Cam waved me off. “If that’s what you want to do, have at it. No rush. Rent’s paid up till summer.”
Once the decision was made for me to stay at Cam’s, a lot of the dread faded like smoke in the wind. I’d sleep on the streets before I slept in that dorm room. Some people might think it was weird, but I wasn’t sure I could even step foot in the dorm again. Bad enough, I doubted I’d ever get rid of the memory of her . . . of her hanging from the ceiling light.
“Cam and I will go get most of your stuff,” Jase announced. “Tell me what you want and I’ll get it.”
I glanced between the two, a bit concerned about them spending an immediate one-on-one time together. Jase caught my look and winked.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
Cam smiled tightly as he cracked his knuckles. “Yeah, we’ll be just perfect.”
Sitting beside me on the couch, Avery cringed as she glanced at the wall clock. “They’ve been gone an awful long time.”
I nodded slowly. “Yep.”
Calla had returned from visiting family that morning. Upon hearing the news, she’d texted and made her way over from the dorms not too long after the boys left. She sat in the recliner, brows knitted. “Why are you guys worried about how long it’s taking?”
“Well, there’s a good chance they might kill each other. Cam is not happy about me and Jase being together—”
“Wait. What?” She sat forward, eyes popping wide. “You and Jase are together? When in the holy hell did this happen?”
I picked up the glass of sweet tea. “Uh, it happened last week.”
“But I saw you on Wednesday! Did you not think about telling me?”
Cheeks burning, I glanced at Avery. She focused on the wall. Totally unhelpful. “It just didn’t come up and it had just happened, so I was still feeling the, uh, freshness.”
“Freshness?” Avery murmured.
“Wow.” Calla curled her legs up. “Way to go, Teresa. He’s a hottie-mc-hotters.”
I laughed. “Yes, he is.”
“I love your brother with all my heart,” Avery said, twisting the ends of her hair around her slender fingers. Her cheeks flushed, blending the freckles. “But Jase is . . . he’s something else. I mean, I’ve always been a little intimidated by him.”
She let go of her hair. “Yep. He just always looks so intense, like . . .”
“Like one night with him would change your life?” Calla suggested with a grin. “I’m pretty sure I’ve said the same thing about him.”
I wouldn’t know since I hadn’t made it that far with him, but what I had experienced with him really backed what Calla was saying. I turned my gaze to the tea, oddly proud that I could sit there and call him mine, which was weird. I never felt that way before about someone.
In the silence that followed, I knew what everyone was thinking about. Debbie. Even though we all could talk about other things and laugh, what had happened lingered at the edge of every thought.
“I don’t know why she did it,” I said, only realizing I said it out loud when both girls looked at me. “I don’t understand.”
“Sometimes you never understand,” Calla said, stretching out her legs. A pinched, sad look crossed her face. “More often than not, it’s not just one thing that sends a person over the edge. It’s several things.”
Avery nodded as she fiddled with the bracelet on her wrist. “It’s true. A lot of stuff builds up and while it might be one thing that topples the person over, it’s really a lot of things, big and small.”
“I get that, but Debbie was a happy girl. Except for breaking up with Erik, she was okay.”
“But how happy could she be if she stayed with him so long?” Avery asked. “And I don’t mean she was bad for being with him, but that’s how many years of being treated like that?”
She had a good point.
“We don’t know what other issues she might have had.” Calla paused, casting her attention to her hands she folded in her lap. “My mom killed herself.”
I pressed the heel of my hand to my chest as I exchanged a look with Avery. “What?”
Calla ducked her chin as she nibbled on her lower lip. “Well, not like Debbie. She didn’t do it just one night. She did it over the course of several years.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Cal.” Setting the tea aside, I picked up a pillow and pressed it against my tummy. “How?”
“She drank and drugged herself to death. It wasn’t an accident,” she said, looking up. “My mom didn’t want to live. She just chose the passive way out. Anyway, no one really knew she was like that. She had everyone fooled. I’m not saying Debbie wanted out for a long time, but you just don’t know.”
I wanted to ask her more questions, but her stiffness told me she was done sharing for now. “I just don’t know. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“When does something like this ever feel right?” Avery asked softly.
Again, good point, but as I trekked through my memories of that night, I knew I was missing something—something forced out of my head by the trauma of it, and that had been pretty damn traumatizing.
Then it hit me as I lifted my gaze and met Calla’s. I started to rise as my heart pounded in my chest. “Oh my God.”
“What?” Calla stood too, even though she looked confused. She looked at Avery, who was also starting to rise. “What?” she said. “What the hell, Teresa?”
I shook my head as it sunk in. How had I forgotten this? “Pink scarf.”
“Huh.” She looked at Avery again.
“There was a pink scarf on the dorm door!” My legs gave out, and I plopped back on the couch. “Holy crap . . .”
“Are you okay?” Avery grasped my arm, her fingers cool. “Should I call Jase? Cam?”
“No! But I need to go give my statement! I need to do it now.” I felt sick. “I need to go to the police.”
“All right.” Calla grabbed her keys. “We can take you, but you have to tell us what the hell is going on.”
“The pink scarf—Debbie always hung a pink scarf on the door whenever Erik was there and they wanted privacy,” I explained in a rush, my hands shaking. “She hung that damn pink scarf when she didn’t want to be interrupted.”
“Okaaay.” Avery drew the word out.
“You don’t understand.” I took a shallow breath. “There was a pink scarf on the door when I got there. I thought she was in there with Erik and they’d gotten back together. That pink scarf means Erik was there earlier!”
Avery and Calla got what I was saying to them, that Debbie hadn’t been alone at some point during the evening, but it didn’t seem to register on the importance scale for them.
But it did for me.
My brain was not willing to accept the idea that Debbie committed suicide. It wasn’t that I was naive and didn’t believe that it was possible, but Erik had been there and to me, it made more sense that the fucker lost his temper and—and really hurt her.
They took me to the police to give my statement and while I’d stressed the importance of the pink scarf and that it had meant that Debbie hadn’t been alone, they didn’t appear too overly concerned.
“We plan on talking to her ex-boyfriend later today,” the officer said, guiding me out of the office, to where Calla and Avery waited. He smiled, but it was tight and fake, and I felt like one of those nosy little old ladies who ran the neighborhood watch and always reported things incorrectly.
“So what did they say?” Avery asked once we were back in Calla’s car.
I sighed. “I told them what I saw and what I knew. That her and Erik had broken up and that he . . .” I bit down on my lip, realizing I’d never told them how Debbie’s relationship was. It felt wrong somehow, even though she had never asked me to not tell anyone, but I’d been so embarrassed—still was—and I knew she probably never wanted anyone to know. I’d told the police and they’d written down what I’d seen—the bruises and what Debbie had told me, but I could tell that they really thought Debbie had killed herself. And without anyone there to file charges against Erik, there’d be nothing they could do.
Avery peeked over the passenger seat, her brown eyes wide. “He hit her, didn’t he?”
Wondering if she could read minds, I glanced at the rearview mirror, finding Calla’s gaze darting from the road to it. “Yeah, he . . . he hit her. I asked her about it once and she denied it, but then she told me the truth after, well . . .” Cam still didn’t know about that and I wanted to keep it that way. “Well, she told me the night before she died.”
“Jesus,” Calla muttered.
My gaze met Avery’s, and she smiled sympathetically. “Anyway, I told them what I knew and how the pink scarf had to have meant that Erik had been there. They said they were planning on talking to him today.”
She nibbled on her lower lip. “Do you think he really did it to her and then . . . hung her up?”
I shuddered at the prospect. “I don’t know how anyone could do that to someone, but there are really messed-up people in this world.”
Calla nodded. “So very true.”
“And he’s lost his temper with her before. Maybe it wasn’t on purpose,” I wondered out loud. “And then he panicked and made it look like a suicide.”
“It sounds a little out there, but people have done crazier stuff.” Avery turned in her seat and looked out the window. “I’ve learned to never underestimate people.”
“Yeah,” I breathed, sitting back.
It seemed crazy to sit here and consider that a college-age guy might’ve killed his ex-girlfriend—accident or not—and then staged it as a suicide, but like Calla and Avery both said, people had committed crazier acts.
Cam and Jase were already back at the apartment and the moment we stepped through the doors, they started bombarding us with questions about what went down at the police.
Neither boy looked like they had done each other any bodily harm, and I spied two pink boxes sitting on the kitchen counter. I couldn’t help but grin as I sat beside Jase on the couch. Him and his cupcakes. It was contagious, spreading to Cam.
“We didn’t get everything, but we got enough that you’ll be fine for a while.” Jase reached over, tucking my hair back. “Everything is in your bedroom.”
“Thank you so much.” I looked between the boys. “Both of you.”
“No problem.” Cam wrapped his arms around Avery, tucking her back against his chest. “Just don’t burn down my apartment.”
Everyone laughed while I shot him a dirty look. Calla was the first to bow out, having to head into work for a short shift, and then Avery and Cam got that googly-eyed look about them. They soon made an exit.
Jase reached for me, tugging me back so I rested curled against his chest. As much as I wanted to shut my brain down and simply enjoy being in his arms, I couldn’t.
“You think I’m jumping to conclusions, don’t you?” I asked, thinking back to what I told him about my visit to the police and my suspicions.
He brushed my hair back and pressed a kiss to my temple. “I wouldn’t say you were jumping. Maybe hopping, but you’re right. Erik has one hell of a temper, and it wouldn’t be the first time someone lost control and did something like that.”
At least he wasn’t saying I was crazy. “Do you think the police will do an autopsy?”
“I don’t know.” His hold on me was secure. “You’d think they would just in case.”
I prayed that they did. If my suspicions were correct, then wouldn’t it show in the exam? I hated even thinking about Debbie in terms of autopsies and cause of death, like that was what she’d been reduced to.
“You know what it makes me wonder about?” I said, closing my eyes. “What if Jeremy had gotten to that point? He could’ve easily been Erik, if that’s what he did.”
Jase stiffened and he didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Then thank God Cam beat the ever-living shit out of him. Sorry. I know how that makes you feel, but thank God is all I can say.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, my stomach soured by the idea that Erik had murdered Debbie, but the more I thought about it, the more I feared that it was the truth.
“I want you to promise me something, okay?” he said, tipping my chin up with his fingers, until I could see his eyes. “I don’t want you being anywhere near Erik, especially alone.”
“That won’t be a problem,” I said dryly.
One side of his lips hitched up. “And unless you’re talking to the police or one of us, I don’t want you to voice your suspicions.”
Ready to argue that fine point, I opened my mouth, but he shook his head. “Not because I think you should be silent, but if Erik did do this, I don’t want you in danger because he thinks you know the truth. That’s all I’m saying.”
I smiled a little. “Okay. I can do that.”
We stayed like that for a little while, watching the natural light fade out of the living room. Wind picked up outside, rolling across the sides of the building. A long night yawned ahead and I didn’t want to face it alone.