Authors: Karen M. McManus
“Maybe it’s not a joke after all—”
“It’s not like anybody did that to Lacey, though—”
Everyone’s grouped in clusters, heads bent together. The biggest crowd of people is around Katrin’s locker. There’s a smaller knot around Brooke’s. My stomach starts to twist, and I spot Ezra and Ellery standing next to hers. Ellery’s back is to me, but Ezra is turned my way, and his face stops me in my tracks. His laid-back, California-guy vibe is gone, and he looks like he wants to stab somebody.
When I get closer, I see why.
Ellery’s dingy gray locker is splashed with bright-red paint. A red-spattered, twisted doll dangles from the handle, just like the ones in the cemetery. I crane my neck to look down the hallway, and see enough to know Katrin’s and Brooke’s lockers got the same treatment. Thick black letters are scrawled across the red on Ellery’s:
REMEMBER MURDERLAND, PRINCESS?
Ezra catches my eye. “This is messed up,” he seethes, Ellery turns. Her face is composed but pale, a humorless smile at the corners of her mouth.
“So much for welcoming me to town,” she says.
Saturday, September 21
“What are we looking for?” Ezra asks.
“I don’t know,” I admit, placing a stack of yearbooks on the desk in front of him. We’re at the Echo Ridge library on Saturday morning, armed with jumbo cups of take-out coffee from Bartley’s diner. I wasn’t sure we’d get them past the librarian, but she’s well into her eighties and asleep in her chair. “Anything weird, I guess.”
Ezra snorts. “El, we’ve been here three weeks. So far we’ve reported a dead body, gotten jobs at a murder site, and been targeted by a homecoming stalker. Although that last one was all you.” He takes a sip of coffee. “You’re gonna have to be more specific.”
I drop into a seat across from him and slide a book from the middle of the pile. It has
Echo Ridge Eagles
on its spine, date-stamped from six years ago. Lacey’s junior year, one year before she died. “I want to check out Lacey’s class. It’s strange, isn’t it, how these people who were part of her inner circle when she died are suddenly back in town? Right when all this other stuff starts happening?”
“What, you think Malcolm’s brother had something to do with that? Or Mia’s sister?” Ezra raises a brow. “Maybe we should’ve invited them along for coffee and crime solving.”
“You know what you always say, Ezra,” I say, opening the yearbook. “Nobody wants to hear my murder theories. Especially when it involves their siblings. That’s the kind of thing you need to ease into.”
We’re snarking, because that’s what we do. A lifetime of living with Sadie provided a master class in pretending everything’s fine. But I’ve barely eaten since yesterday and even Ezra—who usually inhales Nana’s cooking like he’s trying to make up for seventeen years of frozen dinners—refused breakfast before we left.
Now, he runs his eyes over the remaining yearbooks. “What should I do? Look at their senior year?” He sucks in his cheeks. “It’s probably pretty grim.
for Lacey, that kind of thing.”
“Sure. That or …” My eyes drop to the bottom of the pile. “Sadie’s yearbook is in there, too. If you’re curious.”
Ezra stills. “About what?”
“What she was like in high school. What
were like. Her and Sarah.”
His jaw ticks. “What does that have to do with anything?”
I lean forward and glance around the small room. Besides the sleeping librarian, there’s no one here except a mother reading quietly to her toddler. “Haven’t you ever wondered why we’ve never been to Echo Ridge before? Like, ever? Or why Sadie never talks about her sister? I mean, if
suddenly … disappeared”—I swallow hard against the bile in my throat—“I wouldn’t move across the country and act like you’d never existed.”
“You don’t know what you’d do,” Ezra objects. “You don’t know what Sadie’s really thinking.”
“No, I don’t. And neither do you. That’s my
” The little boy’s mother turns our way, and I lower my voice. I reach up and squeeze the dagger on my necklace. “We never have. We just got jerked from one town to the next while Sadie ran away from her problems. Except she finally landed in trouble she can’t make disappear, and here we are. Back where it all started.”
Ezra regards me steadily, his dark eyes somber. “We can’t fix her, El.”
I flush and look down at the pages in front of me—rows and rows of kids our age, all smiling for the camera. Ezra and I don’t have any yearbooks; we’ve never felt connected enough to any of our schools to bother with a keepsake. “I’m not trying to
her. I just want to understand. Plus, Sarah’s part of this, somehow. She has to be.” I rest my chin in my hands and say what I’ve been thinking since yesterday. “Ezra, nobody in that school voted me onto homecoming court. You know they didn’t. Someone rigged the votes, I’m sure of it. Because I’m connected to Sarah.”
My locker was cleaned and repainted by lunchtime on Friday, like nothing ever happened. But I’ve felt exposed ever since, the back of my neck prickling when I think about the fact that someone, somewhere went to a lot of trouble to add my name to that court. I told Viv that I didn’t think the vandal and Lacey’s murderer are the same person, and objectively, that still makes sense. Subjectively, though, the whole thing makes me sick.
Ezra looks dubious. “How does somebody rig votes?”
“By hacking the app. It wouldn’t be hard.”
He cocks his head, considering. “That seems extreme.”
“Oh, and bloody Barbie dolls are restrained?”
“Touché.” Ezra drums his fingers on the table. “So what, then? You think Lacey and Sarah are connected, too?”
“I don’t know. It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? They happened almost twenty years apart. But somebody’s threading all these things together, and there has to be a reason why.”
Ezra doesn’t say anything else, but takes Sadie’s yearbook from the bottom of the pile and opens it. I pull Lacey’s closer to me and flip through the junior class pictures until I reach the
’s. They’re all there, the names I’ve been hearing since I got to Echo Ridge: Declan Kelly, Lacey Kilduff, and Daisy Kwon.
I’ve seen Lacey before in news stories, but not Daisy. She shares a few features with Mia, but she’s much more conventionally pretty. Preppy, even, with a headband holding back her shiny, pin-straight hair. Declan Kelly reminds me of Malcolm on steroids; he’s almost aggressively handsome, with piercing, dark-fringed eyes and a cleft in his chin. All three of them look like the kind of teenagers you’d find on a CW show—too beautiful to be real.
section is a lot less glam. Officer Ryan Rodriguez’s high-school-junior self is an unfortunate combination of prominent Adam’s apple, acne, and bad haircut. He’s improved in six years, though, so good for him. I turn the yearbook around to show Ezra. “Here’s our neighbor.”
Ezra glances at Officer Rodriguez’s photo without much interest. “Nana mentioned him this morning. She’s got some cardboard boxes she wants us to bring over. She says he sold the house? Or he’s going to sell the house. Anyway, he’s packing stuff up.”
I straighten in my chair. “He’s leaving town?”
He shrugs. “She didn’t say that. Just that the house was too big for one person, now that his dad’s dead. Maybe he’s getting an apartment nearby or something.”
I turn the yearbook back toward me and flip the page. The club and candid photo section comes after class pictures. Lacey was part of almost everything—soccer, tennis, student council, and choir, to name just a few. Declan mostly played football, it looks like, and was a good-enough quarterback that the team won a state championship that year. The last photo in the junior section is of the entire class, posing in front of Echo Ridge Lake during their year-end picnic.
I pick Lacey out right away—she’s dead center, laughing, her hair blowing in the wind. Declan’s behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist, his head tucked into her shoulder. Daisy stands beside them looking startled, as though she wasn’t ready for the shot. And on the far edge of the group is gangly Ryan Rodriguez, standing stiffly apart from everyone else. It’s not his awkward pose that catches my eye, though. The camera caught him staring straight at Lacey—with an expression of such intense longing that he almost looks angry.
He probably had a crush,
Lacey was a beauty.
I study the three faces: Declan, Daisy, and Ryan. One who never left—until now, maybe—and two who returned. Malcolm doesn’t know where Declan is staying, but Mia’s mentioned more than once that her sister is back in her old room. What had Mia said about Daisy during Thursday’s assembly, again?
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Ezra spins the yearbook he’s been studying around so that it’s facing me, and slides it across the table. “Is this what you wanted to see?”
A girl with a cloud of curly dark hair is at the top of the page, her smile so bright it’s almost blinding. My mother, twenty-three years ago. Except the name under the picture reads
I blink at it a couple of times; in my mind, Sarah’s always been the serious, almost somber twin. I don’t recognize this version. I flip to the previous page and see Sadie’s picture at the bottom. It’s identical, right down to the head tilt and the smile. The only difference is the color of their sweaters.
The pictures were taken their senior year, probably in September. A few weeks later, shortly after Sadie was crowned homecoming queen, Sarah was gone.
I close the book as a wave of exhaustion hits me. “I don’t know,” I admit, stretching and turning toward a row of tiny windows on the far wall that sends squares of sunlight across the hardwood floor. “When do we have to be at work, again?”
Ezra glances at his phone. “In about an hour.”
“Should we stop by Mia’s and see if she’s working today?”
“She’s not,” Ezra says.
“Should we stop by Mia’s and see if she’s working today?” I repeat.
Ezra blinks in confusion, then shakes his head like he’s just waking up. “Oh, sorry. Are you suggesting a reconnaissance mission?”
“I wouldn’t mind meeting the mysterious Daisy,” I tell him.
“Roger that,” Ezra says. He gestures to the stack of yearbooks between us. “Are you gonna check any of these out?”
“No, I’m just— Hang on.” I pull out my phone and snap a few photos of the yearbook pictures we’ve just been looking at. Ezra watches me with a bemused expression.
“What are you going to do with those?” he asks.
“Documenting our research,” I say. I don’t know if this morning will turn out to be worth anything, but at least it
When I finish, we each take an armful of yearbooks and return them to the Reference section. I throw our empty coffee cups into a recycling bin, which makes a much louder noise than I expected. The sleeping librarian startles and blinks at us with watery, unfocused eyes as we pass her desk.
“Can I help you?” she yawns, feeling around for the glasses looped on a chain around her neck.
“No thanks, all set,” I say, nudging Ezra to walk faster so we can exit before she recognizes us and we have to spend fifteen minutes making polite conversation about California. We push through the library’s front door into bright sunshine, and descend wide steps to the sidewalk.
Ezra and I walked home from school with Mia a couple of days ago, and she’s only a block from the library. The Kwons’ house is unusual for Echo Ridge: a modern, boxy construction set on a large expanse of lawn. A stone path crosses from the sidewalk to the front stairs, and we’re halfway across it when a gray Nissan pulls into the driveway.
The driver’s side window is half-down, framing a girl with long dark hair who’s gripping the steering wheel like it’s a life preserver. Oversized sunglasses cover half her face, but I can see enough to tell that it’s Daisy. Ezra raises his hand, about to call a greeting, then lowers it as Daisy lifts a phone to her ear.
“I don’t think she sees us,” I say, glancing between the car and the front door. “Maybe we should just ring the bell.”
Before we can move, Daisy drops her phone, crosses her arms over the steering wheel, and lowers her head onto them. Her shoulders start to shake, and Ezra and I exchange uneasy glances. We stand there for what feels like ten minutes, although it’s probably less than one, before Ezra take a tentative step forward. “Do you think we should, um …”
He trails off as Daisy suddenly raises her head with a strangled little scream and slams her hands, hard, on either side of the steering wheel. She whips off her sunglasses and runs her hands over her eyes like she’s trying to erase any trace of tears, then shoves the glasses back on. She throws the car into reverse and starts to back up, stopping when she looks out the window and catches sight of us.
Ezra offers the sheepish half wave of someone who knows he has just accidentally observed a private moment. Daisy’s only indication that she sees him is to roll up her window before she backs out of the driveway and leaves in the direction she came from.
“Well, you wanted to meet the mysterious Daisy,” Ezra says, watching her taillights disappear around a bend. “There she goes.”