My eyes widened as my stomach dropped to my toes. There was one more, and her name . . . was Vee Bartol. Until whatever stupid thing that had come between Vee and Monica during freshman year, those two had been thick as thieves.
Vee was missing. So was Monica.
But there were two more names I could add to that list. And although those two people hadn’t bullied Penn, they had let him down. They had failed him in the worse kind of way.
“Do you think . . . do you think he has anything to do with Monica?” I asked, unable to say his name out loud.
“Not really,” Shaw replied. “But knowing how everything turned out with Penn gives me a better understanding of what kind of person Monica Graham is.”
His response should’ve relaxed me, but I was turning it over in my head, lost in my own thoughts until Shaw spoke again.
“What about you, Jensen?” he asked. “When we spoke to Wendy at school today, she listed you as one of Monica’s friends. Do you have any idea why Monica might want to leave home, or if she was having problems with anyone?”
Jensen pulled his hand away as he rocked back in the chair, folding his arms. “Monica and I weren’t that close, and honestly, when Wendy mentioned her not coming home last night while we were at lunch, I didn’t think much of it.”
He’d known that Monica was missing at lunch and hadn’t said anything?
He shrugged one shoulder. “She and Brock have been dating on and off for a while. If anyone knows why Monica might want to skip town, it would be him.”
Shaw nodded again. “We’ve spoken with him and there are still several other people we need to meet with.” He looked over at me, smiling slightly. “I don’t want you to be overly concerned. Like I said, there is a small chance this has anything to do with what happened to you.”
But there was no stopping my next thought. The guy hadn’t managed to grab me, but he’d gotten Monica. My stomach roiled. I felt like hurling.
“Even if these things are related, the likelihood of him coming after you again is rare,” he continued. “In any case I can think of, the attacker has never gone after a victim that got away.”
I hated that label, but what I hated more was the idea that Vee and Monica hadn’t run away. That what happened to me Saturday night was connected to them, and that meant the attacker was hanging around. Visions of serial killers and the like danced in my head.
This couldn’t be real.
I lived in a town were virtually nothing happened. Cows escaped farms and ended up on the Interstate. People got arrested because they were driving ATVs on the main roads. Sure, we had a drug problem, we had crime, and the random shooting here and there happened, but we were a safe community compared to other cities.
“There was a mask in my locker today,” I recalled suddenly. “I have no idea how that slipped my mind, but when I opened my locker before I left the school there was a mask in there.”
The deputy’s gaze sharpened. “What?”
I told him about the mask in my locker. “One of the teachers took it. Mr. Holden. He said it was a prank, just like the cardinal in Wendy—”
“We were told about the cardinal by the administration, but as far as I know, no one knows about the mask,” he said. “This is needed information. Thank you.”
Shaw didn’t have any more questions, and the three of us walked out together. Shaw called Jensen over to him for what was obviously a private conversation. “Wait for me?” Jensen requested.
“Sure.” I headed over to where my car was parked. Jensen joined me a minute later. “What was that about?” I asked, watching the cruiser pull out of the parking lot.
It was late now, the sun turning the sky to a golden red as it set behind the mountains. Jensen frowned as he watched the cruiser disappear. “You’re probably not going to like it.”
I crossed my arms. “Try me.”
“He wanted to make sure I kept an eye on you.”
My mouth dropped open. “Come again?”
“Told you.” He sighed. “He just wants to make sure you aren’t running around a lot by yourself. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Annoyed that the officer hadn’t felt the need to tell me not to go traipsing through town, I shifted my weight. “So, he wasn’t being entirely honest in there. He thinks what happened to me is related to Monica and Vee.”
“Right now, I don’t think any of them know what’s really going on.” Leaning against my car, Jensen rubbed his hands along his jaw as he stretched his neck from side to side. “Damn, this day has gone from weird to the absolute bizarre.”
That was the understatement of the century. Opening my driver’s side door, I tossed my bag into the passenger seat.
“Why didn’t you tell me what really happened the night the police were at your house?” he asked, angling his body toward mine.
I gripped the door. “Why didn’t you say anything about Monica?”
“I didn’t think anything of it. Thought she just ran off or something. And I didn’t want you worrying, especially after what happened with you Saturday night,” he said, and that sounded pretty damn reasonable. “So why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why would I?” I bit down on my lip. “The cops found no evidence of what I saw, and it makes me sound crazy. Maybe I am a little crazy.”
He pushed off the car. “You’re not crazy.” Rounding the edge of the door, he placed his hand next to mine and lowered his head. “Ella, you’ve had a pretty extreme thing happen to you. If your imagination got away from you, no one is going to blame you for that.”
My eyes met his. “What if it wasn’t my imagination?”
His lips pressed together. “God, I don’t even want to think about that.”
“Me neither.” I started to look away, but he cupped my cheek. The touch shocked me like touching a live wire would. My guard down, the next question slipped out. “Do you think what happened to me is related to Monica disappearing?”
His eyes held mine. “Truth?”
“Truth,” I whispered.
“Shaw isn’t going to tell you yes, because that could jeopardize the investigation. It could also needlessly scare you, but think about it. For the most part, Martinsburg is a pretty uneventful town, right? What’s the probability of one girl going missing and another being attacked and she barely escapes?” When I winced at that, he smoothed his thumb along my cheek, skating under the pink, faintly scratched skin. “And then another girl goes missing? How can they not be related?”
And that was a damn good question, but that wasn’t the only one that came to mind. My thoughts went back to that room, to the list of those who’d terrorized Penn all those years ago. Did it have anything to do with what . . . with what happened to him? But why and how? There were other connections between all of us. After all, we’d grown up together, but Shaw’s innocent question had planted a very ugly seed in my brain.
Uncomfortable with where my thoughts were heading, I pulled away, pressing back against my car. “I’m going to head home.”
Jensen let his hand fall to his side. “Rain check on grabbing something to eat then?”
I nodded. “See you at school tomorrow.”
He stepped back, closing the door for me after I got behind the wheel. Sending him one last look, I pulled out of the parking spot, and when I glanced in the rearview mirror, Jensen was standing where I’d left him. His hands in his pockets.
“THIS IS SO scary.” Linds paced in front of the couch. “It’s like something in a movie. Or on one of those forensics shows.”
Heidi sat beside me, her eyebrows arched. “Like Forensic Files?”
“What?” Linds stopped, head cocked to the side. “What is that?”
“A TV show,” sighed Heidi.
She shook her head. “No. Like Criminal Minds or something—something people actually watch.”
Both girls had showed up at my house a few minutes after I’d gotten home. I was shocked when I’d heard that Linds had picked up Heidi and drove here, and that she hadn’t driven off the road, distracted by the arguing they usually do with each another. Linds had seen my surprised expression and had read it clearly.