Main Two Can Keep a Secret
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What??? What on Earth was that ending. Ohmigosh. Karen you can't do these things to us. Jesus Christ. Guys this book is phenomenal
29 August 2020 (05:02)
This was a fair and enjoyable read yet pridictable at the same time.
22 October 2020 (21:43)
AHHH that was one ending!!! Wow don't ambush that on me!!! Is ANY1 ever gonna find out about that last secret??!?!!
27 January 2021 (21:58)
What a load of old codswallop
17 April 2021 (11:11)
Super Smexy Hotty
Are you guys having an orgasm? I sure am!
06 June 2021 (22:40)
@supersmexyhotty what. The. F.
17 June 2021 (12:13)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Text copyright © 2019 by Karen M. McManus Front cover photographs © 2019 by Johner Images/Getty Images and Jamie Grill/Getty Images All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. Visit us on the Web! randomhouseteens.com Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: McManus, Karen M., author. Title: Two can keep a secret / Karen McManus. Description: First edition. | New York : Delacorte Press,  | Summary: While true-crime afficionado Ellery and her twin brother are staying with their grandmother in a Vermont community known for murder, a new friend goes missing and Ellery may be next. Identifiers: LCCN 2018022931 (print) | LCCN 2018029202 (ebook) | ISBN 978-1-5247-1474-1 (el) | ISBN 978-1-5247-1472-7 (hc) | ISBN 978-1-5247-1473-4 (glb) | ISBN 978-1-9848-5190-1 (intl. tr. pbk.) Subjects: | CYAC: Murder—Fiction. | Missing persons—Fiction. | Community life—Vermont—Fiction. | Brothers and sisters—Fiction. | Twins—Fiction. | Moving, Household—Fiction. | Grandmothers—Fiction. | Mystery and detective stories. Classification: LCC PZ7.1.M4637 (ebook) | LCC PZ7.1.M4637 Two 2019 (print) | DDC [Fic]—dc23 Ebook ISBN 9781524714741 Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read. v5.4 ep Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Dedication Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chap; ter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-one Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-four Chapter Twenty-five Chapter Twenty-six Chapter Twenty-seven Chapter Twenty-eight Chapter Twenty-nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-one Chapter Thirty-two Chapter Thirty-three Chapter Thirty-four Chapter Thirty-five Chapter Thirty-six Chapter Thirty-seven Chapter Thirty-eight Acknowledgments About the Author For Gabriela, Carolina, and Erik CHAPTER ONE Ellery Friday, August 30 If I believed in omens, this would be a bad one. There’s only one suitcase left on the baggage carousel. It’s bright pink, covered with Hello Kitty stickers, and definitely not mine. My brother, Ezra, watches it pass us for the fourth time, leaning on the handle of his own oversized suitcase. The crowd around the carousel is nearly gone, except for a couple arguing about who was supposed to keep track of their rental car reservation. “Maybe you should take it,” Ezra suggests. “Seems like whoever owns it wasn’t on our flight, and I bet they have an interesting wardrobe. A lot of polka dots, probably. And glitter.” His phone chimes, and he pulls it out of his pocket. “Nana’s outside.” “I can’t believe this,” I mutter, kicking the toe of my sneaker against the carousel’s metal side. “My entire life was in that suitcase.” It’s a slight exaggeration. My actual entire life was in La Puente, California, until about eight hours ago. Other than a few boxes shipped to Vermont last week, the suitcase contains what’s left. “I guess we should report it.” Ezra scans the baggage claim area, running a hand over his close-cropped hair. He used to have thick dark curls like mine, hanging in his eyes, and I still can’t get used to the cut he got over the summer. He tilts his suitcase and pivots toward the information desk. “Over here, probably.” The skinny guy behind the desk looks like he could still be in high school, with a rash of red pimples dotting his cheeks and jawline. A gold name tag pinned crookedly to his blue vest reads “Andy.” Andy’s thin lips twist when I tell him about my suitcase, and he cranes his neck toward the Hello Kitty bag still making carousel laps. “Flight 5624 from Los Angeles? With a layover in Charlotte?” I nod. “You sure that’s not yours?” “Positive.” “Bummer. It’ll turn up, though. You just gotta fill this out.” He yanks open a drawer and pulls out a form, sliding it toward me. “There’s a pen around here somewhere,” he mutters, pawing half-heartedly through a stack of papers. “I have one.” I unzip the front of my backpack, pulling out a book that I place on the counter while I feel around for a pen. Ezra raises his brows when he sees the battered hardcover. “Really, Ellery?” he asks. “You brought In Cold Blood on the plane? Why didn’t you just ship it with the rest of your books?” “It’s valuable,” I say defensively. Ezra rolls his eyes. “You know that’s not Truman Capote’s actual signature. Sadie got fleeced.” “Whatever. It’s the thought that counts,” I mutter. Our mother bought me the “signed” first edition off eBay after she’d landed a role as Dead Body #2 on Law & Order four years ago. She gave Ezra a Sex Pistols album cover with a Sid Vicious autograph that was probably just as forged. We should’ve gotten a car with reliable brakes instead, but Sadie’s never been great at long-term planning. “Anyway, you know what they say. When in Murderland …” I finally extract a pen and start scratching my name across the form. “You headed for Echo Ridge, then?” Andy asks. I pause on the second c of my last name and he adds, “They don’t call it that anymore, you know. And you’re early. It doesn’t open for another week.” “I know. I didn’t mean the theme park. I meant the …” I trail off before saying town, and shove In Cold Blood into my bag. “Never mind,” I say, returning my attention to the form. “How long does it usually take to get your stuff back?” “Shouldn’t be more than a day.” Andy’s eyes drift between Ezra and me. “You guys look a lot alike. You twins?” I nod and keep writing. Ezra, ever polite, answers, “We are.” “I was supposed to be a twin,” Andy says. “The other one got absorbed in the womb, though.” Ezra lets out a surprised little snort, and I bite back a laugh. This happens to my brother all the time; people overshare the strangest things with him. We might have almost the same face, but his is the one everyone trusts. “I always thought it would’ve been cool to have a twin. You could pretend to be one another and mess with people.” I look up, and Andy is squinting at us again. “Well. I guess you guys can’t do that. You aren’t the right kind of twins.” “Definitely not,” Ezra says with a fixed smile. I write faster and hand the completed form to Andy, who tears off the top sheets and gives me the yellow carbon. “So somebody will get in touch, right?” I ask. “Yep,” Andy says. “You don’t hear from them tomorrow, call the number at the bottom. Have fun in Echo Ridge.” Ezra exhales loudly as we head for the revolving door, and I grin at him over my shoulder. “You make the nicest friends.” He shudders. “Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Absorbed. How does that even happen? Did he … no. I’m not going to speculate. I don’t want to know. What a weird thing to grow up with, though, huh? Knowing how easily you could’ve been the wrong twin.” We push through the door into a blast of exhaust-filled, stifling air that takes me by surprise. Even on the last day of August, I’d expected Vermont to be a lot cooler than California. I pull my hair off my neck, while Ezra scrolls through his phone. “Nana says she’s circling because she didn’t want to park in a lot,” he reports. I raise my brows at him. “Nana’s texting and driving?” “Apparently.” I haven’t seen my grandmother since she visited us in California ten years ago, but from what I can remember that seems out of character. We wait a few minutes, wilting in the heat, until a forest-green Subaru station wagon pulls up beside us. The passenger-side window rolls down, and Nana sticks her head out. She doesn’t look much different than she does over Skype, although her thick gray bangs appear freshly cut. “Go on, get in,” she calls, side-eyeing the traffic cop a few feet from us. “They won’t let you idle for more than a minute.” She pulls her head back in as Ezra wheels his solitary suitcase toward the trunk. When we slide into the backseat Nana turns to face us, and so does a younger woman behind the steering wheel. “Ellery, Ezra, this is Melanie Kilduff. Her family lives down the street from us. I have terrible night vision, so Melanie was kind enough to drive. She used to babysit your mother when she was young. You’ve probably heard the name.” Ezra and I exchange wide-eyed glances. Yes. Yes, we have. Sadie left Echo Ridge when she was eighteen, and she’s only been back twice. The first time was the year before we were born, when our grandfather died from a heart attack. And the second time was five years ago, for Melanie’s teenage daughter’s funeral. Ezra and I watched the Dateline special—“Mystery at Murderland”—at home while our neighbor stayed with us. I was transfixed by the story of Lacey Kilduff, the beautiful blond homecoming queen from my mother’s hometown, found strangled in a Halloween theme park. Airport Andy was right; the park’s owner changed its name from Murderland to Fright Farm a few months later. I’m not sure the case would have gotten as much national attention if the park hadn’t had such an on-the-nose name. Or if Lacey hadn’t been the second pretty seventeen-year-old to go missing not only from the same small town but also the same street. Sadie wouldn’t answer any of our questions when she got back from Lacey’s funeral. “I just want to forget about it,” she said whenever we asked. Which is what she’s been saying about Echo Ridge our entire lives. Ironic, I guess, that we ended up here anyway. “Nice to meet you,” Ezra says to Melanie, while I somehow manage to choke on my own saliva. He pounds me on the back, harder than necessary. Melanie is pretty in a faded sort of way, with pale blond hair pulled into a French braid, light blue eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles. She flashes a disarming, gap-toothed smile. “You as well. Sorry we’re late, but we hit a surprising amount of traffic. How was your flight?” Before Ezra can answer, a loud rap sounds on the roof of the Subaru, making Nana jump. “You need to keep moving,” the traffic cop calls. “Burlington is the rudest city,” Nana huffs. She presses a button on the door to close her window as Melanie eases the car behind a taxi. I fumble with my seat belt as I stare at the back of Melanie’s head. I wasn’t expecting to meet her like this. I figured I would eventually, since she and Nana are neighbors, but I thought it would be more of a wave while taking out the trash, not an hour-long drive as soon as I landed in Vermont. “I was so sorry to hear about your mother,” Melanie says as she exits the airport and pulls onto a narrow highway dotted with green signs. It’s almost ten o’clock at night, and a small cluster of buildings in front of us glows with lit windows. “But I’m glad she’s getting the help she needs. Sadie is such a strong woman. I’m sure you’ll be back with her soon, but I hope you enjoy your time in Echo Ridge. It’s a lovely little town. I know Nora is looking forward to showing you around.” There. That’s how you navigate an awkward conversation. No need to lead with Sorry your mom drove her car into a jewelry store while she was high on opioids and had to go to rehab for four months. Just acknowledge the elephant in the room, sidestep, and segue into smoother conversational waters. Welcome to Echo Ridge. I fall asleep shortly after we hit the highway, and don’t stir until a loud noise jolts me awake. It sounds as though the car is being pelted from every direction with dozens of rocks. I turn toward Ezra, disoriented, but he looks equally confused. Nana twists in her seat, shouting to be heard over the roar. “Hail. Not uncommon this time of year. Although these are rather large.” “I’m going to pull over and let this pass,” Melanie calls. She eases the car to the side of the road and shifts into park. The hail is hitting harder than ever, and I can’t help but think that she’s going to have hundreds of tiny dents in her car by the time it stops. One particularly large hailstone smacks right into the middle of the windshield, startling us all. “How is it hailing?” I ask. “It was hot in Burlington.” “Hail forms in the cloud layer,” Nana explains, gesturing toward the sky. “Temperatures are freezing there. The stones will melt quickly on the ground, though.” Her voice isn’t warm, exactly—I’m not sure warmth is possible for her—but it’s more animated than it’s been all night. Nana used to be a teacher, and she’s obviously a lot more comfortable in that role than that of Custodial Grandparent. Not that I blame her. She’s stuck with us during Sadie’s sixteen weeks of court-ordered rehab, and vice versa. The judge insisted we live with family, which severely limited our options. Our father was a one-night stand—a stuntman, or so he claimed during the whopping two hours he and Sadie spent together after meeting at an LA club. We don’t have aunts, uncles, or cousins. Not a single person, except for Nana, to take us in. We sit in silence for a few minutes, watching hailstones bounce off the car hood, until the frequency tapers and finally stops altogether. Melanie pulls back onto the road, and I glance at the clock on the dashboard. It’s nearly eleven; I slept for almost an hour. I nudge Ezra and ask, “We must almost be there, right?” “Almost,” Ezra says. He lowers his voice. “Place is hopping on a Friday night. We haven’t passed a building for miles.” It’s pitch black outside, and even after rubbing my eyes a few times I can’t see much out the window except the shadowy blur of trees. I try, though, because I want to see the place Sadie couldn’t wait to leave. “It’s like living in a postcard,” she used to say. “Pretty, shiny, and closed in. Everyone who lives in Echo Ridge acts like you’ll vanish if you venture outside the border.” The car goes over a bump, and my seat belt digs into my neck as the impact jolts me to one side. Ezra yawns so hard that his jaw cracks. I’m sure that once I crashed he felt obligated to stay awake and make conversation, even though neither of us has slept properly for days. “We’re less than a mile from home.” Nana’s voice from the front seat startles us both. “We just passed the ‘Welcome to Echo Ridge’ sign, although it’s so poorly lit that I don’t suppose you even noticed.” She’s right. I didn’t, though I’d made a mental note to look for it. The sign was one of the few things Sadie ever talked about related to Echo Ridge, usually after a few glasses of wine. “ ‘Population 4,935.’ Never changed the entire eighteen years I lived there,” she’d say with a smirk. “Apparently if you’re going to bring someone in, you have to take someone out first.” “Here comes the overpass, Melanie.” Nana’s voice has a warning edge. “I know,” Melanie says. The road curves sharply as we pass beneath an arch of gray stone, and Melanie slows to a crawl. There are no streetlights along this stretch, and Melanie switches on the high beams. “Nana is the worst backseat driver ever,” Ezra whispers. “Really?” I whisper back. “But Melanie’s so careful.” “Unless we’re at a red light, we’re going too fast.” I snicker, just as my grandmother hollers, “Stop!” in such a commanding voice that both Ezra and I jump. For a split second, I think she has supersonic hearing and is annoyed at our snarking. Then Melanie slams on the brakes, stopping the car so abruptly that I’m pitched forward against my seat belt. “What the—?” Ezra and I both ask at the same time, but Melanie and Nana have already unbuckled and scrambled out of the car. We exchange confused glances and follow suit. The ground is covered with puddles of half-melted hail, and I pick my way around them toward my grandmother. Nana is standing in front of Melanie’s car, her gaze fixed on the patch of road bathed in bright headlights. And on the still figure lying right in the middle of it. Covered in blood, with his neck bent at a horribly wrong angle and his eyes wide open, staring at nothing. CHAPTER TWO Ellery Saturday, August 31 The sun wakes me up, burning through blinds that clearly weren’t purchased for their room-darkening properties. But I stay immobile under the covers—a thin crocheted bedspread and petal-soft sheets—until a low knock sounds on the door. “Yeah?” I sit up, futilely trying to push hair out of my eyes, as Ezra enters. The silver-plated clock on the nightstand reads 9:50, but since I’m still on West Coast time I don’t feel as though I’ve slept nearly enough. “Hey,” Ezra says. “Nana said to wake you up. A police officer is on his way over. He wants to talk to us about last night.” Last night. We stayed with the man in the road, crouching next to him between dark pools of blood, until an ambulance came. I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face at first, but once I did I couldn’t look away. He was so young. No older than thirty, dressed in athletic clothes and sneakers. Melanie, who’s a nurse, performed CPR until the EMTs arrived, but more like she was praying for a miracle than because she thought it would do any good. She told us when we got back into Nana’s car that he was dead before we arrived. “Jason Bowman,” she’d said in a shaking voice. “He’s—he was—one of the science teachers at Echo Ridge High. Helped out with marching band, too. Really popular with the kids. You would have … you should have … met him next week.” Ezra, who’s fully dressed, hair damp from a recent shower, tosses a small plastic pack onto the bed, bringing me back to the present. “Also, she said to give you these.” The unopened package has the Hanes logo on the front, along with a picture of a smiling blond woman wearing a sports bra and underpants that come halfway up her waist. “Oh no.” “Oh yes. Those are literally granny panties. Nana says she bought a couple sizes too small by mistake and forgot to return them. Now they’re yours.” “Fantastic,” I mutter, swinging my legs out of bed. I’m wearing the T-shirt I had layered under my sweater yesterday, plus a rolled-up pair of Ezra’s sweatpants. When I learned I’d be moving to Echo Ridge, I went through my entire closet and ruthlessly donated anything I hadn’t worn in the past few months. I pared my wardrobe down so much that everything, except for a few coats and shoes that I shipped last week, fit into a single suitcase. At the time, it felt like I was bringing order and control to at least one small part of my life. Now, of course, all it means is that I have nothing to wear. I pick my phone up from the nightstand, checking for a luggage-related text or voice mail. But there’s nothing. “Why are you up so early?” I ask Ezra. He shrugs. “It’s not that early. I’ve been walking around the neighborhood. It’s pretty. Very leafy. I posted a couple of Insta stories. And made a playlist.” I fold my arms. “Not another Michael playlist.” “No,” Ezra says defensively. “It’s a musical tribute to the Northeast. You’d be surprised how many songs have a New England state in the title.” “Mm-hmm.” Ezra’s boyfriend, Michael, broke up with him preemptively the week before we left because, he said, “long-distance relationships don’t ever work.” Ezra tries to act like he doesn’t care, but he’s created some seriously emo playlists since it happened. “Don’t judge.” Ezra’s eyes drift toward the bookcase, where In Cold Blood is lined up neatly next to my Ann Rule collection, Fatal Vision, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and the rest of my true-crime books. They’re the only things I unpacked last night from the boxes stacked in one corner of the room. “We all have our coping mechanisms.” He retreats to his room, and I gaze around the unfamiliar space I’ll be living in for the next four months. When we arrived last night, Nana told me that I’d be sleeping in Sadie’s old room. I was both eager and nervous opening the door, wondering what echoes of my mother I’d find inside. But I walked into a standard guest bedroom without a scrap of personality. The furniture is dark wood, the walls a pale eggshell. There’s not much in the way of decor except for lacy curtains, a plaid area rug, and a framed print of a lighthouse. Everything smells faintly of lemon Pledge and cedar. When I try to imagine Sadie here—fixing her hair in the cloudy mirror over the dresser or doing her homework at the old-fashioned desk—the images won’t come. Ezra’s room is the same. There’s no hint that a teenage girl ever lived in either of them. I drop to the floor beside my moving boxes and root around in the nearest one until I come across plastic-wrapped picture frames. The first one I unwrap is a photo of Ezra and me standing on Santa Monica Pier last year, a perfect sunset behind us. The setting is gorgeous, but it’s not a flattering picture of me. I wasn’t ready for the shot, and my tense expression doesn’t match Ezra’s wide grin. I kept it, though, because it reminded me of another photo. That’s the second one I pull out—grainy and much older, of two identical teenage girls with long, curly hair like mine, dressed in ’90s grungewear. One of them is smiling brightly, the other looks annoyed. My mother and her twin sister, Sarah. They were seventeen then, seniors at Echo Ridge High like Ezra and I are about to be. A few weeks after the photo was taken, Sarah disappeared. It’s been twenty-three years and no one knows what happened to her. Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say that if anybody does know, they’re not telling. I place the photos side by side on top of the bookcase, and think about Ezra’s words in the airport last night, after Andy overshared his origin story. What a weird thing to grow up with, though, huh? Knowing how easily you could’ve been the wrong twin. Sadie never liked talking about Sarah, no matter how hungry I was for information. There weren’t any pictures of her around our apartment; I had to steal this one off the Internet. My true-crime kick started in earnest with Lacey’s death, but ever since I was old enough to understand what happened to Sarah, I was obsessed with her disappearance. It was the worst thing I could imagine, to have your twin go missing and never come back. Sadie’s smile in the photo is as blinding as Ezra’s. She was a star back then—the popular homecoming queen, just like Lacey. And she’s been trying to be a star ever since. I don’t know if Sadie would have done better than a handful of walk-on roles if she’d had her twin cheering her on. I do know there’s no possible way she can feel complete. When you come into the world with another person, they’re as much a part of you as your heartbeat. There are lots of reasons my mother got addicted to painkillers—a strained shoulder, a bad breakup, another lost role, moving to our crappiest apartment yet on her fortieth birthday—but I can’t help but think it all started with the loss of that serious-faced girl in the photo. The doorbell rings, and I almost drop the picture. I completely forgot I was supposed to be getting ready to meet a police officer. I glance at the mirror over the dresser, wincing at my reflection. My hair looks like a wig, and all my anti-frizz products are in my missing suitcase. I pull my curls into a ponytail, then twist and turn the thick strands until I can knot the ends together into a low bun without needing an elastic. It’s one of the first hair tricks Sadie ever taught me. When I was little we’d stand at the double sink in our bathroom, me watching her in the mirror so I could copy the quick, deft motion of her hands. My eyes prick as Nana calls up the stairs. “Ellery? Ezra? Officer Rodriguez is here.” Ezra’s already in the hall when I leave my room, and we head downstairs to Nana’s kitchen. A dark-haired man in a blue uniform, his back to us, takes the cup of coffee Nana holds toward him. She looks like she just stepped out of an L. L. Bean catalog in khakis, clogs and a boxy oxford shirt with horizontal stripes. “Maybe the town will finally do something about that overpass,” Nana says, then catches my eye over the officer’s shoulder. “There you are. Ryan, this is my granddaughter and. grandson. Ellery and Ezra, meet Officer Ryan Rodriguez. He lives down the street and came by to ask us few questions about last night.” The officer turns with a half smile that freezes as the coffee mug slips out of his hand and goes crashing to the floor. None of us react for a second, and then everybody leaps into action at once, grabbing at paper towels and picking thick pieces of ceramic mug off Nana’s black-and-white tiled floor. “I’m so sorry,” Officer Rodriguez keeps repeating. He can’t be more than five years older than me and Ezra, and he looks as though even he’s not sure whether he’s an actual adult yet. “I have no idea how that happened. I’ll replace the mug.” “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Nana says crisply. “Those cost two dollars at Dalton’s. Sit down and I’ll get you another one. You too, Ellery and Ezra. There’s juice on the table if you want some.” We all settle around the kitchen table, which is neatly set with three place mats, silverware, and glasses. Officer Rodriguez pulls a notepad from his front pocket and flips through it with a knitted brow. He has one of those hangdog faces that looks worried even now, when he’s not breaking my grandmother’s stuff. “Thanks for making time this morning. I just came from the Kilduffs’ house, and Melanie filled me in on what happened at the Fulkerson Street overpass last night. Which, I’m sorry to say, looks like it was a hit-and-run.” Nana hands him another cup of coffee before sitting down next to Ezra, and Officer Rodriguez takes a careful sip. “Thank you, Mrs. Corcoran. So, it would be helpful if all of you could tell me everything you observed, even if it doesn’t seem important.” I straighten in my chair, and Ezra rolls his eyes. He knows exactly what’s going through my head. Even though last night was awful, I can’t not feel a slight thrill at being part of an actual police investigation. I’ve been waiting for this moment half my life. Unfortunately I’m no help, because I hardly remember anything except Melanie trying to help Mr. Bowman. Ezra’s not much better. Nana is the only one who noticed little details, like the fact that there was an umbrella and a Tupperware container scattered on the street next to Mr. Bowman. And as far as investigating officers go, Ryan Rodriguez is disappointing. He keeps repeating the same questions, almost knocks over his fresh cup of coffee, and stumbles constantly over Melanie’s name. By the time he thanks us and Nana walks him to the front door, I’m convinced he needs a few more years of training before they let him out on his own again. “That was kind of disorganized,” I say when Nana returns to the kitchen. “Do people take him seriously as a police officer around here?” She takes a pan out from a cabinet next to the stove and places it on a front burner. “Ryan is perfectly capable,” she says matter-of-factly, crossing to the refrigerator and pulling out the butter dish. She sets it on the counter and slices off a huge chunk, dropping it into the pan. “He may be a little out of sorts. His father died a few months ago. Cancer. They were very close. And his mother passed the year before, so it’s been one thing after another for that family. Ryan is the youngest and the only one still at home. I imagine it’s been lonely.” “He lived with his parents?” Ezra asks. “How old is he?” My brother is kind of judgy about adults who still live at home. He’ll be one of those people, like Sadie, who moves out as soon as the ink is dry on his diploma. He has a ten-year plan that involves taking a grunt job at a radio station while deejaying on the side, until he has enough experience to host his own show. I try not to panic whenever I imagine him leaving me behind to do … who even knows what. “Twenty-two, I think? Or twenty-three,” Nana says. “All the Rodriguez kids lived at home during college. Ryan stayed once his father got sick.” Ezra hunches his shoulders guiltily as my ears prick up. “Twenty-three?” I repeat. “Was he in Lacey Kilduff’s class?” “I believe so,” Nana says as she cracks an egg into the now-sizzling pan. I hesitate. I barely know my grandmother. We’ve never talked about my missing aunt on our awkward, infrequent Skype calls, and I have no idea if Lacey’s death is extra-painful for her because of what happened to Sarah. I should probably keep my mouth shut, but … “Were they friends?” I blurt out. Ezra’s face settles into a here we go expression. “I couldn’t say. They knew one another, certainly. Ryan grew up in the neighborhood and they both worked at … Fright Farm.” Her hesitation before the new name is so slight that I almost miss it. “Most kids in town did. Still do.” “When does it open?” Ezra asks. He glances at me like he’s doing me a favor, but he didn’t have to bother. I looked up the schedule as soon as I learned we were moving to Echo Ridge. “Next weekend. Right before you two start school,” Nana says. Echo Ridge has the latest start date of any school we’re ever attended, which is one point in its favor. At La Puente, we’d already been in school two weeks by Labor Day. Nana gestures with her spatula toward the kitchen window over the sink, which looks out into the woods behind her house. “You’ll hear it once it does. It’s a ten-minute walk through the woods.” “It is?” Ezra looks baffled. I am too, but mostly by his utter lack of research. “So the Kilduffs still live right behind the place where their daughter … where somebody, um …” He trails off as Nana turns toward us with two plates, each holding an enormous fluffy omelet, and deposits them in front of us. Ezra and I exchange surprised glances. I can’t remember the last time either of us had anything for breakfast other than coffee. But my mouth waters at the savory scent, and my stomach rumbles. I haven’t eaten anything since the three Kind bars I had for dinner on last night’s flight. “Well.” Nana sits down between us and pours herself a glass of orange juice from the ceramic pitcher on the table. Pitcher. Not a carton. I spend a few seconds trying to figure out why you’d bother emptying a carton into a pitcher before taking a sip of mine and realizing it’s freshly squeezed. How are she and Sadie even related? “It’s their home. The two younger girls have lots of friends in the neighborhood.” “How old are they?” I ask. Melanie wasn’t just Sadie’s favorite babysitter; she was almost a mentor to her in high school—and pretty much the only person from Echo Ridge that my mother ever talked about. But I still know hardly anything about her except that her daughter was murdered. “Caroline is twelve and Julia is six,” Nana says. “There’s quite a gap between the two of them, and between Lacey and Caroline. Melanie’s always had trouble conceiving. But there’s a silver lining, I suppose. The girls were so young when Lacey died, looking after them might be the only thing that kept Melanie and Dan going during such a terrible time.” Ezra cuts into the corner of his omelet and releases a small cloud of steam. “The police never had any suspects in Lacey’s murder, huh?” he asks. “No,” Nana says, at the same time as I say, “The boyfriend.” Nana takes a long sip of juice. “Plenty of people thought that. Think that,” she says. “But Declan Kelly wasn’t an official suspect. Questioned, yes. Multiple times. But never held.” “Does he still live in Echo Ridge?” I ask. She shakes her head. “He left town right after graduation. Best for all involved, I’m sure. The situation took an enormous toll on his family. Declan’s father moved away shortly after he did. I thought the mother and brother would be next, but … things worked out differently for them.” I pause with my fork in midair. “Brother?” I hadn’t known Lacey’s boyfriend had a brother; the news never reported much about his family. “Declan has a younger brother, Malcolm. Around your age,” Nana says. “I don’t know him well, but he seems a quieter sort. Doesn’t strut around town as if he owns it, at any rate, the way his brother did.” I watch her take a careful bite of omelet, wishing I could read her better so I’d know whether Lacey and Sarah are as intertwined in her mind as they are in mine. It’s been so long since Sarah disappeared; almost a quarter century with no answers. Lacey’s parents lack a different kind of closure—they know what, when, and how, but not who or why. “Do you think Declan Kelly is guilty?” I ask. Nana’s brow wrinkles, as though she suddenly finds the entire conversation distasteful. “I didn’t say that. There was never any hard evidence against him.” I reach for the saltshaker without responding. That might be true, but if years of reading true-crime books and watching Dateline has taught me anything, it’s this: it’s always the boyfriend. CHAPTER THREE Malcolm Wednesday, September 4 My shirt’s stiff with too much starch. It practically crackles when I bend my arms to drape a tie around my neck. I watch my hands in the mirror, trying and failing to get the knot straight, and give up when it’s at least the right size. The mirror looks old and expensive, like everything in the Nilssons’ house. It reflects a bedroom that could fit three of my old one. And at least half of Declan’s apartment. What’s it like living in that house? my brother asked last night, scraping the last of his birthday cake off a plate while Mom was in the bathroom. She’d brought a bunch of balloons that looked tiny in the Nilssons’ foyer, but kept batting Declan in the head in the cramped alcove he calls a kitchen. Fucked up, I said. Which is true. But no more fucked up than the past five years have been. Declan’s spent most of them living four hours away in New Hampshire, renting a basement apartment from our aunt. A sharp knock sounds at my bedroom door, and hinges squeak as my stepsister pokes her head in without waiting for an answer. “You ready?” she asks. “Yep,” I say, picking up a blue suit coat from my bed and shrugging it on. Katrin tilts her head and frowns, ice-blond hair spilling over one shoulder. I know that look: There’s something wrong with you, and I’m about to tell you exactly what it is and how to fix it. I’ve been seeing it for months now. “Your tie’s crooked,” she says, heels clicking on the floor as she walks toward me, hands outstretched. A crease appears between her eyes as she tugs at the knot, then disappears when she steps back to view her work. “There,” she says, patting my shoulder with a satisfied expression. “Much better.” Her hand skims down to my chest and she plucks a piece of lint from my suit coat in two pale-pink fingernails and lets it drop to the floor. “You clean up all right, Mal. Who would’ve thought?” Not her. Katrin Nilsson barely spoke to me until her father started dating my mother last winter. She’s the queen of Echo Ridge High, and I’m the band nerd with the disreputable family. But now that we live under the same roof, Katrin has to acknowledge my existence. She copes by treating me like either a project or a nuisance, depending on her mood. “Let’s go,” she says, tugging lightly at my arm. Her black dress hugs her curves but stops right above her knees. She’d almost be conservative if she weren’t wearing tall, spiky heels that basically force you to look at her legs. So I do. My new stepsister might be a pain in the ass, but she’s undeniably hot. I follow Katrin into the hallway to the balcony staircase overlooking the massive foyer downstairs. My mother and Peter are at the bottom waiting for us, and I drop my eyes because whenever they’re standing that close, his hands are usually someplace I don’t want to see. Katrin and her superjock boyfriend commit less PDA than those two. But Mom’s happy, and I guess that’s good. Peter looks up and takes a break from manhandling my mom. “Don’t you two look nice!” he calls out. He’s in a suit too, same dark blue as mine, except he gets his tailored so they fit him perfectly. Peter’s like one of those suave GQ watch ads come to life—square jaw, penetrating gaze, wavy blond hair with just enough gray to be distinguished. Nobody could believe he was interested in my mother when they first started dating. People were even more shocked when he married her. He saved them. That’s what the entire town thinks. Peter Nilsson, the rich and charming owner of the only law firm in town, took us from town pariahs to town royalty with one tasteful justice of the peace ceremony at Echo Ridge Lake. And maybe he did. People don’t avoid my mother anymore, or whisper behind her back. She gets invited to the garden club, school committees, tonight’s fund-raiser, and all that other crap. Doesn’t mean I have to like him, though. “Nice having you back, Malcolm,” he adds, almost sounding like he means it. Mom and I have been gone a week, visiting family across a few towns in New Hampshire and then finishing up at Declan’s place. Peter and Katrin didn’t come. Partly because he had to work, and partly because neither of them leave Echo Ridge for anyplace without room service and a spa. “Did you have dinner with Mr. Coates while we were gone?” I ask abruptly. Peter’s nostrils flare slightly, which is the only sign of annoyance he ever shows. “I did, on Friday. He’s still getting his business up and running, but when the time is right he’d be happy to talk with Declan. I’ll keep checking in with him.” Ben Coates used to be mayor of Echo Ridge. After that, he left to run a political consulting business in Burlington. Declan is a few—okay, a lot—of credits short from finishing his poli-sci degree at community college, but he’s still hoping for an introduction. It’s the only thing he’s ever asked of Peter. Or of Mom, I guess, since Declan and Peter don’t really talk. Mom beams at Peter, and I let it drop. Katrin steps forward, reaching out a hand to touch the twisted beaded necklace Mom’s wearing. “This is so pretty!” she exclaims. “Very bohemian. Such a nice change from all the pearls we’ll see tonight.” Mom’s smile fades. “I have pearls,” she says nervously, looking at Peter. “Should I—” “You’re fine,” he says quickly. “You look beautiful.” I could kill Katrin. Not literally. I feel like I have to add that disclaimer even in my own thoughts, given our family history. But I don’t understand her constant need to make digs at Mom’s expense. It’s not like Mom broke up Katrin’s parents; she’s Peter’s third wife. Katrin’s mother was long gone to Paris with a new husband before Mom and Peter even went on their first date. And Katrin has to know that Mom is nervous about tonight. We’ve never been to the Lacey Kilduff Memorial Scholarship fund-raiser before. Mostly because we’ve never been invited. Or welcome. Peter’s nostrils flare again. “Let’s head out, shall we? It’s getting late.” He opens the front door, stepping aside to let us through while pressing a button on his key chain. His black Range Rover starts idling in the driveway, and Katrin and I climb into the back. My mother settles herself in the passenger seat and flips the radio from the Top 40 station that Katrin likes to blast to NPR. Peter gets in last, buckling his seat belt before shifting the car into gear. The Nilssons’ winding driveway is the longest part of the trip. After that, it’s a few quick turns and we’re in downtown Echo Ridge. So to speak. There’s not much to it—a row of white-trimmed redbrick buildings on either side of Manchester Street, lined with old-fashioned, wrought iron streetlights. It’s never crowded here, but it’s especially dead on a Wednesday night before school’s back in session. Half the town is still on vacation, and the other half is attending the fund-raiser in the Echo Ridge Cultural Center. That’s where anything notable at Echo Ridge happens, unless it happens at the Nilssons’ house. Our house. Can’t get used to that. Peter parallel parks on Manchester Street and we spill out of the car and onto the sidewalk. We’re right across the street from O’Neill’s Funeral Home, and Katrin heaves a sigh as we pass the pale-blue Victorian. “It’s too bad you were out of town for Mr. Bowman’s service,” she says. “It was really nice. The show choir sang ‘To Sir with Love’ and everybody lost it.” My gut twists. Mr. Bowman was my favorite teacher at Echo Ridge High, by a lot. He had this quiet way of noticing what you were good at, and encouraging you to get better. After Declan moved away and my dad took off, when I had a lot of pissed-off energy and nowhere to put it, he was the one who suggested I take up the drums. It makes me sick that somebody mowed him down and left him to die in the middle of the road. “Why was he even out in a hailstorm?” I ask, because it’s easier to fixate on that than to keep feeling like shit. “They found a Tupperware container near him,” Peter says. “One of the teachers at the funeral thought he might have been collecting hail for a lesson he was planning on climate change. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.” And now I feel worse, because I can picture it: Mr. Bowman leaving his house late at night with his umbrella and his plastic container, all enthusiastic because he was going to make science real. He said that kind of thing a lot. After a couple of blocks, a gold-rimmed wooden sign welcomes us to the cultural center. It’s the most impressive of all the redbrick buildings, with a clock tower on top and wide steps leading to a carved wooden door. I reach for the door, but Peter’s faster. Always. You can’t out-gentleman that guy. Mom smiles gratefully at him as she steps through the entrance. When we get inside, a woman directs us down a hallway to an open room that contains dozens of round tables. Some people are sitting down, but most of the crowd is still milling around and talking. A few turn toward us, and then, like human dominoes, they all do. It’s the moment everyone in Echo Ridge has been waiting for: for the first time in five years, the Kellys have shown up at a night honoring Lacey Kilduff. The girl who most people in town still believe my brother killed. “Oh, there’s Theo,” Katrin murmurs, slipping away into the crowd toward her boyfriend. So much for solidarity. My mother licks her lips nervously. Peter folds her arm under his and pastes on a big, bright smile. For a second, I almost like the guy. Declan and Lacey had been fighting for weeks before she died. Which wasn’t like them; Declan could be an arrogant ass a lot of the time, but not with his girlfriend. Then all of a sudden they were slamming doors, canceling dates, and sniping at each other over social media. Declan’s last, angry message on Lacey’s Instagram feed was the one that news stations showed over and over in the weeks after her body was found. I’m so fucking done with you. DONE. You have no idea. The crowd at the Echo Ridge Cultural Center is too quiet. Even Peter’s smile is getting a little fixed. The Nilsson armor is supposed to be more impenetrable than this. I’m about to say or do something desperate to cut the tension when a warm voice floats our way. “Hello, Peter. And Alicia! Malcolm! It’s good to see you both.” It’s Lacey’s mom, Melanie Kilduff, coming toward us with a big smile. She hugs my mother first, then me, and when she pulls back nobody’s staring anymore. “Thanks,” I mutter. I don’t know what Melanie thinks about Declan; she’s never said. But after Lacey died, when it felt like the entire world hated my family, Melanie always made a point to be nice to us. Thanks doesn’t feel like enough, but Melanie brushes my arm like it’s too much before turning toward Mom and Peter. “Please, have a seat wherever you’d like,” she says, gesturing toward the dining area. “They’re about to start serving dinner.” She leaves us, heading for a table with her family, her neighbor, and a couple of kids my age I’ve never seen before. Which is unusual enough in this town that I crane my neck for a better look. I can’t get a good glimpse of the guy, but the girl is hard to miss. She’s got wild curly hair that seems almost alive, and she’s wearing a weird flowered dress that looks like it came out of her grandmother’s closet. Maybe it’s retro, I don’t know. Katrin wouldn’t be caught dead in it. The girl meets my eyes, and I immediately look away. One thing I’ve learned from being Declan’s brother over the past five years: nobody likes it when a Kelly boy stares. Peter starts toward the front of the room, but Katrin returns just then and tugs on his arm. “Can we sit at Theo’s table, Dad? There’s plenty of space.” He hesitates—Peter likes to lead, not follow—and Katrin puts on her most wheedling voice. “Please? I haven’t seen him all week, and his parents want to talk to you about that stoplight ordinance thing.” She’s good. There’s nothing Peter likes better than in-depth discussions about town council crap that would bore anybody else to tears. He smiles indulgently and changes course. Katrin’s boyfriend, Theo, and his parents are the only people sitting at the ten-person table when we approach. I’ve gone to school with Theo since kindergarten, but as usual he looks right through me as he waves to someone over my shoulder. “Yo, Kyle! Over here.” Oh hell. Theo’s best friend, Kyle, takes a seat between him and my mother, and the chair next to me scrapes as a big man with a graying blond buzz cut settles down beside me. Chad McNulty, Kyle’s father and the Echo Ridge police officer who investigated Lacey’s murder. Because this night wasn’t awkward enough already. My mother’s got that deer-in-the-headlights look she always gets around the McNultys, and Peter flares his nostrils at an oblivious Theo. “Hello, Malcolm.” Officer McNulty unfolds his napkin onto his lap without looking at me. “How’s your summer been?” “Great,” I manage, taking a long sip of water. Officer McNulty never liked my brother. Declan dated his daughter, Liz, for three months and dumped her for Lacey, which got Liz so upset that she dropped out of school for a while. In return, Kyle’s always been a dick to me. Standard small-town crap that got a lot worse once Declan became an unofficial murder suspect. Waiters start moving around the room, putting plates of salad in front of everyone. Melanie steps behind a podium on the stage in front, and Officer McNulty’s jaw tenses. “That woman is a tower of strength,” he says, like he’s daring me to disagree. “Thank you so much for coming,” Melanie says, leaning toward the microphone. “It means the world to Dan, Caroline, Julia, and me to see how much the Lacey Kilduff Memorial Scholarship fund has grown.” I tune the rest out. Not because I don’t care, but because it’s too hard to hear. Years of not being invited to these things means I haven’t built up much resistance. After Melanie finishes her speech, she introduces a University of Vermont junior who was the first scholarship recipient. The girl talks about her medical school plans as empty salad plates are replaced with the main course. When she’s done, everyone applauds and turns their attention to the food. I poke half-heartedly at my dry chicken while Peter holds court about stoplights. Is it too soon for a bathroom break? “The thing is, it’s a delicate balance between maintaining town aesthetics and accommodating changing traffic patterns,” Peter says earnestly. Nope. Not too soon. I stand, drop my napkin onto my chair, and take off. When I’ve washed my hands as many times as I can stand, I exit the men’s room and hesitate in the corridor between the banquet hall and the front door. The thought of returning to that table makes my head pound. Nobody’s going to miss me for another few minutes. I tug at my collar and push open the door, stepping outside into the darkness. It’s still muggy, but less stifling than inside. Nights like this make me feel like I can’t breathe, like everything my brother did, actual and alleged, settled over me when I was twelve years old and still weighs me down. I became Declan Kelly’s brother before I got a chance to be anything else, and sometimes it feels like that’s all I’ll ever be. I inhale deeply, and pause when a faint chemical smell hits me. It gets stronger as I descend the stairs. I can’t see much, and almost trip over something lying in the grass. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a can of spray paint that’s missing its top. That’s what I’m smelling: fresh paint. But where is it coming from? I turn back toward the cultural center. Its well-lit exterior looks the same as ever. There isn’t anything else nearby that might have been recently painted, except … The cultural center sign is halfway across the lawn between the building and the street. I’m practically on top of it before I can see clearly in the dim light thrown from the nearest streetlight. Red letters cover the back of the sign from top to bottom, stark against the pale wood: MURDERLAND THE SEQUEL COMING SOON I’m not sure how long I stand there, staring, before I realize I’m not alone anymore. The girl from Melanie’s table with the curly hair and the weird dress is standing a few feet away. Her eyes dart between the words on the sign and the can in my hand, which rattles when I drop my arm. “This isn’t what it looks like,” I say. CHAPTER FOUR Ellery Saturday, September 7 How’s everything going? I consider the text from my friend Lourdes. She’s in California, but not La Puente. I met her in sixth grade, which was three towns before we moved there. Or maybe four. Unlike Ezra, who jumps easily into the social scene every time we switch schools, I hang on to my virtual best friend and keep the in-person stuff surface level. It’s easier to move on that way. It requires fewer emo playlists, anyway. Let’s see. We’ve been here a week and so far the highlight is yard work. Lourdes sends a few sad-face emoji, then adds, It’ll pick up when school starts. Have you met any cute preppy New England guys yet? Just one. But not preppy. And possibly a vandal. Do tell. I pause, not sure how to explain my run-in with the boy at Lacey Kilduff’s fund-raiser, when my phone buzzes with a call from a number with a California area code. I don’t recognize it, but my heart leaps and I fire off a quick text to Lourdes: Hang on, getting a call about my luggage I hope. I’ve been in Vermont a full week, and my suitcase is still missing. If it doesn’t show up within the next two days, I’m going to have to start school in the clothes my grandmother bought at Echo Ridge’s one and only clothing store. It’s called Dalton’s Emporium and also sells kitchen goods and hardware, which should tell you everything you need to know about its fashion cred. No one who’s older than six or younger than sixty should shop there, ever. “Hello?” “Ellery, hi!” I almost drop my phone, and when I don’t answer the voice doubles down on its cheerful urgency. “It’s me!” “Yeah, I know.” I lower myself stiffly onto my bed, gripping the phone in my suddenly sweaty palm. “How are you calling me?” Sadie’s tone turns reproachful. “You don’t sound very happy to hear from me.” “It’s just— I thought we were supposed to start talking next Thursday.” Those were the rules of rehab, according to Nana: Fifteen-minute Skype sessions once a week after two full weeks of treatment had been completed. Not random calls from an unknown number. “The rules here are ridiculous,” Sadie says. I can practically hear the eye roll in her voice. “One of the aides is letting me use her phone. She’s a Defender fan.” The only speaking role Sadie ever had was in the first installment of what turned out to be a huge action series in the ’90s, The Defender, about a down-on-his-luck soldier turned avenging cyborg. She played a sexy robot named Zeta Voltes, and even though she had only one line—That does not compute—there are still fan websites dedicated to the character. “I’m dying to see you, love. Let’s switch to FaceTime.” I pause before hitting Accept, because I’m not ready for this. At all. But what am I going to do, hang up on my mother? Within seconds Sadie’s face fills the screen, bright with anticipation. She looks the same as ever—nothing like me except for the hair. Sadie’s eyes are bright blue, while mine are so dark they almost look black. She’s sweet-faced with soft, open features, and I’m all angles and straight lines. There’s only one other trait we share, and when I see the dimple in her right cheek flash with a smile, I force myself to mirror it back. “There you are!” she crows. Then a frown creases her forehead. “What’s going on with your hair?” My chest constricts. “Is that seriously the first thing you have to say to me?” I haven’t talked to Sadie since she checked into Hamilton House, the pricey rehab center Nana’s paying for. Considering she demolished an entire storefront, Sadie lucked out: she didn’t hurt herself or anyone else, and she wound up in front of a judge who believes in treatment instead of jail time. But she’s never been particularly grateful. Everyone and everything else is at fault: the doctor who gave her too strong of a prescription, bad lighting on the street, our car’s ancient brakes. It didn’t fully hit me until just now—sitting in a bedroom that belongs to a grandmother I barely know, listening to Sadie criticize my hair through a phone that someone could probably get fired for giving her—how infuriating it all is. “Oh, El, of course not. I’m just teasing. You look beautiful. How are you?” How am I supposed to answer that? “I’m fine.” “What’s happened in your first week? Tell me everything.” I could refuse to play along, I guess. But as my eye catches the photo of her and her sister on my bookcase, I already feel myself wanting to please her. To smooth things over and make her smile. I’ve been doing it my entire life; it’s impossible to stop now. “Things are just as weird as you’ve always said. I’ve already been questioned twice by the police.” Her eyes pop. “What?” I tell her about the hit-and-run, and the graffiti at Lacey’s fund-raiser three days ago. “Declan Kelly’s brother wrote that?” Sadie asks, looking outraged. “He said he just found the paint canister.” She snorts. “Likely story.” “I don’t know. He looked pretty shocked when I saw him.” “God, poor Melanie and Dan. That’s the last thing they need.” “The police officer I talked to at the fund-raiser said he knew you. Officer McNulty? I forget his first name.” Sadie grins. “Chad McNulty! Yeah, we dated sophomore year. God, you’re going to meet all my exes, aren’t you? Was Vance Puckett there, by any chance? He used to be gorgeous.” I shake my head. “Ben Coates? Peter Nilsson?” None of those names are familiar except the last one. I met him at the fund-raiser, right after his stepson and I reported the sign vandalism. “You dated that guy?” I ask. “Doesn’t he own, like, half the town?” “I guess so. Cute, but kind of a tight-ass. We went out twice when I was a senior, but he was in college then and we didn’t really click.” “He’s Malcolm’s stepfather now,” I tell her. Sadie’s face scrunches in confusion. “Who?” “Malcolm Kelly. Declan Kelly’s brother? The one with the spray paint?” “Good Lord,” Sadie mutters. “I cannot keep up with that place.” Some of the tenseness that’s been keeping me rigid ebbs away, and I laugh as I settle back against my pillow. Sadie’s superpower is making you feel as though everything’s going to be fine, even when it’s mostly disastrous. “Officer McNulty said his son’s in our class,” I tell her. “I guess he was at the fund-raiser, but I didn’t meet him.” “Ugh, we’re all so old now. Did you talk to him about the hit-and-run, too?” “No, that officer was really young. Ryan Rodriguez?” I don’t expect Sadie to recognize the name, but an odd expression flits across her face. “What? Do you know him?” I ask. “No. How would I?” Sadie asks, a little too quickly. When she catches my dubious squint, she adds. “Well. It’s just … now, don’t go making too much of this, Ellery, because I know the way you think. But he fell apart at Lacey’s funeral. Way more than her boyfriend did. It caught my attention, so I remembered it. That’s all.” “Fell apart how?” Sadie heaves a theatrical sigh. “I knew you’d ask that.” “You brought it up!” “Oh, just … you know. He cried a lot. Almost collapsed. His friends had to carry him out of the church. And I said to Melanie, ‘Wow, they must have been really close.’ But she said they barely knew one another.” Sadie lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. “He probably had a crush, that’s all. Lacey was a beauty. What’s that?” She glances off to one side, and I hear the murmur of another voice. “Oh, okay. Sorry, El, but I have to go. Tell Ezra I’ll call him soon, okay? I love you, and …” She pauses, something like regret crossing her face for the first time. “And … I’m glad you’re meeting people.” No apology. Saying she’s sorry would mean acknowledging that something’s wrong, and even when she’s calling me cross-country from rehab on a contraband phone, Sadie can’t do it. I don’t answer, and she adds, “I hope you’re doing something fun for your Saturday afternoon!” I’m not sure if fun is the right word, but it’s something I’ve been planning since I learned I was going to Echo Ridge. “Fright Farm opens for the season today, and I’m going.” Sadie shakes her head with exasperated fondness. “Of course you are,” she says, and blows me a kiss before she disconnects. Hours later, Ezra and I are walking through the woods behind Nana’s house toward Fright Farm, leaves crunching beneath our feet. I’m wearing some of my new Dalton’s clothes, which Ezra has been snickering at since we left the house. “I mean,” he says as we step over a fallen branch, “what would you even call those? Leisure pants?” “Shut up,” I grumble. The pants, which are some kind of synthetic stretchy material, were the most inoffensive piece of clothing I could find. At least they’re black, and sort of fitted. My gray-and-white checked T-shirt is short and boxy, and has such a high neck that it’s almost choking me. I’m pretty sure I’ve never looked worse. “First Sadie with the hair, now you with the clothes.” Ezra’s smile is bright and hopeful. “She looked good, though?” he asks. He and Sadie are so similar sometimes, so blissfully optimistic, that it’s impossible to say what you really think around them. When I used to try, Sadie would sigh and say, Don’t be such an Eeyore, Ellery. Once—only once—she’d added under her breath, You’re just like Sarah. Then pretended not to hear me when I asked her to repeat what she’d said. “She looked great,” I tell Ezra. We hear noise from the park before we see it. Once we emerge from the woods it’s impossible to miss: the entrance looms across the road in the shape of a huge, monstrous head with glowing green eyes and a mouth, wide open in a scream, that serves as the door. It looks exactly like it did in pictures from the news coverage about Lacey’s murder, except for the arched sign that reads fright farm in spiky red letters. Ezra shades his eyes against the sun. “I’m just gonna say it: Fright Farm is a crap name. Murderland was better.” “Agreed,” I say. There’s a road running between the woods and the Fright Farm entrance, and we wait for a few cars to pass before crossing it. A tall, black spire fence circles the park, enclosing clusters of tents and rides. Fright Farm opened less than an hour ago, but it’s already packed. Screams fill the air as a salt-and-pepper-shaker ride flips back and forth. When we get closer to the entrance, I see that the face is covered with mottled and red-specked grayish paint so it looks like a decaying corpse. There’s a row of four booths directly inside, with one cashier to a booth, and at least two dozen people waiting. Ezra and I get in line, but I break away after a few minutes to check out the information board and grab a bunch of papers stacked up beneath it. “Maps,” I tell Ezra. I hand him one, plus another sheet of paper. “And job applications.” His brow furrows. “You want to work here?” “We’re broke, remember? And where else would we work? I don’t think there’s anyplace in walking distance.” Neither of us have our driver’s license, and I can tell already Nana’s not the chauffeuring type. Ezra shrugs. “All right. Hand it over.” I fish a couple of pens out of my messenger bag, and we almost complete the applications before it’s our turn to buy tickets. I fold Ezra’s and mine together and stuff them both in the front pocket of my bag as we leave the booths. “We can drop them off before we go home.” “Where should we go first?” Ezra asks. I unfold my map and study it. “It looks like we’re in the kids’ section right now,” I report. “Dark Matters is to the left. That’s an evil science laboratory. Bloody Big Top to the right. Probably self-explanatory. And the House of Horrors is straight ahead. That doesn’t open till seven, though.” Ezra leans over my shoulder and lowers his voice. “Where did Lacey die?” I point to a tiny picture of a Ferris wheel. “Under there. Well, that’s where they found her body, anyway. Police thought she was probably meeting someone. Echo Ridge kids used to sneak into the park after hours all the time, I guess. It didn’t have any security cameras back then.” We both glance up at the nearest building, where a red light blinks from one corner. “Does now, obviously.” “Do you want to start there?” Ezra asks. My throat gets dry. A group of masked kids dressed in black swoop past us, one of them knocking into my shoulder so hard that I stumble. “Maybe we should check out the games,” I say, refolding the map. It was a lot easier to take ghoulish pleasure at visiting a crime scene before I met the victim’s family. We walk past snack stands and carnival games, pausing to watch a boy our age sink enough baskets in a row to win a stuffed black cat for his girlfriend. The next station has the kind of shooting gallery game where two players each try to knock over twelve targets in a box. A guy wearing a ratty hunting jacket who looks like he’s forty or so pumps his fist in the air and lets out a loud guffaw. “Beat ya!” he says, punching the shoulder of the kid next to him. The man stumbles a little with the movement, and the boy recoils and backs away. “Maybe you should give someone else a turn.” The girl behind the counter is about my age and pretty, with a long brown ponytail that she winds anxiously around her fingers. The man in the hunting jacket waves the toy gun he’s holding. “Plenty of room next to me. Anybody can play if they’re not too chicken.” His voice is loud and he’s slurring his words. The girl crosses her arms, as if she’s steeling herself to sound tough. “There are lots of other games you could play.” “You’re just mad ’cause nobody can beat me. Tell you what, if any of these losers can knock down more than me I’ll bow out. Who wants to try?” He turns toward the small crowd gathering around the stand, revealing a lean, scruffy face. Ezra nudges me. “How can you resist?” he asks under his breath. I hesitate, waiting to see if someone older or bigger might help out, but when nobody does I step forward. “I will.” I meet the girl’s eyes, which are hazel, heavily mascaraed, and shadowed with dark circles. She looks like she hasn’t slept in a week. The guy blinks at me a few times, then bends at the waist in an exaggerated bow. The movement almost topples him, but he rights himself. “Well, hello, madam. Challenge accepted. I’ll even pay for you.” He fishes two crumpled dollars out of his pocket and hands them to the girl. She takes them gingerly and drops them into a box in front of her as if they were on fire. “Never let it be said that Vance Puckett isn’t a gentleman.” “Vance Puckett?” I burst out before I can stop myself. This is Sadie’s ex? The “gorgeous” one? Either her standards were a lot lower in Echo Ridge, or he peaked in high school. His bloodshot eyes narrow, but without a spark of recognition. Not surprising; with my hair pulled back, there’s nothing Sadie-like about me. “Do I know you?” “Ah. No. It’s just … that’s a good name,” I say limply. The ponytailed girl presses a button to reset the targets. I move to the second station as Vance raises the gun and sets his sights. “Champions first,” he says loudly, and starts firing off shots in quick succession. Even though he’s clearly drunk, he manages to knock over ten of the twelve targets. He raises the gun when he’s finished and kisses the barrel, causing the girl to grimace. “Still got it,” Vance says, making a sweeping gesture toward me. “Your move, milady.” I raise the gun in front of me. I happen to possess what Ezra calls freakishly good aim, despite having zero athletic talent in any other capacity. My hands are slick with sweat as I close one eye. Don’t overthink it, I remind myself. Just point and shoot. I press the trigger and miss the first target, but not by much. Vance snickers beside me. I adjust my aim, and hit the second. The crowd behind me starts murmuring when I’ve lowered the rest of the targets in the top row, and by the time I’ve hit nine they’re clapping. The applause spikes at number ten, and turns into whoops and cheers when I knock over the last one and finish with eleven down. Ezra raises both arms in the air like I just scored a touchdown. Vance stares at me, slack-jawed. “You’re a goddamn ringer.” “Move along, Vance,” someone calls. “There’s a new sheriff in town.” The crowd laughs, and Vance scowls. For a few beats I think he won’t budge. Then he flings his gun on the counter with a snort. “Game’s fixed, anyway,” he mutters, stepping back and shoving his way through the crowd. The girl turns toward me with a tired but grateful smile. “Thanks. He’s been here for almost half an hour, freaking everyone out. I thought he was going to start firing into the crowd any minute now. They’re only pellets, but still.” She reaches under the counter and pulls out a Handi Wipe, swiping it thoroughly across Vance’s gun. “I owe you one. Do you guys want free wristbands to the House of Horrors?” I almost say yes, but pull out my and Ezra’s job applications instead. “Actually, would you mind putting a good word in for us with your boss? Or whoever does the hiring around here?” The girl tugs on her ponytail instead of taking the papers from me. “Thing is, they only hire kids from Echo Ridge.” “We are,” I say, brightly. “We just moved here.” She blinks at us. “You did? Are you— Ohhh.” I can almost see the puzzle pieces lock together in her mind as she glances between Ezra and me. “You must be the Corcoran twins.” It’s the same reaction we’ve been getting all week—like all of a sudden, she knows everything about us. After spending our lives in the orbit of a city where everyone’s fighting for recognition, it’s weird to be so effortlessly visible. I’m not sure I like it, but I can’t argue with the results when she extends her hand toward the applications with a beckoning motion. “I’m Brooke Bennett. We’ll be in the same class next week. Let me see what I can do.” CHAPTER FIVE Malcolm Sunday, September 8 “You have four kinds of sparkling water,” Mia reports from the depths of our refrigerator. “Not flavors. Brands. Perrier, San Pellegrino, LaCroix, and Polar. The last one’s a little down-market, so I’m guessing it’s a nod to your humble roots. Want one?” “I want a Coke,” I say without much hope. The Nilssons’ housekeeper, who does all the grocery shopping, isn’t a fan of refined sugar. It’s the Sunday before school starts, and Mia and I are the only ones here. Mom and Peter left for a drive after lunch, and Katrin and her friends are out back-to-school shopping. “I’m afraid that’s not an option,” Mia says, pulling out two bottles of lemon Polar seltzer and handing one to me. “This refrigerator contains only clear beverages.” “At least it’s consistent.” I set my bottle down on the kitchen island next to a stack of the college brochures that have started to arrive for Katrin on a daily basis: Brown, Amherst, Georgetown, Cornell. They seem like a stretch for her GPA, but Peter likes people to aim high. Mia unscrews the cap from her bottle and takes a long swig, making a face. “Ew. This tastes like cleaning solution.” “We could go to your house, you know.” Mia shakes her head so violently that her red-tipped dark hair flies in her face. “No thank you. Tensions are high in the Kwon household, my friend. The Return of Daisy has everyone shook.” “I thought Daisy’s coming home was temporary.” “So did we all,” Mia says in her narrator voice. “And yet, she remains.” Mia and I are friends partly because, a long time ago, Declan and her sister, Daisy, were. Lacey Kilduff and Daisy Kwon had been best friends since kindergarten, so once Declan and Lacey started dating, I saw almost as much of Daisy as I did of Lacey. Daisy was my first crush; the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in real life. I could never figure out what Declan saw in Lacey when Daisy was right there. Meanwhile, Mia was in love with both Lacey and Declan. We were a couple of awkward preteens trailing around after our golden siblings and their friends, lapping up whatever scraps of attention they’d throw our way. And then it all imploded. Lacey died. Declan left, suspected and disgraced. Daisy went to Princeton just like she was supposed to, graduated with honors, and got a great job at a consulting firm in Boston. Then, six weeks ago, she abruptly quit and moved back home with her parents. Nobody knows why. Not even Mia. A key jingles in the lock, and loud giggles erupt in the foyer. Katrin comes sweeping into the kitchen with her friends Brooke and Viv, all three of them weighed down by brightly colored shopping bags. “Hey,” she says. She swings her bags onto the kitchen island, almost knocking over Mia’s bottle. “Do not go to the Bellevue Mall today. It’s a zoo. Everybody’s buying their homecoming dresses already.” She sighs heavily, like she wasn’t doing the exact same thing. We all got a “welcome back” email from the principal last night, including a link to a new school app that lets you view your schedule and sign up for stuff online. The homecoming ballot was already posted, where theoretically you can vote anyone from our class onto the court. But in reality, everybody knows four of the six spots are already taken by Katrin, Theo, Brooke, and Kyle. “Wasn’t planning on it,” Mia says drily. Viv smirks at her. “Well, they don’t have a Hot Topic, so.” Katrin and Brooke giggle, although Brooke looks a little guilty while she does it. There’s a lot about my and Katrin’s lives that don’t blend well, and our friends top the list. Brooke’s all right, I guess, but Viv’s the third wheel in their friend trio, and the insecurity makes her bitchy. Or maybe that’s just how she is. Mia leans forward and rests her middle finger on her chin, but before she can speak I grab a bouquet of cellophane-wrapped flowers from the island. “We should go before it starts raining,” I say. “Or hailing.” Katrin waggles her brows at the flowers. “Who are those for?” “Mr. Bowman,” I say, and her teasing grin drops. Brooke makes a strangled sound, her eyes filling with tears. Even Viv shuts up. Katrin sighs and leans against the counter. “School’s not going to be the same without him,” she says. Mia hops off her stool. “Sucks how people in this town keep getting away with murder, doesn’t it?” Viv snorts, pushing a strand of red hair behind one ear. “A hit-and-run is an accident.” “Not in my book,” Mia says. “The hitting part, maybe. Not the running. Mr. Bowman might still be alive if whoever did it stopped to call for help.” Katrin puts an arm around Brooke, who’s started to cry, silently. It’s been like that all week whenever I run into people from school; they’re fine one minute and sobbing the next. Which does kind of bring back memories of Lacey’s death. Minus all the news cameras. “How are you getting to the cemetery?” Katrin asks me. “Mom’s car,” I say. “I blocked her in. Just take mine,” she says, reaching into her bag for the keys. Fine by me. Katrin has a BMW X6, which is fun to drive. She doesn’t offer it up often, but I jump at the chance when she does. I grab the keys and make a hasty exit before she can change her mind. “How can you stand living with her?” Mia grumbles as we walk out the front door. Then she turns and walks backward, gazing at the Nilssons’ enormous house. “Well, I guess the perks aren’t bad, are they?” I open the X6’s door and slide into the car’s buttery leather interior. Sometimes, I still can’t believe this is my life. “Could be worse,” I say. It’s a quick trip to Echo Ridge Cemetery, and Mia spends most of it flipping rapidly through all of Katrin’s preprogrammed radio stations. “Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope,” she keeps muttering, right up until we pull through the wrought iron gates. Echo Ridge has one of those historic cemeteries with graves that date back to the 1600s. The trees surrounding it are ancient, and so huge that their branches act like a canopy above us. Tall, twisting bushes line gravel paths, and the whole space is enclosed within stone walls. The gravestones are all shapes and sizes: tiny stumps barely visible in the grass; tall slabs with names carved across the front in block letters; a few statues of angels or children. Mr. Bowman’s grave is in the newer section. We spot it right away; the grass in front is covered with flowers, stuffed animals, and notes. The simple gray stone is carved with his name, the years of his life, and an inscription: Tell me and I forget Teach me and I may remember Involve me and I learn I unwrap our bouquet and silently add it to the pile. I thought there’d be something I’d want to say when I got here, but my throat closes as a wave of nausea hits me. Mom and I were still visiting family in New Hampshire when Mr. Bowman died, so we missed his funeral. Part of me was sorry, but another part was relieved. I haven’t been to a funeral since I went to Lacey’s five years ago. She was buried in her homecoming dress, and all her friends wore theirs to her funeral, splashes of bright colors in the sea of black. It was hot for late October, and I remember sweating in my itchy suit beside my father. The stares and whispers about Declan had already started. My brother stood apart from us, still as a statue, while my father pulled at the collar of his shirt like the scrutiny was choking him. My parents lasted about six months after Lacey was killed. Things weren’t great before then. On the surface their arguments were always about money—utility bills and car repairs and the second job Mom thought Dad should get when they cut his hours at the warehouse. But really, it was about the fact that at some point over the years, they’d stopped liking one another. They never yelled or screamed, just walked around with so much simmering resentment that it spread through the entire house like poisonous gas. At first I was glad when he left. Then, when he moved in with a woman half his age and kept forgetting to send support checks, I got angry. But I couldn’t show it, because angry had become something people said about Declan in hushed, accusing tones. Mia’s wobbly voice brings me back into the present. “It sucks that you’re gone, Mr. Bowman. Thanks for always being so nice and never comparing me to Daisy, unlike every other teacher in the history of the world. Thanks for making science almost interesting. I hope karma smacks whoever did this in the ass and they get exactly what they deserve.” My eyes sting. I blink and look away, catching an unexpected glimpse of red in the distance. I blink again, then squint. “What’s that?” Mia shades her eyes and follows my gaze. “What’s what?” It’s impossible to tell from where we’re standing. We start picking our way across the grass, through a section of squat, Colonial-era graves carved with winged skulls. Here lyeth the Body of Mrs. Samuel White reads the last one we pass. Mia, momentarily distracted, aims a pretend kick at the stone. “She had her own name, asshole,” she says. Then we’re finally close enough to make out what caught our eye back at Mr. Bowman’s grave, and stop in our tracks. This time, it’s not just graffiti. Three dolls hang from the top of a mausoleum, nooses around their necks. They’re all wearing crowns and long, glittering dresses drenched in red paint. And just like at the cultural center, red letters drip like blood across the white stone beneath them: I’M BACK PICK YOUR QUEEN, ECHO RIDGE HAPPY HOMECOMING A garish, red-spattered corsage decorates a grave next to the mausoleum, and my stomach twists when I recognize this section of the cemetery. I stood almost exactly where I’m standing now when Lacey was buried. Mia chokes out a furious gasp as she makes the same connection, and lunges forward like she’s about to sweep the bloody-looking corsage off the top of Lacey’s grave. I catch her arm before she can. “Don’t. We shouldn’t touch anything.” And then my disgust takes a brief backseat to another unwelcome thought. “Shit. I have to be the one to report this again.” I got lucky last week, sort of. The new girl, Ellery, believed me enough that when we went inside to tell an adult, she didn’t mention she’d found me holding the can. But the whispers started buzzing through the cultural center anyway, and they’ve been following me around ever since. Twice in one week isn’t great. Not in line with the Keep Your Head Down Till You Can Get Out strategy I’ve been working on ever since Declan left town. “Maybe somebody else already has and the police just haven’t gotten here yet?” Mia says, looking around. “It’s the middle of the day. People are in and out of here all the time.” “You’d think we’d have heard, though.” Echo Ridge gossip channels are fast and foolproof. Even Mia and I are in the loop now that Katrin has my cell number. Mia bites her lip. “We could take off and let somebody else make the call. Except … we told Katrin we were coming here, didn’t we? So that won’t work. It’d actually look worse if you didn’t say something. Plus it’s just … mega creepy.” She digs the toe of her Doc Martens into the thick, bright-green grass. “I mean, do you think this is a warning or something? Like what happened to Lacey is going to happen again?” “Seems like the impression they’re going for.” I keep my voice casual while my brain spins, trying to make sense of what’s in front of us. Mia pulls out her phone and starts taking pictures, circling the mausoleum so she can capture every angle. She’s nearly done when a loud, rustling noise makes us both jump. My heart thuds against my chest until a familiar figure bursts through a pair of bushes near the back of the cemetery. It’s Vance Puckett. He lives behind the cemetery and probably cuts through here every day on his way to … wherever he goes. I’d say the liquor store, but it’s not open on Sunday. Vance starts weaving down the path toward the main entrance. He’s only a few feet away when he finally notices us, flicking a bored glance our way that turns into a startled double take when he sees the mausoleum. He stops so short that he almost falls over. “What the hell?” Vance Puckett is the only person in Echo Ridge who’s had a worse post–high school descent than my brother. He used to run a contracting business until he got sued over faulty wiring in a house that burned down in Solsbury. It’s been one long slide into the bottom of a whiskey bottle ever since. There were a rash of petty break-ins in the Nilssons’ neighborhood right around the same time that Vance installed a satellite dish on Peter’s roof, so everyone assumes he’s found a new strategy for paying his bills. He’s never been caught at anything, though. “We just found this,” I say. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain myself to Vance Puckett, but here we are. He shuffles closer, his hands jammed into the pockets of his olive-green hunting jacket, and circles the mausoleum, letting out a low whistle when he finishes his examination. He smells faintly of booze like always. “Pretty girls make graves,” he says finally. “You know that song?” “Huh?” I ask, but Mia replies, “The Smiths.” You can’t stump her on anything music-related. Vance nods. “Fits this town, doesn’t it? Echo Ridge keeps losing its homecoming queens. Or their sisters.” His eyes roam across the three dolls. “Somebody got creative.” “It’s not creative,” Mia says coldly. “It’s horrible.” “Never said it wasn’t.” Vance sniffs loudly and makes a shooing motion with one hand. “Why are you still here? Run along and tell the powers that be.” I don’t like getting ordered around by Vance Puckett, but I don’t want to stick around, either. “We were just about to.” I start toward Katrin’s car with Mia at my side, but Vance’s sharp “Hey!” makes us turn. He points toward me with an unsteady finger. “You might want to tell that sister of yours to lie low for a change. Doesn’t seem like a great year to be homecoming queen, does it?” CHAPTER SIX Ellery Monday, September 9 “It’s like Children of the Corn around here,” Ezra mutters, scanning the hallway. He’s not wrong. We’ve been here only fifteen minutes, but there are already more blond-haired, blue-eyed people than I’ve ever seen gathered in one place. Even the building Echo Ridge High is housed in has a certain Puritan charm—it’s old, with wide pine floors, high arched windows, and dramatic sloped ceilings. We’re heading from the guidance counselor’s office to our new homeroom, and we might as well be leading a parade for all the stares we’re getting. At least I’m in my airplane wardrobe, washed last night in preparation for the first day of school, instead of a Dalton’s special. We pass a bulletin board covered with colorful flyers, and Ezra pauses. “It’s not too late to join the 4-H Club,” he tells me. “What’s that?” He peers closer. “Agriculture, I think? There seem to be cows involved.” “No thanks.” He sighs, running his eyes over the rest of the board. “Something tells me they don’t have a particularly active LGBTQ-Straight Alliance here. I wonder if there’s even another out kid.” Normally I’d say there must be, but Echo Ridge is pretty small. There are less than a hundred kids in our grade, and only a few hundred total in the school. We turn from the board as a cute Asian girl in a Strokes T-shirt and stack-heeled Doc Martens passes by, her hair buzzed short on one side and streaked red on the other. “Hey, Mia, you forgot to cut the other half!” a boy calls out, making the two football-jacketed boys on either side of him snicker. The girl lifts her middle finger and shoves it in their faces without breaking stride. Ezra gazes after her with rapt attention. “Hello, new friend.” The crowd in front of us parts suddenly, as three girls stride down the hallway in almost perfect lockstep—one blonde, one brunette, and one redhead. They’re so obviously Somebodies at Echo Ridge High that it takes me a second to realize that one of them is Brooke Bennett from the Fright Farm shooting range. She stops short when she sees us and offers a tentative smile. “Oh, hi. Did Murph ever call you?” “Yeah, he did,” I say. “We have interviews this weekend. Thanks a lot.” The blond girl steps forward with the air of someone who’s used to taking charge. She’s wearing a sexy-preppy outfit: collared shirt under a tight sweater, plaid miniskirt, and high-heeled booties. “Hi. You’re the Corcoran twins, aren’t you?” Ezra and I nod. We’ve gotten used to our sudden notoriety. Yesterday, while I was grocery shopping with Nana, a cashier I’d never seen before said, “Hello Nora … and Ellery,” when it was our turn to pay. Then she asked me questions about California the entire time she was bagging our groceries. Now, the blond girl tilts her head at us. “We’ve heard all about you.” She stops there, but the tone of her voice says: And when I say all, I mean the one-night-stand father, the failed acting career, the jewelry store accident, the rehab. All of it. It’s kind of impressive, how much subtext she manages to pack into one tiny word. “I’m Katrin Nilsson. I guess you’ve met Brooke, and this is Viv.” She points to the red-haired girl on her left. I should have known. I’ve heard the Nilsson name constantly since I got to Echo Ridge, and this girl has town royalty written all over her. She’s not as pretty as Brooke but somehow she’s much more striking, with crystal-blue eyes that remind me of a Siamese cat’s. We all murmur hellos, and it feels like some sort of uncomfortable audition. Probably because of the assessing look Katrin keeps giving Ezra and me, as though she’s weighing whether we’re worth her continued time and attention. Most of the hallway is only pretending to be busy with their lockers while they wait for her verdict. Then the bell rings, and she smiles. “Come find us at lunch. We sit at the back table next to the biggest window.” She turns away without waiting for an answer, blond hair sweeping across her shoulders. Ezra watches them leave with a bemused expression, then turns to me. “I have a really strong feeling that on Wednesdays, they wear pink.” Ezra and I have most of the same classes that morning, except for right before lunch when I head to AP calculus and Ezra goes to geometry. Math isn’t his strong suit. So I end up going to the cafeteria on my own. I make my way through the food line assuming that he’ll join me at any minute, but when I exit with a full tray, he’s still nowhere in sight. I hesitate in front of the rows of rectangular tables, searching the sea of unfamiliar faces, when my name rings out in a clear, commanding voice. “Ellery!” I look up, and spot Katrin with her arm in the air. Her hand makes a beckoning motion. I’m being summoned. It feels as though the entire room is watching me make my way to the back of the cafeteria. Probably because they are. There’s a giant poster on the wall beside Katrin’s window table, which I can read when I’m less than halfway there: SAVE THE DATE Homecoming is October 5!!! Vote now for your King and Queen! When I reach Katrin and her friends, the redheaded girl, Viv, shifts to make room on the bench. I put my tray down and slide in next to her, across from Katrin. “Hi,” Katrin says, her blue cat’s eyes scanning me up and down. If I have to dress in clothes from Dalton’s tomorrow, she’s definitely going to notice. “Where’s your brother?” “I seem to have misplaced him,” I say. “But he always turns up eventually.” “I’ll keep an eye out for him,” Katrin says. She digs one pale-pink nail into an orange and tears off a chunk of the peel, adding, “So, we’re all super curious about you guys. We haven’t had a new kid since …” She scrunches her face. “I don’t know. Seventh grade, maybe?” Viv straightens her shoulders. She’s small and sharp-featured, wearing bright-red lipstick that goes surprisingly well with her hair. “Yes. That was me.” “Was it? Oh, right. Such a happy day.” Katrin smiles distractedly, still focused on me. “But moving in middle school is one thing. Senior year is rough. Especially when everything is so … new. How do you like living with your grandmother?” At least she didn’t ask, like the grocery store cashier yesterday, if I’d left a “Hollywood hottie” behind. The answer to that is no, by the way. I haven’t had a date in eight months. Not that I’m counting. “It’s all right,” I tell Katrin, sliding my eyes toward Brooke. Other than a muted hello, when I sat down, she’s been totally silent. “A little quiet, though. What do you guys do around here for fun?” I’m hoping to draw Brooke into the conversation, but it’s Katrin who answers. “Well, we’re cheerleaders,” she says, waving a hand between her and Brooke. “That takes up a lot of time in the fall. And our boyfriends play football.” Her eyes drift a few tables away, where a blond boy is setting down his tray. The entire table is a sea of purple-and-white athletic jackets. The boy catches her eye and winks, and Katrin blows him a kiss. “That’s Theo. Brooke’s boyfriend, Kyle, is next to him. They’re cocaptains.” Of course they are. She doesn’t mention a boyfriend for Viv. I feel a small surge of solidarity—single girls unite!—but when I smile at Viv she meets it with a cool stare. I get the feeling, suddenly, that I’ve stumbled onto territory she’d rather not share. “That sounds fun,” I say limply. I’ve never been part of the football-and-cheerleading crowd, although I appreciate the athleticism of both. Viv narrows her eyes. “Echo Ridge might not be Hollywood, but it’s not boring.” I don’t bother correcting Viv that La Puente is forty miles outside Hollywood. Everyone in Echo Ridge just assumes we lived in the middle of a movie set, and nothing I say will convince them otherwise. Besides, that’s not our main issue right now. “I didn’t say it was,” I protest. “I mean, I can tell already there’s a lot going on around here.” Viv looks unconvinced, but it’s Brooke who finally speaks up. “None of it good,” she says flatly. Her eyes are shiny as she turns toward me, and she looks like she’s in desperate need of a full night’s sleep. “You—your grandmother found Mr. Bowman, didn’t she?” I nod, and tears begin to spill down her pale cheeks. Katrin swallows a piece of orange and pats Brooke’s arm. “You have to stop talking about it, Brooke. You keep getting worked up.” Viv heaves a dramatic sigh. “It’s been an awful week. First Mr. Bowman, then all that vandalism cropping up around town.” Her tone is concerned, but her eyes are almost eager as she adds, “It’s going to be our first feature of the year for the school paper. A summary of what been going on all week, juxtaposed with this year’s seniors talking about where they were five years ago. It’s the kind of story that might even get picked up by the local news.” She looks at me with slightly more warmth. “I should interview you. You found the graffiti at the cultural center, didn’t you? You and Malcolm.” “Yeah,” I say. “It was awful, but not nearly as awful as the cemetery.” That made me sick when I heard about it, especially when I tried to imagine how the Kilduffs must feel. “The whole thing is horrible,” Viv agrees, turning toward Katrin and Brooke. “I hope nothing bad happens when you guys are announced next Thursday.” “Announced?” I ask. “They’re going to announce the homecoming court at assembly next Thursday morning,” Viv explains, gesturing toward the homecoming poster over Brooke’s shoulder. “Everyone’s voting between now and then. Did you download the Echo Ridge High app? Homecoming votes are on the main menu.” I shake my head. “No, not yet.” Viv makes a tsking noise. “Better hurry. Voting closes next Wednesday. Although most of the court is already a done deal. Katrin and Brooke are total shoo-ins.” “You might get nominated too, Viv,” Katrin says graciously. Even though I just met her, I can tell she doesn’t actually believe there’s a chance in hell of that happening. Viv shudders delicately. “No thank you. I don’t want to be on the radar of some murderous creep who’s decided to strike again.” “Do you really think that’s what this is about?” I ask, curious. Viv nods, and I lean forward eagerly. I’ve been thinking about the vandalism almost nonstop for the past couple of days, and I’m dying to share theories. Even with Viv. “Interesting. Maybe. I mean, it’s definitely what the person who’s doing it wants us to think. And that’s disturbing on its own. But I keep wondering—even if you were brazen enough to get away with murder and then brag about doing it again five years later, the MO’s are completely different.” Katrin’s face is a total blank. “MO?” she asks. “Modus operandi,” I say, warming to the topic. It’s one where I’m perfectly confident. “You know, the method somebody uses to commit a crime? Lacey was strangled. That’s a very personal and violent way to kill someone, and not likely to be premeditated. But these threats are public, and they require planning. Plus they’re much less, well, direct. To me, it feels more like a copycat. Which isn’t to say that person isn’t dangerous. But maybe they’re dangerous in a different way.” There’s a moment of silence at the table, until Katrin says, “Huh,” and bites into an orange slice. She chews carefully, her eyes fixed on a spot somewhere over my shoulder. There it is, I think. She just mentally dismissed me from the popular crowd. That didn’t take long. If Ezra’s told me once, he’s told me a hundred times. Nobody wants to hear your murder theories, Ellery. Too bad he bailed on me for lunch. Then a new expression crosses Katrin’s face, one that’s sort of irritated and indulgent at the same time. “You’re going to get kicked out of school one day for wearing that shirt,” she calls to someone. I turn to see Malcolm Kelly in a faded gray T-shirt with “KCUF” written across the front in block letters. “Hasn’t happened yet,” he replies. In the bright fluorescent lights of the Echo Ridge High cafeteria, I get a much better look at him than I did at the cultural center. He’s wearing a backward baseball cap over unruly brown hair, framing an angular face and wide-set eyes. They meet mine and flicker with recognition. He waves, and the movement jars his tray enough that he almost drops the whole thing. It’s totally awkward and also, weirdly, kind of cute. “I’m sorry,” Viv says as Malcolm turns away, in the least apologetic tone I’ve ever heard. “But I find it super sketch that the first person to see both threats is Declan Kelly’s weirdo brother.” She shakes her head emphatically. “Uh-uh. Something’s off there.” “Oh, Viv,” Katrin sighs, like they’ve had some variation on this conversation at least a dozen times before. “Malcolm’s all right. Kind of nerdy, but all right.” “I don’t think he’s a nerd.” Brooke’s been quiet for so long that her sudden pronouncement startles everyone. “Maybe he used to be, but he’s gotten cute lately. Not as cute as Declan, but still.” Then she drops her head again and starts playing listlessly with her spoon, as if contributing to the conversation sapped whatever small reserves of energy she had. Katrin gives her a speculative look. “Didn’t realize you’d noticed, Brooke.” My head swivels, looking for Malcolm, and I spot him sitting with that girl Mia from the hallway, and my brother. I’m not surprised; Ezra has a knack for inserting himself into whatever social group he’s decided to join. At least I’ll have another lunch option when I don’t get invited back to Katrin’s table. Viv snorts. “Cute, my ass,” she says flatly. “Declan should be in jail.” “You think he killed Lacey Kilduff?” I ask, and she nods. Katrin cocks her head, confused. “But weren’t you just saying that whoever killed Lacey is leaving those threats around town?” she asks. “Declan lives in another state.” Viv leans an elbow on the table, staring at her friend, eyes wide. “You live with the Kellys and you seriously don’t know?” Katrin frowns. “Know what?” Viv waits a few beats for maximum impact, then smirks. “Declan Kelly is back in town.” CHAPTER SEVEN Malcolm Monday, September 9 Echo Ridge has one bar, which technically is only half in town because it sits right on the border of neighboring Solsbury. Unlike most Echo Ridge businesses, Bukowski’s Tavern has a reputation for leaving people alone. They won’t serve minors, but they don’t card at the door. So that’s where I meet Declan on Monday afternoon, after spending the first day back at school pretending that yeah, sure, I knew my brother was around. Bukowski’s doesn’t look like it belongs in Echo Ridge. It’s small and dark, with a long bar at the front, a few scarred tables scattered around the room, and a dartboard and pool table in the back. The only thing on the walls is a neon Budweiser sign with a flickering w. There’s nothing cute or quaint about it. “You couldn’t give me a heads-up you were in town?” I ask when I slide into a seat across from Declan. I mean to say it like a joke, but it doesn’t come out that way. “Hello to you too, little brother,” Declan says. I saw him less than a week ago, but he looks bigger here than he did in Aunt Lynne’s basement apartment. Maybe because Declan was always larger than life in Echo Ridge. Not that the two of us ever hung out at Bukowski’s before. Or anywhere, really. Back in grade school, when my dad was trying to make me and football happen, Declan would occasionally deign to play with me. He’d get bored fast, though, and the more I missed, the harder he’d throw. After a while I’d give up trying to catch the ball and just put my hands up to protect my head. What’s your problem? he’d complain. I’m not trying to hit you. Trust me, would you? He’d say that as if he’d ever done anything to earn it. “You want something to drink?” Declan asks. “Coke, I guess.” Declan raises his hand to an elderly waitress in a faded red T-shirt cleaning beer taps behind the bar. “Two Cokes, please,” he says when she arrives at our table. She nods without much interest. I wait until she leaves to ask, “What are you doing here?” A muscle twitches in Declan’s jaw. “You say it like I’m violating some kind of restraining order. It’s a free country.” “Yeah, but …” I trail off as the waitress returns, placing cocktail napkins and tall glasses of Coke with ice in front of us. My phone exploded during lunch once word got out that Declan was in Echo Ridge. And he knows that. He knows exactly the kind of reaction this would get. Declan leans forward, resting his forearms on the table. They’re almost twice the size of mine. He works construction jobs when he’s not taking classes, and it keeps him in better shape than football did in high school. He lowers his voice, even though the only other people in Bukowski’s are two old guys wearing baseball caps at the end of the bar. “I’m sick of being treated like a criminal, Mal. I didn’t do anything. Remember?” He rubs a hand over his face. “Or do you not believe that anymore? Did you ever?” “Of course I did. Do.” I stab at the ice in my drink with my straw. “But why now? First Daisy’s back and now you. What’s going on?” The ghost of a frown flits across Declan’s face when I mention Daisy, so quick I almost miss it. “I’m not back, Mal. I still live in New Hampshire. I’m here to see someone, that’s all.” “Who? Daisy?” Declan heaves an exasperated sigh. “Why are you so hung up on Daisy? Do you still have a thing for her?” “No. I’m just trying to figure this out. I saw you last week, and you never said you were coming.” Declan shrugs and takes a sip of Coke, avoiding my eyes. “And it’s kind of shitty timing, you know. With all the crap going on around town.” “What does that have to do with me?” He breaks into a scowl when I don’t respond right away. “Wait. Are you kidding me? People think I had something to do with that? What’s next? Am I responsible for global warming now, too? Fucking hell, Mal.” One of the old guys at the bar looks over his shoulder, and Declan slumps back against the chair, glowering. “For the record. Just so we’re clear. I didn’t come here to write creepy-ass slogans on signs and walls or whatever.” “Graves,” I correct. “Whatever,” Declan grits out, low and dangerous. I believe him. There’s no possible universe in which my hotheaded, testosterone-fueled brother dresses a trio of dolls up like homecoming queens and ties them to a mausoleum. It’s easier to imagine him placing his hands around Lacey’s throat and squeezing the life out of her. Jesus. My hand shakes as I pick up my glass, rattling the ice in it. I can’t believe I just thought that. I take a sip and swallow hard. “Then why did you come? And how long are you staying?” Declan drains his Coke and signals for the waitress. “Jack and Coke this time,” he says when she arrives. Her lips thin as she glances between us. “ID first.” Declan reaches for his wallet, then hesitates. “You know what? Forget it. Just another Coke.” She shrugs and walks away. Declan shakes his head like he’s disgusted with himself. “See what I did there? Decided not to get a drink, even though I wanted one, because I don’t feel like showing my name to some woman I don’t even know. That’s my fucking life.” “Even i