“So you broke up with him?” Trooper Ritter asked.
I nodded, feeling uneasy with this whole line of questioning. “It was mutual.”
“Now I’m a little confused,” the other trooper stated. He rested his elbow on the table as he spoke. “If it was a mutual breakup, why didn’t Gavin tell you that he was dating Vee?”
Knots formed in my stomach. That was a damn good question. One I didn’t have an answer for. “I don’t know. I really had no idea they were . . . they were seeing each other.”
“And how does that make you feel?” he asked.
I glanced at Trooper Ritter, knocked off-kilter by the question. “How do I feel about them dating? I . . . I don’t know.” Really, I hadn’t even begun to wrap my head around that. I’d never once heard Gavin even talk to her let alone be around her. “We weren’t seeing each other anymore, so . . .” Or at least I assumed they started dating after we broke up, but who knew?
I didn’t know anything anymore.
“Is . . . he a suspect?” I asked after they asked a few more questions about him.
Trooper Ritter smiled tightly, causing the skin around his eyes to crinkle. “Right now, everyone is a potential suspect.”
That statement didn’t sit well with me. When I was excused, I felt a little sick to my stomach, so I stood slowly. I hesitated at the door, turning back to where they sat, tilted together, both speaking in a low voice. “How . . . how did Vee die?”
Ritter glanced up, frowning. “That’s not something we’re at liberty to discuss right now.”
I lowered my gaze. “Was it quick for her, though?”
He seemed to get what I was asking, and when I glanced up, his Adam’s apple bobbed. Meeting my gaze, he didn’t say a word, but it was all in his eyes, and what he didn’t say that gave me my answer.
Vee didn’t go quickly.
I WASN’T TOO surprised when Gavin showed up at my house after Jensen dropped me off. He looked worn out, as if he hadn’t slept in as many days as I hadn’t.
Without saying a word, I stepped aside and he shuffled into the foyer. His pale cheeks bloomed red as he glanced at me, our eyes meeting for a second before his darted away.
Gavin sighed, his shoulders tensing. “I’m guessing you’ve heard.”
I studied him closely, trying to think back to a time when there weren’t any secrets between us. It hadn’t always been like this. Until the eighth grade, he was afraid of putting contacts in his eyes. He’d never been further out of state than Virginia or Maryland. This summer was the first time he’d gone to the beach. He wanted to be a graphic designer when he graduated college. I knew that the sides of his stomach were ticklish, and between the three of us—Jensen, him, and me—he was the only one who’d said that Penn wouldn’t understand what Jensen and I had planned to do.
We hadn’t listened to him.
My chest rose with a deep breath as I pushed those thoughts aside. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Turning so he faced me, he thrust his hand through his hair. “I didn’t think it was important.”
I gaped at him. “You didn’t think it was important to let me know you were dating Vee? Especially after she went missing?”
“Her going missing had nothing to do with me,” he said, his dark eyes flashing.
“I didn’t say it did, but it’s weird that you never said anything.”
He dragged his hand down his face. “I know, but it wasn’t something that I thought you’d like to hear about, you know? It wasn’t like Vee and I were dating.”
I stared at him as his words sunk in. “So you . . . were just hooking up?”
Closing his eyes, he nodded. “Just a few times, really, over the summer. It was nothing serious.”
Wow. I didn’t know what to think. I never thought Gavin would be into the ‘just hooking up’ thing. And I don’t even know why I thought he wasn’t. I didn’t even know what I knew anymore. Walking around him, I went to the couch and sat down.
Gavin followed me. He didn’t sit, though. He stood by the worn recliner that had belonged to Dad. He hadn’t taken it with him when he moved. Why? Because he and Rose had purchased all new things for their home, you know, so they could have a fresh start.
“We ran into each other at the mall. It was after we broke up. I swear it was. I never messed around on you with her.”
“Okay,” I whispered. I believed him, but that didn’t matter. It was neither here nor there at this point.
“I was . . . missing you and she was just there. One thing led to another and we hooked up. Like I said, it wasn’t anything serious.”
“But you kept hooking up with her?”
As he dropped into the recliner, he kept his gaze glued to the water rings on the coffee table. “Yeah, we did.”
Again, I had no idea what to say. He’d been with her the night she disappeared and not once had he thought it might be something he wanted to share with people? The police? Her family? He could’ve talked to his cousin about it.
“The whole time you and I went out, we never had sex,” he said quietly, and I stiffened at where this conversation was heading. He was correct. We didn’t have sex, sex. But we’d done other things, and I’d enjoyed those things when they were happening. It was all the messy thoughts that had come afterward that I hadn’t. “I thought that maybe something was wrong with me. That I was, like, universally unattractive.”
“It wasn’t that.” I was quick to correct him. “It’s just that you and I . . .”
“Are better as friends. Yeah, trust me, I haven’t forgotten what you said.” His shoulders rose and fell heavily. “But Vee was interested in me and . . .” He laughed hoarsely. “It wasn’t a big deal. I never thought it would end like this.”
I doubted many people did.
He looked at me then, features taut. “You’re looking at me like you have no idea who I am.”
“It’s not that. It’s just, you never seemed like the kind of guy who was into random hookups. That’s more . . .” I didn’t finish that train wreck of a sentence.
“More like Jensen.” He took it there—right there. “I didn’t say anything because of that. I didn’t want you to know, because yeah, as stupid as it sounds, there’s a part of me that still thinks there’s hope for us.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Somehow this painfully awkward conversation just went from icky straight to oh shit, get me out of here. “Gavin . . .”
“Look, you don’t need to respond to that or even think about it, especially right now.” He slapped his hands down on his knees. “But I’m telling you that I have no idea why Vee went missing, and I sure as hell didn’t have anything to do with it. You believe me, right?”
Forcing my eyes open, my gaze latched on to his. Those knots were back in my stomach, weighing me down. Deep down, I knew Gavin didn’t have anything to do with Vee disappearing. I’d known him all my life, and the boy did not have something that . . . that evil inside of him. But I was disappointed. Not that he’d been hooking up with Vee, but because he hadn’t told anyone and maybe that information wouldn’t be helpful, but we’d never know now. “Yes,” I said. “Of course.”
Tension seeped out of his body and he all but slumped over. “Thank God. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” He scrubbed at his jaw again. “My cousin—you know Jordan Shaw? One of the deputies?”
“He told me—I mean, I don’t know if he was supposed to do this or not, but they aren’t looking at me too seriously, especially not after they interviewed me.”
I picked up a throw pillow, tucking it against my chest. “Why?”
“They . . . man, they told me what happened to her. I guess to see how I reacted or something.” Blood drained from his face, and my fingers tightened around the edges of the pillow. “God, I got sick.” He broke off, laughing harshly. “I actually got sick.”