The thing was, anyone could get into the storage room. Hell, they really didn’t even need to be a student. The door was rarely locked, and the doors to the outside were only locked when after school activities ended. Prank or not, it was doubtful the staff would ever find who was responsible for the disturbing display.
Like the clown mask in my locker and the dead bird in Wendy’s bag, it was something that went cold and unexplained. But the police were at the school almost every day. We saw them heading into the administrative offices when we were in the halls, and sometimes we caught glimpses of their cruisers in the parking lot.
But it wasn’t just the local or state boys that sporadically showed up. There were a few in suits that I imagined were on the federal level, and my suspicions were confirmed when I was pulled out of class one afternoon and interviewed all over again.
But they weren’t the only ones to descend on our small town. So did the media. News stations from the surrounding cities and states popped up. I watched the evening news whenever I could, but nothing they said was new.
Over the course of the next week or so, the night Jensen climbed in through my bedroom window was rinsed and repeated. He would scale the tree and come through the window, and he would always kiss me as he locked the door and turned off the lights before pulling me into bed.
Except on Wednesdays.
He used the front door then.
With him, I didn’t need to use the prescription sleeping pills. The prescription was still on my desk unfilled. And some evenings, he’d leave when Mom popped her head into the living room, and then he’d return through the window thirty or so minutes later.
Jensen and I were boyfriend and girlfriend, something I had stopped fantasizing about ages ago. But we were.
Not everyone was happy about our together-ness. Gavin hadn’t spoken to me since the night I had Dr. Oliver’s appointment. He sat clear across from me in English and didn’t return any of my calls or texts. And that hurt something fierce.
I didn’t get it. He’d been dating Vee and I hadn’t freaked out on him when I found out. When I explained this to Linds when she was at my house one evening, she looked at me like I was half stupid.
“It’s pretty obvious,” she said, kicking her legs out to the side, stretching. “You didn’t freak out because you see him as a friend, but honey, he doesn’t see you that way. That’s why he’s freaking.”
I wanted to deny it, but as time passed and Gavin made no attempt at talking to me, it was really obvious and it sucked.
And then there was the stuff I did my best not to dwell on. It was heading into the second week since Monica had disappeared, and there had been no leads in her disappearance or who had killed Vee. Obviously Gavin wasn’t a suspect. Not that anyone at school had determined that on their own, but common sense said that the police would’ve arrested him by now if they had any evidence pointing in his direction.
Things hadn’t returned to normal, though, not that I had expected them to. Candlelight vigils were held for Monica and in Vee’s memory. The hallways at school were subdued as the month of September slowly crept by.
Would the killer ever be found? Had he or she left town? Would Monica ever resurface, alive or dead? No one had the answers, and it seemed as if no news was just as frightening.
But on Friday morning something happened that proved that news was worse than no news. It started as whispers in second period, like a virus that was slow to spread. At the end of third period, Jensen was waiting for me out in the hall. I knew immediately that something was up.
His class was downstairs.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Jensen took my hand, glancing around as he led me to the alcove with a view of the football field. “You haven’t heard?”
Knots formed in my stomach. “Heard what?”
A muscle thrummed along his jaw. “People are saying that Wendy didn’t come home from school yesterday.”
“Oh no,” I whispered, squeezing my eyes shut. “It’s not just a rumor?”
“No. Mr. Vicks confirmed it last class. He asked if anyone might have information about her whereabouts, to please come forward.” He squeezed my hand. “She’s gone and . . .”
“And so is Monica, just like Vee.” I shuddered.
Jensen tugged me into his chest, and I wrapped my arms around him. This wasn’t over, not that I truly believed it for one second, but this was a brutal slap in the face to everyone.
The warning bell drove us apart, and I went to my next class in a daze. By the end of the day, the news had broken wide open. Another girl was missing.
Another girl who had picked on Penn.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I stood in front of my locker. This didn’t have anything to do with Penn. It couldn’t.
Jensen touched my arm. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I opened my locker. “Can we hit the warehouse? I’d like to—”
“Ella!” Linds shouted from down the hall, causing several heads to turn. She hurried up to my side, placing her hands together under her chin. “Can I ask you a huge favor?”
“Sure.” I shoved most of my books inside my locker, keeping only my English text for homework. “But it better have absolutely nothing to do with haunted anything.”
Her face fell. “Actually, that’s on hold until we find a new location. Obviously, no one wants to go to a fake haunted house that actually might be . . .” She trailed off, shaking her head. “Anyway, no. I’m not asking about that. Mom and Dad are out of town, visiting my aunt. Can you stay with me? My parents won’t be back until tomorrow night. Please? Pretty please?”
Jensen stiffened beside me, and I glanced over at him. One look told me he was not happy at all with the idea of me spending a night alone with Linds. It only made me a little uneasy, but common sense told me there was safety in numbers. Everyone who had been attacked had been by themselves.
“Come on,” she pleaded. “We haven’t hung out in ages. And we can rent stupid comedies with Ryan Reynolds in them. Sorry.” She glanced at Jensen, smiling. “He’s hot. So are you, but he’s Theo James hot.”
“I’m trying not to be too offended,” he deadpanned, and I grinned.
“Anyway, we can get a ton of junk food. I’ll go to the store and get whatever you want. We can even invite Heidi,” she added, and that was a big deal. “Please.”
She was right. We hadn’t hung out in a long time. Closing my locker door, I slung my bag over my shoulder. “Yeah, you know, I think that would be a good idea.”
“Oh!” she squealed, throwing her arms around me. “Thank you!”
“I’ve got a few things to do first,” I said, once she stopped strangling me. “But I can come over around seven or so.”
“That’s perfect. Gives me enough time to go shopping after practice.” She sprinted forward, hugging me again. “Thank you!”
After Linds headed off in the opposite direction, I turned to Jensen. He didn’t look thrilled. “We’ll be okay,” I told him.
He nodded. “Maybe I can—”
“Girls’ night,” I said, even though the thought of him coming over to Linds’ house didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
“Yeah, yeah.” He took my hand, squeezing it gently. “I’m really going to work your ass during training now.”
That sounded kind of dirty.
He glanced down at me, eyebrows raised. “And not in a way you’d enjoy.”
“Boo,” I murmured.
Chuckling under his breath, he took his sweet time walking beside me as we made our way outside. Since I didn’t have to be at Linds’ until seven, we had time to spare.
The weather was cool and the scent of fall was in the air as we trekked up the slight hill leading to the parking lot. It seemed like the leaves had begun to change to gold and red while I was in class, or I was just that unobservant.
“Jesus,” Jensen growled, dropping my hand as he came to a standstill.
Up ahead, a few kids were hanging around, snapping pictures of a car. My jaw dropped when I saw what they were snapping with their camera phones, and anger coursed through me like bitter acid.