Authors: Karen M. McManus
Thursday, September 19
“What’s up, loser?” I tense a split second before Kyle McNulty’s shoulder rams into mine, so I stumble but don’t crash against the locker bay. “Your dickhead brother still in town?”
“Fuck you, McNulty.” It’s my standard response to Kyle, no matter the situation, and it’s never not applicable.
Kyle’s jaw twitches as Theo smirks beside him. I used to play football with both of them in elementary school, back when my father was still hoping I’d turn into Declan 2.0. We weren’t friends then, but we didn’t actively hate one another. That started in middle school. “He’d better stay the hell away from my sister,” Kyle spits.
“Declan couldn’t care less about your sister,” I say. It’s true, and ninety percent of the reason Kyle can’t stand me. He scowls, edging closer, and I curl my right hand into a fist.
“Malcolm, hey.” A voice sounds behind me as a hand tugs at my sleeve. I turn to see Ellery leaning against a locker, her head tilted, holding one of those Echo Ridge High
calendars that most people recycle instantly. Her expression is preoccupied, and I’d almost believe she didn’t notice she was interrupting a near fight if her eyes didn’t linger on Kyle a few seconds too long. “Do you mind showing me where the auditorium is? I know we have assembly now, but I can’t remember where to go.”
“I can give you a hint,” Kyle sneers. “Away from this loser.”
I flush with anger, but Ellery just gives him a distracted nod. “Oh, hi, Kyle. Did you know your zipper’s down?”
Kyle’s eyes drop automatically to his pants. “No it’s not,” he complains, adjusting it anyway as Theo snorts out a laugh.
“Move along, boys.” Coach Gagnon comes up behind us, clapping Kyle and Theo on the shoulder. “You don’t want to be late for assembly.” First period is canceled today, so the entire school can be herded into the auditorium for rah-rah speeches about football season and the homecoming court announcements. In other words, it’s the Kyle-and-Theo Show.
They follow Coach Gagnon down the hall. I turn toward Ellery, who’s absorbed in her calendar again. I’m both impressed that she stopped Kyle in his tracks so easily and embarrassed that she thought she had to. Her eyes flick up, such a deep brown they’re almost black, framed by thick lashes. When a pink tinge works its way into her cheeks, I realize I’m staring. Again. “You didn’t need to do that,” I say. “I can handle those guys.”
God, I sound like some puffed-up little kid trying to act tough. Kyle’s right. I
Ellery does me the favor of acting like she didn’t hear. “Every time I see Kyle, he’s being an ass to someone,” she says, stuffing the calendar into her bag and hoisting it higher over her shoulder. “I don’t understand why he’s such a big deal around here. What does Brooke even see in him?”
It’s an obvious change of subject, but a fair question. “Hell if I know.”
We enter the stream of students heading down the hallway toward the auditorium. “What was he saying about his sister?” Ellery asks. “Does she go here?”
“No, she’s older. Liz was in Declan’s class. They went out for, like, three months when they were sophomores, and she was kind of obsessed with him. He broke up with her for Lacey.”
“Ah.” Ellery nods. “I’m guessing she didn’t take that well?”
“That’s an understatement.” We push through the auditorium’s double doors, and I lead Ellery toward the farthest corner of the stands, where Mia and I always sit. Ellery and Ezra have been eating lunch with us since last week, and we’ve been doing the standard getting-to-know-you stuff: talking about music, movies, and the differences between California and Vermont. This is the first time I’ve been alone with Ellery since I saw her with her suitcase—and just like then, we’ve skipped past being polite and gone straight for the dark stuff. I’m not sure why, but I tell her, “Liz stopped going to school for a while, and ended up having to repeat. It took her two extra years to graduate.”
Ellery’s eyes widen. “Wow, seriously? Just because a guy broke up with her?”
I drop into a seat at the top of the bleachers. Ellery settles in beside me, lifting her bag over her head and placing it at her feet. Her hair is a lot more under control now than it was the first time I met her. I kind of miss the old look. “Well, she wasn’t great at school to start with,” I say. “But the McNultys blamed Declan. So Kyle hates me by association.”
Ellery gazes up at the rafters. They’re filled with banners from Echo Ridge sports teams throughout the years: a couple dozen in football, basketball, and hockey. For such a small school, Echo Ridge brings home a lot of championships. “That’s not fair. You shouldn’t be blamed for whatever’s going on with your brother.”
I have the feeling we’re not talking about Liz McNulty anymore. “Welcome to life in a small town. You’re only as good as the best thing your family’s done. Or the worst.”
“Or the worst thing that’s been done
them,” Ellery says in a musing way.
It hits me, then, why talking to her feels so familiar sometimes: because we’re two sides of the same coin. Both of us are stuck in one of Echo Ridge’s unsolved mysteries, except her family lost a victim and mine has a suspect. I should say something comforting about her aunt, or at least acknowledge that I know what she’s talking about. But I’m still trying to figure out the right words when a loud “Heyyyy!” rings out from our right.
Mia clomps toward us with Ezra in tow. They’re both wearing black-and-white Fright Farm staff T-shirts, and when I raise my brows at them Mia crosses her arms defensively over her chest. “We didn’t plan this,” she says, dropping onto the bench beside me. “Purely a coincidence.”
“Mind meld,” Ezra says with a shrug.
I forgot the twins started working at Fright Farm this week. Half the school does; I’m one of the few kids at Echo Ridge High who’s never even applied there. Even if it hadn’t scared the crap out of me when I was younger, there’s too much of a connection to Lacey. “How’s that going?” I ask, turning toward Ellery.
“Not bad,” she says. “We’re checking wristbands at the House of Horrors.”
“Primo job,” Mia says enviously. “Brooke hooked you guys up.
much better than serving slushies to toddlers.” Mia’s not a fan of anyone under the age of twelve, but she’s been stuck working in the kids’ section of Fright Farm for more than a year. Every time she angles for a transfer, her boss shuts her down.
Mia sighs and props her chin in her hands. “Well, here we go. At long last, the mystery of who’s going to come in a distant third for homecoming queen will be answered.” The bleacher rows closer to the floor start filling up, and Coach Gagnon heads toward the podium at the front of the room.
“Viv Cantrell?” Ezra guesses. “She’s been posting pictures of her dress on Instagram.”
Mia makes a face at him. “You follow Viv on Instagram?”
He shrugs. “You know how it is. She followed me, I followed back in a moment of weakness. She posts about homecoming a
” His expression turns thoughtful. “Although, I don’t think she has a date yet.”
“You should unfollow,” Mia advises. “That’s way more information about Viv than any one person needs to have. Anyway, she doesn’t have a shot at homecoming court. Maybe Kristi Kapoor, though.” At Ezra’s questioning glance, she adds, “She’s on student council, and people like her. Plus she’s one of, like, three other students of color in our class, so everybody can feel progressive when they vote for her.”
“Who are the others?” Ezra asks.
“Jen Bishop and Troy Latkins,” Mia says, then glances between him and Ellery. “And maybe you guys? Are you Latinx?”
Ezra shrugs. “Could be. We don’t know our dad. But Sadie did say his name was either José or Jorge, so chances are good.”
“Your mom is legendary,” Mia says admiringly. “She was homecoming queen too, wasn’t she?”
Ezra nods as I blink at Mia. “How would you even know that?” I ask.
Mia shrugs. “Daisy. She’s super into Echo Ridge homecoming history. Maybe because she was runner-up.” At Ellery’s curious look she adds, “My sister. Graduated five years ago. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, if by bride you mean homecoming queen.”
Ellery leans forward, looking interested. “Was she jealous?”
“If she was, you’d never know,” Mia says. “Daisy is sugar and spice and everything nice. The perfect Korean daughter. Until recently.”
The podium microphone screeches as Coach Gagnon taps on it. “Is this thing on?” he yells. Half the room laughs dutifully and the other half ignores him. I join the second group and tune him out, surreptitiously pulling out my phone. I haven’t heard from Declan since I met him at Bukowski’s Tavern.
You still around?
Delivered. Read. No response. Same story all week.
“Good morning, Echo Ridge High! Are you ready to meet your court?” I look up at the change in voice, and suppress a groan at the sight of Percy Gilpin at the podium. Percy is senior class president, and everything about him makes me tired: his energy, his springy hair, his relentless pursuit of Echo Ridge High elective offices, and the purple blazer he’s worn to every school event since we were freshmen. He’s also friendly with Viv Cantrell, which is probably all that anybody needs to know about him.
“Let’s kick things off with the gentlemen!” Percy rips open an envelope with a flourish, like he’s about to announce an Oscar winner. “You’ll be choosing your king from one of these three fine fellows. Congratulations to Theo Coolidge, Kyle McNulty, and Troy Latkins!”
Ezra watches, perplexed, as Percy raises his arms amid hoots and cheers. “What is
that guy? He’s like one of those old-school game show hosts in a teenager’s body.”
“You nailed it.” Mia yawns and twirls her thumb ring. “That went exactly as expected. Good for Troy, I guess. He’s not a total dick. Won’t win, though.”
Percy lets the backslapping and high fives subside, then opens another envelope. “And now it’s time for the ladies, who may be last but are definitely not least. Echo Ridge High, let’s give it up for Katrin Nilsson, Brooke Bennett, and—”
He pauses, looks up, and looks down at the paper in his hand again. “Um.” Another beat passes, and people start shifting in their seats. A few clap and whistle, like they think maybe he’s done. Percy clears his throat too close to the microphone, and the resulting screech of feedback makes everyone wince.
Mia leans forward, her face scrunched in confusion. “Wait. Is Percy Gilpin
? That’s a beautiful but unprecedented sight.”
Percy turns toward Coach Gagnon, who gestures impatiently at him to go on. “Sorry,” Percy says, clearing his throat again. “Lost my place for a second. Um, so, congratulations to Ellery Corcoran!”
Ellery goes still, her eyes round with shock. “What the hell?” she says, her cheeks staining red as scattered applause ripples through the auditorium. “How did that happen? It doesn’t make sense. Nobody here even knows me!”
“Sure they do,” Mia says, just as somebody yells out, “Who?” to muted laughter. Mia’s right, though; everybody knows who the Corcoran twins are. Not because they’re high profile at school, but because Sadie Corcoran, who
made it in Hollywood, is larger than life around here.
And because Sarah Corcoran is Echo Ridge’s original lost girl.
“High five, princess!” Ezra says. When she doesn’t respond, he lifts her hand and slaps it against his own. “Don’t look so glum. This is a nice thing.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Ellery repeats. Percy is still at the podium, talking about next week’s pep rally, and the attention of the room has already started to wander. “I mean, did
vote for me?”
“No,” Ezra says. “But don’t take it personally. I didn’t vote for anyone.”
“Did you guys?” Ellery asks, looking at Mia and me.
“No,” we both say, and I shrug apologetically. “Nonvoters over here, too.”
Ellery twists her hair over one shoulder. “I’ve been at school less than two weeks. I’ve hardly talked to anybody except you three. If you guys didn’t vote for me—and believe me, I’m not insulted, because I didn’t vote either—then why would anyone else?”
“To welcome you to town?” I say half-heartedly.
She rolls her eyes, and I can’t blame her. Even after less than two weeks here, she has to know Echo Ridge High isn’t that kind of place.
Katrin’s in a mood Friday morning.
Her driving is worse than ever—stop signs optional, the entire way to school. When we arrive she parks crookedly between two spots, crowding out another kid who was headed our way. He honks as she flounces out of the car, slamming her door and taking off for the entrance without a backward look.
It’s one of those days when she’s pretending I don’t exist.
I take my time entering the building and as soon as I get to the hallway, I know something’s off. There’s a weird buzzing energy, and the snippets of conversation I catch don’t sound like the usual gossip and insults.
“Must have broken in—”
“Somebody hates them—”