But no one could travel back in time.
And I was no longer so incredibly naïve. My childhood friends—the four of us. We hadn’t been perfect. None of us. Far from it.
TRAFFIC CAME TO a complete standstill on Route 11. Stuck behind a fleet of orange buses, I wanted to bang my head against the steering wheel. Ms. Reed hadn’t given me an exact time to show up, but I also didn’t want this person waiting around forever for me.
When I finally reached the turn on Airport Road, I almost missed it. I had to hook a sharp right onto a narrow two lane road crowded by single family ranch homes that all looked identical. I winced as my tires squealed. An older gentleman out watering his grass sent me a sharp look when his head jerked up.
Perhaps I also needed driving lessons.
Glancing at the street number on the address given to me, I frowned and slowed down to a crawl, following the road. Up ahead, the houses all but disappeared, replaced by a restaurant that appeared to be in an old plane hangar. The only other building was the giant gray warehouse situated to the left, surrounded by fields full of yellowy reeds.
My stomach took a tumble as I parked my Jetta near a dark blue truck that looked vaguely familiar. Too nervous to pay it much attention, I took my sunglasses off since the sun had all but disappeared, and picked up the crumbled piece of paper, along with my cellphone, holding both tight in my grasp as I stepped out.
Wind whipped across the parking lot, stirring my loose hair. There were a few cars spotted throughout the lot, but as I stared at the darkened doors leading to the warehouse, my feet felt like they were cemented to the ground.
The place looked foreboding and empty, a perfect place to host a Halloween haunt in October, and pretty much the last place I wanted to enter.
Chills radiated up and down my back and a strange sort of pressure clamped down on my chest, squeezing my lungs until air wheezed in my throat, much like Saturday night when hands had circled my—
“Stop,” I gasped out, swallowing hard. “Stop it right now.”
Talking out loud was a sure sign of veering into cray-cray land, but I forced my heart to slow down and my feet to move. Clenching the phone to my chest, I crossed the parking lot.
The dark glass doors opened before I reached them and two older guys stepped out, gym bags flung over their shoulders. I had to be in the right place, but there were no signs outside indicating that I was.
As they passed me they smiled and I forced my lips to do the same thing, but the smile felt weak and weird—overly strained. The one closest to me was wearing black wraparound shades even though heavy clouds fat with rain had rolled in. He got halfway past me and then stopped.
“Hey,” he called out.
My heart plummeted as a wave of fear crashed over me. The reaction stole my breath. I’d never been jumpy before, but now? I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin.
“Ella Mansfield?” he said, and I turned around at the sound of my name. His buddy’s brows rose in recollection as I stood there, thoroughly confused. The one who called my name stepped forward, taking off his sunglasses. Dark brown eyes met mine. He wasn’t that old, maybe approaching his late twenties or early thirties. Something about his face was vaguely familiar.
I took a step back. “Hi?”
“You don’t recognize me?” His smile didn’t fade. “Totally understandable. I was one of the officers to . . . uh, respond Saturday night. I’m a deputy—Jordan Shaw. This idiot next to me is also a deputy—Neil Bryant.”
“I wasn’t there,” Neil said, running a hand over his shaved head. “But glad to see you’re doing good.”
“Oh!” Heat crept across my cheeks. For some reason, the more I looked at Deputy Jordan Shaw, the more familiar he looked. Not from this past weekend, but like I should know his name. “Hi.”
Shaw glanced over my shoulder, his eyes squinting. “I’ve never seen you here before. . . .”
He left the statement open, giving me a chance to explain my presence. “This is my first time. I . . . um, came here because I wanted to take a self-defense class.” The heat turned to scalding. “I thought it would be a great idea and one of the staff at school knew someone who offered instruction.”
“That’s a damn smart idea,” Neil said, nodding his approval.
“Thank you.” I looked over my shoulder. “So I’m in the right place?”
“You are. That must be why the lights were on in room four. I can show you where to go. It’s a bit of a maze in there.” Shaw turned to his buddy. “I’ll be right out.”
Neil nodded. “See you later.”
I gave him a little wave and then turned to Shaw. “You don’t have to do this.”
He was already at the door, holding it open. “It’s no problem. It’ll just take me a few seconds.”
Biting the inside of my cheek, I shuffled forward and into a dimly lit corridor that smelled of . . . apples. I murmured my thanks and, as I sneaked a peek at the off-duty deputy, I got the sense that he wasn’t doing this because he was normally Deputy Helpful, but more likely because he felt sorry for me.
And that made me want to go hide in a corner.
“So how are you holding up?” he asked, closing the door behind us.
He watched me for a second, his expression doubtful as we passed an empty glass case. “A lot of officers train here. If you go straight ahead, there’s a gymnasium. Some of us come and play ball.” When I nodded, he gestured to a set of closed double doors on his right. His damp white cotton shirt stretched across his arms. “That’s where they teach Krav Maga. That will teach you self-defense real quick, but the classes being taught there aren’t for beginners.”
In other words, not ideal for what I was looking for.
“You want to go down here.” Shaw pointed down the hallway to our left. “Second set of double doors on your left is room four. That’s where they usually teach the self-defense classes.”
“Thank you.” I stopped in front of the blue doors. Black paper had been taped over the windows, blocking the view inside, and I resisted the urge to peel the paper away and peek inside.
Shaw hesitated a moment. “Like my buddy said back there, this is a smart idea. Hell, I think it should be mandatory in schools.”
Maybe if it had been, I would’ve been able to get away from the freak Saturday without needing luck.
I started to reach for the door when it struck me how I knew him. “Wait a second. Are you related to Gavin?”
“Yeah, I’m his cousin. His father and my father are brothers.” He tilted his head to the side. “You guys were dating for a while, right? But not anymore?”
Nodding absently, I now remembered that Gavin had mentioned having an older cousin named Jordan who was a cop, but they weren’t close due to the gap in their age. Never once in my entire life had I seen Jordan and Gavin together, but there was something else lingering at the fringe of my memory.
“Well . . .” He took a step back. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call. I know the state has your case, but all you have to do is call the sheriff’s office and ask for Jordan Shaw. They’ll get you in touch with me.”
“Thanks,” I said, since it appeared to be the only thing I was capable of saying. Then I gave him a lame, awkward wave.
Shaw turned and then stopped, facing me. His dark eyebrows, the same color as his crew-cut hair, furrowed together. “We’ve met before—before Saturday night.”
I frowned as I searched my memories, coming up empty. “I’m sorry. My brain has been scattered lately. Was it at one of Gavin’s family things?”
“I can understand that.” He flashed me a quick grin. “It wasn’t at a family get together. It was a couple of years ago. I think you were about twelve or thirteen, the same age as Gavin. I responded to a call in the woods.”
An icy rush of tingles exploded across the back of my skull and spread down my neck. I still didn’t remember him, but I knew what he was talking about, and knots formed in my belly. “I was thirteen.”
He nodded as his eyes met mine. “Some calls . . . well, some calls are harder to forget than others, and that was one of them. That kid . . .”