My brows rose.
“Okay. None of that came out right.” He scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Can I start over?”
“That might be a good idea,” Heidi murmured.
“It’s okay.” I smiled at him. “I’m fine. Just a little bruised up, but Linds . . . she’s not okay.”
Heidi placed her cup on the coffee table. “And the cops seriously have no suspects?”
“There really hasn’t been any evidence left behind.” Jensen’s hand moved up and down my back as he spoke. “Except . . . well, the bodies.”
“How do you know it was a guy?” Heidi asked.
I looked at her sharply and, for some reason, a chill radiated over my skin. I shook my head. “It was a guy. I mean, I don’t know of any girls that can pick me up and toss me like a baseball.”
Jensen stiffened behind me.
“It’s definitely a guy,” Gavin said, almost distractedly as he stared at the closed blinds.
“Yeah, most murderous psychos are men.” Heidi twisted the end of her braid between her fingers. “At least they are in TV and movies.”
I cracked a grin at that, and then sipped my cocoa.
“Something is going on, though,” she said, dropping the edges of her hair. “He’s totally jumped out of his pattern.”
“What?” Gavin frowned.
“There was a pattern.” Heidi straightened when we all looked at her. “What? I can’t be the only person who saw this.”
“Apparently you are,” Jensen said.
“It’s really obvious. Or, at least I think it is,” she said. “Don’t most serial killers follow a pattern? They do in the movies and in books.”
Well, that was some hardcore proof right there.
“Look. Vee was missing for two weeks, right? The night it marked two weeks, you were attacked. The night of Brock’s party. Then Vee’s body was found a week later, a few days after Monica went missing. And then, two weeks later, Wendy goes missing and . . . well, Monica is found.”
“Holy shit.” Jensen straightened a bit. “You’re right. The timeline.”
She nodded. “But tonight threw the pattern off completely. He went after Ella and tried to kill Linds.”
“Sorry,” she said softly. “But locking someone in a car in a garage with said car running is pretty clear-cut.”
“I know.” I took another drink, but it soured in my stomach. I placed it aside. “Okay. Let’s say there is a pattern. Why would he go off it?”
She shrugged. “I’m not a serial killer, so I really don’t know.”
“Maybe he’s just done with it,” Gavin said, shifting his gaze to where I sat.
“Or he’s just getting sloppy,” Jensen commented.
“I don’t think it’s that. Maybe he had this grand plan but decided to speed it up. Get it over with. Or maybe . . . maybe he thinks the police are close to finding out who he is.”
Jensen leaned around me, frowning. Gavin looked at him for a moment, and something seemed to pass between them. I had no idea what it was, but Gavin looked away with a shrug. “Does the pattern really matter?” he asked. “To me, it’s the why behind it all.”
The why. That was a big deal. Something Heidi said nagged at me. Two weeks. It kept replaying over and over in my head. Two weeks.
“Maybe he doesn’t like girls,” Heidi said, delicate brows knitted together. “I mean, he’s gone after only girls.”
That was pretty scary, but I didn’t think it was just that. I glanced up, my eyes meeting Gavin’s, and it clicked. I stood suddenly, unable to sit.
“What?” he said, watching me.
I paced to the middle of the room. “Two weeks, right? You know what else took two weeks?” My heart pounded in my chest as I turned to Jensen, and he shook his head. I knew he had an idea of where I was going with this. “Penn.”
“What?” Gavin exclaimed.
Heidi looked confused. She’d known about Penn, but she hadn’t lived here when all of that went down.
“No, Ella. This has nothing to do with him,” Jensen said, leaning forward with his hands on his knees.
“Why would it have to do with him?” asked Heidi.
Taking a quick breath, I filled her in on what had happened—about Brock and his friends and then what . . . what Jensen and I had done. “Two weeks after the party, Penn killed himself. It was exactly two weeks.”
“But that could be a coincidence.” Heidi wrapped her arms around herself, looking more disturbed than she sounded.
“Could it? I mean, Penn loved cardinals.”
“What?” I cut Jensen off. “It’s not impossible.”
“Penn is dead,” Gavin said, and I swore to God, I wanted to smack someone. “I know you know that, so why do you think it has anything to do with him?”
Shaking my head, I crossed the room and peeked through the blinds. I couldn’t see anything but the front porch railing and the hedges, but I knew a cruiser sat on the street. The police said they’d have a presence here. Just in case.
Just in case he tried for a third time.
“Maybe someone wants revenge,” I said, turning around to face them. “Look at everyone who has been attacked or gone missing. Vee and Monica teased him in school. I know what I did.” My heart thumped heavily as I glanced at Jensen. He looked away, a muscle thrumming along his jaw. “Linds didn’t, but she was with me.”
“But who would want revenge? His family doesn’t live around here anymore,” Gavin said. “And to be honest, I think it’s awfully convenient that Brock just happened to be outside tonight.”
I folded my arms across my chest, shivering. “The police questioned him. They were suspicious, but they let him go.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s not a suspect,” Gavin insisted.
Jensen rolled his shoulders as if he was trying to work out a kink. “But if this has to do with Penn—”
“You think that now?” There was no hiding the derision in my voice.
He held up his hands. “I’m not saying I do or I don’t, but why would it be Brock? He was a total dick to Penn.”
“And yet, you’re still friends with him,” Gavin commented.
Jensen looked at him blandly but didn’t respond.
“Whatever,” Gavin muttered.
I ignored them. “Maybe he’s doing it because he feels guilty for what he’s done.”
“Well, if it does have to do with Penn, that just leaves you, Jensen, Brock . . . and who else?” Gavin frowned. “There’s someone else.”
“Mason,” Jensen muttered.
He nodded slowly. “He’d be in danger, too.”
“Does it matter why?” Heidi asked suddenly. She stared down at her hands as she spoke. “To me, it doesn’t. Because no matter what the reason is, it doesn’t justify what’s happening. It won’t ever change what this person is doing, and I think, in a way, knowing why cheapens the memories of those affected. As if stamping a reason on why someone is murdered somehow changes the fact that they’re dead. It doesn’t.”
Heidi had a point.
Mom showed up after that. It was time for everyone to hit the road. I really didn’t like the idea of any of them leaving. I hugged Heidi goodbye.
Gavin stopped at the door and turned to me. I could feel Jensen’s eyes on us. “I know it didn’t sound like it earlier, but I think you’re on to something.”
I lowered my voice. “About Penn?”
He nodded, looking over my shoulder. “I don’t know how or why, but I . . . I believe you.”
I closed my eyes out of relief. At least someone didn’t think I was completely crazy. “Thank you.”
Gavin started to walk away, but stopped and faced me. “I’m sorry about the way I reacted—about you and Jensen.”
The change in subject caught me off guard. “It’s okay.”
“No, it isn’t. It was a douche move on my part. So I’m sorry,” he said again. “I’m not going to lie. It sucks thinking of you two together, but I am happy for you.”