I lowered my shoulders, so tight they seemed determined to attach to my ears. I focused on my breathing, counting each deep inhalation, trying to prepare.

I looked around the park, surroundings nearly as familiar to me as my own bedroom. My eyes were drawn to the sidewalk, to the one square of concrete where time had stopped for Noelle two years ago. I had been riding my bike to Carrie's, pedaling fast as I wondered why Noelle wasn't answering my texts, when I found the only known clue. Noelle's red Schwinn was impossible to miss, lying on its side like it had been torn from her clinging hands and spit from the mouth of a monster.

It should look more malevolent,
I thought, staring at the thin plane of concrete.
Maybe even flicker, like the mouth of a wormhole, threatening to suck the beauty out of life.

Coop was probably home by now. I wondered what items the Pendeltons were tucking into their suitcases for the reunion with Noelle.

I stood quickly and grabbed my camera. As I focused on the fountain, which after everything, still churned water toward an empty blue sky, I realized how perfect my timing was. A momma duck followed by several ducklings swam into the picture just before I snapped the shot.

Walking back to my house, I was certain that Noelle and I had watched that momma duck waddling around the pond as a baby. I wondered what we had named her. Petunia? Or maybe Ruby?

She could be one from the spring when we were inspired by the days of the week.
How many weeks have passed,
I wondered,
since Noelle was taken? How many Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays?
I pictured that duck, her spiky tail feathers shaking back and forth with each careful step, and thought how crazy it would be if she was the one we'd called Friday, the very day that, after all this time, Noelle would turn from lost to found.

BOOK: The Tension of Opposites
7.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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